Monday, November 5, 2007

It's official: I am a marathoner

Marathon Day
weather: 53-55º
humidity: 47-51%

Wind: wind W 3-13 mph

Official Time - 6:00:59 (with the age-graded time of 5:59:43)

I did it! After all the doubts and second thoughts that started creeping up inside me. After all the weeks and weeks of training.

I ran the NYC Marathon! I, Lisa Fu, ran one of the world's toughest marathons. It's official: I am a marathoner.

This was by far the most challenging thing I've ever done in my life. To say that it is tough doesn't even begin to cover how I felt during times on the course. Emotionally it took a toll on me as well, having to dig deep to finish.

But I finished! I reached my goal of finishing strong!

Not only that, I predicted my own time and hit it spot on! I originally gave myself three loose time goals in addition to the all-important finishing goal. One was 6:20 (by following the handbook formula of 2X half marathon + 10mins + 10mins for the NYC Marathon.) The other was an ambitious 5:30 if I ran 12min/miles throughout, (which I knew would be a stretch, but it kept me going). Then the third was somewhere in between, so tagging it at 6:00 would not be out of reach. By mile 22 when I saw the time I felt like I still had enough in the tank to reach the 6:00 mark so pushed it until the end.

I woke up at 4:30am at my parent's house, got dressed and ate a couple of slices of raisin bread with a bit of peanut butter. Downed a bottle of water and left the house at 5:30. My parents both woke up early to see me off. I thought that was very nice of them to do that.

Since the Staten Island terminal was just over a mile from the house I walked to it in time to catch the 6am ferry to cross. Sitting inside the ferry it was very interesting to watch people from all over the world speaking in different languages, all excited about seeing the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge itself. Cameras were going off everywhere and people were running from one side of the boat to the other to get better photos.

We landed and were greeted by volunteers who ushered us to buses that drove us to Fort Wadsworth, the staging area 15 minutes from the ferry. When I walked off the bus I saw thousands of people all milling about. They had three corrals: orange, blue and green. I was at the orange so I headed towards the giant orange balloons where I got free bagels, coffee, powerbars and found a spot on the grass like everyone else was doing. I was glad I brought some old clothing to wear. As the morning moved on it got quite windy and cold. An hour later Grace came from the green corrals to join me. She said we can start together provided that we start at the higher number (which I had). For the next couple of hours we just sat there hanging out, eating periodically and used the facilities periodically until it was time to bring our baggage to the trucks. (The truck area was a mini disaster. No lines, everyone all crowded to get their bags to the trucks. We were stuck inside a crowd and had to ride the wave out into another area which was opposite of where the orange start was.)

When it was time to line up, there were a lot, and I mean a LOT of people to bring over to the starting line. We waited about 20 minutes until my number range came up for us to slip in. And once we slipped in we heard the starting gun, and a wave of cheer came from the bridge all the way out to where we were.

The energy level at the starting line was electrifying to say the least. Grace and I, who trained together throughout the summer felt so good to be able to start together, ran the top of the bridge. It was an amazing site, the sheer length of the span and the sheer size of the towers were awesome to see up close. People all around me stopped on the sides to take photos. I snapped a couple myself. And just like I predicted, I would lose Grace before the end of the bridge. My training partner, who gave herself a time of 4:45 shattered her own goal to run a 4:30. (And to think if she wasn't feeling sentimental about running with me on the bridge she probably would've slipped in under that time.)

Running through Brooklyn was amazing. There were so many people with signs, people who passed out orange slices and welcomed us calling out our names, cheering on the foreigners, "go Italia! go Mexico! go Germany!" It was so cool to be on the inside seeing how many people actually come out to support the runners. There were bands every so often, but the best part was the Brooklynites (all of whom love Rocky) blasted "Eye of the Tiger" and the quintessential Rocky soundtrack.

I did slow and steady throughout Brooklyn. Luckily I had my cell phone on. Felt a bit of chafing action on my thigh so early (the one area I forgot to add Body Glide) and was afraid that I was going to get major blisters. Thankfully Chris was going to be at the 10k mark, so I called him ahead of time and told him to get me some vaseline and after a second thought, some salt in case I need it. (I read that morning about low blood sodium levels being dangerous.)

