Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I Went to the Brooklyn Marathon. Look at How Hip I Am.

The first Brooklyn Marathon was in Prospect Park on Sunday morning, and even though they're both fun, it's not inaccurate to say the race was basically the opposite of the New York City Marathon two weeks earlier.

The New York City Marathon gets a special section of the New York Times dedicated to it on the morning after the race. The Brooklyn Marathon got ... me, on New York Magazine's web site.  And a camera crew from News 12, I think. Although the reporter wasn't carrying her own camera, so it was a pretty ballin' News 12 crew if that's what it was.

That's not fair, actually. There were a few stories previewing the race, too, including one in the Wall Street Journal in which Jason Gay wrote, "If anything, the Brooklyn craze has gone too far."  Oh ok, man, thanks for the heads-up.  Damn, I had no idea.  Ella, pack your stuff -- we're moving to the Bronx.

(Fun fact: I learned from an anonymous source that emails from Jason Gay have a tendency to get caught in spam filters.  Just writing about this is going to add a whole new dimension to my Google analytics stats.  (The word "analytics" can't hurt either.) )

Anyway, low-key race. I chatted with a couple of runners beforehand, and it was a varied crowd.

Rainbow Shaw-Giaquinto (real name!), a gym teacher from Philadelphia who had run her first marathon a month earlier in Atlantic City, said she uses running to teach her students about goal-setting, time-management and organization. Besides teaching, coaching college volleyball and raising two kids, she added, she has been logging 40 miles a week in training.

“And I’m slow,” she said. “You can imagine how much time that takes.”

Speed, of course, is relative. Andrei Volik, from Manhattan, walked by in a Boston Marathon warm-up jacket. He had run the Chicago Marathon in October, he said, and New York earlier this month. And how had he done?

“Slow,” he said. “2:54.”

Once the race started, there were mere handfuls of spectators.  But enthusiastic handfuls!  I hung out for a while, near where volunteers were setting up the finish line, with a couple of longtime runners and Brooklynites who had come out for the race despite not knowing any of the entrants. Granville Murrell, 62, is in the NY Mag story -- he's the guy who said he had prayed for a marathon to come to Brooklyn.  He lives nearby and heard about it the day before on the TV news.

"I said, 'Prospect Park -- are you kidding me?' " he said, happily.

He was standing near David Leman, 76, who he had never met but who had also been around local running a long time. He ran the NYC Marathon "a number of times," he said, with the last coming in 1991. He was holding that day's New York Post, and thought for sure that they would have written about the race. He started flipping through the pages, browsing aloud:

"Zuccotti Park ... Lady Gaga ... The ex-wife stabbed her husband and dumped him in the woods ... Gotta be in here somewhere."

I don't think it was, but his optimism fit the mood of the day.  You know who was conspicuous by his absence, though? Marty Markowitz, the borough president.  Beforehand, I would have guessed they'd have to drag him away from something like this. Not that I'm implying he sincerely wanted to be there. But, showing up at this kind of stuff and talking about Junior's cheesecake and Coney Island and Ebbets Field is just kind of his thing.

Well, it turns out that Marty wasn't much of a help to the race organizers.

"He ignored our pleas for help, he didn't take our phone calls," said one of the planners, Michael Ring.  I'm not going to speculate on why that might have been.  I'm just not.

Marty or no Marty, though, people were having fun. A pair of girls running up by Grand Army Plaza -- just popping into the park for part of a five-mile job -- marveled at a course that includes six full laps of the park's 3.35 mile loop, plus two-and-a-half shorter loops.

"That would take a ton of mental strength," one, Lindsay Zelinski, said. "I did this park twice one time and it was awful."

They headed off running, in the same direction as the race. "It's great," she said. "We're going to have people cheering the whole way."

A pair of weekend-cyclist types pedaled mountain bikes onto the loop and one rider said to his companion, "Maybe there's a race of some sort." A little ways ahead, a woman was holding  a sign that read, "Where are you guys going?"

The course map was crazy, by the way.  At one point in the southern part of the park, there were five mile markers in quick succession: 25, then 15, then 5, then 3, then 1, all within a few hundred feet of each other.  Runners were using GPS watches to keep track of which lap they were on.

Making my way around, I wanted to talk to a dog owner, because they're one of the park's other very enthusiastic subcultures (along with runners, cyclists, stroller-pushers and that crazy guy who walks around the loop singing at the top of his lungs, who I'm going to say comprises a subculture of one).  Eventually I spotted a man walking a dog and pushing a stroller at the same time, and thought, bingo.

Well, as it turns out out, he was also a runner and a triathlete -- and firefighter -- named Greg Santini. He'd run the NYC Marathon a couple of weeks earlier, and was having some seriously conflicted feelings about not signing up for this one too. "I could've done it.  It's just a matter of my wife not letting me," he said.

For those that don't know, being married to someone who enters distance races is best described by this actual t-shirt illustration:

So, his wife probably has a point.  I knew how he felt, though, because it was a beautiful day and I kept wishing I was out there.  He kept saying things like, "It's awesome. I should be running," and "This would be great. It sucks that I'm not running."  I have a strong feeling you'll be seeing him in the race next year.

Back towards the finish line, I met the winner's dad, before either of us even knew he was the winner's dad.  At that point all we knew was that his son had been near the front for the whole race and was closing in fast.  It was a legitimate thrill to see his son, John Paul Montes, come around the last curve in the lead and kick to the finish line. The guy is from Carroll Gardens, which is, as the Junior's Cheesecake billboard says, "as Brooklyn as it gets."

I had borrowed a pen from Lou Montes, the dad, just before the finish when mine ran out of ink and my backup got lost somehow.  In all the excitement, I forgot to give it back. I'm basically treating it as my own at this point.  I'm definitely jealous of everybody who got to participate in the inaugural version of this cool event, though, so I figured maybe I'll just treat the pen as a souvenir.  It's not a finisher medal but it'll do.

Bonus content: A Brooklyn marathoning history lesson from Johanna Bjorken. And Geoff Badner with notes on how it feels to run quickly around Prospect Park for three hours.

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