Monday, November 12, 2012

Harrisburg Marathon recap - 10th marathon

My 2012 marathon schedule is completed. I finished the Miami Marathon in January, Marathon de Paris in April, and the Harrisburg Marathon on Sunday. That brings my marathon career up to double digits since I chose to trade a box of KOOLs for a box of ASICS on December 1, 2006.

1. 2007 New York City Marathon
2. 2008 St. Louis Marathon
3. 2008 Statues on Parade Marathon
4. 2008 New York City Marathon
5. 2008 Knickerbocker 60K Ultramarathon
6. 2009 New Jersey Marathon
7. 2010 Miami Marathon
8. 2012 Miami Marathon
9. 2012 Marathon de Paris
10. 2012 Harrisburg Marathon

Nine of the 10 are "official" as I invented the Statues on Parade Marathon the summer of our All-Star Game in New York, running 26.2 miles to see all 42 replica Statues of Liberty in the NYC area. To qualify for Marathon Maniacs, I would probably need one more official one. But for me, it's 10 marathons.

I am thankful to the city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and to the organizers of the 40th annual marathon there. They rolled out the red carpet for about 1,000 of us NYC Marathon refugees, who were notified after superstorm Sandy that the 2012 NYC Marathon was canceled. After coming together to help those affected in the NYC area, it was time for full closure and to run a marathon somewhere. For me, 3 1/2 hours away.


Lismo and I drove over on Saturday morning and stayed at the Radisson Hotel, which, as with so many Harrisburg hotels, was overflowing with orange-clad masses from the Big Apple. Why the Radisson? Simple. I checked online and they had a "Sleep Number Bed Special." It was two double beds, circa 1950s TV, but who cares? I've never had a Sleep Number. Turns out I like very high, like 85 or 90 -- firm. I figured that would be ideal for the night before a marathon.

There were about 900 of us NYC Marathon refugees who registered, such a crush that the race organizer extended the entry deadline and ordered an additional 1,000 medals and shirts. I learned from someone later that it was the race organizer's first year in that role, and I can just imagine what that was like. "Hey, Andy, they just canceled the New York City Marathon. You need to double the field this year. Have fun."

First we drove over the Market Street Bridge to City Island, home of the Harrisburg Senators baseball team.

I learned a lot of history about City Island there, including its heritage as a Negro League team home. Registration was in the pavilion, and it was an easy in-and-out, pick up your bib and shirt and scoot. I have to say that they had the best-quality tech shirt of any race I've attended. More on that below...

We really enjoyed touring the State Capitol during the day. It is a magnificent building. Did you know that it used to be a brick building but was destroyed by fire?

Take a close look at these words engraved into a front wall at the Capitol:

When you walk up to the top of the stairs and then look down, only then do you notice that there is a wondrous rose compass on the steps, showing all four directions with an arrow through it pointing to the north, and featuring the trademark keystone in the middle.

I decided that was a good place to have my bib pic taken.

We were blown away by the grandeur of the Harrisburg bridges. There were at least a half-dozen in eyesight, all with their own unique histories. The Susquehanna River is gorgeous, and it was so glassy and serene. Throw in an amazing sunset, and we just really enjoyed our time there. We walked back and forth across the Walnut Street Bridge, aka "Old Shakey," an iron bridge that used to carry auto traffic back in the day.

Little did I know that would be the bridge I would sprint across to the finish line the next day.

We went to the Crowne Plaza for the official race pasta dinner. They should try to group runners together, is my only advice. It was a standard dining room and we were seated by ourselves as a table of two, which we could have done at a more upscale Italian restaurant had we known that. You really want to meet runners and talk marathon, so maybe have large cluster tables next time.

After driving around in vain searching for a view of Three Mile Island -- I think I had seen it from a highway farther south before -- we drove back to the hotel to play with our Sleep Number. First we noticed this unbelievable view of Old Shakey alit at night. We're like: Are you kidding? What a beautiful town.

Then it was time for the big decision: What To Wear.

