My 2004 NYC Marathon Story: Don't eat the sponges!
(Note: This article originally appeared on the douglasfamily.org site in November of 2004)
Well, I did it! I ran the NYC Marathon. I'm very psyched and happy that I made it to the finish line. It's been a tough week (and then some) of recovery, but I'm now starting to feel back to normal. I've gotten many emails and phone calls of support, good wishes, and congratulations-- for this, I am very greatful. Many have asked to hear the details of my run. Well, here it is, mile by mile (including who sponsored each mile). Enjoy. Because I sure did.
Before the race: A long wait. I met two guys from London: Emil and Graham. It seems a few too many pints led to a marathon challenge. Well, their story helps pass the time. I eat a bagel and drink gatorade and water. Finally I bid goodbye and make my way to the Blue starting corral. More waiting...but we're getting close to the start.
Mile 0-1: I can see the bridge. I hear the starting gun! I'm slowly starting to walk now towards the starting line. I'm nervous and ready to get going. Before I know it, the people in front of me start to run. How can this be? I thought it would take 20-30 minutes to get to the start! 6 minutes after the gun I'm crossing the start. What a sight-- the Verrazano Bridge, thousands of runners. This is amazing, and I can't believe I'm doing this. What a rush! I'm overcome with emotion as I think about fulfilling my lifelong dream of running a marathon. A memorable moment. I think about Jess as I cross the bridge (it's her mile). She's been a great support throughout the training.
Mile 2: Okay, getting going now. Paul Young's mile. SLOW DOWN! (his advice). My pace is good and slow, and I'm starting to relax. Boy this is a long bridge! After the bridge, I toss my hat to a young girl (she's really happy).
Mile 3: Through Brooklyn. I'm warm now, and I settle into my goal pace (about a 9:30 mile). The neighboorhood in Brooklyn is filled with families. Nice and relaxed, I feel in a groove. Alex & Joahnna's mile.
Mile 4: A woman in front of me has a sign on saying it's her 30th birthday. As I run up alongside her, I wish her happy birthday and tell her I just turned 30 as well. We're both going at the same pace, so we talk awhile. I grab some Gatorade, but it's making me more thirsty. I think I'll stick to water. Joel & family's mile.
Mile 5: Dad & Linda's mile. My new friend works at Temple University and her husband is in Afghanistan. We talk about how she feels about the situation for him there, and she tells me her husband sent her an email with a picture of of all the guys with a "Good Luck Lydia" sign. I can tell she's sad. We press on.
Mile 6: The streets in Brooklyn are starting to be a blur. I tell Lydia that on mile 6 I'm supposed to think of Darryl and his kids outside gardening. She talks about her kids. I listen.Feeling in a groove.
Mile 7: Just as I'm feeling really thirsty Lydia offers me some water. I gladly accept. I think about Cara (it's her mile) and her inspirational email. Deep stuff, nice and distracting. Since we're getting close to where Jess/Joshua/Bari might see me, I run to the streetside.
Mile 8: I see my cheering crew! It's quite a rush as Joshua starts running with me. I tell him "I feel scary good." Because I do. It's a great mile (and it's for CJ).
Mile 9: This was a fun mile, with lots of live bands playing. I'm feeling good and I tell some random runner about Craig Jackson and how his picture was on the cover of a Milton Bradley game. Craig's fame grows (hah!).
Mile 10: Many more bands along the route. It's fun because the runners are throwing their hands in the air and dancing with the bands as we run by. Heavy Latino population here. Ellen/Grandma's mile. I think about their trip to Cuba last year. I want to visit Cuba.
Mile 11: I'm running with a woman from Denver who owns a woman's sporting shop. She's running with a "No mandate" sign on her back, an apparent reference to Bush's comments after the election. She tells me that many people have asked her what her sign means. I watch as other runners make comments to her. I tell her about the stickers I'm wearing, tearing one off every mile. Elliot & family's mile.
