NYC 2015 Race Report
Sunday, November 1
Weather: upper 50’s at the start, climbing into the mid 60’s, light winds.
Overcast with a few brief periods of sun.
While it’s still fresh..
The day before a race is my least favorite. I lie around a lot. Feel restless and tired, trying to eat but too nervous to eat. I’ll get it right at some point. I need to include the eating plan in the race plan.
Race morning I decide to make things easy and take a cab to the Staten Island Ferry terminal. The one mistake I made was hanging out in the ferry terminal once we got to Staten Island, where runners were lounging and napping in a dimly-light corridor, thinking it was a chance for some quiet out of the madness of the staging area by the start. By the time I made it onto a bus from the terminal to the athlete’s village, my wave had already closed. I had a few moments of panic when I learned my 10:40 wave would be leaving without me and I wouldn’t be starting until 11. I thought it was going to be too hot. Or there wouldn’t’ be any crowds left. The one anxiety I’d been nursing for weeks was being stuck behind thousands of slow runners and joggers. As it turned out they allowed me to go to the front of the final wave, which in retrospect allowed me a much more open and relaxed start.
I chatted with runners waiting around to be let onto the bridge: two guys from Scotland, a son and his dad running their first marathon, a lot of “first timers”. Finally after all the effort to just get to the start, I was happy and relaxed and pleased to see we’d be starting on the top deck of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge with a spectacular view of lower Manhattan. I thought there was a long up hill at the start but I was surprised to realize the start was close to the top of the incline, and suddenly everything was looking like a great way to start a marathon. Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run” was blasting into the crowd, and I will admit to dancing in place, and then suddenly the gun goes off and we’re off and—well, jogging..
I crossed the rubber timing mat at 11:03, turned my watch on, and eased into a relaxed shake out pace, taking in the magnificent view of the lower Manhattan skyline. Since I was at the start of the pack, there was plenty of room around me. A perfect start, actually. My shins and calves had been bothering me on and off for a few weeks prior to today—as late as last week’s treadmill run— and I wondered how they’d hold up. I did a body scan. Everything felt pretty good, just a little stiff.
Our first crowds greeted us at the bottom of the bridge as we made a sharp left turn, then right onto a long straight shot down 4th avenue. The first few miles went by really fast. My watch was off from the start, clocking a mile about several hundred feet before the official mile marker. I checked the split bracelet I’d made for a 3:58 finish and saw that my first mile was about 20 seconds faster than my plan and my second split was dead on at 8: something and by the third mile I realized that my split bracelet would be off for the entire 26+ miles. Fortunately I was relaxed enough to remember that my REAL goal was to enjoy the day and just run what my body was up for. I checked my watch a few times and saw that the gps probably wasn’t picking up a signal as we continued through the taller buildings towards downtown Brooklyn. At that point it made sense to let go of tracking the splits on my watch, to trust my training to get me through the course, relax and take in the sights of the neighborhoods which changed almost from one block to another: from the wide open expanse of the Hudson River over the bridge, to the commercial strip running through Sunset Park into the more upscale shops and pubs of Park Slope, to the highrises at the turn on Atlantic Avenue, and up through the tree-line streets of classic Brooklyn brownstones and churches of Clinton Hill.
By mile 6 I was enjoying the crowds and the bands, picking up water on the run and it wasn’t until well after I tossed my water cup that I realized I’d forgotten to take my first gel. I tried scarfing down the gel without water and but one little swig felt like chewing on rubber so I waited for the next water stop at mile 7.
I had plans to meet my sister and nieces just pass mile 8, We’d gone over the video of the route on YouTube several times to make sure I knew the landmarks for the street corner where they’d be waiting. I ran past the tall white gothic church on the left, then one more block and suddenly saw my sister running out into the street to greet me. I gave her a big hug, hugged my nieceHannah holding a sign for me and her sister Ellie who ran down the block with me. It gave me a boost for the next few miles.
I felt a lot of little twinges. My back had some tiny shooting pains that disappeared as quickly as they appeared. My foot hurt for a few hundred steps, then felt fine. This went on for a few miles and I wondered if something was going to start aggravating me and then get worse to the point of my needing to stop and walk and stretch.
In my last marathon, Boston 2014, I didn’t drink enough and got dehydrated and mentally exhausted and finished feeling horrible. I wanted to feel good throughout the race, and with that at the front of my mind I adjusted my plan to walk through every water stop and make sure I drank enough. In the back of my mind was the 4:10 Boston Qualifying time I would have liked to meet but I still knew that if I felt as awful as I had in my last marathon, this would certainly be my last.
