First, let me say participating in this race was one of the most exciting and memorable experiences that I’m sure will stick with me for a lifetime. New York City is a world class city that hosts a world class marathon that lives up to the hype. This was my 16th marathon and I would consider it to be the best running experience overall – so far. Although nothing is 100% perfect, the organizers put on an event that is as perfect as can be given the challenges of accommodating over 47,000 runners. All serious marathoners really need to make the pilgrimage to this runner’s mecca at least once in their running life, it is definitely the benchmark to be used to measure other marathons by.
The good news is that I ran a personal record of 3:15:44, beating my previous best of 3:16:06 set over 10 years ago. The bad news is I missed a Boston Marathon qualifying time by 44 seconds. Although I was a bit disappointed that I missed a BQ time, after having time to reflect, I am content with the effort I put forth and will take the lessons learned from this race to make another attempt at a BQ time in late-February at the 2012 Tokyo Marathon.
Marathon morning started early — very early! I set three alarms (hotel clock, Blackberry and iPhone alarm) to wake me up at 3:45 AM. But I didn’t need any of them, I was wide awake at 2:30 AM, still experiencing jet lag and probably some excitement as well. Never fully got over the jet lag during the week in New York. So I got up, ate breakfast (6-inch veggie Subway sandwich, Clif Bar, banana, apple, water, and coffee), showered, lubed the sensitive areas of the body, put on my running clothes and headed to the subway around 4:40 AM. From Queensboro Plaza Station I caught a 5:00 AM train that took me all the way to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal that arrived around 5:30 AM. Although I signed up for the 6:00 AM ferry, they let runners board the earlier ferries since they were not full.
The ferry ride was actually very relaxing and I was able to find a seat next to the window that passed by the lighted Statue of Liberty. The ride was about 20 minutes, then you have about a 5 minute walk to the city buses that line the street to take you to the runner’s village area. There was no wait for the bus, we were loaded up immediately and quickly on our way. The bus ride was another 20 minutes.
I arrived at the start village around 6:45 AM. Now I had to figure out what to do for the next 3 hours before the race began. The key was to try and stay warm since temperatures were in the 40s, but fortunately there was very little wind. Over my running clothes I had athletic pants, a t-shirt, disposable jacket, and gloves. There was coffee, bagels, water, Gatorade, and PowerBars available in plentiful quantities. All I had was a small cup of coffee since I already had a big breakfast. Also, there were adequate port-a-potties in the village, the lines were never more than a few people deep. This was a good thing since I probably hit the port-a-potty at least a half dozen times before the start. There was live music entertainment going on somewhere, and although I could hear something in the distance, I never figured out where it was coming from. The sun started to come out around 8:00 AM, which was nice as it helped to keep you warm. I pretty much sat on a curb trying to stay off my feet for the next couple hours. At 8:10 AM we had to check in our clear bag (provided at the Expo during check-in) with one of the UPS trucks that were lined up toward the entrance of the village. I stripped off my outer layer of clothing, checked my bag in, then proceeded to the corral area.
Since I was in Wave 1 of 3, I needed to enter my corral between 8:25 – 8:55 AM. The corrals didn’t seem to be all that crowded. Fortunately, they also had port-a-potties in the corral area, so I was able to take care of business one more time around 9:00 AM, then everyone was herded to the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge where we again waited for about 45 minutes. About 5 minutes before the start the elite men’s athletes were introduced, Mayor Bloomberg gave a short speech, followed by the national anthem. After the anthem, I was fiddling with my GPS watch to get it set-up, then kind of unexpectedly, I heard the start canon go off. Normally, I’m used to some kind of countdown.
Before I go any further, let me say something about the weather. As a marathoner, you want a day that is cold (ideally in the 40s/50s), dry, with little to no wind. That is exactly what we got, it was the best running conditions I’ve ever run in for a marathon. And the conditions stayed ideal throughout the entire marathon – magical day as far as the weather goes. It was very sunny out, so I was able to shed my disposable outer jacket and gloves within the first mile. Only item I wished I would have brought that I didn’t have were my sunglasses.
I was relatively close to the start line. I think I crossed the start after about a minute and 30 seconds. The first two minutes of the race was crowded and slow, but then the crowd seemed to quickly dissipate and I was surprised that I was able to get into my target pace rather quickly. Big kudos to the race organizers on this — the three start areas, the three waves, and wide bridge really helps with the congestion. Within the first two miles I was already on pace and lost very little time at the start.
