Monday, November 11, 2013

NYC Marathon 2013.

You don't have to be a runner to know that the NYC Marathon was cancelled last year due to the destruction of "Hurricane Sandy".  NYC 2012 was to be my first marathon.  Well since that race never happened, I have done two other marathons.  The first was the Myles Standish Marathon in Plymouth, MA.  I ran that race 2 weeks after I was supposed to do NYC.  The completion of that race, qualified me for Boston 2013.  And again, everyone is fully aware what happened at 2:50pm in Boston on April 15th.  At that point I was less than 3 miles from the finish line, only to be stopped 3/4 from the finish line on Boylston St.

It was with great excitement that I prepared to finally tackle the 5 boroughs of NYC.  I was excited to again be running as a member of Achilles NYC.  An amazing group of triathletes and guides I have come to consider an extension of my own family.  I have the honor to race on their triathlon team as well.  As final preparations came from our family trip to the "BIG APPLE" I was contacted by Ellie at Achilles hoping we would be attending the team dinner on Friday night.  I assured we would all be there and then she surprised me be saying I would be received a brand new award from the club, the "Donald Arthur Award". Donald Arthur was a heart transplant recipient who had planned to run a marathon in all 50 states.  Sadly, his goal was cut short when he passed away earlier this year.


Our trip down on Friday morning was uneventful.  We made my usual stop in Vernon, CT at the Vernon Diner.  I usually stop there on the way down and then at Rein's Deli on the way back.  There were no traffic problems and as I have done before I was able to find FREE PARKING again on the Upper West Side near our hotel.  We checked in and had a bit of time to relax until heading down to the Achilles Team Dinner down near Lincoln Center.  We took a trip subway ride down and arrived to meet up some old friends.  Both Sue and Owen were hungry and eager to get some dinner.  They put on a nice pasta dinner along with fresh looking salad and desserts.  An amputee runner and his wife from Utah shared our table as we enjoyed our meals and waited for the awards presentations to start.  A number of awards were given out to guides, runners, and fund-raisers.  The award I was to received was saved until the end.  Ellie brought over Donald's widow to meet me prior to the presentation.   What a lovely woman she is.  I was very to hear from her what a kind, gentle, and determined man Donald was.  She informed me that Donald would be proud of me as a recipient and that it was my duty to carry on his message of helping others by getting out there to show people that there are no limits to what people can do.   I was more than over-joyed that my dear friend Kat
Receiving the Donald Arthur Award from Achilles NYC
Bateman would be presenting the award to me.  She is the director of the NYC Achilles chapter and was the person to first contact me about joining their group. I was allowed to say a few words and I do not remember a lot of what I said but I ended with a saying I've often told people about physically challenged athletes.  "Don't judge us by our bodies, judge us by our HEART."  Donald's son came over to meet me and it was then that it hit me how appropriate my words were, since Donald started his marathon running after receiving a heart transplant.  After dinner we returned to our hotel for the night.
Me and Kat

We started out early with breakfast at Zabar's on Broadway.  After a light meal we parted with Sue and Owen going off to spend some time around Times Square while I headed to the Race Expo at the Javits Center to get my race number and other swag.  I had been hoping to meet up with Lisa Buohler an amazing runner/duathlete I connected with through facebook.  I wandered around for a while looking for her but it was not meant to be.  I had to head out to a media event for Achilles at Tourneau.  We were being invited to spend some time at their shop turning back the watches as we would be moving to standard time that night.  The watch they handed to me was a ROLEX.  The salesman whispered to me it was the most expensive watch in the store.  I was totally freaked out when I turned it over to see the price tag said $270,000.  More than what we paid for our house.  As gift for helping out, we were each given a nice Tourneau watch.

CAF had a luncheon planned for some of their athletes and also a number of their charity runners.  Barbara Evans had contacted me about attending along with Sue and Owen.  It was held at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square.  Again, a nice spread was available and I was happy to have both Sue and Owen meet some of the other athletes including Sarah Reinertsen, the guest speaker for that afternoon.

