Monday, November 21, 2011

NYC Marathon Report

Big City Blowout
NYC Marathon 2011

Pertinent Stats:

Half Splits: 1:27:14/1:33:20

Overall: 1179/46795 (2.5%)
Gender: 1128 / 29867 (3.8%)
Age Group (35-39): 232 / 4849 (4.8%)

Oregonians: 9/141 (6.4%)
Brian's: 10/240 (4.2%)
Davises: 3/47 (6.4%)

Short Version: Fantastic course, amazing crowds and my second favorite marathon (I have a HUGE soft spot for Boston). I decided 5k in to see how long I could keep my 2:55 pace. The answer was about 22 miles before cramping in my left quad and toes(?!) led to me run/walking the rest of the way in. Not how I wanted the race to go but I came away happy with going for broke and learning lessons along the way. Like that a Cuban Cigar & Rye Whiskey make for a nice post-race meal when you’re sitting on your friend’s roof overlooking Manhattan, Brooklyn & Staten Island. Now time to focus on some shorter stuff for a while.

Now, for the MUCH, MUCH longer version:

New York is a story of revenge (of sorts). I'd qualified for NYC via the Vancouver Lake Half Marathon in January '10 and in an effort to build upon my successful Boston trip last year I decided to train hard for New York last year. I was in fantastic shape and two weeks away from taking on the course in the best shape of my life when my body broke down. A bad SI joint left me no choice but to scrap the trip. No less than a month later I was in a nasty car accident having been rear ended and my car totaled. I thankfully walked away but was left with a concussion and a jacked up lower back for my troubles.

As I eventually started to feel healthy again, I started up running. It wasn't pretty but I eventually got back into a groove but not without a few injury related bumps in the road. As I got stronger, my thoughts again migrated towards NY. I was guaranteed entry for one more year so I decided to sign up and give it another go. When it was time to start the training cycle, it was all about managing expectations. I hoped to be in good enough shape to requalify for Boston and felt confident in doing that but was also just excited about the opportunity to experience the race and let the cards fall where they may.

Of course, as the OTC folks can attest I'm usually not one to sit back and enjoy the view. Training continued to improve as I both got faster and learned how to manage my previous injuries while upping mileage. The other side of training though was this was my third cycle in less than two years; there were plenty of times during training where I just felt burned out and wanted to scrap the effort and be done with it (never mind the exhausting fact of navigating life with two kids under 2 ½). However by the time the last few weeks of training came about and boasting a new 10k PR, my thinking had shifted and I felt a 2:55 (a 2:30 min potential PR) was a possibility despite the difficulty of the NYC course. With that I packed my bags, said goodbye to the family (logistics and finances made sending the whole family a no-go) and jumped on a 5am flight to NYC.

I enjoyed my time in NYC pre-race, potentially to the detriment of my race performance. In the first 48 hours, I got to see Feist at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, run through Brooklyn Park and over the Brooklyn Bridge, do the race expo, walk around NYC, go to the Varsity Letters series (readings of sports books by famous authors) and just really walk around and embrace the city. Of course, by Friday night my legs were shot and my muscles were screaming for rest. Saturday turned into a day of total sloth and while I’d felt confident on the flight out, my nerves and general mind set was such that I had no idea what Sunday would bring.

Race Day:

5am isn’t TOO early to wake up for a marathon. However it is when you’re not racing for another 5 hours. No matter; a PBJ sandwich and a quick check of all the necessary equipment left me walking to the subway and arriving at the Staten Island Ferry 20 minutes ahead of schedule. It was great walking up in the dark and just hearing the worldly feel of the race; all the languages flowed over us as the volunteers tried their hardest to get people out on the earliest boat possible.

The ferry was fantastic. Found a nice seat towards the front and was able to get a few nice pics of sunrise in the city. The one thing I didn’t realize pre-race that I know now; once off the Ferry it’s a good 20-25 min bus ride to the Fort. I got shoved on a bus and ended up standing for the entire trip. All in all between the walks to and from subways, standing time getting to the race and the death march at the finish (more on that later) I probably did an additional 4-5 miles and was on my feet a good 90+ during the day. Definitely something to keep in mind for people making the trip in the future.

The marathon village was pretty low key for me. I found a place to camp under the tents (despite the beautiful weather I was all about conserving energy and just staying off my feet as much as I could), read the WSJ and laid low until it was time to go the corrals. I made my first mistake there. Once they started moving us to the start line, I decided to ditch my clothes at the last available donation point. This tactical error left me a) underdressed for hanging out on the bridge for 40 minutes and b) pushed me further into my original corral. When I finally found a place to settle, I realized I was by the 3:15 pace guy. Not exactly what I was hoping for but reminded myself it was a marathon not a sprint.

The start itself was jarring. Mary Wittenberg asks “are you ready?” then BAM! the cannon goes off and we’re out of the gates.

5k: 20:54
10k: 20:38

I just settled into a groove and enjoyed the view over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. The crystal clear skies made for great views of Brooklyn & Manhattan. Once in Brooklyn, it was a pure focus on the blue line while also enjoying the crazy Brooklyn crowds. Only two minor incidents through this point: one was watching a four person pileup in front of me and a fifth person pointing out the perp (who’d evidently shoved his way through the other runners). The other was the one pre-race tactical error I’d made coming to fruition around mile 5. I was in dire need of a porta potty. I spotted some just past 5 miles and quickly darted off the course into the PP when I heard the following:

Little Kid: “But Dad, a runner just ran in there! I know it’s unlocked but he beat me to it!”

I quickly shot back out with a “thanks!” to the little kid. As I was running away, I hear three guys in their best NY accents yell “I bet you feel better now!!!” I gave them a thumbs up and beelined back towards the blue line in an effort to conserve energy and run the course smart. Feeling great at this point and just watching the miles clip along.

15k: 20:28
20k: 20:44

Mainly just banging away through Brooklyn. Seamlessly integrated with the other two corrals at mile 8, enjoyed seeing BAM in daylight and mainly just focused on continuing to run smart and take on plenty of fluids. At this point I definitely enjoyed having just the constant noise; the Brooklyn crowds are great and that coupled with the entertainment made for an enjoyable experience early on. It also led to me reminding myself to be smart about not overdoing it early on. Somewhere in the back of my mind Tim’s warning of “beware the last 5 miles” sat waiting to be used. The only other bit to note here for me was that I was excited in a way to run through the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood. Just to experience a completely different part of NYC was something I was looking forward to as part of the run. However, I was so focused/dialed in/spaced that I didn’t realize I was in their ‘hood until a man ran in front of me to cross the street!

25k: 21:17

Transition time or better known as Queens. The crowds definitely drop down a little bit here both in terms of numbers & volume. This part might also be the quietest part of the course. Queens is quieter, the Pulaski bridge is very quiet (minus the solo bagpiper) and reminds me more of a generic city overpass (much like the first of the Newton hills in Boston). I was really happy to hit the half @ 1:27 at the bottom of the Pulaski and at that point I felt in control and comfortable. Little did I know that the hills ahead were going to make me potentially rue the pace.

30k: 20:43

The 25k mark is at the base of the Queensboro Bridge and is the entryway into Manhattan and the insane crowds that await. In looking at the map & the altitude chart before the race, I knew this would be my last major hill but wasn’t too worried about it thanks to the running I do throughout Portland. In retrospect, I should have been more worried. The combination of the hill and the silence left me alone with a body that was starting to suffer, if only slightly climbing up over the bridge. This was definitely the first time my legs started to tighten up. The turn onto first avenue was as promised though; a wall of sound and a total motivation to attack first avenue and enjoy the fact that you had the opportunity to run through Manhattan without anyone chasing you! Thankfully I didn’t pull a Ramalaa and instead just kept clipping out 6:40s and pointing myself towards the final borough.

35k: 21:22

I’d been warned about this part of the course; where the crowds thin out and people’s PR’s go to die. As I made my way into the Bronx I was feeling great. I was starting to bleed a little bit of time at mile 20 & 21 as I moved from a 6:40 pace into the 6:50s. However, I still felt strong and enjoyed the passionate crowds in the Bronx. I’m pretty sure there was a huge church choir at one point which was a lot of fun to hear and the folks made up for the lesser numbers with louder voices. My only major issue during this stretch was Matt (his name was on his arms so I can be confident that it isn’t a pseudonym). Matt was a fellow runner who kept accelerating and decelerating around me in the Bronx. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem except every time he accelerated into a curve, he’d cut me off at a 45 degree angle. On the third strike we had the following exchange:

Me: “Oy!”
Matt: “What?”
Me: “Quit cutting me off, you f**knut!”

