Surprised, Not Disappointed

A Race!  NYC Marathon 2017

8:01s  |  26.2 miles  |  ~57°F

Today I ran the 2017 NYC Marathon.  I completed it in 3:30:03 (8:01s).  While I’m not feeling disappointed, I’m more surprised at how slow my time was because I had thought I trained better for this!

Here are my unofficial results per my Garmin:

I studied up for this race the night before.  I looked at my Garmin splits for the 2010 and 2011 NYC Marathons I did, and I noticed a curious pattern.  I noticed that if I subtracted about 5 seconds from the time on my first mile, I arrived at the minutes above the 3-hour mark that I’d finish.  That is, in 2010 I finished mile one in 7:33, and my finish time was 3:27:08.  In 2011 I finished mile one in 7:18, and my finish time was 3:13:59.  My first mile in this year’s marathon was 8:05, so I was confused about what to estimate my finish time as, especially considering I thought my training would finish me between the times of 2010 and 2011. I also held back a bit in that first mile, partially because of all the runners but also because the 3:05 pacer was just ahead of me!

Well, during 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, when I was ticking off miles with paces of 6:57, 6:43, 6:42, then 6:39, 6:42, and 6:50 to finish mile 8, I had to shake that theory. I was running very fast — faster than all my training this year, at paces that were generally far better than any of my paces this year! — and I decidedly was unsure when this party would end.  I knew that come about mile 10 I would potentially start to fade.  For the uphill over mile 9, I kept up my pace, logging a 6:55. And for mile 10 I kept up that same pace. But on Bedford Avenue, I had forgotten any notion that it was a long, low-grade uphill, and runners quickly started to pass me as I felt my body power down.  I powered down so much, mile 10 was 6:55 but mile 11 was 7:41!  That was surprising.

It also might have been a signal of my training to some degree. My standard run in the summer was 10 miles.  While I hadn’t done a 10-miler in a while, it was maybe interesting that I broke inside mile 11. Or maybe it was that I had fewer than recommended long runs in the last month, spelling out that I would tire rather than sustain a pace, or at least hold on a bit closer to 6:55. I mean, there was also a long hill, plus I’m considerably older than I was in 2011.  And it was a warm year, with 60s-70s holding all of the way through October into November, with a number of humid fall days. But whatever.

Not far ahead of me, though, was the Pulaski Bridge and with it the half-marathon mark. I don’t like that bridge! It’s a slow trek up it to the anti-climactic half-marathon mark. It can be draining. Plus, I’m only HALFWAY done at that point, and the second part of the NYC Marathon is tougher than the first! Still, knowing that Elizabeth Corkum was lurking in Queens to cheer me on helped to motivate me and to look strong, and sure enough I saw her just after 46th Road and high-fived her. Woohoo!

After that point, though, I could just tell I wasn’t doing well, and I was dreading the massive Queensboro Bridge.  I knew I would considerably slow down on it as I had in the past, and while my uphill mile 15 was faster than in 2010 (it’s partly on land), my downhill mile (partly uphill) was slower than both 2010 and 2011.  I remember simply plodding along with much better runners pouring past me.

Up to this point, my gel consumption was based on whether I felt a power-down. I consumed an AccelGel just before the race. I had one at mile 5 when I felt myself power down, so I calculated then to have a gel each 5 miles. I consumed water and/or this watered-down Gatorade Endurance formula at most stations, looking for fuel. Did I not have enough carbs in my system? I had sushi for dinner the night before and no sizable pasta or anything before the race. I don’t think I would have run much faster had I carbed up, but maybe I would have sustained myself longer.

Once on 1st Avenue, I just had to keep going. I never really looked at the crowd, just trying to keep going and ignoring the hills in getting to 77th Street for mile 17, 97th Street for mile 18, and 117th Street for mile 19. That’s a lot of blocks!  At mile 17 were Poland Spring sponges soaked in cold water, of which I grabbed two and squeezed them over my head which felt really good. At mile 18 were PowerGels, and I consumed one with 25mg caffeine which may have given me a tiny boost. Around this time I was dealing with leg cramps. One was on my right leg, on the outer side, in the quads area. There was another cramp forming somewhere on my left leg — I can’t remember where. I just focused on keeping on and eventually the sensation passed.

