By David T. Feliciano 08/16/03
It was 5:10pm on Thursday August 14th 2003 and the lights were out since shortly after 4:00pm. The radio plugged into the UPS in the computer room announced that lights were out in 7 states. I concluded that I was in for a long wait, if I stayed around waiting for the lights to come back on again.
I reasoned that I could attempt to get a Queens Express bus at 57Th Street and failing that, I could walk what I had calculated to be about 10 miles. Later, I discovered that it was more like 18 miles. But still, walking any amount of miles would be better than waiting around for what my instincts told me, would be a wait that would last long into the next day.
So I packed my backpack, filled up my water bottle, said my good-byes and ventured on my way. But it wasnít long that I accepted the fact that there was not going to be an express bus ride to Queens for me this day.
As I approached 59th Street, I saw a mass of pedestrians jamming the bridge entrance as they slowly inched their way to Queens. I took one look at the sea of people, which stretched from the bridge to well beyond 57th Street, and concluded that because the Queens express bus starts from 23rd Street and I had hoped to catch one at 57th Street, I was kidding myself.
But rather than despair, I flashed back to 16 years of lining up at the Verranzano Bride waiting for the gun to start the NYC Marathon. The mob at the 59th Street bridge did not come close to what I experienced those 16 times, almost crushed by what was most definitely a pounding sea of humanity, big time.
On those occasions, there were over 60,000 thundering feet rocking the surface of the bridge, causing it to sway back and forth. Over 30,000 runners were feeling a sense of stepping-in-potholes as they navigated their way across the bridge, passing slower runners (and sometimes knocking them down), keeping their balance on the swaying bridge surface.
I approached the 59th Street Bridge thinking that making my way through this crowd would be a piece of cake. I reasoned that this journey would be no worse than one of my long NYC Marathon training runs. ďWhat? Maybe ten miles, no big deal, thatís a walk in the park.Ē So, off I went over the bridge, winding my way in and out between cars and trucks that accompanied the sea of pedestrians, slowly footing their way to Queens.
It wasnít long, maybe half way over the bridge, that I witnessed a casualty from the heat and humidity that clung to the surface of the roadway, showing no mercy to the mob making its way on foot. As I marched along, a person, I could not see if it was a lady or man, fell down in the middle of the roadway. A crowd formed around the person yelling for someone in the cars and trucks to help.
As I moved on, I flashed back to 1984, my first NYC Marathon. It was a hot and humid October day, much like this day. I remembered that there were many casualties from heat and humidity. That day, as I continued mile after mile, many dropouts could be seen stretched out on cots at medical stops, every few miles along the way.
I remembered that I didnít really know if I could finish a marathon, but I felt confident that I could, and I sure as hell was not going to quit. As I witnessed the many dropout runners that day, I told myself that the medics would have to drag me off the course because I would not quit, no matter what the temperature or humidity.
I remembered that the favorite elite world-class runner, Rod Dixon, was overcome by the heat and dropped out of the race around the 22nd mile. For years, I was delighted to truthfully claim that I beat Rod Dixon, the elite world-class runner, in the 1984 NYC Marathon.
I remembered that, as I approached the Koskiosko Bridge, that connected Brooklyn to Queens, the second of five bridges that connected the five boroughs of New York City, a French runner lay in the street attended to by medics; all of them with an ash-white concerned look on their faces.
Later, crossing the finish line completing my first marathon, I noticed the same ash-white concerned look on Fred Lebowís face. Fred was founder and president of the New York Road Runners Club and NYC Marathon. He always took his post, at the finish line, greeting all finishers with final words of encouragement and heart-felt congratulations for a job well done.
As I crossed the finish line, I did not make the connection between Fredís look and the look on the medicís faces. But I made the connection after finding my worried family, at the family reunion area, and they told me that the French runner had died.
That was the last NYC Marathon run in October. Now, to avoid hot and humid weather, the NYC Marathon is always run the first Sunday in November.
I quickly pushed those memories aside and got back to the present task at hand, walking my way back home.
Approximately 5 miles into my training walk, my wife Iris, was finally able to reach me by cell phone. We had been trying to call each other since the lights went out. She wanted to know where I was so she could come get me by car. I told her not to pick me up because I was getting a marathon-training workout and would let her know if I needed to be picked up.
Another 3 mile or so, a bus stopped right near me and since there was just enough room for me to squeeze my way on, I couldnít resist the temptation. I pulled a Rosie Ruiz. Rosie was that disgraced lady runner who took a subway ride, from Brooklyn to Manhattan, then jumped into the race a few miles from the finish line. She crossed the finish line ahead of all women runners and hadnít even broken out a sweat. It wasnít long before she was found out. Here was a women runner that nobody ever heard of, who did not have a trained running posture and did not look like she ran two miles, much less 26.2 miles. She was barred for life from any New York Road Runners Club events.
Riding the bus a mile or so up Queens Blvd, I heard someone call my name. It was Ming Liu, waiting at the bus stop. I told Ming to squeeze onto the bus but he was reluctant to push his way in. I told him again to get on and he made half an attempt and started to get back off. I told him not to get off; that he could make it, and to push his way in. This time he gave it a real attempt and made it onto the bus. We rode together about two miles, to the end of the line. He went on his way and I went back to my task at hand, my marathon-training workout.
I had already done approximately 8 miles on foot and 3 miles by bus ride, and I still had a long ways to go (and I had thought this would be a 10 mile piece of cake). But the bus ride had given my legs needed rest and I was raring to go again. Off I continued up Queens Blvd. with renewed bounce in my step.
Another 3 miles and I became aware of something I hoped would not happen. Walking in dress shoe is a lot tougher than walking in running shoes and the bottom of my feet started to feel like I was developing blisters. I still had more miles in my legs but I could not risk getting blisters this close to the NYC Marathon. If I lost too much training time because of blisters, I would suffer pain all the more come November 2nd.
Reluctantly but wisely, I called Iris and told her to come get me. I continued to walk another mile or two when she pulled up along side me and I got in the car for the remaining 2-mile trip back home.
Summing up my workout, I figure thatís 8 miles on foot, plus 3 mile by bus, plus another 5 miles on foot, plus 2 miles by car. I had walked approximately 13 miles. What I had calculated as a 10-mile trek was more like 18 miles. Not quiet a 26.2 miles marathon, but no piece of cake either.
That night, I took a cold shower (in the dark). Without AC, my bedroom was too hot. So I went out to the car that was fuelled up with gas. I opened all four windows and turned on the engine and AC.
I felt safe sleeping in the car because my neighbors were sitting out on their front steps with lamps and flashlights. But I had no problem shutting out the sounds of their voices. I didnít hear a thing. I slept soundly and peacefully. My body had earned this good nightís rest.
In the morning, there was still no electricity and was I glad I didnít hang around Manhattan waiting for the lights to come on again. I was satisfied that I had completed a valuable strength and endurance building marathon-training workout. I knew that my reward would come on November 2nd as I attempt to complete my 17th NYC Marathon.