by Ben Osborne

Who said members of the sports media were watchers, not doers? I don’t get to play ball as much as I used to, but as my experience this past weekend proved, I stay active.race_photo_8025

SLAM and SLAMonline will always focus first and foremost on basketball, and it doesn’t take too much effort to find our secondary interest: footwear. That line of coverage typically leads to our working with the big dogs of basketball shoes like adidas, Nike and Jordan Brand, to name three longtime friends of SLAM. But the fact that we feature “off-court” shoes as well let’s us develop relationships with brands such as Asics, DC and New Balance. Asics, of course, is a company that is synonymous with running, as well as the New York City Marathon, which conveniently takes place in SLAM’s backyard.

Last spring, at their semi-annual preview, the Asics PR team let me know that they had slots in the marathon open to media members they worked with. A four-time marathoner, including having completed New York as a 25-year-old in ’99, I jumped at the invite and got my wife (a seven-time marathoner) down as well. What followed was a six-month experience I will be forever grateful for.

Sure, the actual training part of preparing for a marathon is never easy (even if you only manage about 10 miles a week, like I typically did), but thanks to Asics, it was training done right. There were shoes (the classic GEL-Kayano), official gear and pointers—delivered online and at an in-person training session—courtesy of coach Terrence Mahon and one of his proteges, Asics endorser Ryan Hall (pictured below en route to finishing fourth in Sunday’s race, which was won by fellow American Meb Keflezighi; the significance of their performances was captured nicely by Peter Hessler of the New Yorker).

2009 ING NYC MarathonArmed with our gear and insider knowledge, my wife and I boarded a special VIP bus (again, the perks of Asics affiliation) Sunday morning at about 6:30 and headed to the starting area in Staten Island. Once we got there, however, neither Asics nor anyone else would be of much help. We were on our own.

After a shivering couple hours at Fort Wadsworth, we were finally shepherded to the start. At 10 am, we were off. I’ve always thought the coolest thing about the New York City Marathon is the course, which famously hits all five boroughs of the Big Apple. The reminder of what that means hit us in the face as we came off the Verrazano Bridge and ran into Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Thousands of fans spilled off the sidewalks on both sides of the street, cheering, yelling and offering high fives. As someone who is regularly in attendance at sporting events but hasn’t gotten cheered for since my high school playing days, it’s jarring—in a good way—to realize these people are cheering for you (even if there are more than 42,000 “you”s).

And so it went, for 26 miles. After seeing a lot of Brooklyn (the best part, in my opinion, is the stretch on Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene which comes around mile 9 and features screaming fans and loud music, trapped under a canopy of trees), we did a couple miles in Queens, took the grueling Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan, took 1st Avenue into the Bronx, and then returned to Manhattan, slogging our way to the finish in Central Park. Every step of the way that wasn’t on a bridge, you could feel the largeness of the event. The fans were everywhere. The runners were everywhere.

My wife and I are not celebrities, and we didn’t dribble a basketball the whole way, but we did finish with a respectable time of 4:08:32 (making it into the NY Times special post-marathon results section, which I can’t find online).

It’s been almost 72 hours since we finished, and the soreness in my knees, calves and quads has started to subside. What hasn’t subsided is my pride in completing the race, and my gratitude to Asics for helping make it happen.