This note is about my experience running the 2003 NYC Marathon on 11/2/03. Many folks have helped me. I summarized some of my "lessons learned" so that others could benefit. I've included tips for athletes and nonathletes from my experience. I also wanted to provide an account of my experience for those interested and for my personal record. Another reason I wrote this note was because I believe that less separates us than we all think. I've given you a view into my mind and my struggles and I bet that you are not much different. I hope you find this note a helpful and enjoyable read. It is longer than I wanted, so may I suggest that you maybe print it out and read it when you have some time. Happy Holidays!
This was my first marathon. I did my first two triathlons in June and September this year.
I set a 4 hour goal to run the 2003 NYC Marathon and ran a 4 hour 33 second race. Given this close finish it made the entire race a very exciting event for me. Overall, I finished in the top 23%. Officially, my finish was 8,188 out of 34,729 runners that finished with a time of 4:00:33. It was the most difficult athletic event I have ever done in my life.
The first 20 miles were excellent. I was generally on pace and not in any real pain. I was having a ton of fun. I was running very close to the fans on the street, smiling and even pet some dogs on the nose as I quickly passed them.
LESSON 1: Some of the best advice I was given by a bright endurance swimmer was, "relax, go out and really have fun". By not taking it too serious I found that I was calm and relaxed. I did not mentally "pump" myself up in advance. I had to resist the temptation. In fact, that was what I did in my first two triathlons and wondered why I could not sleep well the nights before. I simply trusted this advice and took a leap. Instead, for the prior week, I listened to very relaxing mellow music and left the "house dance music" I love so much at home. I also took my Discman a day before the race and listened to piano solos while standing at noon at the corner of 42nd street and Broadway in NYC for about 45 minutes. This is probably the busiest intersection in NYC. I tried to find calmness in all the craziness and it was a worthwhile exercise.
However, the last 6.2 miles of the Marathon were very painful, but even more so the last 2.2 miles. Part of the reason was I wanted to make sure I hit the goal. I actually ran miles 25 and 26 the 4th and 5th fastest miles of the entire race. Also, I literally sprinted the last .2 miles at a 6:45 pace. See mile splits at the end of this note.
I am fortunate that all my life the most excruciating pain I ever felt was when a doctor sharply yanked a piece of dried bloody gauze out of 4 inch cut on my lower abdomen a week after an emergency appendectomy. I was left breathless and numb for a minute. I was 14 years old. Well, that experience has been wiped out of my mind and replaced with the last 2.2 miles of this marathon. In fact, these last miles felt 100 times more painful and lasted about 19 minutes. It was really that bad.
LESSON 2. Expect and prepare for pain in endurance events and as one insightful swimmer advised, "find the beauty in the pain". I found myself repeating that phrase many times and it helped. I did find beauty. I some how convinced myself that what I was feeling was beautiful. I acknowledged, surrendered and openly accepted the pain without a fight. I said to myself, "this is painful, but I love what I am doing and the scene is beautiful." It worked well.
I asked myself the same question you may be asking. Why would you cause yourself so much pain? I thought a lot about this question since the race. I tried to put myself back in that place and think about why I cranked so hard in the last 19 minutes. Here is what I came up with. A small part of it was my sense of pride. I set a goal and wanted to achieve it.
However, I think that is only part of the story. After some reflection, I realized that there is a thrill, delightful pleasure and possibly an addiction of entering an altered state that my body is drawn to. As I was running the hardest most difficult miles, my body slipped into this pleasurable world. I was not in my body. During those last 2.2 miles, I felt someone else was running in my body and I was just looking down at me from above. I was watching a fast moving movie of the event complete with music and a closeness with GOD.
Many athletes like to push their bodies to get that feeling- the more painful the push the better the "high". Furthermore, I was getting seduced into running faster and faster. I was daring myself to test the limits and feeling that there were not any. I was driving a car that kept accelerating. Some very exciting moments were when I was heading south in Central Park during miles 25-26. The streets were lined 20 deep on each side with people yelling at the top of their lungs for me, a perfect stranger. I had, "Ron", written in magic marker across the front of my chest above my race number. Lots of runners do this and the fans seem to love to root for people by name.
