4:30 or Bust: A Quest for Marathon Mediocrity

Final tuneup – check!

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Wow, didn’t mean for the length of this post to be so long.  I guess a good long run must be accompanied by a good long post.

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Today was the allotted day for my final long run in preparation for the New York City Marathon.  First, though, spent the morning with my wife and kids at the New York Botanical Gardens.  We had a great time there seeing the Japanese Bonzai and Kiku (Chrysanthemum) exhibit.  It was really cool.  And cold!

Saw a pack of runners on the drive up, over the Willis Ave  Bridge.  That can only mean one thing – New York City Marathon coming!  Lots of runners cover the last 10 miles of the marathon course as a training run in the 2 weekends before the race.  I have not done this myself, as I’m not a proponent of running with traffic and hate running on the sidewalk – that run is not for me.  If anything, I’d run it in reverse, and what’s the point of that!  Instead, I usually pay homage by covering the early miles of the race in my last training run, and this is exactly what I did today.  My course was 10 miles out over the Manhattan Bridge and down 4th Ave in Brooklyn to 95th St.  Then 10 miles back the same way.  I added a couple of miles through East River Park on the way back to get the mileage up to 21.5 miles, farther than I’ve ever run in my marathon training.

Due to the family outing in the morning, I did not get going until the afternoon.  Since the day was cool and I would finish very late in the day, I was concerned about the cold.  It was a bit of a windy day, with winds out of the north.  This meant that my first 10 miles would be with the wind in the mid-afternoon sun (very good running conditions) and the 2nd half would be against the wind, and in the shade since by then the sun would be going down (not so good running conditions).  To make sure I wouldn’t be too cold in the 2nd half of the run, I went a little overboard – 2 long sleeve shirts and long running tights.

By far, the most interesting part of my run was the Manhattan Bridge.  Last year, in a very similar last training run before the marathon, I almost got killed on the Brooklyn Bridge – well, not literally killed, but I’m sure the bikers had blood on their minds.  The Brooklyn Bridge is very dangerous to runners, in my opinion.  The bridge is split between pedestrians in one lane, and bikers in the other lane.  On nice days, there are an awful lot of pedestrians on the bridge.  I tried to stay on the pedestrian side as much as possible, but invariably had to move to the bike side to get around hoards of people.  The bikers on the bridge were just plain mean.  Several of them said something to me as they zoomed by and there were some close calls for sure.  I promised never to run on that bridge again, at least on a nice day.  The Manhattan Bridge is a great alternative.  It is not nearly as crowded, and in fact, the entrances on both ends are much, much easier to navigate.  I’ve read about biking accidents, so easier to navigate is a relative term, but for runners, the Manhattan Bridge is much more orderly than the Brooklyn Bridge.  Unfortunately, it is steeper, but that is a good thing when you are training, right?

The Manhattan Bridge has 2 paths, the north side is for bikers and the south path is for pedestrians.  Now, which side is appropriate for runners?  I honestly don’t consider a runner to be a pedestrian, but I think the intent is that the runner go on the pedestrian side.  I decided to go on the bike side, just because from my approach down Allen St, it is far easier to get on the bridge there, then to cross over to the south side.  The trip from Manhattan to Brooklyn was pretty uneventful, with one exception.  As I crested the middle of the bridge, I noticed another runner much further down the bridge coming towards me.  I was happy to see a fellow runner, but that runner’s gait was very strange.  As I got closer, I saw that this person was running towards me, but backwards!  I have never seen anything like this before.  NYRR used to have an April Fool’s run of 1 mile where everyone would run it backwards, but I have never seen this in the wild.  Don’t know what the story was here, but this guy was pretty young and wearing jeans.  He didn’t seem to be seriously exercising at all.  Don’t know what it means, but it was just very odd!

Run through Brooklyn was just fine.  Good to familiarize myself with 4th Ave again and where the hills are.  Since 4th Ave is such a major thoroughfare, the cross streets have short green lights and most traffic turns up or down 4th.  So, it was not necessary to stop very much.  Since the first 10 miles was in the warmth of the sun, and with a tailwind, it was definitely on the easy side. 

