Overall Time: 3:04:55
Place: 1576 of 47,438
Weather: 51 Degrees,
Start time: 9:40am
Splits: (coming soon)
The New York City Marathon: the biggest marathon in the world, and certainly the focal point of every single serious running club in New York City. Since witnessing it as a volunteer last year, I made the simple decision that I would run it in 2011. And I would try to run it in less than 3 hours.
That simple decision would become a complicated training schedule of long runs, tempo runs, hill repeats, cross-training bike rides, and a few races along the way to test the progression of my fitness. Unfortunately it would also include a minor bout of ill-timed tendonitis, and a few training struggles that crippled my chances at a sub-3 New York City Marathon. But I would still try.
In the weeks leading up to the race I knew that my training had gone askew in August due to tendonitis, and I hadn’t been the same since. I decided that the best approach to a successful marathon would be to try and (gasp) negative split this race – a conservative strategy.
Because I didn’t feel like I was in peak shape, I thought that it would be very dangerous to try and execute my original plan, which was to go out at 1:27 first half and 1:32 the second half for a 2:59 total. Going out at a 1:27 in non-peak shape could have resulted in a 1:45+ second half, considering the bridges and hills in the last 13.1 miles. If that happened, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. So I decided to play the first half conservatively (1:30+).
Getting to the start line was undramatic, just how I wanted it. I took the Staten Island ferry some friends, which meant that the boat ride was nice and chatty and no one got too anxious about the race start. When we hit Staten Island we met up with more Front Runners and that seemed to put us even more at ease. Even as we split up to our own corrals, there were enough of us that no one was alone and each had a group to stay calm and relaxed with. Good.
The start was just as I wanted it – nice and slow. Considering that the first mile is uphill along the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, trying to hit marathon goal pace would result in I burning out my legs in the first mile and paying for it in the last 10K. When the gun went off I told myself that I would throw myself off the Verrazano Bridge if my first mile was faster than 7:45. I knew that I’d make up the time on the next mile, downhill coming off the bridge.
My first mile came : 7:48. Shit, how good am I at pacing myself? OK, enough with the self-congratulatory BS… the rest of the first 5K was just about where I wanted it. After the first uphill mile on the bridge, the downhill descent was a wicked fast mile but I didn’t let that bother me. After those first two miles (one slow up, one fast down) I decided to settle roughly a 6:50 pace for flats, knowing that the uphills in Brooklyn would slow me to a 6:52+ average pace and a 1:30+ first half.
I saw the Pulaski Bridge, leading the runners from Brooklyn over to Queens. The 13.1 mark was at the base of the bridge, and I crossed it in 1:30:55. I patted myself on the back for a well-paced half, but knew that it was time to settle in for the hilly second. Descending the Pulaski Bridge, I started passing people who had gone out too fast. Unfortunately, this included a number of friends of mine, but the marathon doesn’t have loyalties.
Just like the Bronx, the section of the marathon that takes place in Queens is fairly short and uneventful. Before I knew it I was going over the Queensboro Bridge (Mile 16) and realized that I would still have energy when I exited the bridge onto 1st Avenue in Manhattan. 1st Avenue is one of the biggest rushes, as spectators come out in full force after the long silence of the Queensboro Bridge. This was very much something to look forward to. On top of that, there’s a nice downhill just a half mile into 1st Avenue and I needed to recovering some of the time I had lost on the bridge. I had to run a 1:29 second half to get a sub-3, and 1st Avenue would allow me to do that.
1st Avenue was everything I had hoped for, and then more. On top of the crowds, I had a friend unexpectedly spot me and shout my name for a much-needed boost. No matter how many races I run, I still get a thrill when someone cheers me on from the crowd. It was perfectly timed, as I was headed up through East Harlem where the crowds start to thin out before the route makes its way over the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx just before Mile 20.
For so many marathoners, Mile 20 is where the race starts to get hard. It’s often said that the marathon is two parts : the first 30K (~19 miles) and the last 10K. By around Mile 20, the body has been mostly depleted of glycogen reservers and those last 6.2 miles are a test of mental and physical toughness to push through.
Starting those last 6.2 miles in the Bronx was difficult, because the crowd support disappears compared to the rest of the marathon route. In an effort to secure against bonking, my friend Ryan had agreed to meet me before Mile 21 to pass me off a pre-filled sport bottle of Gatorade that I could chug down. Unfortunately he was on the far side of the street and I couldn’t spot him in time. By the time he yelled my name, I was too far to grab the drink from him and had to forego that little security blanket for the rest of the race. I started to fade a little bit, going from sub-7 miles to low-7 miles. Going sub-3 for the race was starting to fade, quite heavily. It wasn’t the Gatorade, though – it was just my legs. And I had to fight that.
With just over 6 miles left to go, I re-entered Manhattan (sigh of relief) and made my way to Central Park. I made a mental note to look effortless going around the perimeter of Marcus Garvey Park, knowing that a club photographer would be there to capture every last second of pain and I wasn’t going to accept looking anything but good. I’d like to think that I succeeded. You be the judge.
After Harlem, 5th Avenue starts a slight but steady incline and I found myself running uphill for a full (and my slowest) mile. It was disheartening, knowing that I had to pick up the pace but also had to face an uphill mile. I knew at this point that I would not be able to pull off a sub-3, but I could still could get a Boston-qualifying time (3:05:00)
Pretty soon the race was in Central Park. Any runner who lives in New York knows Central Park like the back of their hand. We know every turn, every incline, every subtle change in scenery – and knowing where I could push the pace bolstered my confidence. Once I got inside I knew I could look forward to two things : 1.) the Front Runner water station at Mile 24, and 2.) the big downhill of Cat Hill (going south).
As expected, when I hit the Mile 24 water station everyone started cheering for me, a Front Runner. That little boost, and the realization that I needed to pick up the pace to run a Boston-qualifier, allowed me to run my last two miles as my fastest in the race (6:30 pace)… and to qualify for Boston. Yes, I missed my A-goal of a sub-3 marathon. But I knew that was a long shot. More importantly, I ran a successful marathon and I’ll have a 2013 Boston Marathon entry to show for it.
Getting to the start of any marathon is a long journey. No one gets there alone, and I’m no exception. I wouldn’t have gotten there without Mike O, Mikey B, Mike S, Dave L, Ryan S, Chris S, and much of the FRNY family. I didn’t hit sub-3, but I’m not bothered by that because I know that’ it’s just around the corner. I also know that corner is a very long ways away, since the upcoming 10 months will be dedicated to ultra distances. In a way, not having an upcoming marathon that I’m racing is a slight relief. With 50 mile races and longer to focus on, I can put aside the sub-3 goal while I focus on other things. It will make my return to the marathon in 2013 – perhaps Boston? – that much sweeter.