November 6, 2014
On Friday night, I flew out to NYC on the 9:35pm red-eye. I’m a pretty firm believer that the sleep you get 2 nights before a race matters much more than the night before, so I wasn’t sure how my body would respond on race day to fitfully sleeping 4-5 hours on a place 2 nights out from the NYC marathon. Not much I could do about it, however, and I arrived bright and early in New York at 6am on Saturday morning. I headed to my cousin Austin’s apartment near Central Park, slept for another hour, and then got up around 8am and ran into the park to see the Dash to the Finish 5k, where my college teammate Andy was racing. It was cold, wet, and windy, but the racers still gave it their all and it was exciting to see them coming all the way up 5th Ave. and into the park. Andy and I “cooled” down together (really we were trying to warm up more) and also met up with Jarrett, a California Nike Pacer, who was in town for the race. Eventually, I ran back to Austin’s where I showered and we got some breakfast nearby (omelette).
Since I couldn’t check in to my hotel until 3pm, I dropped my bag off and took a cab over to the expo, where I met up with Ethan (http://gingerrunner.com/) and Kim (http://milelonglegs.com/). Kim wasn’t racing, as she ran her first 50k a couple weeks ago, but Ethan and I would both be toeing the line the next morning. We picked up our bibs, wandered around a bit, and then got some lunch at a nearby bagel shop. The weather hadn’t changed much since the morning – still cold, wet, and windy. Forecasts were calling for less rain on Sunday, but still lots of wind and cold temperatures (around 40-45 F). After lunch, we parted ways with plans to meet up for dinner and I napped until 6pm. We met for dinner around 7 at a nearby pasta restaurant and after explaining the inner workings of the communal table to some French people, it was back to my hotel room where I passed out quickly. The daylight savings time switch afforded me an extra hour of sleep, which was greatly appreciated, as I had to be up around 530am to catch the sub-elite bus to the start. I woke up on time, which was a great relief (although the worst case scenario would have found me arriving an hour early, not an hour late, so it wasn’t that stressful, but still, nice not to have any issues). Fortuitously, the pickup spot for the elite and sub-elite buses was only 3 blocks from my hotel (completely random), so I walked over there and before I knew it, we were being taken to the started with our police escort.
New York is the second big city marathon I’ve done (the other being Boston), so I knew what was in store for Ethan and the vast majority of the other 50,000 runners. There’s a lot of looking for somewhere comfortable to wait, and then a lot of waiting, as the race-organized transit options get you to the staging area very early. The sub-elites not only get their own bus, but their own staging area complete with coffee, pastries, water, a heated tent, and most importantly, their own port-a-pottys. We shared this area with the elites, so it was pretty cool when Deena Kastor dropped her stuff at the table where I was sitting before heading out to warm up. Before marathons, I like to run about a mile, mostly just to loosen things up, if you know what I mean. We were allowed to warm up on a nearby road that ran perpendicular to and under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge where the race would start. Heading up the short hill, I encountered an enormous head wind. To the point where the elite men who were heading back towards me laughed and waved in commiseration. It was going to be windy. Oh and I forgot to mention that the race organizers sent out an email at 1am saying that high winds were forcing them to take down tents and signage along the course.
Anyways, after getting my “warmup” in, we were walked up to the corral where we could continue running a big on the bridge itself. The biggest problem with this set up was that we were put in there around 30 minutes before the race started and there were no bathrooms. So guys and girls were relieving themselves between buses and behind signage. Not ideal, but that’s what happens. Another benefit to being in the sub-elite is that you are at the front of the first corral. As we lined up, with several thousand other runners now in the area with us, I was simply excited. Not nervous at all, but just excited to experience the race and take in everything it would offer. Going into it, I had settled on a goal of time of 2:25. With the winds, I was content to let that time go, but when another sub-elite guy (Jerry) asked me what I was shooting for and I said 2:25, he said, “Me too. Let’s go for it.” So I figured why not.
Right before the start, they did the introductions for the elites (who were on the other half of the bridge, with that row of aforementioned buses between us, about 400m back from where we were starting), and then the howitzer sounded and we were off. It was pretty amazing to be at the front of the race crossing the bridge. The elites hadn’t yet caught up to us (still on the other half), so there was truly no one in front of us as we ran up and over into Brooklyn. Helicopters were flying overhead and you could see Manhattan, where we would finish. The wind was ferocious. Guys were getting blown into one another every other step, so I moved out of the group and into the middle lane so run alone. Even if I had to work a bit more, it was worth it for me to not worry about catching someone’s foot and going down. As we turned off the bridge, I moved into the front of the group, kidding to myself that I was leading the race for those 100m. I was also hoping that the elites would take the same route we did and that we would get buzzed by Meb and Mutai and Kipsang, but alas their half of the bridge took a slightly different route coming into Brooklyn and upon making a right turn, all we saw were their backs speeding off about a block up, as our routes had finally merged.
The first several miles were spent in a group of 5-6 guys. I was content to sit in the middle of the pack for a couple of miles, but the winds were having the same buffeting effect they had on the bridge. I soon found I greatly preferred leading the group to sitting in it, despite the extra work associated with leading in a headwind. It also allowed me to set the pace, and soon we were clicking off 5:30’s through Brooklyn. The streets were wide and the crowds were OK, but needed some prodding to really start cheering for us. I wasn’t too surprised at that, as it was cold and the masses of runners were still to come, but it was nice when people cheered of their own volition. I found myself smiling early and often and was really enjoying the run.
The pack began to break up around mile 10 and soon it was down to 3. There was one guy who went off the front and got maybe 200m on us, but never moved farther ahead than that, so I just concentrated on him and maintaining the distance. Around the halfway mark, it was just me and another guy (Jerry who was the 3rd guy with us stayed, around 100m behind for the rest of the race which I wish I would have seen since it would have been nice to run with someone) and he pulled away a bit heading over the 2nd bridge of the day. I was content to let him go, although he only put about 40-50m on me so I just tried to maintain again. Heading onto the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan (mile 16), I was surprised to see how long of an uphill it was. It was probably twice as long of a climb as I had expected, but there was nothing I could except put my head down and get past it.
Everyone says that coming onto 1st Ave. is an incredible experience, as the crowds are 5-6 deep and it’s just a wall of noise. I did not have that experience. Yes, the crowds were plentiful, but again, I had to ask for support with my arms and was a little disappointed by that. A couple of blocks down 1st Ave. and I very clearly heard “Alex Varner! I used to live with that guy!” Turns out it was Reed, and I turned and waved and said hello. The fact that we could have practically a conversation on 1st Ave. should indicate how quiet the crowds were. I guess I understand, as the leaders were long gone, and the guys near me were stretched out down the road, about 100-200m apart, running solo in no-man’s land. It was on 1st Ave. that I really began to grind. To that point, I had taken a Gu every 4 miles, and I had 2 left, with the plan being to take one at mile 20 and the last one at mile 22-23 depending on how I felt. The second part of 1st Ave. was tough. My stomach started to get a stitch which made breathing difficult and the wind was beginning to take its toll. I was still ticking off solid splits, so I wasn’t too worried, but it was definitely getting tough. The thinning crowds didn’t help either, as I climbed the Willis Ave. Bridge, there was one photographer and that was it. I ate a Gu crossing over the bridge and the stomach cramp intensified, making my breathing increasingly labored. I hit a rather dark patch in the Bronx, right around where the proverbial wall comes into play, and wondered if I had worked too hard in the wind early on. Thankfully, the stitch relented as I got onto 5th Ave. and I was able to start moving again. At this point, I was also starting to reel in some of the straggling elite men and women which helped further boost my spirits. The grind up 5th Ave. was tough (seeing my friend Esther helped a bit though) and resulted in my slowest split of the day (5:58 but 5:32 GAP per Strava), but once over the hump, I rolled into Central Park. The crowds were getting thicker but still lacking in noise, except for the turn right at mile 24, where Angela was cheering quite loudly, which I greatly appreciated. The guy with whom I had been running through the half was still in sight and I began to play the old game of “Do I really want to go get him?” I vacillated between wanting to move up and catch him and being content with where I was, as I was running against the clock and not concerned with place.
I was thinking about this as I made the right turn onto Central Park South, where the crowds were, once again, 5-6 deep but not making any noise, except for another college teammate Alex, who called my name and I heard him perfectly and even yelled back to him, which he heard. [Speaking with Kim and Ethan after, Ethan would tell me that the crowds were deafening at this point and Kim said there was no way Ethan could have heard her (she was near that point when he came through), so I’m still not sure what the deal was with the New York crowds. Maybe it was just cold, but I didn’t really feel the love.] At the right turn with maybe 600m to go, I was still debating whether or not I wanted to kick it home. The guy in front wasn’t going anywhere, but I just wasn’t sure I had it in me. Then we hit 200m and he was still right there and I realized I wanted to go. So I took off, passed him with about 75m to go, and just like that, was done. 2:25:45 was my official time. I was 28th overall (26th male – the top 2 women ran low 2:25) and 7th American. Strava data here for those interested: http://www.strava.com/activities/214897640
I was greeted with a space blanket, bottle of water, finisher’s medal, and was walked up to the elite/sub-elite tent near the finish line (another huge perk was having a separate bag check to the finish with our own tent). The tent was rather small (maybe 20ft x 20ft) and filled with all of the elites who had already finished. It was pretty damn cool to be sharing the same space as them and stepping over their feet to grab a Gatorade. I changed and made my way out of the park where I met up with my cousin Austin and a couple of her friends. We talked for a bit and then made our way north to where Renee (Rachelle’s sister) and Gus were waiting. At that point, Austin and her friends went their own way and Renee and Gus and I continued north, eventually ending up at West NYC and then Communal, a pizza and beer place right next door. We hung out with Russell of Stance Socks and Knox (who also ran the marathon) of the Black Roses Runners and were joined by Ethan, Kim, and my friend from UNC, Rob (who ran as well). After a couple hours Ethan, Kim, and I headed over to the Skechers post-race party where we saw Meb and Kara and did an interview with a French vlogger. Then we made our way back to our hotels, changed and grabbed some dinner with Jeff of ElliptiGo. I then met up with Pete from WVTC at another bar where we sang karaoke (I Saw the Sign is always a hit) before climbing into bed. My flight home on Monday morning was uneventful and before I knew it, I was back at my desk on Tuesday.
The whole weekend was fantastic and it’s hard to believe it already happened after such a long period of anticipation. I took Monday completely off, ran easy Tuesday and Wednesday, and will be back on the workout horse this afternoon in preparation for North Face, which is just around the corner! Best of luck to everyone who’s training for it. I’m rather excited.