the conundrum of second place

Second place is weird. I never would have imagined the confusion that is a second place finish, but i suppose i've never finished in second in a major marathon before. I've won. Winning is easy. You feel elated, silly, fulfilled and shockingly alone (though this part of winning has been fading as I get better at letting people in better). The feelings don't alter, they are the same every time you reflect on the victory.

Likewise, finishing third is easy. Third, while it can be close to winning in the case of a sprint finish, is still separated from the victory by one other place. That other place makes a world of difference. Your head grasps at ways that you could have locked up second, but not so much the ways you could have won. Locking up the bridesmaid position never stirs up the emotion that locking up a victory would. Which brings us to the strangeness of second place.

I was second in the New York City Marathon. It was by far my best finish (and time) in this race and I cannot stop thinking about it. Every time I do, however, the thoughts usher in entirely different emotions: satisfaction, disappointment, frustration, elation, triumph, failure. Maybe it's the fact that it was a sprint finish, I didn't have a chance to come to terms with my positioning before the race was over. Maybe it was the fact that I lost to Ernie. Maybe it's the fact that that course just beats you up, no matter how favorable the winds and weather may have been this year.

I should just be elated. This course has baffled, confused and conquered me every year I’ve done it. It often felt like i was missing the pieces necessary for solving its puzzle. Three places in particular have been insufferable in the past: 1.) The Verazano Bridge, 2.) The long stretch of rolling downs in Brooklyn, 3.) 1st Fucking Avenue.

I did actually conquer the first two early in the race. Kurt may have jumped off the start line like his ass was filled with gunpowder, but after the first couple hundred meters of rough road, when i finally settled down, i was able to hold pace. Halfway up the bridge i was even able to throw in a surge, catching and leaving behind Marcel (who jumped off the line doing everything he could to stay behind Kurt), and even closing a little on Kurt. I bombed down the far side of the bridge, hitting the exit ramp in second place and making the left turn into Brooklyn before Marcel caught me. The two of us made it another half mile before Ernie barreled up on us, but even then i was able to hold and pull as we reeled in Fearnley. Granted, the winds were kind, but I felt quite comfortable cruising through Brooklyn.

I can reflect on that with a smile, but then come the “what ifs”. With the four man pack I was able to get a few sneaky words in to Fearnley. Kurt may be the fastest climber in the world, but I'm the second fastest, and the two of us knew we could getaway on the bridges and stay away if we worked together.

After a pull I slid to the back and causally let him know that I was comfortably in second place at the top of the first bridge. About a mile later he look me in the eyes and nodded. That was all the communication we needed. We would attack on the 59th St. bridge at mile 15, work with each other to stay away until the park, and then fight it out til the finish. I'm sure my eyes grew big as the adrenaline of this idea coursed through me.

Then he crashed. In an instant Kurt's chair went from upright and rolling forwards to on the ground and sliding sideways. Just at the beginning of a surge he hit a pothole. His front wheel was swept to the side by Marcel's chair as his back wheels were airborne. Kurt landed sideways and immediately flatted a tire and went over. I narrowly missed the front of his chair, surviving on reflexes as I quickly steered around him and surged to catch the other two racers.

Just as quickly as the plan was agreed on, it was scrapped. Now came the conundrum, do I surge solo on the bridge and see if I can stay away, or do i pace it out and just hope I can stay with the big guys down the bridge. I guess I didn't really have a choice. No matter how good my chair was rolling I would never be able to coast with Ernie down the bridge.

When the time came I surged hard. It didn't take much to break Marcel (he was carrying fatigue from a long year of racing), and I put a huge gap on Ernst. Again I bombed down the bridge the best I could. Because of the wind we had to push down most of it, and push I did. I swung off the bridge and onto 1st Avenue in front, quickly opening up a gap of 15-20 seconds.

What were Josh's pain points? I believe number 3 was 1st Avenue. Twice before I've swung onto 1st in a podium position and twice before I've been chewed up and spat out like a piece of gristle.

I hit the ground running this year, pushing my body and the pace. With Kurt we would have been trading pulls and working our asses off til we turned off the avenue. Without Kurt I had to do it all on my own.

And I ALMOST did it! The first half of the avenue has equal climb to descent, but the second half of our stay on that demonic avenue (apologies to my grandparents who used to live on 1st), has a net descent that is ruinous to the best laid plans of a lightweight. It was there that Ernst finally caught back up. I saw him within 20m and relaxed to let him catch up. I couldn't stay away, but as we turned off 1st I was in a pack of two. This was foreign territory to me. Never before had I been in the lead pack at this point in the race.

