My pre-race was anything but ordinary. I spent 18 weeks fully documenting and planning my approach to running my first sub 3 hour marathon. As the final week ticked away, I carefully monitored my water, food, and rest. Short marathon paced interval workouts were implemented daily and I was feeling strong. Mental imagery projected a landscape of spectators ten deep, cheering and hollering as I hauled through the final stretch in Central Park (not specifically cheering for me, but you get the idea). I had unbelievable high expectations for the all encompassing experience of the NYC Marathon.
The race cancellation announcement was comparable to the cancellation of Christmas (for me at least). With the announcement all my subdued excitement evaporated. It was like waking up and expecting a snow day, when in fact, you didn’t.
Part I: The Amazing Race can be read here. It documents my trip to and from NYC.
Part II: Marathon Morning
My Achilles Heel in endurance racing has always been nutrition. It has slowed me to a death shuffle in a few Ironman’s and prior marathons. I was determined to make things right.
4:00am – What seemed like merely 15 minutes of rest, I woke to a blaring alarm that couldn’t be more annoying. Google claims it to be “Jungle Drums”. Damn you Google. Anyway, I shut hustled to shut the alarm off, slathered some peanut butter on some bread, ate it, swigged some Gatorade, reset the alarm and fell back asleep.
5:30am – My sleeping from peanut butter to now felt like a blink. For all the hustle and bustle of my pre-race, I felt fairly rested overall. I checked the weather: 30 degree’s and partly cloudy—great. I through on every piece of warm clothes I had, which wasn’t much. I ended up racing in a singlet, shorts, winter hat, arm warmers, and gloves. To my surprise, I felt comfortable from a temperature perscpective.
7:00am – Boarded a bus to be shuttled to the start, where more waiting occurred; luckily, I met up with a few local guys who were supposed to run the ING NYC Marathon. They, unlike me, were lucky enough to have the trip cancelled before they left.
8:10am – Bang! The gun is fired (or was it a countdown?).
First 9 miles were fairly uneventful. I settled into a groove early. Luckily, I had a friend from Rochester, Matthew Kellman, to settle in with. We spent the first 14 miles together, actually. Matt was looking to run a sub-3 hour marathon as well. Even more amazing, Matt is doing this at the age of 49 and having run 42 marathons. We faced a persistent head wind for miles 3-9. Having Matt helped. Him, another runner, and myself formed a pace line that took 1K pull’s on the front to shield the wind, a perfect opportunity for frozen hands to spend a few minutes to open a gel at mile 8.
Miles 9-14: – We were warned. All the talk at the expo and on the bus was about this infamous downhill. How fast it was, how fast the course was. Although fast, it made the last kick to the finish line rather difficult. Advantageously using gravity, Matt and I cooked down the freeway (yes part of the race is on the freeway). We raced smart. We were aggressive, but not overly. In the back of my head I had visions of racing the section too hard, too fast, and having my legs crumble beneath me. Spoiler alert—staying in control here saved both of us, as we both crossed prior to the 3 hour tick.
Miles 14-16: lead us onto a narrow path, a perfectly executed bottleneck full of half and full marathoners. My shouts of “on your left” had a different meaning on November 4th. Apparently, “on your left” is loosely translated into “turn around abruptly, without moving, and stare into the eyes of the runners barreling down on you.” The bottleneck separated Matt and I, as bobbed and weaved, thinking, “This is a little taste of New York, I bet.”
Mile 16: I came to the realization that fatigue really hurts your math skills. I’ve always thought my Math skills to be above par, but when it came down to calculating my remaining distance I came up with obvious answer of 8. Yes. I have only 8 miles left.
Mile 18: Ah, crap! My math was off. I always used 8 miles as a mental go to in the latter half of the race. Telling myself, “You have less than an hour left. Suck it up.” Surprisingly, my legs felt rather good at this point and I reached another crucial point of the race—my second gel ingestion. The race planned to have gels, so I was told. Unfortunately, the cluster of half and full marathoners created an ambiguous aid station and I missed my gel; however, observing the other runners, it appears that everyone else got one? I started the mental battle of “missing that gel is going to make me bonk”.
Mile 20-22: Uneventful. Cardiovascular wise I was in perfect condition. I had enough breath to chat if I wanted to, but my legs were hitting the mute button. They definitely started to pour on the hurt.
Mile 22-23: Do you really have to breathe like that? I try to be a good sport, but when my legs are screaming I can turn into Mr. Hyde. I hadn’t realized it, but since mile 20 a fellow runner decided to shield himself in my draft. I have no problem with that. I did it earlier. The issue arose when his breathing converted into a gasp to a ‘throat-clearing-phlegm-mining-somewhat-cough’ swallowing of oxygen. It was literally driving me nuts and the only thing I could focus on. As a spectator cheered us in passing he says, “All I hear is ‘blah, blah, blah” right before quickly returning to his death rattled breathing pattern. If I could take it back I would (which I later apologized for later post race). I quickly responded with, “All I can hear is you, going (insert aforementioned dysfunctional breathing pattern).” Whoops! I apologize (again) if you’re reading this!
Mile 23: Can someone talk that knife out of my calf? My breathing was precise and steady, unlabored even; however, my legs decided that they want me to be challenged. I fought to keep my pace. Mile 23 began the fight to continue running sub 7’s.
Mile 24: The ‘throat-clearing-phlegm-mining-somewhat-cough’ gasp guy dropped off! That thought was quickly followed by “Oh no. I think my left calf just tore in half.” I was within 10 seconds of pace and starting to dig. I was reluctantly happy. Falling apart at mile 24 and suffering for the last 2-3 miles isn’t a bad deal, considering I’ve suffered through 10+ miles in other races.
Mile 25: “You’re going to Boston!” was houted from the crowd. I smiled, but again no real joy or emotion. I was quickly reminded with the revelation that my legs were tearing with every step.
Mile 26: I took a withdrawal from the ‘pain cave’ so they say, providing a last ditch speed interval to break 2:58:00. To this point I never looked at the overall time. I knew I was sitting well and should cross below 3 hours, but I never was completely sure. A last ditch, quick interval, to the finish ensured me a 2:57:58 marathon (which I inherently round down to 2:57 🙂 ).
In the remaining weeks leading to NYC I was excited and confident, expecting a memory and experience that would rival my Ironman finishes (amazing!!). The culmination of training, both mental and physical, was diverted from NY to Hamilton. What the race did for us was amazing and I’m grateful, but mentally I was spent before toeing the line. I accomplished my goal I set out for in July. I trained hard and often, even depriving myself for the love of cycling and a tasty brew. Whether it was the ‘Amazing Race’ to the start or the transplantation of my marathon, I was left with a bitter taste. It may be possible that guilt has run its course (pun intended). Part of me wanted to stay in NY as a volunteer, part of me didn’t. In retrospect I’m glad I made the trip and I’m glad I accomplished my goal; however, for whatever reason, I certainly don’t attach a sense of accomplishment with this marathon. Maybe in time?
Moving forward I would like to break the 2:55 barrier next year, while running sub 2:50 in Boston 2014.