It was shortly after 1 p.m. when my thigh region really started to burn. “I should eat something soon,” I thought aloud. Having already digested some bananas, the last thing I wanted was another piece of fruit.
“We got mini Snickers ovah here,” a Long Island accent called out from just around a corner, somewhere around mile marker 18.
“Can I eat a Snickers right now?” I murmured. “It will be tough to eat this.”
About four seconds later, the mini Snickers was gone, and it was without a doubt the best-tasting Snickers of all time. I was running the NYC Marathon — my first marathon — and I was again in search of my next bite.
Waking up at 5:30 a.m. to run 26.2 miles over windy bridges and through all five boroughs is not exactly how my Sundays typically go. But for about four months, I had been training my 5’10” chicken-legged frame to endure. I was running five times a week, “working out” at the park, and eating right. I stayed away from fried foods (mostly), got more familiar with green vegetables (still not a fan of kale), and turned sandwiches into open-faced masterpieces. I stopped making appearances at the local pizza spot, and I temporarily abandoned my favorite doughnut shop, too. Carbs were cut, legs began to tone, and I started to see a difference. Running six miles went from a haul to a breeze, and my juice blender got more use than ever before.
I was raised in a house where we kids had a choice of six different mustards, so food has always been important to me, and there was no way my food intake on the big day was going to be any different. The night before the race, I pre-toasted my bagel for optimal texture, so I could enjoy it approximately two hours before the race started. I bought a few bananas in advance of the race to ensure optimal ripeness that Sunday. Making my way from Williamsburg to the Staten Island ferry terminal near Wall Street, I enjoyed my cold but perfectly toasted everything bagel with peanut butter while surrounded by a few thousand of my fellow runners. And I could tell a few bystanders were jealous of my primo baked good, though no one asked for a bite. About 90 minutes later, on the ferry over to Staten Island, I ate my first banana of the day. I was ready to run for around four hours.
The TCS NYC Marathon, now in its 44th year, is one of the most unique and truly New York spectacles. It weaves through all five boroughs, through neighborhoods as diverse as Bay Ridge and Bed-Stuy and the South Bronx, and it finishes right by Tavern on the Green. I’m a fan and student of old New York. I’m also a weekend runner. So being a part of this race was a dream come true, after years of failed attempts to gain entry.
To make a long run short, I did it. I ran the course in just over four hours, without any terrible pain or vomiting. Along the way, I passed some of my favorite food havens, like Peter Pan Donuts on Manhattan Avenue in Greenpoint, Glaser’s Bake Shop on First Avenue in upper Manhattan, Cafe Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue.
Along the way I ate four Oreo cookies, one mini Snickers, about 10 peanut M&M’s, half an orange, two and a half bananas, two handfuls of mini pretzels, one oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, and a Twizzler, all of which were handed out by kind and cheering strangers along the way. The Twizzler wasn’t the best idea, but it sounded good at the time. It turns out a little sugar is exactly what you should be putting away when you’re muscling through the later miles.
After crossing the finish line, and walking half a mile to receive my medal, I, wearing my spiffy new fleece-lined poncho, slowly hobbled over to one of my favorite diners around, Viand Café on 75th and Broadway. After about 25 minutes of not being able to talk, I went with a grilled chicken salad and some hot tea. My appetite was not really showing its face, so I picked at the salad, knowing the post-marathon eating display would have to wait.
That night, after two bath sessions, I realized that, for the first time in months, I could eat whatever my heart desired, without fear of weight gain or a dip in my training schedule. Without much thought, I limped across the street to Carmine’s Pizza, that pizza spot I’d forsaken for months, and devoured a foot-long Philly cheesesteak sub (extra Cheez Whiz, please!), a large antipasto salad, and a slice of cheesecake. It seemed Carmine’s had gotten everything right: The cheesesteak was the best I’d ever had, the antipasto salad was healthy and rich, and the cheesecake seemed as if it had been made by angels. Afterwards, I drank a cup of milk and quickly fell asleep.
The next day I woke up happy to know my legs were still attached and proud that I had accomplished my goal. That night, I went to Carmine’s again, and I enjoyed the same Philly cheese, antipasto, and cheesecake combo. My post-marathon eating tour is only just beginning.