I can reflect on 1st avenue without feeling like I'm getting punched in the gut, but the same cannot be said for the last 7 or 8k of the race. After significantly reducing the pace as we weaved through the Bronx and back into Manhattan, we then come to the races final challenge; 5th avenue and Central Park. I've raced 5th Avenue, the long slight climb to the park, in a pack just once before. That was roughly 7 years ago, and we were fighting for positions 3-7, not 1 and 2.

This is where I didn't REALLY have a plan. Before the race I talked to the chief and he was of the opinion i should try to throw some surges up 5th to take out the arms of my competitors. When we actually got there I thought I felt good, but when I went to throw a surge in I felt the fatigue, and Ernie covered handily. I tried twice more, just to mix the pace up, but I knew I couldn't get away. This left me a little nervous. As soon as you turn into the park you have to survive a series of sweeping downhills before the final climbs to the finish.

Just as I took my jabs on 5th, Ernie took his in the park (Central Park). He attacked the top of every descent, desperately trying to shake me. He would swing, I would counter. He couldn't drop me, I was determined and locked into the back of his chair like a tick. In hindsight, however, those attacks probably took more out of me than I thought. I'm sure my stroke count doubled his in the park as I had to stay on the ring to force my chair up to higher speeds as he tucked and coasted.

The gut punches really hit home when I think of the finish. Before New York I had faced Ernie in a sprint finish in the past two Chicago Marathons and London, and had bested him each time. I felt confident in my sprint. Confidence alone doesn't get you to the finish, however. I had NEVER had a meaningful sprint finish in New York, and hadn't had a sprint finish period in 7 years. Ernst, on the other hand, has spent the past two years sprint finishing New York, taking second both times.

The long and short of it is that I started my sprint too early, and didn't have enough to cover my mistake. The finishing stretch of New York has TWO ascents bridge by a minor descent. In my exhausted state I completely forgot this fact. I attacked hard on the first ascent, thinking I could cover the distance to the finish. I quickly realized my mistake, reaching the descent having used what was my final burst of adrenaline only to have Ernst coasting in behind me on the minor descent. When we hit the second climb, Ernst used his last bit of adrenaline and surged around me. My response was weak. I closed a little towards the finish, but he got me by a second, putting me into second.

Here I am torn. I finished in second place in the toughest marathon of the whole season. It was my best time and best finish ever. I did something that I have occasionally believed was not possible for me. But on the other hand, I was in a position to win! it would be naive to think that those opportunities will present themselves too frequently. Ahhhhh I'm confident I'll have a shot again, and hopefully multiple shots. I can win this race. With it so close this year it just hurts a little.

the weltklasse

One day I'm actually going to have a good race on this track. It is one of the coolest stadiums I get to race in all year, with it's 70s style slatted wood overhand, hard rubber track surface, and crazy light things that they always hand out to the perpetually sold out crowd (and dancing cow mascot. I can't believe i almost forgot the dancing cow mascot… this year he stripped naked and took a dip in the steeplechase pool at the end of the meet). It is a great meet to be a part of. We are paid appearance fees, treated really well and they always do cool things. This year they held the men's pole vault competition a day early in the train station in Zurich. We stumbled across it accidentally and it was a really great atmosphere.

I did not race well today, however. I actually thought it was going to be a good one. I've been pushing surprisingly strong, and my ability to work on my own is better than it has ever been. Ever since I landed here, though, I have felt lethargic, and today i barely ate because my stomach hurt. Still, when I began warming up I felt fresh.

The race is completely weird. As you know it is a pursuit race. Men and women race each other and start at the same time, with the men needing to go 3000m before the women go 2600m. At that short a distance the men have to be going pretty hard the whole time and only catch the lead women in the final lap. I was cold on the start line. What was supposed to be a warm, clear day turned cool with a light rain by the evening. My short sleeves were no longer cutting it, especially as I was a bit wet (yes, I'm a pansy, bite me). As the gun went off i jumped in behind Marcel and Dave (poor story telling sidenote: the men's field was Marcel, Dave, Higuchi, Alhassane, and myself… a pretty fucking fast top three there), but struggled to settle in. My start was slower than i would have liked, and my muscles were very hesitant to work hard. I was also stupid. Being in third position i somehow figured that i would pull the third lap. To me “exhibition race + needing to go fast to catch the women = everyone pulling”. Yeah, I'm an idiot sometimes. Dave pulled out with Marcel, meaning I was taking the second lap after barely settling in on the first. I pulled hard, of course, because it's kinda what i do when I conclude they races are meaningless ahead of time (only to change my mind mid race… ALWAYS). After my lap, however, Marcel surged to the front leaving me five meters off the back.

