Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

Monthly Archives: November 2010

NYC Marathon – a belated race report

Now that all the stories of the 2010 New York City Marathon have been told, what better time than now to put my race report out? Just kidding, of course. Actually I would have preferred to get it out quickly but upon returning from the Big Apple I found much awaiting my attention at work and at home. I’m not still not completely caught up from that deluge. But this has waited long enough. So let’s start at the beginning…

My final taper week before the marathon went by fairly quickly and before I knew it, we were on a bus from downtown DC to midtown Manhattan.  Throughout the training cycle I felt like everything was a little harder this time around than it should be. After a PR at Boston back in April and a string of solid early summer 5k results, I seemed to hit a wall of fatigue in late July. When marathon training for New York started in August, I continued to miss my targets. Something was clearly off and for much of the cycle I worried that my race was going to be a complete flop. However, as race day drew closer I felt like I was beginning to rebound and along with that my confidence started to rise.

I had hoped to get up to the city early enough to make the expo on Friday evening but traffic in the Lincoln Tunnel nixed that idea. I ended up instead going Saturday, but not before I took a little test run in Central Park, covering the last two miles of the marathon course. I felt pretty good and hoped that meant I was ready.

The next morning was an early one but thanks to the “fall back” from daylight savings time I got an extra hour of sleep. I didn’t sleep particularly well, but perhaps a little better than most pre-marathon nights. When the alarm went off at 4:30 am I dressed in the semi-darkness, ate come oatmeal and tried hard not to disturb Lynn’s sleep. I was out the door to pick up the subway by 5:15 and made my assigned 5:45 Staten Island ferry ride with a minute or two to spare.

As we got off the ferry and meandered towards the buses that would take us to Fort Wadsworth, the chilly wind whipping off New York Harbor gave us a hint of what was in store at the start. In the runners’ village, it seemed like time stood still as I waited and passed the time chatting with a woman who had come all the way from Hawaii. Then the call came for Wave 1 runners to check their gear. There was still over an hour to race time, so I can’t say I was in a real hurry to do this but I made my way to my assigned UPS van after a short detour to the porta-john. Next came the long slow walk towards the corrals; I would soon find out I was wise not to ignore the earlier call to get to this spot quickly, because at around 9:00 the corrals were closed to any more entrants.

With still lots of time to pass, I tried the best I could to stay loose in the chill, and chatted with guy named Matt from Maryland and another fellow from Florida as the women’s race started, then the wheelchair racers. The national anthem was sung, though we couldn’t hear it, and then a cannon blasted. It took about a minute for me to get across the starting line.

We were sent towards the underside of the Verrazano Bridge, which may have provided some relief from the wind, but not a whole lot. After standing for so long waiting to start, I was definitely tight and not warm at all. I took the first mile slowly as we ascended 160 feet; then in the next mile we descended the bridge. The splits reflect this – 8:17 and 7:19 on roughly the same level of effort.

As we got off the bridge and into Brooklyn it became apparent to me that all that waiting in the corral had left me with a little more liquid to get rid of than I had anticipated. I decided to resolve this matter immediately, made a stop, and thus took an 8:32 split, but after that I felt finally ready to get into my race. As we got off the highway and into the streets of Brooklyn I looked to settle into a 7:30-7:40 pace range. This was in keeping with my strategy of pacing for a 3:20 finish for the first 15 miles or so, then stepping it up if I could. As with the Verrazano, though, the ups and downs made it hard to run the same time every mile – 7:27, 7:44, 7:26, 7:34.  I took my first gel after 6 miles. Then in mile 8, I needed to stop and tie a shoe, which resulted in a 7:55 mile. Somewhere in this stretch of miles I passed Lynn and my aunt Rosemary but I didn’t hear them.

As we made our way up First Avenue it was pretty cool to see the Manhattan skyline up ahead in the distance. Meanwhile I finally settled into a somewhat consistent rhythm – 7:44, 7:3, 7:47, 7:42, 7:42, 7:46. I took another gel at 12 miles. I passed the half marathon point on the Pulaski Bridge in 1:41, a little slower than my usual half split, but in keeping with the day’s strategy. After the bridge we spent a mile in Queens and then it was onto the Queensboro Bridge.

