by Quinn Batson
Mike wore sunglasses at 5:30 in the morning cuz that’s the way he rolls when he runs. We headed for the 8th Street R station 300 yards away and found kin on the platform. The first we spoke to came from Italy. Fun fact: about 4,000 Italians run the NYC marathon each year, making them possibly the largest non-U.S. national group. To prove the point, our new Italian friend spoke Italian to the woman seated across from us once we got on the train, and she answered, in Italian, ‘how did you know?’
From the time we got out of the subway at the ferry, for the next six hours, it was hard to shake the image of cattle in a stockyard. Fortunately these cattle-people were friendly, and quite happy to be heading to slaughter. Still, even for a New Yorker, it’s an intense amount of humanity from start to finish.
The bus tour of Staten Island was interesting even without many people on the streets, and then we hit the start villages. Low-level stress hovers over the bathroom lines, and the bathroom lines are everywhere. Warming up usually seems like a good idea before a race, unless that race is the NYC marathon; for most, the first time you know you’re in the right place is when you’re standing on the bridge with your particular group of corraled cattle, an HOUR before the starting gun.
BOOM! That start cannon was less than 50 yards away and sent smoke everywhere. Most of us knew it was sending off the elite women, but it still jolted the calm out of us. Banter, jokes and random friend sightings filled the next half hour, and then the BOOM was for us.
I’ve known Mike for almost 40 years, and we raced each other in college. He’s still a little faster, but the plan was to run the first 10 miles together and feel it out from there. This race was as much about reconnecting as it was about running 26 miles fast.
My favorite part of the race is the Verrazano Bridge--all of it. The majesty of the view and the feeling of utter specialness for this one moment are heady stuff. That, and the peacefulness that never really returns once you hit the streets of New York.
I remember Bay Ridge, and I remember the bands from the bridge to downtown Brooklyn, some of them really good musicians. Once the runner streams merge at Flatbush, any sense of solitude is gone, and a new image of schooling fish replaces the cattle.
The next 2 miles are NBR territory, and the callouts for “NBR” or “Quinn” are heartening every time, even if I only see the caller every third or fourth time. At 10 miles, Mike keeps going the same speed, and I pull back a bit. It was fun to run together, but my brain has already turned the corner from “race” to “running”, and it will keep turning corners from here on in.
I can’t keep from smiling widely as I run through the mile 12 water station, even though I only actually “see” maybe 3 people manning the tables. The memory of doing the tables myself and a surprisingly warmfuzzy feeling for NBR just surge through me.
The next thing that surges through me is the desire to pee. I’ve never stopped to pee in a race, ever, so this is new--another corner. A mile later, I see bathrooms right before the bridge to Queens. Something about the way they face Away from the racecourse and have blue tape I have to duck under make this stop seem even more of a race violation. My breathing is way faster than it seems like it should be to pee, but the relief is sweet.
I head out relieved but even more relaxed about running fast, and this relaxation seems to feed on itself. I begin to slow steadily, unconcerned until Bruno passes me and I try to keep up and can’t. Now I’m thinking about food--any food, and I’ve turned another corner. Racing and hunger have never gone together, and hunger has taken over my brain. I patter up the 59th Street bridge and watch people I know are going “slow” pass me. As I get off the bridge, all I can think of is getting to a deli, but First Avenue has other ideas.
After what may actually be a mile of unbroken fences on both sides of the street, I finally stop in front of a woman standing in front of a deli, hand her 2 dollars, and say “could you buy me either a Coke or a chocolate milk?” She says sure, and half an orange and a banana appear magically while she is gone. I love you, New Yorkers. I thank woman one as she hands me an opened liter of Coke and begin drinking and walking up First Avenue, feeling absurd yet happy.
And yes, I drink that whole thing, in no particular hurry. I begin running at the next water table, where I may even take some Gatorade, too. And I’m running again. Until I’m not.
My brain has short-circuited and told my hamstrings to contract, continuously, as if I’ve been hit by a bolt of lightning and have no control over my body. And it PISSES ME OFF. I hope no small children were within earshot. I am not done yet, though. If walking is what I can do for now, walking is what I will do for now.
I turn yet another corner when I realize I am COLD and just want to get a shirt or something at the next medical tent. It seems to take several minutes for the nice woman at the medical tent to cut a piece of foil blanket for me, but I am quite happy to have it. I find I can hold it easily at my neck with one hand and run with the other, and I’m running again, even getting warmer, beginning to think maybe…BAM, the lightning strikes again. I swear even more, and I look like an angry tin soldier whose knees don’t bend, walking around in crazy circles.
It’s official; my body only has to tell me twice for me to believe it. I walk until I see the next race marshall at mile 18. I have to yell a bit to get her attention but feel I have done my racely duty by reporting my dropout. She fires up her phone to tell whoever needs to know, thanks me and assures me “It’s just 'notcher day.”