It didn’t feel like I was doing a marathon this weekend. I wasn’t experiencing the usual mental pressure or worries about my legs and insides. Even on Saturday morning as my wife and I headed to expo it didn’t hit me that I was doing a marathon. Getting up at 4:30am on Sunday and walking in the cold and dark to the train to catch the ferry to Staten Island it didn’t feel like I was doing a marathon. Even when I wandered around Fort Wadsworth it still didn’t feel like I was doing a marathon. This wasn’t a new experience. I had a semi-disastrous 4:37 when I ran this race two years ago. I knew what it was like. I was even once again a Green Bib, which means that aside from the slight change to the green course, everything was the same. There was no need to watch course highlight videos, plan out my strategy for hills, or think about where the fans were going to be. I still remembered for 2009. The question I went into the morning with was whether or not my insides were going to rise up and attack me again.
The expo, was as expected, a little crazy. The space they had seemed to be enough for the experience, but there’s just something about things happening in New York that turns everything into chaos. If you’re a tourist you blame New Yorkers. If you’re a New Yorker you blame tourists. It was a little surprising to see that at 10am on Saturday they were out of men’s medium shirts. Good thing I take a large for long sleeve shirts. You’d think this would be one of those things that NYRR would have figured out. They clearly should have information from previous marathons about what types of shirts they needed. Anyway, although I always have the best intentions to buy stuff at the expo, I usually just wander through and never look at much of anything. This was the same way. The only thing I was going to pick up was a pace band, unfortunately the Timex booth was already out of bands for all times between 3:15 and 4:15. Youch.
Next morning I got up at 4:30am and did a short run down to the train. Just enough to get my legs going. I knew there wasn’t going to be much of any place to workout in Fort Wadsworth, so this was going to be my main chance. As usual, the closer I got to Grand Central the more people were on the train. Lots of foreigners who had no idea what train they needed to be on. Luckily the conductor didn’t seem too annoyed when I held the door open for a group of Danish runners at Union Square. I continued to chat with some of the folks into the ferry terminal and across to Staten Island. I felt like the expert being as it was going to be my ninth marathon and my second time running New York.
When I arrived at Fort Wadsworth I had three goals for the day. None of them involved a PR. Here they are in ascending order of possible disappointment if I failed them:
- Not get the hiccups
- Finish the race
- Avoid pooping my pants
Thankfully, I’ve never had problems with #3, and I’ve never started a race I didn’t finish. This meant I would probably get at least two out of three of my goals. The first one has been my nemesis. I’ve had a wonderful flareup, which might be related to hiccups and running.
I was fortunate enough to have a late ferry this year, 6:45am. Combined with a 9:40am start time, this meant that my ferry to start time was about three hours, much better than 2009 when I had the 5am ferry and started at 10am. The ferry really is one of the most interesting parts of the marathon. The only people on the ferry at that hour of the day are marathoners and, from my biased observations, people heading home to Staten Island from a night out on the town the night before.
Unfortunately, I was, once again on the bottom (green bibs represent!). Fortunately they made an announcement that said “urinating on the bridge is both unsanitary and unpleasant”. I really wish they would just said “Green runners, be careful of pee coming down from runners above you!”. Fortunately, I knew better. The German guy I saw get hit, not so much. Starting on the lower deck also meant that initial GPS readings were going to be rubbish. Oh well. We can deal with these things.
The beginning of the race went quite well. My second mile was WAY too fast and I knew I was going to pay for it. Somewhere around a 7:20 mile. What can I say, running under the bridge messes your timing up. Brooklyn was, as usual, great. I loved all the kids giving out high fives, it really helped to keep my pace going. I knew I was around a 3:48 pace, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to keep that up for the entire race.
Although I knew this pace was too hot for me, I was doing far better than 2009. In that race I ran the first nine miles with another guy aiming for a four hour pace. I lost him about mile 9 and shortly after began to have horrible hiccups and acid reflux. I eventually vomited in Queens and had to do a combination of running/walking to the finish. I was still strong. Didn’t feel overly fatigued and proceeded over the Pulaski Bridge out of Brooklyn and into Queens with half the race behind me.
