The TCS New York Marathon. The biggest marathon in the world. The bucket list item towards which, along with the Boston Marathon, most North American runners aspire. A member of the prestigious World Marathon Majors… for whatever that means. A signature event. A world-class experience. An indescribable moment in time wherein a single runner can join 50 thousand other like-minded individuals and become part of something universally known and respected.
The TCS New York Marathon has got it all, baby. It’s got street cred, hoi polloi admiration, upper crust respect, a beau monde air of inescapable badassery… and I went and popped my hamstring at Mile 16.
Oops, spoilers. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we?
The very moment last March that I found out I had gotten into the 2016 New York Marathon lottery, I was awestruck and over-the-moon excited and high-fiving everyone imaginable. It was an exciting and auspicious moment for me, to be sure. I was in the middle of a department meeting when my phone buzzed; I casually checked it to find an American Express alert, indicating that the New York Road Runners had just charged me an insane amount of money. I was in. I let out a geshrei like nobody’s business. The excitement was overwhelming. Only a few months after completing the 2015 Chicago Marathon, I was already lined up to do my second World Major.
This was very intense!
Anyway, flash forward to November 3rd, 2016. Boots and I boarded a Virgin America flight from Ft. Lauderdale to JFK, ready to start our next amazing race adventure and spend almost a week in the isle of both our births. And believe you me, I’d like to give you a rundown of everything that happened during that time in full, Hokeybloggy detail with mirth and merriment and a meticulous melange of monstrous montages, but alas, it would lie outside the scope of this race review. However, I’ll give you a few of our New York highlights in listicle fashion!
A Few Of Our New York Highlights (in listicle fashion!)
Well let’s see now, there was…
Attending a taping of the Conan O’Brien show at the Apollo Theater in Harlem
This was a dream come true, as we’re both HUGE fans of Conan O’Brien, and watch his show regularly on TBS. The main guest was Tracey Morgan, but there were also appearances by Matthew Broderick, John Mulaney, and Nick Kroll. Plus the legendary Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band, Andy Richter, and of course Conan himself. I even caught a free shirt because I’m a super tall guy with incredible reach. Hah!
Bumping into Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon shooting an SNL segment in Times Square
After dining at Carmine’s on Friday night, Robyn, Sonya, and I were walking back to our hotels and spotted a huge hubbub right by the George Cohan statue. And there they were, filming for Saturday Night Live. I swear to Gosh and his only son Jeepers, Kate McKinnon and I locked eyes for a good five or six seconds. She was probably wondering why this freakish dude with the oblong-shaped alien head was staring at her.
Doing a shakeout run on a perfect morning in Central Park
Robyn and I headed out Saturday morning from our Midtown hotels to get a few miles in. It was sunny, clear, and about 46 degrees out. In other words, it was PERFECT. Especially when I joined Robyn in a series of 30-second sprint strides, and she decided to suddenly and without warning start one on an uphill. Grr…
Attending a performance of The Front Page on Broadway
Hilarious and totally entertaining. Go see it. And that CAST! Nathan Lane, John Goodman, John Slattery, Holland Taylor, Christopher Macdonald, Dylan Baker, Robert Morse… both huge names and amazing character and theater actors at the top of their game. This was one of the most memorable theater experiences I’ve ever… experienced. I need a Thesaurus, stat.
All the noms. Pizza at Joe’s in Brooklyn as well as John’s Pizzeria in Times Square, wine, pasta, chicken parm, and ricotta cheesecake at Carmine’s, amazing Dim Sum at Jing Fong in Chinatown, carb loading at Circo, and one final monstrous pastrami sandwich at the Carnegie, which to the great dismay of many is closing at the end of the year.
Because if you don’t take pictures of your food, how will anyone ever know if you ever actually eat? Best to go with a gallery here:
There was so much more I’d love to go into, but we’ve got a lot to cover. So let’s go straight to the race experience itself, starting with:
The expo was held at the Jacob Javits Center, and a free shuttle picked us up on 7th between 53rd and 54th to deliver us to our destination. By the time we got there, there was just a bit of a line waiting to get in:
Not to mention escalated security around the convention center:
But the line moved quickly and we were inside in no time. And boy oh boy was it packed to the gills. Almost elbow to elbow in certain spots. Thankfully, event organizers prepared for this inevitability, as volunteers holding up signs with question marks and “Ask me anything” messages printed on them answered questions and directed runners to their proper destinations. We moved to bib pickup and, in a complete reversal of my entire race expo history, there was ABSOLUTELY NO LINE at my bib number desk. Fortuitous!
