I first met Gary in West Virginia at the Marshall University Marathon. We were running at about the same pace, and I had noticed his Ironman tattoo on his calf. I’m always impressed by the Ironman folks. I mean it’s all I can do to run a marathon. I can’t imagine starting one after a 2.4 miles swim and 112 mile bike ride. So we clicked through the miles talking about everything under the sun, and ultimately finished together. The next year I saw him at Onward Shay! Marathon in Boise Idaho, and a few months later at the beginning of the year Gary had decided he wanted to finish the 50 states in New York near his friends and family, and had developed an aggressive schedule for the year to make that happen. Part of his plan involved doing a double I had already planned at the Mississippi River Marathon and the Birmingham Marathon. We stayed in touch through the year and I told him I planned to be there for his big finish.
Fast forward to this weekend, and I had booked a cheap flight to everyone’s favorite airport to hate: LaGuardia. My attempt to save a couple hundred bucks over flying to a closer airport like Rochester completely blew up in my face. We left on time, but in typical LaGuardia fashion they were overwhelmed and we were put into a holding pattern. We maintained for far too long and ultimately had to divert not to the more logical alternatives of JFK, or god forbid Newark, but instead, Atlantic City. When landing in ACY at 1am it’s worth a thought that TSA is closed, the rental counters are closed, there’s no one to refuel the plane. We were stranded in the terminal until we could leave again at 6am. Le sigh.
The air conditioning systems work beautifully however. I put on several layers to stay warm and tried to sleep in a chair in the departure lounge, until at 2:30 in the morning an announcement was made that “Pizza is here everyone!” Our impromptu early morning pizza party was a gesture at goodwill from the airline so I’m going to try to take it in the spirit in which it was intended, but I would have preferred to just sleep through the state-police escorted (presumably due to the lack of TSA) pizza delivery.
Anyway ultimately we arrived to LGA in the morning. I picked up my rental car, and headed for Corning. I arrived just after noon and met several of Gary’s friends at the Corning Museum of Glass where the expo was. We fetched our things from the expo including a small bottle of sparkling wine, which I promptly started to drink. I was politely asked not to do that publicly, because apparently drinking wine in a semi-private space is a problem in upstate New York. Note to race organizers: If you give me beer, wine, or any other potent potable I will drink it. Most likely right then and there. I do not understand the point of giving me alcohol you do not intend for me to consume.
Off to lunch, some site-seeing including downtown Corning, a national cemetery, and the grave of America’s greatest humorist, Mark Twain. Then dinner, before retiring for the night. Up early in the morning to catch the bus to the start and I piled into the warming tent, and chatted with a lovely couple from Montana doing the 50 states before the others arrived. Before long we were headed to the start.
The race itself is frankly unremarkable. It has the potential to be a fast race (there’s really only 1 decent hill) though there are 2 bumps. Most of it is through farmland and small towns alongside the highway. I personally do not see why some of my friends rave about this race, by mile 6 or so I was bored and we found a tiki torch on the side of the road. Eager to find any way to make the miles go by I grabbed the tiki torch and began my recurring joke of asking every fireman if he “had a light.”
At one point we found some discarded hula hoops and I grabbed one of them, but it was too hard to hold my tiki torch with one hand, and my hula hoop with another so we made the hard sacrifice after about a mile to let the hula hoop go at the next aid station.
As we cruised into the finish Runners World’s Former Chief Running Officer, and Mayor of Running, Bart Yasso was announcing finishers. I vaguely recall something about what am I doing with a tiki torch and the announcement of Gary’s 50th state amidst the whirlwind of friends and family Gary had to cheer him on in the last quarter mile. It was truly an honor to spend the race with him and his other friends, and they even tolerated my performances from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory and The Music Man. Unfortunately I had to beat a hasty retreat because I was also flying out of America’s most hated airport.
I sadly missed the turn for the GW Bridge on Palisades Parkway and wound up just a hair late. Fortunately I was able to rebook for a hundred dollars, and crash at Jim’s place in Queens before catching an early cab to the airport. Another cab to the office and I was barely 40 minutes late to the office. Lesson learned: If you want to go Upstate, don’t try to save money by booking a flight to the city, especially not LGA.