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Marathon #1: 2008 Yonkers Marathon (2008/09/21)

[2008.09.21] PBDSers gathered at the Yonkers Library, the start of the Yonkers Marathon / Half Marathon. (Picture courtesy of Sportography.)

The 2008 Yonkers Marathon was my very first marathon.  Little did I know how much of an impact this race would have on me.  It completely changed my lifestyle for the healthier!  In a little over two months, I would have completed 3 marathons, qualifying me as a Marathon "Maniac", a very aptly named description of what I had become.

[2008.09.21] START Line. (Picture courtesy of Jerry Loo.)

Proper marathon training calls for a "tapering" period where in the final week(s) of training, the runner is supposed to take it easy and cut back on the mileage. I had done the opposite due to prior lack of training and scheduling. The weekend before Yonkers, I ran with Debbie in the Reach The Beach 200-Mile Relay from the northern end of New Hampshire to its southern coastal tip.  I logged in 20.6 miles by running 3 legs over a day and a half.  This is not the ideal thing to do for marathon training.  I jumped right into marathon running.  The date for Yonkers crept up all so suddenly.

[2008.09.21] Yonkers Marathon Start Line.  (Picture courtesy of Jerry Loo.)

Yasu and I decided to use this race as a 'training run' for our upcoming larger races, the 2008 NYC (11/2/2008) for his, and the 2008 Chicago (on 10/12/2008) for mine.  We ran the first half together at a good pace (nearly a 4 hour marathon pace), as he kindly paced me.  As soon as I crossed the half marathon line, I had to resort to the dreaded "marathon shuffle".  At Mile 20, I slammed hard into "The Wall" and had to proceed with the run/walk method to grind it out to the finish.

Yonkers is known to be quite challenging and is a hilly marathon.  According to Wikipedia, Yonkers is “Known for its many hills, it is considered by many runners to be one of the toughest marathons in the country.  For that reason, most elite runners avoid this race.”  Great to know this is the very marathon I chose to be my first!

[2008.09.21] Yonkers is a double loop course.  (Picture courtesy of Jerry Loo.)

The marathon course is a half marathon x 2 (double loop course). This marathon is also the second oldest marathon in the world, with the oldest being Boston of course. 2008 was the 83rd running of the race, one that began in 1907 (it wasn’t run for 17 years so that explains the differential).

[2008.09.21] 2008 Yonkers Marathon. My very first marathon.  (Picture courtesy of Sportography.)

Without much pomp or circumstance, the race began! The course started off instantly with a 6-mile hill (technically 5.8 miles) up that was seriously no joke!  The course landscape consisted of a park setting up the hill on Warburton Ave (where with a glance over your left shoulder you can view the picturesque scene of the Hudson River and the adjacent cliffs of the Palisades in New Jersey), then a residential setting through the town of Hastings-on-Hudson and back into Yonkers down Nepperhan Ave.

The first time around was fine, but the second time around was hell.  The hill is so bad that I have given it the moniker of “Mount Yonkers”.  The 6-mile hill consists of 4.5 miles up Warburton Ave.  When this first hill is crested, you are greeted by a series of cut out signs with Coca Cola logos and old newspapers clippings, preceding an unofficial aid station that is manned by a single interesting fellow, named Don Dixon.  Don is a cheerful fellow who gives out flat Coca Cola (I thought this was interesting) and ice cubes.  I enjoyed some of his Coke and it tasted so good, giving me a mental boost.  The hill then continues after a right turn up another mile and change up Main St and Broadway into Draper Park, and is quickly proceeded by a short steep downhill overlooking a graveyard (aptly dubbed by Ralph as "The Graveyard Roller Coaster"), which serves to be a kind reminder of the hell that was just experienced.

After the Mile 10 marker, there is an overpass that runners need to climb up to in order to cross over the widened thruway portion of Nepperhan Ave.  It's fun the first time around, but painful on the second visit (the same could be said for most of the course).  A slight downslope ensues into the Latino neighborhood of Yonkers (dominated by Mexican, Ecuadorian, and Cuban restaurants), at Miles 10-14 (and again at Miles 23-24), where the residents are completely oblivious as to what is going on and why there are occasional runners running down the shoulder of South Broadway through their barrio.

[2008.09.21] After the first loop, half marathoners go to the left, full marathoners continue on the right.  (Picture courtesy of Jerry Loo.)

I ran the course non-stop without walking until Mile 20, then my legs hit a wall.  I couldn't push myself harder because my legs would instantly cramp.  So I did the run/walk the rest of the way.  I tried really hard to break 5 hours, and ran at the end and finished strong.  Now I know how crazy a marathon is.  I am surprised that I was able to endure it with my minimal / lack of training.  My long run consisted of running 20.6 miles (over three legs) the weekend before in the Reach The Beach (RTB) relay in New Hampshire.

Race organizers made it abundantly clear that after 5 hours the roads would be opened to traffic and no more police support would be provided.  After 6 hours, runners do not receive an official finish time.  I survived my first marathon in the allotted time limit!  I finished it in 5:00:15 (11:27 min/mile pace).  My splits were horrible.  The first time around the loop was bearable, but my second encounter kicked my butt!  After the first half, I was on a great pace (4:06 marathon pace), but just as I began my second loop, I instantly died and had to rely on the "marathon shuffle" as my legs did not have the stamina of keeping a jogging pace up Mount Yonkers a second time.  I ran the first ½ in 2:03 (9:23 min/mile pace), and the second ½ in 2:57 (13:30 min/mile pace)!

The great aspects of the Yonkers Marathon are that there are only a little over 100 marathoners (your net time = the gun time, so line up towards the front) and there are aid stations (water at all and Gatorade at some) at EACH mile!  Yonkers is the only marathon where I have seen aid stations at every mile.  They do a good job at recruiting various organizations (Boy Scouts, church groups, etc.) to man all 13 of their stations.

The one major drawback for the race was that there weren't many people watching or cheering. I would say 95%+ of the course was void of onlookers.  The solitary aspect of mostly running alone along with the thin crowd support do lend itself in making Yonkers an even more difficult race.

The weather conditions were good.  Being scheduled in late September, it was not too hot, but the sun was out the entire time and I got tanned.  Marathon veterans say ideal temperatures are in the 50's F to 70's F (I would later discover that my ideal race time temperatures are in the 30's F to 50's F), with an overcast sky (no direct sunlight).  The race temperature probably maxed out at 80 degrees F.

Mount Yonkers will give you the confidence to know that if you have conquered it, you will know you are now capable of finishing those other marathons you have been training for (unless you're running something even more crazy like Pike's Peak Marathon.  I swore this race off, but interestingly I'm now looking forward to the challenge of being clobbered by it again.  It's not a race for novices since there's a 5 hour time limit, which I barely just made (with an additional 15 seconds).

What a crazy pick I made for a training run. All I can say is that it feels good having conquered Mount Yonkers.  Now that I've conquered Yonkers (probably the hardest road race around New York City), I am not scared of running Chicago next month.  I now know the nature of the beast, known as the "Marathon.  Next up for me is the Chicago Marathon in October.  Thank goodness that one's flat.  I'm still down for the Philadelphia Marathon because I'm simply hooked!

[2008.09.21] Debbie came to cheer for me at the finish of my very first marathon.  (Picture courtesy of Jerry Loo.)

A HUGE thanks for my Powered By Dim Sum (PBDS) Running Club teammates: Jerry, Tommy, Warren, Yasu, and Debbie, along with Mika who cheered for me at the finish.  It was an uplifting feeling after experiencing most of the second half running alone.  Jerry helped push me to finish the marathon by running along side of me at the very end.  I was probably the only first time marathoner in the field of 107 runners.  I finished in 104th place and upheld the PBDS motto of “We’re not last!”

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