TCS New York City Marathon 2014

2 November 2014

New York, the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, so they say.

I was accepted and supposed to run the New York Marathon in 2012 as my first marathon (Read past entry Here). However fate got in a way and my plan has been postponed twice. I cannot postpone it anymore or I will lose my place in the ballot. I was lucky this year that my employer is willing to sponsor my trip to participate in the world's largest marathon in ORYX GTL's shirt.  

I was not actually 100% race ready for New York Marathon because my trainings were customized to prepare me for both the marathon and my first half ironman distance triathlon, Challenge Bahrain next month. I did not have enough running mileage coming into this race as I have to spend the bulk of my trainings for cycling and swimming, the two disciplines that are new to me. Having said that, a sub 3:45 should be a reasonable target. I was actually hoping to break the 3:30 barrier or at least go for a personal best. I have been warned by other runners that New York is deceptively hilly and a difficult course for a PB and all my past marathons experience were on flat-ish courses, but then again, success is sweeter when we have to work hard for it.   

It was a tough battle before it even started. The New York Marathon is a point to point race with the Start at Staten Island. The course covers all the five boroughs of New York with its iconic Finish line at Central Park Manhattan. Getting to Staten Island is a marathon in itself. I first took a subway at 72nd Street to South Ferry Terminal for 6.00 am ferry. The ferry ride was nice. The view of Lower Manhattan, Ellis Island and Lady Liberty from New York harbor make me pinched myself a few times. I still cannot believe that I was in New York, going to run The NY marathon. I cannot thank ORYX GTL enough for this. From ferry terminal, the runners then transported to the Start village at Fort Wadsworth in busses. The security was tight as expected but everything went smoothly. We were then had to wait for up to three hours before the start in a near arctic weather of 2 degree Celsius, made worse by the wind chill with speeds up to 64 kph. It was almost unbearable. I had my running shirt, a cotton tee from Dukhan Triathlon and a fleece jacket under a thick bin liner huddling myself into a curveball. 
Counter clockwise: At the race Expo; On the ferry to Staten Island; At the marathon village before the start 
I was in Wave 1 Corral B of the Green start, only one corral down from the elites and professional. It was not a true representation of my true ability but rather a strategic plan to avoid weaving through the course to overtake slower runners and walkers. Let others weave to overtake me while I am focusing on my pace and effort haha I can hear my evil laugh. We set off with a gun fired at the end of the Star Spangled Banner which was played on the loud speaker. I stayed in the middle of the road when we proceeded onto the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. I was warned by my running buddy Tee Morgan who ran the marathon last year to stick to the middle of the road while running on the lower deck of the Verrazano if you do not wish to get drenched by the golden showers by the runners urinating from the top deck. It's a New York thing. The wind was so strong; all of us were struggling to run straight. The bridge was about 2km long. I was warmed enough by the time I entered Brooklyn and took off my throw away jumper.

The crowd in New York was something I have never seen before in my life. They lined up the streets the entire marathon course from Brooklyn to Central Park (except on the bridges) sometimes with 4-5 layers deep. They were very enthusiastic and loud. I’ve read about the New York’s crowd in past race reviews but you can only understand how it feels when you experience it yourself. Each borough was different. The mood and the feel vary from one borough to another. I tried not to get too carried away with the crowd and maintained my pace. I just put on a perpetual smile on my face to acknowledge them.

I was enjoying my run and cruising at 5:15 m/km pace until I got to Queensboro Bridge going into Manhattan from Queens when my right ITB decided to stop cooperating and stiffen up. Not again! Not here in New York! It was a familiar pain on my knee. My ITB was pulling my knee cap out from its socket with every step I made. It happened before when I raced in Munich, Edinburgh and Dubai. It was so painful and it forced me to slow down and took walk breaks every now and then. I was so frustrated. Not only it blew my race plan, but it turned my race into an ugly experience. Why here? Why now in New York? I felt ashamed to myself knowing my wife and friends were tracking my run from the other side of the globe. I have let them down. I have let myself down. I have given up. No words of encouragement from the crowd along First Avenue could help me. I was even angry every time I heard someone calling my name and said ‘Don’t give up, you can do it’. I was in so much pain I chose to ignore all those words of encouragement and took my walk of shame. I didn’t even remember running (read jogging) through The Bronx.  

The course re-entered Manhattan through Madison Avenue Bridge into Harlem. It was less than 8 km to go. I just cannot wait to cross the finish line and get this thing over with. The crowd was big on both sides of the Fifth Avenue. This helped me a bit. I was practically shuffling my way down into Central Park until Columbus Circle but I stop by the railing as soon as I re-entered the park. I was in so much pain I thought my legs were falling apart. I could see the finish line already but I couldn’t take another step forward. I must have stood there for a couple of minutes before continued on what must have been the slowest 2-300 meters of my life. I crossed the finish line in 4:28:06. One of the slowest marathons I ever ran and definitely the most painful. I hate marathon! A volunteer put on the medal around my neck and we were quickly ushered out of the park.
Running in pain, cant wait to get it over and done with
While walking away from the finish area, I kept thinking, maybe I was not not good enough. Maybe I don’t have the correct body to be a marathon runner. Maybe I don’t have a heart of a lion. My head was full of all the negative thoughts. Dejected, I took the long walk of shame out of the park shivering from the cold. I felt miserable. We were given a special poncho because we did not checked any baggage when we came out from the park. I just stood there frozen when an elderly lady volunteer put on a thick NY Marathon poncho on me. She was so kind and gentle. I said to her, ‘you are just like my mother’. Then she said ‘well dear I am your mother today’ and she hugged me. It felt really comforting. Tears streamed down my eyes. I forgot that she was a stranger. I stayed in her arms for a while, sobbing. I have never felt anything as beautiful as this in my previous races. She was like an angel. I can’t believe that all the pain, agony and anger were gone from one simple act of love, by a stranger.

Well done to all the graduates of NYCM Class of 2014

Reflecting on it, I may not have the best race or a personal best at New York Marathon, but the experience really humbling me not only as a marathon runner but as a person. Now, will I give up on my Boston dream? No way. Just as the opposite, it makes me want to work harder for it. The experience taught me to appreciate all the little things you may otherwise ignore in life. As a marathon runner, I can work hard to improve my speed and endurance but my ITB problem will never go away unless I strengthen my core which I’ve never bothered to do in the past. Same thing at work, you cannot excel in what you do if you ignore something that may sound intangible like discipline or attitude. 

I found my self in New York. The experience made me a tad wiser. Thank you ORYX GTL. 


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