Since I was accelerating and the mass of runners were generally remaining at a stable pace or slowing down, I needed to find space so I would not hit other runners. Several times during these miles I found a narrow line along the barricade in front of the fans. For minutes at a time, I was just smoking by these people only inches from clapping hands and cheering faces. I was passing 100's of other runners at the same time. They looked dead and exhausted. I was reminded that a marathon is a good metaphor for life. Running your own race plan is everything. Getting caught up in bubbles, fads and what everybody else is doing will simply make you, well, just like everybody else….dead looking and exhausted.
I also think that part of the reason I ran so hard was the same reason I put a match to a cup of turpentine in the 5th grade….just to see what would happen. Maybe it was my inner child subconsciously thinking that I might burst into flames on the streets of NYC. Now how cool would that have been? Moments before accelerating for the last 2.2 miles, for the final time, I thought of all of you folks who provided me strong words of encouragement and support in person, via email and in phone calls. In the flash of a few seconds your support just began to carry me. I also asked for help from GOD. In another flash, I felt I was carried away by GOD. This was when I started looking down at myself and I was outside my body.
My sister called me on Saturday and said that she was going to make the race. That really lifted my spirits as well as the other calls and emails from friends. I was in a very delicate state of mind on Saturday and needed all the support you gave me. Thank you so very very much for all of this.
Miles 21-24 were a little under a 10 minute pace. You and GOD helped me bring miles 25-26 back down to under a 9 minute pace and run the last .2 miles at a 6:45 pace.
When we made the right hand turn on to Central Park South, this was approximately the 25.5 mile point. The crowd was about 10x what it was in the Park and the noise was at an extremely high intensity just the way I like to listen to my favorite dance music. I remember the noise hitting my chest and saying, "Oh, yeah that's good". I could not look at the face of people. I was in an intense struggle to keep the acceleration going. I am sure that my face was massively contorted like characters of Stanley Kubrick's films. I was struggling to suck all the energy I could from my body and the crowd.
LESSON 3: Ask a lot of people for help. I was armed with a lot of wisdom from athletes much more accomplished than I. For me, the result was that I never felt alone. I felt like I was on a mission on behalf of a group of extraordinary people.
For example, I had help from some open ocean water swimmers from the South End Rowing Club that regularly swim in the SFO Bay each morning and concoct exotic endurance swims for kicks. A number of these people have swam the English Channel…an honor earned by only about 600 people since the beginning of time. I am also fortunate to have had some great coaching and insights through a number of other people. One man in his 60's has done 13 Ironman Triathlons. An Ironman Triathlon is a 2.4 mile ocean water swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride followed by a 26.2 mile run. Another woman does "Ultras", which are runs of over 100 miles. I also had laughs and inspiration, albeit a different kind, from the 12th fastest woman (100 meters) in the 2003 NCAA who will be representing Senegal, Africa in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. She says she can't run a mile without stopping. However, my core inspiration for doing the Marathon came from my 20 year friendship with Dave Fabian who is an 8 time NY Marathoner and regularly finishes in the top 5 in his age group in most triathlons. Guys and girls, give me a break. The world is a better place because of all of you for the examples you set. Thank you from heart and soul for all your support and guidance.
LESSON 4: If you are a spiritual person, carry this over to athletics and it will help you. It is probably very different for each person. Least I say I had a rich dialogue with GOD before, during and after the race. I'll try to write about this soon. The words are not coming out right now. I know I was followed, guarded, spoken to and lifted.
At the start of the race, using meditation, I convinced myself that I was going to die after the race and that this was my last opportunity to live. As I was running the race and looking at all the people and taking in the scenes I thought that this was the last breaths of life and that I better stay in the present and enjoy them and make the best of it. This kept me from "zoning out" into the past or the future, which I always had a big problem with. I read about this technique in a meditation book on the airplane to NYC. Tibetan meditation firstly focuses on the certainty of death. You focus on all the people you know or heard about who have died. Secondly, you focus on the uncertainty of the time of your death. Thirdly, you focus on what is important to you now in light of the fact that death is certain, but the time of its arrival uncertain. This helps you look at life and death differently. It is easy to forget about death and this makes us depreciate the preciousness of life. I walked off the airplane in a daze and noticed that I stopped to look at art on the wall. These thoughts had an immediate effect on me and I continued to work this meditation technique in the days before the Marathon.
