Yes, New York..the big apple. This is the biggest marathon in the world with ~54,000 runners.
Two months prior, I had no idea I would be running it. I had signed up on the website and put my name in but usually it takes a few years to get in.
As luck would have it, out of the blue I got an email from Runner's World magazine asking if I would like an entry. (!) I have no idea why they contacted me....I dropped my RW online subscription many months earlier. I have read every book on running and subscribed to RW previously for years, and frankly there ain't that much new to say about the subject from my point of view. I'm not that interested in what the elite racing community is doing except during the Olympics.
I happily accepted the invite and Toni and I proceeded to line up airline tix and a hotel. I had about two months to train up..I was already doing ~30 miles / week as per normal so I just had to up the mileage a bit more and do my three 20 mile runs...these went ok. I was running them at a 10m/m to 10:15m/m pace.
A about a month later....I got another email telling me I had "VIP" status now for the race...in fact would would get a bib with a small "VIP" printed on it. This meant I would ride on a different set of buses to the start, and I would have access to a "VIP" tent to wait for my start wave. That was pretty sweet, because I knew it could be really cold and miserable waiting around outdoors for the start.
My 3 long runs went well but I did worry that I hadn't done enough hill training (I have to run 2.5 miles just to get to any hill), but I wasn't trying to run a specific time or anything so I didn't worry about it. I would regret this cavalier attitude later...
Time passed quickly and soon enough we flew to NYC on a very smooth nonstop from SFO to Newark. A bit of a pain snagging a Lyft to take us to the Empire hotel but eventually we got there. I picked this hotel because it was near the finish area, but it was way too expensive for quality. e.g. the AC ran all the time just to keep the temp reasonable.
Oh well. We're here to run, not gripe!
My expo window was in the afternoon the day before the race. The expo was of course, HUGE. I've been to a zillion so just zipped over to get my bib (yup..."VIP" on it ;)..I did buy a nice running hat with the marathon logo on it.
|Ready to go! (5am)|
I found the VIP tent, which did not have nearly enough chairs and so sat on the floor with my back against a big support pole..pretty comfy and easy to nap a bit. I did not partake of any coffee as I've been off the stuff for years now.
|VIP tent not very full|
|Waiting to walk to bridge|
For what I don't know, but that's marathons for you. Presumably they want to space us out after wave 2. Meanwhile there was a PA system repeating a very LONG message about what you were allowed and not allowed to do. It cycled through a huge number of languages.... some of which I could not guess at...I'm guessing Portuguese. I could understand a wee bit of the Spanish and Japanese but that was about it. After a zillion repeats of that message we finally got the go ahead to march to the bridge.
As we moved up the on ramp, a couple of guys climbed the concrete from the lower bridge deck onramp (where part of our wave also queued) and jumped in to our level. That kind of shenanigans normally pisses me off...so I was all set to ream out the guy nearest to me. He saw me giving hem the evil eye and confessed sheepishly that he was from England, had traveled aaalllll the way here..and really wanted to get some pictures from the top deck. Ok, well....heck...there's room.
As with most big-ish marathons we sang the anthem...difficult vocal jumps and all and then shortly got the big BOOM to send us on our way.
At this point, any photos of the marathon are from Toni.
The view from the bridge deck was amazing. Tried to take it all in and not get tangled up with other runners jinking and dodging around. There's quite a bow-shape to big non-suspension bridge decks (for structural reasons)...we climb about 135 feet. I was warned about this and took it easy on the up and then on the downs. It's tempting to blast the down side as it's easy to do...but it does trash your legs, especially your quads, if you go too crazy.
It's a long day....
Let's look at the map. I started way way down at the bottom and have crossed over the first bridge.
Now we are in the southernmost part of Brooklyn..and honestly I have only dim memories of the area, I was just trying to keep
By now (about 10:40am) it the sun had broken through the previously solid cloud deck and it was getting hotter. I had seen the forecast for 75F and here we were already! Uggh.
If there's one thing you learn in running it's that heat forces you to slow down. Notice the word "force". All the mental will in the world will not prevent it.
It is true that you can train for heat but that means you have to run in the heat. But if your home turf is cool all the time, well, there's nothing to be done.
(I did some long soaks in the spa in the last week before as it's said to help the adaptation but I didn't do it as much as suggested.)
.....oh by the way, you see that after the bridge that green line that swings out and back? That's the green group path from the lower bridge deck. They get sent out and round and merge with the rest of us later. That Brit that jumped into our wave for better photos was spared that diversion too.
Ok back to the race....I am already on 4th ave heading north thru Brooklyn. The wave starts with 3 different lanes has kept the crowding from being too bad. There's a little bit of jockeying around but easy to avoid.
The first water stop at mile 3 comes up ..and I'm curious to see how they handle it. They are passing out water on BOTH sides of the street which is great. The volunteers are cheering along with the crowds and handing out water thick and fast. I spot a person holding two cups up ahead and point to her and run up, slow way down, snag both...with a pinch move at the tops....and don't spill a drop.
