NYC Marathon 2017 recap

I signed up for the NY marathon as a last minute decision. I was looking for the season closing race in 2017, but could not talk myself into doing another IM. The body felt beat up, I had trouble sleeping, was constantly stressed, was probably drinking more than I should I have... all in all, another round of IM training would have been too much at this point. But a marathon seemed manageable, and when my contact at the sponsor company of the marathon offered me a spot, I could not say no. 

So as I was finishing up the training for the Malibu Olympic distance race, I started to slowly ramp up my running mileage.I spent about 8 weeks training fairly consistently, and hit a couple of 50+ mile weeks, but did nothing really earth shattering in terms of the training volume. On the year I averaged 36 miles per week, and I was hoping that would be a good enough foundation for a solid year ending marathon run. I really wanted to improve on my time in the 2014 NYC marathon where I had a really crappy 8 mile stretch at the end of the race. I knew that with the constant rollers and tall bridge crossings, the 5 boroughs course will require strength and consistent pacing. I cut down on the quality runs a bit and concentrated on running daily, sometimes doubling up on a day to get used to running on tired legs. All in all, I think that the training went well, even though I had to reduce the volume in the week before the race, as I was feeling too much fatigue. I did 3 18 mile runs, one of them was done with a 4 mile closing stretch at the race pace at about 7:20 min/mile. I also ran a 1:25 half marathon (albeit on a very flat course) about a month before the race, which was encouraging but not really indicative of my potential time. It gave me hope, but in the absence of the longer training stretch I had to be careful with having too ambitious of a goal.

Got to NY on a Wednesday night, had a dinner with a co-worker who also traveled with me, checked into the hotel and fell asleep right away. Woke up at 7 am local time to what sounded like an animal stampede in the hallway. Dressed up and went outside and to my amusement there were a couple of dozen of Italian runners gathered outside of the hotel door. There were staying on my floor I guess - and they were all out to pre-run the course. Went for a run towards the Central Park, with the intent to make it about 6 miles in total... it was still a bit dark, lots of folks running, clearly in town for the race. By the time I got back to the hotel it was bright outside and very, very warm. In the evening I went to the convention center and picked up my packet. Walked back to the hotel and was pretty tired from all the running and walking during the day. Had to go for another dinner close by, and by the time I got back I had logged close to 20k steps on the day.

The next morning I did the same routine but kept the run down to about 3 miles, at a very easy pace. Limited walking to a trek to the office and back, had a quiet night by myself, went to bed at 9:30 pm - and woke up rested. Checked the forecast fr Sunday and it was showing the mid 50s to low 60s with rain and a bit of the wind throughout the day. I needed some warm clothes for the starting line - I had a couple of spare shifts that I could just change out of before the run, but no bottoms to keep the legs warm. Walked to a TJ Maxx nearby and bought some pajama pants that were on clearance for $9 and a cotton shirt for $5. Spent most of the day in bed, watching college football and went for an pasta dinner in a nearby Italian joint. Had a strangely intense conversation with some woman at a bar who was drinking fairly heavily (her $50 bill was made up of mostly red wine by glass) about the pros and cons of prolonging someone's life through tube feeding and so on. She mentioned working as a surgeon in a Brooklyn hospital but she might have been a bit drunk and exaggerated somewhat. Nonetheless I had a very tasty pasta with meat sauce with a glass of table wine, and afterwards went back to the hotel feeling quite ready.

Woke up the next morning, had 2 slices of bread with almond butter and marmalade, a cup of coffee, got dressed and headed out. Yes, I looked dorky.

The Europeans were already crowding in the lobby, all looking grumpy for some reason... walked to the Essex House hotel on the 58th to get on the sponsor's bus. Was seated fairly quickly and we were moving by 6 am. Have to say that the ride to Staten Island is one of my favorite parts of the race experience. Seeing New York early in the morning, the streets mostly empty except for the runners and their entourage getting on the race buses is quite a difference experience from the usual crazy hustle of the daily life in the city.We had a fairly smooth ride all the way to the Staten Island where we ran into the race day traffic and were moving at a glacial speed until one of the traffic cops cleared the road for us. I had a Clif bar right before we pulled into the terminal, and got ready to exit the bus. The weather outside was very, very autumn-like. Low clouds, a bit windy, with a tiny drizzle and the temps at about 53 degrees... we had to go through a massive security theater at the entrance with the metal detector gates, bag "checks", lots of cops of every imaginable unit clocking easy time and even the army units present in a full combat gear.I made it to the sponsor's tent, had a coffee and bagel and went outside to get a bit more used to the climate. It was wet and chilly, and I was worried that we would get drenched before the race even begins. After some more thinking I put on removable sleeves, grabbed my gels, Gatorade and one more Clif bar, and dropped my bag with the UPS track. I had to think for a second about potentially bringing with me a spare pair of running socks wrapped in a plastic bag... but the rain did not seem that bad. So I left them in the bag to change into them later. It was time to go to the Blue village for the start of my Wave 2. 

Made it there too early, and just sat on the ground for a bit in my Corral A. At around 9:40 am I went to a porta potty... and by the time I got out, the organizers had removed the ropes separating the corrals. I was suddenly in the middle of the 3:30 pace group probably in Corral D or maybe even further in the back. I tried to make my way to the front corral again, but no dice - I was facing a human wall made out of stressed and angry runners. As I was realizing that I was stuck, I took a deep breath and decided to relax and enjoy the experience... hopefully I'd make it through the crowds and get to run my pace. I was suddenly in a good place, rested and ready for a great run through the Big Apple. Had 3 Clif shot gels, 1 super caffeinated GU gel and 8 salt stick tabs in a baggie. Bring it!

The gun went off at 10:15 and the human stampede across the Verrazano-Narrows bridge has began. I was highly amused by the folks taking their selfies in all sorts of bizarre spots, like on the divider row, while running with the back turned, even attempting mini group selfies while all trying to run at the same pace... saw some dude drop his iPhone on the ground shuttering it into 2 halves. Good times. Human vanity is the true movers of the economy. In any case, there was not a ton of room to maneuver here, so I ran at whatever pace the crowd would let me without doing too much twisting and turning. The first mile was predictably slow, but then we starting going down the bridge, and the speed picked up. The next couple of miles through Brooklyn along the 4th Ave were fast fast fast and eventually I caught up with the 3:25 group. I started to feel really hot in the sleeves and dropped them soon after. Bye old friends - you served me well!

The problem was that there was just not a ton of space to run around people in. I kept passing folks who looked like they were running in the 10 min/mile range, and they were all bunched up together, clearly running as a group. Knowing from the past that doing too much running around the people will eventually cost me, I tried to keep it down to the minimum. And there odd bits like having a full camera crew on the motorcycles filming some human interest story about (I am assuming) the folks using the hand cycles and so on. But for most part I could find space and was keeping a steady pace. 

By the time we got to mile 9 I was averaging about 7:14 min/mile and that pace felt about right. The heart rate was mostly around 158 bpm and it felt comfortable. The drizzle started back up about an hour into the run. It was falling steadily, never quite turning into a full on rain, but kind of just slowly drenching everyone. On the upside, I stopped drinking water and would just take Gatorade every other station. Saw an open porta potty at around mile 10, darted into it, the piping was a bit frozen up so the pee took about a minute. Started running again, and eventually the pace was about 7:16 min/mile right. Both Pulaski and the Queensboro bridges were completely packed with very little room for maneuvering. We passed the halfway marker between those bridges and the time was 1:35:39 - so I was looking at something along the line of a 3:10-3:15 finish depending on how the rest of the run would go. Had the first Clif gel at that point.

That stretch on Queensboro broke me last time, as I was probably climbing too hard and then ran down too fast too. This time I made sure to keep it a steady effort, without jacking up the heart rate into the zone 5 range. The bridge is pretty dark and dank inside, although it looks absolutely majestic from the outside. It kept echoing with hundreds of feet pounding on the surface. I came off the bridge and was feeling very pumped. I knew that I was going to finish the run strong that day. And was really looking forward to running the 1st Ave - it is always the craziest stretch!

We ran north through Manhattan, crossed the Willis Ave bridge and then trekked into Bronx for about 2 miles. As everyone would tell you, it is the least exciting part of the run from the scenic view perspective. Drab streets, project buildings and a general feeling of this lingering industrial misery - that's pretty much what you see there. But soon enough you get back into Manhattan via Madison Ave and by then you are either doing a death march on the 5th Ave or are out to bring it for the final stretch. I was feeling good, had another Clif gel, but something inside of me was beginning to ache a bit. I also started to get a little bit of a twinge in the right hammy from probably not taking enough electrolytes. Had to pop a salt tab and started taking Gatorade at every water station without exception. The twinge went away. But I sure was seeing a lot folks working through massive cramps, and more or less run-walking those last 4-5 miles.The last few miles of the race along the 5th Ave are either a steady climb, or rollers that hurt. My pace was good and steady but I definitely felt that I lost 45-70 seconds along that stretch, as I had to respect the HR - was pretty sure that I push it I might cramp up pretty severely. This was taken at mile 24.

The rain stopped for a bit, but then started back up again...   feet were dry, but my top and shorts were all drenched. The average pace was dropping, and it was around 7:20 min/mile. With all the running around people I was looking to ending up running about 0.2 mile extra, which would have cost about 85 seconds extra, and with that it looked like it was going to be a 3:13-ish finish time. Indeed, that's what ended up happening - I finished with the time of 3:13:40.

Made my way to the tent of the sponsor, got my bag and rain poncho, put on calf sleeves and started walking towards the exit. I was absolutely drenched, shivering cold and just wanted to make it back to the hotel as soon as possible to get a hot shower. The walk was not bad save for the super congested stretch near the Columbus circle mall. Got back, showered and went out with a couple of friends to enjoy a burger and some brews! Should I even say that they hit the spot?

Final thoughts. It seems like the elites were about 3 min slower  compared to 2016, so perhaps I can be excused for missing my goal by 3 mins. I love this race, but being in the second wave majorly sucks. My whole race up until the last turn to the finish line was spent running around people. I ran up full 0.2 miles extra on top of the 26.2 and oftentimes there was just no way to run clean tangents. The first 3 bridges were jam packed and it certainly cost me anywhere between 60 an 90 seconds. Most importantly - I get that the organizers want to make it a special race for a lot of people but seeding massive European club teams way above their running ability turns this into a video game for the 2nd wave folks. If you are thinking of doing this race for a BQ - I'd find another course where you can have an open road. But then again - where else will you have this kind of crowd support?

My splits can be found here and my Garmin file is there - now I am going to go work on my breakfast.

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