I have been trying to figure out if this will be a positive or negative race recap… so please bear with me.
After running Chicago last year, I was itching to try another marathon – I was on a personal best high and loved the energy of a big city race – the crowds offered so much positive energy that I decided to sign up for the biggest marathon possible: The TCS New York City Marathon assuming I’d probably not get in (my last attempt to get in the lottery was a bust three years in a row about 10 years ago). But oops, I got in and so began training.
The thing about running a marathon (I’ve now done 5) is it’s more about the training than the actual run and my training had always been just running but not thinking about speed and tempos. I decided I wanted to chisel some time off my PB (3:56.20) and thought about finding a coach however, in the end, I went with the more affordable option – I purchased Hal Higdon’s Marathon – The Ultimate Training Guide and enrolled in their 18-week online Advanced Marathon Training Peaks program. It provided daily emails and a well-detailed plan which involved 6 runs a week (from 48 to 95 km / week). This was a lot more running than I’ve ever done but I stuck to it and really noticed an improvement in my speed and strength. In the end, I was confident that I could reach my race goal: sub 3:50
Tip: Always have 5 goals for a marathon because you’ll never know what will happen during 42.2 km! Mine are 1. Show up. 2. Finish 3. Finish Strong 4. Personal Best 5. Goal Time
But about a week or so before the race (during the dreaded taper), I started reading a TON of NYC race recaps and online advice. Despite everything I read:
- It is a tough course
- The second half is harder than the first so less than 5% get negative splits
- It is about the experience and not a race where you’ll likely get your fastest time
- It starts late in the day (10:15 am for me) but I’d have to get up at 4:30 to get to the start line on Staten Island
- It starts on the biggest uphill and there is another long incline at the end (plus there are 5 bridges)
- Its crowded (+50,000 runners)
I still thought I could hit my goal … SPOILER: Nope.
So here’s how it all went down
We arrived in New York on Friday evening and went straight to the expo. Although Chicago had a huge expo, this one felt really overwhelming… I am not sure if it was due to a long day of travel, but I was exhausted and only stayed long enough to grab my kit, a souvenir hoodie and my Nuun water bottle. We met up with my parents and took the subway back to Brooklyn for pizza and checked in to our lovely airbnb Brownstone in Park Slope (great neighbourhood!). The next morning, (the day before the marathon), Mike and I went for a 3km shakeout run in Prospect Park (great park, 500 m from our place). After, we left for Manhattan and met my sister and niece for an afternoon tour of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. On our way home, Mom and I found the Highline and could not resist quick stroll. Mike, David and my dad had tickets for the Islanders vs. Oilers game so mom and I went home and made spaghetti. The next morning my alarm went off at 4:30 (which actually felt like 5:30 thanks to Daylight Savings) and Mike and I were out the door and on the Subway by 5:00. I signed up for the 6:00 am ferry to Staten Island and after the boat ride, a bathroom stop in the terminal and then the shuttle bus ride, I was at the start village for around 7:30-8:00. Only leaving me +2 hours to kill. The ferry is great – you go right by the Statue of Liberty and feel like a rock star because of the police escort following along. I was really happy I brought extra clothing, a hat, mittens, a towel and a plastic bag to keep me warm because it was about 8 degrees and a little windy. Since I selected the post-race poncho, everything I brought with me was left in one of their Good Will donation bins. I ate my bagel and some chews and waited.
Not going to sugar coat it… The start for me was the hardest. You wait around a long time (from wake-up to run time was 6 hours!) questioning how much to eat and drink and how many times you can wait in line to pee (3 times)… then you move into your corral about 45 mins before the start and are herded like cattle through this bizarre road/field/bridge terminal and can’t really see much. Besides the nervous chatter, there are helicopters flying over and in the far-off distance you can hear Frank Sinatra’s New York playing and then BANG, we were off! The first mile or so was up the bridge and everything I read said take it slow… it’s the biggest hill… which was easy to do when there were so many people. My pace was slow and I kept it that way up to the top and back down.