The next stop was the Official Race Merchandise shopping area, where I bought a whole lot of NUTHIN’. The merch looked nice enough, but I just wasn’t interested in any of it. That didn’t stop the throngs and multitudes to clog this area like they were handing out limited edition Pez or something. But it wasn’t a total loss, as we randomly bumped into my good buddy Cassandra with her boyfriend Jaret and friend whose name I can’t remember, because I’m a dingbat. Yay running buddies!
We walked around the expo and there were plenty of vendors, info booths, promotional doodads, green screens, and the like, but I have to admit I was a teensy bit disappointed by it. Oh don’t get me wrong, there was nothing wrong or off about the expo whatsoever, but I guess I was expecting something grandiose and over-the-top. Instead it was a reasonable, standard expo for a large race. No more, no less. We were in and out pretty quickly, but that was OK. We had a bus tour to get to.
My favorite moment of the expo was signing the runners’ wall:
You. Can’t. Take. Me. Anywhere. But I do love me some Joyce.
Afterward we headed downstairs to board the bus for the one and only…
TCS New York City Marathon in a Motorcoach
For $45 per person, you can take a bus tour of the entire marathon route. We opted for this experience as well, which was fun because it provided a great overview of what I had to look forward to that Sunday. We also got to bump into our buddies Bob and Ashley, along with their entire family, and we spent the five hours together going over race course, staring in Staten Island and going all the way through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and The Bronx, finishing up at Central Park, learning everything about the race and much about New York along the journey.
Our tour guide Diego was very friendly and extremely knowledgeable, providing not only notes about the race and what to expect while running 26.2 miles throughout the five boroughs, but also a history of New York and the various stops along the way. He was also a dead ringer for the bearded Christoph Waltz from Django Unchained:
I highly recommend this for first-timers, as it really gave you a great overview with tips on what to expect, how to handle the various bridges and inclines, where to find the best crowd support, and much more. The tour did take a lot longer than I expected, however. We were supposed to leave at noon, we finally hit the road at 12:45 from Midtown, and due to Friday afternoon traffic and other associated headaches, we were let off the bus around 59th and 5th at 5:30 in the afternoon. If you plan on taking the tour, I’d suggest going on the 9AM bus. And that’s a tip from your Uncle Hokeydude.
Anyway, let’s shoot straight up to what you’re REALLY here to learn about…
Can I say, thank the Maker for Daylight Savings Time’s “Fall backward” movement? Because I got a full nine hours of sleep before race day. This is absolutely unheard of. I woke up at 5:45 AM feeling completely rested and totally refreshed and ready for the day. And I had already taken care of all the arrangements the night before, including packing my gear bag, taping up my ankles, and of course laying out my attire for the race.
I gave very little thought to what I was actually gonna wear on race day, because (1) I’m a guy, and (2) I didn’t want to go with anything high-concept or overloaded with solipsistic dig-me’isms. So I stuck with a Spider-Man tech shirt, black compression shirt, and running basic shorts. Why Spider-Man, Marvel’s most recognizable hero, when I’m long-since a dyed-in-the-wool DC fanboy — especially on such a momentous occasion? Because Spider-Man is probably the most quintessential New York superhero ever created, and I got the shirt for like 8 bucks. So there.
I met my buddy Ayenza downstairs (we were both staying at the Midtown Hilton) at 6:30 that morning, and we walked a block over to the Sheraton to meet up with Robyn and Sonya:
We were all scheduled to take the Staten Island ferry early that morning (at 6:45 and 7:00 AM, although in the end it was all first-come, first-serve), and as we arrived at the Ferry Station just before 7:00 AM, it already seemed like a madhouse.