Not sure if it the taper or the adrenaline pumping through my veins, but I was feeling like Superman the first few miles. I clocked a 21:31 the first 5K, which is a 6:56 per mile pace, and it felt like I was floating. However, I knew that as good as I felt, this marathon would end in disaster if I maintained that pace level, so I tried slowing it down a notch. I passed 10K in 43:28, which was a 7:00 pace, but still way too fast. If you read my previous race pace strategy, my goal was to maintain an even pace of around 7:15. I kept trying to slow down but it felt like my body was naturally trying to settle into a faster pace, but I knew in the back of my mind that I was going to pay for this later. Finally, after the first 10K I settled into my target pace range, which I maintained until about mile 18. I passed the halfway point in 1:33:37 (7:09 pace), about a minute and half faster than than I wanted to. Since I was a little ahead of schedule, I decided to take a potty break (my only one) at mile 14, losing about a minute and half. At this point, I was now on pace for a 3:10 marathon (7:15 per mile pace) assuming I ran an even 7:15 pace for the remainder of the marathon — and at that point, I was pretty confident that I still could.
Well, the first sign of trouble was crossing over the Queensboro Bridge starting around mile 15. Although I was able to maintain my goal pace over the bridge, it took more out of me than I expected. I continued maintaining the 7:15 pace until around mile 18, and although I still felt okay, I knew I was going into that area where you have to mentally begin preparing for that painful finish. Around mile 20, the rolling hills and bridges began taking their toll and my time began to slip. At mile 20 I was averaging a 7:18 pace and I tried to convince myself, “Heck, only 10K to go, piece of cake.” However, the legs weren’t responding to go any faster so I figured it was time to shift to goal “B” – a sub 3:15. Finished the next two miles through the Bronx and over Madison Avenue Bridge at a respectable pace, but the pace was slowing.
For fueling, I took my last of three Chocolate Honey Stingers at around mile 21. I also took a couple electrolyte tablets around mile 14, which I think may have helped during the last few miles of the race. Also, around every mile, I gulped down a few ounces of Gatorade or water. There were plenty of fluid stations, so this was never a concern during the race.
I was finally back in Manhattan heading south for Central Park. This is when I started getting the birth pangs of cramps in my legs, primarily in my thighs. I knew I needed to be cautious from this point on because if I push it too hard, the cramps may begin to take hold. This started around the part of the course that is moderately uphill that seems to last forever. Then I entered Central Park just hoping the cramps would hold off and I was fortunate that they did — but those last couple of miles were challenging, your body is trying to convince your to walk a bit, but I was able to keep pushing along at a sub 8 minute pace. Then in the last kilometer, I got a second wind and was able to pick up the pace (funny how that happens). The crowd is just awesome, cheering you on loudly to the finish line! At the 800 meter point, I thought I was still on target for a sub-3:15, but then I glanced down at my watch and realized I was not going to make it since I didn’t account for the extra distance you normally have to run because you can’t run the exact tangent measurements of the course. But I pushed it hard the last 400m hoping to at least get a PR out of it – ending up with final time of 3:15:44 and a new PR. According to my Garmin 405, I actually ran 26.42 miles, an extra .22 miles. I knew it would be a little extra distance, but didn’t think it would be close to a quarter of a mile extra! Oh well, good lesson learned here.
Overall, I think I ran a somewhat smart race. Maybe I should have come out slower at the very beginning, but I’m uncertain if that would have made the difference. Also, maybe I should have respected the bridges more, whatever that means. My original strategy of trying to maintain an even pace throughout the marathon was not realistic given the number of moderate rolling hills and bridges. The rolling hills are a bit deceiving. Although none of them seemed overly difficult, especially at the beginning of the race, they catch up with you later in the race because there are so many of them.
Garmin GPS Link: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/127296968
After crossing the finish line, they provide you a mylar blanket, medal and goody bag of fluids and food. Then we proceeded to the UPS trucks to pick up our baggage, which was about a 10 minute walk. They want you to keep moving to avoid congestion in the finish area. I was feeling a bit of nausea, but it was manageable. Then I picked up my stuff, threw my dry clothes over my running clothes and headed for the subway back to Queens. This was a bit of a hassle since I didn’t really know where there subway station was and when I finally found it after walking another 20 minutes, I went uptown instead of downtown, making the trip about an hour back to the hotel longer than it should have been.
Then I finally got back to the hotel in one piece around 3:20 PM, showered, and laid in the bed and watched the NY Giants beat up on my beloved Patriots. After the game, I had a craving for red meat, something I rarely eat, so headed toward Times Square to eat at McDonalds. Finished my last night in New York City going to the “Top of the Rock” at Rockefeller Center to see the city at night.
As a final note, I can’t say enough good things about the organization, volunteers, entertainment (lots of great bands playing along the course), support of the city and large crowds along the entire course – they are just AWESOME, simply amazing!