I think by now it’s fairly clear that I’ve abandoned this blog – it always was a little unfocussed. But I like that I recorded my running experiences, the big ones anyway. So last week when I stumbled across my old blog and re-read the Chicago account, three months after I ran the New York marathon, I remembered what I liked about the old posts. Now I’m going to map out what I can remember of the New York run so I can look back on it in the same way. This is for me, if anyone else enjoys it then that’s an added bonus.
When I finished the Chicago marathon in 2014 I was elated. The happiest I’ve ever been after a run; I’d achieved my marathon goal – I ran a marathon in under 3 hours. It bloody hurt and it was under the best circumstances (weather, food, sleep, training etc etc). I wasn’t really expecting to do it again, but then I wanted to run more and know that I wouldn’t be happy about my result unless I did manage it again. So I took myself off to New York having told everyone that I was aiming for 3 and a half hours, that I didn’t mind if I ran slower than 3 hours, but knowing deep down that I did.
I’d never been to New York before, and there’s a lot to see. I was travelling with a company who arranged marathon tours – I’d been to a preparation event where everyone else who had bought a ticket through this company (2.09 events – https://www.209events.com/) discussed the various training, stretching, nutrition and logistical preparations for the trip. I went along partly to meet people who’d be in New York with me, but then I realised that I didn’t know where they were staying. As such, I resolved to quickly seeing most of the major sites on my own. That way I’d be able to stay for as long as I wanted to and then move on to the next one.
As I ticked a must-see-sight off my list, I realised I wasn’t too far from another, so walked on. The day before the marathon I ended up walking across Manhattan twice and about halfway down and back up. I then went straight out to the pre-race pasta party, which was somewhat disappointing when I thought back to the pasta-mountain that the youth hostel in Chicago had served a year ago. I tried to sneak back in for seconds but they had guards on the doors – the buggers. As I left, contemplating a cheeky pizza, I checked my watch and figured I probably had enough time to get to the infamous Halloween parade (https://www.halloween-nyc.com/) and back and still get a relatively early night.
But I hadn’t thought about the crowds.
Waking up to my alarm at 5am the following morning I realised I’d made a hefty mistake. I needed to get up, quickly, and over to the bus which was taking us to the starting line by 6am. And I was shattered. Given the race starts on Statten Island, which is hard to get to at the best of times, let alone when 50,000 other runners are trying to get there too, so on marathon morning you have to set off early. Really early. To be sure we got there on time the tour company made sure that we got there around 7.30, but the race didn’t start until just before 10.
It was the first of November, which isn’t exactly the depth of a New York winter but it was still cold enough to be sitting around a field at 7 in the morning for over two hours. On the bus on the way over I’d chatted with someone I recognised from the training session, and we wandered to the starting line together, trying to work out where we were meant to be going, discussing food tactics and what our expected finish times were. The organisers were giving out free bagels, but I’d brought one with me just in case, as well as a banana and a pack of peanut butter M&Ms. My usual pre-run meal is a slice of bread, topped with a spread of peanut butter and a mashed banana, but I was in a strange country without a stocked kitchen to hand so I had to improvise. Also I bloody love peanut butter M&Ms. Two or three people did stop as they walked past to ask if I was seriously eating M&Ms on toast, but it tasted pretty damned good to me.
So good that I almost missed the start. I randomly decided to get up and wander to the start corrals just in case and immediately heard the 2 minute warning for the group I’d been allocated to. I ran to the start and squeezed in as we started to walk forward. I was within sight of the start, clearly my predicted time of 3 hours is enough to get me to the very front of the line now. Which is quite daunting really. I remember yawning as the Mayor of New York was telling me how huge this moment was, not exactly a good sign before a marathon.
Regardless of how I was feeling the race was starting. I was getting kinda excited about the whole thing, I might do a 3 hour marathon again. But then we immediately slowed to a walk as we hit a bottle neck on the approach to the first bridge into Brooklyn. I have no idea how long we were walking for, probably about 30 seconds to a minute but it seemed to last for the first 5 and that’s what I’ve told anyone who asked how the run went. I was slower than I could have been and it’s the fault of the organisers, somehow. And then my RunKeeper app glitched, so it thought I’d run about two thirds of a mile more than I had, making it useless at working out my actual pace. At that point I sulkily told myself I wasn’t setting any personal bests in New York.