Throughout my training, the Queensboro had been a big worry item for me. It had a long climb and it came at a point in the race where things always seem to get tough for me. As we started climbing I kept my focus on just getting up the ascent and keeping my pace steady, and things seemed to be working until I looked at my watch for the 15 mile split – 8:04. Uh-oh. What was going on? Was I tiring already? The next mile, which the bridge also encompassed, was not much better in 8:01. This was not good, I thought. I decided that once I got off this god-awful bridge I would get down to business. I took my next gel at 16 and picked it up, though not as much as I had hoped I would – 7:48, 7:49.

As we headed towards the Bronx it was becoming quite clear that even making a 3:20 today was unlikely as I dropped an 8:01 and now it really felt like I was working. My pace was on a slippery slope and I started to worry about whether I was about to hit the wall and really fall apart. I also took my last gel at mile 20 and resolved to switch from water to Gatorade. Still I was weakening. My legs were tired and my left calf was really aching; mile 20 went down in 8:22 and I knew it was time to get resourceful. So I decided to start walking through the aid stations, to both maximize my fluids and conserve enough energy to avoid the bonk. This of course meant my new pace was going be even slower but I decided if it staved off a couple of 10-minute miles it was worth it – 8:43, 8:44, 8:48.

By now we had passed through Harlem and were heading down Fifth Avenue to Central Park. I don’t remember much, other than seeing lots of people and just really wanting to be done. But still in the back of my head, was getting my backup goal of a 3:30 finish, which would still be a Boston-qualifying result. I wasn’t sure I could even do it at this point but I told myself I had to find a way to gut it out and try. I thought about the day before when I had run the last two miles of the course; “I can do this, just get to the 24 mile mark!” I had also now developed a stitch in the diaphragm, apparently from taking in too much fluid so quickly. That marker couldn’t come soon enough. I passed a volunteer who was cheering everyone along and when she saw my DC Roadrunners singlet, she hollered for me loud and gave me a high-five. For that one second, she was my best friend in the whole world, because that gave me the energy and fight I needed. I turned in an ugly 9:12 mile here but when I passed under the 24-mile banner, I knew I was back in the game.

It was now all about wanting it, and I really wanted that 3:30. I decided to cut off the fluids and let the stitch resolve itself, which it started to do. I stopped thinking about it and just pushed. I knew if I didn’t completely fall apart that I had the BQ. I started to feel a little better and as we passed under the 25-mile banner I saw that I was at 3:20 now. That told me anything but a complete crash would get me home. I wasn’t concerned at all about cardiovascular strength; I had been breathing easy all day. The stitch had subsided, too. But would my calf seize up? How hard could I push it? I wasn’t sure. As we passed Columbus Circle and turned north on Central Park West I felt confident. But I knew I couldn’t relax, had to keep working. Soon we were passing signs every telling us just how close we were…800 to go, 400, 200. With 200 I again passed Lynn and Rosemary, and this time I heard them even though I couldn’t see them. I took one last look at the watch with 100 left and finally I knew the 3:30 was in the bag. I slowed down just a little bit, raised my arms and took in the moment – 8:36, 8:21, 1:43 for final 0.2. 3:30:50 at the finish.

Looking back, I clearly didn’t have the race I really wanted to. Whether it was a product of the training fatigue or that I just didn’t have it this day, I’ll never be quite sure. But I am extremely proud of the fact that on a day where I couldn’t bring my “A” game, I still dug deep and got a very good result.  I missed a PR by 10 minutes but I still BQ’ed and added another World Marathon Majors medal to my collection. Up next, Chicago, next October. But for now, some much needed recovery time is in order.

The Road to NYC, Week 14 and the final preps

What started in the heat of the Northern Virginia summer has nearly reached its conclusion as the leaves turn from red to yellow to brown. Six days from today will enter the one of the green starting corrals at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, and at around 9:40 am, start heading for the Verrazano Bridge and Brooklyn. Three hours and twenty minutes later (hopefully, perhaps a few less than that), I will cross a timing mat in Central Park. It will be my seventh overall marathon finish and my first New York City Marathon finish.

Last week was a taper week, the penultimate one of the cycle, and it was a fairly busy one. I kicked it off with one final long run, a 14 miler on the trail near home, then gradually eased off on the intensity throughout the week, all in preparation for yesterday: a final tuneup race.