I drink both cups worth in a flash. I also have been drinking from a single water bottle on my running belt since the start to pre-charge more water in me. That extra water really helps me get through the race.
But, I notice something I don't like about the water stops...runners here are pitching their cups all over the course rather than to the side like most marathons. This means the footing at the water stops gets more slippery (although these are the old style waxed paper cups..really deadly). The road gets more littered as the day goes on. Shameful!
More on that later...
Miles 3 to 8
After the water stop at mile 3 we pass through Bay Ridge, Sunset Park and then Park Slope all on 4th ave (which is packed several layers deep with people on both sides.) There are bands playing with lots of speakers. One set of amps is so turned up the sound is massively distorted (nobody else seems to mind) but it just kills my ears. I run with my hands over them.
Still lots of crowds on both sides making quite a big fuss about us. In fact, this continues until the finish (except on on the bridges of course). The Berlin marathon is the only other race I've done that had so many spectators!
I had given Toni a cowbell to ring to stir up the crowds and also to help me find her . ....I have the pitch of that cowbell down pretty well from previous races with her spectating. I hope it helps today too! We have agreed she'll be positioned at around mile 16, just after crossing into Manhattan over the second bridge of the day, the iconic Queensboro bridge. (The picture is from the Manhattan side.)
But we aren't there yet..still have Willamsburg and Greenpoint boroughs to pass through on miles 10 - 13. The sun is still out and it's still nasty hot, there is a very slight breeze forecast from behind which probably helps but not enough to notice it. I hope it's helping.
The crowds are still several people deep on both sides. At the water stops now I do the 'one in, one on' method. i.e I grab two cups, drink one and dump the other on my head. It feels really COLD...like ice water....on my head..and that tells me I'm really hot.
(I have this great hat that Toni got me for a birthday present: it it's a baseball cap shape but has mesh fabric on top. It keeps out the sun but lets the air in, and more importantly today: it lets the WATER in when I dump it on my head.)
Finally, a 90 degree left turn and I can see the bridge on-ramp ahead!
When we get to it it's another healthy climb: ~90 feet (after various small hills in Brooklyn) and I can tell I'm too hot by a lot. Thankfully, there is more cloud cover but it's already crazy-stupid-warm. The Mesa marathon in Arizona I recently ran had the same problem ...in the last 6 miles sunny and hot...but here I still have a long way to go and it's already worse.
Down the backside and onto the roads and then we do two left turns and pass under the bridge headed north. Here's where I'm listening for that cowbell ...I hear it! and also hear Toni calling my name in these crowds. I run over and give her a sweaty peck on the forehead ;).
Off again..my pace has dropped....on any kind of rise it's getting slow enough that I drop to a power-walk rather than run. After mile 16 I'm alternating power-walking with running. Its a struggle to run continuously for more than a minute or two without a break. I'm averaging 12-14 min/mile doing this.
I figured at any time I might be dropping to a walk for good but so far I'm holding on.
Next we are headed off Manhattan Island over the Willis Avenue bridge for a very brief tour of the Bronx. We are only running there for 1.5 miles! Frankly I hardly remember what I saw but there were plenty of crowds.
|Willis Ave Bridge|
This is a swing bridge. I have no idea how often it gets 'swung'. Not as high as the others, which is nice.
The Bronx seems more urban in my remembering than Brookline ....more tall buildings.
Done with all the bridges now and at mile 21!
My paces hover around 13 min/mile. ..with power walking and some slow running. We head due south down 5th avenue for a 1.5 miles and then we FINALLY enter Central Park!
I get a bit of a lift here because I know 21.5 miles is well into 'wall' territory and I'm still hanging on!
At the next water stop I see a guy suddenly shout and slip on the huge number of discarded cups ..he goes down hard. I think the slip of his foot caused his leg to spasm and that is actually what took him down. They had medical folks at every aid station so I think (hope) they took care of him.
Just after entering Central Park, at mile 23, we start a 100' climb to mile 24..ugh...I drop to power walk only and still hold ~14:xx pace, which is decent for a walk.
At this point I'm looking around for Toni again...she's supposed to be at the lower right corner of the park...around mile 25...(not worth trying to get near the finish...that will be way too crowded.) The park is beautiful to run in but I don't like all the small rises...each one is a suffer-fest. Holding now at ~14.xx min/mile for miles 24,25. At 25.7 we hit the southeast corner of the park and turn right along the bottom edge.
It felft like forever to do the last bit here. At one point on one of the larger uphill bumps my left leg starts to spasm. I'm thinking "Ouch!..oh NO! PLEASE not a limp-a-thon to the finish!".
Somehow dropping to a walk and doing some gradually longer strides loosened it up (and it promised not to do it again). Eventually we passed the bleachers with roaring crowds and under the finish banner! (Sorry no photo) Then we start the long walk on headed northward on the left side of the park.
Marathon #36 done!
Postscript: Loosened up the legs the next day....Toni and I did a nice walking tour around Central Park with some beautiful fall foliage.