Crossing into the Bronx, since it’s only for a mile and I remembered the course better this year, I was more encouraged and it seemed as if my pace picked up a bit. Not really much, though, as I was running deep into the 8:00s at this point. I grabbed a banana inside the Bronx to give myself real food but more so to help stave off any future cramps, which I remember in the past happening in my lower legs around mile 22.

I was encouraged once in Harlem to see my friend Sharon at the place where I thought she would be, just after mile 22, but I felt frustrated when there was no sign of her there. (Apparently she was in a different place, and while I thought it was clear where she would be, we did not communicate this clearly enough between us.) I shifted to focusing on 5th Avenue, which is another low-grade hill for too many blocks. Sure enough, it delivered, with seemingly endless blocks of uphills.

I remembered to start calculating my finish time once passing mile 23.  I figured at this point I’d finish about 29 minutes after this point, which seemed to pace out to a finish around 3:29 or 3:30, especially considering there was no real chance of my picking up my pace any better than the trek I was doing now, but also considering the rolling hills in Central Park I was about to encounter. I expected at this point my fiancée Rachel would be watching on the app, gearing up for my meeting her at the sign for one half mile to go, and that expectation kept me motivated and going forward. I got more eager once I hit the mile 25 mark, because from there it’s a faster downhill then a turn onto Central Park South where I’d see her.

I saw her! I started to break down emotionally as I saw her, and I stopped for a few seconds to give her a kiss.  She grabbed a few photos as I was advancing toward her. She said because I ran this marathon shirtless, it was a bit easier to spot me — not a lot of people were shirtless this year, and I noticed maybe one runner during my journey.

After that point, I just had to finish. I had researched during my last days of training not to sprint until I hit the “F” sign the NYC Marathon posts close to the finish, because that’s the top of the last hill, and just far enough from the finish to warrant not sprinting sooner. I did, though, get to pick up my speed and finish this marathon sprinting. As of this post, my unofficial finish time was 3:30:03, which means that if I didn’t stop to kiss Rachel, I would have finished under 3:30. Not a bad reason to give up on that goal!

Right after I crossed the finish line, and probably because my blood pressured dropped from the sprinting, I asked to walk with someone who was in a red coat.  I put my arm around his shoulder and we walked for a few yards until I recovered. Then it was the long walk to get my bag and exit at W. 85th Street. Rachel rendezvoused with me there, and we simply walked another 14 blocks home.  So, in addition to the marathon, I walked all the way from about W. 65th Street to W. 100th Street.  Until I finally laid down in my apartment around 2:20pm, I figured I had been on my feet without sitting since about 8:05am!

Next up is the 2017 Philadelphia Marathon, which is two weeks away.  I think given this race, I have a better sense of what my body will do in it. If I stubbornly try to run Philly in sub-7:00s for the first few miles, I’ll probably tank similarly before the half-marathon mark and have a grueling finish. But if I hold back, I may have more endurance through the middle miles and maybe (maybe!) the energy to pick up my pace then rather than dissolve. I shouldn’t expect a PR at Philly, and I might even have to expect a finish around 3:30. Given my notes from the prior years, it helps when I train between these races, so it would be advised to train well between these races. I also probably should carb up before.

I kept saying, and keep saying, that I was more surprised by how slow my NYC Marathon was this year than disappointed with my time. I’m older too, but it’s hard to use that as an explanation because there are older, faster runners than me. Still, it’s really great to have finished. It was not fun. Maybe it would have been fun were it cooler, brighter, and not so rainy and humid (the start was 57 with about 80% humidity, cloudy, with the rain seeming to hold off for the run unless maybe there was drizzle). Of course, it would have also been fun had my body been responding better to the running! But having gotten in via lottery this year, not even thinking I’d be doing another marathon, it was a great achievement to finish NYC again.  I think this was my sixth running of it: first in 2001, then 2003, then 2005, then 2010 and in 2011. Hurricane Sandy wiped out my 2012 running (I ran a replacement marathon instead), and I elected not to run 2013 for lack of training.

As for pain, I had almost zero chafing, and my legs felt pretty good a few hours later!

Placed in a Race … A Cupcake Run, on My Birthday!

This morning I ran the first ever NYC Cupcake Run in Astoria Park in Queens, NY. I ran it in 21:13, placing second overall!

(It was advertised as a 5K, meaning 3.1 miles, though I measured it more like 2.88 miles. No biggy! Just FYI.)