We shuffled onto the ferry pretty quickly, and things seemed great at first. I moved out onto the deck and took some cool pics, including a great one as we passed Lady Liberty:
Once we got to Staten Island, though, things got pretty disastrous. It was absolutely packed to the gills:
No BS here or anything: including the ferry ride, the waiting in lines at the Staten Island station, the boarding of the buses, and the ride over to Ft. Wadsworth, it was a two-and-a-half hour total commute to get to the Start Area. It was crowded, slow-going, and clogged with traffic. Although I was never worried that I wouldn’t make my corral, I was a bit dispirited by the time we arrived at the Start Area. My Wave (Green/3) was already loading by the time I got there. I barely had enough time to hit a porto-potty, load up my race belt, and get prepped. When all was said and done, I made it into my corral about five minutes before it closed. I was glad to be there and ready to run, but I was a bit disappointed I didn’t get to hang out in and around the Start Area with my buddies and really soak in the pre-race atmosphere. Instead, things were a bit of a stressful rush to get jockeyed into position.
I did manage to take a few pre-race Start Area pics though:
I have to admit, it was a truly stunning morning: clear blue skies, light wind, temperatures in the mid 50s. By the time we moved into our start area onto the lower portion of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, my initial pre-race disappointment had already transformed into wonderfully anxious excitement. It’s pretty hard not to be intensely spirited while being surrounded by thousands upon thousands of runners cheering with wondrous excitement!
Here’s the view ahead, towards the Start Line on the bridge:
And of course, the view behind:
And lastly, because we just can’t get enough of ourselves, the selfie:
Finally the thunderous firing of the ceremonial Howitzer meant two things: either we were about to be pelted by artillery shells, or our race had begun. Surprising absolutely nobody, I dialed up Ace Frehley’s New York Groove, plugged in my headphones, started up the ol’ Garmin, and at 10:44 AM Eastern Standard Time, I crossed the start line. My epic world major super-duper awesome marathon experience had started!
The 2016 TCS New York City Marathon!
You know what’s coming next; a look at the race course, courtesy of Google Maps and my beloved Garmin 920 sports watch:
The course starts in Staten Island at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Crossing the bridge, we arrived in Brooklyn, running northeast adjacent to the Gowanus Expressway. West on Bay Ridge Parkway we went, turning northeasterly onto 4th Avenue, where we stayed for nearly five miles. After a brief stint on Flatbush Avenue, we turned east on Lafayette Avenue and then north-ish on Bedford. Turning onto McGuinness Boulevard, we hit the halfway point on the Pulaski Bridge, which brought us into Queens. The jaunt through Queens was a brief one, heading north, east, north, and finally northwest on the two-mile stretch that took us over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, right around 59th Street and 1st Avenue.
Once in Manhattan, we had a three-mile run straight up 1st Avenue, past Lenox Hill, the Upper East Side, and East Harlem. The Willis Avenue Bridge brought us into The Bronx which, at 1.5 miles in length, was the shortest borough route of the day (if you don’t count the start at Staten Island). Passing Mile 20, the Madison Avenue Bridge brought us back to Manhattan. Turning south-westerly, we ran three miles down 5th Avenue, through Harlem, Carnegie Hill, and the Upper East Side, until just before Mile 24. There we entered Central Park, where we stayed for about a mile and a half, exiting the park around 59th and 5th. From there it was a clear shot up 59th Street to Columbus Circle, where we turned and entered Central Park at last, for the final 0.4 mile-ish stretch to the Finish Line.
Typing that made me exhausted… I need a cookie. One sec.
There was so much to love about this race. Who could even find the time to notice the start of the race took you up an immediate incline for a mile? The mood was so light, so happy, so excited, so communally friendly that nobody seemed to mind a mile straight uphill. Throngs of people were stopping to snap pics of the extraordinary views of Downtown Manhattan and the Upper Bay. Like this one right here:
Downhill was just as fun, but I had to keep myself on pace. The temptation to take advantage of gravity for a quicker run was entirely pervasive. It didn’t matter anyhow, because as we got off the bridge we found ourselves in Brooklyn!
