With the New York City Marathon just a few days away, I wanted to share with you a first-time marathoner race report. My friend and training partner Ken Schneider of Hyde Park crossed off “finish marathon” from his bucket list, with a stellar, sub-4-hour effort at Mohawk Hudson in Albany earlier this month.
The NYC Marathon is perhaps the most celebrated of venues for first-time, “bucket list” marathon runners. Thousands of runners on Sunday will experience what Ken did a few Sundays ago. Small marathon or big-city marathon … it makes no difference. Reaching the finish line of a marathon for the first (and perhaps only) time is an exhilarating, life-changing experience. Here’s Ken Schneider’s story:
“When my son Jeff graduated from high school, my wife and I became empty-nesters. Cynthia has always said that I can never sit still. I will always remember that Saturday morning where my wife looked at me and said ‘Why don’t you go for a run or something, you won’t stop bothering me.’ I put on a pair of sneakers and went for a run. I think I ran maybe three miles and came back in the house. Cynthia said, ‘Where did you go?’ I went for a run and I loved it. From that day on, I was hooked.”
After some fits and starts, Schneider decided to run the Dutchess County Classic half marathon in 2014. I had met and run with Ken a few times over the years, but nothing regular. Then one day, I ran into him at a local Stewart’s (I’ve been known to go there for coffee on occasion … like every day!), and he casually told me of his Classic half marathon plans. I told him he should join our early-morning running group. To my mild surprise, he started meeting us three times per week at 5:35 a.m. That’s where the story really takes off.
“I ran the Classic and was so excited that I just ran and completed a half marathon, and later that fall I signed up for another, After the Leaves in Minnewaska. After telling my running buddies how I did, they both asked, ‘OK what’s next? You have to train for something.’ So the conversation about running a marathon came up and they mentioned the Mohawk Hudson race. So I agreed and signed my life away!
“Eighteen weeks before race day, my great running partner Tony (Ferreri) gave me a training schedule and plan. He had a worksheet showing how many miles I needed to run a week, including the long runs. I went from running an average of 20 miles a week all the way up to 50. The training was long and difficult at times: Setting the alarm for 4:45 in the morning three days a week and then crawling out of bed at 5:30 on Sunday morning to do my long runs. My long runs went from 10 miles all the way up to 22.
“I still remember my wife riding her bike next to me on the rail trail for my 22-miler holding my drinks for me. It was such a hot humid day, and she said to me, ‘Wow look at all the sweat dripping down your leg.’ I looked like I just got out of the pool. I was so wet when I ran my sneakers were squeaking with every step. Pushing myself and accomplishing these long runs was very rewarding and sometimes very defeating.
“Race day was fun, exciting, and scary. I knew I put in the work but was I really ready to run a marathon? I arrived just about two hours early, I couldn’t sleep much the night before and I just wanted to be sitting in the parking lot knowing that I was in the right place and not late. My wife and I sat in the truck with the heat on and I was trying to just relax. I had a swarm of butterflies in my stomach for the week leading up to race day and that morning was no different. Finally it was time to line up and start the race.
“I found the pacer that was going to run a 3:55 race and started next to that group. I stayed with them for the first 5 miles or so and then started running a little faster pace. I saw my wife at mile 8 and I was feeling great and was so happy to see her smiling face cheering me on. I got to the halfway mark and I was at 1:55, right where I wanted to be. I was feeling great — I was walking through every water stop hydrating well and keeping my pace.
“When I got to mile 19, I was starting to feel fatigued, but knew the race was almost over. So I thought! After getting pass mile 20, I said to myself: ‘OK only two 5Ks to go. I knew I was in trouble when I looked down at my watch at mile 22 then again at mile 22.1, 22.4, 22.6 — this mile seemed to never end. The last water stop was at mile 24 and I got my water, walked for 10 seconds and started running again.
“I was all alone at mile 25.5 wanting to give up and throw in the towel. There were some people saying ‘Keep going you’re almost there (I wanted to kill each one of them). I wanted so badly to run my first marathon under four hours and now I’m a half-mile away and not sure how or if I could get there. I was so tired mentally and physically
“I was getting closer to the finish line. I looked up and there was my wife with a big smile cheering me on. All I saw was her and the clock. I was full of emotion, I started crying saying ‘Oh my God,’ I’m going to finish this marathon and do it in 3:57:30.
“This was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I have never pushed myself this hard for anything and for this long.”
Ken concluded that he is a “one-and-done” guy and will never do another marathon. We’ll see about that. For now, he can and should enjoy this amazing accomplishment — just as thousands of others will in the big city on Sunday. Good luck to all local runners at NYC.
Mid-Hudson Road Runners Club member Pete Colaizzo, the track coach at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, writes on running every week in Players. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more club information, go to http://www.mhrrc.org