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New York City marathon 2019
The last 2 years I’ve managed to convince the family that it’s a good idea to go on holiday around a marathon. Boston and London worked out well as they were both in school holidays but for New York I would be travelling alone, or a good opportunity for “me time” as a friend described it.
For marathon runners Boston may be the dream race but for those wanting to tick off a city marathon, New York has to be top of the list. The biggest in the world, in the city that never sleeps, with probably the largest crowds.
After disappointing races in Boston and London, I went into New York with high expectations having run 2:50 in Sydney just 7 weeks earlier. For once the weather was forecast to be perfect and I resolved to take it easy in the days leading up. However not helping was the 24 hours of travel, 9 hours time difference and trying to taper when there are so many great running events on.
I joined a few shakeout runs (plenty of freebies) and it was so enjoyable getting caught up in the excitement around Central Park and at the Expo. When so much time is spent running by yourself, it’s refreshing to just strike up a conversation with a random runner without embarrassing yourself, especially with 75% of runners coming from overseas. Herds of runners circled Central Park each morning, some carrying country flags, some with their running club and others just doing their regular training. The Expo was well organised although the crowds were crazy hoovering up every piece of kit they could get their hands on. Over the weekend there’s no mistaking who was going to be running the marathon.
Race morning began early, earlier than I’ve ever woken up before. Just after 3am, which actually wasn’t too bad as I must have gone to bed at 8pm, one of the few benefits of jetlag. It was so early that there were no crowds at all getting to the start and I was there just after 6. That meant a long wait for the 9:40am start but at least it was dry and spacious. I whiled away the time having a second breakfast of bagels and coffee - so much for nothing new on race day.
It was soon time to shuffle/sprint towards the Verrazano Bridge, line up behind the elite men, hear the national anthem, a 3 helicopter flyover, then a cannon to start the race. The atmosphere was electric and we set off to the strains of Sinatra.
Straight away it’s a mile uphill and that gave me time to take in the views ahead as well as across to Manhattan in the distance. I looked behind me and a helicopter was cruising along the bridge at road level just beside me - maybe the most Hollywood-esque moment you can imagine. Over the other side into Brooklyn and the crowds are deafening. There are 3 separate starts due to narrow roads but that just intensifies the noise. Despite the bridge, I still managed to go through 5k in 20:13, around 2:50 pace.
It’s a pretty straight course but I was surprised at the number of potholes and recently patched road surfaces (some looked like they had been done that morning). It made it tricky to follow anyone too close and in any case I couldn’t find a big group going at a pace I liked. It was also constantly undulating, so hard to get into a rhythm. It felt maybe a touch too fast but I got to 10k in 40:35 and felt amazing, so decided to keep going.
There were water stations every mile so it was never a bunfight to grab water or Gatorade. The Brooklyn crowds were also great, maybe the loudest on the course. At mile 8 all 3 starts came together and it felt like we were all working together now. I got to 15k in 1:00:48 and still felt pretty good.
The halfway mark came as we crossed the bridge over from Brooklyn to Queens. This was another nasty surprise, short but steeper than I thought it would be. I crossed in 1:25:43 and at this stage felt good about 2:55, although I knew the second half was tougher.
A few twists and turns around Queens and then onto the bridge everyone fears, the Queensboro Bridge. This is also a mile uphill but comes at 15 miles and seems to go on forever. It’s also completely silent except for the sound of Vaporflys, however I actually found it a nice mental break from the crowds.
Soon we heard the cheering again as we entered Manhattan, well before we could see them. Then we looped onto First Avenue and it hit us like a wall of noise. Maybe 5 or 6 deep on both sides and it stretch straight ahead of you for 4 miles. I’m sure I sped up at this point and thought to myself: it’s showtime. It was thinning out around me by now and I got to 25k in 1:42:18.
Another steeper than ideal bridge into the Bronx and for the first time I noticed I’m being overtaken more than I am overtaking others. It felt harder and it showed as my slowest 5k came up at 30k in 2:03:13. With no one to work with I plodded on. Coming over the last bridge back into Manhattan I worked out that I needed to run the last 10k in 42mins to go sub-2:55. At my current pace that seemed a stretch but I hadn’t given up yet.
Onto Fifth Avenue and runners were now passing me on both sides. I tried to focus on the road ahead of me but started dreading the hills in the last stretch. 35k in 2:25:18 and I got to another mile of gradual uphill. I hadn’t even noticed this the day before but now I was practically crawling up it. I had one more gel left but couldn’t face taking it, it would have been the sensible thing to do but my stomach wasn’t cooperating.
Eventually we turned into Central Park for more rolling hills and for the first time I wondered if the 3 hour pacers would sweep me up. Mile 24 was my slowest in the race but I dug in and searched for any speed that I had left. I got to 40k and saw it tick over to 2:50 and thought I’m going to miss 3 hours. It’s only later that I find out I had a minute extra on chip time, but my brain didn’t click that I had seen gun time.
Nevertheless after hoping for sub 3 at Boston and London and coming out with 3:31 and 3:14, right now I knew I still had a chance to do it. I dug deep again and went up the final hill, finally seeing the 800m to go sign. A glance at my watch and I had almost 4 mins left and realised it was going to happen. Even so the end seemed to take forever but the flags and the grandstands appear and I finish in 2:59:20.
I spent a few minutes holding myself up on a barrier, exhausted at the effort but relieved to have done it. It was a long walk out of the park but I was smiling all the way. New York is definitely the hardest marathon I’ve done, with a much hillier course than expected and a brutal second half. However it may be the one I’m most proud of finishing and definitely the greatest experience. I’ll be back one day to have a proper go at racing it.
Good to see you posting again Chicksta, congrats on 2nd place.
Congratulations on New York John, well done on toughing out those final miles. Great report and photos too. I adore New York, and went quite a bit when I was younger, but haven’t visited since I started running. Definitely want to run the NY marathon one day, despite the hills! For now the occasional Zwift session around Central Park will have to do
Sorry to hear you’re still struggling with injury HPR. Great news about the London ballot though, hope the specialist gets you sorted and in a place to start training in the new year.
Happy Birthday Joe, hope you had a good one.
Great news about Manchester Steve.
Sounds like everyone else is ticking over nicely.
Long time no update from me, I’ve been pretty busy with work. Guy Fawkes 5 last weekend. It was good to catch-up with SQ, and his performance was superb given the lack of sleep. I briefly entertained the possibility of sub-30 but it was clear by the end of the first mile that wasn't going to happen. I ran a fairly steady effort though, not really being passed by anyone, and ended up running 30:59. A long way off my best, but a decent first real effort post-Berlin I suppose.
Amazingly, I was the one to suggest running a hill session on Wednesday. It was really good to have SQ there to work with, and I was pleased my legs didn't feel too bad afterwards. I also ran parkrun on Saturday, on a modified route as parts of the racecourse are still flooded. 19:47 on a course that I suspect was slightly long, although that makes up for all the times this parkrun comes in short
So still feeling a bit slow and off fitness wise, but gradually building the miles and feeling more myself. I'm still half a stone heavier than before Berlin, so hopefully if I keep plugging away and drop some of that I might manage a decent showing at Telford. But I suspect any hopes of a PB will have to wait until next year. Quite enjoying working off a much looser plan though, good to have a more relaxed approach for a bit.