An End Run Marathoner: A grueling 26 miles or so on New York City's buses, ferries, cabs and subways in a race to the finish line.

November 13, 1995|By Mike Littwin | Mike Littwin,SUN COLUMNIST

NEW YORK -- It's an old story, as old as mankind, or at least as old as spandex.

Like the 27,900 other dreamers at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge yesterday morning, I am not only in the early stages of hypothermia. I am also dazed, confused and in serious need of indoor plumbing.

Yes, I am about to compete in the New York City Marathon.

I get there early. Everyone does. They close the damn bridge, meaning for a 10:50 race you've got to leave Manhattan at 7:45. And then stand in the cold, sometimes in the cold mud -- the warm-up area, so to speak, looks like a mosh pit -- and wonder what in God's name you're doing here.

The 27,900 (they reject 29,000 more, because you know how New Yorkers feel about crowds) are awaiting the starting gun that signals the beginning of a race that is 26.2 miles because in 490 B.C., in other words before CNN, some Greek ran 26.2 miles and then dropped dead. That's encouraging.

Still, I'm running, too, just like the other fools (I mean dreamers). Only I'm running for a taxi.

You see, my race is different. It's a different dream. My dream is to do the 26.2 miles on New York's public transportation. To see if I can beat the champ from Mexico, along with the Kenyans and the Nigerians and the other marathon men who think 26 miles is about a two-hour jaunt.

You worry about them, don't you? It's 40 degrees. The wind is so strong you look around to see if Dorothy and Toto are nearby. They invented wind chill for days like this. And all I can think of is the woman runner who has this sign on her back: Mary Anne from Miami.

It's the coldest New York marathon ever. And still they don't dress right. You should see the scene at the start. Men and women are shedding clothes like they're performing in a Times Square peep show. (Volunteers collect the discarded outerwear and distribute it to the homeless, who apparently are in need of warm-up suits.)

I run into one marathoner running without a shirt, a certain Peter Diaz of Hackensack, N.J. "My body is an engine," he explains.

My body isn't. Yeah, they got it rough. All I'm doing is riding the subways, pal (also buses, cabs, even a ferry). That's real danger.

Like the other competitors, I'm doing all five boroughs. My hope, at least while I'm on the subway, is that the muggers sleep in on Sunday. Maybe get their New York Times, their lox and bagels and take in a matinee.

How'd I do? Well, I lived. But I didn't do 26 miles to give away the ending just yet. Let's see how much endurance you've got.

Back to the beginning. The runners are trying to stay warm. They're wrapped in plastic, in running gear. They're stretching, they're drinking plenty of water. They keep having these announcements: If you don't drink enough, you'll freeze liken Italian ices. The runners are drinking and the men (not the women, of course) run to relieve themselves, without exactly waiting for the facilities. They're lined up like the Rockettes.

Finally, the race begins with a cannon blast. Since it's New York, the first thing you think is that it's a drive-by shooting. Then you remember there are no cars. Then you assume it's a run-by shooting. No, it's a cannon, with the local military folks in charge.

The cannon fires, and everyone runs over the bridge from Staten Island to Brooklyn. I'm running the other way -- down past the toll booth, taking the first exit onto Bay Avenue, looking for the 51 bus. Which is supposed to take me to the Staten Island Ferry. Except the bus won't come.

The runners' route takes them from Staten Island to Brooklyn to Queens to Manhattan to the Bronx back to Manhattan to Central Park and the finish line.

I'm going by bus to the ferry, the ferry to Manhattan, a cab over the Brooklyn Bridge to, yes, Brooklyn, subway to Queens, back to Manhattan, up to the Bronx (the Bronx is up, the Battery's down), back to Manhattan, out at Columbus Circle where I'll race the seven blocks, hopefully, to victory.

Most of the race is in the outer boroughs, which to the 6 million New Yorkers who don't live there is the same as flyover country. They're places you pass through on the way to Long Island or to the airport. New York is Manhattan, where Woody lives and the tour buses go.

For sure, Staten Island is not New York. It doesn't even want to be New York. A couple of years ago, it tried to secede (think of it as Quebec without the food.) You know it's not New York because they don't have any cabs. They have buses, which run late. And the 51 bus is running late on the first day of the New York transit hike to a buck fifty.

I miss the 11:08 bus and have to wait for the 11:28. I do see one cab and ask the driver if he can take me to the ferry. He says, "I don't know." That's all he says, regardless of the question. I wait for the bus, which arrives at 11:44 and deposits me just in time for the noon ferry.

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