No, no, no, no, no, no, NOOOooooo!!!
-Somewhere near mile 22
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I ran my very first marathon (the Manchester City Marathon) a little over a year ago. I went into it not really knowing just what I was getting myself into. Over the course of the next fifty two weeks I ran three more marathons (Boston, Providence and Smuttynose). In each of those I learned a little bit more about the 26.2 mile distance.
One full year after running the Manchester City Marathon, and with one week to go until New York, I thought I had the knowledge, determination and discipline to conquer the five boroughs. Unlike Meatloaf, I only got one out of three right.
I would love to go into detail of my whole weekend experience, but in the interest of time and space I will just say that on Friday and Saturday I got to catch up with the always inspiring Sarah Stanley, had the honor and pleasure of meeting my buddy Michelle, running with both her and TK, and having a fabulous brunch with a roomful of runners (too many to list here) and attended the Team Up with Autism Speaks Pasta Dinner.
Let’s get right to the race.
As I stood, shivering in the starting area, I tried to visualize my journey before me. Much like Smuttynose, I had a plan – I was going to break the race into 5 mile segments. I knew in my head that no matter how I felt, I could run 5 miles. In my head I told myself the moment I take that first step in each 5 mile segment, I was now down to 4+ miles. It worked to perfection at Smuttynose. I was sure it would work in New York. If could replicate my Boston Qualifying race, New York was going to be a breeze. Part of the plan also called for taking a Honey Stinger at the beginning of each of those 5-mile segments. Easy enough. I had run Smuttynose in 38-minute 5 mile segments. My plan for New York was to attempt 37 minute splits.
Although I had never run New York, I tried to imagine myself taking a Stinger and a swig of my homemade Honey Water at the designated spots. I saw myself crossing the finish line in Central Park. The clock read 3:16, which was fine, because I was about a minute back from the starting line.
After the introductions of the elite runners, the gun went off, and we were OFF! waited for the wave to make it’s way back to corral 12. I took one last look around for DP_Turtle, hoping to find a running partner, but to no avail. The sea of people began to surge forward and as we crossed the starting line, I hit my watch and we broke into a jog and then a run. My New York City Marathon had officially started.
People had warned me about the mass of humanity that I would be part of. I thought having run Boston from the very back that I already had a grasp of what that meant. As I began to climb the Varranzano-Narrows Bridge, I realized just how wrong I was.
The view of people ahead of me and behind me was almost overwhelming. Reaching the peak of the bridge, I looked out over the water at Manhattan. Having lived there in the late 90’s, I felt a tinge of sadness. Even today, almost a decade after 9/11, I still expect to see the Twin Towers standing there. I said a quiet prayer for those who lost their lives and loved ones that day and moved on.
As I passed the first mile marker, I took a look at my watch – 8:14. A nice, slow start. Unfortunately the second mile was downhill and gravity did it’s thing. Coming off the bridge I hit mile 2 in a too fast 6:43.
Too fast! I thought. But then I reconsidered, thinking that I was now on target for sub-7:30 miles. It had worked at Smuttynose. It was going to work in New York, right?
Shortly thereafter we got our first dose of the crowds. The cheering was absolutely amazing. The next 3 miles went quite smoothly. I hit the 5 mile marker at 36:02…a little ahead of schedule, but I felt good. Real good! Too good.
I pulled out a Stinger.
Now here’s the thing. I am a huge fan of NRG’s Honey Stingers. I am convinced that they helped propel me to my BQ at Smuttynose. Before traveling down to New York, I decided to defer picking up my Stingers until I got to New York. I assumed the local running shop would carry my brand. They did…just not in the original flavor I was looking for. My choice was banana and chocolate. I settled on a mix. But what could go wrong, right? They were Honey Stingers!
As I passed mile 5, I pulled out my Stinger, tore off the top, sucked the the honey and washed it down with Honey Water.
I grimaced and washed it down with another swig of Honey Water.
That is until a mile later. At mile 6, it started mildly. Small tiny waves brushing on the shore. But with every passing minute, the waves of nausea became bigger and bigger. They were soon crashing down on me. I tried to stay focused on putting one foot in front of the other, but I could feel myself starting to fade. Somewhere in the next mile or so I had to stop at a port-a-potty. I didn’t feel good.
