Striding Through

Because a life well lived always finds the right pace

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.

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2 responses to “NYC Marathon – a belated race report

  1. Pingback: Spring Season Race Roll-Up « Striding Through

  2. Pingback: New storm gathering over New York? « Striding Through

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