So what happened between the half and mile 14 (mile 15 in RunKeeper. Thanks jitter!)? Well, that’s simple. I had to use the restroom. Those nasty flare up problems. Yup, more information than you required. However, I learned from the 2009 marathon where I vomited from using a restroom later in Queens — the scent of a pretzel cart burning pretzels plus upset stomach plus restroom stank did not work so well. It was pleased that I was able to return from the restroom at about the same pace as before, although my legs did start to get wary and I could tell I was slowing down.
I managed to keep up a decent pace for the rest of the race. My wife managed to spot me at 87th Street as I cruised up 1st avenue although I completely missed her. Even the run through the Bronx, which normally is horrible, was feeling good this year. The improvements to the Willis Avenue bridge were noticeable although the loss of some lanes made it very tight. I had to strategize how to get around people who were having problems with the elevation change. A huge thanks goes to the Van Cortlandt Track Club, the Japanese drummers, and the fire fighters for keeping our short jaunt through the Bronx interesting. I exited the Bronx in great shape at mile 21 and proceeded into Harlem.
Now, here’s the thing about Harlem. It’s always dangerous to drive in Harlem. This isn’t because people will do anything to you, it’s more because people are very unpredictable about crossing the street. They tend to cross wherever is most convenient. This, sadly, was also the trend as we ran through Harlem on Sunday morning. More than once I had to shout “Get off the course” to people who decided to slowly cross the street. In the future NYRR should deploy marshals in Harlem (and to a lesser extent the Hasidic parts of Brooklyn) to minimize these problems.
Anyway, the last really difficult part of the race was the climb up Fifth Avenue before entering Central Park. This is only about a 100 foot climb, but when you’ve got 23 miles behind you climbing 100 feet in 3/4ths of a mile seems nearly impossible. Luckily, my wife found me for the third and last time around 93rd street. As you can see below, I had no problem going full derp for the photo.
I think this was the point where I finally realized I was running a marathon. It wasn’t because of the crowds or fact I just saw mile 23 and that a four hour marathon was within my grasp. It was because my legs felt like they wanted to give out. The muscles right above my knees were weak. This was a new sensation. So, I did something that I really hoped not to do. I stopped to walk for a short bit. This gave my legs a chance to recharge, but it was nearly impossible to start running again. As the miles ticked down I knew I would finish under four hours, but the bigger question is whether or not I would beat my personal record of 3:58:17 set three weeks ago in Hartford, CT. As the 800m sign appeared on 59th Street I realized I could do it, but it would be tight. I had about five minutes to run the last 800m. Sure, on a normal day that would be no problem, but my legs were killing me and it was uphill.
However, here’s where the crowd really pulled me through. It’s amazing how thousands of people shouting indistinctly for people that are certainly not me can make me run faster. I was heaving by the time that I saw the 200m sign, but I knew I could finish it. I pulled myself across the finish line and my watch read 3:57:58. I couldn’t remember if I started it early, but I knew I had stopped it late. I had beaten my PR. Not by much, but it was progress. I had run a good race and earned my medal.
Of course, the hardest part of the New York City marathon is the finish. Depending on your bib number you may be forced to walk twenty or more blocks to get your checked gear. It was a slow march that took me up to the American Museum of Natural History to get my gear and put my sweats back on. I thought briefly about sitting down, but decided that would be a bad idea. I slipped on my sweats, and slowly trudged to the subway station for a ride to meet my wife at Grand Central Terminal.
There were some things that went very well during the race. I managed to consume a couple of goos without problem. I didn’t vomit at all. I felt pretty good. A few things went bad. Going to the bathroom cost me a couple of minutes thanks to my flareup. But in the end, a PR is a PR, even if it’s only 32 seconds. Now, if I could only figure out what is next.