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!