It was four in the morning and the temperature was forty one degrees Fahrenheit with a good amount of wind, but as I was not thinking about the cold as I woke up the morning of November 3rd. I put on the clothes that I had laid out the night before and had a light breakfast consisting of a banana and a white chocolate macadamia nut flavored cliff bar. I pinned my bib on to my shirt and wore an extra layer of jeans and long sleeve shirt, which were destined to be dropped off as a donation to the homeless people of New York at the start of the race.
I made my way down the 5 flights of stairs in the upper west side apartment in Manhattan where I was staying. I could feel the cold wind trying to warm itself up by wrapping itself around my body, but I ignored it and walked the eight blocks to the subway station. As I got into the station, instead of the busy crowd wearing their dressy coats on their way to work, there was a handful of runners awaiting their ride to the ferry station which would take them to Staten Island. Everyone was silent as we boarded the train and made our way to the next few stations. I knew what was on everyone’s mind, for despite coming from different countries and cities, we all something in common. We were going to run the New York Marathon.
The handful of runners in the train had multiplied as additional athletes got on the train at every station along the way. By the time we got there and walked to the ferry station you could see thousands dark bodies wearing running shoes making their way into the building and out of the shadows of the night, as we went through police screening and boarded our ferry. Unsuccessful on its attempts to steal a bit of warmth off our bodies, the cold wind made its frustration and anger felt by hitting us harder as we left port and navigated into the freezing waters of the Hudson River.
The sun was peeking out in the horizon, after completing its daily voyage around the other side of the globe. As its light began illuminating our surroundings, we could see several smaller boats flanking us with face covered individuals all in black clothes and holding cold machine guns in their hands. Thankfully, I could see the stars and stripes waving in their boats and the words “U.S. Coast Guard” and “N.Y.P.D” identifying them as the good guys. This was just the beginning of an amazing security operation setup by the City to protect us from any potential harm.
As we reached Staten Island, a long line of buses was awaiting us at the harbor with their heaters set to maximum force, which seemed to be a preamble to the warmup for the race. After a very short trip that took us through the coast and into Fort Wadsworth, it was time to get off the bus, whose warmth felt like a tease as we exited into a sea of policemen who would screen us from top to bottom one last time.
UPS trucks were lined up next to the athlete villages, awaiting our bags, which they would transport 26.2 miles into the city so we would have some dry and warm clothes after crossing the finish line at Central Park. I intended to wait as long as I could before I had to shed my layers of clothing and walk up to the starting line, so I snugged next to a group of strangers at one of the village tents, made up of vinyl and with a maximum capacity of about a hundred and fifty people. Despite the limited capacity of the tent, the need for warmth and basic instinct of survival worked its magic and about two hundred of us managed to find a spot inside, where we could escape the cold arms of the wind and mentally prepare for the race ahead. As I laid down on the grass inside the tent and curled up inside my jacket, I could hear people speaking German, Spanish, Italian and other different languages I could not identify. It was about and hour and a half before race start time and something told me I should get up and find my way into the starting corral. Begrudging to leave my warm spot, I put my extra layers of clothing in my baggage bag and braved the cold wind head-on as I found my assigned UPS truck, painted in their characteristic brown and yellow colors, to drop-off my bag.
I proceeded to strip off the extra pair of jeans I had been wearing over my running shorts and dropped them at on one of the clothing donation bins in the parking lot as I ran towards the corral check-in zone, maneuvering my way to avoid tripping into the seemingly countless runners everywhere and staying warm solely by the sheer excitement and the friction produced by my muscles as they moved my body into a running motion and closer to the starting line.
As I approached the corral check-in point, I came to the disappointing realization that my wave had already departed and I would not be able to begin my journey until 30 minutes later, with the second wave. Eager to make the best off the situation and step on the Verrazano bridge without further haste, I joined wave number two, encountering along the way several of my first wave companions, who had missed the call time in a similar fashion to myself. And so we banded together and made our way to the front of the group in an effort to find a spot where we could avoid getting engulfed between the slower pace runners. This was it… finally… I was minutes away from running the New York Marathon… (To be continued)