Chest burning due to my shitty ass warmup, I chased my ass off for two laps, holding equal distance with Marcel until he slowed up to try and get someone else to come to the front. I came back on the pack when they slowed, but ended up behind Alhassane, the worst place to be. Marcel eased for half a lap before surging again, promptly dropping Alhassane and causing me to have to jump around him and chase again.

Fortunately, the bell lap came a lap after that, but i was still 20m off the back. I swooped around the first turn, picking up speed, only to have to swerve into lane 4 to avoid hitting Dave, laying on his side in the track after a minor crash. With Marcel and Higuchi too far ahead to possibly catch I was about to call it a night when I caught site of Manuela's shiny new helmet. She was the last of the women to be caught. With 200m to go she had 30m on me, but I had been giving her a hard time before the race and felt like I had to follow through with my words of trash. I threw in a final burst, passing Manuela inside 50m to go and stole 3rd and the 1000 francs that comes with it.

Thus ended my effort, chest burning, arms finally beginning to wake up, and Manuela scowling at me.

One day I will have a good race on this track :)

 

sprint!

London Marathon Champion

After a stretch of three marathons in a row, including a 3rd place finish at the Paris Marathon, and a 6th place finish in the Boston Marathon, Josh capped his Spring marathon season with a victory at the London Marathon. This year the London Marathon doubled as the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) World Marathon Championships, giving Josh his sixth world title of his career.

thursday island

I can't believe that only a month ago I had no idea that a place called Thursday Island, let alone the entire Torres Strait between the northeast point of mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea even existed. It is now one of my favorite destinations on earth.

During a short talk to some of the locals on Thursday Island I joked that the only reason I was there was because I piggybacked my journey on the back of Kurt. I happened to stumble in on him and the founder of the Indigenous Marathon Project at the end of a meeting, awkwardly introduce myself and then get the lowdown and an equally awkward invitation by the founder (who's name is "Deeks") to join Kurt on a trip to the island.  Kurt and I had absolutely no idea what to expect of the trip. He loved the idea of me going, and soon decided that the whole family would come up with us. None of us had any clue what to expect aside from the fact that we would be going somewhere that most of the world, let alone Australians, had any clue existed. I was going in completely blind. I knew the trip was costing me a fortune and that we were going to speak with the indigenous islanders about the importance of a healthy lifestyle.  From i had been told about mainland aboriginal populations was that there was an abundance of genetic disease such as diabetes and heart disease, and a complete apathy to healthy lifestyle. That was it.

What we came to experience was more amazing then anything we could have dreamed of. After a morning of ridiculous travel (the cheapest flight for me consisted of flying from Newcastle to Brisbane, then Brisbane to Cairns, then cairns to horn island... this with a hurricane hitting the coast of Brisbane, a hurricane that my first to flights had to fly around or over), the Fearnleys and I finally reached Horn Island and were greeted by three of our amazing hosts for the weekend, Elsie, Cath, and Harold. Both Elsie and Harold were graduates of the Indigenous Marathon Project. They completed the months long training program that the project prescribes to indigenous people looking to improve their health, and they both had run this past NYC marathon on behalf of IMP. On top of that, both of them had lost 20kg during the course of their training, and we later found out, had started a massive trend on their island. 

The three of them quickly whisked us onto a bus and then a ferry that would take us across the immaculate blue waters of the strait to Thursday Island. At that point my heart was swelling with the feeling that you get when you know you are about to embark on something you will remember fondly for the rest of your life. I could taste it in the salty, humid air.

In reflection, what strikes me most about our trip to the islands was how openly we were engulfed into the community. The Islanders were nothing like the mainland aboriginal groups that i had heard about, or interacted with before.  I was immediately struck by the fact that they had no need for us to be there. By that I mean they were already highly motivated, and had begun a culture of healthy living (both occupationally and recreationally) that was spreading like wildfire. Harold and Elsie were local heroes. They had fulfilled lifelong dreams to travel to new york and completed the marathon in one of the hardest years ever to do that race. Elsie and Harold had helped begin a running club called the "TI (Thursday Island) deadly runners" that had swelled to 30 members and growing. TI was represented in marathons and half marathons across Australia and beyond. This was not a group of people that needed motivation from a couple of schlubs like me and Kurt, yet never in my life have I felt such unadulterated love and generosity come from a group of people who had never met me before. The island had been prepped for our arrival, and were beyond excited. Local island papers and radio had been advertising our arrival since the day Kurt told them we were coming. Our celebrity had spread without us lifting a finger. The first thing we did upon reaching Thursday Island was rush out of the sweltering heat into an air conditioned radio studio where we did an interview about our plans for the weekend and the 5k fun run that we were leading the following morning. They had two gold medalists and world champions on their island, they were immensely honored and we were immensely humbled.

