4:30 or Bust: A Quest for Marathon Mediocrity

New York City Marathon Race Report – Part I

with 6 comments

Wow, hard to believe another year has gone by and another New York City Marathon has also come and past.  This is the third year in a row that I ran, and my 7th NYC since 1996.  As I’ve also run in 4 other marathons, this was my 11th overall.

My goal, of course, was 4:30, obtained at the Austin Marathon in Feb, 4:22, in friendly conditions (downhill, wind at back for much of last 8 miles).  Last year in NYC, I just missed out, finishing in 4:31:xx.  Even though I had put in lots of miles, in fact, more miles in the 12 weeks before this race than any other marathon previously, I knew in my heart of hearts that I didn’t really have it in me to finish in 4:30 (outlined here).  In many ways I had a great race and a great time, which you’ll see here, but, at the end of the day, I started coming apart in mile 19 or so, and totally lost it after 21 miles.  But, let’s go back and start at the beginning.

I was in the 3rd wave this year, which meant I’d have a 10:20am start time.  I was also assigned to the Staten Island Ferry, as transportation to the start.  Although I could actually take advantage of the ferry and get a much later start than in years past, I just found myself so jumpy and nervous about the race, that I ended up getting almost as early a start as I have in years past.  Was up at 4:30, out the door by 5:15, and at the ferry in time for the 5:45 ferry.  Ferry was not super crowded, certainly less crowded than a typical weekday or weekend trip, and everything was well organized.  Took awhile between the ferry ride and the shuttle bus to the start area, but eventually we were dropped off in a HUGE line of people trying to get into the fort.  Line moved slowly and steadily, delay was essentially a cursory bag check, and then we were in the fort!

First job was just to scout around.  Find my corral in the blue start, find the food, all the bathroom lines, etc.  First thing I noticed was that even though the orange and blue corrals are right next to each other, you cannot get through from one to the other.  That worked out nicely for us as there were a ton of port-o-sans in the area that would prove to never get very crowded.  This was my first blue start, Alberto Salazar Village, and I thought it was the best organized of the bunch.  Very large open concrete (key) space right next to the corrals with all the food and drink stations, and then another large tent area further away, again with all the food and drink stations and port-o-sans.  Passed the time with a careful eating strategy, changed into my race clothes and shoes, and checked my bag at around 8:30.  Was not terribly cold out with temps forecasted in the 50’s, so decided to go with short sleeve top and shorts.  With 2 hours to kill, mostly standing around, went with a throwaway long sleeve t-shirt and shell jacket, the kind they sell at the expo.  Spent much of the rest of the time walking around, using the bathrooms, eating, and just watching the insanity at the corrals.

I have to say the corrals seemed much better staffed this year than last.  Last year, it seemed that it there were mostly high school age girls trying to keep the peace, and that was not working.  Or, perhaps, they do a better job with the blue corrals than the green corrals?  In the blue corrals this year, there were big guys from the US Coast Guard trying to keep order.  That still didn’t stop people from rushing the corrals, jumping the fences (much higher than last year by the way) or otherwise loudly complaining about the injustice of their not being allowed in, when they were in fact LATE.  I really find it amazing how people can not take enough self interest in where they need to go or need to be to get themselves to the assigned place on time.  And I have no sympathy for the people that wait until the last minute to go to the race, check their bag, and try to find their place.  This is the NYC Marathon, with 43,000 participants, not some rinky dink 1000 person race where you can waltz right up at the last minute.  When will they learn??  I’ve seen in race reports that the green corrals were poorly done, but in the blue, everything seemed well organized, and everyone that showed up on time made it to the proper wave.

As for myself, I was in the 2nd corral of the 3rd wave.  Even in my corral, after wave 2 had completely gone by, there were many people trying to rush the front of the 3rd wave to catch up.  Even through the gates were completely closed, and those people were completely late, having already missed the cannon, these people were still completely unruly, threatening and downright ugly towards the volunteers trying to keep everything nice and orderly and safe for the rest of us.  Finally, about 5 minutes before the start, they allowed us to walk up to the start line.  After a few turns around a maze of buses parked in the toll plaza, we were in front of the start line!  I had worked my way up most of the way through the first corral of people and was about 5 rows deep from the start line!  Right in front of the place where the announcer guy was doing his thing from, and where a military lady sang God Bless America.  I was literally standing right under her while she sang.  When it was done, after a few short words, they moved us right up to the start, and the cannon boomed, and we were off!

This was my 7th NYC Marathon, and this start will be one to never forget.  It was as if I was in the lead pack going up the bridge.  It was a truly awesome experience.  Since most people in wave 3, presumably, are not faster than 9 min per mile pace (slowest third of the participants, the lead group didn’t even break away from me that quickly.  Virtually all the way up the bridge, I could clearly see the empty bridge ahead, and the running lanes were not very crowded.  It was a great experience.  Unfortunately though, it was windy, really windy, almost directly a headwind, although slightly from the left side.  After a few minutes of fearing I might lose my hat, I took it off and carried it the entire length of the bridge.  Brightroom got 2 nice pictures of me holding my hat!