Brooklyn is the largest of the five boroughs, and pretty much the most represented area of the entire marathon. Eleven miles are spent in Brooklyn, which meant the first half of the race felt practically like a Brooklyn Half Marathon. Not that I minded, of course. This was my favorite portion of the race. The weather remained beautiful, and the throngs of cheering spectators went on for miles. The ebullience that runners felt at the start of the race carried through into this segment. I felt strong, steady, and happy… and these feelings went exponential when I saw Boots just after Mile 5, waving a sign featuring an over-sized cardboard cut-out of my freakishly oblong alien-shaped head!
You can sort of tell I was in one heck of a fine mood. I gave her a hug and a smooch, asked when I’d see her next (“Around Mile 14!”) and continued up 4th Avenue. Two nifty things happened just around Mile 6’ish. I came across what was by far my favorite sign of the day:
… and I also had to stop and use the facilities. There wasn’t a Porto-Potty around, but there was a local KFC and the bathroom inside was totally clean and completely open. Ahhh, the niceties of life!
Anyway, I was in great spirits, soaking up the atmosphere, the music, the cheering, the live bands, everything. Continuing into the Williamsburg neighborhood, we ran past the Orthodox Jewish/Satmar Hasidic neighborhoods. While the Hasidic Community is known to be fairly insular and isolated, they were out that morning, cheering and supporting runners. I had heard that several young Orthodox girls were handing out oranges to runners, although I didn’t get a chance to see them. A large group of girls who looked around 8 or 9 were cheering on the sidelines, and I offered up a friendly “Shalom, ladies!” as I passed. It got some giggles. I’m pretty much a gentile to the Hasidic, but we’re still the same peeps. Somewhat.
The stretch through Williamsburg and Greenpoint was so inspiring, cheery, shaded, and enjoyable. I even randomly bumped into my buddy Jose Z. right around mile 12. Well, he found me, actually. He grabbed my shoulder from behind, which made me almost leap out of my skin. After a quick high-five, he took off like a bandit. A fast one, that Pepe Peru!
Over the Newtown Creek stood the Pulaski Bridge, which would deliver us from Brooklyn to Queens. The bridge also represented the halfway point of the race. I hit the halfway mark at 2:28, which was right around where I expected to be. I was feeling strong, steady, and full of energy as I entered the next borough:
The Queens portion of the race was pretty short; maybe about two miles in total length. I don’t remember anything particularly memorable about those two miles. There were still cheering spectators, music, and hydration stops aplenty, but it seemed like a bit of a comedown after the 11 miles of nonstop roaring excitement in Brooklyn. No matter though. I was having the time of my life.
Boots was waiting for me between Miles 14 and 15, although thanks to the woman cheering with the pom-pom blocking her lens next to her, this was the best of the pics she took:
She was also armed with some Chap Stick, which I desperately needed, as my lips were getting pretty dry. It’s the little things in life, folks. Anyway, the road stretched on, and I still had a lot of race left in front of me. Including the dreaded Queensboro Bridge.
The Queensboro Bridge links Queens to Manhattan between miles 15 and 17. It’s your basic one-mile up, one-mile down. As opposed to the excitement and ebullience that greeted the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, the atmosphere on the Queensboro was pretty dour. And why wouldn’t it be? A long incline at Mile 15 of a marathon is infinitely more arduous than one at the very start. I had heard all kinds of kvetching about the Queensboro, so I put my head down, toughened up my spirits as much as I could, and ran up that bridge.
I’m not going to say I flew up that bridge quickly and easily and effortlessly, but I made steady progress until I hit the apex around Mile 16. It was an effort, but it was done. I felt a little winded, but not drained of energy. Besides, all I had now was a mile downhill into Manhattan, right? No problem, right? Easy pickings, right?
Mile 16 — this was exactly the moment were the hammer fell.
I was running downhill when I felt a sudden tightness in my right hamstring. I seemingly came out of nowhere. “No worries,” I thought to myself, “I’ll just stretch it out if I need to when I get to–”
Ow… OW… OWW!!!
