NYC Marathon Weekend 2023
by Paul Semendinger
November 8, 2023
Note - Many readers asked me to share my marathon experience - here it is. Thanks, always, for all the support and encouragement.
This article, of course, has little, if anything to do with the Yankees or baseball. Rather it has to do with sport, a singular sport, marathon running, and my experiences last weekend in running the New York City Marathon. While the article doesn't have much specifically related to baseball, in another sense, it does - this is the continued story of the human desire to keep moving forward and to achieve at one's highest levels.
I ran my first New York City Marathon in 2002. That seems like a long time ago. In subsequent years (2003, 2005, 2009, 2013, 2016, 2018, 2021, and 2022) I also ran New York City. It is a race and experience like none other. It's a race that touches my heart and my soul in many ways. I love the big city; always have. And I love running through it. I love the New York City Marathon.
In those "years between," the times I didn't make it to the city that never sleeps, I had to make it elsewhere. I've run marathons in Chicago, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Disney World, Pittsburgh, the Poconos, the Lehigh Valley, and the New Jersey shore. I enjoyed those races. I ran my fastest times in some of those races. They were all great. But they weren't New York City. Nothing is.
I didn't run a marathon in 2019 or 2020 due to Achilles tears and the surgery that followed. In 2012, there was no NYC Marathon due to Hurricane Sandy.
The tag line for the NYC Marathon is, and has been for a while, "It Will Move You" - and it does. Absolutely. It strikes me deep in my heart. There is something I've been trying to define for more than two decades about the race that grabs me. It might be the majesty of the race - it's gigantic size. It might be the city itself. It might be the friendships I have made as part of and because of the race. It might be the fact that all of humanity comes together for a special weekend in New York City just to run and be part of something way bigger than ourselves. It's probably all of those things, and more. A lot more. I have written, often, that over the years, the race has become part of who I am. When I don't run it, I feel empty inside.
Last Thursday I went to the Expo at the Javitz Center with my friends Ed and Melissa. Ed is also running the race. He's done over thirty marathons. It's great to share the anticipation and the joy of the big race with dear friends. I love attending the expo, it's where we get our race numbers and t-shirt. There's also a huge market there for all sorts of running apparel, food, and experiences. I don't usually buy anything (at this point in my life, there's nothing I really need), but I love seeing all the people and basking in the excitement that comes with the anticipation of a grand and wonderful day - just ahead. (I also like the free stuff that some of the vendors give away.)
I met an old friend, of sorts, at the expo this year, Elmo from Sesame Street. This wasn't a character dressed up as Elmo. It was Elmo himself. When they were young, my sons loved Elmo. We watched a lot of Sesame Street together. It was good to see this special friend from so many year ago. We even took a photo together...
Next, on Friday evening, I donned a USA shirt, one I purchased for this special occasion, and went back into the city, to Central Park, near the finish line, to be one of the people representing the United States of America in the Opening Ceremony's Parade of Nations. It was fun to be around my fellow marathoners - people I had never met, but all who were excited and full of anticipation for Sunday's big day.
The Parade of Nations wasn't a long parade that we were part of, we basically walked the equivalent of about five or six city blocks over the course of an hour and a half as we slowly made our way to the big "stage" at the finish line area to loud music, lots of flag waving, and plenty of smiles.
Saturday was primarily a day of rest, but on Saturday evening, my friend Lance arrived from out of town at my home to spend the night at my home before the race. Laurie set up our guest room for him so that he would be able to have a good night's sleep before the big race.
Lance organizes and runs the Interfaith Religious Service at the start village prior to the race's kickoff. For the last many years, when I have run the race, I have been part of that service, sharing a sermon, some prayers, hugs, and more. In some ways, the religious service is, for me, the most special time of the whole race experience. The sermon I gave this year can be found on my other site and accessed right HERE.
Lance didn't arrive until about 7:15 p.m. I had eaten a late lunch, doing my carb loading a bit earlier, but Lance needed to carb load so we got some chicken parmigiana and spaghetti to bring home (I had some pizza slices) and we enjoyed a nice meal together. Lance then headed off to sleep. I watched a television show with Laurie before I laid down. I was asleep by 9:30 p.m.