Our first evening consisted of a welcome dinner with about 30 people from the community including the mayor of TI, Elsie's dad, and the representative of the traditional owners of the land, Elsie's uncle.  We were officially welcomed and Kurt and I gave a brief thank you for being invited to the island and expressed our excitement of what was to come. Then Elsie's dad, the mayor, gave each of us welcoming gifts, with a message that I found quite nice. The gift was a set of bookends with pearl diving helmets on them. The islands have a rich history in pearl farming/diving, but the meaning the mayor associated with the bookends was interesting. He said that bookends are a tool to prop up and bolster things, in the same way that our lives can be seen as bolstering the propping up the dreams and goals of those that we speak to and interact with. In turn our bolstering their dreams helps them bolster others. It was an interesting analogy. 

The rest of the dinner was filled with laughs, great stories about all things from crocodiles (the islands host a nice population of salt water crocs that can grow up to 5 meters long) to NBA championships (Patty Mills, backup point guard for the San Antonio Spurs, who won the championship last season, is from TI), and bad food (the food was truly bad).

The fun run the next morning was truly incredible. By the 8 am start time a little over a hundred people from TI and neighboring Prince of Wales was gathered in the park to run the 5k ring road around the island with us (Thursday island is the most populated island at nearly 4000 people, but one of the smallest islands in the strait). Kurt and I had already posed for numerous photos and were ready to get moving. I was invigorated. The crowd of runners covered a broad range of shapes sizes and ages, new runners, experienced runners and people getting out for the very first time. 

When the run got underway I was taken aback by the group of young runners that quickly bolted to the front. Leading the pack was this gorgeous nine-year-old girl from Prince of Wales running barefoot. Her name was Keisha she told me, without breaking stride. She was tiny, probably the smallest girl in her class, but her natural efficiency of movement was amazing and i was immediately taken aback by the way she carried herself. As she glided effortlessly across the ground she was chased by a pack of 14-16 year old local boys. Each time the boys pulled up next to keisha she would speed up to maintain her sole position of the lead. Confidence spilled out of her in a way that was tangible and so very rare in kids that age. She kept the lead the first 2/3 of the run before having to finally pull up to get a drink, at which point the boys put some distance on her. 

After the run we were bombarded by more picture seekers and people just wishing to shake our hands and have a chat, faces stuffed with smiles and watermelon. When everyone had finished the run, Kurt and I were invited on the little stage at the park. After our very detailed backstories were painstakingly read to the crowd we were passed the mic and got to riff back and forth to each other about running, being health and hiking the Kakoda Trail (Kurt crawled it a few years ago and Elsie was training for it). The morning was a complete success. the community had risen to the occasion and the TI Deadly Runners gained three new members in a few teenage girls from the outer islands who are boarding at the island's high school. We succeeded in getting our ugly mugs on everyone's camera.

The ultimate highlight of the trip came the following day, however, when a rainy morning accompanied us across to Prince of Wales, a ten minute journey by dingy. Prince of Wales is the largest island in the strait, and the least inhabited with a population topping out at 100. It is a large, green, untouched piece of paradise, that roughly 99.99% of the planet has no clue exists. The families of Prince of Wales were our hosts for the day, hosts that would spend the day showing me what "community" really means. 

When we were welcomed on the island (a second time, after having already been welcomed on the beach by a group of kids, faces painted blue and green, holding signs that said "welcome Kurt, Josh and families") with warm greetings and a prayer (thank you western missionaries), we were told that we were the first major athletes to ever set foot on the island. We were also probably the only gimps to ever be crazy enough to venture inland on the island as well. After being picked up on the shore by a couple of four wheelers, mine driven by a 15 year old kid (more on this later), we were brought to the beginning of our trek. The day was to consist of a 4k trek on a dirt (see: mud/sludge due to morning rain) road to a place called Homestead, which at one time was a European style homestead before all westerners (thankfully) left the island and the homestead burnt down. The point of interest at homestead was now a delightfully refreshing fresh water swimming hole that Kurt and i virtually fell into after a reasonably taxing 4k trek. The road wasn't too terrible, a bit muddy at points, but there was only one creek we had to crawl through, and the island boys helped setup makeshift bridges over the other small streams cutting across the road. A few local girls, including Keisha, setup a water stop at the halfway point as well.

