NYC Marathon Race Recap Part 2: The Significance of the Marathon for Me

TCS NYC Marathon

Me, Terri, and Billy from NP_NYC celebrating with our medals the day after the marathon! My hair looks particularly gingery in this pic.

The NYC Marathon happened. Social media exploded with excited posts, likes, and comments from runners, their friends and family, and spectators’ pictures of runners and funny race signs. Everyone who completed the Marathon has a story. For some, finishing allowed them to cross an item off their bucket list. For others, this represented yet another NYC Marathon, special in its own way but certainly not a new experience. And for others, it represented a celebration of their personal growth. My story falls into that final group.

Before I get to that story, though, let’s break my race down by the numbers. My previous marathon PR was 3:55:17 on a flat course, run 11 years ago. My only other marathon time was 4:10ish, also run 11 years ago. On Sunday, my 2:57:56 bested my previous marathon PR by almost an hour and qualified me for the 2017 Boston Marathon. So, this race solidified not only my return to endurance running, but a complete transformation.

However, considering my personal growth, this race demonstrated how far I’ve come since the fall of 2012, when I was in my final year of law school. I had done well academically but not received the job offer I wanted. My relationship of almost five years had ended. After starting law school weighing 162 pounds with a 10k PR of 45:03 (7:15/Mile), I found myself weighing 198 pounds and unable run for more than a mile.

I had completely isolated myself from family and friends. I came to school for class only, spending the rest of my time in my apartment watching Netflix and drinking whiskey alone, or hanging at the Upper West Side’s diviest bars. I did the bare minimum of schoolwork, which somehow resulted in straight A’s (including an A+ . . . seriously, I cannot explain this), and people left me alone. I either refused to talk to my family, or erupted in anger during conversations. I blamed everyone else for my misery. I ruined family holidays and convinced new “friends” that I was the unluckiest man alive. This fueled my cycle of resentment, fear, anger, and drinking.

By February of 2013, I hit a complete mental, physical, and emotional bottom. My family, despite years of me pushing them away, helped me straighten out. I could no longer blame them or any other external circumstances for how I felt: The negativity came from within me, and the only way to change that feeling was to accept responsibility for my actions, clean up my past, and work hard to live a healthier life based on personal accountability. Slowly but surely, through the help of family and friends I came to accept the world around me and, more importantly, I came to accept myself: shortcomings AND positive qualities.

Simultaneously, as I got healthier I began to revisit old personal interests, including running. I signed up for the Scotland Run 10k and the Brooklyn Half Marathon, and planned to run both races in early 2014. The last race I had run was a 10k in June of 2010. However, as my personal issues continued to plague me, I skipped both races because I failed to train for them.

I did, however, sign up for the 2014 Staten Island Half, completed the training for that race, and ran it in 1:44:42. I wore a six-year-old pair of sneakers, gym shorts that I owned since high school, and a long-sleeved running shirt about two sizes too big during the race.

After the Staten Island Half, I knew I could run faster, so I began training hard. I analyzed training plans online, read articles about running and nutrition, and ran the Fred Lebow Half in January in 1:36. I joined New York Sports Club and began training once a month with a trainer who specializes in collegiate endurance athletes. I did interval training, speed work, and hill sessions. I ran a 5k in under 20 minutes. My race bibs now placed me in the first corral of NYRR races. I decided the 2015 Brooklyn Half would be the race at which I would show the world just how fast I’d gotten. I trained for a sub-1:25 time.

All of that intense training, combined with some ill-advised attempts after reading Born to Run to change my running stride from a heel strike to a forefoot strike, caused me to develop a stress fracture in my right sacral ala, an injury generally found in elderly women with osteoporosis (seriously! Google it). I despaired, somewhat comically, and thought I might never run again.

