July 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

The 2021 NYC Marathon: Part 4

Mile 20: I was about to cross back into Manhattan.

(You only have 6.2 miles, a 10k to go.)

This was where I started playing games in my head to get through the race. It’s not 6.2 miles … it’s just a few blocks to the top of Central Park. That’s where Duke Ellington sat with his piano.

Sometimes I run in that park before dawn.

Once, I was given a summons for running in the park.

(Wait, what?)

In 2014, the law was Central Park was closed from dusk to dawn.

I was stopped at 4:38 a.m. for running in Central before dawn.

(What was the offense?)

Running in Central Park before dawn.

(Since then?)

Policy change and now the cops just drive past me.

Mile 21: As I started the five mile run down 5th Avenue to Central Park my “walk/run” had gone from 10/90 to 50/50 but I was making good time.

The “sub 5 hour” marathon finish was slipping away, but at the pace I was running at, I was on target to break my 5:24:10 record by at least fuve minutes.

Then Chaim Backman tapped my shoulder and kept going.

“I have to catch him!”

(Didn’t you say don’t chase others, run your own race?)

Yes, but this is Chaim. We became triathletes together.

We became Ironmen together. We became coaches—

(We get the idea.)

When I ran this race for the first time in 2014, Chaim ran with me until my run fell apart and he beat me.

I wanted payback.

Mile 21-23: I walked; He ran; I ran; He walked; I passed him…

Mile 23: 110th top of Central Park. I passed the Duke Ellington Statue and now I was running up the incline to 90th where we entered Central Park. The crowds were lining both sides of 5th avenue as I ran past the many buildings of Mount Sinai Hospital. There were cobblestone sidewalks and trees and … Chaim again.

He passed me and without thinking, I sped up.

(Pain?)

A little bit. I was closing in on him and then … I passed Chaim because he started walking again.

My feet hurt, but I continued to run, I knew I was close to a PR.

PR?

Personal Record. The sub 5 hour finish was slipping away but 5:20 was looking really promising … and Chaim passed me again.

He was just 10 feet ahead and then he started walking again.

Mind you, all of this is taking place as dozens of runners passed both of us and we both passed dozens of runners who were walking.

“Hmmm? I keep running, slower than Chaim, but I pass him.” My quads felt like if I went faster, they would seize and I would collapse onto the ground like a slithering snake.

Mile 24: We turned right and entered Central Park. Now the course sloped down from 77th to 59th. A welcome relief. No sign of Chaim, but I knew he was back there.

(Look.)

I didn’t dare look. I was focusing on running…

(…not tripping and falling.)

In Central Park crowds lined both sides of the street like they had on 5th Avenue, but now they were two deep. I heard more “Ironman” chants, but I was focusing on breaking five hours 20 minutes. Quads were screaming at me … but they did not spasm.

Mile 25: The run course reached the bottom of Central Park. Right turn onto 59th street. I knew the Eloise and the Plaza Hotel were there, but with a mile to the finish, my only focus was breathing.

800 meters to the finish line and I picked up the pace, still hoping my quads would hold out.

400 meters, turned right into the park and started the climb to the finish.

200 meters I heard another person call my name, but I was just focusing on breathing as I started to gasp with each step.

100 meters I was trying to inhale like I was giving CPR breaths and yet I couldn’t breathe in enough air to satisfy my lungs. I saw the finish with its pulsating lights before me.

Finish!

Man, I hurt.

(Where?)

In Central Park.

(No, where do you hurt?)

Quads, hammering; Heck, I’m simultaneously trying not to puke and not fall over.

(Why do you do this?)

I enjoy it, but this was not the time to stand there at the finish.

(Wasn’t this your moment?)

The finish line was wide … two New York City streets wide.

People were crossing the finish line every second.

It was more of an airport terminal than the terminus of a race.

I began to step forward, heading north. Each step was painful.

“Ok, where is my medal?”

There were volunteers with dozens of medals on their arms and athletes gathering in front of them like children on Halloween. I got my medal and a hearty “Congratulations!” but all I could do was nod my head. I needed to sit before I collapsed.

“I need to find a chair. Just wanna sit for … three or four days.”

But there were no chairs there … just tables. I hoisted myself onto an empty table. My feet were off the ground for the first time in almost six hours. It was now the moment to enjoy my PR.

As I pulled out my phone Chaim found me and I smiled.

(Because you beat him?)


Because I love this man, who I call my brother. He did what a brother does … he pushed me to work harder.

David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6.

 He can be reached at [email protected]

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