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Sadly, David, a colleague and fellow runner, died during the Tsunami in Thailand. I will always remember his optimism, proved by the fact that he did run the marathon even  with a food poisoning

Running the New York marathon: biting through the big apple

November 5, 2000

I approached the 23 mile sign in Central Parc. My legs were becoming heavier with every step and my pace slowed. I was near collapse. I well knew what I had done to my body: exhausted its energy stores, lost critical amounts of water, choked my muscles with toxic lactic acid, overridden my hypothalamic thermostat. But I kept going, my mind somehow detached from my body.

In this way dr Jerome Groopman, a doctor from the US describes his experiences with running the marathon in an article in the New York Times. He also writes how it provides males with the insight into the experience of childbirth. In both cases, marked agony and exhaustion are subsumed by such lasting gratification that you are moved to repeat the process.

And so I did, after running 5 times the Rotterdam marathon, sometimes in great pain, I decided to give birth to New York. It would be my last child, as I decided that (contrary to making real children) it did cost me too much time and effort to practice and beget. So this would be my last marathon and after all: could there be a more beautiful baby than New York? It was the first of the very big marathons and started in 1976 with 2090 starters and 1549 finishers. The crowds in 1976 were small and simply curious, unlike the excited throngs that line the streets today. Winner Rodgers (2.10.10, 1 second slower than 2000 winner Moroccan Mouaziz) recalls "running along the river and someone was sitting on a parc bench eating lunch. There was no one else there".

That would be different today. It was a very pleasant day when we woke up. The sun was shining and it promised to be like the days before: a pleasant 16-17 degrees and little wind. It was still early, around 6 am and we had to leave at 7 am with the bus, so I took a shower, ate a bagel and a banana, and started to dress. A t-shirt and my short yellow legging trousers with the Erasmus bridge on it, would be more than enough. I put on some old clothes for protection from the morning cold which I would take off before the start. They would be given to the homeless in New York. Good chance that this evening I would meet some poor fellow under the Brooklyn bridge with my clothes, so I decided to mark them so I could always demand them back.

Outside it appeared to be very cold and windy, around 5-6 degrees, but the sun was still shining. I said goodbye to my wife, Nathalie, and we promised to meet each other again on first avenue, 83rd street, where she could provide me with the necessary mental and perhaps even more important carbohydratic support. It took us almost two hours to reach the start due to heavy traffic, but crossing the Verrazano-Narrows bridge to Staten Island, we had a great view of the field where all heroes gathered. We could also see the hundreds of portable toilets standing in one long line, to process all the liquid and solid nerves of 30.000 bowels.

The group of friends I was running with was not quite standard. David, working in Shanghai, China, had to cope with the 12 hours time difference combined with a food infection which he got after eating a crab spaghetti in Little Italy. Hubert, from The Hague in Holland, was running his first marathon, and thought that carbohydratic storage could best be done by drinking enough beer before the marathon. Paul, a diplomat in Belgrade, Serbia, had some busy times getting rid of Milosovicz in the days before the marathon. Finally,Yolanda, from Rotterdam, Holland was trying to become the winner in the category chainsmoking females without training.

Unfortunately, we soon lost each other in the crowd. I needed a toilet badly and decided to go before the start. The queues were long, and after some 15 minutes I finally managed to slip into one of the toilets. After doing what I had to do, I found out that there was no paper in this small claustrophobic room. I only had some dollars with me for emergency. I knew as an economist that by limiting the supply of dollars I would raise the price and hence make the rest of my stay in New York even more expensive. But I had no choice and had to be involved in dirty money.

The start was chaotic. Nobody really cared about number and colors which were distributed carefully by the organization. I was in the end of the wrong long line (blue) and it took almost 6 minutes before I finally crossed the starting line after the official start. After that, people were still moving slowly, but finally we could run.