My goal was to try as much as possible to stay completely “within” myself for as long as possible, and not jump out to fast in the classic areas (bridge, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg, 1st Ave).  A 4:30 marathon is approx 10:18 per mile.  My goal was to keep to 9:45’s or so for the first half.  Each mile clicked off in 9:45, or better, was 30+ seconds that I was ‘banking’ for late in the race, when my pace would most definitely slow down.  So, here, in the first mile, in the lead pack, with little in the way of crowds or obstructions, I tried very hard to hold back, and succeeded.  First mile was in 9:48, and then the 2nd mile, all downhill, was in a reasonable 9:05.  Then I settled into a nice easy 9:30-9:50 pace for the early miles.

Once we hit the 2nd mile, then the faster people behind me in the wave started to pass, and there were a lot of people passing me in the first 5-6 miles.  It did not feel crowded at all though, until we hit mile 4, which is where we merged with the green start.  In theory, the people in the green start are even slower than those in the blue start, and this was likely the case.  While we picked up an additional set of people at that merge, it still didn’t feel too crowded.  One thing that struck me in these miles is that this is where I was having so much trouble 2 weeks earlier, when I bagged on a 21 mile run, and went into the subway at 36th St, after only 13 miles.  On this day, continued breezing down 4th Ave, feeling great and having a grand ole time.  At this point, 4:30 felt totally possible.  I kept telling myself that I felt great and just needed to stay within myself and hold back.  However, the other voice in my head said that it is a long race, and of course you should be feeling great at this early point.  If you were feeling badly this early, then it would truly be a very long day.

At around mile 6, I noticed that I was starting to pass people, slow people, walkers.  Uh oh, this means we’ve caught up to the slower people from wave 2.  This would actually turn out to be an unexpected problem for a long time.  I wasn’t expecting to have to do the dodge and weave thing until much later on in the race.  I guess that is the worst part about being in wave 3.  When I was in wave 2 last year, I didn’t have that problem and didn’t have to worry about passing people, for the most part, until much later on in the race.  My last observation from this first third of the race was the improved merge section at mile 8.  This was slightly altered from years past, and made for a wider and more controlled merge.  Good job NYRR!

  • Mile 1 – 9:48
  • Mile 2 – 9:05
  • Mile 3 – 9:28
  • Mile 4 – 9:40
  • Mile 5 – 9:50
  • Mile 6 – 9:38
  • Mile 7 – 9:48
  • Mile 8 – 9:46

This next section is actually my favorite part of the race.  When you make that right turn at mile 8, onto Lafayette Ave, the nice controlled 4th Ave course turned into what seems like mass chaos!  The street is narrower, so the running lane is packed, and to top it off, the crowd is large and very wild and enthusiastic.  The whole section of Lafayette, from mile 8 to mile 9, mostly  uphill, mind you, just feels great.  The crowd gives some of the best vibes here and really makes for such an enjoyable experience.  Yes, the crowd is better in the last miles in Central Park, but by then, I’m so miserable I don’t really notice it.  Here, in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, in mile 8,9, I’m still feeling fresh, and able to fully experience, enjoy and embrace the power of the crowd.  I do have to remind myself to not push hard here and stay within myself.  The 9th mile, through this area, uphill, was 9:58, and right within what I would expect.

I continued to have very consistent and reasonable miles through this area.  Mile 11 was slower, but that was because I decided to take my first Gu at the 10 mile water stop, adding a good 30 seconds to my time.  Mile 13 was also on the slow side, but that was because I decided to take a bathroom stop here.  That probably added 30-40 seconds as well.  So even though I lost a minute between the Gu and bathroom, I was still cruising along, seemingly on autopilot, at 9:45-10 minutes per mile.  This is EXACTLY where I wanted to be, and I was very pleased, and happy with my race so far.  I still thought it was totally possible to finish in 4:30.  I crossed the halfway mark at 2:09:07, which meant I needed to do the 2nd half in 2:21, or about 10:50 per mile.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Written by SCL

November 10, 2009 at 12:07 am

6 Responses

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  1. Yaaay, I love reading NYCM race reports. It’s a perpetual trip down memory lane. Brooklyn was hands down the best borough and you are so right about not being able to appreciate the CP crowd – it’s just a matter of fatigue but they’re great as well! I love that this is your 7th NYCM and you are still able to have a memorable start. There really is something special about this marathon. Can’t wait to read pt 2!

    runtonamaste

    November 11, 2009 at 9:06 am

  2. Scott, I enjoyed reading your NYCM race report. Very exciting to be in the lead on the bridge. It all sounds so awesome!!!

    PART 2 PLEASE??

    :O)

    michelle

    November 15, 2009 at 8:00 am

  3. OMG Scott hello — Part Two??

    I can’t believe you’ve run 7 of these. Truly the dodging of the slower runners really SUCKS. I didn’t have to do it last year until Mile 24.

    How do you get in every year? Do you do you 9 +1?

    TK

    November 21, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    • All right, all right, I’ll work on part 2!

      2008 was by running 9 races and 2009 was 9+1. 2007 was because I got rejected in 2004, 2005 and 2006. I believe my first ones, 1996 and 1998 had a different process. They had a day where you could, get this, line up in Central Park and get the application form a day earlier than the ‘public’ if you were a NYRR member, giving you a better chance of getting in the lottery. I think by 2000 and 2002, my other years, I got in by running the required races, which I think was only 7 in the beginning.

      SCL

      November 21, 2009 at 8:09 pm

  4. […] November 25, 2009 I know, I know, it is late, but better late than never!  Check out part 1 here: […]

  5. […] 2009 experience, including expo, can be found in several installments.  I’ve also got my 2008 race report […]


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