My mind is still kind of spinning after the chaos of hurricane Sandy, the devastation it caused on the east coast, particularly in New York City1 and New Jersey2, the confirmation that the New York City Marathon was still very much on in an effort to boost morale in the city, the public sentiment against said decision, last minute reversal of said decision, and the huge pile of “what do I do now?” it all left behind.

I’m pretty sure my pre-race post was a chaotic mess of the competing thoughts going on in my head, but I think they made the right decision.  Not because of any legitimate logistical conflicts with recovery efforts, but because the emotional juxtaposition was too much for too many people and holding the race would amplify that rather than boost morale as they thought it would.  It only takes one person doing something stupid to trigger mob mentality and turn crowds against runners and get police and volunteers stuck in the middle of it all.  And a point I had not previously considered that I read Sunday night; the police out on the course, while not actively needed elsewhere for recovery, would in all likelihood have been exhausted from working extra hours in likely very dangerous and emotionally draining conditions earlier in the week.  Not a good scenario for anyone.

So my NYC entry fee is apparently a donation to NYRR, but they donated what I’m guessing is a majority of – if not all of – their profit to the relief effort3, redistributed the course port-a-johns to areas where they would hopefully be of use to displaced people staying in shelters, and, though I haven’t read this anywhere to confirm, hopefully donated the food, water, and finish line ponchos to those who could benefit from it.  (If you still want to help and don’t know where to begin, NYRR has more recently created a consolidated page for out-of-towners to find ways to help.)

So I hemmed and I hawed and I’m still not sure I made the right decision, but here’s how it went down.  My options:

  1. Get up wicked early on Sunday, take the train in to the city, and meet a bunch of folks in Manhattan to run four laps around Central Park and then go volunteer out on Staten Island.
  2. Spend Saturday on a train from NJ to Boston, catch a bus up to Concord, NH, and spend time moping with my wife instead of moping separately4.
  3. Stay in NJ, volunteer, mope, and shop for another marathon in the next few weeks to go for that PR5.
  4. Run a benefit race that a group in Huntington County put together since Thursday night when a member got back from the Expo feeling like running the city would just be wrong.
  5. Give up running all together.

I hemmed and hawed some more, just to build up the level of doubt in my decision, but eventually settled on option 4, in part due to proximity, in part due to concerns for my own safety running Central Park6, in part due to the entry cost of the Bucks County Marathon this late in the game, and in part due to  the fact that it is purely a charity event with no pretense.

Which brings us up to  . . .

The Race Report

Photo Credit: Maria Winter (my mom!)
The Crowd: Ready to Start

The Sandy Relief Marathon was put together by a group called BaseCamp31, which is the non-profit arm of a physical therapy, nutrition, wellness, and training center called Pro-Activity7.  From my understanding, they decided to put this race together on Thursday night, it got some news coverage on Friday, and then between the NYC marathon cancellation and local folks coming out to support the fundraising effort, they ended up with a much larger event than they imagined.

I went in prepared to give the event a lot of slack.  Their web site prepared us for an unsupported but well marked route with minimal provisions at start and finish.  We got much more and I felt no need to cut any slack, because frankly, I’ve seen less support on races with far more than three days to plan.  They managed to get the mayor’s approval and police support for the one major road crossing we had and things were off!

Photo Credit: Diane Myers
Just two of the awesome volunteers out on the course on a cold and windy day!

The race director, Mike Eisenhart, put his kids to work creating tons of brightly colored arrows which he tacked up all along the course, recycling old yard signs from an event they did earlier in the year when there wasn’t something he could tack the signs to.  They planned the route past places where they knew port-a-potties were available, as there was nothing available for rent since everything within hundreds of miles was where it belonged; down the shore where people most needed them. They gathered up a bevvy of awesome volunteers of all ages who jumped right in to whatever was needed with a smile on a very cold day.  A few neighbors were sweet talked in to volunteering an aid station at the end of their driveway and an additional one was set up at the entrance to the trail portion of the race.  A volunteer rode the course on his bike to keep an eye out for anyone in need of medical assistance.