Much of the rest of the run is like a dream, remembered in moments but with no consistent narrative. I know ran my own race, I didn’t try to stick with anyone, or chat to anyone, or go faster than anyone. I just ran according to how fast I thought I could run.
I remember going over the first bridge and thinking how great it looked, with these giant vertical struts and all the cables, but then looking desperately over my left shoulder to try to see the famous skyline. And not quite seeing it because it was so far away. I remember looking at all the tall non-descript residential buildings, thinking that this could well be any American town and wondering when I’d get to anything that looked like New York.
I also remember the hills. So many hills.
And I panicked with my strategy for taking on water. When you’ve run a marathon and been ill afterwards because you drank too much, and then you run another where you had to walk towards the end because you hadn’t drunk enough, you develop a strategy/paranoia for taking on the right amount of water. Basically I skip every third water station, so drink at 1 and 2 then skip 3, but as my mind wandered I forgot how many I’d passed. Nevertheless, despite panicking that I’d lost count of the water stations, I felt okay. Then, around 16 miles, we started climbing the Queensboro Bridge from Brooklyn to Manhattan. It’s a long climb, a bloody long climb and my legs started to wane. I began to wonder if I’d walked too far the previous day, if I’d taken enough water on – or maybe too much – whether I’d eaten enough M&Ms (I’d definitely not eaten enough M&Ms, it’s not physically possible to eat too many of those things) and how hard the following 10 miles were going to be.
As I got to the end of the bridge I looked at my watch and realised that I was doing okay really. RunKeeper has deserted me and I wasn’t 100% sure I could count water statiosn but I could still managed rudimentary runner-maths. I know that I can do a mile in about 7 minutes, and that’s if I run slower than my average pace. I slowly worked out I was actually, despite everything, still on for a 3 hour race.
Next thing I remember is running over the Madison Avenue bridge back into Manhattan and seeing a woman holding a sign saying “the last damned bridge”. It made me smile because every bridge was an agony at this point. But it was a rare smile. The New York crowd have this reputation for their outlandish support for everyone who runs the marathon, however I found that the Chicagoans had been so much more supportive. After the race I found New York muted, I walked around with the post-race poncho (I’ll explain in a minute) and medal on but no-one commented. It was almost as though I were in London, everyone kept their head down and carried on. In Chicago everyone issued congratulations and good wishes. And there were far fewer funny placards of support, and less people yelling encouraging slogans. So that was a shame.
Anyway, I digress, after that bridge I ran on into Manhattan and down Fifth Avenue. I’m told by those who had downloaded the marathon app, on which you can track your chosen runners in real time, that I dramatically slowed down at this point. Looking back on it that seems about right. I felt heavy. My weary legs were slowing but I knew that I was close to the end. I was counting down each mile marker, welcoming every kilometre sign. When I got to the 40km sign I noticed my time. I was going to be about a minute too slow.
At that point I decided that there was no way I’d come all the way to New York and run a marathon to be a minute slow. I checked how I was feeling, in truth I was feeling a bit sick but I managed to find some form of determination and I pushed on. And it fricking hurt. I was expecting to hear my RunKeeper alert telling me I’d been running for 3 hours at any moment, hoping that I’d manage to cross the line before that happened.
And I did – somehow I crossed the line before my phone yelled 3 hours at me.
I really don’t remember much after this. I know I felt very ill, and light headed. That my legs ached to the point that I didn’t want to sit down even though I felt unstable. I know I phoned my girlfriend in the UK immediately to double check I’d finished in under 3 hours.
I had, but only just. 2 hours 59 and 26 seconds.
I remember taking a photo of a fellow finisher and asking that he take mine, then smiling for a few official photographers and slowly, achingly, shuffling toward the exit. Someone threw a poncho thing around me but I had to ask them to help me fasten it. I still have the poncho, it’s a giant blue blanket with a hood, specially designed for the marathon, and I love it. It was like a giant duvet that I was somehow justified in wearing whilst wandering through the New York streets. I hugged it around myself whilst on the underground.
I’m gonna do London next. Then use this result to get into the Boston marathon in 2017.
Then I only have Tokyo to go and I’ve done all 6 majors. Unless they add another one.
I hope they don’t.