Mile 12: Anita McFadden/Lauren LaFleur's mile. I'm starting to get very hot now, as I grab 3 waters at once. I remember Joshua telling me he did this during the DC Marathon last week. I dump one over my head. Feeling good, enjoying the scene. The intensity is starting to pick up as I head for the Pulaski Bridge.
Mile 13: Rita Weir/Jessica Goodman's mile: I meet up with Lisa from Denver again. She's running a good pace. I start to feel a stitch in my side. Not a good sign. I breathe out heavy, trying to get rid of the pain. Maybe I need more water. At the halfway point (13.1) my feet start to hurt. Just then a man on a bullhorn makes an announcement-- "The NYC Marathon has just been won in 2 hours and 9 minutes." WON?! I'm at the freakin HALFWAY point! I glance down at my time: 2 hours and 12 minutes.
Mile 14: Half a start is half a finish. I think about these words from my father-in-law as I feel myself starting to slow down. I know that the real halfway point will be mile 20. They say the last 6.2 miles are the hardest. I focus on the mile at hand.
Mile 15: I'm looking forward to seeing Jess/Joshua/Bari again at mile 15. I think about how different I must look now as compared to mile 8. I certainly feel different. It's Eric Peden's mile so I think about the importance of thinking long-term in the choices I make (Eric is investor). With this in mind, I pull back a little. I'm going to need more after mile 20. Headed over the Queensboro Bridge, but no cheering crew (turns out they couldn't get to the left side of the street so I didn't see them).
Mile 16: Agee & Ryan's mile. I'm hurting, but I see Lisa from Denver's up ahead, and I try to catch up. She sees me next to her and calls to me "Come on Matt, keep it up." It's really motivational, and I run along side her. My breathing is shallow and I try to relax. What a view of Manhattan I have from the bridge! But my eyes are fixated on what's missing from the skyline. I glance down at the 9-11 pin I'm wearing. Born and raised in New York. I am a New Yorker.
Mile 17: Eric & Melissa/Jonathan's mile. Straight up First Avenue, I'm having a blast! I run to one side so I can slap hands with people who are watching. The kids really like this, and I love seeing their faces light up. I'm feeling fatigued, but so many people are calling out to me that it keeps me going.
Mile 18: My Mom & Joe's mile. I'm starting to hurt pretty badly now. My feet are killing me, and I need some fuel. There's a PowerGel station up ahead and I'm focused on getting there. I need something to drink badly too. I reach the PowerGel station and grab 2. Wow, that's good stuff when you’re hungry. Ok, that's going to help me get to the finish line. I hope.
Mile 19: John Simeone's mile. I think about the email he sent me-- motivational for sure. Up ahead I see lots of sponges on the road...what's this? As I run up, people are handing out sponges. I could use one of these I think. I grab one and wipe down my face. Ahhh...better. But I'm really thirsty. Ah heck, there's water on the sponge...drink it. I put the sponge in my mouth. AAACCCCCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKKKKK!!!! What the HECK is on this sponge? EEEEEEKKKKKK! All I can say is that it tasted like some kind of anti-bacterial cleaner. Oh man, I guess you're not supposed to eat the sponges.
Mile 20: Push through. Finish line. Push through. Finish line. These are the words my brother Joshua told me to repeat. He finished the Marine Corps Marathon last week, I'm going to finish this one. But uh oh. My stomach doesn't feel good. Push through. Finish line. Oh no. I'm not going to make it. All of a sudden I hear "Matt?" I look behind me and it's Emil (my pre-race friend from London--35,000 runners-- what are the odds of seeing him again?). He sees I'm hurting and urges me to keep going. Push through. Finish line. My stomach....oh no. Push through. Finish line. My stomach....oh no. Push through. Finish line. Every step I take hurts it more. WHAT'S WRONG? Oh no. I need a bathroom. NOW. I'm in the Bronx, and I see a Porta-potty up ahead. I need to stop.....(I'll spare you the details, but it's not pretty.)