Where 4th Ave in Brooklyn (miles 3-7) were slight rolling hills, from Downtown Brooklyn to the heart of Williamsburg (miles 8-11) were slightly steeper rolling hills. At this point I can already tell who started out way to fast because they would do a complete halt once they reached the Gatorade and water stations, completely oblivious to the fact that there were throngs of people behind them. This one really tall guy from my left decided cut right in front of me to my right and stop and his feet hooked my leg and almost took me down. Luckily I didn't fall but it twinged my right hamstring, which kept coming back later on threatening to cramp up. I was pissed at that.

From mile 12-13 I was treated to the nice little Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint that was obviously going through a period of renovation and gentrification. There were complete blocks of new development going up. The people there passed out candy and water and at one point cookies. (I sooo wanted to stop for a cookie but I knew it would mean bad things.) Somewhere along the way I smelled fresh donuts and I got pissed and started cursing silently at that sweet smell. The Gu packs just weren't cutting it by that point. I stopped and stretched my ankles and hamstrings before continuing on.

Between miles 13-14 there was a bridge to cross that I actually mistaken for the beginning of the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. No dice. It was supposed to be the Pulaski Bridge that took us from Brooklyn to Queens, (but I think we did the highway instead of the actual bridge). Once I got to Long Island City at mile 14 marked by the giant Citibank tower, I knew it was only a matter of steps to the QB bridge at 15.

Mile 15 marked the entrance of that steep uphill, and everyone around me walked at that point. I decided to take the time to walk and refuel with a gel. I started getting hungry so I downed a gel and some water to keep something in my stomach. At the midway point I started running again and let the downhill carry me through into Manhattan, around the corner and uptown to First Avenue. The crowd at the mouth of the bridge was a nice sight, but I had too much momentum to slow down and rode it out until the flat part of the course at mile 18 when the course flattened out a bit.

At that point I started to get lightheaded, thought to myself it could be the wall but ruled it out. I was still going strong, but here was something definitely going on with my head. I walked it for a bit and tried to think what I should do. To my right this poor guy was puking his guts out quite a few times, and that's when I realized I must have been drinking way too much water. I did grab water and Gatorade at almost every stop, and it was catching up to me. I called Chris again who was going to meet me at mile 19 and told him to please get me something salty to eat. When I saw him at 116th Street he passed me a small bag of salty pretzels and boy did that really help. I scarfed down a handful, stuffed the rest in my pocket and kept going. It got quite cool and windy so I put my jacket back on. Once I hit the Willis Avenue Bridge and into the Bronx I took a walk to make sure I wouldn't upset my stomach too much by running too fast after eating the pretzels.

Bronx provided a mental pick up since it was mile 20 right after the first bridge. At this point it was only 10k to go. 10k, a magic number. 20 miles down to the hardest 10k of my life. I knew Chris was going to cross 115th Street from 1st to 5th Ave to meet for the third time between mile 22-23, and when I saw him, I passed him my fuel belt, my long sleeve running jacket tied to my waist, the vaseline, the salt, the half-eaten bag of pretzels, and everything else except my cell phone and started to pick up my pace.

I was without anything but myself now. It was just me and the road and the last 3.5 miles. 1/2 miles until Central Park, a most-welcomed sight. I felt my emotions creeping up on me and had to fight back the tears. Ran along side the park until about 86th Street where we entered the park and onto a course that I was by now, most familiar with. Downhill most of the way where I trained going up. My friend Anna and Jen shouted out my name at a surprise turn and gave me a much needed boost to carry me at mile 24. (Anna M YOU are Chief Rocka #1!!) Mile 25 my cell phone rings and it's Grace. I didn't say much just said 25. She said okay and I hung up and gathered up more steam.

Mile 25 with 1.2 to go. 1.2 of the grittiest road back out to Central Park South, along the southern edge of the park for a couple of avenues before once again making a final sharp turn back in, the rest of the way uphill. I know this part and tell myself not to get too anxious. Time Warner Center in front of me, a loud crowd to both sides calling my name. I'm glad I wrote my name out as every person that called my name gave me a push ahead. Right before I saw the turn back into the park there was a big screen that featured all the runners passing by. Runners were waving at themselves. I didn't bother. I zeroed in on the 1/2 mile sign.