LESSON 5: Create visual anchors and revisit them often. This was a particularly helpful piece of mental work suggested by a kind and thoughtful swimmer. Listen to how this works. When I was flying into LaGuardia airport in NYC there was a 10 second time period that I could see both the Marathon start and finish points as my plane made a sweeping turn to land. The first thing I said to myself was, "Cool, doesn't look that far". I took a mental snapshot of this. When my mind started playing tricks on me with negative thoughts, I countered with my own bag of tricks. When needed during the days before the Marathon, I paraded this image and strong feeling I genuinely had during that 10 second moment around in my mind and fought back.
Another anchor I created was I set my running watch to a 9:00 minute display and looked at it a few times a day for several days before the race and had a conversation with myself, "oh, the clock says a 9:00 minute mile, just like the 20 I am going to do on race day."
LESSON 6: The enemy is within. It always was and this is the one very valuable lesson that took me too many years to learn, but I recently got it. While trying to achieve this goal over the past 2 years the worst enemy was my internal dialogue. For example, like me, if you ever blamed a stranger, lover, employer, parent, child, friend, GOD, etc. for a lousy situation, it's like we are looking for our car keys in a place that we will never find them. I simply looked deeply within and carefully examined my daily and hourly internal dialogue and this has enabled me to find the answers to the problems that I created. Yes, most of the damage was done by me. Unfortunately, somebody managed to convince us all that the world is a competitive "dog-eat-dog world" and it is "us" against "the world". It's a given that the rest of the world can't drive a car as well as us, but I promise you there is NO conspiracy against us, just the ones we create in our own mind. I know at the end of the day it often feels like it, but it is just not true.
LESSON 7: Use a significant endurance event to clean your mental house.
A few weeks before the Marathon, I received an email from a swimmer that suggested that I use the Marathon and, "Make it a metaphor for something "huge" in your life." This got me thinking. I decided that it was time to get some "mental baggage" together, bring it with me to NYC (like I had a choice) and abandoned it on the street. I figured that I would think up 26 pieces of baggage and drop off a piece every mile. Over the course of 1 week, I put together a list. I pulled the TV plug out of the wall and decided that over dinner instead of watching CNN and Comedy Central, I would put together this list. (By the way, it was the most peaceful week of sleep I got. Haven't plugged in the TV as of yet. ) I sat around with my dog next to me and ate late dinners and thought and wrote for a week. Indeed, there was a lot of sludge and gunk that I tolerated and also of course enjoyed keeping around. I worked this list up to about 2 days before the Marathon and decided it was time to dump the baggage. I thought, "Why continue to drag it around you idiot? Just freaking dump it now". Once I carefully identified the sludge and gunk it really started to smell so to speak. So, while walking back to my hotel after dinner that night, in a metaphor I thought of on the spot, I promised myself that once I crossed the finish line I would leave the long list of baggage behind as I would cross into the 2nd chapter of life. It had its way with me. Now, I will have my way with it. I have to tell you that a lot has changed for me since crossing the finish line. I feel an order of magnitude lighter.
MOST IMPORTANT… LESSON 8: The power of the mind is a very very incredible force. It commands the body and emotions into action. This was a single simple theme that was reinforced throughout the Marathon. My mind is no different than yours. Our minds are just like little kids…what ever you tell the mind, it will believe it. Tell it to do nothing and it will deliver nothing. The week before the race and the entire race I was playing poker against my own mind. I was not going to let my mind "bluff" my body into thinking I could not do 4 hours. All the previously discussed mental work was a form of "bluffing" my own mind into believing that I could do 4 hours. I did this "bluffing" in the days before the race and I had to do it over and over again during the race. Once the mind believes something it will send marching orders to the body and real world action will happen. For example, legs will move faster, the mind will solve a currently unsolved problem, etc.
I actually ran miles 25 and 26 the 4th and 5th fastest miles of the entire race. Also, I literally sprinted the last .2 miles at a 6:45 pace. For me these statistics are the most incredible and unbelievable part of the race. Here is another way for me to explain how I see the mind/body link work. "Hardware" is not what makes the difference in endurance events. A leg is a leg. Training will get that leg prepared to a point. However, "software" is where it is at. All the mental work discussed in this note is like writing software….in my case, it has been a 2 year rewrite. I put one coder on the massive project, just me. Software instructs the hardware what to do. Just to clarify, with no offense to my wonderful coder friends at large, I do not write real software for a living. Never have. Wish I could. It seems like an artful and creative job.
