I ran the NYC marathon this Sunday. On my fourth marathon, I was going for 3:45, came off with a 3:38, personal best by 4 minutes. More than the time, a vanity metric, I was happier about the race execution, doing negative splits, avoiding cramps and bonks/hitting the wall. NYC marathon is a technical and challenging course, but I found it could reward patience and training. It was also an emotional roller coaster for me, NYC being a focal point during majority of my time in the US.
Big part of my marathon was made during the months prior. I have ran marathons before, most recently in Feburary in Austin, so I know my body is capable of handling trials of the 26.2. But I was carrying over my adductor injury from March, and since moving to NYC, its been a slow ramp back up on the miles. Joining the Dashing Whippets in NYC was a great decision, as all my running progress can be attributed to training with groups in Austin, Austin Runner’s Club and Austin Runner’s Meetup. Post June, I had to patiently wait for my speed/endurance to catch up as I stopped running since March. Whippets are a great group, as they are both very competitive and large enough where runners of different paces can have others to run with.
Once summer turned into fall, I was beginning to get the mileage adaptation back up. Besides the Saturday long runs, I worked on Harlem hill repeats on Sundays and speed work with the Whippets on Thursdays. Putting those fast and hilly miles were instrumental to getting myself back into marathon shape. Alongside with Tuesday workout with the whippets, I was able to get my weekly mileage up to 55 early October, more than I’d ever done. However, at this point I had to cut back since the workload was triggering overuse injuries in calves and ankles.
This is what my peak weak mileage looked like
Saturday: 20m long run (Whippets)
Sunday: 8-9m Harlem Hill repeats
Tuesday: 12m (Central park Whippets)
Wednesday: 5m easy
Thursday: 10-12m (Speed work on East Side with Whippets)
NYC marathon has been my goal race, and I took nutrition and hydration leading to the race very seriously. Prior to race day, this involved hydrating well, drinking about 1.5 gallon of water a day. It also involved giving up alcohol for a month before the race. I remembered cramps from salt depletion in the Austin marathon, and I added salt to my food leading to race and carried salted water with me on race day. I carb loaded leading to days prior to the race except before race day when I stuck to really simple food heavier in carbs, potatoes, sweat potatoes, eggs. On race morning, I got coffee and simple carbs such as oats, apple and a bagel/banana on the route. During the race, I used 4 Cliff Gels, one every 5 miles, an approach which worked well for me in the Austin Marathon. On the race course, I alternated between water and gatorade every other mile. This helped me avoid cramps and hitting the wall during the race.
Getting to start line
NYC marathon is tough logistics wise, so I wanted to reduce chance of things going wrong as much as possible. Race day is stressful, and I wanted to limit variability. Spending the night on Wall Street gave me an extra hour of sleep and less subway stress en route to the ferry. Meeting up with friends I have been training with was also good to calm down race day nerves. The ferry ride set a tone as I was feeling excited and giddy with Statue of Liberty looming large in the mist. Waiting for the buses post ferry was more of a slog, with standing long being the last thing I wanted before the marathon. Off the bus, and post Porter Potty visits, I heard the announcement of my Corral being closed in 5 minutes. 5 minutes! I ran frantically to look and find my corral. Eventually I managed to get in just in time for my wave. That left half an hour of waiting for the race.
I dressed warm heading to Staten Island, and this was the time to get rid of the baggage and get some warmup in my system. I love talking to runners before races. In a race like the NYC Marathon, everyone I talked to had a super interesting story.
For the first time, I decided to run a marathon without a pacer, phone or watch. I put trust in that my experience of running 3 marathons and training would be enough to run by what Marathon effort should feel like. My goal was to be conservative as long as possible as a course like NYC deserves respect and a cautious approach.
After the short opening ceremony, we finally took off. It immediately started drizzling rain, not ideal but far from worst conditions. My spirits were pretty high, despite everything, I was running the NYC Marathon! As we ran up the Verrazano Bridge, I wished for a clearer day as the iconic view of Manhattan on top of the Verrazano was blurry in the fog. I brought my focus back to the road and the blue line markers on the road, which mark the point to point 26.2 mile during the race.
Downhill from the Verrazano, it was steep decline but not the time to speed. I checked my pace, letting most runners pass me by. We were gradually moving down the bridge towards Brooklyn, which could only mean one thing. Crowd support!
And what a crowd it was! Brooklyn was my favorite part of the race. They brought music, diversity, energy and smiles. Bay ridge leading to Park Slope, Flatbush and then running through Williamsburg was an absolute riot in the best way possible. There were times when if I spread out my hands I could reach spectators on both sides. Not a problem with such a well behaved and well wishing crowd. There were bands and choirs and some great signs: “You can overcome the path once you become the path itself”.
NYC Marthon is a race of two halves. Most of the first half is in Brooklyn and is also some of the easier parts of the course. My goal here was to run slightly under Marathon effort, and making sure to fuel/get water along the way.
Finally we were at the halfway point in the race, up top the Pulaski bridge. We heard the announcement that Shalane Flannagan just won the women’s race and groups of people erupted into cheers. This set a great tone leading into Queens.
Queens does not get a lot of mileage but it is the lead up the most talked about part of the course, the infamous climb up the Queensboro bridge at mile 15.
This was a key part of the race for me. For the second half of the course, I wanted to start pushing, starting with uphills. Hence Queensboro was the acid test for how my marathon would shape up. While the ride up Queensboro was hard, I was passing people all the way which gave me a lot of confidence.
Manhattan to Bronx
As we ran down Queensboro, a low hum grew louder and finally erupted into cheers as we descended down Queensboro to reach Manhattan. The crowd here is boisterous and makes for a landmark momemt of running this race.
In Manhattan, going up 1st avenue, my priority was to still run at a fairly conservative pace as there was still 10+ miles left. Getting rid of my waistbelt at mile 16 was helpful as I got rid of some weight. The latter part of 1st avenue is surprisingly hard psycologically, as crowd support fell further into the course. This was also the part of the race where goals and training for the race starts to become important.
Crossing the Willis bridge, we got to Bronx. I have ran this part of the course, and I was looking forward to the Whippets cheering section, which comes right at the edge of Bronx, at mile 21 as I moved my way back into Manhattan. It was at this point too that I was starting to realize not only I could break 3:45 but a PR (personal record) was possible, which brought a fresh wave of motivation.
Back to Manhattan towards central park
Back into Manhattan, going across fifth avenue, this is where I started to increase to full effort, knowing that with each step, the course was getting more and more into familiar terratory. Despite that, mile 23 was likely the most challenging of the whole race, a steady incline up 5th avenue on tired legs. But this also where the training mattered the most.
Once we entered Central park on 91st street, this was the home stretch. This is where I was really going for it, fixing my attention on one runner, catching up to them and repeating. I have ran central park enough to know the inclines and declines and with every step, it was getting closer to finish line. We were on mile 26 and at this point we left the park, run adjacent to it and finally come back. The last 400 yards were memorable, running through a painful haze but moving closer to that immaculate finish line and eventually reaching it. I knew I had PRed, I did not know by how much yet.
Post Race thoughts
Broadcasting to everyone how to track me on race day was motivating for me as I knew friends and family in NYC, Austin and Bangladesh would be watching. Ultimately, NYC being my goal race, I wanted to give everything I was capable of. 2017 NYC marathon was a race in which I was able to apply some of the race advice and strategies and this was the first time I’d ever hit negative splits in a race. It was really an unforgettable race, running with 50,000+ people and going through all the iconic NYC sights.