A moment of thanks
To the 40 individuals and families that joined my quest to raise money for research to find a cure for esophageal cancer, thank you. Together we raised over $6,000 for the DeGregorio Family Foundation. That’s a legacy Dad can be proud of.
Thank you so much.
New York City
We arrived in New York on Friday in time for lunch, and after that headed over to the expo to grab my bib and peruse the vendors. The expo is huge… Pedro was impressed!
I had a couple things in mind for my shopping bag. First I was hoping that I would find a good deal on another pair of CW-X recovery tights (nope – full price at $160, so I passed). Second I wanted to find a running belt similar to one I had seen at the Pittsburgh expo; one with a pocket big enough for an iPhone 6+ and with elastics along the edges to hold gels… but I found no such item in New York. I bought a hat and called it good. The people handing out bibs were great sports as usual, so here’s the obligatory “getting my bib” photo.
And then we saw a small crowd near a booth with nothing on sale, and Claire quickly spotted Meb Keflezighi signing autographs for a few people. The handlers told us it was too late, that Meb had to go, but we hung out anyways, and before long, the man who won Boston the year I ran the race was signing my Boston Marathon jacket. Sweeeeet!
Saturday was therefore going to be a strange day. In theory, don’t stay on my feet all day, but then again, you’re in New York, what are you going to do? We started by meeting a friend for lunch at Jacob’s Pickle, where we had fried pickles, okra, pancakes, fried chicken, and a pretty amazing coffee nitro porter to wash it all down. After that, Claire and I went to the Guggenheim. Lots of walking… but by end of day my step count showed under seven miles, and that’s not too bad. We went to Il Corso for dinner; if you’re ever looking for Italian food near the south end of Central Park, I cannot recommend it enough. I had a White Rabbit beer (I’d buy that again), and Claire and I had different home made pasta dishes that we traded half way through. Both were exceptional, and the service was among the best I’ve ever experienced. Then it was early to bed, and try to stay asleep as late as possible in spite of the extra hour from daylight savings time.
The morning of the race
I managed to sleep until 5:30 AM, which my body’s clock thought was 6 AM, so that’s pretty late for me. I headed out for some coffee, which I brought back to the room. After a pretty relaxed 90 minutes of slowly enjoying my coffee and then getting dressed for the race, I headed out to the NY Library, a mile from the hotel, to catch the bus to the athlete’s village on Staten Island.
With over 50,000 runners, the athlete’s village was super packed. I don’t know why they call it a village; it’s a state park, really, with hundreds of port-o-jons and a few tents where you could get a power bar, a bagel, a banana, some water, or a cup of coffee. After waiting for over an hour, it was clear my friend Rob and I were not going to connect before the race. Cell coverage was really spotty, but we managed to wish each other luck before the race started. At 10:00, the loudspeakers called my wave to the corrals, and I started to position myself.
I wanted to run a 4:10 or faster for this race, which is seven minutes better than my personal best. I was nervous; I pushed it too hard at Baystate three weeks ago, and I wasn’t fully recovered. I did okay at the NE Half two weeks prior, but my right leg in particular had a small twinge that hadn’t changed much in the previous three weeks. In all likelihood, this wasn’t going to happen.
My thought was that I could try to run with the 4:10 pace group and see if I could make it work. The only problem? The 4:10 group was in my wave, and even my color group, but it was in corral B. I was in corral F. First I tried to sweet talk myself into the B group, but the way New York lines up its runners, you’re literally in fenced off areas with security checking every single bib to make sure you belong there. I could not get into the B cage… stuck with F. A through F is separated only by ropes, so I worked my way to the front of the Fs, and when the ropes dropped and the corrals merged, I managed to get myself up past the E group and into the Ds… but no further. 50,000+ runners, remember? They break that into four waves, and each wave has three groups of six corrals… so that’s about 750 runners per letter group. By getting into the Ds, there were still likely 1,500 to 2,000 runners between me and my pace group.
So what’s the backup plan? I could play it two ways. One: pace myself. Use my GPS watch and try to hit 9:31 per mile. Option two: try to catch up to the pace group, then chill out and run with them. Seeing as option one is very smart, and option two is incredibly stupid, I chose option two, reasoning that I could ease off at any time. We’ll call this mistake number one.
Mile one was slow because of how packed in we all were. I ended up running a 9:45, which was my goal pace just three weeks ago… so I should have been happy with that. Especially considering it was all uphill on a 3% grade. But no. I figure my pace group is slipping away from me, and I run mile two (3% grade downhill) in 9:00.
That’s mistake number two. Running your downhills 30 seconds faster than goal pace is not ideal. Running downhill at speed will chew up your quads; giving them a beating that you’ll feel later in the race. It’s easy on your cardio; gravity is your friend downhill, but it’s tough on your muscles, and unless you’ve been training to run downhill fast, you shouldn’t do it.
We’ll call the lack of hill training mistake number three. I’m usually very good about this, but for this marathon, I took my eye off the ball. I haven’t done hill repeats in a while; favoring 800 meter speed intervals (running 10x800s nearly every week). That helped my speed, but it did so without giving me any hill work benefits.
