Marathon number 4, coming just six weeks after BERLIN MARATHON 2017 and three weeks after ARIZONA TO LAS VEGAS CYCLE CHALLENGE 2017 I was not sure how I would go on with this one. Would I be too tired from Berlin and the bike ride? would I be super fit from completing those two as well as the training? I wasn’t sure. What I did know is I was going into this with a good amount of training and the knowledge that I can run 26.2 miles. As with the Paris, Liverpool and Berlin marathons, I caught a cold in the week leading up to race day. I don’t know why but definitely need to find out why, I keep getting a cold during the tapering for these marathons. Whilst running with a cold gives me an excuse for not running well, I would rather run a marathon without a cold and see what I can actually do.
New York is one of my favourite cities in the New York and I have been fortunate enough to have been here four times in the past. One of my favourite vacations was spending St Patricks Day weekend in the city celebrating my wife’s birthday. We spent the evening at Maddison Square Garden watching Alicia Keys and watched the St Patricks Day parade down 5th avenue where there were 3 million people lining the streets. It was that experience that once I got into running, made the New York City Marathon my number one bucket list race. I knew just how awesome the crowds are in NY and I wanted to feel that adrenaline of running those streets…. Here I am, here is my experience from a weekend I have looked forward to ever since pulling on a pair of running shoes 2 years ago.
Arrival & Expo (Friday November 3rd)
I flew out on the Friday morning and had arranged the whole trip with Sports Tours International, this was my first time using then so I was interested to see how it went, being realistic, probably my only chance of running Boston will be via a tour operator place, I am nowhere near fast enough to get a BQ.
I arrived at my midtown hotel just before 4pm, dropped my bags and went straight off to the expo to collect my race numbers for Saturdays 5k race and the marathon. With running the 5k on the Saturday morning I had to collect my stuff Friday anyway, but after my Saturday expo experience in Berlin there was no way I will leave it until the Saturday before collecting my bits again.
I did have a place in the Parade of Nations in Central Park to parade with other UK runners and watch the fireworks, but I opted for getting the the expo and forgoing the parade.
The expo itself was really good, it is at the Javits Convention Centre and is HUGE!! I collected my race pack for the marathon, 5k pack and finisher tops, here is a question…. In Liverpool and Berlin we collected the finisher tops prior to actually finishing. Do you see that as a cop out? some may not finish the race yet still have a “finishers top” and would you run the race in the finishers top? I wouldn’t yet see lots of others racing in it.
As I had some spare time and the expo wasn’t too crowded I had a wander around the New Balance section, coming out with a TCS NYC Marathon jacket and long sleeve top to use during my winter training. I also stopped off at the Abbotts stand to take a look at the Six Star medal which I hope to earn one day. NYC will be the second of the six for me so I am on my way.
Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5k (Saturday November 4th)
Saturday morning was the Abbott Dash to the Finish, which is a 5k run starting at the United Nations running through Midtown and finishing up at the marathon finish line in Central Park. With all of the marathons I have ran so far, I have taken part in the Saturday 5k breakfast / fun runs. This felt a little different with the USATF 5k Championship runners going off just before the rest of the pack. As always, I was planning on taking it nice and easy, not wanting to go hard and waste energy the day before a marathon. I selected a predicted time of 25 minutes, a full 7 minutes off my 5k PB so I had every intention of running slow, I found myself in the very last pen, with a time of 25mins? so as you can imagine that last pen was big and contained a wide range of runners with differing abilities.
Once we got going, I felt very crowded and like I was running too slow, theres a surprise! what happened to taking it steady? That first mile was my slowest at 7:34 and the majority of that was spent weaving in and out trying to find some space to run my own pace. It wasn’t until we turned off 42nd street onto wider 6th Avenue that I could open my legs and go for it. Pretty much a 2.1 mile race to the finish from here after a very pedestrian first mile (still taking it steady are we?). Running up 6th brought back the memories of the St Patricks Day parade, even at 9am there were a lot of people lining the streets to cheer us on. Mile 2 went by in 6:44, we were now running the lower Central Park, again loads of people cheering us on and then that finish! this was my first experience of the NYC marathon finish and it was amazing even on Saturday morning. grandstands lining both sides of the road for the last 200m, the atmosphere tomorrow is going to be awesome! but back to today, the final mile went by in 6:34 giving me a race time of 22:14, but its not a race really is it?
That was me done for the day. What do you do the day before a marathon in New York? My running brain was telling me to go and sit down for the next 12 hours before bed and rest. So I went and did some shopping, clocking up 13.9 miles of walking but still back in the hotel “resting” by 5pm. Sports Tours were giving a race briefing at 7pm so it was a quick shower and made my way downstairs for the briefing.