Here are my stats from Garmin:

I was excited for this race. Put together by the same person who puts together the NYC Pizza Run, this was hard to turn down because a) it happened on my birthday, making it a great birthday-cake substitute, and b) it was in Astoria, which is where I live.

Jason, the organizer, knew I did a nice amount of tweeting about the event, and from those tweets he realized it was going to be my birthday. So with incredible kindness and forethought, when I checked in Jason handed me something special: A birthday hat! I wore it the entire race.

Speaking of the race, it started a few minutes after 11am on Shore Boulevard and ran at first on the shoreline sidewalk along Astoria Park. I started with the front group of runners and eventually was leading the pack for much of that first leg, coming into the first cupcake station in first place. I did not presume this to mean I was going to win — in fact, I took this to mean that I need to pace myself else I’ll burn out and definitely get passed later. Into the first cupcake station, I plowed into a very rich cupcake, demolishing it. I had wanted to pick up water here but I actually didn’t see any! Fortunately the cupcakes were moist with very creamy frosting, making them easy to cram. A second or so after I realized it had made it into my mouth, I took off, maintaining my first-place position.

It was after halfway down Hoyt before the left turn that the other runner I was up against (John) overtook me. I had been slowed as I tried to consume the cupcake in my mouth and as I struggled to get it down without choking. I realized that maybe I should have spent more time swallowing the cupcake than just getting it into my mouth because maybe my time could have been better spent running. Oh well. John got quite a distance ahead of me and I was pretty certain I wouldn’t catch him, so I focused largely on maintaining my second-place position.

Into the second cupcake station I saw John and told him not to let me beat him! I grabbed a water and I remember virtually nothing about this cupcake, only that I lost the cap to my water bottle in trying to figure out how to wet the cupcake in my mouth. John left before I did but I watched him get about the same distance as before away from me before I shot out of the station as I think as other runners were arriving. Without the cap on my water, I plugged my index finger into the bottle and ran like that, trying to gain something on John.

I was going at a pretty decent clip. I’d had some caffeine earlier and I haven’t really been running, so I was a bit surprised that I was running at a decent clip and not really losing my breath. I hit the third cupcake station and engulfed a chocolate cupcake along with some kind of chocolate piece atop it. I don’t remember its making it into my mouth. However, there are going to be some great photos on the Facebook page for the event, for sure, as I understand I might have been one of the more rabid consumers of the race’s signature food item. I guess I was more competitive in this race than I realized!

John was long gone and while the water did help the cupcake go down, it was going to be hard to catch him. It seemed to me I didn’t have anyone behind me but I didn’t check. I basically settled in to finishing second with my birthday cap on, knowing that a second-place finish would actually win me a prize. Just as I was turning onto the last leg, my friend Jono, whom I’d told about the race just that morning and who lives around the corner, started cheering my name! It was cool to see him show up to cheer me on. I shouted that I was in second … and fortunately I held onto that position as I crossed the finish in 21:13, making for nearly 7:40s without pausing the stopwatch at the cupcake stations. Such a cool happening on my birthday!

Afterward I met several of the other runners and their friends and just hung out (hanged out?) in the park. People seemed happy and seemed to have a great time. There was no vomiting from what I could tell, and fewer people seemed to look “sick” compared to the NYC Pizza Run. I’d definitely recommend doing this run in 2014 … it’s for charity!

An Experiment in Strength Training …

This morning I ran the 2013 5th Avenue Mile along Central Park in Manhattan. I ran it in 5:49 (AG 66.18% – not bad!). While far from a PR (which was 5:19 in 2009), this race determined a lot of good things for me as I consider running it again next year.

First of all, I haven’t really been running. The interest in running the race this year came when I was actually shooting a commercial for a large NYC race that I’m not supposed to name. For the commercial, I would jog by the frame of the shot with a bunch of other actors. I noticed that several of the actors would then start sprinting. I got “sprinting envy” and asked if I could join them. Soon enough I was sprinting along with them and keeping up with them! This surprised me because I hadn’t run in about a month and a half — but I had been working with a personal trainer at my gym, building muscle. So, I was encouraged to see if these short bursts of maybe 200 meters coupled with strength training might equate to just as fast of a 5th Ave. Mile as in the past, or — gosh! — maybe even a PR?! I wanted to see.