As someone pointed out afterwards, leave it to the Bronx to channel my inner temper on some poor unsuspecting (but well deserving) runner. With that we crossed the Madison bridge (I’d left him behind but suspect he caught me later) and reentered Manhattan for the homestretch and the 5 miles Tim had previously worried me about.

40k: 24:02
42.2k: 10:27

This is where things went a bit “pear shaped.” Mile 22 brought another 6:50 and with it real hopes of PR’ing if not being close to that coveted 2:55 mark. At the start of mile 23 bad luck struck. The muscle connecting the inside of my left quad and knee cramped up and my toes in both feet followed quickly thereafter. This was completely new territory for me. I’ve never cramped in any athletic endeavor before and while I’ve had toes cramp in “real life” I’d never had that issue during a race. I tried to run through both and only made it another 400m before having to walk. After a 7:20ish 23rd mile, I started up the huge climb in Central Park that is mile 24. Staring at the incline combined with increased frequency of the cramps left me feeling suddenly both physically and emotionally vulnerable. In an effort to try to minimize the damage, I looked along the crowd until I found two people from the Central Park Track Club, peeled off and asked for their help. 90 seconds later with no real relief, I realized I needed to get going again or this was only going to get worse. They wished me luck and about then I realized I at least still had my humor: I mentioned that I had 38 minutes (or so) to complete the last 3 miles and requalify for Boston so hopefully that was still in range :-)

From there it was just a slog. I want to say I enjoyed the beauty of Central Park, was motivated my the amazing crowds and powered my way to a PR. The reality was me just managing the pain, running a half mile at a time (amazingly at close to race pace) then being overcome with cramps/pain and having to walk 50-100m before having enough strength to get going again. Somewhere in this stretch I also realized I’d stopped my watch. So it wasn’t until the end of mile 24 that I realized I’d logged an almost 9 minute mile and 2:55, a PR and likely 3:00 were all out the window. Thankfully I knew the difference between the race clock and my original clock so at least I knew where I really stood.

I’ve never been in this much pain during a race but in a very different fashion than normal. 95% percent of me was still strong and wanting to attack the rolling hills and bring it in strong. However that 5% made sure that was nothing but a dream. It was really, really hard to watch the hordes of people pass me over the last few miles (est. about 400 over the last 3.2 miles) knowing that there was nothing I could do. In fact, with 800m to go (and where the NYRR starts counting down the finish by 100m intervals) I had to stop again. Someone in the crowd yelled “you’ve got 800m to go! Get running!” I simply replied “I know I have 800m to go. This is the only way I’m getting there in one piece.”

As I approached the finish, I took off my hat and charged through the finish line. Just over 3 hours. A good time but not nearly where I was hoping goal wise. Normally a result like this would have left me frustrated with being so close, especially since had I not stopped to try to work out the cramp I would have been nearly guaranteed a sub 3 hour time (though as people have pointed out something much worse could have happened to the muscles...). However, this was the first race since I can remember where I went for “broke” from the start and let the chips fall where they may. In the end I was happy to be over the line and despite things having gone nowhere near how I expected to have finished NYC and finished my “revenge” mission of sorts. Of course, the marathon itself exacted some revenge on me and gave me a humbling reminder of what a hard event this is both physically and psychologically.

Finish Line & Beyond:

As people have pointed out in previous years, the finish line is nothing short of a death march. It was easily another mile of walking before finding my bag. Combine that with a stop at the medical tent to make sure everything was kosher (and find someplace to toss my NY apple; I mean who eats an apple after a marathon?) and it was almost a hour and a half after the race before I had my bag and was able to call Becca. The good news is the logistics gurus that are UPS had my bag lined up and ready to pick up, change and head into civilization. A mocha and two subway stops later, I was back in Brooklyn exhausted but with a medal around my neck and an experience I’d never forget. I’m not sure I’d run NYC again, but I’m really glad I’ve done it!


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