2008 NY Marathon: the view from the curb*

What’s more exciting: running a marathon or watching one? You can’t do both at the same time. But you should do at least one or the other once in your life. I’ve done the former four times, and now, the latter once. Here, I provide my awestruck impressions of watching the fastest people in the world running within 10 feet of me yesterday morning.

First of all, it was a total pain in the ass to get to the Bronx yesterday. I did it the wrong way, taking a train to Fordham and then walking about a half mile along Fordham Rd to the 4 line. That took forever to arrive and then I discovered that it doesn’t stop at 138th St, where I wanted to be. So I had to get off at 149th, walk into the bowels of the subway system to catch the local 5 train and endure another 15 minute wait in a rat- and cockroach-infested dungeon. I found myself wondering if it was all worth it.

Here’s the right way to get there from Westchester: Take the train to 125th St, walk two blocks, then hop on the 6 line north for one stop to 138th St and 3rd Ave in the Bronx.

I arrived at about 10:30 and milled around for 20 minutes, carefully setting up my camera to take poor quality pictures. I planted myself on 138th, just east of 3rd Ave (and just after the 20 mile mark), before a water table, thinking perhaps they’d slow a bit at that spot.

This little area was not the “dead zone” in terms of spectators I’d expected. There was a crowd on 3rd Ave and a band, and a few pockets of people to the west. But it wasn’t like the scene on 125th St in Harlem, where I went and hung out after I’d seen all the elites go by.

Here I will admit that I suck as a photographer. I may have learned never to experiment with new shoes or fueling strategies for the marathon, but I threw caution to the wind yesterday and experimented with the camera that I don’t know how to use properly. I tried the “burst” mode, which I thought would take a series of full sized shots of each runner in motion. Instead, I got a series of postage stamp sized shots. All of my runners are tiny.

So, I’m not going to embarrass myself further by uploading tiny photos. Especially when there’s a perfectly good series right here. Since I have no intention of running this race in the near future, I’ll go watch again next year and I’ll learn to use my camera properly by then.

The elite women

The excitement builds in the minutes before the first runners arrive. Someone barked “Ten minutes!” into a bullhorn at 10:50. Then, at 10:55, a new update: “Radcliffe first, Petrova second, Goucher third.” A few minutes later, we saw and heard the helicopter, followed by the roar of police motorcycles. They came around the corner and there was so much noise and activity that the two runners (Radcliffe and Petrova) were lost in the mayhem around them. The motorcycles and camera truck passed and suddenly it seemed very quiet.

The two women passed by me and I was struck by the fact that I could actually hear them breathing. Radcliffe, although only 5’8″, seems much larger in person. And she runs like a fucking machine. Petrova was hanging off her shoulder, looking like a little bobbing tugboat, but a tenacious one. One look at Paula and you knew she was going to win. Goucher came through about 15 seconds later, also looking larger than life, and wearing a facial expression that was, paradoxically, both relaxed and determined.

Incidentally, Petrova, 40, broke Priscilla Welch’s 1987 masters world record for the marathon yesterday by over a minute, with a finishing time of 2:25:43. I don’t think this was mentioned once in the televised coverage, which was too bad.

Tune came through shortly thereafter, followed by Wami (who is one of the most light-on-her-feet runners I’ve ever seen, and tiny). I was expecting Catherine “The Great” Ndereba next, but instead saw Jeptoo. Then a few others: Simon, McGregor and Morgunova. Then a big pause and the last few women who I would recognize came through: Lewy-Boulet, Scotswoman Hayley Haining (who is built like a tank; I wonder if that’s what I look like under my 24% body fat) and 19-year-old newcomer Ilsa Paulson, who is a tiny little wisp of a woman. I was disappointed to not see Kim Smith of New Zealand; it appears she dropped out just after the 30K mark.

The elite men

With the second-tier elite women straggling in one by one, the excitement began to build anew: In a few minutes, the elite men would start coming through. Once again, you could tell when the moment was near, with the arrival of a helicopter and phalanx of cops on bikes.

