WHAT I DID ON MY NEW YORK VACATION
PART DEUX: THE OLYMPIC TRIALS
i actually got into the NYC Marathon through the lottery last year, my 3rd time in 4 years. i was so excited that i'd be running it with Lance (well not "with" him), but after a big tri season of racing my first half im and then going to worlds in switzerland just 10 days later and then coming home to a month more of weekend foot races and aquathlons, I .WAS. BURNT. after a disastrous 20 miler turned into an 8 miler, i promptly went home and deferred my entry to this year. come to find out that the day before our race, the Men's Olympic Marathon Trials would be held in a circuit style race of 5 loops in Central Park along the old New York course. SCREW LANCE, here was my chance to watch all the elite distance runners up close!!!
the night before the trials, i looked up the spectator info online. if i played my cards right, i could see the runners at 10 different points on the course!!! but this would require running .4 mile across Central Park for each of the 5 laps. naw, maybe not a good idea the day before the marathon. instead, i'd just stay put at a strategic spot to see them pass 5 times with enough time to high tail it down and watch the finish line and hopefully see coach Joe again. i asked Well if he thought getting there an hour early would be enough time to get a good spot to which he replied "monica, i can't imagine there are gonna be a whole lot of people getting up early to watch this thing. an hour should be plenty of time." huh, little did he know......
it was pretty cold and windy saturday morning. they were also calling for a chance of rain. i bundled up in layers wearing my new waterproof race jacket and brought along an umbrella just in case. it dawned on me though, that i'd only be standing out there for two hours maximum. these boys were gonna haul ass!!! i took a crosstown bus and then hopped on the subway up to Central Park West near where i used to live when i was in college. you could tell just from the subway passengers that Well was wrong about nobody coming out to watch the trials. it was easy to differentiate the folks who were headed to work or worse, headed home from a night out partying, from the running enthusiasts all wearing their fancy racing flats or official Boston Marathon gear. as soon as i came up to street level, i felt the excitement. everyone was headed into Central Park and plotting their strategy on how to watch the race and which was the best vantage point. i got there just in time to get inside the race loop before they announced that the race had begun in Rockefeller Center and nobody would be allowed to traverse the course from this point on. i found a great spot on an island of sidewalk in between the two different course loops to take pics from. soon a woman was asking me about my Oceanside 70.3 hat, and we got to talking about triathlon. turns out she was a triathlete as well, and she was there with her sister who was covering the trials for Michigan Runner. we all huddled on our corner waiting to see the runners come around for the first lap. and soon enough they appeared. and soon enough they passed. my camera was set incorrectly, and the initial pics were blurrier than i had hoped. no worries though. i'd just get better shots the next time they came around.
team Hansons-Brooks cheer cards team Hansons- Brooks moms??
a lead pack of 5 had already formed with (right to left) Hall, Ritz, Meb, Browne and Abdi all holding in a tight pack watching each other's every slight move. it was so gut wrenching to be up so close to such world class athletes and to know that at the end of the day, only 3 of them would be going to Beijing!! that's when the ambulance came through the course. it didn't occur to me that anything more serious than an exhausted runner lay out on the course needing fluids or at worst stitches...
now looking back at this pic, i realize that Ryan Shay was somewhere in this blur and that he never passed me again. i continued to watch the excitement with the sisters, capturing more pics of these thoroughbreds as they came by lap after lap. some struggled. as number 45, David Ernsberger, came around the second loop, he really looked to be limping as he yanked his i.t. band strap and threw it right in front of me. he also had a pretty significant sheath type brace holding his right thigh together, most likely addressing a pulled hamstring. in the end he DNF'd. so hey, David, if you're reading this, i still have your i.t. strap. and you wonder why they call me a fan....
as the groups passed the 4th time, the sisters and i decided to head to the finish line to get a prime spot to watch the last lap and the ultimate winners. that's when we got the news from a fellow reporter and journalist that the ambulance we saw was transporting Ryan Shay who had suffered a massive heart attack at just after mile 5. everyone gasped in disbelief at the news and hoped to get a better update before the race's end. we made our way to the finish area, and while all the spectators scrambled to get across Sheep's Meadow and back down and around to Tavern on the Green, the sisters flashed their media badges and told me to follow them. it helped to have my own camera with me, and nobody questioned us. next thing i know, I AM STANDING JUST BEYOND THE FINISH LINE OF THE '08 OLYMPIC TRIALS!!!! THANKS JENNIE AND JEANNE!!!!
|me 'n Joe (kinda blurry)|
we watched the last lap, and by now the lead group had blown up all over the place with Khalid Khannouchi hot on their heals and coming fast. this was getting exciting!!! i could not believe i was so close to all the action!!! some were struggling to hang on for the last lap, others were dropping out, collapsing with exhaustion, all giving it the hardest effort they'd ever known....
|Ryan Hall takes the lead||Dathan Ritzenhein in 2nd|
|Brian Sell still struggling in 4th place||Meb and Khalid still neck and neck!!|
we then began to hear the rumblings within the media crowd that Shay had not survived, and as i looked around for Joe, he was nowhere to be found. my heart sank. i couldn't imagine what he must have felt. but we all felt it, we all dropped our heads in disbelief, hoping that we had just heard an unsubstantiated rumor that would later prove to be false. but as the other lead coaches were brought in to line up near the finish line and still Joe was nowhere to be found, i just had a horrible feeling about it all. as i looked into the distance to the jumbtron, i could see this larger than life image of Ryan Hall taking in that last mile, no one else even close enough to him now to challenge, fists pumping high in the air, waving to the crowds and still looking so effortless.
when he crossed the line and broke the olympic trial record set last in 1980, we should have all been out of our brains with excitement. in fact the crowds in the stands went ape shit, but there was just something eerily wrong about the moment. i felt sick to stand there and watch his so well deserved celebration and pride for what he had just accomplished knowing that we knew what he didn't, that his friend and teammate would not be crossing that line with him. Ryan Shay was a true contender that morning, and his passing is a loss to the running community at large. HE WILL BE MISSED.
i went back to the apartment in a daze, in disbelief for what had happened and that i had stood so close to it all. if i had run across the park as i originally planned, i would have been right there at mile 5. i felt for his new bride, olympic hopeful Alicia Craig, who i later discovered had run herself to the hospital upon hearing the news. i felt for his parents who he told not to come that day because he'd be too nervous. i felt for Joe who was so kind to me, and now had to write and deliver a eulogy. it just goes to show once again how absolutely precious our time on this planet is and to not take one second for granted. i was definitely feeling depressed and apprehensive. i slept for the rest of the afternoon, and it took everything i had to psych myself up for the pre-race dinner with friends that night let alone to run the next day. later that evening, it dawned on me that i have run more marathons than Hall, Ritz and Sell combined, the 3 top finishers going to Beijing.... that was enough to lift me up....
|Ryan Hall 2:09:02||Dathan Ritzenhein 2:11:07||Brian Sell 2:11:40|
video by Jennie McCafferty of Michigan Runner here: