The New York City marathon isn’t a race, it’s a love letter. The City, like an old mischievous mistress reminded me in a few hours why I love her so much. I could tell you that I finished 15 minutes slower than I had hoped, that I suffered a lot after mile 18, that I could barely go up the stairs when I finally got home, but no, I simply want to tell you that I’m a happy man.
It starts with Spike Lee and Bill de Blasio, Frank Sinatra and 50,000 friends on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. When the Achilles group arrives in the opening coral, we are welcomed by a spontaneous ovation from the other runners, suddenly I am reminded how awesome my friends are. I love the colors on my jersey more than ever and am filled with pride to be representing Achilles. I’m cold, nervous, trying to hold my tears during the national anthem. My guides Matt and Stefan seem confident, somehow it reassures me.
Then it’s the canon blast,” New York New York ” plays, I shed a tear and we are off. I don’t feel well right away, my heartrate is a little high, I sweat more than usual, I blame it on the emotional start. The bridge is crowded, Matt is very vocal but a careless woman with her earbuds on runs in front of me, I step on her heel, she loses her shoe. All I can hear is a sad little “oh no” as she is forced to cope with her missing snicker.
We arrive in Brooklyn, flat and fast, the fans are wild. It is so loud that I can barely hear Stefan and Matt. I can’t find my rhythm, I try to breathe, to slow down a little, but my heartrate remains too high. We see Backwards Bill, the legend, the most inspiring competitor on the field, we all yell “Go Achilles”! I begin to understand why people love this race so much. I try to remain optimistic, we keep our pace, after all, my wife is waiting for me at the finish line.
We pass quite a few runners, some of them tell me that they read my blog, I blush. I can hear all kinds of languages, everyone seems so happy. My guides decide to follow two good looking Swedish women, we are moving. A man is following us, he says:
“Hi guys, my name is Ed, do you mind if I run with you for a while?”
We welcome him, he is from LA, I love making new friends.
We fly through Brooklyn, Dustin joins us at the midway point, right after the Pulaski Bridge. He is bursting with energy. He pushes Ed a few times, until I finally say:
“Dustin, this is Ed, our new friend, Ed, this is Dustin.”
For a sec I felt like the President clearing someone through his security detail!
But now we are at the Queensboro Bridge, the most difficult part of the course. It is steep, silent, and it comes after 14 or 15 miles of racing. I struggle, I can tell that Matt isn’t happy, at least I’m not alone in hell. I think to myself that the view must be beautiful. I know that this will not last, I keep pushing, trying to imagine what 1st Avenue will be like once I get to the other side, I’m impatient.
I begin to hear the cheers, I’m intimidated, it’s like entering a football stadium, wow, I have the chills. This moment is worth all the pain in the world. It’s as if all of Manhattan decided to gather around this area, and somehow everyone had a lot of cocaine. We push north, I try to stay calm, but it’s very difficult.
A few miles later though, it’s another picture. I totally hit the wall, I want to stop. If it weren’t for my guides, I would be walking right now. Of course this is where some of my friends decided to wait for me, I barely hear their voices, I am a little ashamed. Ed says:
“Charles, there is a banner here that says: make the wall your bitch”.
I know that this is a little puerile, but it helped, Ed became even more my friend at this very second. The next few miles were torture, I ate everything I could, GU, gummies, (by the way, thank you Dustin for giving me your food), it seems like this race will never end. The moment when one realizes that the initial goal is out the window is always a painful moment. But I manage to remain positive, that’s the magic of the marathon.
As we arrive to the Boogie Down Bronx my body seemed to reboot, like an old computer, slowly but steadily. We make a quick loop in Yankees territory, and we are back in Manhattan. As we get to 5th Avenue, Matt says:
“Ok, let’s go home now.”
I know that I have some friends at 110th street, I want to make a good impression. In Harlem I hear a lot of familiar voices, my coach Kat is there, I want to sprint to the finish, I feel much better. I keep asking “guys, where is 110th street?” like an annoying little boy on a long road trip. When we finally get to my goal I blow kisses to the crowd, I feel so grateful. I can’t believe that those people waited hours just for a few seconds of intense communion!
But then we arrive at mile 23. I know that it doesn’t feel like it when we take the bus down 5th Avenue, but there is a little incline there that is very, very painful at the end of a marathon. Stefan and Dustin understand that I’m fighting, they go 10 yards ahead of me and yell to the spectators:
“This is Charles, he is blind, that’s his first marathon, he needs your help now!”
The crowd is wonderful, I get the best cheers imaginable. It is like a wave carrying me to Central Park. You can’t understand what this support means at this very second. I moan, I’m teary, I think of my parents tracking me on the GPS, I think of my wife at the finish line, I whisper: I’m coming.
We turn on 89th street, we enter Central Park, I feel like I own this place. Gosh, going down cat hill is so painful, my knees are about to blowup. Ed coaches me through those last miles, Stefan and Dustin are still playing the MCs slightly ahead, Matt and I are toughing it out. What a beautiful group we have.
We get to 59th street, I know that I don’t look good, but fuck it, nothing will stop me now. The last turn at Columbus Circle is magical, Stefan who is finishing his forth marathon in three months tells me:
“Charles, enjoy this moment, you are about to finish your first marathon!”
I am ready to cry, I don’t feel anything but joy, I am hysterical. I want to high-five everyone, I keep saying “Come on New York, I can’t hear you”! The speaker announces my name, I hear my wife yell “go Charles”, I am very, very proud, I want this moment to last forever.