People came out to cheer!

I amused myself by thanking them based on what borough I would be in given the mileage.  ”Thank you Brooklyn!”  ”Am I in Manhatten yet?”  ”Hey, you folks from the Bronx look just like some people I saw in Brooklyn!”  ”Wooohooo!  Harlem water stations rule!”  I broke form in “Central Park” and tried to trade hats with a kid in a Pats hat.  He was having none of it. No timing chips, of course, as aside from the short time frame I don’t think there was any power in the park and, well, generators have more important jobs right now.  ”Bib” numbers were written on our hands in black marker.  Someone owned a big timing clock!  The front bumper of my father’s truck was used as an impromptu start line podium for the Mike and his wife (who’s idea it was in the first place and was brought to tears by the awesome turnout).  And when people wouldn’t quiet down enough for Mike to be heard with his consumer grade megaphone, some guys threw up the Sign of Akela and a hush fell like Epic Suburban Magic.

Photo Credit: Maria Winter (still my mom!)
Race Directory Mike Eisenhart making the essential pre-race announcements. (Additional photos by John O’Boyle, photographer with the Star Ledger to the right of the frame, are included in this gallery of New Jersey “aftermath” and recovery images.)

The course was beautiful.  The first sevenish miles were through the towns of Lebanon and Clinton8, mostly on quiet rural suburban neighborhood roads.  We passed a guy selling eggs from his own chicken coop out of a cooler at the base of his driveway.  We passed two deer hanging out in the road contemplating whether or not to join the race9.  We passed what I’m guessing was Julie Culley‘s house, but maybe someone else in town has the 25 mile marker from the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials (I couldn’t make out the year) pinned to their fence – they did happen to be fairly close to the 25 mile marker, which of course was also the 0.8 mile marker.

The middle twelveish miles were out and back along the beautiful wooded Columbia Trail which is clearly popular with runners.  And creepy trolls.  Literally.  There were little wooden houses and cars and such all over the sides of the trail, most with a doll or status of some sort in it.  Everything from lawn gnomes to Norfins to what may have been a Bratz in its first life.  I really ought to dig up the story on that.  But yeah; runners.  Since we didn’t have bibs on and were pretty spread out by mile 8 it may not have been obvious at first, but eventually other runners on the trail figured out that there was an Event happening.  At least one guy extended his run all the way back to the park so he could chip in to the donation fund.

The only bad part about the trail was that although all the downed trees had been cleared, there were still plenty of small pieces of branches – those evil 1″ or so diameter guys that are just big enough to turn an ankle – all over the place, often covered with leaves.  So it was tricky footing.  I came close to twisting out once, but caught myself in time to avoid injury – just a little discomfort.  But I also managed to catch a toe on the end of a long branch that almost tripped me up, which was a scary moment.  The perils of trail running, I suppose – just not something I was prepared for, especially as my body fatigued (see below).

Turn around at the downed tree by giving a fist bump to the volunteer manning the checkpoint, and do it all again in reverse.  Bundt Park, unlike Central Park, is apparently the high point in town and has no wind blocking trees, so it was getting pretty chilly by the time I finished and everyone who’d done the shorter distances plus most of the spectators were long gone.  Thank goodness for parents!  My folks, the race director, a photographer (and I think friend of the RD and his wife), and one or two die hard volunteers cheered me in to the chute.  Such as it was.  While I was out on the course a participant had gone to the local Shop Rite and talked the manager in to donating some finish line treats, which was an unexpected but welcome bonus.  (And it looked like they’d have plenty left to donate to hurricane victims, too.)

When the reports came out the next day, they apparently raised just over $10,000, which they’re splitting evenly four ways between aid to local residents affected by the storm, aid to the Jersey shore areas, aid to Staten Island, and to establishing a new fund to keep the momentum going and continue volunteer efforts to get clothing and food out to the people still without power or housing.  They’ve already gathered up warm coats and are mobilizing the first delivery tomorrow (or maybe that’s today now?).