Nevertheless, I did something that I might not have done in the past: I asked for help. When the doctor recommended that I use crutches for five weeks, I did it even though he said that I could heal without them (albeit over a longer period). I followed his advice and swam, worked on strengthening my core, and lifted weights only while in the upright sitting position. Once off crutches, I waited three weeks to hit the treadmill, worked with a physical therapist, and learned about what exercises to perform to reduce the risk of future running injuries. I also learned that I should run how I run, and not worry about the latest trends in running form. My coworker introduced me to The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing by Dr. Phil Maffetone, which provided a method to increase speed without high intensity intervals and speed work. I also learned how to properly incorporate speed work into a training plan, and realized that I had been doing way too much, way too early on in my fledgling adult running career.

Most importantly, I finally understood that running for anyone besides yourself is a dangerous game. I reconnected with the joy I feel every time I get to hit the Central Park loop at 5:30 a.m. If I got faster, awesome. If not, who really cares? The point was that I could run and have fun with it and let that be its own reward. This freed up a ton of mental space.

The rest of my story? Well, it’s mostly contained in my past blog posts. I found November Project NYC through my sister. I ran the Percy Sutton 5k in a PR time of 18:24, my first race at a sub-6 minute pace. I stayed focused and ran the Bronx 10-Mile in 1:00:20 (6:02/Mile) and the Staten Island Half in 1:20:52 (6:10/Mile), which time-qualified me for the 2016 NYC Marathon. Throughout all of this I continued to hit the gym at least once a week to strengthen my legs, and multiple times per week to strengthen my core and to stretch. I listened to other people’s advice about the NYC Marathon, ate well, and stayed focused on the race despite all the hype during the week before. I woke up on race day weighing 162 pounds (36 pounds less than at my heaviest!) and ran that marathon in under three hours.

As I ran up West Drive in Central Park for the final .2 miles of the Marathon, I thought about all these things: the useless resentments that have given way for acceptance, the isolation that has evaporated into connection, and the paralyzing fear that has melted away into love. And I cried. Not only on the course, but later at my apartment. But the best part? My tears streamed down my face and across a smile.

Happy running, everyone!

Race Recap: New York City Marathon, November 1, 2015, 2:57:56, 6:48/Mile

A prologue: My first NYC Marathon recap exceeded 4,000 words (the equivalent of a 13-page double-spaced college paper), so I decided to do multiple NYC Marathon posts. This post is a straight race recap. Tomorrow’s post will contain more course commentary and reflections on my race.

New York City Marathon New York Times

My medal and name in the New York Times!

And now . . .

The recap before the recap: I ran the New York City Marathon on Sunday, November 1, 2015 in a time of 2:57:56 (6:48/Mile pace), good enough for 629th place out of over 50,000 runners. Words cannot describe how amazing this race is, and how excited I was before, during, and after my time on the streets of New York.

And yet, I will now use words to describe my day.

The recap: After my Saturday 2-mile shakeout run, I traveled to Port Jefferson, Long Island to attend my girlfriend’s (Melissa’s) cousin’s annual Halloween party. Melissa and I dressed up as Bert and Ernie, and we enjoyed a few hours of hanging out with her amazing cousins. I left around 5 p.m. to get back to the City, while the party – a Victorian-themed murder mystery incorporating Pictionary, charades, a scavenger hunt, and various twists, turns, and multiple eviscerations – raged on until well past midnight. I really hated to miss the festivities, but I knew that I needed a good night’s sleep before the Big Race.

Bert and Ernie Halloween

We make a great Bert and Ernie. Here I am, closely following pre-marathon wisdom and taking it easy (Photo credit: Ana Santos: http://www.acsantosphotography.com/)

So, instead of charading and scavenging my ass off until the wee hours, I took the LIRR back to the City with hundreds of drunk Long Island Jersey Shore wannabes, many of whom were inexplicably dressed as lumberjacks (not kidding). I hope they all made it home in one, semi-respectable piece (not likely). Anyway, once home I watched “Sleepy Hollow,” checked my race gear one final time, and set my phone and clock alarms for 5 a.m., hitting the pillow at 10:30 p.m., which, because of Daylight Saving’s Time, equated to 9:30 p.m.