After the luncheon we traveled back to our hotel room to rest for a bit before we headed out to see a movie.  We had talked about seeing "FREE BIRDS" for part of Owen's birthday weekend while in NYC.  This is the 2nd year now we have headed to NYC around his birthday.  The movie was a lot funny than I had expected.  On the way back to the hotel, we made a stop at Subway for a light dinner.  I have grown accustomed to a lighter dinner after a big lunch the day before a race.  I had my customary grilled chicken sub loaded with veggies.  I packed up all my gear for my early morning wake-up.  Of course, Owen put his SPEED in my shoes and also put on my running singlet to put some HEART in my jersey as well.  These ave become customs that I cannot forget to do before a race.  I then got to bed early with the expectation that I might not get much sleep.


Well, I did not sleep well, but this time it wasn't just the nerves.  A police car and fire truck both drove by our building at midnight and then at 2AM respectively.  Both times, sirens were blaring.  Then to top it off, someone came back to their room at about 3AM from a night out on the town.  They were not quiet, yelling and slamming their hotel room door.  I laid awake staring at the ceiling and started to panic about the lack of sleep.  I got out of bed at 3:30AM (1/2 an hour earlier than planned) and got dressed to go.  I kissed Sue
and gave her a big hug and headed for the 1 train down to 7th Ave and 53rd Street.  I was going to be driven on a VIP bus arranged by ESPN/ABC.  The approached me last year about doing story about me and got in touch again about doing the same this year.  The plan would be I was to wear a transponder and they were to try and catch me during the race.  David Willey, the reporter, would run beside me and interview me while running.  They had a number of different athletes to try and connect with.  We were told none of us could be assured we would be interviewed.  In the end, I wasn't picked, but that really was no big deal.

I spent most of the time on the bus talking to some of the other possible featured athletes.  There was a runner who had lost 350lbs, a group of runners from Team One Spirit in South Dakota raising money to help build a treatment center, and anti-bullying group of teachers from Michigan called Defeat the Label, and then Lara Kruiskamp from South Africa who is running a marathon in all 7 continents to raise money for orphans in her home country.  Some truly amazing people with great stories to tell.  

When we arrived on the island the sun was coming up and we lined up to enter the athlete village.  We were told to only bring the clear bag we were given for our clothing drop and nothing else.  We were scanned and then allowed into the village.  We were led to a nice tented area to wait.  I had brought all the food I needed but more was available there if we needed it.  By the time we arrived at the tent it was about 6:30AM.  Still 3 hours to go before the race would start.  It was chilly and quite windy.  Little would I know that the wind would pick up on the race course later that morning.  Anyway, we sat and chatted and did our best to keep warm.  

With about 90 minutes to go before race time I had to deliver my drop bag to the Achilles tent over in one of the other staging areas.  It was a lot closer than I thought it would be.  I got there and found a number of my Achilles friends, dropped off my bad and headed back to my staging area.  When I returned I had time for one trip to the porta-pottie and then it was time to get in the corral. At this time it was about 8:50AM, still about 50 min to go until the start of our wave.   

I had posted this prayer the night before the race and at this point, spent some time reading it to myself and sharing it with one other runner.  I really felt at ease about my safety knowing that there were dozens of people keeping me in their thoughts and prayers.  I found the prayer online and adapted it somewhat for myself changing a few words and phrases here and there.
In the start corral, minutes before the start.

Lord, watch over me this day as I run. 
This is the day and this is the time for the race. 

Watch over my body. Keep it free from injury. 

Watch over my mind. May I listen to the signals from within 
as I enjoy the scenes from without. 

Watch over my spirit. Keep my thinking positivly even if the race does not go as I have planned. Because in the end, it is your plan I truly follow.

Watch over my competitors. Remind us that we all are struggling equally.

Lord, Let me win.
Not by coming in ahead of my friends, but by testing myself.

