Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The First New York City Half Marathon was last Sunday. It was long and wet and fun.

5:30am. As I approached the entrance to the park I saw a small group of women runners waiting to enter but the path was partially blocked by a large, very unsteady, drunk who was taking a very long pee against the side of the entryway. I lead the way past. It is my last lead of the day. The next thing to do is find the baggage trucks which will take one small clear plastic bag to the finish. Mine has in it a wind breaker and a spare shirt.

6:00 AM Ten thousand runners divided by 1000 porta-potties still makes for very long lines. Luckily not everyone needs to go at the same time and the runners have figured out long ago what the formalities shall be. They do not line up in front of each individual portapottie, they spread out at mysteriously even intervals, about ten pots each, then as each door opens the first in line steps briskly forward. It all moves very well.

6:10 All the pre-race items have been taken care of and now it is 50 minutes before the start. I go up to the reservoir to watch the ducks. They are spread out just like those sets of decoys hunters use. Row upon winding row, and they drift slowly, almost patiently, towards the center of the water. Without any visible signal, each duck maintains the same spacing as the flotilla moves. There is not a sound from the water, only the distance slamming of porta-pottie doors.

6:20 AM I decide I should stretch. I stretch. I take off my left shoe and adjust my sock. I stretch some more. I take off my left sox turn it inside out and then rightside out and put it back on my foot. I re-tie both shoes. I stretch. I take off my shoes and put the sock from my right foot on my left and the sock from the left foot on my right. I am not nervous. I stretch.

6:30Am We are all supposed to be in our starting corrals by 6:30. None of the real runners make any attempt to do so. I am with the rookies in the middle of the 10 mins per mile corral with this guy.

Larry the Lighthouse

Yes. Larry was running with us this morning and he was lit.

I went to jog a little. I fixed my shoe again. I go up to look at the ducks again but they are gone.

Suddenly there is very loud symphonic music playing and a woman's voice screaming out commands on how to stretch and no one is paying the slightest bit of attention to any of it. Even Larry is being ignored as the runners begin to crowd into the start areas 8:00 8:30 9:00 9:30 10:00 min mile. I know I am giving away the end of the story, but I think the reason I ended up finishing behind 8700 runners is that 9750 were in front of me to start, maybe if I started in front of a few thousand more I'd finish higher. Maybe.

7:00 We're off. It takes eight and half minutes for me to get to the start line, but we all have these cool yellow chips on our shoes that the computer reads and gives you the actual time it took for you to go from the start to the finish.

One thing that happens to me when I'm running is all my senses get huge.
I hear parts of conversations from ten yards away: "...backers want to pay eight dollars an hour... ." "How much?" "Eight dollars an hour plus they get a meal, but I told them there is no way... ." "No kidding!" "....the hotel is ... ."

I can smell the grass and the leaves, there is a rusty smell to trees that are changing colors, down near the carriage rides the aroma of wet horse manure was particularly deep this morning.

And I start to see every little thing on the road. Now, part of that is self-preservation when you are in the middle of twenty thousand swinging elbows, but I'm talking about acorns.

Acorns (God's Little Ballbearings) have begun to appear everywhere on the paths and roadways of Central Park and if you think my 199 pound foot can crush such things like an egg, which is what I thought, you'd be just a surprised as I was to find out that some of them have the mass and tensile strength of diamonds. They roll very well as your foot strikes them, but never straight ahead, always on a left or right vector, the better to pull the ligaments of your knee down over your socks.

So your brain, my brain, all the ten thousand brains start watching out for acorns and while you are doing this you are watching out for the four girls who are running in lockstep and blocking the middle of the road, the fellow who keeps grabbing at his shorts as if they had something alive in them and of course, Larry the Lighthouse.

So there you are, music blasting in your ears - ("Its the End of the Word as We Know It by REM- great running song,) the smells are all around, (huge perfume on the huge blond and there is just a hint of salt water coming from the Hudson) the real water tastes wonderful, so refreshing and you are avoiding both Larry and the acorns when you begin to see the other hazards on the roadway. Not just the water puddles and the cracks in the pavement.

About four miles into any race, people start to drop stuff. Extra water bottles, lip balms (those will take you for a ride), lots of hair scrunchies and the occasional, I kid you not, hair brush. Who runs with a hair brush? I've seen three or four so far and, unless the volunteers are placing them on the pavement, some runners want to look their extra best for someone at the end of the run. To say nothing of barrettes, if acorns are the ball bearing of nature, barrettes are the teeny skis of death. Step on one and you are likely to do a full split at high speed.

