Miles 1-2. Staten Island & Verrazano Bridge
Miles 3-7. 4th Avenue, Brooklyn
Mile 8-10. Crescendo Square, my name for this area 🙂
Mile 11-13. Williamsburg and Pulaski Bridge
Miles 14-16. Queens and 59th Street Queensboro Bridge
Miles 17-19. Wall of Sound, First Avenue, Manhattan
Miles 20-21. Bronx
Miles 22-23. Fifth Avenue
Miles 24-26.2 Cheering Central Park
The Wall: Climb it, and thoughts to summon effort
Running a marathon
I ran the New York City Marathon on November 3, 2013 that courses through the five boroughs (districts) of New York City. This is the largest marathon in the world with over 50,000 finishers in 2013. Each year twenty lakh spectators line the course. Following is a recap of my run and description through the diverse neighborhoods.
I woke fifteen minutes before the alarm at 5:15 am. Today I will not be trying anything new, just put the plan into execution I have been training for. I grab and ate the fruits and food I had kept on the table. All my clothes and objects and gadgets were lined up, and I am ready to leave in thirty minutes.
The morning travel is a Path Train 10 min ride to World Trade Center in Manhattan, 20 min walk to Staten Island Ferry, 30 min boat ride, 30 min on a shuttle bus to the Starting Village in Staten Island.
For the last 4 months I had followed a mix of Hal Higdons intermediate program, Yasso 800s and tempo runs, averaging 40 miles a week. I had run part of the course while training and had jotted down notes. I had then memorized the course and strategy of when to gather and when to issue my energy on the many inclines of this course. Here I should say, I am lucky to run and train with fellow Jersey City runners, one of them is Frederick who is traveling alongside me and we shall run together.
It is cold, gusty and partly cloudy. Temperature is 10° Celsius which feels like 5. The cold is not bothering me much; it is the 15 mph head wind I am worried about.
I discard the extra layers of old clothes. Good luck and trust your training is the greeting passed around by us runners to each other. It is going to be my magical day, I am anxious and excited!
Miles 1-2. Staten Island & The Verrazano Bridge
The race is about to start at 9:40 am from the Verrazano Bridge. “New York, New York” Frank Sinatra’s rendition and the orchestration of this classic song serenade me to a surreal sensation. The 21 Cannon Salute booms and smoke rises nearby, it jolts and pumps me up. We cheer heartily, the starting hooter horns, and with a reptilian movement the thousands of runners start off! Several helicopters are hovering next to the bridge and photographers on open moving buses are taking pictures. I am soaking in and savoring the special occasion.
My right index finger presses the start button of my GPS Garmin watch as we cross the start line. Knowing my heart rate, cadence, speed, and distance shall help me take decisions while running the race and analyze it afterwards. My plan is to finish in 3:30:00 at a 8:01 minute per mile speed.
This 2 mile long beautiful double-decked suspension bridge connects the boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn in Long Island. Bridges connect the different islands of New York City. I steal quick glances of the Statue of Liberty, the New York Manhattan and Jersey City skyline to scan it in my memory.
After the uphill first mile I stretch both my hands wide apart in a swan pose, enjoy the view, take some deep breaths, and let myself go down the bridge invigorated. The show is on the road, my bib number is 14197 and there are approx. 14000 runners ahead of me.
I clock 8:39, 7:29 minutes per mile here
Miles 3-13. Brooklyn
As we round off from the bridge and settle into race pace in 4th Avenue, I hear JITUUU …. Jersey City …. It is spectators reading my t-shirt and yelling my name. There are people lined up deep on both side of the road. From the moment you cross the Verrazano Bridge, to the finishing grandstands in Central Park everyone on the road is cheering you on. You can say it is the biggest block party of the world through the amazing neighborhoods of this most diverse city. Absolutely nothing beats the crowds of the NYC marathon. There are signs and banners for friends and runners which are matchless.
The wind is bearable for me but I have felt a stomach stitch, leg itch which I ignore as mind playing games due to nervousness. Coming into the race my calves have been sore which I have taped. I do not feel on the top of my running game today but I know that I will feel better after the first few miles. Pain is temporary, pride is forever is my mantra. I keep focusing on my alignment, breathing and center to keep running and overtaking runners.
Bands are playing live and we are in the neighborhood of the iconic “Saturday Night Fever” 1977 movie. Evergreen hits of my youth rocks up my pace … You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive, yeah ….
