Minneapolis singer-songwriter Andy Cook shares an account of his recent adventure in New York City.
Making music and running a marathon have a lot in common, it turns out. Immense amounts of time and effort put into preparation; the ebbs and flows of anxiety and excitement along the way; and then the moment it all happens — whirring by in what feels like an instant. This past Sunday morning, I completed my first New York City marathon. That night I played at Bowery Electric in Lower Manhattan — right across the street from where CBGB’s once launched the iconic New York punk and rock scene. I’m not sure if running a marathon and then playing a show in the same day is “rock and roll” but it’s probably the most punk I can get (insert awkward smiley face emoji here).
My day started with a 4:30 a.m. wake-up to catch a ride to the Staten Island Ferry. The New York City Marathon begins on Staten Island, and covers territory in each of the five boroughs. The sun began to rise over the city and a rose-gold glow provided the backdrop to the Statue of Liberty as we made our way across the Lower Bay. This part of the morning was like the load-in of the show that is the New York City Marathon — we all know what’s coming, it’s scary and exciting all at the same time, and right now we just have to deal with some logistics and waiting until the stage lights come on.
A bus ride and some walking later, I was at my starting corral amidst the 50,000 other runners taking the start line that day. Some more waiting, and finally the race was set to begin. And just like with a recording session or a show, all of those feelings of fear, frustration, or simple boredom that wash in-and-out leading up to go-time disappear as one foot steps in front of the other.
This was my first straight-up marathon, but I had done seven full-distance triathlons before so I knew that pacing in the early miles would be key. It was okay to let runners pass me by on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge — the first of five we would cross that day. It’s a race against one’s self and the course on that day, more than anything else. I like to play music to myself in my head, and I probably did the drum pick-up to the Strokes The Modern Age — they are my favorite band! — a dozen times over the course of the day.
As we neared the end of the bridge and made our way into Brooklyn, the massive crowds out cheering and supporting were simply astounding. There were rock bands setup on corners playing everything from Led Zeppelin to Bob Dylan, high school drum corps giving our legs a pounding rhythm to run to. And so many signs with Lizzo lyrics! There were more than a few “feeling good as hell” signs, which I was trying my best to do as we crossed the Pulaski Bridge into Queens just past the 13.1 mile mark. And the “I’m 100% that bridge” was perhaps my favorite as we neared the Queensboro Bridge to take us into Manhattan for the first of two stretches there.
The Queensboro Bridge is the longest and most challenging of the course. It comes at mile 15 and is the first point since the start of the race where there are no spectators; just the runners, our increasingly-tired legs, and the road in front of us. I was enjoying this little bit of solitude as I crossed the apex of the bridge, telling myself that I’ve already run more than there is left to go — so I can do it! A low rumble caught my attention, getting a little bit louder and more distinct every few paces. I thought it was maybe a train. And then I realized — that was cheering! Runners round the exiting corner of the bridge to massive crowds, the biggest pick-me-up one could ask for after a tough stretch.
Miles 16 to about 23 are a bit of a blur. At some point — I think it was about mile 19 — the course crosses over into the Bronx. Pretty soon it’s mile 20, and seeing a “2” in front of the mile marker is a very welcome sight. “10k to go, I’ve done that many times” I tell myself.
One more bridge, the Madison Avenue Bridge, takes us back into Manhattan for the final leg of the marathon. In Harlem there were more drum corps and a freestyle hip-hop group bringing energy to our legs. Mine hurt at this point, but the finish is getting so close! Just after passing mile 23 and entering Central Park, my girlfriend Natasha staked out a spot to be able to see each other. I got a hug and some Coca-Cola (it’s like rocket fuel at this point in a race!) and then kept moving towards the finish. Once again a marathon and music are so much the same — it’s really the people who support us and encourage us and get us through the tough points that make it special.
From mile 23 to the finish, it was all about holding pace and keeping strong—feeling “good as hell,” or at least okay as possible — while taking in how special this race is. Mile 24, only 2 to go! 25, last one! 800 meters, 400 meters, and the finish line. It was all worth it.
My day was not all over, of course. Navigating the crowds and busy-ness of Manhattan was an adventure, but Natasha and I found each other and then took the train back to Bushwick to get some food, grab my guitar, and turn right back around for Bowery. As I was getting my guitar dialed in by playing the opening riff of Someday by the Strokes, I kid you not that song came on over the house music! I asked the sound person if he heard me and played that on purpose, but he said it was random. Whoa! The other bands arrived — Pynkie and choirgirl, they are both amazing! — and that camaraderie of indie bands trying to hustle and make it was instant. Just like all the runners earlier in the day trying to do something that doesn’t make total logical sense and that comes with plenty of challenges, we’re in it together. Whether it’s crossing bridges between boroughs or creating bands that just might do something, we’re all bringing our version of rock and roll to life each day. And that night we had a great show.