Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The 2009 New York Marathon - Race Report

I've already blogged about the day before and the morning of the 2009 New York Marathon. I'm now lined up in the corral and ready to go!

My goal for this race was to first to run as close to an even split as possible. Last year at the Frederick Marathon, I ran a 2:13 first half and a 2:46 second half (where I started to fall apart around mile 16). This year, I was shooting for a 4:40 finishing time - which equates to a 10:40/mile pace. My strategy was to break up the race into three chunks - 10-10-10: the first 10 miles at a sub-150 heart rate, the next 10 miles by feel and the last 10K in smaller chunks to take me to the finish line.

The corral was pretty chaotic when I entered. I was in corral "G" - which was the last one. I saw one of the pace team signs about 20 yards ahead of me that read "5:00". I mentioned to ZF that we should try to line up a little ahead of that pace group since we were both shooting for 4:40-ish finishes, however, there was no way to navigate through the mass of humanity. I had already disposed of my sweatshirt and left it in a pile to be donated, but many people waited until they were in the corrals to take off their "throw-away" layers. Sweatshirts and sweatpants were strewn upon the chain link fence to our right and hanging off the top of porta-potties to our left...and some pieces just left on the ground for everyone to step on (and hopefully not trip over).

Finally, we heard the cannon go off (I guess they shoot it off multiple times for the different wave starts) and we started to slowly move forward. In a few minutes I was able to see the bridge again and all of the runners ahead of us starting out their race. At this point I saw two crazy costumes - one guy had a huge inner-tube looking thing with an ostrich coming up from it...another person in the adjacent corral had a tall Eiffel Tower costume. I don't know how they can run a full marathon with those things...

We finally crossed the starting line at around 10:30am and started to climb up the Verrazano Bridge. What an awesome way to start the marathon! I was lucky to be on the left side of the bridge as I got a good view of the NY skyline. It was definitely windy on the bridge - part of me wished that I would have kept an outer layer for this portion of the run, but I knew I would warm up very soon. I had to keep telling myself to slow down - I had tons of adrenaline running through me and easily could have tried to attack the bridge, but I knew it would be better to have a slow mile up and a faster mile down. I was able to hold to this strategy:

Mile 1 - 11:18 / avg HR 163 (false HR readings? adrenaline?? all uphill???)
Mile 2 - 9:51 / avg HR 145 (more like it!)

Immediately coming off the bridge, we were met by hundreds of screaming spectators in the first block welcoming us to Brooklyn! It seemed like entire communities were out - kids lining the streets with hands out for high-fives, bands playing every few blocks, people with signs encouraging their friends and family members - and encouraging strangers with the names that they had on their shirts (or in my case, since I had "FOR NANA" on my shirt, I had many people encouraging me to run for Nana!) It was truly AMAZING. What was absolutely insane, however, was that this continued for the majority of Brooklyn. All 11 miles of it - with the exception of about 1/2 mile through the ultra-religious chassidic Williamsburgh area.

I asked ZF, who had recently run the Rock-n-Roll Seattle Marathon, if that race had as many bands playing. She laughed and said that there was no Seattle there was either a band or a cheerleading squad (and mostly cheerleaders - not bands) every mile or so, but what we were seeing in Brooklyn was some kind of music playing (rock band, DJs, bongo players, bagpipes, marching bands, chiors, etc.) every few blocks.

Mile 3 - 10:40 / avg HR 151
Mile 4 - 10:34 / avg HR 152

Around this time the three color groups converged. I looked to the other side of the road and saw Coach Jeff and his wife running. I called out and ran over to him. We wished each other good luck - I thanked him again for all of the coaching support! - he snapped a picture and we were off again.

It was also around this time that my left foot started to have little spasms. Kind of odd, since my foot wasn't hurting at all leading up to the race and this didn't happen during training. I let ZF know that I had to stretch it out. She went ahead and I went to the side of the road to stretch for a bit.

Mile 5 - 10:52 / avg HR 150 (included stretching my foot, so I must have run the other parts pretty fast...)
Mile 6 - 10:33 / avg HR 147
Mile 7 - 10:46 / avg HR 149

At this point I was running completely solo - and I would for the rest of the race. Every so often I would start talking to other people on the course. There were two guys who live in Florida who saw my shirt and asked me about my connection with the Alzheimer's Association. I told them my Nana's story - arriving in Ellis Island 100 years ago in November of 1909, living in Brooklyn most of her life (we were close to her 'hood while I was telling the story...whoa!) - and then we started talking about the other marathons we had all run.