I was in two minds whether I needed to actually both with the race briefing. I have ran three marathons so I know what I am doing, what can they possibly tell me that I wont already know or have experienced before? So I got my head out of my arse and went down and found it really useful, which you would expect, these guys run the tour every year and have ran the marathon countless times before so they know what to expect, where the difficult points are, where it will feel easy going but not to run too fast etc. It was a fantastic presentation and lots of great course advice. After this I grabbed some dinner and went to bed at 8:30pm, my alarm was set for 4:30am yep, it is an early start for New York. One slight worry I had was the clocks go back 1hr in the US tonight. Will my iPhone change the time for me or will I actually be waking up at 5:30am and missing my bus.
Marathon day!!!!!!!!!! (Sunday November 5th)
So to start off with, it turns out my iPhone works perfectly fine even in the US and adjusted the time accordingly, I did wake up 15 mins before my alarm anyway, clearly that extra 15 mins would have made all the difference.
Again, Sports Tours had arranged a “grab & go” breakfast for us at the hotel, I had a couple of danish and a pot of porridge along with a cup of coffee. I took the danish with me to eat on the way to the bus pickup at the New York Public Library. We were to walk to the pickup as a group, there were around 150 running with Sports Tours, spread across three hotels in Midtown. Our group was about 40 strong. When we got to 42nd street, the queue for the buses was crazy!! surprisingly it only took me 40mins to get onto a bus, the whole system was really really well organised and very smooth. I took this picture of the queue, which at this point was 2 blocks from the buses, queueing 5 wide down both sides of the street.
I guess if you think about it, there are 51,000 runners who all have to make their way to the start line. A start line which is on an island 26 miles outside of midtown. There are only two ways to get there…. bus from the Public Library or the Staten Island Ferry. I saw some stats after the race which stated that 8,000 runners took the ferry, leaving the remaining 43,000 taking the buses. If you think that roughly 50 people can sit on a bus that means there must have been around 860 bus journeys to the start line! that is a staggering figure. The amount of organisation the New York Road Runners must put into getting people to the start line is amazing. Thats before you even consider the effort they have to put in to run the actual event.
Our bus seemed to take a long time to get to the start area, in fact my bag drop was due to close at 8:30 and we were only just departing the bus at 8:15. Turns out the bag drop didn’t close at 8:30 for wave 1, not sure when it did actually close if at all but I got my bag dropped off. Gathering in the race village at Fort Wadsworth was pretty cool, we had the Verrazano bridge (the start of the marathon) in the background.
In all the build up for this one I was told how long and how cold it is waiting around the race village and corrals. It turns out, with my bus being late in I only spent 5 mins in the race village and went straight to the corrals, made use of the toilets here and then went out on to the bridge. I was in the first wave in corral C on the lower deck of the bridge. I had been a bit bummed about being on the lower deck and had planned to jump over to the top side, but as you can see, the weather was damp and overcast so there was no view of Manhattan and the underside of the bridge was sheltered from the wind and drizzle.
I was actually really close to the start line when the gun went off, the closest I have ever been to the leading group haha. The anthem and speeches by the NY mayor were pretty emotional given the terrorist attack that had sadly hit New York in the days leading up to the race, but this just spurred us all on to get out there and run and show the world that runners cannot be stopped and New York will just keep on doing what it does best.
Mile 1 – 6: 8:01, 6:46, 7:34. 7:21, 7:27, 7:27
Once the cannon went I was off, running the race I have dreamt of running for the past two years. With previous races I have always gone off too fast, during last nights race brief we were told not to go off too fast, try to run the first mile 30 secs off your planned race pace as that first mile is the biggest uphill of the whole race. So I set off running at a slow pace and took my time for once, running the first mile in 8:01. I was planning on running at 7:35 pace, I had ran 18 miles in Berlin at 7:30 so lets see how we go in New York. As mile 1 is uphill the second mile is backdown the other side of the bridge, this is where this went a little crazy, I ran a 6:46 mile in a marathon? things were quiet running on the bridge, no spectators other than a few NYPD officers who were cheering and clapping us on. Once we got into Brooklyn, the only thing I could say was wow! the support from here on was unbelievable, I have never ran a race where there was such loud and enthusiastic support. From mile 3 – 9 we were running on 4th ave, one long straight road and all I could see in front of me was a sea of runners and spectators, tens of thousands in one street all celebrating running. This image is one I will never forget and one that I hoped New York would be.
