Five hours and change. Honestly, i'm none too pleased with my finishing time. It's only a minute faster than my finish earlier this year at the Phoenix Marathon, despite the higher volume and better quality of training. I couldn't make sense of this at first, but after having some time to stew over it, i think i have it figured out: New York is a much harder course. I mean, look at these elevation charts:
Phoenix is a smooth net downhill. New York, on the other hand, aside from the few hundred feet of net elevation gain, is a jagged series of up- and downhills that never end. In this context, finishing a minute faster than my previous run can probably be viewed as "some sort" of achievement. Still, finishing 21 minutes slower than the average and ending up in the 42nd percentile doesn't really do my ego any favors. Maybe i should just keep my head down and trust that i'll keep getting better with continued training. Or... maybe i should just stop making excuses for myself and accept that i suck.
Another bummer is that i thought i would get to see my name in the New York Times the next day. Alas: when i looked the list of finishers, i was disappointed to find that they cut it off at 4:55. Womp-womp.
My personal failings aside, the race itself was spectacular. The weather on that day was perfect: sunny and a cool 50 degrees. The event was extremely well-organized, from the pre-race expo up until crowd control after the finish. The police presence was highly visible, and definitely felt very secure from end-to-end (security being a significant concern for me after the Boston Marathon bombings). Personally, if cops walking around with machine guns doesn't make you feel safe, i don't know what will.
|At the expo.|
|All the runners have their names on the wall.|
|At the RW booth.|
|The morning of. Ready to go!|
|I was afraid to take a picture of one of the cops with machine guns. This will have to do.|
And the crowds! Thousands (tens of thousands? Hundreds of thousands?) of New Yorkers came out en masse to cheer on the runners. EVERYONE was supportive. Racers who had their names written on their shirts had random strangers calling out their names every 2 seconds. Applause followed the athletes with disabilities wherever they went. Rock bands played on the sidewalks with wild abandon. An entire church choir came out to sing for the runners. And aside from the bridges (where nobody was allowed to congregate), there was a sea of onlookers EVERYWHERE. For some reason though, no one felt compelled to yell "Go Pulmonary Associates of Stockton!"
|Perhaps the font was too small.|
As for me, i've never been one to "draw strength from the crowds." I don't even know what that means, and it makes no sense from a thermodynamic standpoint. So, no matter how many spectators cheered or how loudly they yelled, i felt fatigue and despair creep in at around mile 20 (which, retrospectively, was when the worst part of the course started). It was at that point that i started to question my life choices and wondered how bad it would really be to just walk the rest of the way. I was flirting with the dreaded "wall."
|A visual representation of my splits. The red line was when i started slowing down, leading to a "positive split"|
The only thing that really kept me in the race was my 3:1 run-walk-run strategy. I'm not going to belabor the point, but the walking intervals provided my legs with enough rest to let me power through at the end. In fact, i ran my fastest mile at the finish (in the vicinity of 9 minutes) PRECISELY because I was rested enough for it. Sadly, my finishing kick wasn't enough to overcome my cumulative slowness over the final six miles, resulting in my unsuccessful attempt to run a sub-five 26.2. Maybe i should have started that final kick sooner. Hindsight is 20/20.
|The mad dash to the finish... Still strong, but too little, too late.|
On a positive note, i did achieve measurable success with one of my self-imposed goals for the race: to drop around 20 pounds and get back to a healthy (below 25) BMI. This was not out of vanity; i felt that if i was lighter, i would run faster (by pushing along less weight) and be less prone to injuries (by letting my legs absorb less force with each step). My cholesterol also went up this past year, putting the fear of God into me. In the final analysis, i dropped 17 and got my BMI to 24.9 through a combination of running 40 miles a week and "mostly" (read: sprinkled with the occasional fast food and trips to a Chinese buffet) following Michael Pollan's advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Hopefully, the lifestyle changes that i initiated this year lead to a long and healthy life. At the very least, some of my chub seems to be melting away.
|Sometimes you have to give in to your cravings.|
New York has been on my "running bucket list" ever since i ran my first marathon 8 years ago. There was no particular reason for this, except that it's touted to be one of those major "must do" marathons. But given the opportunity, would i run it again? Probably not.
IMHO, it's just too big. Because there are over 50,000 participants, being a slightly-slower-than-the-middle-of-the-pack runner meant that i was ALWAYS smack dab in the middle of a crowd. While some would consider this to be a pleasant experience, i am not one of those people. I detest having my soles kicked by the person running behind me, as well as having to rub elbows (and more) with the sweaty, heavy-breathing people running alongside me for miles on end.
The mass of humanity also presented a unique challenge in regards to my run-walk-run strategy, since i couldn't just stop running in the middle of the road without inconveniencing everyone immediately behind me. I couldn't run the tangents at all, either: at any given time there were always a hundred people jockeying for position to do just that. All told, i probably ran almost an extra mile by giving the corners a wide berth and having to weave in and out of traffic for my walk breaks. While i'm certainly pleased that i can finally cross New York off my bucket list, once i clear the "major" marathons (such as Tokyo and London), i will probably focus on smaller ones (preferably less than 5,000 runners) with net downhill courses.
|At the start. Thousands of people ahead of me.|
|Somewhere in the middle. Thousands of people running with me.|
|At the finish. Thousands of people still behind me.|
Anyway, that's my third marathon in the books. Next stop, CIM, "The Fastest Course in the West."
Random race day thoughts (for future reference, in case i ever decide to run it again, or for anyone looking for tidbits of advice):
1. After the race is over, be prepared to WALK a significant distance. It's about a half a mile to the main exit, and it's impossible to catch a ride (unless you were taking the subway) for blocks around. Getting a hotel close to the finish line (Central Park) is a nice perk, but expensive and has to be booked early.
2. HILL TRAINING is essential. Throw in a couple of hills at the end of a long run to simulate what it's like to run the last 6 miles of this course.
3. Even if your'e not a professional runner, or perhaps even moreso BECAUSE you're not a professional runner, it's probably a good idea to review the elevation chart before the race.
4. NO HYDRATION BACKPACKS ARE ALLOWED on the course. If you've been training with one, come up with an alternative. However, there are hydration stations close to every mile marker starting at mile 3, so carrying your own liquids may not be essential.
5. The post-race poncho is NICE. I think i'll bring it with me to other races.
|Showing off the medal in my post-race poncho.|
6. A little weight training goes a long way. In Phoenix, my arms got sore from swinging for 5 hours. I incorporated some light weight training into my regimen this time - enough to get toned but not necessarily swole - and avoided that issue entirely.
7. Posture is very important. Midway into the race, my neck and traps were burning. Reviewing my "action pics" from the race, my shoulders were pulled up while i was running. Tension, or just poor form? Whatever it is, i have to fix it.
8. The "cheer cards," while good in theory, are unclear to use in practice. Gianina made three for me, which i never saw before or during the race. Maybe i just wasn't looking in the right spot, but i couldn't even find them in the official app.
9. If you're planning to buy ANY professional pictures at all (even one, those suckers are crazy expensive), "pre-pay" the service prior to race day to get a discount. Then pose for every photographer on the day of the race to get your money's worth.
|No idea why, but i think you're supposed to bite the medal.|
|The happy finisher.|
|None of this would have been possible without my family's support.|