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Vivianne''s Valiant Effort - NY Marathon Race Report 1998

 Normally I don't run two marathons in a year, much less two in a week's time. Nonetheless, for reasons best explained in another forum, I found myself at the starting line of the New York City Marathon the week-end after I had run, jogged, walked, and slogged to a 3:19 Boston qualifier at Marine Corps Marathon. On this day I would be witness not only to the glory and grandeur that is New York City, but also up close and personal to the heart-wrenching drama that comes in the marathon.

After being bussed out to the staging area at Fort Wadsworth, I discovered, that contrary to popular legend, the corral system and start at Staten Island seemed to be pretty well organized. At 10:20 I wandered over to the trucks, dropped off my bags, and walked over to my corral area in the 3000 number series. It was easy to get into, and not that crowded. I will confess that since I was not concerned about a fast time I didn't really care if I was in the front of the corral or not. A few people sneaked in under the netting that served as a fence, but not too many. As we were led out to the start some people from the 5000 pen tried to shove ahead, but it wasn't nearly as pushy as I thought it would be. Nevertheless, I estimated that there were probably three thousand people ahead of me on the blue start on the top of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge. The green start on the lower level probably had just as many people in the gap.
The start went off at 10:50, and it took me 1:12 to reach the toll booths, which I thought were the start lines. I jogged easily up the bridge to a 9:12 first mile.

The women were on the other side of the bridge, and had a different sort of staggered start. We were to run side by side in separate lanes for a few miles, then the women's course veered off to make up ground before merging into the men's course about mile 8. In the meantime, the lower bridge merged into the blue course about mile 4. I discovered a friend in the crowd, and he began to brief me on how the mergers would work and create more crowded conditions. My quads and calves were already feeling tired from last week, so I just wanted to take it easy and survive the day.

Mile two came in 8:56, and then I began to feel better. I was passing a lot of people and picked up the pace even more, though I was trying to be conservative. I didn't want to waste any energy trying to maneuver around slower people.

Somewhere in Brooklyn two women passed me. They were obviously running together and were working their way through the throng. I fell in behind them because their pace seemed comfortable to me, and they were doing the work of separating the crowd. One of them stood out from the crowd because she was wearing a black and orange striped outfit with her name "Maddy" emblazoned both front and back.

I lost them at a water stop, but later, they two caught up to me (maybe they had been letting me do some of the work), and as they went by I fell in step. It was a little more open, and we ran side by side. Passing a mile marker, I hit my watch. 7:30 for the last mile, too fast for me in my condition.

"How fast are you trying to run?" I asked them.

They exchanged comments in a language that I did not understand, then Maddy turned to me and said, "Five minutes per kilometer."

Well, I was having trouble doing the math, but I knew this much. A 7:30 mile is a lot faster than five minutes per kilometer, and told them so. They began discussing this, and I backed off the pace

I passed them again going up the 59th Street Bridge. This seemed to be a long uphill mile, but I felt comfortable and passed a lot of people here. Simon & Garfunkle kept rolling through my head - "Slow down, you move too fast, got to make the morning last, skippin' down the cobblestones, doo-da-doo dah, feelin' groovy".

The crowds were huge coming off the bridge into Manhattan. On First Avenue they lined the streets and sidewalks for miles.? At the PowerGel station I grabbed two, but they were the new chocolate flavor, so I went back and swapped them for the more familiar lemon-lime flavor. I downed one at the next water station, and saved the other for later.

Maddy and her friend caught up with me at about mile 18 1/2. As we crossed the bridge into the Bronx, Maddy began to fade. Her friend looked back at her, then decided to maintain her pace with me. We had been running about 8 minutes a mile since hitting First Avenue. As we left the Bronx, I spotted the 20 Mile marker. Looking over to my running partner, I lifted both hands with fingers outstretched. "Ten kilometers," I remarked. She nodded her head. The clock says 2:45. "3:30?", she asked. I shook my head. "3:35," I told her. OK.

People are now beginning to slow and walk. She told me, "This is the tough portion of the race." "Here," I responded, "We call it the Wall." She replied, "We call it 'The Man with a Hammer'."