Mile 7 – 13: 7:23, 7:31, 7:33, 7:32, 7:45, 7:29, 7:34
There isn’t much to add about this section, it was more of the same, thousands of people cheering, playing music, dancing and having fun. The adrenalin rush coming from them spurred me and all of the runners on to keep going, keep pushing. I ran the first half marathon in 1:37:24, my third fastest half marathon. The question is, can I keep this pace going for another 13.1 miles? how far can I run without stopping? is it going to rain? me and rain have not got on well in previous marathons.
Mile 14 – 21: 7:28, 7:58, 9:13, 7:49, 7:37, 7:49, 8:17, 11:43
Mile 14 went well, it was flat, I took it in my stride. Mile 15 was a little slower, I knew what was coming up in mile 16 and I let that get to me and slowed my pace. Mile 16 was one which was highlighted in the race brief, this is the Queensboro bridge into Manhattan, it is a climb but really, looking at it now, it is nothing. It is a 130ft climb at 5% – 6% and then back down into Manhattan. We were told that the bridge is quite steep, but the hardest part is just how quiet things are up there. After 14 miles of noise and parties the silence on the bridge was as tough as the climb, they were right, its times like this when you need the mental strength to keep pushing and keep going at your planned pace. The 7:35 planned pace…. so I ran 9:13, that doesn’t look good or show a good strong mental attitude. Once you drop down into Manhattan, it was like running into a wall, a wall of sound and noise. Mile 17 – 20 were a long slog up 1st avenue, it was now raining, I was starting to feel it in my legs and I could see a long straight road gently going uphill. It was this point when I ran past Chris Rock, the buzz from the crowd around him was awesome and helped to push me on to mile 20 without stopping, my longest nonstop run. In mile 20 I made a quick toilet pitstop and cracked on, 8:17, not the end of the world. In the past I have struggled to get going again after stopping, this is why I now try to push on further so its less to get through when I stop. Just 10k left, an hour right? I had to stop and walk for a bit in mile 21, my stomach was feeling a bit funny now. Too many gels? I had taken one at mile 5, 10 & 15, I took a protein gel at mile 20, maybe I don’t get on with them?
Mile 22 – 26.2: 14:10, 11:09, 13:10, 10:35, 9:18, 9:13
The next three miles were tough, I was really low on energy, my stomach was feeling a little off. It was a mix of walking and running. The rain and humidity had made it tough and I was thirsty. A little boy saw me struggling and handed me a bottle of water, I don’t normally take things from people in the crowd as you can never be sure what it is, I know very very few if any would give a runner something dodgy but you never know. This little gesture from someone so young really lifted me, I chucked the bottle back and started to run, not fast, my legs hurt, I couldn’t lift my feet off the floor but I was running, mile 25 went by in 10:35, 3 mins off my planned pace but 3 mins faster than the last couple of miles. Mile 26 we came out of the park on to 59th street, by this point I knew I was running a PB today so I whipped out my phone to take a couple of mid race photos.
Once we hit Columbus Circle it was just 0.2 miles to the finish, that awesome finish line I saw yesterday. The crowds here were huge, the noise just as huge, the lift this gave me made me forget the pain I was feeling, I started to run quicker, 9:18 and 9:13 to the finish. What I hadn’t noticed yesterday was a damn up hill at the finish, I saw it coming, I knew it would hurt and it did but then we turned the corner and the grandstands lined the road, the cheering was great and what best, was that finish line and the volunteers standing there congratulating us all on running 26.2 miles, completing the New York City marathon.
This sight made me laugh as I was on the what felt like never ending walk to the gear check, I think it was only one mile but I was exhausted and my legs were heavy, just the sight of everyone wearing the blue foil wraps made me think of the smurfs.
I started off by saying New York was one of my favourite cities in the world, I now end by saying that the New York City marathon is my favourite marathon. It lived up to my expectations, the course is good, not too much climb and fast. What sets this apart from any race I have ran and seen on TV? the people of New York! the support from start to finish was nothing but spectacular. Someone told me earlier in the year that NYC is like a 26.2 mile block party and yep, that was spot on.
New York was my 4th marathon of 2017 so in reality, I wouldn’t be running fast and setting PB’s with so many in the legs already but I was over the moon to run 3:46:16, just 7 mins off my PB despite the walking and struggles of the last 6 miles.
For anyone thinking of using Sports Tours International for their next major or any of the STI events, I cannot recommend them highly enough. This whole weekend was superbly organised from airport pickup to drop off and everything in between. Any questions we had were answered, the guys that were out there to look after us had either ran the race in the past or been out there with Sports Tours in the past. I enjoyed the experience from Sports Tours so much, I booked the 2018 Chicago Marathon with them as soon as I got home.