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2005 NYC Marathon Report
Runworks 2005 5M Racer
San Francisco, CA
Joined: 26 Nov 2004
2005 NYC Marathon Report
Posted: Sun Nov 13, 2005 1:48 pm
(This was written by a friend of mine who ran the NY Marathon last week, and occasionally posts here as "doob".)
Running the New York Marathon is definitely one of the most amazing experiences you can ever have. You're competing in a sporting event with thirty-seven thousand other players, and two million spectators! You feel oddly anonymous, miles away from your drivers' license, credit cards, car keys, or cell phone, but yet your name and exact location is being posted on web-sites, and emailed to friends, in real time. You're bobbing in a pulsing sea of humanity, yet you're all alone with your thoughts, your watch, and the road under your feet. You feel overwhelming pride in your accomplishment, yet you're humbled by the thousands ahead of you, and by the people you pass who are twice your age, or running on one leg, or wearing shirts telling their stories of survival. Total strangers are calling your name at every turn, but as you scan the faces along the street, a handful out of the millions will be your closest friends and family - who are truly there to see you. This is what it's like...
Before NYC 2005, I had run two marathons. My first was in Stockholm, Sweden, in June, 2003. It was an awesome experience, and, my time was 3:49. Four months later, I ran NYC for the first time. Although I felt like I was in shape to get under 3:40, I fell apart at the end, mentally gave up, walked alot, and finished in a disappointing 4:09. After a year and a half hiatus with almost no running, I decided to get back on the horse, and train for another run in New York. Friends Josh, Marni, and Lori had also gotten in, so it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to share an experience like this with them.
The festivities kicked off with our own carbo-loading pasta party, graciously hosted by Alice and Paul at their apartment in Manhattan. Including Josh and Marni's friends Mags, Cheryl, and Ophir, we had seven runners, plus another 15 or so family and friends. It turns out that seven pounds of spaghetti is a LOT of spaghetti, especially when it's served in a single large punchbowl covered in six jars of sauce! Amy demonstrated her process engineering talent, by setting up an efficient, three-pot, spaghetti-cooking assembly line in the tight kitchen. And Bette's meatballs were a big hit. Barilla's got nothing on us! :)
During dinner, the runners strategized. Josh and I had similar goal times (in the 3:40s), so we planned to at least start together. Pretty cool to be running a marathon with a life-long friend. Marni and Lori, also life-long friends, had similar goal times as well (under 4 hours), so they planned to run together too. Josh and I were in total agreement, though, that we were each running our own race. If one of us was feeling stronger than the other, neither of us wanted to hold the other back. But the plan was to try to run 8:30 miles. If we could keep that pace for the whole race, we would have a 3:43 finish. But more likely, we'd have to slow towards the end, of course. My honest goal for the race was to beat my Stockholm time of 3:49. But I wouldn't be disappointed with anything under 4 hours.
As usual, it was tough for me to sleep the night before something exciting. I don't get "nervous", or obsess about what could go wrong, or anything. I just keep getting a jolt of adrenaline every few minutes, every time my mind recalls: "Tomorrow's the marathon!" I probably slept only about 4 1/2 hours, and was up well before the 6:15 alarm. Dad must have been excited too, because by the time I came down, he was up, dressed, and ready to drive me over to the start. No traffic on the Belt Parkway, but the bridge itself, and the exit, was much more congested than two years ago. There was a bus breakdown on the bridge, and then later, the backup of busses leaving the park after dropping off runners, was blocking the exit that was to be used by private vehicles. Regardless, there was plenty of time, and I was walking through the staging area by 7:30. By the time I got to our designated meeting spot - "near the downstream end of the 275-foot-long urinal" - Josh, Marni, and Mags were already there waiting. But when we called Lori's cell phone, and found out that her bus was lost in Brooklyn, and waiting for a police escort! Lori still wasn't there by the time we had to check our bags (and cellphones) at the UPS trucks and move to the start. Just as I was about to check my bag at 9:20, she finally got through to say she was here, but Marni had already headed to the start, and Lori never ended up being able to find her.
Josh and I headed over to the green start together, and tried to stay off our feet as much as possible while waiting for the gun. We managed to line up with probably only a few thousand other green starters ahead of us - about right for our goal pace. And as the cannons fired, it would be only about a minute and a half before we got to the mats. We were on our way!
Despite our placement in the crowd, the start was very slow. Two years ago, I was able to do the first mile in 8:37 or so, but this time, it was harder to pick through the crowds, especially since Josh and I were trying to stay together. The first mile took 9:48. No matter - starting slow is a good thing anyway. Better to save energy for the latter part of the race. The second mile is all downhill, of course, and was alot quicker. As we got to the second mile marker, I checked my watch, and saw that we had pretty much made up all the time we had lost on the first mile. A 7:22 second mile - yikes! So much for conserving energy. :) Once we left the bridge, and the road flattened out and opened up a bit, it was easier to keep a steady pace, and we settled in to our planned 8:30 pace.
One of the coolest parts of the race is right *after* you leave the Verrazano Bridge. The orange, blue, and green starts take slightly different routes here, and as you run along the sunken highway, you can see other runners crossing the overpass above you, and still others running next to you on parallel streets to the left and right. It's hard to believe that all these people running in different directions will all end up in the same place.
Soon afterwards, we were coming up on the first spot where my family was planning to see us. The turn onto Bay Ridge Parkway has got to be one of the best spots to watch the early part of the race. There's almost nobody there, and you can see runners coming right at you for quite a distance before they make the turn. I spotted the "Len signs", and Josh and I veered to the right side of the street to shout to our fans. Mom, Dad, Brett and Debra all cheered us on as we strode past. By this point, we were settling into a nice 8:30 pace or so.
Josh's plan was to do the run-walk thing - walking for 20 seconds every half-mile or so. Since he still planned to keep up an 8:30 overall pace, that meant that he was moving faster than me while he was actually running. The first two miles were too crowded for walking, but now that we were on 4th Ave, he started his walk breaks. It was actually kind of fun "leapfrogging" each other along those first few miles. He'd get ahead by 10 or 15 seconds, then I'd catch up and pass him as he was walking, then he'd catch up and pass me when he was done. As we passed each other, we would high-five and cheer each other. Half of his walk breaks were at water stations, but I was carrying Gatorade with me from the start, so I was able to skip them and keep up the game of leapfrog. Around mile 6, we both broke out and energy gel, and wolfed it down while walking through a water station for a just a few seconds. My time at 10K was 52:28. Pretty much right on target at 8:30 pace.
Josh and I were still running together as we approached his first cheering section - his Mom, Matt and Meredith were waiting on the right, just across the street from Meredith's apartment. Josh barely slowed down as he grabbed a couple of energy gels from his Mom, and they cheered us loudly as we sped by. By this point, I wasn't really worrying too much about the time of each mile, I was just running at a pace that felt comfortable. I gave a couple of kids high-fives as I passed, and tried to take in the scenery and diverse music. I was really having fun. I felt like Josh was pushing the pace a bit, and I stayed close, but didn't really worry about keeping up. Rather than leapfrogging, I would now only just barely catch up to him by the end of his walk breaks. And then we got to the point where I wouldn't even quite get there before he started running again. I'd finished my Gatorade by now, and was now slowing down for fluids too. So I now only had one chance per mile to gain ground, instead of two.
Although I more or less kept him in sight the whole time, we were out of "contact" for most of miles 9-12, with Josh about half a minute ahead of me. We were cruising at probably just under 8:30 pace. Around mile 12, I decided that if were going to be this close anyway, we might as well continue to run together. I wanted to test how much spring I had left in my legs anyway, and besides, it'd be fun to pass our next cheering section together, which would be coming up soon after we crossed into Queens. So I made an effort to slowly reel him in. I finally caught him just before the Pulaski Bridge at mile 13, and said "hi" for the first time in about 1/2 hour. I asked him how he was doing, and he gave me a thumbs up, and a look that said "Are you kidding? I could keep this up all day!" I was feeling pretty good too, but didn't look quite as relaxed as he did. I wasn't struggling at all, but it wasn't quite feeling effortless anymore either. We crossed the halfway point together at 1:50:54. This was right about exactly where I wanted to be - just slightly slower than my half splits in my first two marathons, but still on pace for a finish in the 3:40s.
Josh and I stayed to the right, as we approached my Mom, Dad, Brett, and Debra, who had driven over to Queens after seeing us at mile 3. Again, they had a great spot at the left turn onto Jackson street. It was about time to have a second energy gel, so I figured I might as well do it with my family, so at least they could see me for a few seconds more than if I just whizzed past. I grabbed a fresh Gatorade bottle from Mom, and stopped for 30 seconds or to eat my Powergel, and hydrate. Mom offered me a bunch of pretzel sticks in a sandwich bag, and I put them in my pocket. I guess having a source of salt for later in the race isn't a bad idea. Soon, I was off again, and ready for the second half. Josh had kept moving when I stopped, and he was out of sight by the time I took off again. I convinced myself that there was no point burning extra energy trying to catch up. I was running against myself and the clock, not against my friend, and keeping a slow, comfortable pace seemed like the prudent way to avoid the kind of late-race burnout I had had two years ago. Besides, I already knew it was unlikely I would be able to stay with him the rest of the way. As it turns out, I wouldn't see him again till we got to the family reunion area.