Halloween

Now this is how you do Halloween! Look at this group! (Photo credit: Ana Santos: http://www.acsantosphotography.com/)

Despite planning for a solid 7.5 hours of sleep, I woke up exactly at 4 a.m. and never quite fell back to sleep. I tossed and turned until 5, at which point I got up, toasted three pieces of sourdough bread, spread peanut butter on one, wrapped them up in aluminum foil, and put them along with three bananas in my race bag. I ate a bowl of non-fat Greek yogurt with agave, got dressed, loaded up my race bag, and headed out at 5:30 a.m.

TCS NYC Marathon

Barely awake but excited for the NYC Marathon!

Through a connection, I hitched a ride on a charity bus to Staten Island (The Thomas G. Labrecque Foundation – a truly excellent charity). The bus ride took almost an hour and a half, during which I slept. Once we arrived at the start, I was able to spend my pre-corral time in the charity village lying down on a painting tarp and eating my toast and bananas.

One guy in the charity village kept saying, “This is not a PR course.” I focused on the basic plan on which I had settled: Run the first half around a 6:40/mile pace, hit the 21k/13.1 mile mark around 1:27:00, go steady over the Queensborough Bridge, and then let it fly through New York, the Bronx, and push hard through the final 10k, hopefully coming through the second half in 1:23:00 or close to it for a final time of 2:50:00. I took a lot of deep breaths, joked with the other runners, checked my bag, and then headed off to my corral about 10 minutes before it closed at 9 a.m.

Around 9:15 a.m. our corral collapsed and we moved toward the start line, watching the professional women’s race begIn. I pushed my way as far up as I could, ate my first gel at 9:35 a.m., and talked with David, an Englishman from York running his first NYC Marathon.

FINALLY, after all these months of training, obsessing, writing, training, writing, and obsessing more, the race directors introduced the elite runners, the National Anthem was sung, and BOOM! A howitzer reported the race start.

And we were off! I crossed the start 50 seconds after the gun, and ran very slowly for about four minutes, people on both shoulders and right in front and behind me. I could barely make a half stride for almost a third of a mile, at which point the course opened up to the entire Brooklyn-bound side of the Verrazano Bridge. I pushed to the outside lane and ran steadily up the .8 mile incline, hitting the 1-mile mark in 8 minutes exactly, much slower than I wanted to run. I made up for it by running mile 2 in approximately 5:50, putting me onto 4th Avenue in Brooklyn right on pace.

TCS NYC Marathon

Cruising through Brooklyn! (Photo Credit: Ashley Sokol)

The crowds at the beginning of 4th Avenue cheered and bands played as we ran through miles 3 and 4. The Green Wave (the group who started on the lower level of the bridge) joined us on 4th Avenue at some point, and we continued to run next to the Orange Wave (the group which started on the Staten Island-bound side of the Verrazano). Some runners ran by the spectators and threw lots of high-fives; others stayed to the inside of the street. I stayed in the middle and tried to maintain my early race pace between 6:30/mile and 6:40 mile, running some miles much faster than 6:30/mile and others slightly slower. My face wore the largest smile I’ve smiled in a long time, and I soaked in all the cheers.

Miles 5-6 felt great, and all early race jitters or psychosomatic aches disappeared. I enjoyed the various musicians, and threw a lot of thumbs up at them and smiled at all the cowbells and cheers from the crowd. This is more than a race: It’s a citywide block party!

The Mile 7 water station manned by NP_NYC was EPIC. Everyone went nuts when they saw my tagged shirt, and I got a huge high-five from Brogan Graham, one of the co-founders of November Project who had traveled to NYC for the weekend to hang out with the NP_NYC crew and cheer on all the NP marathoners. Totally pumped me up!

I took my second gel, drank some water, and eased back into my pace. I saw Kat, another NP_NYC member, a few blocks farther down the road, ran out of my way to high-five her, and then returned to the center of the road. I felt smooth, confident, and ready for the next 19 miles.

At mile 8, I nearly missed my sister, Kimi, and Ashley, and only saw them as I ran past. This picture demonstrates my near miss:

TCS NYC Marathon

Even though I almost missed my sister and friends, I’m super excited!

Miles 9-13 wound through Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, the neighborhoods in which I spent a lot of time when I lived in Bushwick. The crowds owned this section of the course, and I loved seeing some old haunts. I kept a consistent pace here, and hooked up with a fellow runner attempting to hit 2:50 like me. I also saw two law school friends, whose cheers got me super pumped and sent chills through my head and neck.

TCS NYC Marathon

More Brooklyn running! (Photo Credit: Ashley Sokol)

I took my third gel as we exited Brooklyn on the Pulaski Bridge. We passed through the midway point of the race on the Bridge in exactly 1:27:00, right on plan! My race buddy and I wound through Queens, maintaining a 6:30/6:40/mile pace as we approached the Queensborough Bridge. Despite all the rock bands out, we heard our first metal band playing Alice in Chains “Would.” This was a nice change from all the “hippie bands,” as described by an FDNY runner around mile 8.

And then we ascended the Queensborough Bridge. I kept my effort steady but dropped my pace a bit, focusing on a runner moving smoothly and wearing a Union Jack tank top, Union Jack shorts, Union Jack shoes, and sporting a low-cut Mohawk dyed the colors of the Union Jack. I turned around and realized that I had lost my race buddy, and later learned that he finished around 3:25. I focused on my hooligan friend until the Bridge’s apex, after which I picked up the pace and got amped as the First Avenue cheering wafted up to the off ramp.

Woot! 1st Avenue was awesome! The crowds were heavy and people cheered like madmen. I saw lots of NP shirts, screamed lots of “f*ck yeahs!” at people, and grabbed some high-fives. Realizing that all my gels had caffeine, I made sure to grab water at every aid station. I saw my buddy Patrick at mile 17, Melissa and law school friend Lauren at mile 18, and some more NP folks in East Harlem. I took my fourth gel at mile 18, and kept on moving forward.

TCS NYC Marathon

So excited to see Melissa at Mile 18 that I made this silly kiss face!

The crowds thinned at the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx, and as we crossed over the Bridge I saw numerous runners doubled over and walking– classic bonking signs. I pulled out my final gel and held it like a talisman through the Bronx. Before long we climbed the Manhattan Bridge and headed back into Manhattan on Fifth Avenue.

When I re-entered Manhattan, I did some quick calculations and realized that 2:50 was out of the question, but 2:55 was doable. I also began to feel the mental fatigue of the race, and I thought about slowing down. I fought those thoughts by visualizing my crossing the finish line with a huge smile. I checked my legs: They felt great! So, I took my final gel, grabbed two cups of water at the mile 21 aid station, put my head down, and plowed ahead. I found a few more pockets of NP folks cheering, drank more water at the mile 22 aid station, and just kept thinking, “You got this. You’re feeling strong. You are NOT going to hit any walls!”

And then we hit the dreaded Fifth Avenue Mile 23 hill. Everyone warned me about this hill. I saw it on the elevation map. I read about it in numerous race recaps. I knew it was coming. Nevertheless, it rose out of nowhere and rose much steeper than I imagined. More runners walked this section of the course. I kept a steady effort, got amped up when I saw Melissa and Lauren again, and counted off the blocks as I ascended: “98th Street, 8 blocks to Engineer’s Gate.” And so forth.

TCS NYC Marathon

Crushing Fifth Avenue as well as I could! At Mile 23.

And then BOOM! I cruised through Engineer’s Gate into Central Park! 2.5 miles left on roads I know better than any others in the City. I came through Mile 24 around 2:43, so I knew that 2:55 was going to be tough, but sub-3 was happening. This felt amazing! My legs were strong, my mind felt sharp, and I pushed hard, getting some NP love along the way. The downhill on Cat Hill felt amazing, and I pushed through the rolling hills near Summer Stage and then cruised downhill to mile 25 and then out of the Park and onto Central Park South. Through this section I passed a ton of runners, and was passed by only one, who I later passed on Central Park South. I simply focused on reeling in whoever was in front of me and, after passing them, reeled in the next guy. I could feel the finish line.