On Sunday morning, I was up by 3:00 a.m. I had already laid out my clothes and had all of the items I needed for the race prepared. This gave me time to myself without the need to rush around before what is always a long day.
The logistics of getting to the marathon is somewhat of a marathon itself. At 4:30 a.m., my son Ethan drove Lance and I to Ed's house where his wife Melissa would drive us all to the Meadowlands to pick up one of the New York Road Runners buses that would take us to Staten Island and the start of the race. We arrived in Staten Island by about 6:00 a.m.
At the starting area, we delivered two worship services before rushing to the corrals for the start of the race. Due to two great training runs a few weeks previous, I had found my confidence and felt that I had a great race ahead me. I knew that the last miles would be tough, they always are, but I was confident that I would not suffer when I got that far. I'd knew I would just have to gut it out.
The first miles of the race went extremely well. I found a friend, also named Paul, and we ran together for the first six miles or so before I stopped for some Gatorade and an energy gel. Paul was looking to finish at about four hours a pace that was too fast for me so I told him to run ahead.
One of the things I love about the New York City Marathon is the tremendous crowd support. People cheered me as I ran, as they always do. This year, I wore the USA shirt from the Parade of Nations. Over the 26.2 miles, people from all different backgrounds and nationalities chanted "USA, USA, USA!!!" This included people holding the flags of other counties. Their encouragement helped to push me ever forward.
I reached the halfway point (13.1 miles) at about two hours and one minute. I still felt good, but I was still running too quickly and knew the second half of my race would be much slower. I didn't mind. If you read the sermon I delivered, I noted that I pray each mile when I run. During the marathon, I did a lot of praying from Mile 15 on forward, asking God for the strength and focus I'd need to stay strong and finish well. I believe this helped.
On First Avenue in Manhattan, I basked in the cheering crowds. Boy do I love New York City. The crowds helped carry me with their unbridled enthusiasm.
I don't recommend this, but in my training for the race, I would often stop at a convenience store and purchase a can of Pepsi on some of my long runs. Sometimes I'd also get a Hostess cupcake. Again, this isn't a recommended practice, but I always used the sweet treats as a reward of sorts. On Sunday, somewhere around Mile 19 or 20, I saw a small store that was open and ran in to buy a can of Pepsi. It was delicious.
By this point, the last 6.2 miles, or so, I was alternating running and walking. I ran as much as I could, but, as I knew would occur, I was past my limit. These were my slowest miles, of course, but I kept going. It's not easy to keep going when your body tells you to stop. They weren't quick, but the miles kept passing.
In some races, I feel miserable in the highest miles, but I didn't on Sunday. I felt good. I knew I had it. And I did. The crowds in Central Park were tremendous. And it wasn't too long before I finished strong. My finish time was 4:34:44. I'm pleased with my time.
At the finish, a volunteer placed the finisher's medal over my head as I bowed forward. This year's finisher's medal is beautiful. I think it's the nicest one I've ever received.
The victory isn't in winning a race like this, or really with any specific time. The victory is pushing yourself and finishing. And I did. I've now completed 25 marathons. The feeling of finishing a race like this is like none other.
But, in New York, the struggle isn't over when the race ends...
If getting to the start is a marathon, getting out of the city is just as challenging. From the race finish, one has to walk many blocks north, up to 77th Street before exiting the park. Then it was a long slow walk for me to get back (through immense crowds) to get to 57th Street where I picked-up the bus to take me to the New York Waterway ferry back to Weehawken, New Jersey where, if Laurie would hopefully be waiting to bring me home. I started my GPS watch as I finished the race to see how long that walk was. After running the race, I had to walk 2.80 miles to catch that bus! In total from the start of the race to sitting on that bus, I covered 29 miles.
I was soon on the ferry and then in the terminal. This year I made it to Weehawken quicker than Laurie did. I didn't mind. I waited in the lobby for a few minutes before Laurie pulled up with a big sign she made for me. I also received a big smile and a kiss.
My 2023 New York City Marathon was over...