Monday, November 4, 2013

NYC Marathon: (A Miserable) Part 1

I did not have the greatest start to the NYC marathon--most of which was my own fault.

The day before the marathon, I picked up my aunt from the Port Authority bus station around noon (she was coming in to cheer me on!), and we walked around New York City for, oh . . . the next three or four hours. She wanted to see the High Line, which seemed like a very reasonable request, except that I didn't remember it being quite so long. Midway along the walk, she kindly offered to stop, but we had to walk to the end because I needed to return a library book to a library I had scouted out that was located down by 9th street. Of course, the library I had so brilliantly chosen wasn't at 9th street and 11th Ave; it was at 9th street and 6th Ave, so we had to walk almost an entire mile in addition to having just walked about 3 miles. Then, I thought we could easily stop by and see R___, who was eating lunch in the area, but it turned out that he was much farther east than I had anticipated, so we ended up walking all the way over to 2nd Ave--another mile--on top of everything. By the time we got home, no thanks to my poor planning, we had probably walked about 6 miles. After which I stood at the stove for an hour-and-a-half, cooking dinner.

All in all, probably not the best-thought-out plan for the day before a marathon.

The race day itself started out as expected. I had laid out all of my clothing and gear the night before, so I had no problem downing my breakfast; greasing up my legs, chest, and armpits; donning my outfit (plus all of my keep-warm throwaway clothing for the start); collecting my packed bag (complete with freshly charged watch and iPod); and heading out the door right on time. The PATH train also came on time--thank goodness--and before I knew it, I was at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, ready to board the 6:45AM ferry.

That's when I went to turn on my watch.

For those who have not read my blog in the past, I purchased my first GPS Garmin watch a few short months ago. Since then, I have yet to run a race where it has not malfunctioned in some way. At the Bronx 10-miler, it died completely midway through the race. At the Staten Island Half, it lost satellite reception about 8 miles into the race and never recovered. So really, I should have known better than to wear this fickle contraption for a race as important as the NYC Marathon. But it just worked so well during the weeks when I run regular workouts, that I keep thinking, "Nah, it'll be fine. Those two other times were just flukes." Not so.

I am 100% positive that when I unhooked my watch from its charger that morning, the display showed the battery as being fully charged (i.e. a solid, unblinking 4 bars in that little rectangular battery shape). In an effort to preserve the battery as much as possible, I turned the watch off completely, intending to turn it back on when I had finished being underground (so that it wound't drain itself during that part of the trip, looking for satellite reception). Therefore, imagine my surprise when, standing in the ferry terminal, I went to push the "on" button and nothing happened. Not a beep, not a flicker--nothing.

I'm embarrassed to say that my first instinct was to cry. Seriously? On the most important day when I needed this thing to work, it wasn't even going to turn on? Now, not only would I not know my pace per mile, I wouldn't be able to clock my own running time or even know what time of day it was! (That last part was not entirely true: I had my iPod with me, so I could check the time on that device. But doing so involved pushing a button to get the display to turn on, whereas glancing down at my wrist would have been so much easier. That was the point of having a watch in the first place!)

On top of the watch malfunction, I was feeling weird hungry/nervous flutters in my stomach. I hadn't eaten a ton at dinner, because I usually snack well into the night. However, since I also didn't stay up as late as I usually do, I didn't have as much time to snack . . . so now I was feeling a little empty. I got out the almonds I had brought with me and tried to eat some, but they tasted like cardboard and I wasn't sure my stomach actually wanted those, anyway. I unwrapped a Cliff Bar and took a few bites, trying to talk myself down from full-blown panic, when something finally went my way. I heard my name.


Emerging from the sea of people was H___, another GCR runner whom I hadn't seen in weeks. I had heard that she was injured and wasn't even sure if she'd be running the marathon at all, but there she was, smiling up at me from under her a brown-and-white beanie.

H___ was my saving grace for the rest of the morning. Without her, no matter how many times I told myself, "You still have your legs. You don't need a watch to run a good race. It's not raining. You're going to be fine," I am certain I would have been fixated on my stupid watch failure and remained miserable right up until the moment the race started. However, despite her plan to run this race on a stress fracture, H___ was in great spirits and we chatted all the way up until we found the rest of our group at the waiting area on Staten Island.

That's when my next problem arose: I couldn't poop.

To any non-runners reading this, I don't think there is any feeling--apart from cramping--that is worse than running a long distance while having to poop. I had this problem during my first marathon, and I somehow miraculously held it in from mile 16 all the way to the finish. To this day, I'm still not sure how I accomplished that feat, and I was fairly certain that if I encountered the same issue during the NYC marathon, I wasn't going to make it; I would have had to stop. And for me, stopping is one of the worst possible things to do during a long-distance race. Not only is it demoralizing, because I know I'm losing a ton of time, but my legs also lock up and make getting started running again next to impossible.

In any case, my plan was to go to the bathroom in the waiting area and then take an Imodium to feel safe for the rest of the race (which is a trick I learned from H___, ironically enough!). However, as gross as this sounds, I simply could not poop. Finally I just took the Imodium and hoped for the best.

Spoiler alert: I didn't have to poop on the race route. I did, however, really need to pee--starting at about 9:20, which is before we even crossed the starting line. I had already peed twice in the previous hour, so how I could possibly needed to go again is beyond my comprehension. Nerves? Too much water the night before? Who knows. In any event, this also worked itself out, because by mile 20, all I could feel was the pain in my legs; there were no thoughts of my bladder. Unfortunately, that did not lessen my panic at the starting line, where I was shivering and worrying in equal measure. Was I going to have to clench my bladder for the entire 3+ hours? And I was going to be drinking even more liquid, too!

More on the actual race, in Part 2. . . .

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