Today I started out at about 185 lbs. This is heavy for me, about 8 lbs. heavier than I race at my heaviest! Rather than fat, though, presumably some of the weight is muscle and my physique seems to tell that tale. I was feeling good at the start of the race. It was a gorgeous day — sunny, about 62 degrees with an imperceptible 90% humidity, and there was a crosswind along the streets that cut across 5th Ave. that may even have been a headwind. All in all, it felt cool out. I was excited, felt good, and not very anxious, and I had a general strategy to go out hard, have fun, and push myself, while, again, having fun. I knew to be anywhere near PRing I had to hit the 1/2-mile marker around 2:40. And I figured out before my race that it takes about 15-20 seconds from passing the last street to make it to the finish line (even though it looks to be “right there” from 61st Street). This was good to know in calculating my finish time as I approached — and to know just how much I’d have to give in case I really needed to give.

Before my 9:55am heat, I lightly jogged up from 60th Street the mile to the starting line. For one or two blocks I did a test by sprinting a little bit, and things seemed fine in the legs. I had, though, run the 2013 NYC Pizza Run the day before, and maybe my legs were a wee bit tired from that 2-mile race — certainly going to bed last night they were surprisingly a little sore. This morning I  had three eggs and a Pro-Scuplt beverage with 200 mg of caffeine in it plus l-arginine, whose effects I weren’t sure of in racing. I had that around 7:30am. At 9:40am, just before entering the corral, I had a 2x caffeine Tangerine PowerGel, which I understand equates to 50mg of caffeine plus sugar.

When I got into the corral, I was maybe four guys deep in the center of the road. When the gun went off, I crossed the start line maybe one second later. I decided to push myself on the downhill this year, which was counterindicated by most people who advise this race — but not counterindicated by last year’s self-prescription, which said basically “have fun.” Immediately as I began this race, I realized I wasn’t sure what the best breathing strategy was. I quickly decided to go at it with pretty reserved breathing, doing about three strides then one exhale. This seemed more controlled, to guard against getting all crazy in the breathing and just melting down.

The strategy didn’t help much. I noticed before 74th Street (where the hill begins) I was getting passed by a nice number of gents. This proved to be much of the race for me, though I was giving it my best and keeping pressure on myself. At the 1/2-mile mark I logged about a 2:46 I think, which meant that I probably would not be able to PR this year. It also meant that in my current shape, it was going to be tough! I felt slow (or maybe just looked slow with so many guys passing me) but kept at it, reminding myself through the strain to “have fun.” It helped my psyche. Around this time my friend Sharon Eckstrom, who was watching from about this mark, saw me and snapped a few photos. She said my face looked pained, but she said that others did, too, so I didn’t feel so bad about that!

When I zeroed in on the finish, I tried to sprint after passing 61st Street. It didn’t feel like the fastest sprint in the world for me, though I’m pretty sure I passed a number of guys in doing so.

Am I happy with finishing with this time? Largely yes, and a little bit no. Fortunately the “no” isn’t a very big deal. The “no” comes from wanting to PR, and also from wanting to be a lot closer to my past finish times rather than be my slowest 5th Ave. Mile to date. But the “yes” comes from a number of considerations. I’m happy to learn that strength training without running training is not going to be my ticket to faster times. That is, strength training needs to have running in the mix to mean something. Furthermore, cardiovascular training for more extended periods of time — probably while running — may make the biggest difference. I felt labored in my breathing this year, so more cardiovascular shape may have led to a better time. (My cardio now comes from swimming and biking, which probably isn’t that big of a deal. The only running I’ve been doing is warm-up runs on a treadmill, and, while fast, are only for 4-6 minutes.)

Also, happiness comes from actually pulling off this sub-6:00 time without really any running training for the event! Usually I’m in the midst of marathon training when I’m running this race, so I’m benefitted by that training. This time, not one bit.

Afterwards I watched some of the heats with Sharon. Sharon was then going to do some running in Central Park, and I asked if I could join her. We ended up doing about 6 miles together, and I finished having run 7.15 miles. This, after having run a mile up to the start line and a mile sprint back to the finish line! So, for not really having run, it was surprising to comfortably log 9.15 miles today, and 11+ miles in two days considering yesterday’s race.

Here’s what my Garmin charted when Sharon and I ran together. She and I split off very near the conclusion of mile 6.

Cheers for now!