What else? Arm bands, knee bands and sweat bands, flags - people are very big about waving flags at the start of a race lotion, also balloons, sun visors and I saw one shoe wallet (empty) and one sock. There was also a Blue Chase Cash/Check Card at mile Ten that I saw being given to one of the volunteers.

But the final problem of this morning was paint. Crosswalk paint. Nice, shiny white paint. Easy to see and, when wet, slicker than deer guts on a doorknob. I thought for awhile it was just me who had to tippee-toe across each section of crosswalk down the West Side Highway, but later I heard some people talking about how they almost took a dive with only two miles to go.

I did well. About a minute slower than my goal of 2:20 and seven minutes faster than I had done it in practice. My splits were weird.




Slow as can be. 11:55 per mile. The First five I was chock-a-block with people and the second five was mostly uphill and the third five it was pouring rain, so 11:55 per mile.... like a turtle, not fast, steady.

But hold on...

my time was 2:21:18 meaning that I covered the last 3.8 miles in 30:45 in a pace of (hang on to your hats) 8:00 mins per mile. That is, for me, flying. And yes, the course was flat to slightly downhill but still,,,,, .

They handed out popsicles at the end of the race, popsicles and Gator-Aid. I don't like Gator-Aid and I hadn't had a popsicle since 1964. They were delicious. They were Raspberry on the outside and some kind of orange-lemony inside and Strawberry with an unidentified but delicious taste. Mango?

I got my baggage bag and put on my nice dry shirt and my windbreaker. I enjoyed the subway ride home very much.

Races coming up

Short four miler next Saturday, then one, possibly two, half marathons in October, (Jesus, he's getting serious) and then two races in November to qualify for next year's marathon and a couple in December for good measure.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Thank you. No, no, thank YOU

I got a great thank you note the other day, the kind that makes you want to send a thank you for the thank you. It was short, elegant, sweet but not sentimental. It gave me a kind of rush. Perhaps that is why I am now about six days overdue in sending a thank you note to my weekend hosts. I want to send the very best thank you because it was a very good weekend.

We were out in the countryside of Western Connecticut. Wide open fields of mown hay and woods lay all around the house, while we cooked and ate and drank and talked and laughed and ate some more. At dawn both mornings I went jogging down the two lane road, hooting a halloo at the gaping milk cows and listening to the songs of the early birds. I don’t know how the owners, who were not with us, get any work done. I spent hours on the porch looking at the yellow-headed birds and the clouds and trying to see if those deer in the distance were bucks or does. It gave me a very odd, very simple, pleasure to catch sight of a jet making a contrail and to sit and do nothing but watch it draw the single line across the sky. When one made a little turn to the West, just a little turn, I was so startled I almost dropped my buttered bagel.

So ‘thank you very much for inviting us’ doesn’t seem to fit the situation fully enough, yet I did like the simplicity of the note I got. (Sigh) Maybe tomorrow.

Meanswhile, I read where Bremer said that the one thing George wanted to get from the Iraqis was some kind of token of appreciation for all he had done for the country, a kind of national thank you for coming over note. I am pretty sure my hosts will get theirs before he gets his.

Friday, August 04, 2006


Because it's been so hot, at least for New York City- 95 degrees fries brains around here, I've been going to the park earlier and earlier. The A train gets me to 59th Street at just about the time you can see your hand in front of your face 5:25am. There are always bikers and runners in the park before me. The cops are always there too. The police go around to the various benches near the entrance and do wake-ups for the people sleeping there. Everyone knows the routine. Cops yell "Hey", sleeping person lifts head and says nothing. Cops move on to the next bench. It's like watching someone do an odd version of the Stations of the Cross or maybe seeing some tourists in a hurry at the Met. I watched a group of people go through the Monet section in about five minutes once. They moved in front of each painting, there was a moment of reflection, some murmured comments and then they moved to the next and the next and the next. I turned around to look at one of the statues and when I glanced their way again, they were gone.

The cops move into the park about the same time I do. They roust the people under the trees near the public johns (which are locked up tight at that hour. I don't know when they open but I have taught myself not to need to go before the morning run.) I grab a sip of water from the fountain, start my music, start my watch and head out. I re-mapped a three mile route the other day because I was getting bored with always going up around the little horseshoe. It is a good run, starts uphill and passes the lake and Cleopatra's Needle is the two mile mark.

But even that can get old, so I figured out on a map that if I ran one and half laps around the lower loop and then headed for Fifth Ave I would get exactly three miles.
Except that it turns out I was trying to kill myself. The lower loop, if you head North is uphill all the way to the Fifth Ave Exit, so I was making myself run up two really long uphills and then finishing with a teeny downhill to the zoo.

Which is why you should always map things out on site and by sight rather than on paper. That was my wake-up.