In the house
No sooner had I put my head down after midnight, then my phone’s alarm woke me up. 4:30am: Game Time. A quick physical check appears to indicate that I’m rested and stomach is fine. Relieved that this was the case, and not a bit disappointed that I had no excuse to quit, I get myself ready to depart.
I am in confidence mode now – no negativity allowed. Despite the cold, dark morning and tired eyes I feel excited, alive. Today is going to be one of the most memorable of my life, and it is just about to unfold.
The long journey to the start
We leave the house by car and drive to Forest Hills where we are to pick up the train. Steve didn’t have much sleep and seems bothered by his ankle. I put to the back of my mind a doubt I have over a calf niggle; little I can do now other than stretch properly and hope everything holds up.
I shiver standing on the platform as another runner silently joins us, the sky turning from black to grey. We board, and Steve attempts to catch some shut-eye on our short journey into the city, green Deloitte baseball cap over face. Arriving, he finds time, as always, for food. A bagel and coffee doesn’t last long as I abstain. We make our way to the subway and catch an ever-increasingly populated tube to the ferry station. It’s a little warmer down here and the time it takes provides time to look at my fellow passengers. Wall to wall white running trainers, some with timing chips already fastened, all looking shiny and ready for action. Everyone looks like a runner, built for speed, and primed to tackle the miles that will come their way. No-one talks, but there is an air of expectancy in the air.
The ferry station opens up to us, swallowing its impressive capture of athletes. Nationalities drift past as the accents come thick and fast. No familiar faces, but everyone somehow looks the same. The ferry pulls in soon after and we pour in, everybody looking for a prime spot to chill, to sight-see or to simply obtain the best and therefore fastest exit later. The Statue of Liberty waves us hello and then goodbye on our starboard side; she’s seen it all before. Once docked, we board our final transport of the morning: a bus to the starting areas. It’s close now, and all necks are craned as the Verrazano-Narrows bridge looms out of the houses in our view like a mythical drawbridge to an enchanted castle. That is where our dreams will start.
In the fort
The start area is huge, but it’s still over two hours to go until the first wave starts and it’s sparsely populated right now. I walk past a group of Brazilians in foil sleeping bags that wouldn’t look out of place at NASA, and head towards the Team For Kids tent. Expecting a VIP setup, I’m a little disappointed to see it’s just a covering over a patch of field, bit realise that compared to open skies, in this cool temperature this is more than a blessing. We make camp, grab a bagel and Gatorade to fuel up and try to take it all in. Soon, the tents fills up. Steve says it looks like a war zone outside in the clear, with bodies everywhere, most unmoving, conserving energy. People pack in beside us, and the chatter of nervous energy and friendly banter surrounds us. Strong smells of ointment fill my nostrils, as everyone casually observes what others are doing in their preparations. I tackle the long line of green portaloos, mildly surprised at their good state. Timing, I tell myself is everything – you want to empty your bladder and not take on too much water now.
We chat to a couple of girls beside us who invite us to a party after the race. We enthusiastically agree we’d consider it, but telepathically consign ourselves tonight to limping home and dying somewhere instead. A horn sounds and the first wave is called up. A big cheer erupts from nowhere; the first lambs to the slaughter I feel.
I begin a few stretches, lubricate with Vaseline everything that could possibly rub and them some, and before I head out in wave 2 I dash again to the loo. The truck has our finish clothes and we make our way to the start position in our old throw-aways, keeping warm to the last minute. I worry about not having done enough stretching – there’s simply not been the room, and I make a few last-minute moves to free up everything I can. The noise is getting louder, and a few enthusiastic people try to pump up everyone around them. It’s moments away. No going back. In a blur, we start moving. Is this it? Are we running? Was that the start line? Confusion reigns as a throng of people ahead begin to pick up their feet. Soon, as music reaches our ears we realise that the start line is just up ahead at the beginning of the bridge. We cross the orange timing mats to the sound of “Born to Run” stinging our ears and our journey begins. After months of training, weeks of doubts and worry, I was finally running the 2008 New York Marathon.