Thirty-three years ago was wet and a bit chilly in New York. Ed Koch was the Mayor and his was not among the several names for the 59th, or TK’s, Bridge. I took the subway from my apartment on West 85th Street — just off the Park — and headed to a Warren Street mate’s apartment in the teens or twenties. After some mingling, we boarded a small bus/large van and drove across the Verrazano Bridge and were discharged near the start.
Things were different in those days. We used the “world’s longest urinal” and jogged in a parking lot south of the start. And we were told the race was to begin shortly and headed to the start. I had a very-high number, this being my first marathon, but I had convinced NYRRC that I indeed meritted starting near the front, and so had a blue dot on it. (This is why Geoff Smith had a very high number with an initial letter; it was his first marathon too.)
I had joined Warren Street the year before, and at my first race Tracy Sundlun had unceremoniously pulled a red singlet from a bag in New Rochelle for that city’s half-marathon and handed it to me. It said “Manufacturers Hanover” on the front — a bank that would ultimately be part of Chase — and “Warren Street” on the back. Tracy had now gotten us proper singlets, and shorts and other paraphenaila. In Raider black-and-gray, “Warren Street” dominated the singlet’s front.
I stepped in to perhaps the eighth or ninth row, and the cannon erupted. We were off. I had just gotten my first digital watch. When we hit the mile mark mid-span I checked it and to my shock read “00:00:00”. Oh well. Tracy’s instructions were clear: go out easily. And I did. I have no idea what my splits were, but from when we hit Brooklyn until the Bronx, no one passed me. I felt great.
I remember climbing the afrementioned TK Bridge and how quiet and spooky it was and then the hairpin turn onto 59th and lefthander onto First and going beneath the bridge to the sudden cacaphony of noise upon hitting 60th. I saw family members cheering at mile 17. It was wet and rainy, but not too much.
I felt good. I passed Grete at 19. She had a group of men with her, as was the tradition when the lead women started with the men, and I just cruised past. And then the Bronx.
Heading on that stretch that goes beneath Metro North’s tracks and to the Madison Avenue Bridge, I caught a group of guys and thought, maybe I’ll run with them for a bit. I was getting a wee bit tired. This was just past 20 so I was thinking to ratchet things down a tad. And down they went. As I got out of my rhythm, I started to fall to pieces.
I don’t recall much from then. In those days, we entered the Park at 103rd Street. While this cut the long hill to 90th, it added a steeper hill at the entrance. I remember cheering picking up as I reached the southern end of the straight stretch along the Resevoir, just before Mile 24 and the Met. It was not for me. Grete went storming past, having rid herself of her escort. My wife was there — we were newly-weds at the time — and has a photo.
Things became a bit surreal. With the first woman having passed, there was a let-down among the spectators, which would disappear when they started cheering for everyone. But for a brief interlude, they quieted.
It didn’t matter of course. I didn’t care who passed me at this pont. I hadn’t blown-up. I was just really tired and wet. And I felt betrayed. Running on the part of the course on which I ran nearly every day and expecting that this would be my strong stretch, I felt that it had betrayed me because I felt horrible.
I soldiered on, passing the one-mile-to-go sign. Turning onto Central Park South and looking west to Columbus Circle, it dawned on me that this was a long, slight uphill. This was depressing news to me. I saw someone stop, and I thought this was a good idea. I stopped. I had been keeping track of my time and realized that I had a shot at sub-2:30.
So with encouragement from the crowd, I started up again. Not a shuffle, but a run. Not that fast, but a run.
And so I ran the less-than-a-mile to the finish. And I did get there in under 2:30. For perspective, though, Grete covered the last 2+ 2:13 faster than I did.
And I was tired. Looking at the ABC tape later, it cut to the end of the chutes between interviewing Grete and Smith (who was passed by Rod Dixon at the 26-mile mark). There I was, fifteen sseconds of me being escorted by two EMTs trained to look for the struggling. They asked me some basic information and let me continue to get my bag. And there I was on national TV, with CPTC’s Fritz Mueller right behind, very tired and very happy.