There is a part of our mind that we should never listen to. I am starting to better distinguish between my heart and my mind. My heart guided me not to train any more after the 84 laps around Stanford Stadium on 10/12 even though my training schedule showed additional miles to be run in the two weeks before the Marathon. A feeling from my chest told me, "No more running until Marathon day". I listened to that. However, I now try to isolate and quarantine the chatter that feels like it is coming from my head. In those last 2.2 miles, my mind showed me 3 Queens worth of doubt and I kept a straight face knowing that I was holding 4 Aces worth of training and then I tried to "take it" for a last round of betting. I'll keep playing poker with my mind until I can bankrupt it. Teach the beast a lesson.
THE START-Mellow as Jell-O The start is at the foot of the Varazanno-Narrows Bridge which goes from Staten Island to Brooklyn. When I was crossing the bridge I was on the lower level which shielded me from the 10 am sun. I looked to the left and saw ships in the water spewing red, white and blue water into the air. The bridge actually was moving under my feet as 36,662 starters pounded the pavement. The runners let out a collective "whooo" when this would happen every few minutes. Many people were passing me as I tried to be careful to run at my 9 minute pace.
The most striking thing at the start was that I did not see anybody stretching like I was. People were just standing around looking at each other. Many people had horrified looks on their faces like they were about to be slaughtered. I did some yoga stretches on the Ferry ride over and continued until shortly before the cannon shot started the race.
BROOKLYN- "11 Miles of Matzo, Pizza & Bagpipes"
After getting off of the bridge, we were in Brooklyn and were appropriately welcomed with signs and screams such as, "Welcome to F****** Brooklyn". I kid you not. Also, I remember one person screaming, "Ron, you're in Brooklyn, now kick some ass". Of course this race is all about contrasts. A few miles later, we entered a very traditional Jewish neighborhood. Imagine 1000's of identically dressed men with hats, long beards and long black coats lining the streets, watching intently but saying absolutely nothing. I caught one guy smiling at me and I gave him the two thumps up, a big smile and blew him a kiss and I think I got him in trouble with his friends. Of course, I did this on purpose.
I ran through Latino, Afro-American, Irish, Italian and Jewish neighborhoods. It was as quickly evident as I left each and entered the other. People from Brooklyn are known for their loyalty and patriotism. They have pride and are very intense. I love these people and they gave me a very warm welcome. Thank you Brooklyn! QUEENS- "Don't Mess With My Marathon"
I only spent a short time in Queens… miles 13-15. This is where I had some moments that reminded me that I was in NYC. A rapper and a local hero, P Diddy, was running the Marathon. He spent a lot of money hyping his participation. There were billboards with his name all over NYC. However, a lot of runners had written negative slogans on their shirts about P Ditty. Apparently, he also paid the race sponsor, NY Road Runner's Club, a lot of money so that he could have a motorcycle follow him on the race course with a TV camera. When money and politics come together you know the rest of the story.
All of a sudden I came across his media circus around mile 13. Spectators in the 100's began joining in the race to run next to him as he passed by them. Many spectators erroneously thought that they had the right to join the race. My elbows placed parallel to my chest provided a simple solution as I plowed for about 10 seconds and pushed some spectators on the course out of my way. After I plowed a clear path, I smoked by this media circus and never saw it again.
MANHATTAN- "My Jam Up 59th Street"
I crossed the 59th Street Bridge and entered Manhattan and came up 1st Ave. People were yelling, "Go Ron" with such enthusiasm that I began to cry. I could not believe the outpouring of perfect strangers who were rooting for me. I held my palms up at my waist and took it all in and ran like an antelope. Mile 17 was a little too fast at 8:21, but I got an incredible charge out of the scene.
I passed a person in a wheel chair. This woman had a few volunteers helping her. I also passed a women walking with a cane and a pronounced limp. I slowed for a moment and gave a big smile and cheered for them. If you want to experience some of what I experienced, go to www.nyrrc.org and sign up as volunteer and act as an escort for disabled people next year. You can just walk a mile or two and others will take over for you.