The day was an ultimate gem. I don't know who was more affected by the experience, us or the islanders. While they kept expressing their extreme pleasure in us "taking the time and making the effort" to come to their remote part of the world, I was shown repeatedly how beautiful humanity can be. While I got to impress upon the communities children the capacity to deal with obstacles and find a way, as i monkeyed my way up vines and branches, climbing up into trees and then launching myself off them into the water, the kids impressed upon me the strength of self reliance. Islander kids had self-confidence and self assuredness spilling out of them. From the second they could walk they had been set free upon an island of immense dangers and immense potential. Fearless in the face of man eating crocodiles and king brown snakes, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world, they learned to respect the freedom they were allowed in exploring the island on foot and four-wheeler, and quickly became contributing members of an incredible community. With only 100 people on the island and a group of friends from neighboring TI, they have learned to be completely self sufficient. Power comes from generators or solar panels, water comes from the sky. When a group goes out hunting (there are wild pigs, deer and cows on the island) the meat is shared amongst everyone. I spent the whole day trying to connect the dots between whose kid belonged to who because if you are a parent to one you seem to be a parent to all. Babies were passed around like footballs, Harry included. 

During our lunch feast i got to try a traditional local dish, stewed dugong. Dugong is a species of manatee, a protected species, but one that indigenous islanders are allowed to hunt as long as they use traditional methods (canoes and spears). The natives only eat dugong (and sea turtle, which they are also the only ones allowed to hunt), on special occasions, and i was glad our visit qualified. It was delicious!

After a morning of off road trekking, swimming and tree climbing, I was a bit bushed and thankfully we had the option to ride in a truck on our way to our next stop.  Roy, father of Keisha, and husband of amanda, who planned our whole excursion drove us to the top of lookout point, before we had to off road another 25 meters or so to a rock ledge. All very much worth it once we saw the view (as seen in the photo below). 

Our day on Prince of Wales ended with a lesson from Roy on coconuts. Roy, like most of the islanders, is a man of many talents, and watching him easily crack open a coconut was a thing of beauty. We learned about what parts of the coconut you can use as a coconut ages and sampled the water and meats in different stages of coconut life. It was great. I love coconut!

Because of my screwup booking flights, I left the following morning, missing the school visit that I was supposed to join Kurt on. Planning on making a solo exit I was shocked to find a group of islanders waiting at the dock to send me off. My new friend Mo brought me a couple trinkets to remember the island by, and I posed for pictures with everyone that came down. It was truly sad saying goodbye to everyone after such a brief stay on the islands, but i will see them all again. There are between 8 and 10 members of the TI deadly runners planning to run the Honolulu Marathon this year, and I told them that if they do it, I will come out and join them.

rio, i love you

bom noiche,

A group of little girls (maybe nine years old) asked me to adopt them today. Our interpreter haad to double check to make sure he understood them correctly, but indeed, they were asking, with adorable smiles on their faces, if I would adopt them. 

(little know fact about me... girls between the ages of 9 and 13, and 40+ LOVE me. I don't havve nearly the same effect on the 20-35 year old crowd, but that's another story).

Rio has been full on (to borrow an aussie phrase)! I'm barely two days in and it has already beeen a trip that will be rooted in my soul for the rest of my life. I am exhausted, gratified, humbled, empassioned, motivated and thrilled. These are the trrips that remind me I human, and they make me truly appreciate the path my life has bbeen allowed to take. 

Brief point of reiteration, I am spending the week touring through Rio with insane, superstar, stud olympic sprinter Allyson Felix, speaking to and training kids on behalf of the US State Department. It is the first time ever that a Paralypian and Olympian have been teamed together for a Sports Envoy trip, and if I wasn't humbled enough meeting Allyson, the fact that i'm the first Paralympian ever used did the trick.

Our journey began as the invited guests to the headquarters of Rio 2016, the organization responsible for planning the entire 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. We took a tour of their modular (and temporary) headquarters, before a presentation about the progress of the facility's construction. 

The vibe in that building was incredible. Every step of planning is so athlete centric that it brought tears to my eyes. It also got me way to excited for the next Paralympics than I should be two years out. While at the headquarters Allyson and I posed for numberous pictures and fulfilled a bunch of other media obligations. I had the honor of being interviewed for page 2 of Globus, the largest newspaper in Brazil. My transcribed interview appeared in the paper this morning and I am now famous with the hotel staff. It's kinda fun.