Let it be an inner win. A battle won over my fears and doubts.

And may I say at the end, "I have fought a good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith."

I have to say, if you don't like crowds, this would be hard place to be.  We were led in and told to wait for direction.  Just was we started to move closer to the start, people started to drop all of their extra clothes and so I followed suit.  Off came my hoodie and sweatpants.  I wanted to keep my toque and gloves a little while longer.  As we moved closer to the starting line we had a bit more room to spread out.  I moved towards the back and dropped my final clothing, set my GPS watch and waited.  We had the National Anthem and my pulse started to race.  A number of men relieved themselves one more time and before you know it there was a LOUD cannon blast and the song, "NEW YORK, NEW YORK" started and we were OFF.  

Minutes after the start.  Photo by Lara Kruiskamp
It took about 1 minute for me to hit the starting line and up I headed for the first mile, which was totally uphill on the Verrazano Narrows bridge.  What I noticed as the crowds of runners left me were the two NYPD copters hovering at the top of the bridge.  The wind was quite strong and I was hoping it would let up a bit once I got off of the bridge and into Brooklyn.  It literally was 1 mile up to the top of the bridge and then back down for the 2nd mile.    

As I exited the bridge I could here the drums of a marching band.  Except for the Queensborough Bridge, this would be the last time I ran without spectators.  Since I was near the back of the wave, I was alone as I left the bridge and entered Brooklyn.  I was about to experience how amazing the city of Brooklyn really is.  Just as I did in Boston, I wore my name of the front and back of my singlet, along with, PHIL 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength".  The streets were lined with thousands of people all the way up Fourth Ave in Brooklyn.  It took a while for the fastest runners from the 2nd wave to catch me, so for a while I was running with only a few other runners around me.  Things were going along with no issues and according to my watch (which has always been reliable) things were going as planned.  I was hoping to stay on 13:45/mile with the plan to switch to 14:30/mile after mile 14.  The wind was strong and it did not take too long before my GPS was offset with the mile markers along the course.  As I stated, in the past my watch has seemed synchronized with other courses, but for some reason, that was not the case in NYC.  I wondered if it had something to do with interference from buildings etc.  Either way, I wasn't going to let my watch run my race for me.

I saw my first friendly face when I heard someone yell, "JOHN YOUNG!!"  I looked over and saw my dear friend, Miriam Weiskind.  I was still in Brooklyn on 4th Ave.  She immediately ran out and gave me a huge hug.  I told her all was well and off I went. 
My dear friend Miriam 

I noticed a lot of the crowds throughout this part of Brooklyn were latino.  The kids were happy to stand at the side of the road and give "high fives".  It was at this point I think I learned what the word  pequeño means as a lot of the kids were pointing at me with big smiles on the faces.  I figured out quite quickly that it doesn't mean FAST, but rather it refers to me being LITTLE.  I didn't mind at all as the kids were just talking about what the SAW.  And they saw a little person running in the NYC Marathon.  

As we moved further north, we entered the Williamsburg area.  There are a lot of Orthodox Jews living in this area.  It seemed for the most part, that we were being quite the disruption to them as they weren't about their day to day lives.  I witnessed lots of them asking the police details if they were able to cross the street.  Some didn't bother asking, and just crossed on their own.  It was nice to see some young families with kids out cheering here as well.  I did notice a lot more "unfriendly" pointing and giggling by the kids here and of course, I just smiled and kept on RUNNING.

Taken by Jeff Barnett around mile 8.
As we left Brooklyn, they seemed sad to see us go.  The Greenpoint crowds seemed just as loud as those further back in Brooklyn.  The trip across the Pulaski Bridge into Queens went well.  The crowds at this point were a little sparse, but being able to see the Queensborough Bridge in the distance seemed to give me some more strength.  Hard to believe I was already past the halfway point.  When I checked my watch and did some calculations, it was at this point that I realized my goal of a 6:09 would probably not come true.  there was no sadness at all though.  I was still feeling good doing the BIGGEST marathon in the world.  I did see one LP along the route and if my memory serves me right, it was just before heading onto the Queensborough Bridge.  He was young guy, probably in his mid 20's.  I put out my hand for a hearty high-5 and he graciously obliged. 

I had read a lot about the drastic change from Queens onto the bridge.  It was eerily quiet as the crowd noise was no gone, replaced solely by the sounds of runners heavy breathing and the car traffic above.  There were a lot of runners walking at this point, including myself.  I did get passed by Lara Bournemann Mish, a good friend of mine.  I have gotten to know her and her sister Jen through the NYC Triathlon and CAF.  We had a nice chat and she continued on ahead of me.  It was at this point where my mind wandered back to the Boston Marathon.  As I crested the bridge and was starting to head into Manhattan I noticed a prolonged groups of sirens blaring.  I had managed to start running again and what struck me at that point, was that that was the last sound I remember hearing as Juli came back to stop me during the Boston Marathon.  The sound continued for a what seemed like a few minutes and I started to wonder if something had actually happened?  Those thoughts came to rest as I neared the bottom of the bridge for the turn down into Manhattan.  The crowd was cheering us welcoming us and all seemed fine.  Again I had read a lot about this stretch of the race.  The run up First Ave was supposed to be an extremely loud and raucous affair.  The crowds seemed to be somewhat excited, but maybe since this was a little later in the day, they did not seem so rambunctious. I tried a couple of times to get them going by waving my arms to help them cheer.  I was to later read that the crowds this year were a little lighter than years in the past mainly due to a possible fear of an incident, but more so, the worry about dealing with increased security.    
Taken by Megan Ellis on First Ave.

There was a plan to see the Achilles cheer station at 93rd and First and then Sue and Owen around 100th.  The crowds continued to cheer us along and I was to later find out that a friend, BAA runner, Lindsay Willard and Pingree grad, Sam Logan, were both able to spot me from the other side of First Avenue and give me a cheer.  I may not have heard it, but I was thankful to know people were out looking for me.  As I neared 93rd St, I looked over and saw my dear Achilles friend, guide Megan Ellis.  I ran over and gave her a big hug and kiss and continued on, feeling a bit more energized as I then started to look for Sue and Owen.  As I neared 100th St, I did not see them.  Once I neared 103rd St, I called Sue on my cell.  They had missed me.  After riding up on the subway to see me, they had turned the wrong way and headed for the Hudson and not towards to East River.  All 3 of us were bummed, but in the end it was probably for the best for Sue's sake as she had decided we would be heading home after the race and she would need to be rested for the 4+ hour drive.  A funny note about the bible verse on my back, "PHIL 4:13".  I had my name right underneath it but that did not stop a number of runners from yelling, "GO PHIL!!" And some others asked me if that was my estimated finish time?  To which I responded, "I WISH!!!"

I headed up towards the Bronx, the last borough to hit, prior to getting back into Manhattan.  At this point I came across two Achilles supporters who I had met at the dinner on Friday night.  They asked where my guide was, and when I said I did not run with one, that decided to run with me for a while.  At this point we had passed the 19 mile mark and I was struggling a bit mentally, having been running now for more than 4 hours.  The ladies were asking questions and chatting and I was really not in the mood to chat right now.  We went on for a while, crossed into the Bronx and I felt the need to tell them I needed some time alone.  I politely let them know I was not really into chatting right now and would appreciate it, if they went off on their own pace.  I asked them to forgive me if I was being rude, but I needed to get my mind to a different place, by no fault of their own at all, I felt that chatting was not helping.  The said they understood fully (I surely hope so) and off they went.  The path through the Bronx is very short, amounting to less than 2 miles.  The crowds were good here, but it was important I try and get me mind set for the last 5 miles.  I kept saying, 5 miles, that's just a short run after work, you can do that.  Here was to come the true test.

