Monday, November 17, 2014

New York City Marathon

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We’ve fallen even further behind on the final ‘Round The World posts because we had some actual travelling to do!  One of Lana’s long-term goals has been to run the New York City Marathon (she’s run three other marathons before our trip), and she entered the marathon’s lottery for several years. The rules have since changed, but when she set this goal, if you entered the lottery for three years and didn’t get in, then you had guaranteed entry the following year.  Her plan had always been to run it on that fourth year, which is also the year she turned 40 (ahem, that would be this year).

Unfortunately/fortunately, last year she somehow managed to “win” the lottery, but found out while we were in Istanbul. At that point we didn’t know when we’d even be home, let alone how Lana would manage to train for a marathon while still traveling. Thankfully, the NYC marathon allows you to defer for a year (of course you don’t get a refund for the year you defer). But realistically it made more sense to defer, and run it in 2014 as she had initially planned.  The theory was that she would have plenty of time to get back in shape and train. 

Due to a series of unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances (family health, injuries) it was not, in fact, her best training cycle. Add to that the 40 some odd pounds she’d gained on and after the trip, and not managed to lose. All of this an excuse explanation as to why she was nervous that she was not feeling particularly confident going into the trip.
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What did help was the fact that David and our friend Nicole (of Budapest, Krakow, Prague and Vienna fame) were going to be coming along to cheer her on, and that after the marathon we’d have a few extra days in New York to take in the city.  David and Lana had been there for a day trip in the summer a few years ago (not New York’s best side, the summer), and Nicole had never been there, so we had a list of must-dos and, more importantly, must-eats.  So Lana was looking past the marathon a little bit, which was one of the ways she got herself to the start line.

The New York City Marathon is always the first Sunday in November, which fell on November 2nd this year. We flew into New York on Friday, and picked up the keys for the small wing apartment we’d rented in the East Village through AirBnB.  It had two bedrooms, a galley kitchen, and a shared bath.  We were sharing the apartment with Nicole, which that made it very affordable compared to a hotel room.  As you may recall, that Friday night was Halloween, and we certainly got a unique perspective on New York City that night. We saw some very realistic costumes (a particularly uncanny Jason from the movie, Halloween) and watched a gaggle of kids and parents trick-or-treating throughout the neighborhood’s local businesses, from restaurants to corner shops and pizza parlors, even the bar where we went to pick up the keys to the apartment. It did end up being a noisier night than the ones that followed, but we were lucky enough to be able to sleep in the next morning, and Lana was relatively well rested despite the time zone change.

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After making our own breakfast in the apartment on Saturday, we picked up Lana’s bib number and swag bag, and then ventured into the expo madness.  The picture above is just the Asics area of the expo. It was a crazy, chaotic mass of people, and since it was raining outside everyone was slightly damp, either from having come in out of the rain, or from brushing up against one of the several thousand wet people once they got inside the expo.

Nicole flew in on Saturday afternoon and caught a cab to the apartment. We started to make a game plan for David and Nicole’s marathon spectating. Looking at the maps and suggestions online, they decided to meet Lana at several easy to spot landmarks or at specific street crossings, to make it easier for Lana to recall while running.  They planned to see her first after the 11 mile mark, at the corner of McCarren Park in Brooklyn, then again at mile 18 in Manhattan at 1st Avenue and 88th Street, and finally at mile 22 up in Harlem, at Marcus Garvey Park. We also established a meeting spot after the finish (the finish line itself is basically limited to expensive, grand stand seating) at an easily recognizable landmark, the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, which is easily visible on the west edge of Central Park at 65th Street.  David also plotted out the subway routes to each point, the timing based on Lana’s pace, and we agreed on which side of the street we’d be cheering on based on not needing to cross over the path of 50,000 marathoners (though we all saw many foolish people who did so—but didn’t see anyone collide with runners, at least).