BRONX- "Ok, Now This Is Starting To Hurt"
I entered the Bronx at mile 20. I was pretty much exactly on my pace target at this time. I was coming off the bridge and hit the 20 mile mark entering the Bronx. At this point, I started to hurt a bit and began thinking about finding the beauty in the pain.
UPPER MANHATTAN- "I Can Do This In 4 Hours"
I entered upper Manhattan again coming over another bridge and hit the 21 mile mark. My watch said 3:21:39 and the last mile was 10:07, somewhat slow. Right now I do not remember too much about the Bronx and upper Manhattan. I knew that I was still in the game to hit 4 hours. I knew that the poker game was going to start to get intense between me and my mind. At this point, I felt like I was standing on wobbly ground in the sense that I had to remain stable and not panic. It was time to get focused. No more petting dogs or blowing kisses to get people in trouble. "Welcome to the Marathon", I thought to myself. The fan turnout is typically the weakest in upper Manhattan. I had to go within. I blocked the world out and mentally went into a long tunnel and envisioned a dot of light at the end which was the finish. I locked onto that dot and did not let go. This got me through upper Manhattan.
CENTRAL PARK & CENTRAL PARK SOUTH:
See the few paragraphs above "Lesson 3". Look at this: Schau es dir mal an: Flirt Center
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FINISH LINE-"Careful, Don't Slip on My Sludge and Gunk"
I had visited the finish line twice in the days before the race. I imagined my race finish…coming over the finish line elated, smiling, full of emotion, and waving to my parents who were enjoying VIP treatment at Tavern on the Green at the finish line. That was my fantasy. This was how it really went down.
The last .2 miles were a very significant uphill climb. I just poured everything I had into it. This last 1:21 was the hardest part of the race. I was going at a 6:45 mile pace which was significantly faster than mile 26 which was 8:55. I know with all my heart that I could not have run a meter more or a second faster the whole race. For me, in all respects it was the perfect marathon. I have no regrets about the race or the finish. There is a lot of peace in that especially being only 33 seconds over my goal. However, the price was that I crossed the finish line and almost fainted. I never felt that way. The first thing I said to myself was, "I'll never do this race again." My quads felt like cold, heavy rods of steel with no muscle available to move them.
I had no emotion and felt depressed and void of any feeling. I just was walking around like a zombie. I saw a rack of medals and started to walk in that direction. Somebody put a medal around my neck and another put a blanket around me. All life was sucked out of me. I could not smile or frown or laugh or cry. I had to walk about another mile to get out of Central Park. This probably took about an hour. When I exited the Park, I had a personality back and felt human again. Around this time, I realized that I won a very important poker game against my own mind. I felt a smile crack on my face and it turned to laughter while I was standing all alone. It was an exceptional private moment. I realized that I beat the beast! Given that I am now on the other side of the finish line and my "previously owned" sludge and gunk are no longer with us all, it's time to begin chapter #2 in life. Here is how I am going to try to live it. In important areas of life, I am going to set a bar higher than anybody can possibly set for me, strive to reach that bar and live life with the quiet peace and pleasure of knowing that I held absolutely nothing back. If my best effort is not good for someone else, I'll say, "Thanks, but no thanks" and quickly move on. It doesn't matter if we are talking about athletics, business, relationships, etc.
I cut myself 33 seconds of slack and will say I nailed the goal. The reason I hit 4 hours was specifically due to many of you that gave me inspiration and motivation. I could not have done it alone. Many of you were there with me. Thank you so very much for this gift of love, inspiration, support and guidance.
Here are the splits from my watch:
Mile 1 946
Mile 2 811
Mile 3 919
Mile 4 907
Mile 5 858
Mile 6 913
Mile 7 826
Mile 8 908
Mile 9 900
Mile 10 905
Mile 11 925
Mile 12 857
Mile 13 921
Mile 14 906
Mile 15 934
Mile 16 924
Mile 17 821
Mile 18 909
Mile 19 920
Mile 20 931
Mile 21 1007
Mile 22 943
Mile 23 912
Mile 24 954
Mile 25 851
Mile 26 855
.2 Mile 121 (645 pace)
Total time 4:00:37