I caught up with Lance Armstrong on the downside of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge around Mile 2. I was going a bit faster and suddenly was faced with a damn tough decision. I figured some opportunities are just too good to pass and I had a pretty major one right in front of me. I thought to myself, should I pass right by him or should I slow down a little and run with someone who is arguably the greatest athlete ever.
As I pulled up along his right side I said, "welcome to marathon running Lance its great to have you join us", he said, "thanks" I went on to say "you're with the group you need to be in to break 3 hours" I knew from reading the Lance article in the Runners World magazine that his goal was to break three hours and figured I'd do what I could to help him. I guess my spoken words answered the silent question I was now asking myself. I was in fact going to put my all out race plans on hold as long as we were at or under 3 hour pace and run with Lance. The guy in front of me with a very familiar stride wearing black turned out to be none other than Alberto Salazar.(Boston, NYC Champion & running legend) I also spoke to him I told him that I was hoping to notch my 43rd sub 3 and that I felt Lance was right where he needed to be. Hearing this Alberto said to Lance, "Did you hear that this guy has run 42 sub 3s". On the other side of me, wearing yellow was German Silva from Mexico (NYC Champion) As the miles went by I had many interesting short conversations with Lance and his pace team.
The best thing of all was having a front row seat to the absolute hysteria on the streets of New York City created by the passage of Lance Armstrong. Without exaggerating I saw men and women screaming as seen only in those old BEATLES film clips. I really doubt that the mostly obscure elites runners up front were enjoying any more rock star status than what was reserved for Lance Armstrong. I would not had been surprised one bit had women started tossing their undergarments and I know I saw more than one in tears clutching their faces as we passed. A fellow Maine runner and old friend Joan Benoit Samuelson jumped in at 10 miles where Alberto stepped off. I gradually worked my way over to her side and said hi! We shook hands and went about our work. The energy in this group was all about doing what we all could do to help Lance and welcome him to OUR sport. It was electric.
to about 30k and I noticed Lance had started to get quiet. I kept encouraging
him by saying things like, "maintain your momentum and just relax"
Everyone in the group was handing him cups of water. When we crossed the Willis
Ave bridge (see pic MM home page) heading into the Bronx at Mile 20. I found
myself again at a place where I had to start making hard decisions. Our spit
was 2:15+ and I knew that to break 3 we couldn't slow down much.
Hicham El Guerrouj the current world record holder in the mile jumped in at mile 20. I was expecting him as Alberto and Joanie said he'd be there. Again I felt like I need to slap myself back into reality as what I thought was going to just be another marathon several hours before was turning out to be anything but.
I told Lance, "from here on its a whole different strategy", we're gonna do one mile at a time and not think beyond the mile we're in" he nodded. At mile 21 which we covered in 6:53 by my watch, I told Lance. "great work now pat yourself on the back and now lets go after mile 22". Again, I was watching the total elapsed time and had a serious dilemma building, it was starting to feel like 3 was slipping away from us and I REALLY wanted to attempt this as well as continue to help out Lance. We were just a tick or two above 7 min for mile 22 and I suddenly reached my invisible limit at about 22.5 and without a word just took off as hard as I could go. I know from years of running these things that it is almost an unspoken law in marathon running that its OK to do what you must over the last 10k and that no marathoner would ever want anyone to wait for them, so I was going to do all I could to get below 3 hours and Lance would be just fine. I rationalized this by saying to myself that I had hopefully helped as much as I could and it seemed like even Lance Armstrong couldn't gut it out for 4 more miles. From personal experience I have been in the unenviable position Lance seemed to be nearing, one where the awful realization that your personal fuel gauge is on empty and that you have not yet reached the finish line.
observations Lance was hurting and I figured he would probably notch a still
solid 3:05. My thoughts were behind me as I crossed the finish line although
I was pleased with meeting my goal I felt torn as I wanted to finish the job
a had started with Lance that morning. Later that day from my hotel room television
I saw Lance cross under the finish line banner at 2:59:36 . I thought this
is the Lance Armstrong we all saw devastate the best bicycle riders on the
planet for 7 years at the Tour De France. Any marathoner reading this knows
when the wheels start come off over the last 10K that any likelihood of getting
it back are slim and none. Only Lance Armstrong could find another gear and
he showed me just how tough and relentless he really is by gutting it out
over those long last 4 miles. I respect and admire him for what he has done
and respect him even more now that I have witnessed this up close in person.
Some races you remember by the speed in which you cover the ground others
you NEVER forget by what happens between the start and finish lines. The 2006
New York City Marathon is one I'll never forget. As I said when I first crossed
paths with him, "welcome to marathon running Lance its great to have
you join us",
PS Lance if you read this, come run (or bike) on Mount Desert Island sometime. I'd love to hear your NYC Marathon stories and personally invite you to run your next marathon with us in Maine on Oct 14 http://www.mdimarathon.org/
Watch the Lance cam for great shots and audio of Lance and his posse (I'm wearing black with the yellow hat)
Lance NYC Video