Let me make sure you caught all that: this was an awesome course, with awesome volunteers, and a well organized race that raised TEN GRAND IN THREE DAYS.  I can not give these guys enough props.  Maybe small potatoes compared to the million dollars and additional resources that NYRR put up, but keep in mind that there were more than 40,000 people registered for NYC and maybe 300 here, so it’s more than proportional.  And they’re not done.  (In fact, if you want to chip in, you can do so right here.

My Race

Not quite so awesome over in Keath’s legs land.  I was still mentally unsure of my plan – or even my decision to participate – on Sunday morning, but made a start line decision that I would be going for the PR I’d been training for since May.  So I set my watch for a 3:15 pace and when the gun went off I went for it.

And very quickly found myself in the front of the pack.  The lead.  Of a marathon.  This did not cause a thrilling feeling of success, but rather was very disconcerting.  Very, very disconcerting.  I panicked.  I should never be in the front of a race this long.  I’m Not That Fast.  I became overwhelmingly worried that without someone ahead of me to “spur me on” I’d slow to a training pace and miss my goal by a mile.  So I focused on turnover.  And keeping track of the arrows.  And often looked back to make sure the rest of the pack was following – if I went off course at least everyone else would.

And then my first mile split beeped and I saw that this pace was Way Too Fast.  This was not a small local crowd where I just happened to be the fastest guy.  This was Keath who cannot pace totally screwing himself over due to lack of a pace group or ability to pace myself.  D’oh!  I tried slowing it up and eventually the guys behind me who could pace well caught up.

Photo Credit: Erika Crowl
Maybe the half mile mark. The pack of four blurs behind my hip there are the folks that should have been leading!

Ironically, the first guy to catch me was a member of Clif Bar’s Pace Team.  He had just paced the Marine Corps Marathon and was scheduled to pace the 3:30 group in New York.  He asked if that start was a normal pace for me.  ”Yeah, no.  That was Way Too Fast.”  We were both then passed by two guys who were targeting a 2:50 for NYC (and came damn close on what I think is a far more challenging and technical course).  No time for chit chat – they were there to rip up the miles!  Next I was caught by Daniel Minzner, the president of the local running club, Hill Runners of Hunterdon.  He was wearing his three digit green NYCM bib, which meant he qualified for the “local competitive” division, and would have gotten to start immediately after the elites.  I am not “local competitive.”  I should not be up there.  I should certainly not be running with him for several miles, chatting about the area, my life, his life, where we’ve run, and the hurricane.

I fell back from him when it became clear that three weeks of illness during the height of my training plan certainly had an effect on my speed over distance.  Shortly thereafter, once I’d hit the trail and the first guy who caught me caught me again after a necessary break, I stopped counting who’d passed me or attempting to converse with them beyond a “Good job!  Keep it up!” as the Way Too Fast starting pace caught up with me and made me pay dearly for my enthusiasm.  I was able to push through it for a while, keeping up a decent pace that was at least faster than a typical training run, but my form suffered and that’s when I caught that stick shortly after the turnaround.  I threw my hip just enough in the muscle clenching lurch that instinctively kept me from going heels over head10 that it didn’t injure me in an “oh my god I must drop out now” but it added enough discomfort to legs that were already cross about the whole three weeks of illness and starting Way Too Fast to slow me down some more (and knock a significant jolt of confidence out of me).

So the return was significantly slower, included some walk breaks, and had a whole lot of “grumble grumble god damn it stupid stupid stupid,” but I kept it up and adjusted my goal from 3:15 to “just a PR” to “maybe sub-3:30″ to “at least sub-4?” as the time slipped away.  I don’t have m splits yet because, of course, I left my ANT+ stick in Oregon for two months, but hopefully I can analyze the details when this Nor’easterclears and my wife (and her ANT+ stick) can safely join me in NJ.  I certainly know it wasn’t a negative split, but I’m curious if I made up any speed once I returned to pavement.  I don’t really have a good concept of the difference between my road pace and trail pace.

Thus far, they still haven’t posted full results, but the first two guys – those guys who were targeting 2:50 – finished sub-3, somewhere around 2:54 I think.  Daniel finished third, around 3:11:30.  One of the volunteers in the final miles told me that I was still top 10, so I guess “fewer than 10 folks” passed me.  My time, according to my watch, was . . .

3:44:14

… which according to my calculations ranks as my 9th fastest11.  Also, since the 50 States Club and 50-Sub-4 Club don’t have the “one month advance advertising” rule that Marathon Maniacsdo, I’ve now got New Jersey checked off in my casual paced quest for 50.  (Tally: 15 marathons, 12 states, 9 sub-4)  Incidentally, while I was out running, my parents decided to stay, cheer, and chat with the organizers, volunteers, and other spectators (instead of finding a place to charge their phones).  Once it was somehow communicated that they were the parents of the guy in the Maniacs singlet, my father was told something along the lines of “oh, no!  Tell him to get out now.  Doesn’t he know that’s a cult?”  Isn’t that the point?

One of us.  One of us.

So, yeah.  Of course, now that I’ve recovered more quickly than I would have had I stayed on target I’m dying to try again.  Not this weekend.  But soon.  Hopefully.  Maybe.  Stupid budgets12.

Post-Script

Yes.  I’m well aware that I made a half dozen excuses for not hitting my goal13 but this has apparently been scientifically proven as a good thing!  Even though the marathon was canceled, the Expo and the Run S.M.A.R.T. Project pep-talk with Jack Daniels that I’d signed up for were still on.  So my mother and I managed to get in to the city (Manhattan at least) for the talk (now a Q&A) and to see what was left of the Expo.  Jack had some wise words that were imparted to him by a psychologist friend who studied the minds of athletes the way Jack studies the bodies.  I’m paraphrasing hard core here, but essentially “You need to take the credit for your successes and make excuses for failures.  If a race goes well, internalize it.  Take credit.  I did that.  If it doesn’t go so well, externalize it.  Oh, it was the weather.  Or, it just wasn’t my day.  Successful athletes do this.  Unsuccessful athletes do the opposite.  They do well and it’s oh, I just got lucky.  They fail and it’s I’m just no good at this.  I can’t do it.”  Apparently, blame is important for the brain.

In closing: I blame the stick.

Photo Credit: Maria Winter (have I mentioned she’s my mom?)
I guess this is my “New York City Marathon Day Finish Line Photo.” I kind of wish I had let brightroom sucker me in to pre-purchasing a custom race photo frame of some sort – I’d totally put this and my still-sealed bib in it. Looks just like Central Park, right? 14

Show 14 footnotes

  1. Where the aptly named New York City Marathon has been held for the past 41 years…
  2. Where my parents live and I have been staying since I flew out here.
  3. They’d actually pledged to do this regardless, three days prior to the cancellation.
  4. Fortunately, the cancellation was called about 7 minutes before the Manchester City Marathon registration closed, so that was off the table.
  5. For anyone else in this boat, if you aren’t aware already, the Pensacola Marathon and Marhsall University Marathon in Huntington, WV both opened up additional bibs at discounted rates for displaced NYC runners who can make it to their races this coming Sunday!
  6. Apparently unwarranted, not that I could know that at the time, but it looks like it was a very positive mood from the photos that some charity groups have posted.
  7. My apologies for grossly over-simplifying your business scope!
  8. I’m not really clear where one ends and the other begins – Bundt Park where we began is technically in Lebanon but operated by the Clinton Department of Parks and Recreation…
  9. Well, I saw two.  There may have been more.  One person actually caught some photos of a deer on the footbridge, squirming it’s way through the railing and swimming off up the creek.
  10. Because, you know, you’re supposed to be “head over heels” when you’re running.  More or less.
  11. Sounds much better than 6th slowest, eh?
  12. Anyone want to be my marathon benefactor?  You pay me twice the entry fee for every race I run and I donate half that to charity.  Deal?
  13. Okay, a third of a dozen; illness, starting too fast, turning my ankle, and janking my hip.
  14. If anyone has a nice photo of the 2012 finish line they’d be willing to share, I might get my photo editing skills on…