44 seconds later, I was back on the road.
At mile 8 the three starting groups (for the uninitiated, the New York City Marathon starts in three waves, each wave broken down into three separate starting areas that run their own routes for the first 8 miles) came together. The crowds and runners became more congested.
Mile 10 was coming. The nausea wasn’t going away, but I knew I needed to take a Stinger. I tried to psych myself up for taking in sugar, but the closer I got to 10, the sicker I felt. Mile 10 came and went, and I decided to push the Stinger off until mile 15. I took a swig of my Honey Water, but even that was now making me sick. At the next garbage can, I chucked my bottle. I looked at mile split – 73:35 – that was a 37:33 split. Despite the urge to hurl for the last 4 miles, I was still on target.
I slowed down a touch, trying to give my body the opportunity to re-group. After about 10 minutes I started to feel somewhat normal. No longer feeling green, I pressed a little to make up for lost time. As we crossed the half-way mark I looked at my watch. 1:37:19. Sub-3:15 pace!!!
Ok! I can do this!
Just after the half, I spotted my friend TK. I ran over, gave her a hug.
Looming in the distance was the Queensboro Bridge. I took a deep breath. I was going to take the ascent slowly and let gravity do it’s thing on the back side. Passing mile 15, I realized that I needed to take in some nutrition. The very thought of taking a Stinger brought back a wave of nausea. I decided to wait just a little longer.
I took a look at my watch – 1:52:20 – a 38:45 split. Still within striking range and ahead of my Smuttynose pace.
As we began to climb the bridge, I was surprised to hear music. Led Zepplin’s Kashmir began pounding through my earbuds. I had forgotten that I was listening to music. The bands and crowds are so loud along the course that unless you have your music pumped up all the way (something I do NOT advocate), it is completely drowned out.
But on the bridge there were no fans, no bands, no sounds save the quiet pounding of running shoes on the asphalt. Robert Plant wailed away in my ears. I couldn’t help but smile. For some reason, it felt like the perfect song for the moment. Reaching the peak of the bridge, I forced myself to take another Stinger. The thick honey was so unappetizing to me that after forcing half of it down, I spit out the rest. My level of nausea kicked right back up.
I had been told that I would hear the cheering in Manhattan long before I came off of the bridge, and I did. Momentarily I was uplifted. Coming off of the bridge, I race over to the crowd and high-fived a number of kids.
The high was good enough to keep me going for a couple of miles, but I knew I was starting to pay for the lack of carbs I was putting in. At this point I realized I needed to put some kind of sugar into my body, so I decided to start drinking Gatorade at each water station.
I never drink Gatorade. Ever.
Through 18 miles I had manage to keep my mile splits under 7:50. I was still averaging under 7:30 per mile. Mile 19 came in at 7:57. I wouldn’t see another 7-handle the rest of the way. As I entered the Boogie Down Bronx, almost on the nose at mile 20 I nearly doubled over from pain in my stomach.
Stomach cramps? Really? My lack of drinking Gatorade while training was coming back to haunt me.
I had never suffered from stomach cramps before in a race. These were sharp and painful. I knew that my game plan had to change. Even as I had approached mile 20, I had been thinking that a PR was still a possibility despite the ongoing nausea. I had fought through it for 19 miles. I knew I could fight through it for another 7.
But this was different. I went into survival mode. I just needed to keep moving. Time was no longer the goal – finishing was.
We weren’t in the Bronx long, quickly returning to Manhattan and Fifth Avenue. I’m not sure how it is physically possible, but it felt like both going up First Avenue and going down Fifth Avenue were both uphill. Is that possible? It sure felt that way. The stomach cramps weren’t going away, but I felt like I could make it through to the finish…that is until somewhere before mile 22 when I felt a twinge in my quads.
My mind flashed to mile 20 of the Manchester City Marathon when my quads froze, leaving me with my legs planted to the ground like tree trunks for 10 minutes, unable to move.
The twinge became more intense. I could feel both quads tightening up. This is NOT good! As I passed mile 22 I thought about quitting. I was in official death-march-mode.
Is it worth trying to get to the end? I’m nauseous, my stomach has sharp pain and now my quads are seizing up. Maybe I should walk. Maybe I should stop.