One of the coolest parts of the race is coming off the Verrazano Bridge – it goes from a ghostly silence to a loud roar – the crowd was insane and I had goosebumps when I saw the signs “Welcome To Brooklyn”. As the course flattened out, I tried to find my pace. It was hard. I kept looking at my watch and I was all over the place. I felt like I was loosing control and my pace was not mine – I was dodging elbows and thick packs of runners and there was so much congestion at the water stations. I quickly realized this was not my race but kept reminding myself NYC is all about the experience so I took a deep breath and tried to have fun.
At about mile 7, I was at the neighbourhood where we were staying and started looking for my family – and there they were! A quick wave and a high 5 from David gave me a huge boost. At this point, I was not cold and happy to be wearing a tank top and shorts. Brooklyn was amazing – there was never a break in the crowds and there were a ton of bands along the way. At one point, the road tightened and a band was playing “Celebrate” – all of the runners had their hands up in the air clapping. Wow.Once I got to the Pulaski Bridge, I was halfway. I felt great but knew my PB was vanishing. I still could not find my pace, it was so crowded and felt like a game of dodge ball. Then we were in Queens and I was excited to reach the Queensboro Bridge and enter Manhattan. The Queensboro Bridge however was probably my lowest point… my pace was slow and I was panicking. loosing hope. sad. lonely. It was a bit of a hill and then a big downhill into what’s the most loudest part of the run – 1st Avenue. On the way down the hill I felt a little pain in my knee but it quickly went away. Phew. As I ran along 1st Avenue, I kept an eye out for my family but knew it’d be hard to find them in the thick crowds. The next thing I knew, it was mile 19 and the bridge to the Bronx was right there! I loved the Bronx – I had read that it’s where you hit the invisible wall but I was so focused on 5th Avenue that I just kept moving. Back in Manhattan and on 5th Avenue, I kept looking ahead – wow, this is almost done and I feel fine. Not amazing but not bad. Oh wait, is this THE hill? Not so bad. Oh wait, mile 24 and I’m heading into the park? Not so bad. Honestly, this marathon was a blur, it did not feel like I ran 42 km. Near the last mile, in Central Park, which was a tunnel of noise and excitement, I saw my family – what a surprise! As I ran the last mile I knew I was not going to get under 4 hours. No!!!!. I tried to weave but there was a wall of runners in the way and my energy was dwindling.In the end I finished in 4:00.18. Although that is my third best marathon time it is the first time I never hit a wall at 34km. As soon as I stopped the pain hit me and I felt sick. It was a long (like it felt longer than that marathon long) walk to the family meet and greet. On the way, I went from hot to cold really fast and my fingers went numb. A very kind volunteer wrapped my poncho around me and helped fasten it up (they’re fleece lined!). He then looked at me and said I should be really proud of myself. That’s when I cried.I finally found my mom and we slowly made our way another 9 blocks to the Natural History Museum where Mike, David and Dad were. A few other marathoners had the same idea and I wandered around like a zombie for a few hours before we caught the subway back to Brooklyn. At the end of the day, I clocked 55,900 steps and happily devoured a veggie burger and two beers.The next day, we went back downtown and visited Ground Zero, The Rockefeller, Time Square and Central Park. It was a lovely day and seeing the park again was great.So why am I a little sad? I missed my goal by 10 minutes and although I know 4:00.18 is nothing to be ashamed about, it was a bummer because I trained so much harder than pervious marathons and feel a bit disappointed in myself. However, despite those feelings, the experience was worth every penny I am now even more determined to find a new race and start all over again. Any recommendations for a less crowded, fast Spring run? I have Ottawa, Fredricton and Sugarloaf on my radar.
I totally recommend the New York City Marathon as a bucket list experience and really, I should stop sulking. I did it, I ran the 5 boroughs!
And New York, I still LOVE YOU.
Not sure if you’ve seen this but it’s very accurate:
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