Squeezing 3 Weeks Into 1

Times Square - Before The Evening Rush

Times Square - Before The Evening Rush

I unlock the door and step outside to a sun that wasn’t supposed to be here. It’s cold as I exhale. Tiny flakes of snow shoot from my mouth and fill the air in front of me. These are the lost days between October and November. A frozen mist floats in the air. Not sure where I am going or exactly how to get there, I follow the road back the way I came last night. The constant tone of traffic makes me reach for my headphones to quiet the city noise with something a little louder.

Within a couple of minutes I’m reminded why I would never survive in this city. The millions of traffic lights I encounter break the rhythm of the early morning run. Not just a stop and go, it’s an endless wait for the hundreds of cars that need to go from left to right, right to left. I’m exhausted just waiting for them. Impatient and itchy, I briefly considering making a dash for it. A minute goes by. The sights, the sounds, the smells the city has to offer seem to be intersecting at the corner where I am now stranded. New York is not the place for me.

On the subway. Riding the train. Passing through the alleys. Times Square on a Friday night. Up and down a thousand steps. Head back, eyes staring up at another skyscraper. Bundled up and keeping each other warm. Pushing the stroller over the Brooklyn Bridge. Finding another favorite new place to eat lunch. Running through the airport, almost missing our flight home. Our little boy doesn’t even know how far from home he is. But even in New York, I’d call New York home to be with you.   

We are back from our East Coast trip where we successfully squeezed in a 3 week vacation into 10 days. First we flew into Washington, DC and attended the Rally to Restore Sanity, took a tour of the White House (Obama flew away just as we arrived) and did the typical tourist walk up and down The Mall, making stops at The Capitol, The Library of Congress and The U.S. National Archives. Then on Sunday I paced the 3:20 group for the Marine Corps Marathon. I’ve written about this marathon before but it is one of my favorites. There are just so many sites along the course: from seeing the soldiers running, some of the wounded soldiers competing, the Marines at the aid stations, the landmarks and the finish in Arlington Cemetery. The Marines run this with such precision that when my watch flipped to 8:00:00, the canon sounded. An 8:00 AM start means 8:00 AM EXACTLY. Here’s the data from my Garmin.

The meaning and significance of this marathon can be lost in the moment of the run. But as you run and look around and see someone running on one leg or pushing a wheelchair, and mile after mile hundreds of Marines line the course, you realize the price so many men and women pay to serve our country.

After the marathon, we had some time to get out since we weren’t catching our train to New York until 3 AM the next morning. We took the subway over to Arlington Cemetery and walked along the paths and visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I had been talking to Theo the day before and he had mentioned it is a must-see and he’ll never forget seeing the soldier that guards the tomb and marches back and forth. Theo said every now and then he’ll be doing something and maybe it is raining and dark and he’ll realize that guard is marching back and forth guarding that tomb. No matter how cold, how dark or how wet. For me, it was a surreal experience to visit the tomb. There was the feeling that you were witnessing something sacred, that you really didn’t deserve to be standing in their presence.

We tried to get a few hours sleep before getting to Union Station around 2 AM then caught the train to New York and then caught another train in New York to Niagara Falls. That was a long day on the train but we finally made it to Niagara Falls only to sit on the train for almost two hours while the Canadian customs agents grilled a number of passengers on the train. One passenger was led off and we were finally allowed to disembark on the Canadian side and found our hotel within walking distance of the Falls.  

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

We spent a couple of days in Niagara Falls and then took the train back to New York City. The first day it rained all day and Nicole went to see the filming of Regis and Kelly while Dylan and I ducked into one corner Starbucks after another. First, it was early in the morning and we needed a place that was open so we could keep dry. Being from California, it had never crossed my mind to pack an umbrella. Second, it is nearly impossible to find a bathroom in New York. Dylan doesn’t give advance notice he has to go so when he says he has to go there’s not a lot of time to locate a bathroom. We’ve had this discussion while driving and we talked about it again while going from store to store along the streets of New York searching for a bathroom. Finally, at 10 AM, the Childrens’ Museum opened next the Central Park so we spent the rest of the morning in the Dora and Diego area.

New York Marathon.

New York Marathon.

Before I knew it, it was time to run another marathon. The New York Marathon tested me a bit. I led the 3:30 Orange pace group. The pace was a nice and easy 8 minute per mile pace but I’ve run New York twice now and both times my legs felt pretty beat up towards the end. Meb Keflezighi spoke a bit at the start about hoping to repeat but in the end Gebre Gebrmariam finished first in 2:08:14, probably crossing the finish just as we were crossing the Queensboro Bridge.

Nicole and Dylan hung out around mile 11 with Jordan. Amazing with around 2 million people watching the race, I spotted them as we passed through Brooklyn and the course was still pretty congested. I find New York a more difficult one to pace because it is impossible to get on pace until a few miles into the course and even then you are still having to work to get through people. The course doesn’t really open up until the Queensboro Bridge.

But there’s nothing like running down 1st Avenue and then finishing in Central Park. Last few miles the legs were feeling a bit heavy but crossed the finish line just over the 3:29 mark at 3:29:07. Had a lot of good runners in the group and enjoyed talking with quite a few at the start and along the course, especially Mohamed Belkhir who finished in 3:27:24. Another one of the guys in the group was Michael Mendes, the CEO of Emerald Nuts. Here’s the data from my Garmin.

After the finish it took nearly one hour for someone to locate my drop bag so I could put on a jacket and warm up. Then it was back to the hotel to meet Nicole and Dylan and catch our flight back home. And we barely caught our flight. It took us over 2 hours to take the subway from the hotel near La Guardia over to JFK. We got off the subway at 6:50 PM for a 7:25 PM flight from Terminal 4. We still had to take the tram to Terminal 4, check our bags, get through security and find the gate. There was no way we were going to make our flight. I was running through the airport, pushing Dylan in stroller to the Jet Blue counter, begging them to let us on the flight and we would happily forget our bags. “They can go tomorrow. We just need to make this flight.”

“There’s no way!” they said. But in a few minutes, our tickets were printed and they rushed us through security and we made the flight. Always an adventure. Always.

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2 thoughts on “Squeezing 3 Weeks Into 1

  1. A great read, Michael. I really enjoyed following your NY adventure from the left coast, three thousand miles away on the other side of the country. Many of your observations about NY were the same as mine on my last trip to both The City and Niagara Falls back in 1953. People are people and life styles are life styles even across the years. Good luck.

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