Running up Central Park South I spotted Brogan again, who practically jumped over the barricade to give me another high-five. I let out a primal scream and doubled my efforts. I passed that runner who sped past me earlier. I let the cheers wash over me. I saw Columbus Circle grow larger with every step. I kept moving forward.

And then I turned and entered the Park. An announcer said, “Welcome to Central Park!” and I wooped! So close! So many people lined the barricades. I thought about everything that had happened to me over the past three years, how lucky I was to be running today, and how grateful I was for the people who helped me through the toughest time in my life, at times literally picking me up off the ground. I passed more runners and worked my arms. On the final uphill, I spotted the finish line clock: 2:58:40. 10 seconds to finish sub-2:58 (I started 50 seconds after the gun). I sprinted through the finish line in what I thought was 2:58:50 exactly. Success! Completion! The culmination of so much more than training runs and nutrition plans. Tears welled into my eyes.

TCS NYC Marathon

Smiling post-marathon!

In my next post, I’ll discuss my thoughts about the course, other thoughts about the race, and why finishing this race was such a huge accomplishment for me.

Happy running, everyone!

Race Recap: Staten Island Half Marathon, October 11, 2015, 1:20:51, 6:10 Pace

Staten Island Half Marathon

Staten Island Half Marathon Banner (repost from nyrr.org)

Here we go!

The recap before the recap (seems fitting for Staten Island): I ran the Staten Island Half Marathon this weekend in a time of 1:20:51 (6:10/mile pace, 37th place overall, 12th in my age group). Totally pumped about my performance, the gorgeous day, and all the good times and success of my sister with her 18-plus minute half-marathon PR and my other friends’ strong performances.

2015 Staten Island Half Marathon

Staten Island Half Marathon Banner (repost from nyrr.org)

Now let’s recap the day.

I woke up at 5:15 a.m., ate my standard breakfast of non-fat Greek yogurt with a teaspoon of honey along with two slices of sourdough toast, one covered in peanut butter, and a banana. I threw on a long-sleeved running shirt and a North Face thermal, remembering last year’s frigid Staten Island Half temperatures (it turned out to be a 70 degree day). As I wrote about in my race preview, I had been battling a slight cold for a week and a half. This morning, the cold had subsided, and I could almost breathe entirely through my nose.

I met my sister at the 72nd Street 2 train, and we rode down to the Staten Island Ferry across from a guy whose snores reminded me of a male walrus. After a good chuckle (and then a move down the train car when it got too weird), we arrived at the Ferry, met up with our friends Ashley, Kim, Mike, and Sam, and made it to Staten Island around 7:30 a.m.

Once off the boat, I checked my bag, ate another banana, and went for a 20-25 minute warm-up run with Sam who, despite having PR’d at the Brooklyn Rock n Roll Half Marathon the previous day, looked strong. We expressed our gratitude for the opportunities to participate in so many races, and about how pumped we are for the NYC Marathon. I ran into some people I know, slapped a few high fives, ate another banana, and then headed to my starting corral.

Staten Island Half Marathon 2015

The view from our warm-up run (repost from Facebook)

Once in the corral, I ran into Steve from November Project NYC, who said that he had run and won a 100k race in Long Island the previous day. WHAT? Congrats, Steve. I would have taken the day off. I took my first GU gel, hopped up and down for a bit, and then BOOM! We were off. I crossed the starting line 18 seconds after the horn.

Before I continue, I want to put this race in the context of my running experience over the past year. Last year’s Staten Island Half was my first half marathon ever. I ran a 1:44:42, and remembered a hilly course with a heartbreaking hill at mile 10. I also felt like the flat section between miles 4-9 never ended, and that I could barely drag myself across the finish line. In other words, even though I trained decently for the race (3 runs during the week with a long weekend run), the course owned me.

