What happens when you are running the NYC Marathon and NYCFC is playing in the MLS playoffs on the same day?

People can’t understand why a man runs. They don’t see any sport in it. Argue it lacks the sight and thrill of body contact. Yet, the conflict is there, more raw and challenging than any man versus man competition. For in running it is man against himself, the cruelest of opponents. The other runners are not the real enemies. His adversary lies within him, in his ability, with brain and heart to master himself and his emotions. — Glenn Cunningham

Training for the marathon has always been a test of discipline filled with sweat and discomfort but with elements of physical and psychological beauty. For me, NYC marathon training takes place during the beautiful transition of late summer to fall. I listen to personal improvement books while running alongside the Hudson River. Books like the Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday which is filled with brilliant stoic principles. Perfect prose while self-reflecting and exploring personal limits. What can I do better as a father, a husband, a brother, a surgeon, a team physician?

Finding time to run is always tricky. My system evolved over the years into trying to get to Yankee Stadium at 5 pm for a 7 pm game. I would quickly change from a suit or scrubs into running gear and then exit the stadium to head back in the direction I had just come. McCombs Dam bridge and then up a hill into Washington Heights. Back to the hospital and on to Hudson River Park. Frequently north to the red lighthouse by the George Washington Bridge. Sometimes south to the 79th street Boat Basin. Then back to the stadium, take a shower, hydrate, and attend to the Yankee game.

During playoffs I travel with the Yankees, I would enjoy running mid-morning before the game. I have run along the aqueducts in Houston. Along Minnesota Rivers while playing against the Twins, and along the Charles River when in Boston. These would be long runs. Frequently 18 plus miles as the marathon day nears. While playing Boston in late June of 2019 in the MLB London Series, I had a chance to see London on foot by running along the Thames River and crossing the London Tower bridge. That was pretty special.

But race day is even more special, every year without fail. The memories are endless, such as the highlight in 2018 when my entire office team trained and ran the marathon together and then had a celebration on the upper west side afterward, drinking beers to rehydrate.

Yankee Stadium is always the start point and endpoint for my marathon training

However, my most memorable marathon was the one I did not finish…
NYCFC ended the regular season in second place in the MLS. We faced Columbus Crew in the Conference Semi-finals. The first game was on the road. It was cold. I went for a run on that Halloween morning in windy Columbus. The game was a disappointing, 1–4 loss. The next leg at home would be an amazing feat to win in the aggregate. It turns out the next leg home game was on Sunday, Nov 5th. The day of the marathon!

I had logged in so many training miles and did not want a playoff game to get in the way. I got up at 5 am and headed to 52nd street to find my bus. We landed on Staten Island and there began the long wait. My wave was at 10:40. The weather and energy were ideal. The gun went off and Frank Sinatra played. My heart pounded as it always does with the excitement. Brooklyn always has incredible energy with twists and turns in the roads, and bands playing with massive spectators in support. Queens is rough, and the 59th Street Bridge is brutal. But then you hear the deafening roar of the First Avenue crowd, like the sound of Yankee Stadium when Aaron Judge hits a home run. First Avenue is littered with water cups, sponges, and drenched from what could have been a massive rainstorm.

Team Ahmad ran the NYC Marathon all together in 2018
Selfie during the race, not my finest camera work

Upon entering the Bronx I developed an awkward disturbing feeling. At 20.20 miles I was looking forward to heading south to Central Park. But my time was putting me in jeopardy. I had to get back to the Bronx for the NYCFC match. I paused running… I paused my watch. I started running again, and instead of heading south with the other 30,0000 plus runners, I left the marathon route and continued north. I ran to Yankee stadium. I entered the stadium. I did some hot and cold contrast tanks under the supervision of Yankee Trainer Michael Schuk. I took a shower and went over to the NYCFC clubhouse and got ready for the game.

We won 2–0 and played well but it was not enough to make up for the 4–1 loss in the initial leg. After the game, my work was not done. It was the end of the season and there was lots of emotion. I worked through player physicals and executed paperwork with the NYCFC athletic training staff. I said my goodbyes to the players and staff as this was the end of the season, the end of the road. I finally took an Uber home.

When people ask me what it takes to be a team physician, I have a direct response. Commitment. While I wish I could have finished the 2017 marathon, I will always remember that marathon more than any other. Mostly because during the cold game, I was on the sideline with NYCFC players, coaching staff, and NYCFC trainers. I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Congratulations to all the 2021 NYC Marathon runners. You did it!

Screenshots of my unique route and stats that most memorable of marathon days, Nov 5th, 2017
My daughter and I at the expo center excited to be picking up my race bib
Wet and windy playoff picture at Yankee Stadium right before the players came out