TCS New York City Marathon Race Recap
Big Race Big Dreams –
The New York City Marathon is just one of those things you want to run as a marathon runner, especially for a young man who started his running career in a state forever in the shadow of the Big Apple. The New York City Marathon was on my radar from the day I became a marathoner, probably only second to the mecca of marathoning up in Boston. Fast forward over 9 years later, and I was a bit less into the big city race scene (trail is more my vibe these day), but still rather giddy and excited (let’s say a kid on Easter morning instead of Christmas) to be running the largest marathon in the world. Getting into this race is never easy, and the goals I set for myself proved a challenge as well, but I managed to make some dreams come true on a cool fall day in the Big Apple. So time for the story!
A Little Background
The NYC Marathon is the largest marathon in the world. This year it boasted over 51,000 finishers. This is larger than some cities in the midwest. This is five times the population of the town I grew up in. If you took all the “big city” marathons in the state of Texas and combined them (Houston, Dallas, Austin, RnR San Antonio) you would still have far fewer finishers than NYC (see everything IS NOT bigger in Texas). The race costs a hefty $255 to enter (hey it is NY prices after all), but most people would give their left arm to run it. It is really hard to get into the race. The way most get in is through the stupid lottery. Pay the New York Road Runners $11 for the privilege of casting your name into a hat with about a 10% chance of getting picked (if you are a US citizen). Luck of the draw. You also have the good old charity option, but that requires you to raise a donation amount that is basically equivalent to the GDP of a small country. The final way is to work your damn butt off and run a qualifying time…but those standards are oh so strict. The latter is the method I chose because I’m not a gamblin’ man and I hate asking people for money. All I had to do was run a 2:53 marathon…easy…right?
No It Wasn’t
Rewind to October 2015 – I ran a squeaker of a NYC Qualifying Time in Chicago with a 2:52:55. I haven’t even come close since. But this 5 second qualifying gem gave me the privilege of forking over $255 to the NYRR and getting a guaranteed spot in the 2016 race. I figured if I was going to run it any year, this was the one. But I found myself in a rather large conundrum as August rolled around this year. I had big goals for NYC – run a sub 3 hour marathon. Why sub 3? Well, I’ve run the two other US marathon majors sub 3 (Boston and Chicago) so of course I HAD to run this one sub 3 too…perfect logic. Plus when you go run what may be your one and only NYC, you gotta do it in style.
The problemo – I looked at where I was in August and had DNF’d two races. I also had not run a road marathon since March…oops. My trail legs had turned me into a mediocre road runner at best. Oh, and I had a dumb ankle injury that basically had me sporting a visible limp as I ran. After my 2nd DNF in 2 weeks, I decided it was time to take a break and do some refocusing.
Crash course in road running. 2 months to train. But focusing on roads became a goal. I started my tempo runs back up. I ran far less trail (other than a few races tossed in there, oops!). I saw my speed starting to come back, my cadence dropping as my stride grew strong. In early October I tested myself in a road marathon with a 3:11…decent, but not quite where I want to be. Based on this, I though a 3:05 was totally attainable and honestly I’d be happy with that. A 3:05 would be my fastest race since January if I pulled it off. Focus a few more weeks, build the speed and endurance, and the marathon legs came back. I ran a final test the week before NYC with a 1:25 half marathon. At this point I knew sub 3 was in the cards, but it’d require everything I had.
NYC is a rad place, so you can’t go and not take it all in. I’m not a big tourist guy, but I just like to get the vibe of the city by walking around. I arrived on Friday and make a trip to the Javitz Center which hosted the expo. It has a glass ceiling, it’s a sexy building. The expo was nothing to write home about, but hey, I’m not a big expo guy.
Pics Above – Javitz in full glass glory, NYC at night, ahhh
I spent the rest of the evening walking the city for a while. I realized I missed being able to go to this place. I realized Houston looks like a small town next to the Big Apple.
My parents joined me the next day, and we spent some time walking a bit more, eating some good eats, and checking out the finish line in Central Park. Needless to say the excitement was building at this point.
Pics Above – The iconic flags of the home stretch, almost finished!
Race Day – Getting There
Getting to the NYC marathon is hard, let’s do a brief recap of race morning:
4 AM – Wake Up
4:05 – Coffee
4:10 – Poopy Time
4:20 – Eat
4:30 – Facebook Time
4:45 – Oh shit I need to leave
4:50 – Trail Toes Up, throw the race clothes on
4:59 – Get ready to leave hotel with your running shoes on but make a last minute decision to run in sandals
5:00 – Put your sandals on
5:05 – Leave hotel lobby
5:10 – Walk through Times Square
5:11 – Send your best friend a butt selfie
5:20 – Keep walking
5:30 – Get in line with 30,000 people to get on a bus
6:00 – Actually get on the bus
7:30 – Finally get off the bus, it takes 90 minutes to drive to freaking Staten Island?!? It’s 10 miles!!!
7:32 – Realize the line to get into the athlete village is going to take a half hour
8:04 – Finally in athlete village, sweet lord I haven’t pee’d in over 3 hours
8:15 – Pee
8:16 – Wait for 30 minutes
8:45 – Get in your corral, stand there for a good 45 minutes
9:30 – Tease time – get to go on the bridge and stand there for 20 minutes
9:32 – Pee in the bushes along with 5,000 other people
9:35 – Watch someone pee on the road right next to you with no shame
9:45 – Move up to the start line
9:46 – Listen to the mayor drone on a bit more
9:52 – Gun! Time to run!
So by my math, I started the race 5:52 after I woke up, I peed three times, and sent one butt selfie. That’s a long morning!
But what I will tell you is every damn one off those hours is worth the experience of the race.
The Race – So What’s I Like?
You stand on the bridge and the excitement is palpable. Everyone is here for a reason, everyone is ready to run the 5 boroughs. The brotherhood of running. Helicopters circle above taking in the sea of people ready to run. At 9:52AM the gun goes off – boom! – and suddenly you hear Sinatra belting out the iconic tune “New York, New York” as you take off across the bridge. You look to your left and the lower Manhattan Skyline is visible in all it’s splendor. Time to make the journey to central park.
The bridge is almost 2 miles long. There are no spectators and no cheers here, just you, your fellow runners, and a spectacular view of NYC. Borough #1 is Staten Island – it lasts but a few minutes before you descend the bridge and hit the streets of Brooklyn.
The Borough of Brooklyn unfolds before you and you begin to feel that vibe that makes NYC great. The crowds begin to grow, and the roar of the crowd begins. You are now running a big city marathon. As you roll through the 5k, you know you are in NYC – I felt good running at a pace that would put me close to a 2:55 marathon. My legs felt a little tired, but my body felt good. Let’s see what we can do today!
Brooklyn rolls on for many miles, each neighborhood truly unique. As a sandaled runner, I heard many amazing things from the crowds (mostly to the effect of “holy shit that guy is wearing sandals”), but all totally supportive. I flowed with the large crowd of runners, something I’m not used to at the fast sub 3 pace I was running. I took in all the neighborhoods of Brooklyn and said my goodbye as we soon passed to Queens.
Queens is but a blur in the race, but just as fun as Brooklyn, keep running and keep that pace. Before Mile 15 you jump onto the looooong Queensboro bridge. It lasts for what feels like forever. It is a break in the crowds as you run the 1.5 mile long bridge. As you descend into Manhattan around Mile 16, you find out what true crowds are made off. You enter a tunnel of spectators that is deafening, and gives you the boost you need to keep pushing. I was starting to feel it in my legs – but my spirit still had me pushing. Use the crowd to fuel you, and overcome those tight damn legs. You turn onto 1st Ave and make a long run up to the Bronx. This part of the race is wall to wall crowds as you run through Manhattan. The energy is intoxicating, and amazing drug. I made sure to give many a high five, and let them fuel those tired legs.
Cross into the Bronx and the vibe goes to a sexy grit. You hear the locals welcoming you to “Da Bronx” and you know you aren’t in Manhattan anymore. They cheer you on in true Bronx fashion, shouting with that thick awesome accent. A quick turn out of the Bronx, and you go back to Manhattan, time to run the home stretch. Harlem, then the upper east side, and enter into Central Park. As you enter the winding roads of Central Park, you feel as if you have left the city. The crowds are as thick as the green canopy of trees you see overhead, you make your final 5k push. Before you finish you blast out of the park and make a dash toward Columbus Circle…you know the finish is close. Keep going, I’ve got Sub 3! I saw my parents one last time at Mile 25.5, I made the final push. I turned into Central Park and made a strong kick to cross the line in 2:58:04. Mission accomplished – sub 3:00 in NYC.
Pics Above – Here is what you see on your final stretch, Columbus Circle and Central Park
It’s had been a long time since I left every ounce of me that I had on a race course. In a smaller race, I probably could not have done a sub 3…it was the energy of NYC that pushed me through. I put my hands on my knees, and wandered away from the finish totally exhausted, but totally content.
As I got my things and looked to my phone, I was overcome with the amount of support and congratulations I had received. This race was a big one for me, the A race of the 2nd half on 2016, and it felt good to nail it. It left me confident that my best road running days may still lie ahead. My speed has come back, and so has my confidence as a runner.
And I’ll leave this at that – an experience that I will always remember – a big city race that fueled the soul of a guy that thought he had found all he wanted on the trails.
So as always – let’s end with the stats:
Career Marathon/Ultra #60 – 20th of 2016
Time – 2:58:04, 715 OA/51,000+ 663/29,000+
Career Sub 3:00 Marathon #12 – 2nd of 2016
Sub 3:00 Marathon #3 in the 6 World Marathon Majors