I did the Marine Corps Marathon 10k, looking to air it out one last time. Going in I figured this would be a perfect benchmark to find out where I really stood for next weekend. So I wanted put out a good, hard effort — but not too hard. As I thought about a goal, I decided that a sub-40 minute time would be a nice stretch goal, as long as I didn’t have to stretch too hard to get it.

I got up in the dark, dressed and quickly had breakfast with the idea in mind of making it to Vienna metro by around 6:15 am, which I did. Not surprisingly when I boarded the train at Vienna, the first stop on the Orange line, it was already packed, mostly with marathoners who would be departing the train at Rosslyn. Then the 10k runners proceeded on to the Smithsonian stop and the start of our race.

I had budgeted quite a bit of time, based probably on my hair-raising metro experience before the National Marathon in 2009, when the metro crawled along so slowly I barely had time to get in the corral before the gun went off. In any case, when I got to Smithsonian grounds there was still over an hour to go before start time. Not sure what to do with myself, and not ready to strip down to my singlet and check my gear bag just yet, I decided to go for a little walk to warm up the legs. So I strolled towards the Capitol for a while, then turned back and found a place to stretch. Finally I felt ready to line up, even though there was still a good 25 minutes until start.

After I nudged my way through the crowds milling around the baggage drop and got in the corral, I still had enough time to do some dynamic warming up and even a few short, quick strides. I chatted with a guy from upstate New York to pass the time and then finally, Miss DC sang the national anthem, the cannon blasted and we were off on a beeline for the 14th Street bridge.

I quickly tried to settle in and find a comfortable pace. It had been a while since I had run a 10k and I wasn’t sure what the first mile might bring. The mile marker came up while crossing the bridge and as I looked down I saw 6:13 on my watch. Um, that’s a little fast, even for someone who wants to run 39 minutes and change. I quickly sought to dial it back, but not too much. I felt a little better as we crossed into Virginia and passed the 2 mile mark while descending the bridge, as I hit 12:41 for 2 miles and felt a little more in control.

We now headed south into Crystal City where the pack started to string out. As we made a quick loop along Crystal Drive I could first see the leaders heading back from it, then after I completed the loop, seeing the masses beginning to swell behind us. Meanwhile I was trying to run efficiently and evenly, and pass people when the opportunity was there. It was in this mile I started seeing a lot of runners who had surged out in front of me in the first mile; now I was catching and dropping them.

Still I could tell I was tiring bit, too, after that hard start. As we hit the 3-mile mark near the Pentagon my split time was 19:19 and I had slowed again to a 6:36 mile. I also knew that Mile 4 would be toughest of the race mentally and that I had to start digging a little deeper. As we proceeded along Jefferson Davis highway and past the Pentagon I could feel the chilly breeze coming off the Potomac and that wind seemed to slow us all down a little bit. I ended up clocking a 6:43 for that mile, which again was too slow, but I told myself it’s OK, I had survived the toughest mile, and now get after it.

Mile 5 continued up the highway and I did start feeling better here. I worked on keeping my cadence quick and holding my form together and that seemed to help me along as I came through in 6:35 for a 32:38 5-mile split. Quick calculations in my head told me a sub-40 was just about out of the question but that a 40-ish time was vey much in reach if I just kept it all together. I didn’t worry about making a final kick in this mile, just about staying strong and running smoothly. Finally I hit the 6-mile mark, stole a quick look at the watch for a final split time (39:19) and it was time to turn up the same hill that the marathoners would soon be scaling for the completion of their race, the famous finish at the Iwo Jima memorial. Despite the uphill grade I felt pretty strong and determined that no one was going to pass me in the final 0.2 miles. I got across the line in 40:45, while not a sub-40, still a very satisfactory result. It was good for 60th overall and 5th place overall in the age group. And actually, it was a master’s PR of sorts, the best time I had run for 10k in a road race (my PR time came in a track time trial).

Once I caught my breath and started making my way back into Rosslyn (for what turned out to be a very long walk to to the baggage truck), I could tell that despite going fairly hard I was still feeling fresh, and with a good taper week ahead I would be ready for next Sunday.

So there it all is. The hay is in the barn. My resume is written. Use whatever metaphoric expression you like.  I’m as ready for New York as I can be, and that’s not something I felt I could say even a month ago. It really took a long time to hit my form this fall, but better late than never, I say. Now I just can’t wait to get it on!