This area is known as home to generations of immigrant families like Italian, Irish, Scandinavian, Russians, Asians and Arabs. Brooklyn’s Chinatown, Latin American and Norwegian neighborhood are nearby too.
There are water and Gatorade stations at every mile. I have been drinking 125 ml water every 2 miles. Every 4 miles I take a gel packet which has carbohydrate, salt and caffeine. Bananas and electrolyte pills also help fuel my marathon for an optimal performance. Nutrition is going to play an important part, carbohydrate for the energy and caffeine to remain alert and focus to run the race. For three days prior to the race I have been carb loading by eating more rice, roti and daal to increase glycogen level in my body. My mother is visiting this year and I could not be better fed by her food and rotis!
Speed clocked 7:48, 7:46, 7:38, 7:36, 7:43, and 7:55
Mile 8-10. Crescendo Square, my name for this area
The 4th Avenue rolls around to the junction with Flatbush Ave. I can hear the echo of cheering from far away. Here at mile 8 it builds into a crescendo as the high rise buildings all around make a cauldron for the noise to reverberate.
The large double road narrows down to Lafayette Avenue which is a narrower one-way street, and we are packed in. This road has an unexpected inclination for half a mile where you start feeling the hill. The New York marathon is considered a difficult race not only for the bridges but for these ups and downs on the course.
All the while I am trying to overtake slower runners by weaving in and out as we run alongside some of the city’s finest brownstones, mix of restaurants and chic shops.
The road slants down now and it is time for me to breathe easy, relax and gather energy. On the downhill I slap hands and high five kids and spectators. It is never a flat road for long in NYC, which is why it is considered a tougher race than others.
Mile 11-13. Williamsburg and Pulaski Bridge
We are at Williamsburg at an Orthodox Jewish enclave of people who shun many aspects of modern life. Men wearing large round brown fur hats with untrimmed beard and long hair and traditional dress seem to be in a different world.
The beauty of running the NYC marathon is the mix of the neighborhood and cultures you witness. We move on to Little Poland and Hispanic populated areas. And we are now on the Pulaski Bridge which is the half way stage of the race. Atop the windy bridge, I have a look at the midtown Manhattan skyline where the race will finish.
Speed clocked (minutes per mile) 7:31, 7:48, 7:42, 7:44, and 7:45
I am feeling tired but am happy with the time of less than 1hr 44min at this stage, what I had planned for. Frederick and I have somehow kept together through this crowded distance but we plan not to stick together and let one another race at their comfort level.
The bridge connects Brooklyn and Queens.
Mile 14-16. Queens and the 59th Street Queensboro Bridge
This section in Queens is not a residential area, and for me it is a somewhat boring section. The roads are more open and the crowds get thinner till we start approaching the bridge. I wish Little India was in the route, but it is a few miles further away in Queens.
My energy level goes down here and I run my first 8+ min mile. I am looking to find my friends with a placard on a pole but I do not know the wind has forced them to abandon that. After crossing them I hear their yells of Jitu, Jitu which they had been shouting all along. Finally I hear, look back, stop, wave and say bye. I must say that one has to be exact in location at finding friends. A little further ahead I take a bathroom break and waste 30 seconds ;-).
The Queensboro Bridge is a mile long covered bridge. It is the only quiet place on the course with no crowds. I have remembered my father while climbing uphill and while going down the bridges I energize myself by saying I have eaten roti cooked by my mother.
The climb up the bridge breaks quite a few runners down to make them run slower or walk. A runner dressed as an impressive Red Indian chief running alongside, stops at the top to stretch. I deposit my running gloves on the bridge and pray that the race goes well.
I am not happy that my GPS watch screen is not working well and I stop getting instant speed feedback. I do get a mile speed alert at the end of every mile.
Speed clocked (minutes per mile) 8:05, 8:24, 9:51 (GPS stopped working on the bridge for over 90 seconds)
Running down this 59th Street bridge onto First Avenue in Manhattan is surely the most exciting moment in the whole race, and maybe, in all of marathoning. Here after the calm comes the storm.
Mile 17 to 19. Wall of Sound, First Avenue, Manhattan
As you come down from the covered bridge you start hearing a buzzing which keeps getting louder and louder. All of a sudden you are in the vast open. The loudest of the roars which is all around overwhelms me. As I come out of the bridge the cheering crowds welcomes as if I am a very special champion. I wave my hands and sweep my gaze to capture the moment and look if I can see friends who are around there. My friends see me but I cannot locate them in the tens of thousands of faces and I keep running.