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The night before the marathon, we used gaffer tape from David’s travel emergency repair kit to spell Lana’s name on the shirt she picked for running, based on the latest weather info.  We ran out of tape, and had to tear it lengthwise for the last A, but it was still legible from a distance.  Lana had gotten that suggestion from a NYC marathon veteran who said it was great to hear people shouting your name in encouragement.  Lana used the kitchen to make mac and cheese for dinner.  She’d learned (the hard way) to eat a simple meal, prepared under known, safe cooking conditions the night before a race long before she ran her first marathon.  She was lucky enough to be able to prepare all three meals for herself that day, which was pretty ideal. One of the issues that plagued Lana during training were GI issues, so being able to control what she ate was really important. David and Nicole opted for Nicoletta, a well reviewed pizza place nearby.  Everyone was happy, if a little pre-race nervous.  Actually to Lana, it seemed that David and Nicole were slightly more nervous than she was. However, as we looked at the forecast, that changed.  Saturday’s rain was supposed to clear up, but it was being pushed out to sea by heavy winds, which would be gusting up to 45-50 miles per hour on Sunday, with temperatures around 40 at the start of the race.

On Sunday morning Lana got up, had her normal pre-race breakfast of coffee, a banana, and toast with Justin’s hazelnut butter.  She had opted for the Staten Island Ferry transportation to the start line, and there was a convenient bus that she could pick up 2 blocks from the apartment that took her directly down to Whitehall Terminal where the SI Ferry departs.

Lana didn’t bring a camera phone with her, so she didn’t document the absolute insanity of that was the ferry terminal, the ferry ride itself, and the start line.  She met people from all over—Spain, San Diego, Los Angeles, Alaska, even Brooklyn.  It was so much fun just to meet everyone, share the camaraderie and excitement of the biggest marathon event any one of us would ever participate in.
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Lana texted Nicole and David from the ferry: “The bridge looks really, really long.”  She had done her research and knew the bridge was 2 miles long, but knowing that and actually seeing it were two different things.  It was chilly and blustery at the start. Lana held on to her extra pair of socks, pants and space blanket until we were heading out from the corrals to the start line, then quickly tossed them.  Somewhere in the confusion of getting to the start line she’d dropped a glove, so she kept one of the warm, fuzzy throwaway socks and used it as a glove.  As with most marathons, volunteers collect the layers that runners have dropped at the start line and donate them to charity—Goodwill, in this case.  Lana saw several people who were running on the bridge in down coats—she wondered if they just tossed those to the side of the road later, or handed them off to friends.

They fired two very loud cannons for the start of each wave.  Lana’s wave didn’t start until 10:55, the last one. Apparently the winds had been stronger earlier in the morning, but even at 11:00 we could still feel their fury. The first two miles on the bridge were brutal; Lana watched people being pushed sideways by strong gusts of wind, which was bitter cold coming off the water. Some runners run on the top of the bridge, others the bottom. Lana ran on the bottom, but she has no idea if that was better or worse in terms of the wind. There were definitely spots where the bridge’s construction gave runners small spates of relief, which garnered whoops of joy (though it’s also possible they were whoops of shock as runners ran out of the brief lee into the wind again).  They were short-lived, however. Eventually the long slow rise in elevation to the midway point of the bridge gave way to the downhill side, and despite knowing how much further she had to go, Lana decided to just pour on some speed and get off this f@%*ing bridge.

A little bit of sunshine and protection from trees and buildings were a relief once she got off the bridge. But somewhere in there she forgot that she was meeting David and Nicole at mile 11 rather than mile 8. She knew they were supposed to meet at a park, and she hadn’t quite seen a park, but after miles 8, then 9 and eventually 10 went by she began to think she’d missed them. She took a walk break to call David, who didn’t pick up, and she left a message saying “I guess I missed you, see you at mile 18” (which felt heartbreakingly far at mile 10).  A little bit later David called her back and told her she hadn’t passed them yet, and they were up ahead at North 10th Street. This gave Lana the surge in energy she needed to pick up the pace.
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Williamsburg is a great area of Brooklyn—spectators were especially lovely, cheering Lana on by name and making everyone running feel like a rock star.  Little kids lined the streets with their hands out for a high five, and there is nothing like getting a high five from a four year old to give you a little energy boost.  It isn’t just that people came out to cheer for strangers. They made signs, they rang bells (the guy in the photo above has a maraca, which is so much better sounding than a  relentless cowbell), they set up their speakers and played music or their amp and played instruments. This is their marathon, and they take pride in participating in it as spectators.  This marathon would still be a challenging race, but not nearly as fun without the 2 million New Yorkers who come out to watch, what more than one sign called it: the “Worst Parade Ever.”  Many spectators also held out tissues for runners to deal with their cold-drippy noses, as well as paper towels, and swabs dipped in vaseline (for either your lips, or whatever is chaffing).  Also some bananas and oranges.  In addition, after the third mile, there were official water, gatorade, and aid stations every mile.