Today began the real reason we are here, however. We spent the day navigating Rio traffic and speaking to kids about positive focus, overcoming obstacles, and more generic athletic topics. Stop one was an institution that caters to people with physical and mental disabilities. Brazil is pushing the Parlaympic movement very hard, but their society is still far from easy for anyone with a disability. Children with disabilities go to separate schools, and interaction with able-bodied children is limited. This spurs all the social-psychological issues that you imagine it would. 

On this visit, however, they brought in about 20 able-bodied kids from a neighboring school to participate alongside the kids with disabilities. Allyson and I made a point to run our clinic with the group combined and fully integrated. It is a small hit, but hopefully it helps begin the process of reimagining disability. The girls that wanted me to adopt them were able-bodied, so I know that they have lost all prejudice, if nothing else.

From there we went to an Olympic sports club in the heart of one of the Favelahs. The favelahs are the poorest neighborhoods in Rio. Until recently, they were all entirely unincorporated entities that were constructed by the poor completely outside of government control. It was explained to me that they began popping up on the hillsides that the government was slow to develop, but the favelahs overpower the historically incorporated parts of the city by a vast amount. 

I know that we have extreme poverty in the US, but I don't believe it is anything like what is going on here. The structures these people live in are nothing more that cinderblock cubes stacked one on top of the other. They steal their electricity from the city, have no running water or garbage removal. They are also almost entirely run by drug cartels. 

Once Rio won the bid for 2016, however, the government immediately began incorporating paarts of the favelahs and trying to push out the controling cartels. As you might expect, this has only been mildly successful so far, but the locals here have said that it is significantly better than it ever has been and that the government is dedicated to the cause.

It is in one of these favelahs that we led our second clinic. We were at a facility that serves the kids of the favelah, and there were plenty of hidden gems of talent. The kids were amazing. They asked well thought questions and were a lot of fun to work with on the track. At his request, I sent one of their triple-jumpers away with the team USA t-shirt I was wearing. Allyson and I signed it, and he will be taking it with him to the Brazilian nationals in a few weeks (a meet that to qualify for, especially with his background, is a huge feat).

After talking all day, I was more than happy to eat dinner alone on Copacabana beach this evening. The beach is flat beautiful. I'll hopefully make it around the bend to Ipanema later this week, but for now I'm enjoying the spot they've put us up in. 

More Brazil:  Today was more of the same, which is not a bad thing. I am coming back after eating at a wonderful brazilian steakhouse with Allyson, her brother and a dude name Kai and his family. Kai is from Philly and was recruited by one of the richest men in brazil from running an amazing charter school in Brooklyn to come down to here and run schools here. That is how the brazilians do. If they have the resources they don't rely on the government to do anything, they do it themselves (even if they don't have the resources they do it themselves, hence the favelas).

Today we visited a paralympic training facility called Andef. It was the first ever faciity of its kind and they are trying to do the right things in terms of disability rights, inclusion and immersion, as we were drilled repeatedly in by long winded lectures from impassioned directors. It really is a great facility in the "it's the thought that counts" category. They seriously have their heads in the right place with the ideas they have and what they are tryig to do. As all things Brazil, however, the problems lay in the execution.

The facility is only ten years old and looks and feels like it is at least 40. It is supposed to be incredibly accessible, but it is built on giant steps up the side of a hill, with each level attached by never ending ramps, or incredibly steep roads (like roads that i struggled to push up. If i am struggling, there are not many wheelchair users in the world that can make it up).

They are trying to do it right, though. The facility was developed for people with disabilities and has been opened to the entire able bodied community to come join the party. I love their principles.

Beyond that, there aren't too many details to share. We talked all morning, watch a dance routine the incorporated both able-bodied and disabled dancers (and some pretty sweet moves, actually), and then played with kids and ran them through some drills. The kids loved me again and I got to do a bunch of laps with them as they were doing their drils.

Then came the interviews. After three days of getting asked the same questions multiple times a day, your mind begins to wander into the realm of what your answer really is. For example, they keep asking me something like, "after three paralympics and so many medals, what is your motivation to keep racing?" 

My answer is always a bit kosher. "I'm motivated by potential. I don't believe that i have yet reached the outer realm of my potential and I am excited to find out where that boundary rests," or some bullshit like that. I'm here on behalf of the state dept. and the guys have to translate my drivle into portuguese. k.i.s.s. keep it simple stupid.