Sure enough, after the turnaround, I could feel the headwind at times, and I ended up mostly in the shade.  The long straightaway on 4th Ave, and relative flatness was great for keeping up my pace and momentum.  Felt great back up 4th.  Biggest issue was finding a bathroom.  I eventually found a gas station with an indoor store with a bathroom and was able to take care of that business!

As I mentioned in a previous post, this run is a bit nostalgic for me.  When I first started running the New York City Marathon, and was less familiar with all the great running routes in the city, I used to use the marathon course for long runs.  I’d take the R train down to 95th St, and then either run the 10 miles to Union Square, or extend the run by going up to the 59th St Bridge.  Since the 59th St Bridge takes you to mile 15, I would feel good covering the entire first half of the course.  I also wistfully remember listening to Jet or Giant football games on my walkman.  Now, the walkman is replaced by MP3 players, which, sadly, don’t come with AM radio.  So today I was not able to listen in on any games during the run. 

The most interesting part of the run was on the trip back over the Manhattan Bridge.  You can tell from the earlier part of my post that I am very self conscious about running in the wrong place.  I decided again to stick on the bike side, but made a strong effort to keep as close to the side as possible and stay out of the bikers way.  As I started up the bridge, I saw several other pedestrians (true walkers) and figured I was in fine shape.  Part way on the uphill I came across a pack of young people casually walking across the entire path.  Now that is not very nice, and even dangerous on their part.  I actually warned them to look out for bikes coming down behind them. 

My run on the bridge was great considering it was mile 18 of my run.  This was a great tune up for the 59th St Bridge on the marathon course.  Nice hard effort up the bridge and I was enjoying the downhill when, at the last second, I noticed a biker coming at me, who didn’t move around me.  Remember, I’m already conscious of potentially being on the wrong side and I’m making an effort to hug the side to stay out of the bikers way.  There was plenty of room for this guy to go around me, but instead (he must have had a bone to pick) purposefully did not move out of my way.  He actually came to a full stop (he’s on the uphill mind you) and yelled at me for being on the wrong side.  I was so stunned I didn’t know what to say and yelled something stupid back at him.  Then he went on his way and I resumed my trip down the bridge.  What gets me is that I’m a biker myself, biked hundreds of miles in the city when triathlon training, and I understand the frustrations bikers feel towards pedestrians.  This is a big problem in the city as more and more people use bikes.  I think the bikers get yelled at by the drivers, so they in turn yell at the runners.  Then runners get upset at pedestrians.  Why can’t we all just get along – we need to learn to live with each other, slow down a bit when necessary, and adapt to our surroundings.  It is a big city, with lots of people using the infrastructure – we don’t get it all to ourselves.  As a runner, biker and driver, I can feel from all perspectives.  The funniest part was that further down the bridge, I came across a pack of tourists, I guess, with some kind of camera and props.  Looked like they were trying to set up for some kind of picture on the bridge.  I certainly don’t think that belongs!

Anyway, I felt great in the first mile off the long bridge downhill to East River Park.  The last 2 miles through East River Park is one of my typical short runs, so I’m very familiar with it.  When well trained, I run this portion in 18-19 minutes.  In this run, the last 2 miles were hard.  Took a few walk breaks and finished it  21:30.  I guess that is about what I would expect to be doing in the last miles of the marathon, 11 minutes per mile or so.

All in all, a great run.  Little sore today, but not so horrible.  Actually feel better than I did after the half marathon last weekend where I was running really hard in the late miles. My finishing time was 3:46:30, over 21.5 miles.  Pace was about 10:38.  Considering all the stopping for cross streets and wait to buy drinks in the stores, I think a 4:30 marathon is still within reach.  I will certainly be obsessing about it over the next 2 weeks.  

In all, drank 3 waters, 2 Gatorade’s and consumed 2 Gu packets.  Also, had a granola bar.  Then, ate like a pig when I got home, and still weighed 3 pounds less this morning than yesterday morning!  

Looking forward to a little bit of a taper now.  Once I rest up for a couple of days, I’ll try to work in some visits to the gym and bike rides.

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Written by SCL

October 20, 2008 at 1:58 pm

One Response

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  1. […] sense that I’m running 4 milers rather than 6 or 7 milers.  Took some extra time off after last week’s 21.5 mile final tuneup.  Was able to get two 4-mileish runs in so far this week.  Trying to run […]


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