In any case, I quickly gave up on the idea of catching up to the pace group, and started running by feel. I didn’t do a lot of staring at my watch, as the field was terribly crowded and it was all I could do to not run into people. Or get run into by people passing me. The next several miles went by easily, but I found myself warming up much more than I expected. By mile six I had pulled up the sleeves on my long-sleeve compression undershirt, and it was messing with the circulation on my arms. I started trying to figure out what to do… take it off and just hope I didn’t end up with bloody nipples? Ask for band-aids at the first aid station? I was running well, so I didn’t want to waste a lot of time with all that, so I made the logical choice around mile nine… I pulled into a first aid station and asked the EMTs to cut my sleeves off just above the elbows. “That was a nice shirt,” said one of them. “Yeah, but it wasn’t working for me. This is better.” In just a few seconds, I was off. A quarter mile later I pulled into a port-o-jon and stood in line so I could do my business. As a consequence, miles 9 and 10 were a little slower, but not bad. I figured I could make it up. I settled back into what I felt was a decent pace, and when I checked my watch at the half way point, I was a little surprised that I was sitting at 2:07:21; nearly two and a half minutes slower than goal.
The next couple of miles I tried to pick up the pace a little bit, but the crowd just wasn’t having it. I could burn through a ton of energy bobbing and weaving, or I could settle in at my current pace (the runners around me were running around 9:40/9:45 per mile after all). As I considered my options, my left quad started to squeak as the course came up on the Queensboro Bridge. This is a quiet part of the course, with no crowd support, and then as you come downhill off the bridge you get smacked my an enormous wall of sound. It was a good time to consider my options, especially on the downhill on the bridge. This is the second hardest downhill on the course, and when I thought I was pushing the pace and needed to back off, I looked down at my watch, and saw that I was actually going much slower than I thought.
Ten miles to go and my quads are letting me know that I will not be able to maintain the pace through the end of the race. And this is where I quit making mistakes.
I was running the New York City Marathon; something people all over the world aspire to do. It’s many runner’s bucket list race of choice; the largest field in North America, on a course flanked by easily a million screaming spectators, cheering me on as I ran down the course. Not one of those spectators cared what my finish time would be. I checked in with Dad… thought about what he would say. The point isn’t to finish the job in a way that sets you back… the point is to finish the job well. I remember telling my supporters that I would crawl if necessary to finish this race, and the epiphany was this:
It wasn’t necessary.
I wasn’t going to hit 4:10. I could beat myself up and maybe equal the effort from Baystate, but maybe not. I guessed the best I was going to do was 4:18 to 4:20. I would maybe injure myself, and certainly experience a lot of pain. I would be limping all week, after not achieving the time goal I was killing myself to achieve.
So I let it go.
I ran into that wall of sound at the end of the bridge, and with a big grin, I slowed down. I pulled my phone out and sent Claire a text, asking where she was planning on meeting me. Turned out that would be 106th Street and 1st Avenue… but I got there about four minutes before she did.
So I stopped. I talked to some folks who were there to cheer on runners from Team in Training. I told them I ran Boston and Chicago with TNT. They asked how my race was going. I told them I had made peace with not getting a PR, that the quads just weren’t going to support it. One of them told me, “No one PRs at New York.” Well that makes sense… it’s so crowded, if you’re shooting for an incremental gain like I was, there is no way to shave a minute or two off your time unless you’ve had an amazing training season. So I happily waited for Claire, and I told her I was changing the plan. We took a picture together, and I took off.
At twenty miles I stopped at another first aid station to get a trim on my left shirt sleeve. Later I stopped and used The Stick to roll out my quads a little bit (it’s a torture device for runners; a self-massage device you can use to work out some of the kinks). At mile 21, a spectator had this awesome sign… I had to stop and take a picture. Look at the three people in this picture – we are all having a great time! That’s the experience I wanted, and I am grateful that I let myself have it.
Frankly, if I had tried to muscle through to a faster time, I would have been very frustrated. By this point in the race, over 50% of the field would come to an abrupt stop at every water stop, and at least a quarter of the field was walking in between water stops. We were in “slow slog to the finish” mode as a group, and those of us who were still trying to run had to navigate quite the obstacle course. Slowing down to enjoy the crowds, read the signs, high five kids, and enjoy the bands along the course? This was the best choice I could have made.
The last couple of miles were still pretty tough, but that’s what happens when you don’t run a smart marathon, and sometimes even when you do. I pulled up to the finish line in 4:31:25, better than half my marathons, slower than half. I received my medal from Akswami, who was super gracious about taking a picture with me. After that came the long, long walk to exit the finishing line. I think it was a mile north to get out of Central Park, and then I had to turn around and go the opposite way to get back to the hotel… so three miles of walking after running 26.2. That part I didn’t love… but what can you do?
You can order a pizza and take a hot bath, that’s what!
- If I’m going to run marathons three weeks apart, do NOT push to your limits on the first one. Take it easy, or you won’t be able to push on the second one.
- Big city marathons are not for PRs. They’re for taking a tour of the big city. I really enjoyed the last ten miles of the race. Next big city race I run, I’m going to enjoy all of them as a tourist first, and a runner second.
- Doing speed work is important, but not at the expense of hill work. Not only did I not run many hill intervals prior to New York, but most of my long runs were on very flat trails. I was unprepared for the downhill portions of the bridges in New York.
- I probably need to run more miles per week, too. I averaged 33 miles a week… that’s okay for running marathons over four hours, but if I want to get faster, I need to put in more work.
Monday was a good day. Claire went on the obligatory coffee run, after which I headed to the finish line to visit the pop-up store where I had my time engraved on my medal. From there, I took the train down town, and Claire and I met at the Empire State Building to check out the view of New York City from above. On the way back to the hotel, we grabbed lunch, then stopped at a bakery for something sweet to take on the road, and headed back up to New Hampshire.
I have a half marathon next month. I’m taking this week off, and then I’ll get back to the 20-30 miles a week range. After that, revisit the race list I recently posted, and decide if that’s really what I want to do.
Until next time,