There were three choices. One was the orange NYC Marathon long sleeve tech shirt I received at the expo two weeks earlier, the same one I had worn last Sunday to Staten Island as many of us brought relief supplies and helped devastated residents. One was the brand-new blue long sleeve tech shirt that said Harrisburg Marathon on the front. The third choice was the one I had planned for all along at NYC: A red singlet with the NYC Marathon logo on the front, featuring screen-pressed lettering I had put on the back by a printer. I was going to dedicate this one to my wife. It means so much to have a supportive partner, and to support that person back, to share these experiences. I won't say what it read or show it here, because I am going to do it for a future event, but it was kind of out of place in Harrisburg, and besides it was kind of snug and it made me look like a fatty. So it was down to the long sleeves, and I went to bed thinking new/blue and woke up deciding to do my tribute to NYC. Plus, the orange one was lighter in fabric weight, and it was looking a little warmer than expected on Sunday -- 60s.


After a small breakfast at the Radisson, we drove back onto City Island, parked and went back to the pavilion to check my bag. On this morning, I was shocked to realize that this marathon was happening on the East side of the river -- where downtown Harrisburg is -- rather than the West side of the river. I had been looking at the course map totally upside down. How did that happen? That was a first.

Starting on the Market Street Bridge, we went off at 8:30 a.m. It was the first time I can remember an actual RUNNING START. I'm used to corrals and insane sardine starts. That was nice. We proceeded onto Front Street, which is peppered with one historical landmark after another. I've never seen a city  more proud of its history than Harrisburg, and that is a cool thing. I read each one. Miles 1-2 formed a loop around the State Capitol, so you saw its front and back, and just reveled in its majesty as you ran around it.

Mile 3, I realized I was starting too fast, noticing that my pace was in the 10s. I should be around 12. I can't believe I did that, and figured I would pay for it. After Mile 4, you venture into a pretty cool stretch called the Capital Greenbelt Area. It is a windy hard-packed trail that is easy on your legs, and you are thankful for that, knowing what is farther ahead. It was a little hilly, but I could deal with it at that point. I'm starting to get into a groove. You make your way past nice residential areas of South Front Street and then return on Market Street to City Island for Mile 6.

At this point, I'm already having a water issue. I'm used to fluid stations every mile or at least every two miles. I had debated carrying fluids, but I don't like to if I don't have to. I wish I had, because at this point I already have had a couple of bouts of serious thirst, with mile 5 doubling as the same water station we'd used at mile 3. Note to self: carry water from now on if it's under 10,000 or 20,000 runners.

There is a loop of about a mile and a half on City Island, where I took advantage of the row of portapotties before continuing on. We ran across Old Shaky, and only then did I really start to get familiar with the mile markers.

Between Mile 8 and Mile 9 is arguably the most beautiful stretch of marathon course that I ever have experienced. Last April, I was running for miles alongside the Seine in Paris, and this was prettier. The glassy Susquehanna glistened and reflected the blue off what I believe was the Harvey Taylor Bridge. It was serene, and it carried me for a while. I am always at my best around miles 8-9, for some reason.

And that, my friends, is the first half of the movie. You know, the kind of movie where it is all joy and paradise before intermission, knowing that a dastardly twist awaits after you come back to your seat.

We ran and ran out to a stretch of industrial park madness where semi-tractor trailer trucks zoomed alongside our left ears. One truck bore down hard behind three Athletes Serving Athletes runners. The middle runner was pushing a disabled athlete. These groups are phenomenal, adding a special touch to this race. And here was this big semi with his bumper right behind those three who were running side by side, until finally one of them noticed, like it was a snorting bull right behind them, so they scampered to the side. It was pretty scary from where I was standing. We were totally on the wrong side of the road. You are supposed to run INTO traffic, so you don't get clipped. Another change I would recommend, please.

Or just have police block the course like most marathons. Or just don't run out that far.

I was feeling healthy but overtapered, to say the least. But through Mile 17, I was hanging in there, and projecting my time, I got a HUGE lift. My PR was 5:13 in 2008 at the NYC Marathon. My second-best was 5:21 in 2008 at St. Louis. I ran a 5:43 in Paris and was over 6 in Miami due to ITB. This was going to be my race, "flat" as promised by the race organizer.

Well, you can throw that right out the window.

Say hello to Wildwood Lake Park. Miles 18-20 take place there, and they are tremendous ascent and descent angles that just don't belong, especially if you advertise your race as "flat," which is one thing that caught my eye when I was looking for a replacement race and thought..."hmm, Harrisburg." Why include it here? I walked almost literally the entirety of Miles 18-20, and that destroyed my hamstrings, my quads, and my finish time. There is no other way to say it.

Let me quote Katie Edwards, the female winner of the Harrisburg Marathon: "I definitely think Wildwood is brutal. It definitely had twists and turns. I definitely think there are flatter races. I didn’t think the course was too flat."

