In the oftentimes lonesome world of distance running, there are a few genuine iconic events that make all the hard tempo runs, speed sessions and long weekend runs worthwhile. The New York City Marathon is one of them. Renaud Herington and I had the pleasure and privilege of participating in this year’s edition with over 50,000 other participants from around the world, including over 1000 Aussies.
It is a schlep from Upper West Side in Manhattan to the starting village on Staten Island, but amongst the calm nervousness amongst the runners, there is great camaraderie. Then there is the long wait before entering the corrals, which I spent eating a bagel and banana bread, reading the Wall Street Journal (which also served as an impromptu picnic blanket) and trying to get some quiet time.
After a stirring rendition of the Star Spangled Banner from some local opera singer who was also participating the race, celebrity grand marshal Spike Lee set us off to the sounds of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York”. After a slow first km courtesy of the congestion on the Verrazano-Narrows bridge (albeit enjoying a cracking view over the harbour to Manhattan), Renaud and I quickly found our race rhythm and soon enough we were carving up the streets of Brooklyn doing sub 4 minute kms, feeling a million dollars and actually having to hold ourselves back occasionally. The crowds were absolutely amazing, the bands were piping up the tunes, the volunteers at the drinks stations were screaming their heads of. I felt like a rock star. You don’t get this kind of thing in a marathon in Australia. That said, the road surface itself was sub-optimal with combinations of hard concrete and very rough patches including potholes. Unfortunately for Renaud, he stepped into one of these potholes around the 20km mark and his left calf suffered badly as a result. I was concerned about his welfare but I just had to plough on. Went through half way in 83:18, so definitely gave myself a chance of achieving my 2:50 target time.
By the 25km mark, I knew that things would get tough. The course becomes more unforgiving, there are no genuinely flat miles in the second half of the course. In contrast to Brooklyn, the Queens and Manhattan sections are a lot more undulating and by the time I dragged my sorry backside over the nasty long incline over the Queensboro Bridge, I knew I was in for a very tough back end of the marathon. But entering Manhattan for the first time around the 27km mark provided a temporary burst with the massive crowds lining First Avenue and I still wanted to give my target time a crack. Stopped checking my Garmin splits by this point, but took a sneaky peak at the 30km clock and I was at 2:01:13. Surely even if things start falling apart, then I can still scrape a sub 3 hour marathon?
How wrong I was. The experts say the “real” half way point of the marathon is 30km. By this point, I think I lost way too much salt in the humid conditions and my muscles were beginning to feel the onset of cramp, my left hip which gives me trouble every now and again was also packing it in, and I hadn’t even reached the Bronx section of the course. This is where I drew upon the amazing crowd support, as well as thoughts of family (including my recently deceased uncle), friends, workmates and not least, fellow HuRTS members. Needed every bit of inspiration I could muster to get me through and I hadn’t yet reached the Bronx.
At 35km I thought “only one Bay Run left, you’ve done that hundreds of times”. At 37km I thought “only one parkrun left and you don’t have to do it at that pace”. Body was feeling horrific and mentally I had just about packed it in. Before entering Central Park I recall a woman in the crowd standing with a sign saying “Finishing is your only f*&king option”. Brilliant…and true! Entering Central Park and the crowd noise seemed to raise yet another level. But within a couple of hundred metres, I succumbed to the worst cramps I’ve ever experienced in my life and I had to stop on the side railing next to a police officer, screaming in agony. If it wasn’t for the railing, I could have ended up in the garden bushes, like Enda at Lane Cove Striders! Saw Renaud come running past and that actually gave me a real psychological lift to see him recover so well after his own problems. I somehow got going again and could feel the crowd lift me. Managed another mile or so before I had to stop again for cramping. In the end, I dragged my sorry self across the finish line in 3:03:42. To complete the experience, after collecting my finishers medal and space blanket, I was whisked off to the medical tent for my severe cramping / muscle spasms as well as exhaustion. Full credit to Renaud for finishing in 2:58:56, that just demonstrates his strength and determination in adverse circumstances.
- Too often we can get caught up trying to achieve ambitious times. Renaud and I were both about 13 minutes or so outside our respective target times. When I emerged from the medical tent, I felt like a failure. But I had a genuine crack, and gave it everything I had on the day. In hindsight, there are the occasional races, especially marathons, where reaching the finish line is an achievement in itself. Interestingly, when people asked me how I went (which New Yorkers tend to do) and I sheepishly replied 3 hours and 3 minutes, most of them were genuinely amazed. Puts into perspective what an amazing squad HuRTS is when my sub-optimal finishing time still put me around the top 2% of the field.
- Even in cool to mild weather, salt intake before and at the beginning of the marathon is important. In hindsight, I should have prepped better in this regard.
- The NYC marathon is a magnificent event and genuinely worth the experience. But waiting at the start is very long and the course is challenging, especially the second half. Even the elite runners clocked what may be considered “slow” times for their standards. So in hindsight, I wouldn’t go into this race with an ambitious time goal, just savour the great atmosphere.