David and Nicole took the L train under the Hudson to Brooklyn, arriving about the time Lana started.  Nicole was able to track Lana’s progress using her smart phone, so we got a notification when she crossed the start line, and then every 5 kilometers along the course, when she crossed a timing mat that read the RFID tag on the back of her bib number.  This was the only viewing spot where we had a little extra time, so after watching and cheering random runners for a while, we ate a simple but very good lunch at a pub that overlooked the marathon.  We were just finishing when Nicole got the notification that Lana has passed mile 9, and we headed out to cheer again, knowing Lana would be along in about 26 minutes at her current pace.  Watching for a specific runner, while also cheering random but deserving strangers is slightly nerve-wracking, especially with the volume of runners to visually check for Lana’s combination of hat and shirt color.  There’s a nagging worry that you’ve somehow missed each other, as her pace time approaches.  When David checked his phone for the time, and noticed he hadn’t heard it ringing over the crowd noise, and called Lana back to tell her where we were.  Not long afterwards, Nicole spotted her in the distance, through a convenient break in the runners, and started screaming “Go Lana” as soon as she was within earshot.  Afterwards, Nicole and David were on a tighter schedule of walking to the closest subway entrance, transferring from line to line, and then walking to the next designated spot, with just a few minutes to spare before Lana was due.

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Mile 18—that’s Nicole on the right in the foreground screaming her head off for Lana. This is the part of the race where spectators have a boozy brunch and then come out to cheer for fans—they can be a bit belligerent, apparently.  However, by the time Lana hit this point, some of the more drunk ones has wandered home and it was just lovely hard core spectators who cheered her on.  There was one group of people on an apartment balcony a couple of floors up, who were clearly enjoying their alcohol as much as their spectating. They caught sight of Lana walking, and started chanting "La-na! La-na! La-na!" Nothing creates energy out of thin air like a group of complete strangers chanting your name.  Lana started running again, and they went nuts, cheering, screaming and whooping in response.  Lana figured this was as closed to being treated like a celebrity as she would ever get.  It felt amazing, and was such a compelling antidote to fatigue.  The runners were definitely stretching out a little more, and the smaller group of spectators were able to bypass the crowd control barriers and get closer to their favorite runner.  David and Nicole got to walk along with Lana for a while before she picked her pace back up again.

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By the third meeting spot, at mile 22, David and Nicole were starting to recognize other runners that were close to Lana’s pace.  One even had nearly identical colored clothes to Lana’s, as well as her name (not “Lana,” at least) in tape above her bib number.  Of course, the pair of runners dressed up as the Blues Brothers were very easy to spot.  David finally got a picture of them on the south edge of Marcus Garvey Park, in Harlem.  That’s when he noticed that the runner dressed as Elwood had a bib on his back that read “27 marathons completed.”  The hard core spectators were just as encouraging here, even as the number of runners dwindled.

When they met up with Lana in Harlem, David handed Lana her windbreaker, which she was grateful for in a few miles as the sun went down.  The light held out through Central Park until she got to the bottom of the park and turned onto 59th Street.  But shortly thereafter she could see Columbus Circle, and knew that she had enough gas to run the rest.  It was a long day.  She was certainly exhausted. But it was so exhilarating to cross the finish line, not because she had a personal best (it was a personal worst time by an hour, at 6 hours and 21 minutes), but despite the cold, despite the dark, despite the vicious gusts of wind that persisted throughout the whole day, she had had such a wonderful day. It was an amazing experience, like no other race she’d run—in scale, in support, in just plain fun.  There was plenty to see, lots of interesting people watching, and a pretty good view of all 5 boroughs to boot.