The block party atmosphere reaches a fever pitch here. For a mile I run on the energy of the crowd. This is a three mile stretch which has its up and down inclines. There are shrieking hundreds of thousands lined up on both sides. Music, events and many other things happening on the sidelines ahead of the residential towers, the churches and the shops, and yep the bars are open, its party time! I try to avoid all eye contact to save my energy and am focusing on aligning and breathing, to run at my pace.
My friend Ravi, an avid runner is manning the Galloway NYC running support station on and I know his exact location on 87th Street. He hands me a banana and water bottle and the transaction is smooth. Nadia, another runner friend clicks a pic while I whizz by. I pour all the water on myself, and someone hands me a wet sponge as well a little later.
I am feeling a bit tired and feeling the head wind against me. We say the marathon starts at mile 20 and I am not there yet, but this is the best I have ever felt at this stage of a marathon! I keep running ahead of slower runners.
The crowd thins and the Willis Avenue Bridge is in sight on 125 Street.
Speed clocked (minutes per mile) 7:33, 7:55, 7:52
Mile 20 – 21. The Bronx
The Willis Avenue Bridge takes its toll, some runners walk and I run slower uphill to conserve energy. At mile 20 I am at the edge of my 3:30:00 finish time but I cannot maintain my pace and this section takes half a minute away from me.
The Bronx is the northernmost of the five boroughs of New York City and is located on the mainland. This area has many Irish, German, Jewish, Italian, and later African Americans and Hispanic immigrants. The cultural mix has made Bronx a bountiful origin of both Latin music and hip hop.
There is lots of cheering and music in Bronx. A very big band, dozens of drummers are belting nice pumping music. At this stage I have not been enjoying the entertainment like what I would have wanted.
There are many sharp turns in Bronx where I lose momentum. I am tired but it is not that I cannot complete the race, I am afraid I cannot race at the speed I want. I surprisingly bump into Frederick who says he is cramping and wishes me the best to go ahead.
Luckily the Madison Ave Bridge back to Manhattan has very slight inclination down 138 Street.
Speed clocked (minutes per mile) 8:14, 8:16
Mile 22 – 23. Fifth Avenue
We are running south and the wind is on our back. It is pleasant, and I tell myself “could not feel better”. The pesky sun is blinding when I look straight up, it makes me keep my eyes half shut, so I meditate and focus on my run! Even with the sun shining it is very cold.
Now I am running in Central Harlem and straight down the famous 5th Avenue. I have my own “Go JITU” sign at mile 23 where my mother, brother Dhirendra, sister in law Barbara and nephew Shaan are waiting to encourage me at 110 Street. My running rhythm returns and I cannot wait to meet them. All my focus is on getting to where they are waiting.
And they are there; they have been following me on the internet App and are very ready to greet and cheer me ahead. My brother is half on the road waving excitedly. I have the widest grin on my face. I slow down, high five my brother and say “main accha hoon”, I am feeling good! Charged up I continue on the way to the finish. On hindsight I think I should have stopped for some time to share the occasion. Meeting them has been a highlight of my race.
Speed clocked (minutes per mile) 7:53, 7:45
Mile 24 to 26.2 Cheering Central Park
There is a tough steady half mile inclination outside the park till 90th Street where we turn inside the park. I am gunning to get 3:30 and have entered Central Park estimating I am less than a minute behind. My speed has gone down in the tough upslope and I try going faster. But big mistake, because I tried pushing with my legs my calves cried and pained. I am very scared that I may need to stop and stretch if I cramp now. I give up increasing speed and keep running at the same pace. I think that I could have leaned slowly, used my upper body, arms and oblique muscles to power myself and get my rhythm going.
I am still moving and overtaking many runners but my pace is down 30 seconds and my 3:30 goal time is fading away in the park. I think this time it was not fatigue but the cramping sensation on my legs. Even though I was tired I was in better shape than my last few marathons.
Central Park Loop is a very up and down race track of 6 miles. It is a runner’s paradise, is a must place to run/ walk when in New York City. At any given time of the day there are people running, cycling and walking. What can I say more, this man made urban park is a work of art, a masterpiece.
Cheering reaches a new dimension in Central Park. It is the final stretch and spectators are hoarse from shouting the names written on t-shirts. At mile 25 I hear very loud JITU, JITU by my friends who click nice pictures of me, but I have stopped looking at spectators to focus on the run.
There are undulating hills all the way to the uphill finish, and where there are ups, there are the downs which are especially nice to me now! I summon a final effort, to get myself going and to tell myself — USE ALL YOU HAVE LEFT! I target runners ahead to overtake or not let them go away. One target at a time!
The hill at the finish is the steepest of the whole race. I ride it as hard as I can with my arms pumping and legs blazing for now it is going to be finally over. That is it! I have crossed the finish line. I am fully satisfied that I left all my effort on the course.
Finish Time: 3:32:01 is my personal best time & my Overall Place is 5384. I will break 3:30 another day and it does happen in April 2014 at the New Jersey Marathon.
Speed clocked (minutes per mile) 8:43, 8:36, 8:33, 8:09
The Wall: Climb it, and thoughts to summon effort
There are different things written about hitting the runner’s wall which you encounter after mile 20. Some or many runners feel the sudden hit of their bodies giving up. And after that is supposed to be a tough painful journey to the finish. A brief rest, reducing intensity of running, the ingestion of food or drinks containing carbohydrates may be good remedy for this. Added to this your mental toughness and motivation can be just as important as your physical preparedness.
I run through my father’s ascent to Mt Everest on 29th May, 1965. After a restless sleep in the Death Zone so called because of less oxygen (height above 27,000 feet) they are up after 2 am. It takes an hour for them to dress and wear their boots. Melting snow in their little stove; preparing liquid food and tea takes an equal time. The sun a red fired globe rises up from the depths of the mountain valley. Getting ready is slow and around 5 am they have their crampons on and are ready to leave. His rope partner tells him to go ahead as he does not feel well and wants to go down. Climbing alone at above 28,000 feet; the wind is shrieking and flaying him mercilessly. Both side of the mountain are sheer drops of thousands of feet. There is no partner to belay him on the arête. At times he crawls on all fours on the snow to not get blown away. He walks and climbs steadily for a few hours to catch his other two companions ahead of him. Before reaching the summit they climb across Hillary’s chimney and scores of undulated humps, summit always seem to be after the next and then the next hump.
Two world records were created – nine climbers on the summit of Everest for the team and three in the final party. Another record not mentioned much was that he was the first man to climb alone above 28000 feet. He could have been the first man to climb the peak solo had he not caught up.
I think of the effort farmers and labourers and manual workers put in their work.
It sets into perspective my marathon run, diverts my mind and gives me the impetus to put in effort even if obstacles come in the way. Thereby it gives me a break from the monotonous feel of the marathon.
And I remember a quote, where my variation is – Like each man carries within himself his own mountain, a runner hits a wall which he must climb to attain a fuller knowledge of himself. I also say Pain will come, await it and tackle it; pain is weakness leaving the body; pain is temporary, pride is forever.
I think of all my friends who are following this race, rooting for me and this helps me to summon every ounce of effort. All my friends who are tracking and train with me are a source of great motivation when we shall discuss and bisect this race.
I smile when I think of my son Gautam’s comments, “dad, win the damn thing” or at a later stage of the race my wife Jyoti’s saying “the race has just started”. My daughter Rhea’s comments are very special: “I told everyone I met that my father ran a marathon!” It makes me commit more to keep going.
Running a marathon
Running a marathon is an experience, every jogger can’t dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon.
Many people ask me how a marathon is run. For me the key words are – stay focused, study a plan and register to run one. There are good free plans available on the internet like http://www.halhigdon.com which I follow. Running your best race could be a long term goal, not an immediate goal. For a first time you could run slower to experience a marathon.
It is humbling and emotional when you run the marathon. During a marathon race you see the young and the old, the strong and the frail, the efforts and the hurting, you hear the cheers and the slogans on the course, and the experiences remain with you forever.
I started regular running in 2008 at the age of 46. I met the right people and trained. My endurance has increased and I have run 8 Marathons till now. Hopefully I have another 50 in me, at least!
New Jersey Marathon, Long Branch NJ, April 27 2014 3:28:45
ING New York City Marathon, New York NY, Nov 23 2013 3:32:01
The Self-Transcendence Marathon, Congers NY, Aug 24 2012 3:34:27
Run for the Red Marathon, Stroudsburg PA, May 20 2012 3:34:07
Marine Corps Marathon, Arlington VA, Oct 30 2011 3:38:23
New Jersey Marathon, Long Branch NJ, May 1 2011 3:39:31
New Jersey Marathon, Long Branch NJ, May 2 2010 4:13:54
New Jersey Marathon, Long Branch NJ, May 3 2009 4:57:00