Then the 800 meters sign.

And I felt it. Something in my mind clicked. I felt my body working, I felt my legs working. I felt something somewhere deep inside that took hold and moved me forward faster. And faster. I felt my knees and ankles and hamstrings. I felt my lungs and heart. I felt my oh-so-tired hips and thighs and arms and neck, but I kept moving forward.

The pain disappeared and I got faster. 400 meters to go.

A slight flat area and I took off some more. I caught a glimpse of the finish line behind the trees. Then the 200 meter mark. Then the course opened up and I saw the lights and the crowds and damn near bolted the rest of the way and ran full speed until I stepped over the finish. And at that point I broke down because it was by far the most mentally and physically exhausting thing I have ever done in my life. My emotions took over and I almost collapsed. Someone led me to someone else who put a medal around my neck. Someone else gave me a heat sheet but I couldn't wrap it around myself. Someone came over and helped me wrap myself up. I thanked them all profusely and cried some more.

After taking a finishing photo with my medal I called Grace to see where she was. I wanted to hug her. She was already out of the park and got her bag and was going to meet up with Anna and Jen. I called Chris and he was already at 72nd Street where I was to meet up with him. When I saw him I broke down again. It was finally over.

Some park ranger told me my bags were outside of the park, but when I got to the E-F (last name) meeting area there were no bags. It was actually back inside the park, so tack on another 1/2 mile afterwards to get my bags.

The wind was really picking up by the time I got all my belongings. Chris helped me find a place to sit where I put on my sweats and a jacket. We walked from 72nd Street down to Lincoln Center to see if we could find a cab, but with thousands of other runners who just finished there were no cabs available. And on top of that the 66th Street subway station was closed. Walked over to Broadway and caught the crosstown and then got off at 68th Street to take the 6 train back to my parents'. I was drained by the time I got in. Total distance covered for the day was not just 26.2 miles, but +2.5 for the walk to the ferry and to get my bags, and the walk to find transportation and the walk to my parents' house. It was quite a feat.

The original plan was to go out and celebrate, but I was so tired. My mom decided to cook me dinner and it was the best meal I've had in a while. After hanging out with my brother and sister for a little bit, my brother drove Chris and me home. It was hard walking up that flight of stairs, and once I got into bed I passed out.

This morning I woke up incredibly stiff. Chris went out of his way to make me my favorite breakfast. Then we sat down and watched the marathon since he recorded it, and I broke down again because it was overwhelming. It's funny how when you're in the middle of it, there are parts you don't remember. But with time you recall the parts that mattered and what you were thinking about during the challenging things and it makes you so proud to accomplish a goal that was seemingly unsurmountable when you first took it on.

It was definitely by far the most challenging thing physically and mentally that I've committed to, and it was by far the most rewarding. This goal was 5 years in the making, and I'm so proud of myself for being able to accomplish it!


MorseyRuns said...

CONGRATULATIONS- good work you marathoner! Such a great run- and you had me crying at the end. Enjoy a rest.

Road Warrior said...

What an incredible story! You should be so proud of yourself. It's got to feel amazing to accomplish a goal like that after 5 years. Congrats!

peter said...

Congratulations on a great race. Nice strong finish and a nice write up. Your descriptions had me re-living last year (when I ran it) all over again. It's quite a feat to finish that difficult course going away!

ShirleyPerly said...

Incredible how much detail you remembered from the race. With that strong finish, it sounds like you ran the ideal first marathon. CONGRATS!!!

CewTwo said...

I am humbled before you. What an accomplishment! Five years in the making! You did it! Wow!

Susan said...

Oh Lisa - you are AMAZING!!! I am so so so proud of you. That was an excellent report for an EXCELLENT RACE. You rocked it! The way you kicked into high gear at the end -- that is bone chilling! WOW!

I am very, very proud of you. You are an inspiration!

Anna said...

congratulations lis! what a triumphant accomplishment! ur story made me want to kick that guys ass who almost tripped u! also, u did run the pulaski bridge from bk into long island city (altho it looks like a highway, u ran above the queens midtown tunnel). told ya yoo kin doo eet!! what a feat!!