The next bit, from the finish line to the point where she met back up with David and Nicole, was probably the least fun part. It’s a long walk from the finish line to the family meet-up area, and although we’d planned to meet at the closest possible spot in the reunion area, it still took Lana 45 minutes to get her medal, her goodie bag (very heavy) a mylar space blanket (someone taped it to her), her photo (still haven’t seen that photo yet), and get out of the park (uphill). As she left the park, they wrapped her in a warm, fuzzy marathon poncho, which was very cozy, but didn’t make the blocks from 77th Street (where she exited the park) to 65th Street (where the family reunion area and Trinity Lutheran Church were) any shorter. 

After finally meeting up with her own personal cheering squad, we took the subway from Lincoln Center back to the East Village. Another perk of being a marathoner in NYC? Anyone and everyone will give up their seat on the subway for you. That is, if you think you can sit down and then make it back up to get off at your stop. Lana opted to just stand, knowing the transition from sitting to standing is one of the harder ones.

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One downside to our nice little apartment was the four flights of steep stairs that led up to it.  Just a little post-marathon stretching!  Lana felt like burgers for dinner, but didn’t want to go very far.  Fortunately, Nicole was able to find Whitmans just across the street, and we had awesome burgers and fries.  One of the many upsides to the apartment was the number of excellent restaurants within 3 blocks of it.

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The day after the marathon, Lana was feeling some pain. She didn’t want to walk too much, but definitely wanted to keep her legs moving, and we all wanted to see more of the city.  We decided to start the day with the World Trade Center Memorial, and then move on to more uplifting destinations.  The museum was compelling and very well done.  It did not shy away from the difficult subject matter, but did so in a way that was respectful to the victims.

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We walked through Greenwich Village to Buvette, which was on our must-eat list.  The neighborhood was very different from the surrounding area, and quite pretty.  Our lunch was fantastic, and we all appreciated resting our feet.

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We hit the High Line park around sunset, which was a beautiful time to be on the west side of Manhattan.
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We may have had grand designs of walking the entire High Line’s length, but at this point Lana’s feet were pounding, and she was beginning to limp a little bit, so we cut our walk short and took a detour through Chelsea Market, before returning to the apartment by subway.
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After resting our feet Monday night, we made a new list of priorities for Tuesday. The biggest priority was to see Central Park in the daylight, and not under the dim haze of the final miles of a 6+ hour marathon.
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It was a spectacular blue day, and the colors were turning all over the city, nowhere more beautiful than Central Park.  Autumn is definitely a glorious time to visit New York City.

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One of the last things we did in NYC was probably also the most tourist-y. It wouldn’t have occurred to us to take a Circle Line Cruise, but someone recommended it to Nicole, and we were game for it. The cruise started at 4pm, so we got a great look at Lady Liberty at sunset. Our cruise set out from Midtown on the west side, went out to the Statue of Liberty and got a close look, then headed to the East River past the Williamsburg Bridge and back.

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We saw several bridges, and one of them was the Verrazano Narrows Bridge.  David and Nicole were just as stunned at how long it is as Lana had been when she texted them from the Staten Island Ferry before the race.

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We got to see the city in daylight, at sunset, and after dark. It was beautiful and a perfect way to finish our trip to New York City. It gave us all (especially David and Nicole) a new perspective on how very far the marathon distance is and how much of the city we had a chance to see.
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The Empire State Building was lit up in the colors of the flag in honor of Election Day on our last night.  We walked around a bit, just soaking in the city.  We had seen and done so much in the few days we’d been in town, but we’d barely taken a bite of the Big Apple. NYC, we’ll be back.
We had tons of delicious food while we were in NYC, most of which we haven’t even had space to talk about here.  But here is a list of our recommendations, some places were so good we went back more than once, like Café Orlin.

Breakfast/Brunch:
Café Orlin
Clinton Street Baking Co.
Buvette

Pizza/Italian
Motorino
Nicoletta
Eataly Birreria

Burgers
Whitmans

Dessert:
Big Gay Ice Cream (for the love of God, get the Bea Arthur)

Williamsburg, Brooklyn – Pub food
Mugs Alehouse