The Verrazano-Narrows bridge was huge. We had to run the first 1-2 miles up against the fierce cold wind. During the cross the sun disappeared behind the clouds, but the view over Manhattan and all those runners was breathtaking. I sometimes stopped to make a picture with my old Braun camera, made of red plastic and without any electronics inside. It appeared to be strong enough to be shaken for 42 kilometers in my pants.

After we crossed the bridge we entered Brooklyn, running for some 5 miles along 4th Avenue. It was still very busy and I could not run as fast as I wanted to. But there was much to be seen and the Brooklyners were very enthousiastic, screeming and giving high fives to everyone of us. There were many small bands playing music along the road, providing a lot of inspiration to all of us.

The only nuisance were people trying to cross the streets which was almost impossible with so many people running. In the Jewish quarter, where there were many orthodox jews standing and talking, there was one stupid young fellow with a big black beart and hat, running suddenly zigzag to the other side of the street. Just before making it, he hit one of the runners and they both fell down. Fortunately, the runner was not injured and could go on. "Look a black rabbit" said my neighbour, and we both had to laugh.

People in such a Jewish neighbourhood are always somewhat strange. They are not really secular to put it mildly and their habits are closer to backward rural areas than of a modern liberal city as New York. I donot understand why so many orthodox jews are alienated even though as a people they are spread over the whole world, have a long history and have experienced the terrible consequences when human beings follow the wrong ideology. Still they behave as if not being part of this world. When I tried to make a picture of two young girls giving high fives to the runners, their elderly sister tried to avoid their appearance on the picture by covering their eyes with her hand, while closing her own eyes at the same time. She could not avoid however that the two girls were still able to give a high five to a strong young male runner with on his back "NY2000: Hungry for more". In the background you can see two ladies in old fashioned 40s and 50s dresses dealing with other things. A strange, but beautiful picture!

Via Avenue Lafayette and Bedford Avenue I reached the 10 mile point. It all went rather smoothly up till now and there was a bit more space to run, although all three different routes from the start were by now combined. There was plenty to drink. Almost every 2 or 3 kilometers volunteers were providing all runners with water and a very yellow looking energy drink. It did not taste too bad however. Brooklyn streets were typical for New York and sometimes even very nice with lines of trees and old stairs in front of the brownstones houses.

We run through Manhattan Avenue and Greenpoint Avenue, reaching the Pulaski Bridge, which was not too steep however. On top of the bridge was the half-marathon point, which I reached in 2.04 (1.59 net from the start). It would be very difficult to run under 4 hours, as it would require running the second half almost as fast as the first half.

We were now running in Queens for some two miles. Most visitors to New York will only see Queens when journeying to or from its two airports. But there are some nice neighbourhoods, such as the Greek Astoria, the Irish Woodside and Indian Jackson Heights. But I did not see them during the marathon and Queens was a bit boring and cold. But the view on manhattan was splendid.

Leaving Queens we started to climb the Queensbord Bridge to Manhattan. This bridge was narrow and more than a 100 feet high. After 25 kilometers you really start to feel such a climb in your legs, so many people were going a bit slow. Everybody was silently suffering in an almost solemn way. The bridge was covered and the air almost stuffy, due to the heavy breathing and the cars coming from the other side, sometimes horning to encourage us.

And then Manhattan. After a small turn we entered First Avenue which was full of people on both sides. The wind was in front and made it very heavy. We crossed the point where many runners were already yesterday, with the Friendship run. This run for all international participants started at the building of the United Nations and was only 5 miles long. The finish was in central parc at the same spot as the official marathon finish. We walked for 3 miles and then made a shortcut to the finish. It is stupid to run too much one day before the marathon.

First Avenue was long, very long. Especially as I missed my mental support at 83rd street, because there were too many people standing. Fortunately, there were enough bananas and power bars that you could get along the road. After 25 kilometers I really need a lunch in order to be able to continue and not to weaken too much.

