This race has now beaten me into submission me twice. This is my story.
Last year, I ran the NYC Marathon a bit under prepared, but healthy and rested. I went out a bit aggressively and lost 8min on the second half of the race. I was humbled at the finish line but hungry to prove I could master the course.
This year, I trained pretty diligently; started stretching and getting some ART for some aches and pains that have been bothering me (ankle, foot, hamstring).
I had done a lot of things right and vowed to do a better job and pace myself more sanely. By Friday, I felt as close to 100% as I felt I could.
We awoke race morning and left the apartment at 5:30 AM. We walked for 10min, took the subway then the Staten Island Ferry, then a bus to the actual staging area.
The staging area is separated into green, orange, and blue villages. Each color has yet another set of sub-sections, Wave 1, 2 or 3. The wave starts were 20 minutes apart. Each wave is again separated into sections A-Z, to seed people based on expected finish time. Each color has a different start line and actually runs a different first 8 miles. This alleviates much of the congestion you would expect with 43,000 runners. By the 8 mile mark, things have theoretically strung out enough to fit everyone on the same road. It seems to work very well.
We took the requisite pre-race pictures, and then went our separate ways. Steve McCready was in the orange village, Nancy Coke was in the blue, and Sheri McCready and I were in the green. All of us were in wave one.
Sheri and I dropped our post race clothing bags in the appropriate UPS trucks for transport to the finish line. We kept our throw away clothing on to stay warm. Eventually, though, we got separated as I went off to the toilet for the 4th or 5th time. There were easily 2000 toilets strewn all over the place, but the line-ups were still long.
At 8:20, I headed over to my section of the green area to get a better spot to start than last year. When they opened the gates for us to head out onto the Verrazano Bridge, I was close to the front. I plunked myself down about 10m from the front line in wave 1, section A of the green corral. I was surrounded by Belgian men and women as well as a few French men. Apparently, there were close to 4000 French athletes on hand for the fun.
And then the canon went BOOM!!!
I stuck to my plan and started conservatively, but I must say, I was not comfortable watching all the people in front get smaller and smaller in that first mile. I let them go. I reminded myself I was there to run smarter than last year, where I blew up at 17 miles and struggled home.
First mile time was 6:35. Last year, I was over 7min.
Second mile was 5:35. Last year, I was 5:30.
It was windy, so I did my best to stay out of the wind and get towed along at the back of a group, but then it felt too slow, so I moved ahead. I would break the wind and catch the group in front, rest for a bit, work my way up and through to the next group. Over and over this was the routine. Looking back on last year’s race report, this is pretty much a carbon copy of 2008. Even the splits were amazingly close between the two years.
I was very comfortable, and almost chatty, looking around at the sights and giving the thumbs up to the amazing live bands and gospel choirs that lined the route.
I split 5k in 18:45. My goal was 19:10 so I backed off the intensity just a wee bit. Last year, I was 19:01. So much for going out a bit easier.
I continued my leap-frogging of the groups and went through 10k in 37:10. I’d sped up a bit. I backed off some more. Last year, I was 37:06.
15k in 55:46. Last year, 55:25.
I was ahead of schedule so I really tried to slow myself. This time, I was finally successful.
20k in 1:14:34 to last year’s 1:13:49.
Half way in 1:18:44 to last year’s 1:17:52.
25k in 1:34:14 as compared to 1:32:58 in 2008.
It’s right around this point that you run across the Queensboro Bridge. It’s a long up hill and a long downhill. The downhill really pounded my feet and began to aggravate a sore heel I’d been dealing with.
Okay, aggravate is a bit of an understatement: it now felt like I was running with a nail in my heel bone and every step hammered it further into my foot. I could no longer run with an even and relaxed stride. I was limping badly trying to keep the weight off my heel, which added to the stress my plantar fascia had to take.
I ran the best I could, but began to struggle with my focus.
I passed 30k in 1:53:30 as compared to 1:52:02. Energy-wise, I was feeling good.
So why had I just run my slowest mile since the opener?
And then I ran another one, even slower. I lost a full minute on myself to be precise. I suppose it may have had something to do with walking.
And then I lost yet another 1:10 on my pace. That may have had something to do with a complete stop and stretch, head shake, re-assert the fact I was there by choice and I could either get the job done, or stop.
I’d lost almost 4min on myself in three miles. That’s more than a kilometer on the people I had been with earlier. I acquiesced: I was beaten by the course again.
I chose to suck it up and run with no more stops or looks at the watch.
I would run as slow as necessary, but not stop.
I would let myself press the split button, but not look. Time was no longer relevant. Getting to the finish line in one piece was. I could analyze later.
Having accepted my fate, I actually ran fairly steadily the rest of the way.
At 25 miles, just inside Central Park, 1984 Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist Joan Benoit-Samuelson, at 52, ran past me with the ‘Joanie Cam’ directly in front of her. She looked amazing. Unfortunately, there was some guy trying to hog her air time by cutting the tangents (the smart thing to do), but getting between Joan and the camera (not so smart a thing). He could quite easily have gone a step behind, but no, he had to go a step in front, screwing up the coverage of her historic run. If only I could have mustered the strength…
I hung on to finish 5min slower than 2008, having lost 12min on the second half of the race, with most of that in the last 7 miles. This was the most excruciatingly painful marathon I can remember running. I wish I had simply been tired, dehydrated and depleted, but instead, I was fit and strong, but in serious pain, not able to access any of it.
As I hobbled to the UPS truck to get my clothing, Chris Macknie came by. He ran a very solid 2:52:49 and looked no worse for the wear.
We re-grouped after the race and took the subway back to Brooklyn. We arrived at about 4:30 PM. We’d been gone for eleven hours. Later that evening, after our well deserved showers, we took the subway back to Manhattan for dinner and to walk around some more. Our legs, and my foot, were all killing us, but it was worth the discomfort to see Time Square at night.
Nancy and I travelled with Sheri and Steve McCready. We had a great time.
Nancy ran really well, finishing 5min ahead of her goal time yet still in great spirits. Last year, she did not pace things properly. This year, she did.
Steve celebrated his birthday and joining the 45-49 age group with a superb 3:21. This was a full 17min faster than last year. It was a great way for him to make the transition to the next age group.
Sheri had a nice, smooth run that was lacking in all the accidental dramas of last year (trip and a fall, gel splatter, arm hooked in an mp3 wire, hit in the face). She finished a bit slower than last year, but happy, content with her day and no bloody lip.
Steve had the best story of some fisticuffs in the start corral. Apparently, a French man decided to relieve himself in the middle of the crowd while awaiting the start and splashed a few people. One of the not-so-appreciative runners suggested he use a bottle. His reply was not satisfactory and, well, let’s just say Steve figures the French guy got the point. The skirmish was short.
Possibly the next most bizarre thing was a guy on the Staten Island Ferry eating dill pickles and drinking the juice as part of his pre-race nutrition plan. Steve figures it was for the salt. I think it’s just weird.
Ah, New York! It takes all kinds.