Oh, on top of not belonging in this marathon, Miles 18-20 featured this much water: None.

I texted my wife back and forth, failing to use important characters, saying things like "Im hllcntng" and "dying out hre." She was going to have someone sent out to me. I texted back that she should not send help, "ever."

At the end of Wildwood Lake Park, a police officer was programmed to say that was the last hill. That's good, because I still had a 10K to run. Every word out of mouth the previous half-hour started with F. And it was always the same word. Solitude, hiking Mt. Everest, dry as Death Valley, self-defeating, ruining my hope of a decent time, removing my drive capacity for hamstring and quad function thereafter...all in all I would say Wildwood Lake Park is a must-remove for 2013 or don't tell us it's a flat course.

My wife reached me with a bottle of water at Mile 23, realizing my struggle with ample fluid on the course. It was a sunny day in the 60s and it baked me for much of the marathon, making me always thirsty. She heard way too much cussing from me. It was time for me to bear down. I was constantly calculating, backing up times, targeting a certain number and doing whatever it took to get there.

That's marathon running. I still had some giddy-up left:

If all of this sounds bad, it's just part of the mission. If it was easy, everyone would be out here doing it.

And the harder it is, the more it hurts, the better it feels when it is over and when the pain goes away.

I churned and churned and worked hard and sprinted across Old Shakey and I finished in 5:45:16. My quads look like thoroughbred muscles at this point -- POWER!

Per custom, I danced across the finish line. I have done that all 10 marathons to date.


Never been to a marathon where they had better food after the finish line. I got my heatsheet and I sat there eating a sub, with lemonade and tea. They also had ice cream. They are good people at this race. It was Veterans Day, and Lismo took this pic of me under the flag:

This was the first full or half where I did not receive a medal, but I give the race organizer credit for trying. He ordered 1,000 extra ones and on Saturday they only received 600 of them from the company that makes them. Not his fault, he tried his best to accommodate our Orange Crush from NYC. So I was told that mine is being shipped to me. That's cool, it'll go on my medal rack when I get it.

I dumped myself into the back seat of Lismo's car and we made the drive back to NYC. She drove the first 2 hours, allowing  me to just slump into the back seat and relax, check my iPhone, kick back. She doesn't like to drive at night so I finished the ride. I would not ordinarily advocate driving out-of-town right after running a marathon, but it was fine. I got in a little snooze time.

I picked up a few bags of ice just before arriving home, and then filled up the tub. Here's my advice for newbie marathoners: ICEBATH NO MATTER WHAT. I was wondering if four or five hours later was beyond the window of significance, and it helped a great deal. You sit there and scream, but you can feel the inflammation go down. Doing this ensures that your next two days will not be horrible on Earth.

Lismo made me a cheese omelet, and for some reason it was the best thing I ever ate. I'm a 10-time marathoner, and I am happy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Water and Walter: The 2012 NYC Marathon Legacy

"Who are all of these people in orange? I see them everywhere."
NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Nov. 4, 2012, at Midland Beach on Staten Island

Being without power, being cold and dealing with long gas lines was only an inconvenience for me and my family in the New York City area -- frustrating and perspective-challenging but only an inconvenience. On Sunday, the day I was to run my third New York City Marathon and eagerly reach double digits for 26.2 mile or greater distance, I instead found myself on a Staten Island Ferry headed to some of the greatest devastation left in the wake of Sandy.

I think most of us 47,000 entrants were relieved that the race was canceled. For me it was a tremendous relief. On Saturday, after the cancellation was announced, I had planned to drive over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge myself and bring supplies. Then I discovered the Facebook movement of New York Runners In Support Of Staten Island. One of my fellow runners summarizes the entire day better than anything I have seen, on youtube:

About 1,000 of us, mostly clad in our orange NYC Marathon Expo event shirts (I drew the "@" sign in front of "Marathoner" on my back), met at the Staten Island Ferry terminal at 8:30 am on Sunday. The night before, I had gone to Target to buy supplies -- batteries, prepaid phone cards, dog food, baby wipes, towels, etc -- and I went down in my basement and found my 2008 Beijing Olympics backpack that had been unused, a giveaway to media there. I loaded it. Here is what the force of volunteers looked like as they gave directions to all of us awaiting the ferry ride:

All the volunteers you see with optic-yellow caps in this picture below had come from England. They were among so many internationals who wanted to do something after their marathon was canceled. I got to know a man from Denmark who said his goal was to run every marathon major, and since he could not, he wanted to be here.