Later on I met two women who were running for the charity The Lunch Box Fund which provides lunches to school children in South Africa. I asked how big their charity team was and they told me that I was looking at the team! I don't know if they had tried to register an "official" charity team or not...but either way, they had a cause that they wanted to run for and made it happen. It definitely puts things in perspective - if you want to do something, you don't have to wait for it to happen...just make it happen!

Mile 8 - 10:43 / avg HR 152
Mile 9 - 10:55 / avg HR 151
Mile 10 - 10:44 / avg HR 149

I was now done with the first third of my 10-10-10 marathon strategy. My average HR was in the low 150s and my pace was right around 10:41. Pretty much where I wanted to be. Since my HR was a little on the high side, I decided to try to keep to this pace until the 59th Street Bridge and then see if I could ride the excitement of First Avenue up to the Bronx.

Mile 11 - 10:54 / avg HR 155
Mile 12 - 10:41 / avg HR 153
Mile 13 - 10:37 / avg HR 158
Half Marathon Split - 2:21:30

My Half Marathon split was pretty spot on - about 90 seconds slower than the 2:20 I was shooting for, but so far I wasn't over-taxing myself and I had plenty left in the tank for the second half. I was taking a GU every 45 minutes and drinking plenty of water. Well, perhaps a little too much water, as I really had to pee by this time; however, all of the porta-potties that I ran past had lines - and this was New York City so there were no trees to go behind to take care of business.

At this point, we were entering Queens. I was looking for fellow running-blogger TK who lives in Queens and whose normal running route is over the 59th Street Bridge. I didn't look at my emails since I had left Maryland, so I did not know exactly where she would be. It ends up that I had missed her since I was in the last wave of runners. However, looking for her in Queens gave me more purpose at this part of the run which helped. Also, at this point of the race I heard my phone go off - I had a text message from my sister. She had arrived in the city and was waiting for me at 71st Street and 1st Ave in Manhattan.

Mile 14 - 10:51 / avg HR 159

At around this time, I started to feel a little pain in my right calf. I was telling myself to run through it and the pain will go away - just like it did with the pain in my left foot a few miles earlier. We were about to ascend onto the 59th Street Bridge - which meant I was very familiar with the remainder of the course as I had run it two weeks earlier. I tried to take it easy going up the bridge - just like with the first mile of the course - I could run a slower mile up the bridge and then take the downhill a bit faster to make up for it. For some reason, I ended up getting boxed in a lot while on the bridge - perhaps the course is a bit narrower here as they only use one side of the lower deck of the bridge for the marathon (the other side of the street is empty - likely for emergency personnel to get through...just in case).

For me, there wasn't too much that was memorable on this bridge. However, for teammates JM and TA, this bridge - and this point on the course - will be a lifetime memory and the start of a new chapter of their lives. As they were on the bridge looking at the Manhattan skyline, he proposed to her! Congratulations guys!!!

Coming off the bridge I was anticipating the "wall of sound" of cheering spectators lining the ramp onto First Avenue in Manhattan. I saw the people there, but the cheers were not as loud as I was expecting. Perhaps the cheering was louder earlier and the spectators were just tired by then? I'm not sure what happened, but I have to say that the folks in Brooklyn did a better job greeting runners off their bridge. Manhattan - you have a bit of work to do to catch up with Brooklyn for next year...

One thing that did excite me coming off of the bridge was a long row of porta-potties - many of which showing the lock "on green" meaning they were vacant. Score!

Mile 15 - 11:27 / avg HR 162 (up the bridge)
Mile 16 - 12:27 / avg HR 161 (includes the porta-potty break and a brief stretch of my right calf)

I was now on First Avenue in Manhattan which was lined with spectators on both sides of the street. The throngs of fans rarely thinned out over the four mile stretch of 1st Ave - it seemed that there were people cheering you on constantly from the 59th Street Bridge to the Willis Avenue bridge 70 streets later. The best "pick-me-up" for me was seeing my sister at 71st Street. She had made a big sign - which I had spotted a block and a half away - and was cheering for me like crazy! She brought some extra GU, Larabars and socks - none of which I needed at the time, but I was very appreciative that she brought things for me. Actually, the one thing I really wanted to eat at that point was a banana and she didn't have one with her. We took a picture together and decided we would meet again on 5th Ave and 98th Street.

I continued up First Avenue with some more spring in my step after seeing my sister and with the encouragement of the cheering crowds. My fastest mile of the day was right here on First Ave - Mile 18 in 9:41. When I saw how fast I ran that mile, I decided I needed to slow it back down. I also decided it was time to eat the Larabar that I had on me to get some more calories in my system for my body to burn. My calf muscle - and lower hamstring - was really starting to hurt by this time, so I convinced myself to stretch it out after I finished with mile 19. After a quick calf stretch on a lamp post, I continued up to the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx.

Mile 17 - 11:45 / avg HR 161 (stopped to visit with my sister!)
Mile 18 - 9:41 / avg HR 169 (my fastest mile on the day)
Mile 19 - 10:53 / avg HR 168 (while eating a Larabar)
Mile 20 - 11:26 / avg HR 168 (with stretching my calf muscle)

I knew that the distance spent in the Bronx was a little over a mile. I had just stretched and felt pretty good so I felt I could get through this stretch pretty well. The problem was that after entering into Manhattan again, the pain in my calf and hamstring started to get a lot stronger.

Mile 21 - 10:27 / avg HR 172

Upon entering Manhattan from the Bronx, I stopped at the first water station to walk and stretch again. Once I was walking, though, I didn't want to start running. I decided that from now on I would try to walk for a minute and then run for 10 minutes. This strategy worked and got me running again. In this stretch I saw two more teammates of mine - first LC and then a few minutes later AE. Again it was nice to speak to someone while running to help get our minds off of how much our bodies were hurting at the time.

The other thing that kept me going here was that I knew my sister was waiting for me at 98th Street and Fifth Avenue. I had reached my 10 minutes of running when I hit 101st Street, so I kept going until I reached my sister. Somehow, I still had a smile on my face!

She started to run with me up Fifth Avenue towards the park. I wanted to save some energy for Central Park and the last two miles (and plus, it was time for me to walk anyway, right?) so I had her walk with me for a few blocks. She now had a banana for me and started to peel it, however, at that point I thought I would hurl if I ate a banana. My sister asked the runners near us if anyone wanted the banana and someone immediately yelled "ME!". I was not the only runner my sister helped out on the course that day!

Mile 22 - 11:59 / avg HR 165
Mile 23 - 11:55 / avg HR 158
Mile 24 - 11:56 / avg HR 164

I started to run again as I entered Central Park. I knew there were two miles left to go, but whenever I ran my hamstring really hurt. I was going to try to run as much as I could here, but walk up some of the hills if I needed to. I loved running in Central Park during my training, but now I could not soak in the beauty of the park and the magnificent crowds that were there to cheer on the runners. I had to focus on the task at hand - finishing.

By this time I knew that my 4:40 goal was gone. However, as long as I didn't injure myself I would likely be able to finish with a new PR. I crossed the mile 25 marker and RedG showed somewhere in the 4:37 range. If I could manage a 10:00/mile pace over the final 1.2 miles I could still finish in the 4:40s.

Mile 25 - 11:12 / avg HR 165

I started to push myself as I exited the park onto Central Park South. The crowds were amazing and the energy was electrifying. However, I could only run with the pain for so long - about half way up Central Park South I needed to walk for a block or two. The spectators in the crowd were yelling for me, "Do it FOR NANA!", "Don't Let Nana Down!", etc. With encouragement like that, how could I walk? Of course I got started again and turned the corner into the park.

Once I re-entered the park, I knew there was not much left to the course - and that the ending was uphill. My sister told me that my parents were waiting at the finish line - in the bleachers at Tavern On The Green (I have no idea how my mom finagled her way into the bleachers, however, it did not surprise me one bit that she did...).

I turned on whatever "burners" I had left and booked it to the finish line. I saw my parents in the bleachers on the left side of the course and waved and blew a kiss their way - and then crossed the finish line.

Final Chip Time - 4:51:25

I walked around immediately after the finish to catch my breath and calm down. I then went to get my finisher's medal. The medal was a bit disappointing to me. I was hoping it would have the NY Skyline or the NY Road Runner's logo of a runner in front of a big apple. Instead there was a big 40, since this is the 40th running of the New York Marathon. I'm sure this is not an issue for most people, but given that I just turned 38 this summer and for the first time had some difficulty with my birthday (facing the fact that I'm getting OLD), I'm just a bit sensitive to someone draping a big 40 around my neck. Come on, I'm not 40 yet...get that thing away from me!!! OK, I do love my medal. But this was definitely my first reaction to seeing it.

My plan now was to exit the park, get to my friend's apartment on 70th and Broadway to shower, get my bag and take a cab down to the post-race party at Columbus Circle where my family would be waiting for me. The New York Road Runners had a different plan for me though. I couldn't just "exit the park". I had to walk past tons of baggage trucks with the other hundreds (thousands?) of runners who had just crossed the finish line. Runners were herded like cattle all the way to 77th Street. At least they gave us a bag of food to eat - a PowerBar, an apple, a Gatorade, water, almonds and a bagel.

Exiting the park and getting to my friend's apartment took close to an hour. I spoke to Sherry and she let me know that my Aunt, Uncle and Cousins from New Jersey would not be able to stay much longer at the post-race party so I would not be able to see them :-( I felt bad that they made such an effort - especially with the kids - and that I did not get to see them and thank them for coming to cheer me on.

The next hurdle was that there were NO empty cabs going southbound from my friend's apartment. I thought about taking the bus - but I had asked some of the people waiting at the stop and they mentioned that the last bus did not show yet. I was only 12 blocks away from Columbus Circle - so I decided to walk to the party, bag in tow. I finally made it and celebrated with family members and teammates!

Overall, I really enjoyed my New York Marathon experience. The marathon itself was wonderful - such energy from the screaming fans along the entire course and it was amazing to see how many volunteers they had working the race. The scope of this event is so huge and everything seemed to go smoothly. It was a bit of a bummer to have to wait in the starting area for so long and to have such a slow march to leave the park, but I guess that's what needs to happen to get so many runners staged to start the race and exit the park without much chaos.

I also felt that this race was extra special given that I ran for a cause and with Team Run To Remember. In addition to making the training runs easier by running with a team, I felt that I wasn't out on the course by myself and every time I saw one of my teammates I got a lift. Running with a charity team is definitely something I will consider doing again.

However, I'm not sure when I will run another full marathon again. This distance is really brutal for me. I definitely ran a better race this year than last year, but I still fell apart during the later miles of the race. For now, I think my limit is about 18 miles or 30K. Half marathons, here I come!!!


Kirsten said...

Mike, you and I have such similar experiences with that distance...going out easy, but still struggling at the end with various pains. Still, you did great and it was really a pleasure to read your report. It *almost* makes me think it would be fun to run NYC if I ever did another marathon, especially a massive one like that.

I'm with you--18 miles is about my limit, too. We have several HMs and a big 25k in my neck of the woods, so I would be perfectly content to stick with those for a long time to come.

Great job with your fundraising. I know how good it feels to help a worthy organization while training for and running a race. Plus it helps give these charities extra visibility to the general public on race day.

Anonymous said...

Mike what a great race report! I laughed and cried! I am touched that you thought of me while you ran through Queens--my folks and I had to beat a hot path out of Queens as soon as my brother ran by around 12:20 to be sure to catch him in Manhattan.

Yeah, no one preps you for that hour-long slog out of the park after you've crossed-the finish line.

Your sis sounds awesome!

And I love the widsom you took from The Lunch Box Fund--"if you want to do something, you don't have to wait for it to happen...just make it happen!" SO TRUE!

Congratulations on holding your own within the multitudes; you're a hero; you did it for Nana.

Zia said...

Mike, I felt the same way when I saw the medal!! Must just be that we're sensitive cuz we're almost 40 = everyone else I know loves it.

The pic of you & your awesome sis is really cute - she rocks! Count me among the people she helped to finish for sure.

Mike Fox said...

Zoomy - I may have to check out that 25K of yours one of these sounds like a cool distance - and an instant PR ;-)

TK - We missed each other once again :-( I just read your brother's race report and I see that my sister was not the only one helping their brother run the marathon last weekend...good for you!!!

Zia - Thank you for validating my feelings on the 40 medal...misery loves company!

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