We entered Harlem, still on First Avenue. I started to feel tired, my legs were heavy and my whole body started to protest. I imagined that it was too dangerous to stop and start walking in this neighbourhood, but I knew that it was nonsense. The year before I was walking at 12 in the night in Harlem, after visiting a jazz pub, and nothing terrible happened to me. New York is a comparatively safe city these days.

Then there was the end of First Avenue; we were in the Bronx at Alexander Avenue. The Bronx is a very special neighbourhood in New York where you can find New York's most ethnically diverse communities. It is also the only borough that is not an island. Recent innovations mean it is losing its reputation as a no-go area, but I did not know that and kept running, going back to Manhattan via the Willis Avenue Bridge.

We were now on Fifth Avenue and passed the 20 miles checkpoint. Only 6 miles to go, but here it really starts to hurt. This is the point a normal human leg is getting out of its reserves. This is also the point for which it is difficult to train. I was busy for 4 months with training, running every week 3 or 4 times. In the weekends I did longer distances and increased the time I was running every week. At most I run 2,5 hours however, as from there onwards I need too much time to recover and my knees start to hurt. So actually, during training you never reach the point where your muscles start to refuse service and where exhaustion is reigning.

However, training is the key to running a good marathon. When you train well, it means that you are busy with it for at least 4 months, that you try to restrain yourself with eating and drinking too much and that you run frequently. It also means that you should not overdo it. There are always things that prevent you from training. I had to marry two months before, catched a cold three weeks before and was confronted with extremely bad weather in the Netherlands in the last week before departure. As a result I lost many training sessions, but as I am not a professional and not a very skilled runner I did not mind too much. After all I did enough.

That was a small comfort running on Fifth Avenue. I knew that in Rotterdam, for which marathons I had trained less in some years, I was more broken down than I was now. Approaching the critical 23 miles point near Central Parc, I knew I was going to make it, even though it felt terrible. My legs were not as sour as they were in 1998 in Kralingen in Rotterdam, but at least it was flat there. Entering Central Parc we had to fight against a small, but steep hill that made many people force to walk. I managed somehow and only stopped to let somebody make a picture of me (but not included here).

The last mile was heavy. It was going up and I really had enough of it. People were encouraging all runners, but we were just looking for one thing, the Finish. 500 meters in advance I started to feel pain in my kidneys. My whole body was miserable, but then just in time the finish line appeared into sight. Exhausted I made a picture, not worrying that it would take away some of my time. 4.08 or 4.09: what does it matter? In the end it would be a net 4.03.25, including making all these pictures!

After the finish, I got the medal, some water and a kind man took away my electronic chip. I told him that I would stop forever as there was no real improvement in my results. He told me that next year I should try again and I was not allowed to leave untill I pledged to do so.

Back home I looked at the results at http://www.nycmarathon.org/tt.htm. That was not very good for my self confidence. It appeared that I had finished just 1 minute before 83 year old Toby Green from the UK and that 70 year old Guenter Schultz from Germany was 15 minutes ahead of me. Many 18 and 19 year olds were an hour or more faster, which made me feel old.
Fortunately, only one of my own group was faster than I was. Paul had probably been able to practice running fast during the protest demonstrations in Belgrade and finished in a remarkable 3.38, just some 13 minutes after 60 year old Anna Thornhill from the US. Hubert finished in 4.25, few minutes after 65 year old Yoshiko Takahashi from Japan. Yolanda finished in about the same time as 75 year old Yolande Marois from Canada (6.38). She was probably first (and only?) in her category, which the official New York Marathon however does not yet distinguishes. Poor ill David probably saw 76 year old William J. Day every time jogging slowly when coming out of the many toilets he visited during his race ending it in 5.52.

Clearly in New York they are able to count. Few days later, on the day that we left the USA, it appeared that in Florida they can't. And that old people in the US are maybe able to run fast, but much less able to vote and read correctly.
Perhaps I should try Miami Marathon next year, as it could improve my best time.

Music: It is not over yet ©