Miles 11-12 passed through Williamsburg, a predominantly conservative Jewish part of the city. Many of the signs were in Hebrew. Several men were out walking in long black coats and dark hats. Here, with more narrow roads crowds the course included non-runners who were trying to get across the street. I think that at some point— not sure exactly when— I was catching up with the wave that I was suppose to be in, but it was the back of the wave with some walkers and folks moving with difficulty. I’m tiny so I did my best to push my way through the crowd, as well as weave around the pedestrians as the streets narrowed. This might be the one thing that made the course difficult, but I was able to find my way without too much weaving and made sure to run the corners as tightly as I could. At close to mile 12.5 I caught sign of a very tall man who I instantly recognized as Rod, from the Richmond training team. I ran up beside him and called out his name, happy to see him, even happy to run a bit with him but after a couple hundred yards he encouraged me to run ahead and I picked up my pace. By the halfway point, I was at 2:02, which I THOUGHT was off of my split bracelet and at this point I didn’t really care. (It turns out it was just two minutes off)
I won’t say it was ever easy. As I write the race report, I’m pretty sure there were many many places along the way that were hard. Things hurt. I was nervous. I didn’t know if my body was going to hold up. I forget all that. One thing I know is that things change all the time. One mile something hurts, the next you catch site of something beautiful and the game totally resets. It’s like this on and off for miles. What I remember now is all the great things I made a point to pay attention to: the crowds, the scenery, the picture-postcard landmarks.
The hardest mile might have been across the Queensboro Bridge for miles 15-16. It was chilly and there was a brisk wind, and it was dark in the lower deck, and it’s a long up hill if you look on the profile. A lot of folks were stopping to take photos but I still cared about my finish time. My plan at this point was to run the entire course with the exception of the water stops. I’ve run fast races with walk breaks when I needed them, but this one I wanted to run the entire way and see how well I could trust myself to hold up mentally.
Across the bridge I was feeling sore, losing my drive, thinking it was a bad idea to do this and that maybe it would be my last. I turned the doubting mind off and pulled up a vision of Central Park, and a beer at the end. Distraction and diversion proved great tools. Things can change in a single stride. My attitude shifted quickly after the short ramp down from the bridge, and the sharp right turn onto 1st Avenue for mile 16-18. The crowds lifted me. Their excitement and joy was a like a shot of caffeine. I slapped my hand more than once on a sign that read “touch here for power”. I was starting to feel confident that my training was going to carry me. Confidence was a big part of the success of the day. By mile 17, I knew my calves were going to hold up just fine. Maybe the hydration helped. I wasn’t checking my pace at all but I knew that if I maintained a steady effort allowing for the breaks at the water stops, I’d have a time I’d be “okay” with.
Mile 18, the Willis Avenue Bridge was an ugly concrete steady long uphill but the shift of muscles probably helped keep things in balance. Besides, I sort of like hills. More and more folks were walking. Many looked like they were struggling with injuries or exhaustion.
The thing that helped in Chicago was a friend saying to me “when you make it to Chinatown, you’ve got it.” My plan for this was to make it to The Bronx for mile 20-21, at which point I knew it would be hard, or very hard, or very very hard, but I knew I’d be able to finish strong. Down 5th Avenue for mile 22 was more thrilling than I’d thought. I didn’t register the hill, which looked on the profile to be a long hard steady incline. It was the last few miles. I expected it to be hard. I could see directly ahead a vision of the Empire State Building, more thrilling to me than finally spotting the Citgo sign in Boston (which I barely registered the two times I ran Boston, mentally depleted after the hills), probably because I could feel that physically I was tired and hurting but mentally I was still strong. That was what I wanted for the finish, more than anything.
Miles 22-24 were still really hard. Really really hard. I took one last good break at a water stop somewhere on 5th avenue and figured I could make it to the end. At this point, the blocks felt like miles. The first few miles flew by, but in these next few blocks I talked myself into keeping the pace, staying strong, holding my form, and focusing on the crowds, still wondering, “WHERE the ___ is that turn into Central Park?” One more block or two and there it was: the sea of runners veering right (just like they do on TV when I’ve watched the race).
Once you turn into Central Park it’s a beautiful green curvy road with crowds packed against the barriers yelling support, waving signs. AND it’s down hill. It’s green and shaded and the air is clean, and if you’re prepared for it it’s longer than you expect.
“Mile 25. I can make it to 25. I can run a mile. And another. And then…” and then I’m back out of the park and the crowds have filled Columbus Circle. The few very, very long blocks (it’s the best example of Einstein’s theory of relativity) that seem to be much, much long than they looked on the map. My legs hurt. My breath was labored so I eased up just enough to feel like I was taking in enough oxygen, and not gasping. By mile 25, I was still under 4 hours and I knew I could bring it in under 4:10 so long as I kept my pace. The last turn into the park was close to miserable, and at the same time glorious. It’s that last hundred meters when your mind says you’re almost done but you want to give every thing you’ve got left to the course, so you stay strong and talk your way through it. You can’t see the finish but you know it can’t be far. You can hear the crowds at the finish. Are their crowds lining this last stretch into the park? I don’t remember. At this point, I’m pretty shut inwards, and then a see the sign for “800 meters”, and suddenly it’s not miles but fractions of miles. Then “400 meters”, or one terrible, painful red-lining lap around the track and still you can’t see the arch for the finish.
The road curves left and suddenly there are the viewing stands and the finish line and then I’m over the timing mat and turning off my watch at 4:08:01. My official time: 4:07:58. Not a PR. My second slowest, but my smartest, and 8 minutes faster than my projected finish for a great day.
And I’m happy to have my 4th BQ. Compared to Boston? Not as hard in my mind. No question. It felt like a pretty even course but absolutely a fabulous experience.
At mile whatever I was thinking, “okay, so maybe this is my last marathon.” Right now I’m wondering if maybe I need to do Boston one more time to actually get it right, or maybe a nice run through the Arizona desert for the Tucson marathon, or maybe…