NYC Marathon: 26.2 miles of America and the world
Special to the Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
An ominous, thunderous roar grew louder and louder as I ran. It sounded like a distant summer storm, moving its way through a mountain valley. It was mysterious; its origin unseen yet appreciated.
Running on the bottom deck of the Queensboro Bridge for the past half-mile had provided the most secluded and peaceful moment of the race yet. The teeming masses waiting for us now broke that quiet. Coming into the daylight, thousands of people were packed along the sidewalk; a reverberating energy, cheering loudly and waving signs.
For 26.2 miles spectators lined the course ten deep. Officially, more than 2 million people came out in support of the more than 47,000 runners that started the New York City Marathon.
The bridges offered the only respite from the crowds, but even then we understood the significance of the event, as helicopters buzzed overhead and photographers lined the perimeter.
The first half of the race meanders through New York’s largest of the five boroughs, Brooklyn. A cross section of humanity came out and I was totally unprepared for what I saw. Four to six police officers guarded every city block and miles of wide blue plastic ribbon lined the way. Live bands, DJs, and speakers facing out from apartment windows provided constant entertainment.
And the diversity of languages and cultures showed why New York is one of the great melting pots of the world. Each area had its own flavor and feel, from the Latino neighborhoods rich with color to the quiet and somber area of Williamsburg where Hasidic Jewish men, black clad, held the hands of their children, quietly observing the stream of runners.
At times I felt like a foreigner in my own country as New York’s diverse background showed itself in a constant stream of shouted encouragements to their fellow countrymen. The event is a truly international event and the foreigners all seemed to be wearing uniforms that advertised their country of origin, making it all the easier for people to cheer, “go Italia!” “Mexico! Mexico! Mexico!”
My sporadic training efforts began to fail me as I approached the Bronx, mile 19 of the course. My goal pace of 6:24 per mile was threatened by the tightening of my muscles and the buildup of fatigue. I had held true to that pace until now but I could sense the impending doom. Entering the Bronx I was encouraged by a loud, boisterous man with a bullhorn proclaiming, “welcome to the Bronx!”
Winding quickly through the Bronx we crossed the final bridge on the course and stepped foot onto Manhattan Island. I prayed that I could just hang on as I desperately searched for a sign of trees, indicating the coveted finishing miles through Central Park.
Instead my beleaguered legs were tormented by seemingly endless hills.
Central Park’s glowing yellow, orange and red leaves greeted me as my pace slowed to 7 minutes and 8 minutes for my 24th mile. No longer did I dream of breaking 2:50. Instead, I hoped to get under 2:55, frantically doing calculations with my slowing pace. Time seemed to slow down, and the final miles were the longest of my life.
Two miles from the finish, I completely stopped, clutching an agonizing hamstring cramp and struggling to limp on. The crowds were still thick and a chorus of encouraging words lofted my way, “keep going!” “You can do it!”
By this point in the race, I had seen dozens of people stopped on the side of the course, walking slowly and even crawling, desperately seeking to finish. I feared that I might join them and slowly worked from an awkward limp to a gentle jog.
I thought of the stories I wanted to tell and how I feared disappointing my friends, family and most importantly myself. I thought of my late father, who was always proud of my accomplishments, and how I yearned for his presence. I thought of the athletes I coach and how I encourage them to persevere. I thought of my children at home and telling them someday about running the most famous of marathons. I thought about what it took to get here; the qualifying race, the lung-searing workouts, the miles run, the money, the travel, and leaving my newborn son.
Inexplicably, my pace gradually quickened and with it my spirits. A half-mile from the finish, my two friends, Curtis and Emily, had nudged their way to a viewing spot and cheered me on. It invigorated me to see some familiar faces. I carefully looked at my watch, knowing I had no time to spare to reach sub-2:55, my revised goal.
Nearing the finish line, I smiled at a large sign proclaiming, “you don’t need that toenail anyway!” Surrounded by spectators and impressed by the sheer number of finishers surrounding me, I pushed my way through the finish and raised both arms in a classic and triumphant “victory” pose.
Overcome by emotion and struggling to walk, I made my way through the post-finish line chute. I’ve finished plenty of races from 800 meters to 50 miles to 24 hours of skiing up and down Sunlight, but this experience was one I couldn’t quite fathom.
I stopped at the medical tent for salt and ice, amazed by the carnage strewn about. I couldn’t believe how many people finished ahead of me and how many of them were now laid out in the biggest tent I’d ever seen.
Shivering with exhaustion and cold, I grabbed my phone instead of dry clothes from my drop bag; needing my wife’s familiar voice over warmth. Hearing her reminded me of one of the many reasons this was all worth it as she recounted to me in detail how she had followed my progress online. I sighed and smiled, my heart warm.
When I finally stepped out of the race area, I found my friends and basked in the glow of the beautiful Fall day that encompassed the busy city. We walked along the streets, cheering on fellow runners and excitedly talking about the race.
As we walked, we regaled each other with tales of the day. Them, the crowds and getting to the finish line. Me, the Statue of Liberty in the early morning light, the fire hoses from the boats in New York Harbor creating an aquatic fireworks display, the throngs of people stacked from sidewalk to top floor of the buildings, or when I rounded the final corner to the finish line.
My end result; a finishing time of 2:55:05, a placing of 686th overall, one less big toe nail and a once-in-a-lifetime experience in the most American of cities and the most worldly of races.
Mike Schneiter is a Glenwood Springs H.S. teacher and coach, owner of Glenwood Climbing Guides and is a Brooks Inspire Daily athlete.
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There is something about the photo that haunts me.