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Off Topic: NYC Marathon
As I stood at the starting line, my heart beating like a syncopated drumline against my chest, the memories—a DNF during the 2022 NYC Marathon—weighed heavily; it was a stark ending to a dream nurtured through countless predawn runs in the silent symphony of NYC's earliest hours.
This year's approach was different. A measurable 2,100 miles accumulated on my legs from NYC 2022 to NYC 2023. A majority of which were meticulously orchestrated by a coach with many years of this type of work under his belt. Training went without any hiccups. Benchmark runs felt good, and about 2 weeks out from the start of the race, I remember texting my coach that I was "chomping at the bit" to get racing.
Frank Sinatra's famous rendition of "New York, New York" pierces the excited air, and we are off.
Mile 1 was a sea of runners, a start that made finding the rhythm I had become so intimate with during most of my training hard. The crowd was dense, pushing and pulling unpredictably, making me struggle to find enough space to establish my pace. 7:13 for the first mile was way off the mark, but I told myself it was a long race and that the crowding would sort itself out.
As the miles unspooled, I found some tempo. 20:23 through the first 5km, 39:46 through 10km, and 59:37 through 15km, but by Mile 13, my pace began to slip, moving away from the 6:15 - 6:20 window meticulously set with my coach. Doubt, like an uninvited shadow, began to creep alongside me, whispering of targets slipping through my grasp.
The climb at the Queensboro Bridge during Mile 16 was paradoxically a welcome break. The crowd noise faded into a murmur, replaced by my breathing and the rhythmic strike of sneakers against the pavement. For a moment, amidst that ascent, there was clarity and a brief respite from the growing realization that today might not be the day. Performance anxiety was the formidable foe I had become accustomed to zapping precious energy out of my legs with each wave crashing over me.
Entering the long stretch of First Avenue, Miles 17 through 20 were a slog. I reached for a refilled bottle, my hands shaky, my body rejecting the Maurten 160 mix that had fueled many training runs. I only wanted the simple purity of cold water to quench the mounting thirst.
Mile 22, Fifth Avenue, loomed before me, a long and steady climb that tested my mental as much as my body. The cramps set in, each step an exercise of caution, each mile a reminder that even the best-laid plans can falter under the unexpected trials of race day.
The finish line came into view, not with the exultation of dreams fulfilled, but with a bittersweet tang. I crossed at 2:58, well past my expectations going into the race.
There is an undeniable hunger left unfulfilled, a chapter unwritten. Satisfaction is a complex creature, found not only in the joy of the finish but in the richness of the process. The overwhelming number of times I heard "Minted!" or "Let's go, Marcus" is something that I am forever grateful for. Unfortunately, I was not in a better mental and physical space to show some sort of love to each of you, but it certainly didn't go unnoticed.
To run is to engage in a dialogue with the self, a feedback loop that never ends, where every finish line is but a short pause before the next starting line comes into view, a new dream to be chased.