We were split into several groups, and the thinking was that runners have a unique ability to "get to" areas and people most in need, using leg power. We would run anyway from 6-8 miles to 14+ miles on Staten Island, dropping off supplies and helping. When we got to Staten Island, a local who spoke to all of us came over to our group and said we should just get on the train and get to New Dorp as fast as possible.

We did that, and then we walked a mile over toward the coast, to the battered and shocking area along Cedar Grove Ave. Homes were swept off their foundation by the reported 14-foot surge of water. People were lost in the disaster. Houses had the eery spray-painted "FD OK" on the fronts, signifying the fire department had been through already. We deposited the contents of our backpacks at a long row of tables, each labeled "Men," "Women," "Children" and so forth. We were told to avoid overwhelming surviving residents with our presence, but instead to go around and simply ask how we could help.

They needed mostly cleanup supplies, because many of them were removing the visible signs of their despair -- ruined drywall, flooring, everything. I carried over a large roll of heavy-duty trash bags. "Take that to 65 Neptune. The resident requested it," said the woman at the relief-supply table. At 65 Neptune, there were at least 10 other NYC Marathon runners in an assembly line removing contents of the house, wearing masks. Missy, my new friend from Memphis, was so helpful as we walked around from street to street. She is a former E.R. nurse and I learned a lot from watching how she interacted.

This scene played out for hours in that area. I was not prepared for what I saw, but I was humbled and my greatest takeaway was this: THEY ARE HEARD. I was so moved by the mass of people all pitching in. Not just us runners, but the volunteers already on the scene. One guy, Richie, shook my hand and thanked us for coming, and he told me he was trying to get his brother to move out of his house to a hotel or shelter, but he wouldn't budge. "We took him some homemade (pasta) sauce," Richie said -- it was an Italian thing.

On Cedar Grove, we moved past U.S. flag-draped homes and got to one where a mother and her son were standing, chatting with helpers. I got down on my knee to meet Walter, her son, and we shook hands. He was clutching one of those white masks that residents and volunteers were wearing because of the dust. I realized then what I had come there for more than anything. I had a few personal things left in my backpack, and I emptied it. Then I asked the mom: "Could I give Walter the backpack?"

She said "He needs that for Boy Scouts," and then she broke into tears and cried in my arms. I asked if she could use the 2007 NYC Marathon mylar finisher blanket I still had from my first-ever marathon on its five-year anniversary, and she said, "Actually we have heat." That surprised me, in a good way. "Then maybe you know a neighbor who can use it," I said, as she took it. So amazing. All the stuff I crammed into my backpack, and then it was the actual backpack itself that in my own experience made the biggest difference. Thanks to my teammate Missy for taking this picture of the backpack handoff:

We walked around, through the streets, asking how we could possibly help. Sometimes, I felt in the way. I think that is a good thing. Work was being done, instead of crying out with no one hearing.

Then we resumed running. Anytime we weren't helping, we were running somewhere to be. I was stopped during part of the run to be interviewed by New York mag. I was happy to see so much media coverage.

It was unbelievable to see what could happen when people come together, right there in the center of devastation. I know that so many places felt the wrath of Sandy. We at Major League Baseball also have donated $1 million, and I am proud of my company for that. I see it all over. I just wanted to give a public thanks to sports Dr. Jordan Metzl and others who started the New York Runners In Support Of Staten Island movement. And I want to thank other NYC Marathon runners who donated at Sunday's Run Anyway NYC Marathon -- including Runners World legend Amby Burfoot -- and all the others who pitched in to help in whatever way they could. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (right), who originally had stood by his decision to go with the marathon and then finally relent and cancel it, even showed up in a surprise meeting with Metzl where we had worked.

It is also important not to feel like this is a recap of anything. This is a work in progress. People are still suffering, people are still trying to reach each other. Nothing is done. This is just an update on one thing that happened on Sunday. I hope it will give others an idea how they might help.

Lastly, I want to say that I am always restless the night before a marathon or half-marathon, but I never have felt the rush of excitement and anticipation that I felt in trying to sleep Saturday night, knowing we were going to do something as one to help others. And my thoughts are most definitely with those who still are struggling to restore lives after Sandy, and for those who were were lost and who lost so much.

More pictures: