|Photo cr. Friend of the runners|
Empire State has always been a rough marathon for me. In 2016 it was right in the middle of three marathons in a row (4 within 5 weeks of each other). In 2017 it was right after Wineglass. I tried to pace my brother Alex and blew up about mile 18. I barely survived thanks to a new friend I met on the course. This year it was a whole two weeks after Wineglass, and I ran it with Emily and Kristina. It hurt a lot but it was super fun!
None of us were sure what to expect. I'd stalled out at mile 23 at Wineglass and my knee was still hurting. Emily hadn't run a marathon in two years due to some terrible health issues. And this was Kristina's first marathon! Just two months prior she'd run her first half marathon, also with me and Emily (and Alex). None of us were expecting miracles. We just wanted to finish with smiles.
I picked up my bib, and then casually said to the lady, "sooo, I can't get bibs for my friends, right?"
"Well, you're not supposed to, buuttt...." She started, looking around secretively. She explained what a pain it was to give out packets on Sunday morning. Then she called over another guy to do the dark deed.
"So what's your friend's name?" He asked. Um. I had no clue. Kristina had three last names. Who the frog knows which one she was registered under. I tried one; no luck. I stepped out of line. I messaged them. Then I looked up the results from Cortland Triathlon. Proud of myself I gave him her name.
He started typing it in, and I saw her name pop up on his screen with a still different name. "That's her!" I quickly said. "And that's the other one!" I said when I saw Emily pop up under her emergency contacts. I hoped he didn't hear me because I immediately realized that's generally frowned up (using another runner as your contact). Awesome, two rules broken already.
|"How many rules did we break??"|
Photo cr. Kristina
It still took him a while to find her bib because he couldn't remember which of the myriad names I'd given to look under. It seriously looked like I was making people up and stealing their bibs. I signed Emily's name on her waiver with an "E" and Kristina's with half a "K". Not even a whole K. My finger got tired. Then he gave me a spiel I was expected to remember. Something about the drop bag.
As soon as I had the bags I ran the heck out of there as if I'd just robbed a register. I breathed deep once I got outside, my ill-gotten goods clutched in my grubby hands.
I got up the next morning at 5am. Oh right, this is why I don't sign up for more races. I didn't even eat any food or drink any coffee. I just lounged on the couch for an hour and left at 6. It was cold and dark. I got to Syracuse and it was still cold and dark. I went into the stadium and pretended to be purposeful. While I aimlessly looked out into the ball field, Emily and Kristina came out of the ladies bathroom behind me. Who knows what magical things go on in there. Certainly not pooping. Women don't do that.
As we headed back down the steps together, Kristina said, "I wish I had money. I'd pay you to climb on that horse." She pointed at a psychedelic horse on a wall by the steps. Emily (correctly), stated, "you don't need to pay him. Suggest something crazy and he'll just do it anyway." How does she know me so well?
|Photo Cr. Kristina|
I climbed up the wall and stood by the horse. I touched it, almost a caress. I pushed on it. That was not a steady horse. I looked at the barely secured bolts. Clearly I wasn't the only troublemaker with this idea. I had to run a marathon and decided not to risk my life. They took a picture.
We sat inside Emily's truck for a while. It was full of saws for some reason. Just.... saws. Emily and I were pretty relaxed. Neither of us were tense at all. We've run too many races. More specifically, we've had enough terrible races that there was no way this one would be the worst. For Kristina, it would be both her best and worst marathon. Ha! I went to get coffee.
|Photo Cr. Kristina|
"Do you take card?" I asked the lady at the Dunkin Donuts in the stadium.
"No, my boss was late and a cat ate the chip reader and a tornado carried off the wifi," I don't actually remember the reasons why.
"Oh, I don't have cash," I said, my eyes brimming with tears.
"I'll just give it to you," she said in a kindly tone. "What do you want?"
"Oh, uh, 4 bagels, 10 bananas, 3 coffees, um, and those pastries." Just kidding, I got a coffee. The lesson I was getting from this weekend was that I could flash my dimples and get race packets and coffee. Hmmm....
We lounged around some more. I finally put my robe and scarf and hat in my car. I had dressed very warmly. It wasn't even 40 out. Emily and Kristina had dressed like Siberian ninjas. We eventually got back into the stadium.
|Would have rather stayed in the car...|
The race was starting on the field! Squeal! It was always supposed to but this was the first year it actually did. The race director encouraged us to put our belongings in the bleachers. "Just don't put anything valuable there, lolz!" We didn't do that.
Emily and I were still indifferent about running a marathon. It was just a (very) long run to us. I imagine Kristina was pretty excited, but she was keeping it cool in front of us hardened veterans. She did mention that up until 3 months ago, her longest run had been 6 miles. I said, "it's just like 4 of those! Um, plus a little more. Um, and super terrible at the end. But ya know, no big deal!" In retrospect, I was giving a lot of backhanded encouragement.
Bang! We started running. My legs hurt almost immediately but I ignored it. The weather was perfect. We lost layers pretty quickly, and by mile 8 I'd lost my shirt altogether (go figure). I'm terrible with remembering conversation, but let me see what I can recall by way of "encouragement."
"So this first 3 miles along the parkway... it's going to be absolutely awful on the return trip. But, um, nervermind! We're going to have a great race!"
"So it's just this, then a jaunt through the park, then and out and back through a neighborhood, and then back to the lake and out and back on the other side, and then back through the park again, and then down the super terrible parkway. And then that's it! It's done!"
"See that line in the trees super far away across the lake? We're going to be running there. Isn't that exciting?"
"I used to think a towpath was a toepath. Because you run on it with your toes. Um, get it? I think we're supposed to pull a boat. Um, so be ready for that."
|Not pictured: boats.|
Photo cr: Friend of the runners
We passed Mason in the park. He's in LUNAR too. He yelled at us and I yelled at him. I did a lot of yelling. We passed by an old guy who said, "looking good guys!" and I yelled back, "YOU look good!" He had a nice beard. We passed a guy with a totally epic shirt. It was silk, or satin, or something, with a crazy pattern. He complimented me on my kilt and I on his shirt. I was in full obnoxious kilted glory.
I was totally on point with the photographers. I spotted every. Single. One. Emily and I would be in the middle of conversation and I would suddenly snap my head forward with a big grin and start pointing and flexing with my arms. She thought I was going insane. Every. Time. I can't wait to see those photos, because I'll be smiling and pointing and Emily will be looking at me sideways with a confused frown on her face.
"How do you see the photographers?" She asked.
"Actually I'm just pointing and screaming at trees," I replied. And from that point, every few miles I would randomly point and yell, "TREE." Always when they least expected it. Super fun for me. And only me.
The first half flew by pretty easily. The out and back on the west side of the lake (the Toepath) is pretty lonely, with all the trees blocking your view. Emily turned on her music and became a one woman party. I noticed at one point a guy who was struggling stuck with us for several miles and only left after her batteries ran out. Coincidence? Kristina and I were grateful for the epic music party; I'd run out of stupid things to say.
"How is her hair always perfect?" Kristina asked at one point as we followed Emily, who was bouncing to the music, her perfect hair tinkling in the sunlight like tinsel. Occasionally I asked Kristina how she was doing.
"Everything hurts, but I'm fine," she replied. "I'm fine" was her motto. I joked about whose idea it was to sign up for the marathon anyway. Each of us shifted the blame to the other.
"Hey, I know you've enjoyed a life of comfort, happiness, and ease. Let me fix that by signing you up to suffer pure torture for 5 hours," I said.
"You think my life has been easy?" Kristina replied. Well played, Batman.
We hit the turnaround at 16. "Only ten more miles left!" I exclaimed. I always forget that marathons are long. "TREE," I yelled at about 19. Then we finally got out of the Toepath and crossed the bridge.
"Alright! Just a run through this park and then super horrible awful last three miles on the parkway and then we're done!" I stated happily. Encouragement to the max.
We saw a ton of dogs in the park. Emily wanted to cuddle all of them, and said as much every single time we passed one. I saw a little dog on the path on a leash, held by one lady, being photographed by a second lady with her phone. As I ran past I stooped over and gave a thumbs up, trying to photobomb the little pooch. Emily again gave me a confused sidelong frown. "How do you see those cameras?!" After that I forewarned the ladies when I saw a camera, so we could all smile.
|Smiles are the best.|
Finally we hit the parkway. I pointed out how the sun would blind us and the expansive pavement would radiate heat up at us. They didn't appreciate it. Emily, who'd been 100% fine up to this point, suddenly got super wobbly.
"I've just lost all control of my body and even my eyelids don't work right anymore." She was fine. Kristina, who looked like she'd been through a war, was also fine.
"I feel like I'm running through lava," I said, "lava full of pins. And two sharks. And there's bears around us, swatting us so we can't get out of the lava pit. And the sharks are clamping on to us; they want us to haul them out of the lava pit, because it's not super comfortable for them either. But the bears won't let us out." It was a very involved scenario.
Kristina refused to surrender. It was the farthest she'd ever run and she just kept on going. We never took a walk break. We were all suffering and we were all totally committed to finishing. Though I did eye the golfcarts jealously as they cruised by.
After a million years we rounded the last bend. "The stadium is right there!" I lied. When we finally saw it we started sprinting with pent up joy.
"Let's fake smiles for the cameras at the end!" I exclaimed.
"I won't need to fake it," Kristina replied. Heart. Melts. Emily lead the way with her perfect hair. We blasted across the finish line and the 5 gruesome hours were wiped from our brains. We took a selfie, mingled a bit, and then scattered. I don't think any of us did any more moving that way. Except to shovel food in our faces.
It was a truly epic and wondrous adventure. My mind is always blown by the strength and will of others. Emily and Kristina ran nonstop for almost 5 hours straight. Pain is like an old comfortable blanket to me, I don't think much about it. To see others demonstrate such indomitable tenacity... that's incredible. I'll never get tired of that. A big thank you to them for tolerating my kilt, and a big thank you to all the race crew, volunteers, police officers, and spectators (and cute dogs) that make Empire State a grand experience! Every year I tell myself it'll be the last time, and every year I'm glad it wasn't.