This year, however, after a year of running, recovering from injury, running slow to race fast using the Maffetone Method, strength training, and generally taking a “do your best and forget the rest” attitude toward running, I found this course incredibly manageable. The rolling hills in the first three miles felt flat to me, and I cruised through the first four miles into the flat section in 25:00, right on the 6:15/mile pace that I planned for those miles. Before I knew it, I had taken my second GU at the aid station after mile 4 and was clearing the 10k point at 38:46, faster than I have ever run an actual 10k race. Everything about this race felt like it was in my control.

While I had intended to pick up the pace after the 10k mark, I maintained that 6:15/mile pace for three additional miles. I attribute this to three things: 1) running on the boardwalk for miles 7-9 was unsettling, and I honestly thought that I might slip on a loose board and eat it; 2) I held back in anticipation for the mile 10 hill; and 3) I had some reservations about my slight cold. Ultimately, though, I arrived at the mile 10 hill feeling strong.

This year’s mile 10 hill was different from last year’s: It was on a running and cycling trail, not the main road, and it felt like it snaked up and around forever. Despite that, I shortened my stride, slowed my pace, and climbed. One runner charged up past me and promptly slowed at the top.

Once through the top of the hill, the race was on. I charged down the hill and back onto the main street, grabbed water at the mile 11 aid station, and began the steady downhill to mile 12. I passed a couple runners, yelled out, “Looking good, guys! Keep it up,” and turned onto an industrial road that led through a warehouse district. As I turned another corner, I saw Myles, another NP_NYC member, running about 50 yards in front of me. Woot! This pumped me up so much that I had to restrain myself from sprinting to pass him.

2015 Staten Island Half Marathon

Staten Island Half Marathon Banner (repost from nyrr.org)

After a couple more minutes, I came up next to Myles, yelled a lot of endorphin-influenced obscenities, and we raced alongside each other up a hill and back onto the main road again. Myles got the jump on me for a bit, but I pulled next to him again. We ran into a group of NP_NYC folks cheering us on, and I ran over for some high fives. My legs and lungs screamed, but with half a kilometer to go, I couldn’t let up.

Myles and I rounded the final corner down the hill and into the stadium. I took the final turn way too tight and lost a bit of jump, but the finish line sprang into my sight. Less than one hundred yards to go! Cheering! Pain! I forced my legs to turn over a few more times and Boom! Across the finish line.

While I set my goal at 1:20 or better, 1:20:51 represents a ~16-minute PR for me in the half marathon. Also, although time goals are important, the real goal is to work hard and have fun. And that I did! I negative split the race, making that three races in a row with negative splits, and I proved that all the hard work I’ve put in the past six months since my injury has been worth it.

2015 Staten Island Half Marathon

Staten Island Half Marathon Banner (repost from nyrr.org)

While I wonder whether I could have pushed it harder out of the starting corral and brought my time down by a minute, I can only say that I’ll take that into consideration for my next race. And somehow this race time-qualifies me for next year’s NYC Marathon, so that’s pretty cool! Ultimately, I feel that I can correct these pacing issues with more experience.

My sister, Ashley, Kim, my girlfriend, Melissa, and some other folks and I had post-race brunch at Fraunces Tavern where we celebrated my sister’s epic PR. One year ago she ran a 2:28 at Staten Island and felt like death for days after the race. Yesterday she ran 2:09 and could have kept running. Amazing. Inspiring. But the best part? She’s taking an NYRR running class beginning tomorrow because she wants to improve her running. I love it! Can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.

2015 Staten Island Half Marathon

Staten Island Half Marathon Banner (repost from nyrr.org)

NYC Marathon approaches: less than three weeks! I’m going to do one more long run next week, and then it’s taper time. This week will include some other longish runs in the Park, and an easy NP_NYC session on Wednesday.

I also want to thank everyone who’s liked my posts on Facebook and Instagram, written to me about my running, or just said hey these past couple of months. Starting this blog seemed like the perfect way to combine my love of running and writing into one happy corner of the Internet, and I’m grateful for everyone who’s stopped by, read what I’ve written, and clicked a thumbs up or a heart. It means a lot, and I hope that I am giving something back by writing about the things I love.

As always, happy running, everyone!