I was rooting for the Brazilian, Gomes Dos Santos, to win — and here he was in the lead! Goumri was right on his heels and looking very strong. Next up: Bouramdane, Tergat, Rono, Kirui, Macharia. And, finally, some Americas: Abdi, Rohatinsky, Lemkuhle. After that, I stopped recognizing people, with one exception: I saw James Carney, who looked awful. He was jogging along, looking slightly bewildered. He turned and asked another runner, who was passing, a question, and I thought, “He’s about to drop out.” When I got home and watched the coverage, I could see what happened: He went nuts and led the pack from the start, running like a rocket straight into a head wind for the first half mile or so.

Some familiar faces

Just a few: Takashi Ogawa, a friendly age group rival of Jonathan’s, was powering his way through to a 2:50 finish. He looked good when I saw him. A few minutes behind him, I spotted Zola Budd. She is no longer the barefooted rail that she was during her cross-country and track days. Perhaps 20 pounds heavier, she still managed to break three hours in her first marathon yesterday. Finally, after I switched positions to go watch the throngs in Harlem, I saw fellow running blogger Pigtails Flying (who I have not met, but who sent me a picture so I could look for her). She also ran a huge PR yesterday (42 minutes!), breaking 3:55. Go Pigtails!

*In honor of Paula Radcliffe, maybe I should say “kerb.”

12 Responses

  1. I watched yesterday, too, catching a glimpse of the one runner i now know in the marathon. Used to be dozens, but that’s my own failures to put in mileage. Seeing the pros and the nots always makes me want to run again. Somewhere, in the 364 days I have lost that urge. Yet, I promise to start-up again. New routine, new program starts on Wednesday.

  2. I watched the elites on TV so I could see the whole race instead of just a glimpse, but then headed to mile 23 in time to catch the 4:30 or so group. Watching IS fun 🙂

  3. Sounds like fun!

  4. I’ll go with kerb too, even though it has a red dotted line underneath.

    Although your Paula is small (like plastic runner girl), her form looks good. And Petrova – 2:25 at 40 – brilliant!

    Thanks for the Zola link. I have her book – always thought she’d keep running – you could tell how much she loved it. A bit strange though to see her as a 42-year-old woman when you haven’t seen a photo of her since the ’80s.

  5. I see a theme here, which is that of tinyness. I should have mentioned that the men seemed sort of pretty tiny, too, although it’s not as obvious because, though they are “short” compared to the average strapping American male, the are also very lean and long. So they look like the people in the credit sequences of spaghetti westerns. But still tiny. Or maybe it’s because New York is such a big, big place.

  6. By the way, you can barely make her out, but that’s Grete Waitz in the orange jacket on the camera truck in the right of the photo.

  7. I like that. Imagine runners in the credit sequences!

    Wow, Grete was a hero of mine too – I felt for her in the ’84 Olympics – she ran the perfect race, but on that day Joan was simply amazing.

    I have Grete’s book too – she was a mean trainer. Most runs were very fast – and intervals with very short recoveries.

  8. I should pick up Grete’s book — which one are you referring to?

  9. Thats a big nice marathon to run and a lot off runners want to run in Newyork!.
    Only it is a lot off money (2800 euro) for 6 day’s newyork and run the marathon!.
    But you never no!!!!.
    Groet Rinus.

  10. Grete Waitz’ Guide to Running (with Gloria Averbuch). Covers her whole career to ’86. Includes some hand-written training diaries. Good photos. Also, interesting how her training changed when she moved from the track to the marathon…

    For example, 25 x 300m (15 sec rest) – then for New York ’82, 6 x 1 mile on the track in 5-5:10 with 1/4 mile recovery.

    My copy was from a 2nd-hand book store.

  11. […] read these bloggers’ reports of their own experiences running the ING New York City Marathon. Races Like a Girl cheered like a girl (sans pom poms and teeny skirt, however) this year… Tea Knee Goes to the […]

  12. […] running the New York Marathon this morning, I offer up these past posts. Last year I went out and watched the elites fly by (or not) at mile 20 in the Bronx. Then, in April, I followed a couple of runners as they took on […]

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