I'm not sure if she knew what I was talking about, so I introduced myself. Her name is Vivianne, and she's from Nederlands. I substituted Washington DC for Baltimore so she could recognize my home area.

Now we had 8 kilometers to go. Running down Fifth Avenue from Harlem towards Central Park I noticed that Vivianne's pace was beginning to falter. I still had the packet of PowerGel with me, so I told her I wanted her to take it at the next water station. "Will it help?" she inquired. "It will either help or make you sick," I said. "Stay in the middle of the road and I'll get the water." Re-energized by the shot from the PowerGel, she resumed her 8 minute pace, but began to lag again about a mile later.

The Apache believed that to possess one's name was also to possess a power over the soul. Maybe surrendering her name to me wasn't such a good idea because of the power it gave me.

I spotted a fire truck parked on the side of the course loaded with firemen watching the race, so I sprinted ahead. "This is Vivianne coming up," I shouted, "She's tired and needs your help. Yell for her when she gets here!"

As she pulled up to the truck, twenty male voices exploded in unison ,"GO VIVIAN!" Her pace picked up noticeably, and I now had a mission in life for the next few miles.

Entering Central Park at the 23 mile mark, I told her, "5 kilometers, you can do it." Then I ran over and incited the crowds again. "GO VIVIAN!" they roared. She smiled at the crowds and waved, then set her head to the task at hand.

And so it went, all the way through Central Park. I had the crowds cheering for Vivianne, and I had her pace pegged at 8:40 (she was a little faster but I could calculate that...2:10 per 400m, 5:25 for 1000m. Between the crowds, I would run back to her every 5 1/2 minutes, four kilometers, three kilometers, two kilometers to go, and the people were screaming. She would smile and wave, which made the crowds even more enthusiastic. I was having a blast and not feeling the least bit tired. In Columbus Circle Maddy caught up to us again. Vivianne stayed off my shoulder, close to the crowds and the life- sustaining energy emanating with every roar. "RUN VIVIAN, GO!" The Big Apple was reverberating, and Vivianne was rocking and running. Suddenly she saw the 26 mile banner and began to really push it. "Five hundred meters" I shouted, but she didn't let up. At the banner I told her "Four hundred meters, come on, you can do it." The crowd was going crazy and she was passing all kinds of people.

Suddenly, her pace lagged. "Come on, come on, two hundred meters Vivianne, come on." Her arms pumping, she began racing for the finish. I was just off her shoulder, entreating the crowds, entreating Vivianne, and we could see the chutes flying up to greet us. With thirty meters to go she gained rapidly on the three men between her and the chute. "Go get'em Vivianne!" I was exhorting, the crowd in the grandstands was hysterical, and she put on a sudden burst and surged by the remaining obstacles between her and the finish.

From a half step behind her she looked strong. Her stride was smooth and powerful, without a hint of the fatigue built up from the previous miles. She planted her right foot, and the result is fixed in my mind in slow motion. As she began to lift her left leg up from the ground, her entire right leg started to wobble, then buckled at the knee. Ten feet, just ten feet from the finish line, Vivianne collapsed in a heap on the pavement.

I stopped and went back to her, yelling for the medics. The swingman immediately closed the area in front of that chute, directing trailing runners to our right. "OK, I am OK," Vivianne was saying as the medic rushed up. "Can you stand?" he asked her, and we offered assistance. Grabbing our arms, she pulled herself up, but as soon as her legs attempted to support her weight, she sank back to the ground. I looked at the medic, and we each grabbed an arm, put it around our shoulders, and picked her up. With us supporting her weight, she was finally able to move her legs, and we crossed the finish line together.

3:38:03

We carried her through the chute to a waiting stretcher. I got her a medal and a rose stem as they put her on the stretcher. She flashed me a big smile, "Thank you, thank you!" she murmured as they carried her away to the medical station and, most likely, out of my life forever.

One of my slowest marathons, but one of my best times

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I wrote the linked article a few years ago, and for the most part it is still accurate.

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