Mile 21: Sean Conta's mile. I need fluids. Every chance I get I grab some water. I don't want anything else. Somehow I have to push through this. Push through. Finish line. Push through. Finish line. Water. Need water. I'm practicaly crying at this point. I'm in trouble. I'm over the Madison Avenue Bridge, and I've made it back into Manhattan. But I'm in trouble.
Mile 22: Dan Cuphone's mile. Ok, the water's helping. My stomach is settling down. AHHH...ok, I think I'm going to be ok. I CAN DO THIS! Just keep going. I feel good again. I'm going to be ok. Focus.
Mile 23: Things take a sudden turn for the worse. Out of nowhere, I completely "bonk" (runner's word for running out of energy). I'm desperate. I run towards the crowd on the side of the road. I can barely speak, but in a whisper I beg "I need food. Anyone. I need food." I'm totally void of all energy at this point. I start walking. 60 seconds later, I start running again. If I don't run, I'm not going to make it. Oh no, I'm not going to make it. I realize all of a sudden that all of this traning could end right now. NO!! I need to keep going. I NEED FOOD. There in the crowd, like an angel, a little 5 year old black girl sees the name on my shirt and calls out to me "Matt, you need these." She hands me two slices of orange as I run by. Like an animal, I DEVOUR the orange slices. I'll never forget the sensation of eating those oranges. It was manna from heaven. That little girl saved my run.
Mile 24: I'm looking for my cheering crew. I need Gatorade. I'm starting to feel the energy drain out of me again. I'm hurting, but I'm determined to keep going. Somehow my legs need to keep going. But my body is about to give out. I need Gatorade. THERE THEY ARE! Joshua starts running with me and he HAS GATORADE. Thank you, thank you, thank you!! He asks how I am, and I tell him not too good. He gets the crowd going, and that gets me psyched! I get into it with him, throwing my hands in the air to get a cheer! Boy I need this motivation. And then Joshua says to me "See you at the finish line." That's right Joshua. I WILL.
Mile 25: I glance down at my stickers. I realize that I haven't torn them off for miles 23 and 24 (sorry Brian Gater and Liz McQueen). I tear off miles 23, 24 and 25 (Michael Monks). Just keep going. One step at a time. All of a sudden my right leg seizes up. INCREDIBLE PAIN. Oh no. I stop to quickly stretch it out. I try running again. INCREDIBLE PAIN. Stretch it out. I can't run. Stretch again. Ok, I can keep going. As I continue running, I reflect on the runner I saw in the DC Marathon who collapsed at mile 25. I WANT TO FINISH. KEEP GOING.
Mile 26: Dave Sussman's mile. I think to myself what he told me: Don't leave anything out on the table. I run. I pick up the tempo. I have nothing left to give. I am void. Somehow I keep going. Up ahead I hear a policeman with a bullhorn "New York City police officers are proud of you, New York City firefighters are proud of you. Bring it home! You can finish." New York's finest are proud of me?! After what they have endured, this is a huge compliment. I feel a wave of emotion come over me. As I reenter Central Park, I see my image projected on the big screen TV. I am about to finish! I raise my hands in the air as I'm on camera. Up ahead I see the 26 mile marker.
The last 0.2: I cross the 26 mile marker, and I hear the roar of the crowd. I glance down at all of the empty spaces where stickers used to be and I triumphantly rip the whole sticker sheet off of my arm. I DID THIS FOR ME I think to myself. I'm racing towards the finish line and I feel myself in complete auto-pilot. I'M ABOUT TO FINISH A MARATHON! As I cross the finish, I hold my fists in front of me-- my whole body feels the emotion of what I just did. My first thought: I don't have to run anymore? As I start walking gingerly, a marathon volunteer approaches me and says "Congratulations Matt, you did a great job" and she hands me my marathon medal. I've overcome with emotion as I kiss the medal. I hug a stranger next to me. I did it. We did it. I ran the New York City Marathon.