Race Autopsy: the 2015 New York City Marathon

Race reports are boring for everyone but the runner who writes them. This one is probably no different. Yet when you spend over four hours running around New York City for no goddamn reason, you want to memorialize it somehow. Here’s some thoughts on my day.

4:30 AM We’ll start at the beginning – our apartment, 4:30 am. I wake up after not much sleep, make coffee, drink it, toast a bagel, eat it. Peel a banana and do the same.

5:30 AM I’m out the door and off to the Prospect Park Track Club bus to the start.

6:30 AM We arrive on Staten Island. It is almost four hours before my scheduled start time. I love the New York City Marathon, and I understand how difficult it is to get 50,000 runners into the park for the start, but sitting on a trash bag in a parking lot for four hours sucks.

I talk to some PPTC team mates and some stranger from Italy and Illinois. I listen to a podcast and generally mill about. The time passes, slowly.

9:45 AM I make my way to the starting corral. Chaos reigns. For a minute it looks like a couple of hundred runners in my corral are not going to get a Wave 2 start, but eventually, the powers that be relent and we make our way to the bridge.

10:15 AM Gun goes off and we’re running. I’m using a 3:59:00 pace band I downloaded off the internet and I follow it religiously for the first 16 or so miles. The pace chart called for going much easier than I wanted to up and over the bridge. I hoped that taking it easy early on would pay dividends later on down the road, but as will become clear, it wasn’t to be.

11:15 AM – 12:15 PM* I  cruise through the early miles and get to 4th and Union where PPTC, E and friends J and M are cheering their heads off. I look for my son, but as I will learn later, he’s dead asleep in his stroller. The miles through Park Slope and Fort Greene are my favorite part of the course. Huge crowds, tons of bands, and drum circles. Friends, it seems, on every corner. I see R, L and T all within a mile stretch. T is so excited he trips me. I’m hitting my mile pace goals without too much trouble. I begin to think this is my day.

 12:15 PM The Queensboro Bridge. Last time I ran New York, this was where the wheels really came off the bus. But today, I’m feeling good. Those around me? Maybe not so much. New York really isn’t a PR course, and that’s for a lot of reasons. The hills, the winding course, and the fact that the roads are packed with runners all make the course amazing, and not particularly fast. I make it through the bridge without too much trouble, but not at the pace I was hoping for.

12:15-1:15 PM The crowds on First Avenue are enormous, and they make a hell of a lot of noise. But somehow (and maybe this is hometown bias) they don’t have the organic wonder of the Brooklyn scene. Still, they help. I’m definitely starting to feel the miles. I begin making deals with myself. I do math — hoping I can come up with a calculus that gets me across the finish line in under four hours. Yet despite my best efforts, at the base of the Willets Avenue Bridge, it all begins to go wrong. My left leg starts cramping. I stop to stretch, but that makes the cramping worse. I walk a bit, run a bit, and plod along. I see my hopes of a four hour marathon fade.

1:15-2:15 PM Dark days. I run some, I walk some. The cramping in my left leg comes and goes. I begin itemizing everything I did wrong in my training. Missed too many runs, ate too much bad food, didn’t do enough speed work, didn’t do enough in weekly mileage, didn’t get enough sleep. It’s a long list,* and I have plenty of time to itemize it.

Still, this is New York, and it is fucking amazing. Reggaton DJ in the Bronx, gospel choir in Harlem.  Huge crowds at every corner.

No other city is like this, no other marathon is like this.

2:15-2:30 The finals stretch through Central Park. I’ve given up on a good time. Now, I’m just trying to have a good time. I waddle along, knowing a PR is well out of sight. I high five the kids, I remember how lucky I am to be here at all, I thank my stars that I’m not being carted off the course by the medics.

It’s a cliché that a marathon is made up of the stories of thousands of individual runners. But as it is with most clichés, it’s also true.

In the final miles of a marathon, everyone is stripped to the bone.

Whether you’re finishing in three hours or five, you’re gutting it out after mile 22.

It’s an incredible thing to be part of, for runners and spectators alike. Runners are putting their hearts and bodies out there on the pavement. Spectators lining the course can see exactly how much you’re hurting and exactly how badly you want it. They cheer you on. They tell you you’re looking good when you look like shit. They tell you to push harder when you can’t do anymore. No other sporting event is like this – where the athlete is the neighbor of the spectator, where one weekend you’re the watched, and the next, the watcher. We forget how special this is, but we shouldn’t.

As the popularity of marathons has grown, there’s been the predictable backlash of people sick of hearing about marathons and marathoners. But you know what? At the end of the day, it’s an incredible thing to run a marathon and its an incredible thing to watch one — especially in those last couple of miles and especially in New York.

2:30 PM The finish comes into view and I’m just glad to be done. 4:23:13 will be my official time. Not my worst marathon, but also certainly not my best. They’ll be plenty of time for reflection in the days to come. Now, I just want to get the forced march out of the park done and give E and the little dude some hugs. I finally make it to the PPTC reunion school where I’m greeted with applause. Of the many things I’ll take away from this day, one is a new appreciation for what a great group of people make up PPTC.

I finally find E and L in the playground next to the school.

L runs up to me and shouts “Daddy, run!”

Yes I do, little man. Not always well, or fast, but I run. And I love it.

Daddy, run!

Daddy, run!

*Or thereabouts.

** And one I’ll go into in a subsequent post.

Not enough information in the last 1500 words? You can see my strava data here.

Race Autopsy: Vermont City Marathon

The day started as it always does, with coffee and a crying baby.  As E got the little dude dressed, I packed the provisions in the car, chugged a bunch of water, and ate a bagel. Forty minutes later, and forty five minutes before the start, we were pulling into Burlington. I had expected to park in the same lot I’d parked in when I ran this race five years ago, but it was full. As was the five story parking garage near church street, and the side streets all around.

Thirty minutes to start time and I have nowhere to park the car.

We’re off to a great start.

Twenty five minutes to start time, E tells me to park it in a drug store parking lot. “It says parking for customers only”, I say, “and even then, only for an hour”.

“I’ll handle it” she says.

And, though I leave her with a screaming baby, and a car she cannot drive, she does — because she is amazing.

On to the start, where I find Joe. We hit the porta potties. We wait. We fret. And then the gun goes off and we run.

The first miles fly by; we cruise along trying to keep the pace somewhere between 8:50 and 9. We want to go faster, but we play it as conservative as we can. More than anything today, I want to break four hours. I’ve been at this running game awhile and I feel like it is finally time to join the big boys. I put together one of the best training blocks of my life, basically injuring free, and (for me at least) consistent. Of course I worry it wasn’t enough.

Turns out, I was right.

The miles fly by. We chat with an older woman who’s run 75 marathons and swum across Lake Champlain. We see some of the fast dudes who’ve filled out the Boston Qualifer Questionnaire. We chat about what we always chat about: running, getting old, and why the hell we continue to live in NYC when any rational person would have left years ago.

I’m having a good time. By the halfway mark, I feel strong and the miles seem easy.\ I want to keep it conservative. Joe is feeling like picking it up. I let him go. He’ll go on to his own struggles, but will finish far ahead of me. At the bottom of the mile 15 hill, I see E and the Little Dude. He gives me a high five. Everything is going well.

But that hill is long, and by the end of it, I’m starting to feel the miles. I carry on, trying to keep the pace. By mile 18, my calf, and then my groin, begin to cramp. At first it’s just a little tweak. It’s almost eighty degrees so no surprise that I’m feeling it.  I drink at the aid stations, trying to keep any serious cramping at bay. The four hour pace group passes me. My dreams for the day start to fade. But by mile 22, I am cramping so badly, I can’t walk. I actually stumble just outside the mile 22 water station. EMTs help me to a chair, ice my legs and give me Gatorade.

“We can get a car to come get you”.

“I’m almost there, I’ll finish”.

And so I do. The 4:15 pace group passes me. Then the 4:30. I hobble along. I run until I cramp up, then I walk, then I run again. I am not a pretty sight. I try to run the final mile, but my left leg seizes up again and I almost go down. This time, it happens right by the beer tent. People see me hobbling and they cheer me on, shouting my name.

I’m embarrassed.

I was hoping to do much better than this.  But whether it was a lack of training, or a nutrition issue, this isn’t my day. I cross the line in 4:39:27. Not my worst performance in the marathon, but certainly not my best.

The marathon is fickle. You put so much time and energy into training for it and then, it can all go so wrong. I find is humbling, frustrating, and, frankly, addictive.

New York has got to be different. I’ll need to up the training game, both in terms of mileage and speed work, but perhaps most importantly, consistency.  And though I’ve resisted it for years, I’m going to have to learn about nutrition. Expect more posts about all of that in the future.

Now its two days later and I’m planning my revenge.  Today, I’ll rest my legs, drink water, work my sore muscles with the stick.

Tomorrow, I’m going to go for a run.

Any race that ends with sharing a medal with this guy isn't all bad.

Any race that ends with sharing a medal with this guy isn’t all bad.