Sunday, November 7, 2010
Three years ago I was at a bar in Chicago with a good friend for President's day weekend. They used to allow smoking at the bars in Chicago back then.
Between the two of us we finished a pack of cigarettes each night as we were in withdrawal from NYC's recent ban on smoking inside bars. On our third night I felt a pain in my chest that I have never felt before, I also had the smoker's cough each morning when we woke up while nursing our hangovers.
The pain hit me real hard and I knew it was smoke related. I saw my doctor after the trip and although he said I'm okay, he strongly recommended that I quit smoking. And that is what got me started running.
I knew the nicotine patches were ineffective for me unless paired with another outlet. I used running as that outlet. Back then I was neighbors with an
accomplished runner, and now one of my best friends, Jared Fayer. He lived across the hall from me and finished the 2006 NYC Marathon in 3:33.
I told him I was quitting smoking and he suggested that I pick up running.
So the running journey began. In March of 2008 I joined the New York Road Runners Club (NYRR) and started signing up for their 4 to 5 mile races. By June of 2008 I had run 6 races with NYRR and smoke free for 4 months. That was when Jared knocked on my door and asked if I would be interested in running the 2008 Baltimore Half Marathon that October. The thought of running 13.1 miles was beyond me and I had to think about it for a while before I took a leap of faith and said yes. In October of 2008, I finished my first half marathon in Baltimore in 1:53.
When 2009 started Jared again invited me to do another half marathon, this time it is the NYC Half Marathon. Hoping to better my half marathon time I signed up for it. This is also when I learned that if I ran 9 races with NYRR and volunteer in one that I would get guaranteed entry to the 2010 NYC Marathon. I had my mind set. Not only did I finish the 2009 NYC Half Marathon that August, in a better time of 1:50, but I also ran 10 other shorter races with NYRR which gave me my ticket to the 2010 NYC Marathon. I'M IN!!!
It is 2010. Three years smoke free I find myself training for the NYC Marathon, my first marathon. We had a really hot summer so the June start to the training was brutal. I got so used to running in 85 to 90 degree weather with 80% humidity I now own 2 different hydration belts. The long runs kicked in around September then the 20 mile runs in October. During these long runs I felt I could run any half marathon on any given day. The fatigue would set in around mile 17 each time then the mental games started. On my last 20 mile run I felt I was ready but also hoped for the adrenaline, the cheering crowd and my motivation to help me get through the last 6 miles.
It is Marathon day November 7, 2010 - I got up at 5:30AM, got ready and hopped in a cab for my 7:00AM Staten Island Ferry assigned transport. It was a cold morning in the mid 30s. I was bundled up in cheap sweats and old clothes. The ferry ride was scenic, we passed by the statue of liberty and saw the Verrazano bridge glistening, waiting for us to run on it. After we arrived at Fort Wadsworth in Staten Island around 8:00AM we waited at our respective villages, I was at the orange village. Plenty of porta-potties, UPS trucks for bag drop offs and wide open space for runners to hang out at and wait until our waves were announced.
I was assigned on Wave 2 with a 10:10AM start. At 9:20AM they announced that the corrals are open for the Wave 2 start. The peeling of the cheap sweats began. Runners taking the first layers off and throwing them to the sides for volunteers to pick up and donate to charity. Once inside the corrals, we waited for about a half hour then we started walking towards the foot of the Verrazano bridge.
More cheap sweats came off and thrown to the sides. At the foot of the bridge we waited another 10 minutes then a loud canon went off reverberating through every runners body announcing wave 2 of the marathon has begun. IT'S ON!!!
The Verrazano Bridge. It was a clear crisp day in the 40s by the time we started. The mile and a half run across the bridge was scenic and amazing.
I was lucky my corral was directed to the top level to witness the grandeur of one of the longest bridges in the world. As a bridge engineer who personally has done repairs and inspected the Verrazano bridge, this was a very special experience. Right after the bridge, the cheering crowd started. Loud supportive yells calling out "GO LEO" was repeated over a hundred times for the next few hours. I wrote a big "L E O" across my shirt to get the crowd to call me out during the race. It worked! And if there is one thing I can say that was amazing about the NYC Marathon, it is the cheering crowd. My IPod was useless as I could not hear my music because of the cheering crowd. And let me tell you, the crowd was there from mile 2 all the way to mile 26. It was awesome!
I was on pace at 9:09 per mile until we hit the 59th street Queensboro bridge at mile 15. The long uphill then long downhill emphasized the fatigue that was about to set in. I saw Jared Fayer and his wife Shari the moment we arrived in Manhattan at first avenue, it felt so good to see them.
Then I saw my family and more friends, Sugi, Laura, Gabrielle, Gabe and Ian. I was on top of the world until around mile 18 when I landed on uneven pavement and twisted my left ankle and took a bad spill skinning my right palm. One runner stopped and helped me get up. The cheering crowd was relentless yelling "GET UP LEO! GO LEO!". How could I not?? Seeing my bleeding hand and hoping my ankle wasn't badly injured, I proceeded to jog for a bit. The crowd went wild. To that runner who helped me get up and to the crowd around 90th street, I say THANK YOU!
The fall shook me up a bit but I went ahead doing run-walk-run while trying not to look at my bloody hand. At this point my pace slowed down even more.
I told myself "Leo just finish the race... you can do it man". Then literally adding insult to my injury, at mile 21 in the Bronx, I hit the infamous wall that everybody talked about. I felt like I ran out of juice. I was still shaken from my fall, I felt hungry, my legs hurt and I felt cold. Someone handed me a banana and gatorade, it helped. At this point I just focused on one step at a time... run-walk-run... one step at a time.
Before I knew it, we were in Central Park. I knew I got it in the bag. 2 more miles Leo! I saw more friends along the way then I saw a sign that the finish line was 500 yards away. I could not believe it, I can see the finish line. I crossed the finish line in 4:38:16 with fists pumped up to the heavens and a big smile. I DID IT!!!
After rehydrating and picking up a medal I immediately went to the Medical Tent to treat my injured hand. The nurse said it looked bad as the skin was all gone just above my wrist but she said I am lucky I did not break my wrist. They cleaned it and dressed it. My left ankle was swollen but not as bad as it could have been as I already twisted the same ankle years ago so the ligaments are loose.
Afterwards I picked up my bag then met my friends and family for some needed celebration.
I want to thank my family and friends for supporting me on my first marathon. To my marathoner friends Eli Khoury, Laura Halstead, Hank Wells, Stela and Cris Moen, thank you for all your advice. Jared Fayer, special thanks to you, I could not call myself a marathoner today if it wasn't for you. You are an inspiration and I hope to run more races with you. To mom and dad thanks for the athletic and clumsy genes.
I just wanted to quit smoking... but I now have a NYC Marathon Medal and three years smoke free! Cheers!
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