But what is my real answer? how can I tell them that the reason I keep racing is because I feel like I am a deeply flawed individual and that, for however fleeting the feeling lasts, racing provides the opportunity to reach a level of awareness in which i feel perfect, immortal? How during these fleeting moments, when I am so in tune with my body that i literally feel nothing, that time loses meaning and i can both see from within and without at the same time, however these occasions happen so infrequently i can count them on three fingers. How the high that accompanies this feeling is so addicting that i put myself through hours and weeks and years of intense physical and psychological strain, just for the possibility of feeling this high again. Or how the only other avenue in my life for attaining this high is in the naked embrace of an impassioned lover and how, in america at least, impassioned lovers are incredibly hard to find.

how to tell a kind, unsuspecting, brazilan reporter this, even though that is the truth? Well, you don't. But that doesn't stop my mind from wandering as i answer the same question in the same way for the third day in a row.

nyc marathon 2014; one less bridge, one hard race

I am tired, and sore, and drained, and sapped, and fried. Yesterday was everything that is great and horrible about marathoning all wrapped up and delivered in a packaged wrapped in stiff, no nonsense, brown paper.  My blood sugar is crashing just reflecting on it.

It began much like every other marathon, early in the morning. After a 4:40 a.m. wakeup call, and a 5 a.m. breakfast the world's top wheelchair racers sat huddled in the lobby of the New York Hilton, chatting, nervously fidgeting and staring blankly at the tiles of the lobby floor. The chatter to be overheard was mostly about the race, and of the many mouths it was tumbling out of included numerous legends of the sport. 

Ernst Van Dyk, a massive South African mountain of a man, with 10 Boston Marathon victories to his name and a resume that almost makes you forgive his boisterous demeanor.

Heinz Frei, a bald, hunched, bespectacled Swiss man who, at the age of 56 more closely resembles a watchmaker than a wheelchair racer. Despite appearances, Heinz is the most prolific marathoner in history, with over 100 marathon victories to his name. 

Soejima and Kota, a menacing pair of japanese athletes whom you would be forgiven for mistaking as machines. Their ability to work is mythical and they are always in the lead pack at the end of a race, no matter the course or conditions.

Marcel Hug, the Swiss wunderkind who at the ripe old age of 28 holds the world record in the 800m, 1500m, 5000m and 10000m on the track. He is also a terror on the road and the defending NYC marathon champion.

Last of note, but certainly not least, my dear friend (truly family at this point) Kurt Fearnley. Kurt is the pride of Australia, one of the most popular athletes on that beautiful island, 4-time winner of the NYC marathon, course record holder and one of the fiercest marathoners of the past decade.

The day began much like any other year, until the announcement came from the elite wheelchair organizer Dorian Kail made her unexpected announcement.

"We have just received word that the wheelchair start has been moved to mile three. Because of the wind, it has been deemed unsafe for the wheelchairs to race across the Verizano Bridge."

You see, the NYC Marathon takes runners through the five burroughs of this amazing city, beginning in Staten Island and immediately crossing the Verizano into Brooklyn. The Bridge is a crucial feature in the race. The first mile of the 26 mile race being a sprint, uphill, to the top, and then a plummit to the bottom. It is the hardest first mile of any race in the world, and factors prominently in any strategy. Of Kurt's four wins, three came from breakaway climbs in mile one.

Without the bridge, the race is a different animal. We understood the reasoning. Going down the bridge is dangerous in normal conditions, but with wind gust of nearly 50mph coming off the river the likelihood of one racer getting blown into another at speeds of over 25mph increased significantly. It was a risk that the race directors deemed they couldn't take. Suddenly, our marathon turned into a 23 mile race, and one of the key features in separating the winners from the also-ran was eliminated. 

This was not exactly a bad thing for me. I was entering this race as fit as I ever have been and coming off the biggest victory of my career. Three weeks ago in Chicago, I won that city's marathon by outsprinting Ernst, Kurt, Heinz, the Japanese, and others. I knew that if i could survive to the finish, I had a shot of repeating that feat. One of the barriers to surviving, for me, is coming down the Verazano bridge. 

You see, I am not a large man. Conversely, I am rather small. I am the lightest racer in the elite field by 25 lbs, and thus I struggle to get down hills as fast as the larger racers. Not only that, I am also affected more by cross and head winds, getting blown around far worse than the heavier racers. Eliminating one very long downhil into the wind was quite beneficial.

It made for a strange morning, however. Gone was the journey across the bridge in a bus heading for the start line. Gone was the intense wave of emotion that hits when you see, after a year's absence, your brutal nemesis for the first two miles of the race. Instead, we began in brooklyn, comandeering a few side streets to ready ourselves for the race, and lining up on a foreign start align away from the cameras, sirens and cheers of the start line.

