A Run Dream Realized: New York City Marathon Race Recap
I felt a little bit of all of that over the last seven years. I didn't just want to run the New York City Marathon, I wanted to qualify for it. That took some time (and I suppose a lot of hard work.) As I've chronicled here, I finally qualified only to get the ortho "hook" one week before the 2015 NYC Marathon (post HERE.) Just as I always do, I got back up on that horse (or unicorn) and rehab'ed and trained hard to use the one injury deferral they give you.
|Holding the cherished NYC Marathon bib|
After overcoming two foot fractures in the span of seven months, I got out of the walking boot sometime in July ('16.) I was not in running shape and was already beyond the start date for a training plan (usually sixteen weeks.) Regardless, I had been cross-training and spent a ton of time on strength so I felt I had a legitimate shot at New York.
Everything was "coming together" and I had a "tune-up" half marathon race at the Runner's World Half and Festival in Bethlehem, PA in October. The only thing between me and New York City was my second and last twenty miler. I completed that on only four days rest (not smart) but got 'er done. Only problem was my right knee swelled up for the first time ever after that long training run. Knock on wood, I have had my share of injuries and aches and pain, but never the knee. This was now two weeks out from NYC.
I'll spare all the details, but my run ortho (Steadman Hawkins in Denver) was concerned enough to x-ray and MRI the knee. The good news was it was diagnosed as some arthritic cartilage damage (who doesn't at my age,) and he gave me a green light. I had an insane gauntlet of travel the month leading up to my dream race AND moved my house the weekend before NYC (the "Insanity Tour" HERE). I would not recommend this. The bad news was that my knee still felt sore a week out from the race, and my running went to zero miles to give it a rest. The knee got plenty of work moving the house, but it didn't fall into the "rest" category my doctor prescribed.
|"Soaking in" the Flatiron bldg and all that NYC has to offer|
Short of being melodramatic, I was ready to drop out again one week away from the "big apple" on Sunday as the swelling had gone down in my knee, but it still did not feel right. I pondered how smart it was to try and run 26.2 miles on a knee that hurt when I walked.
As I normally try to do with destination races, I like to get to the target time zone early. I had work on the East Coast (leaving Tuesday.) My thought was, either I take the train from D.C. to NYC on Thursday, or I fly home to Denver with my tail between my legs. I ran a short four miles on Wednesday night and felt, "I have come too damn far to turn back now. I'm racing!" I took the train.
Now to the fun stuff. The train was awesome. I took the Amtrak Acela Express which was quite comfortable. Inter-city train travel is not common to a midwest guy like me. I rather enjoyed the ride, got some work done, and enjoyed the scenery. The train dropped me off at Penn Station which is right at Madison Square Garden in midtown. From there, it was less than a ten minute walk to the Renaissance in midtown. I stay in a lot of hotels. Some good, some bad. This was INSANE, and would learn later it was a mere ten minute walk to the race buses at the New York City Public Library.
|Grafitti tagged Kara Goucher|
My wife was not arriving until late Friday night so I had the day to myself at the expo. I was literally "Charlie" walking in the "Wonka" Chocolate factory with my eyes wide open drooling over everything at the expo. Once I got my bib in hand, I actually kissed it. I know...awkward, but I embrace awkward. I was giddy as I was finally able to shop the marathon jackets. I dropped a lot of dough; hats, shirts, jacket, and even picked up a new pair of sunglasses.
The surprise of the expo was stumbling into the United Airlines booth on Friday. I wondered why they were there and learned they were selling a handful (25) of tickets to their VIP tent at the race start on Staten Island. I'd heard the horror stories of the cold and doldrums that can set in sitting around for hours waiting for the race. With only 25 available, they suggested I get there "first thing" on Friday. I was successful in grabbing a "golden ticket" (another Wonka reference,) and it was worth its weight in gold. Oh my God, it was nice. Heated tent, food, private bathrooms, and WiFi.
I was so giddy, I didn't even snap any photos except for the amazing sunrise coming up over the Verrazano Bridge. It was absolutely gorgeous. Getting to the United tent on Sunday morning was a "snap" as I'd mentioned it was a short walk to get there. Easy peasy.
|View of the starting bridge in Staten Island just outside United's tent|
After leaving the comforts of the United VIP tent, I made my way to the orange corral in wave one. More waiting, but there were at least porto-potties within the corral. The slight problem was that upon leaving the roped off confines of my wave one, corral "E" was another long wait as we snaked our way towards the start waiting for the anthem and howitzer gun start. I used my Gatorade bottle and Hefty garbage bag trick to subtly relieve myself. I apologize to the young woman I spoke to that didn't realize I was peeing at the same time we talked. #awkward.
Given the great half marathon I'd raced three weeks prior, it gave me the confidence to go ahead and reach for a BQ time of 3:30. Given that this was my first marathon in nineteen months (how is that possible?) I decided, I've come this far, "go for it!" As the gun went off, Sinatra belted out New York over the loudspeakers. It was euphoric! I cried a little bit as I realized this was not a dream, I was racing the New York City fricking Marathon!
I hung with the 3:25 pace group leader up through mile 15. I felt great and my confidence was soaring. I faded a bit around the steady incline of the Queensboro bridge. Honestly, the hills did not bother me too much, but perhaps the seven minute mile pace in mile two was affecting me, or more likely the fact that I hadn't run in two weeks. Regardless, as they say, as you spin out of that bridge, you hit the euphoria of first ave in Manhattan where the crowds really pump you up. Then you realize, you're at 58th, and you need to run up to 138th before you can start heading south again for the finish in Central Park.
I was happy to see familiar faces (Dustin and Jess) through these final miles and my wife at the south edge of Central Park. I had "banked" some time and while I was starting to slow down, I felt that with a surge in the last two miles, a BQ was still within reach. The monkey wrench in that plan was a wicked hamstring cramp (my first ever in a race) in Central Park around mile 24. As I looked at my Garmin splits (and the MarathonFotos) I walked for the first time in this race. The pain was unbearable, and instinct told me to keep moving, and massage it. My math was disoriented at this point, and figured the BQ had disappeared, but I wanted a faster finish than my 2015 Boston. I started to run again.
As I headed east on the south side of Central Park, the adrenaline and euphoria of the crowd had me running again. I cried a bit as the emotions of such an amazing race hit me. I was happy to see my wife along the rail cheering me with some new friends she made. We watched the 2015 NYC marathon finish from roughly the same spot a year earlier. I knew I would be finally grabbing my third world major marathon medal just as I'd entered the park. My final time was a 3:37. Respectable, but seven minutes too fast for a BQ, but zero regrets.
I'd have to say, this race met all expectations. One of my childhood (and run/triathlete buds) asked me online, how do you compare Boston to New York City? This week? I'd have to say it's my new favorite, but I will continue to chase the unicorn.