The crossover on the Madison Ave bridge was short.  I had heard about the bridge being covered with some carpeting, but it was not there.  A recent change I suppose.  We now proceeded down 5th Avenue into Harlem.  The gospel choir we were greeted by was amazing as they were signing "MY GOD IS A LOVE MACHINE." The song brought a smile to my face and it was at this point ( I think!!) that I noticed another close NYC friend in the crowd, Chris "CAV" Cavagnaro.  I was somewhere around Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem.

As I continued down 5th Avenue it wasn't too long before we reached the NE corner of Central Park just before mile 23. The road seems to narrow here and so I seemed to be pretty close to fans watching on both sides.  I saw a group of Achilles athletes and guides ahead and realized it was Bill Reilly and his crew of supporters.  Bill is an amazing athlete with CP.  He does all of his races in a wheelchair where he pushes himself with his feet to move backwards.  The guides are there to help him when he goes downhill where they act as his brakes.  My dear friend Ariel Krieger was one of his guides and it meant a real boost to me to get a hug from her and a big HIGH-5 from Bill.  

After I passed them a wave of emotion came over me and I started to weep uncontrollably.  I looked at my watch and read the elapsed time of 5hr:50min.  It then hit me all at once.  When I race Boston last April, I was stopped from my run with about 3/4 of a mile to go somewhere around 3:20pm.  The bombs had actually gone off at 2:50pm, when I was just passing through Cleveland Circle, which was when my watch would have read 5hr:50min.  I don't recall thinking about that time during the day, but for some reason my body knew it was coming.  I was actually weeping so hard I had to put my face in my hands and keep sobbing.  Spectators actually started to ask me if I was OK.  As soon as it started, the crying stopped.  I was determined to finish this race strong and so I started to run a little harder.  Just prior to mile 24 we turn into The Park.  I was happily surprised as most of the running in the park was downhill, at least that's the way it felt.  I could hear the music and P.A. announcer from the finish line as the crowds at this point were quite thin.

 Just after the 40KM mark we exit the park and run along 59th Street and Central Park South.  Quickly the crowds really grew as I truly sensed I would be finishing the LARGEST MARATHON in the WORLD.  There were close to 51,000 finishers and I was going to be one of the them.  I rounded the right side of Columbus Circle and looked up on the big Jumbotron only to see myself re-enter the park.  With less than a mile to go the emotion started to talk hold of me again, but this time it was all JOY and I could not contain my smile.  

With about 200m to go I looked over and saw a crowd of Canadian supporters cheering.  I had seen the same group over on the First Avenue and I waved at them again.  When I had passed them earlier, I had yelled that Toronto was my home town.  When they say me this second time, they let out a huge cheer.  Then something amazing happened.  I looked down on the pavement and noticed a small Canadian flag in the middle of the road.  I would pick it up and take it with me the rest of the way.  I could see the finish line ahead and continued to run.  As I crossed the line I let out a loud yell raising my arms in the air.  I would later find out that the NYC Marathon would include this clip of me in their Marathon Recap video.  It appears around the 19:30 minute mark.
Boy was it WINDY!!  Done in 6:37:26

I looked up and saw the face of Achilles in Kat Bateman waiting for me.I gave her a huge hug and simply let loose in tears again.  She helped me move along to get out of the finish area and handed me over to another volunteer who would take me to the family meeting area where I would find Sue and Owen waiting for me.  The area was right next to the Dakota, home of Yoko Ono (widow of John Lennon).  I had a couple of hot chocolates, changed my clothes and we made our way to the 1 train, to get back to our hotel.  

After changing we packed up and left the city around 5:30pm to make our way back to Salem.  I nodded off a few times but pretty much stayed awake for the trip home.  We did make a stop at Boston Market for some food, but like some big races in the past, I ordered a lot of food, but was only able to eat a little bit of it.  We arrived back home a little after 10pm.  After decompressing I went to bed and was up at 6AM in order to head to work at Pingree School where I would teach 4 classes.  Needless to say, I wore my finishers medal all day long.

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