Yes, I was one of the New York folks who helped the Santa Barbara International Marathon yesterday swell to its largest-ever field of about 2,000 runners. (New York has almost 50,000 participants.) Yes, the race started 15 minutes late because we outnumbered the shuttle buses.
And yes, two of the aid stations were out of water by the time I got to them. But I am extremely grateful for the generosity of the race organizers, who gave 300 NYCM runners an $80 discount code, which brought the entry fee down to just $50. (Compare that to the $255 NYCM registration.)
The road to the finish line -- and the new PR I managed to eke out -- was not even remotely what I thought it would be. Santa Barbara wasn't on my radar at all until the storm hit and I realized I might need a backup plan. (In case you're wondering, I was also considering Seattle on Nov. 25, and I tried to get into CIM, but they were already at capacity.)
Santa Barbara was affordable, I could drive there and the race organizers were nice. I knew nothing about the course. I signed up.
My feelings about New York: I'm glad they cancelled it -- it was absolutely the right thing to do, especially when so much of the city was suffering. But Bloomberg and the Road Runners should have made that decision the day after the storm, not less than 48 hours before the race, after so many people already arrived.
I found out in the cab. We had run into Matt (port-a-potty Matt, not whale poo Matt, just to be clear) and his girlfriend in the taxi line at the airport. They were also headed to the Upper West Side. It made sense to ride together. On the drive there, we saw downed trees. A crushed car. Long lines for gas. And just as we pulled up to Matt's hotel, he looked at his phone and said: "The race is cancelled."
And I said: "Well, I guess I'm drinking tonight."
We ended up at the Runner's World VIP party, which had an open bar. I met Bart Yasso and went on and on about how much I love Yasso 800s -- I think he felt embarrassed for me. I also met this guy and vaguely remember taking a shirtless photo with him. (Him, not me. He's the one with the washboard.)
"We're in New York," I said. "We may not be running, but we can still be in New York."
When you think of Santa Barbara, you think of ocean. When you think of a marathon in Santa Barbara, you think of running 26.2 miles next to that ocean. With its accompanying fog and cool weather.
What you don't think of: 24.2 miles spent running past the UCSB campus, neighborhoods full of houses you can't afford and a construction site. And only the random gusts of cold air that blow dirt into your eyes and make it feel like you are running in place keep it from being too hot under a cloudless sky. And then two miles of ocean.
What you also don't realize: Santa Barbara is hilly. And the biggest hill is at Mile 23. Maybe those race organizers aren't such nice people after all.
I was in New York for three nights. One night, I ate four dinners. I found a halal cart that was so good I ate there two nights in a row. I ate Japanese hot dogs and went to three David Chang restaurants and tried caviar cream cheese and bought foie gras to sneak back to California and met Wylie Dufresne.
I was about as intelligent with him as I was with Bart Yasso.
At Mile 15, I saw a volunteer sleeping on the sidewalk. And a runner behind me said: "Why are we doing this?"
I wanted to yell: "You tell me. I'm the one who drove seven hours just so I could run 26.2 miles and then get in the car and drive seven hours back."
Instead I ran faster. Passed a lot of people between Miles 15 and 18. Played leap frog with a woman who became my new friend. Best race signs out there: "Pain is temporary, online is forever." "Go, go, Gadget legs!" And my favorite: A pair of wings and the words "Tap here for power." Not a single runner skipped that sign.
I finished in 4:42:50 -- an eight-minute PR. It wasn't easy. My splits were all over the place. I stopped once to use the port-a-potty. I walked up that hill at Mile 23.
Afterward, the woman I met said this would likely be her last marathon. She had run 35. She was done.
I said: "I still want to run New York."
They held an unofficial marathon in Central Park, part of the "Run Anyway" movement. I ran seven miles that day. There were makeshift aid stations and cheering crowds. There was a woman with a singlet that said: "50th birthday, 1st marathon." There was a soldier running in full combat gear. I caught a quick glimpse of Mr. Flip Flop, and yes, he was indeed shirtless.
News reports estimate hundreds, if not thousands, of runners in the park. I still find it incredible that something as simple as the desire to run can bring so many people together from all over the world.
New York: One day I'll cross your finish line. Runners are a stubborn lot.