But something kicked in. I knew that the Team Up with Autism Speaks cheering section was just a mile away. Autism Speaks, the families that battle autism every day and all those who had helped me raise nearly $3,500 had brought me to New York. I couldn’t let them down. I looked down at my singlet. “Run Luau Run” it said right above the Team Up with Autism Speaks logo. I thought of Brooke. I thought of my friend Greg and his son. I thought of my friend Sheila and her son. I thought of Jersey Jenn and her family….and Judith…and Drama…and Gaby…so many families…
No. Walking was not a choice. Stopping was not an option. I wasn’t running for me.
Each stride brought a shot of pain in each leg. I looked up to see a sign: Pain is temporary. Pride is forever! followed by Your Feet Hurt Because You’re Kickin’ Ass!!! Two better placed signs I could not have asked for.
I caught the Autism Speaks cheering section by surprise (they were still setting up) and soldiered on into Central Park.
Now, I love a good set of rolling hills as much as the next guy, BUT after 23+ miles? Oh my frakking God!!! The uphills simply brought a more intense pain to my quads, and the moment I began going down the hills, my hamstrings decided to join the party.
Gee! Thanks Hammies! I’m glad you could make it to the Pain Party!
Up and down. Up and down. But as intense as the pain was, I knew I had less than 5K to go.
Somewhere around 24, something made me look left. There was my sister! A sight for sore eyes! I ran over to her and gave her a hug. A big part of me wanted to stop right there and call it quits, but I knew I couldn’t.
A hundred yards later, I spotted my mother-in-law (Grammy) and her husband (Grandpa DD). I tried to put on a brave face.
I had nothing left. My body was working on sheer muscle memory. At this point, my hair could’ve been on fire, and it wouldn’t have mattered.
We exited the Park and ran along Central Park South. I knew that we needed to go back into the Park at some point, but it felt like it was taking forever. Finally, as we approached Central Park West, we cut into the Park for the last 400 or so meters. This was the final test of the New York City Marathon, because this very last portion was painfully uphill. Really!?!
Usually I have a kick at the end of these races. Heck, I even had one at Manchester for the last few hundred yards, but on this day I would have to be satisfied with just keeping a steady pace. There would be no passing people at the very end. No triumphant sprint across the finish line.
I looked at my watch – 3:26:31.
I mustered a smile. Despite everything, I had managed my second best marathon time.
I didn’t hit 3:15.
I didn’t PR.
But I have to say, that in many ways, I am more proud of what I did on that day than of my BQ time at Smuttynose. New York pushed me past what I thought was my limit. I could have quit. Heck, maybe I even should have quit, but I didn’t.
Yes, pain is temporary and pride is forever (at least I hope the pain is temporary – my legs and shoulders are still hurting as I write this!).
I wandered out through the bag pick up section, briefly checking into medical, probably leaving before I should have, woozy but proud.
I found my family, thanked them for coming.
We made our way back across the park to cheer in other Autism Speaks runners.
I got to see Edison the mining runner. Talk about a story of perseverance.
So what did I learn in New York? At least four things (though I’m sure others will reveal themselves):
1. Don’t mess with your nutrition. Last minute changes to what you put in your body can really mess you up.
2. Train for the terrain. Truth is, I spent the summer training on very flat roads in anticipation of Smuttynose, which is billed as the flattest marathon in New England. That was great for Smuttynose as I cruised to a BQ, but not so much for New York with it’s bridges, slow, long climbs and rolling hills in Central Park.
3. Running with someone makes a huge difference. At Smuttynose I was blessed to be able to run with my friend Brendan for nearly 15 miles and then with some strangers for another 7 or 8 or so. I ran New York without a partner and I’m pretty sure it didn’t help.
4. No matter how good you feel, if you’ve been targeting averaging 7:24 per mile, it’s not wise to run a 6:43 in the second mile.
As beat up as I am though, I’m already strategizing for Boston. Just this past Wednesday, I received my Confirmation Notice in the mail. Mentally I am ready to start running again! I am ready to start training for Heartbreak Hill! I plan on kicking it’s ass! The only problem is that my legs haven’t got the memo yet.
Some other photos from the race: