New York City Marathon ’02: 3:56:24

The New York City Marathon was incredible. It was my favorite race ever, and my best: I finished in 3:56:24, over four minutes fast than last year, and some 22 minutes faster than my 2000.

It had been cloudy, windy and cold for days, but Sunday morning was beautiful. The sun had not yet rose above the city as I stepped out of my apartment, so the sky was deep robin’s egg blue. Everything was still and quiet. And warm. I thought to myself, “It’s perfect.”

The ritual is this: car service to the library (taxis are hard to come by with 30,000 participants looking for a ride), bus to Staten Island, and wait, wait, wait. This years wait was warm, though. Basically, I had a cup of coffee, read a little bit of the Sunday Times, stretched, lubed up (basically, you have to smear Vaseline anywhere that could become abraded — 26.2 miles is a long way), and got in line.

It was windy and clear out on the Verenzano, waiting for the gun (cannon, actually). Police and TV copters buzzed overhead. The Mayor spoke. We sang the National Anthem (the French kinda’ rolled their eyes). They released some doves. And we were off. Well, kind of: it took us about seven minutes to actually cross the start.

It was an awesome event. The first mile is up the bridge, which was challenging ‘cuz we were surrounded by slower runners. The second is down the bridge, where all the guys start peeing over the side (including me). Then you’re into Brooklyn and streets are lined with people hootin’ and hollarin’ and keeping you inspired the whole way. I lost Chris and Jen pretty quickly, and ended up running some 24 miles or so alone. The crowd was thick and our miles were slow, and I was feeling impatient. My friends Jeff and Kristan were on 4th Avenue somewhere around mile seven, and I was thrilled to see them. Mile eight is at BAM, and the crowd is thick and enthusiastic there. There were some great tunes blaring (“Back in Black” or something similarly humerous), and I was feeling pretty good.

It gets a little quiet in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, the crowds become sparse around mile ten. My arches were starting to blister, and my energy was waning. In years prior, I began to fade on the Polaski Bridge (miles 13-14) and started hurting in earnest on the 59th Street Bridge. I was getting a little worried. I gelled at mile eleven, figuring it would boost me over the bridges and into Manhattan where the crowds would keep me movin’. So indeed, surrounded by groaning, pained runner, I found myself in Queens thinking only how beautiful the light was. I crushed the 59th Street Bridge, passing runners up and down, but reminding myself to be careful.

Running down the bridge onto 1st Avenue, I was greeted with the biggest crowds of the race, most of them cute Upper East Side women with a few mimosas under their belts. I ran close to the crowds on the left side if the Avenue, as I had in years past, looking for my friends. My buddy Ken was there around mile seventeen with oranges, but I stopped only long enough to say “I’m running a little behind, so I gotta’ go!” I gelled again at mile eighteen: sour apple PowerGel and Gatorade. Mmmmmm. It gets quiet again up in Harlem, but I still felt strong. People were really hurting on the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronxe, but miraculously, I was passing them.

Passing the clock at mile twenty, I began to calculate (which becomes more and more difficult the longer you run): I had just over 45 minutes to make it in under four hours. And so I thought of every person I was angry with, every person I love, every person who inspires me — most importantly, I though to myself ‘If you don’t go sub-four, you’ll have to live with it another year!’ — and dug deep. All the way down Fifth Avenue, shuckin’ and jivin’ around weakening runners, I ticked away the miles. Every time I looked down at my chrono, I was surprised to find that I was gaining speed!

Chris caught up with me as we entered Central Park just long enough to say “22 minutes to make sub-four!” I just kept repeating “Sub Four, Sub Four” with each footfall. The harder I ran, the less I hurt. And before I knew it, I could see the finish, and I was sprinting in as if it were a 10k. I raised both arms and smiled as I passed under the banner, delirious. They wrapped me in a space blanket, handed me my medal, and I blended into a sea of aluminum-clad anonymity.

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