Something popped in my hamstring. It was sudden, it was intense, it was painful as hell, and it stopped me dead in my tracks. I walked for a little bit, then stopped to stretch, then walked some more. I did a quick assessment and it felt like I hadn’t really injured anything, but the hamstring was definitely hurting. I was able to continue running, but I had to run slower than before. My energy levels and endurance still felt great, but I couldn’t move any faster if I wanted to, and my pace dropped accordingly.
I felt a little better when we got off the bridge and entered Manhattan:
The arrival into Manhattan is also legendary, but in the best possible way. As you reach 1st Avenue and 59th Street, turning to run uptown on 1st, you are just awash in a euphoric tidal wave of energy, cheers, music, and an explosion of support and love from the Greatest City in the World. I was told of majesty of this moment during the bus tour, but I still found myself bowled over by the tremendous supportive lovefest from the people of Manhattan. Gosh. I forgot my aching, pained hamstring and got back in the game, reducing my intervals and running slower, yes, but my spirits had been replenished. This was a moment of pure amazement for any runner.
I had to stop for this selfie for good reason:
I was born in Manhattan, and I lived with my family on E. 86th Street for a good 18 months before we packed up and moved to Miami. I made a concerted effort to get a photo of me with an 86th Street sign. Mission accomplished!
I wished all the optimism and great spirits would have carried me through the rest of the race, but the hamstring was throbbing and hurting tremendously the further we ran up 1st Avenue on the way to The Bronx. I was running slower, taking more walk breaks, and the frustration of having plenty of endurance but a leg that couldn’t support it was beginning to overpower me. This wasn’t so much of a Wall as it was an ongoing frustration that started to turn into anger. I wanted a triumphant finish, not a weakened shuffle, during the last 6-7 miles of the race. Of course at this time, there was nothing to do but grit it out and finish.
Passing through East Harlem at Mile 19, I crossed the Willis Avenue Bridge and entered The Bronx:
I mostly took that photo for my Dad, who was born and raised in the Bronx. Love you Pops!
There really isn’t too much to talk about when it came to The Bronx section of the race. It was a real quick in-and-out, so to speak. There still were spectators out cheering and hydration stops and a great sense of energy and spirit in the air, but it was mostly a transition moment that took us from 1st Ave in Manhattan to 5th Ave in Manhattan.
Oh wait. There was, of course, this:
Very cute. Of course I hit my physical wall much earlier, thanks to my screaming hamstring. But apparently it’s considered traditional for most runners to consider Mile 20 to be the “real” halfway point of the race, as The Wall hits most at Mile 20 and there’s a lot of uphill to come.
I soldiered on, passing over the Madison Avenue Bridge and back onto Manhattan. Less than a 10K to go!
This section of the run consisted of a three-mile shot straight up 5th Avenue, past Harlem and into the hoity-toity Upper East Side. The hamstring ached hard but I settled into a reasonable run/walk interval to keep myself moving. The pain was manageable, a little stiff and a whole lot of throbbing, but I knew I had it in me to finish the race in a reasonable time, if not at the overall pace with which I had set out in mind.
Fifth Avenue is of course a scenic, shady, beautiful run, and the spectators were lined up deep on either side of the street. A huge boost came from my buddy Jose S., who was scheduled to run the Marathon this year but had unfortunately seriously injured his foot in October and had to sit this one out. Literally. He was in a wheelchair cheering on runners. He called my name out and I ran over for a big hug and some words of encouragement. I was starting to get a little emotional. I couldn’t even speak. The race was bearing down hard on me, and seeing a friendly face at the right time made a huge difference.
Just before mile 24 we turned into Central Park for about a mile and a half of some of the most scenic, serene, and enjoyable views of the race. At this point you couldn’t even kvetch about the hills throughout the park, because just being in the park, so close to the Finish, surrounded by more spectators and volunteers, the spirit elevates almost instantly. Of course the leg was still giving me the business but I soldiered on with as much determination as I could muster. I was so in the moment I missed my buddy Dave K. calling me from the sideline. Sorry pal!
Past Mile 25, I stopped to grab a quick Central Park selfie to capture the moment.
A study of emotional duality, amirite?
Anyway, we emptied out onto 59th Street, right next to the legendary Plaza Hotel, and the course took us east towards Columbus Circle. Since the Marathon only goes through Uptown, 59th is the closest you get to Midtown. A hint of it, so to speak. Anyway there was so much love on that street, and we were so close to the finish now.
Reaching Columbus Circle and entering the park towards the Finish Line, there was that immediate surge of excitement. This was compounded by the band playing live onstage right at that moment. Usually the bands scattered throughout the race are playing safe, standard rock hits. Think of stuff like “Old Time Rock And Roll” or “Take It Easy” or “Honky Tonk Women”, that sort of stuff.
This time around?
Absolutely. Freakin’. RIGHTEOUS. One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite albums, Sad Wings Of Destiny.
This energized me. I was going to finish STRONG. I’m not going to pretend I poured it on and roared down that last segment like some kind of Olympic champion, but I ran strong and steady to the very end. I started to get emotional. Even started to tear up a little bit as I saw the Finish Line in the distance. The events of the day were really starting to compound inside my heart and mind. My eyes got red. I ignored my pain and ran strong and upright, almost missing Boots in the grandstands. But there she was!
After that there was nothing left to do but to just cross that Finish Line, bringing my 26.2 mile journey throughout New York City to a triumphant finish.
My total time was 5:21:46, a good 34 minutes off my PR, which on any other day I’d be screaming bloody murder, but given my hamstring issues I thought I acquitted myself rather well. Overall that would rank 7th out of my 12 marathons, so I was cool with it. Or rather, I am cool with it now. At the time I was a bit cheesed off with myself, but I got over it quickly. I had just finished The New York City Marathon! What what??
I quickly grabbed my medal and posed triumphantly with it about 8 zillion times:
After I was wrapped up with a mylar cape for warmth, I picked up my snack bag (filled with water, protein shake, power bar, and pretzels) I walked over to the side and spent several minutes stretching. The hamstring was sore and stiff but it wasn’t in total agony or anything. I’d be slightly limping for a few hours, but I’d survive. There was no injury, just some pain. Nothing a good walk, ice, and some muscle relaxants couldn’t fix.
I then needed to do the social media update, so I snapped this selfie:
And posted the following to Facebook, which I thought was plenty apropos:
Let me say something about New York…
New York is tough. New York is uncompromising. New York doesn’t care about whether or not you’re worn out, exhausted, screaming in agony, or ready to give in and drop out. New York will kick you in the face. Twice, for flinching. New York takes everything you’ve got and laughs at it.
Pardon my French, but New York doesn’t f*** around…
The good news is, neither do I.
26.2 miles. Five boroughs. Hamstring never speaking to me again. And I just finished my 2nd World Major.
I love this town.
Got a ton of likes with that one, I must say.
To exit the race and pick up our Race Poncho, we had to walk over a mile, spilling out onto Central Park West (which was closed to traffic) on 77th St. It was a sea of mylar-wrapped, slow, sore runners making their way back to their loved ones in the cool, slightly chilly dusk, and it was magical:
After a seeming eternity I got my race poncho, and I simply can’t describe how much I loved the race poncho. It was warm, it was enveloping, it was pure joy, and I wanted to start a new life in the thing!
I found Boots at the M flag, melted into a big hug and maybe some happy tears, and we limped our way back to the Hilton. Overall it was a 2.25 mile schlep from the Finish line back to the hotel, and that probably helped me work through my hamstring pain. I also got a ton of congrats from New Yorkers along the way.
A killer ending to an unforgettable day.
I might not have run the race I was expecting during the 2016 TCS New York City Marathon. What I did run, however, was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. I ran the gamut of emotions. I ran a celebration of a lifestyle I committed to on January 31, 2011. I ran a culmination of many hopes, dreams, and desires accumulated since then. I ran throughout the city into which I entered this world. And mostly, I ran a hell of a challenging course in a hell of city with some of the most amazing crowd support imaginable. Would I do this race again? Where the hell do I sign up? I’m totally down. Busted hamstring aside, I never felt so proud to be a runner. And man that poncho was so cozy and warm too. Insert breathy sigh here.
NYC you’re my kind of burgh. Or five burghs, even. Let’s do it again sometime. Here’s the video: