Succeed or fail, marathons are always awesome -- lots of training, expectations, anxiety, followed by reality and assessment. Marathons are not always fun. Yesterday was fun! It did not start out looking like it would be fun. Cold temperatures, high wind, and the famously long wait on Staten Island for the start. Also, I did not have high expectations. As anybody who reads this blog knows, I have been fighting injuries since April 2013, and only recently got to a point where my heel and hip would handle long runs. If you had asked me in August if I'd start the NYC Marathon in November, I'd have placed the odds at 40-60 against. I only really started training in August, which is about 6 weeks late, and with remarkably little running base.
So, here's why it was fun. First, my expectations were modest. I did not think I'd be able to break 4 hours, but I hoped to come close. . . Second, and mostly, I had company!! It turned out that a bunch of friends from the SBRC (G_, D_, C_ and I) all had similar numbers -- Blue, Wave 2, Corral A. M__ hereafter to be referred to as Super M_, had just run a BQ in Boston, and was, um tapering, for the Knickerbocker 60K in a few weeks. He proposed to run 9 minute miles, as a group, start to finish, bringing it in under 4 hours. So, Third, I had a plan. My goal was not to stick with them the whole way (though it was perhaps my hope), but I knew I could get to mile 16, and bring it home from there. Past experience suggested that this would bring me in at a little bit over 4 hours. I've run at a 9 minute pace before, but it has always involved running a lot of 8:30s and then slowing. Also, I hate the Queensboro Bridge. It is steep, cold, and hits just as your legs are beginning to object. . .
Anyway, the race went according to plan. The five of us ran through Brooklyn in a phalanx. We restrained M_ when he took off. They restrained me when I got frisky (a lot). It was a blast. we talked, we got cheers as a group, and from friends along the way. Big shout out to V_ who watched at Mile 8. We were running through our own turf, and as we crossed from Fort Green to Clinton Hill, we hit the SBRC cheer station, and, well, that was just plain awesome!! D_ faded at about mile 11. We hit the half, spot on a 9 minute pace. The bridges in the late middle of the NYC marathon are a much larger source of its brutality than the storied hills of Central Park. The half is part way up the Pulaski Bridge, and then it's bridge after bridge, approach, on ramp, off ramp, approach, on ramp off ramp repeat. . . Pulaski, Queensborough, Willis Avenue, Fifth Avenue . . . Oy!! The mother of all annoying bridges is the Queensborough. It is steep, long and cold. I ran it twice in training, in the hope of moderating its effects, but, well, it was my (expected) undoing. As we hit the bridge, my buddies maintained pace and I maintained heart rate. The two approaches did not work, and the rubber band snapped. Who knows if I should have pushed it a bit harder up the hill to stay with them. I didn't feel like I had it at the time, so I let them go. In the process, I lost a gear, slowing to 9:30s along First Ave.
That said, I felt fine, so I just kept riding the crowd, up First Ave, through the Bronx, and back down. I hit 20 miles at 3:02. That pretty much sealed it for going under 4 hours, unless I could reignite the 9 minute miles. Not happening, didn't worry about it. A few minutes later I came up behind another friend A_ who had started with us, but dashed off ahead. We chatted for a bit, and I drifted forward. My legs were tired, so I walked a few of the water stations. This turned out to be great, as my form came back each time I did. Miles 21-24 are always a bit of a slog, but there's nothing like the feeling, at around mile 24, when the road in the Park tips down and you start down Cat hill. That, for me, marks the beginning of the home stretch. I was pretty much on cruise control, so I just took it all in for the next 20 minutes, enjoying the end of the race in a way I never have. My finish 4:04.35 (ish) was pretty much what I'd expected/hoped for, and the weather had finally taken a turn for the better. The wind was down and the sun was out, so my walk to pick up my bag was pleasant. I didn't have the usual cramping in my legs, so, once I was wrapped in mylar, I was a happy guy, and even happier after going to the pub for a celebratory beer.