Also gone was the ability to thin out the field by attacking on the first climb. Over the past few years, the men's field of elite wheelchair racing has taken a huge jump forwards. There are more fast racers than ever before, and more racers that can stay together in a pack if they are not forced to climb or descend steep hills. 

The pack of racers for those first 7 miles through Brooklyn was enormous. Twenty deep and filled with anxious racers not used to pushing in packs at the front. The pack, combined with the horrible winds blowing in our faces and across our sides nearly caused a new accident every mile. The favorites of the race alternated biding their time in the middle of the pack, or spiking the pace off the front. 

We finally thinned the pack out with the first long climb of the race 7 miles in, and moved myself into third position. This was short lived, however. The ascent was followed with an equally steep and long descent, and after getting tossed across the road in a gust of wind, the pack I was with coasted away from me. 

I spent the next few miles battling alone and with a few stragglers, fighting to catch back up to the lead pack. 

Eventually I did, but the respite of ducking some of the wind behind other racers ("drafting") was short lived. After a brief mile in the pack trying to regain my strength we hit the climbs in the middle of the race, a short bridge going somewhere, followed shortly after by the 59th St. bridge that would take us into Manhattan. I survived the first bridge unscathed, but the 59th St. Bridge is a kicker.

It is the second longest climb of the race, basically the same length and distance as the Verazano; one mile up and one mile down. 

I began the climb by taking the lead. I am one of the top climbers in the world and I knew that this was the time I needed to make a move. I was climbing fast, handily dropping everyone except Kurt and a Polish racer named Tomas. Halfway up, however, Kurt wanted to push the race faster. As he passed he muttered at me, "Come on JG." It is the racing dream of both Kurt and myself to use our climbing skills to break away from the field in this particular race and work together to dominate. I thought this could be that day.  

At first, I went along. I tucked behind Kurt, put my head down, and continued to grind out the climb. But Kurt was too strong. He opened a small gap and suddenly Tomas was swinging around me to slide behind Kurt. the gap between me and the other two climbers opened to about 20 meters and then stayed put, but by the time we crested and reached the bottom of the bridge the gap had opened to a handy 50 meters. 

Coming onto 1st Avenue i was stuck in no-man's land, two strong racers ahead of me, and a group of larger racers behind me, huntng me down. For a while I thought I could do it on my own. There is entirely way too much downhill on 1st Avenue, but I felt if I could just survive those miles I would be ok.

Alas, I couldn't. While my small frame got tossed in the wind, the bigger bodies tracked me down, passing me down a steeper hill at a speed that did not allow me to tuck behind. Five miles after the 59th St. Bridge I had gone from 3rd to 7tth and was all alone to try and reel the leaders in. 

I worked hard. The wind beat my face and body with gusting fists, but my arms kept churning. I held hope until I entered Central Park for the first time, but after I enetered the park without catching the leaders I knew that my task was impossible. My focus shifted to maintaining 7th place and I grinded out the last few miles. They were some of the hardest miles I have ever pushed in my life.

I ended up finishing in 7th. Outside my goal of the top five, but an improvement from last year. My emotions were everywhere. My blood sugar had crashed during the slight climb to Columbus Circle before turing into the Park for the second and final time. After crossing the finish line my body gave out. I was relieved, pissed, frustrated, exhausted, sore, dizzy, self-deprecating, and flat, all at the same time.

It is a dream of mine to win this race. I am open to the possibility that one day it will happen. This year did not provide that day. I'm getting stronger, and though I yelled at myself to work harder, I don't know if I could have. I just need to come back stronger next year. And I will

The New York City Marathon is the greatest race in the world. It is the World's marathon, hosting 50,000 runners from every corner of the planet, and most importantly it is the one race every year that all of my family come to. I love when they are able to make it to races, and it made it mader, yesterday, that I got to go to my Aunt and Uncles after the race to relax and smother some bagels in chopped liver, egg salad, white fish salad, and chive cream cheese (not all at once) and shut down.

The only other thing that made the race a little easier was the fact that Kurt won. He is an amazing athlete, and amazing friend. He, his wife and his baby are family to me, and celebrating his return to the top of this race, after a four year absence from the crown, was definitely spectacular. Next year maybe we will live out the dream, and I will do everything possible to beat him. This year, we celebrated his victory.

And now I am off to Rio. 10 hours on a plane is not goign to make my body happy, but I'm excited to be running away for a week.