While chatting with my parents, I was surprised to hear that they had seen Marni pass by about 1 minute before Josh and I got there! That would put her on 3:40 pace or so - way quicker than what she was anticipating. She must be having a great day! I wondered whether I'd end up catching up to her or not. Meanwhile, including the stop, the 14th mile took 9:21 - my slowest since the congested first mile.
Two years ago, my downfall started at the Queensborough Bridge. Including some preceding streets, you climb from basically zero to 140 feet over the course of two relentless, uphill miles. Last time, I really wasn't mentally prepared for this challenge. I tried to keep up my normal pace, which was more effort than I could muster - especially in the heat, and I ended up overheated and reduced to walking. The bridge was way longer than I expected, and each time I thought I was reaching the crest, I realized I had more uphill to go. I had entered Manhattan feeling defeated already, and there were ten miles still to go. This time, I was determined not to put myself in that situation again. I decided to deliberately slow down - by alot if necessary, to allow myself to continue to run. "No walking on the bridge!" I kept telling myself. I wanted to enter Manhattan feeling triumphant and confident, as though I had slew the fearsome dragon. Losing two minutes or more on the bridge was no big deal, as long as I could get to first avenue feeling fresh enough for another ten miles. Basically, my strategy worked! I did mile 15 in 9:26, and then the grueling 16th mile in 9:42. But it was an even effort throughout, and I never walked a step. Even at my slow pace, I was still passing people - many of whom were walking, and looking like I did last time. It was a definite confidence booster, and I actually enjoyed the exit ramp into Manhattan this time, where people we lined up 10 deep, and sitting on bleachers made of bales of hay.
Including a water stop, mile 17 was a slow 9:19, but I was still feeling pretty good as I headed up 1st avenue. It was time to look for Aunt Carol's contingent on 80th street. At about 79th, I started to cross over from the somewhat shady right side, to the left where they were supposed to be. I heard someone yell my name, but it was no one from the group I was looking for. I assumed it was just another stranger reading my name off my shirt, where it was spelled out in black electrical tape. But this person sounded like they knew me. It was crowded, and I could barely tell where the shout was coming from, but I waved in that direction. The voice yelled back "How're you feeling?", and I shouting back "OK!" I think it might have been Josh's uncle Eugene, but I'm still not sure. Meanwhile, as I got to 80th, I slowed to look for Aunt Carol's group. I scanned the crowd carefully, but didn't see them, or any signs with names I recognized. I talked to Aunt Carol later that day, and found out that she was there the whole time, with Uncle Bret, Josh, Nanne, Barbara and Matt, and somehow I missed all of them, and none of them saw me either! No idea how that happened. I was disappointed not to see them, and also not to get the bottle of water that Aunt Carol had waiting for me. Oh well, gotta keep moving...
I did manage to find my next cheering section, at 96th street - I saw my wife Amy first, sitting on the pavement in front of the crowd. With her were her Mom, and friends Amy, Bette and Michael. I asked if they had any water, and they didn't. So I slowed just briefly, and continued on as the shouted encouragement. Of course, water stops were every mile along the course, but with the small dixie cups, I always feel like it's tough to get enough, especially on a hot day. At this point, the sun had broken through, and I was definitely feeling the heat of the day. Amy told me later that felt sweaty just sitting still on the street - with temps over 70, with sun and humidity. On the other hand, I was feeling so much better than I had at this point last time around. I must be less dehydrated, and maybe the sun isn't quite as strong. Basically I was deliberately moving at a pace that was slow enough to avoid feeling overheated - around 9:30 miles at this point, including slow passes through water stops to make sure I drank enough. I also started pouring water over my head at around this point. I had waited till now to avoid getting my feet wet, to avoid blisters.
At around mile 18 was the Powergel station, and although I didn't want any, I scanned the tables looking for a "Howie sighting". Howie was a guy who Lori dated like 10 years ago, that she's only recently gotten back into contact with. I haven't seen him in 10 years, but knew from Lori that he was volunteering at the Powergel tables. I picked him out immediately - I guess he hasn't changed much - and shouted "Howie!" He recognized me immediately (even without the name on my shirt), and shouted back. Kinda funny...
As I approached mile 20, I started to do some math. I hadn't really thought too much about pace the last few miles, but now wanted to figure out where I stood. I hit the 20M mark at 2:57:10. Really, still in good shape. Staying in the 3:40s was probably out of reach at this point, especially given the remaining hills, and temperatures. But that's OK. I felt like I was having a decent run. I would be happy with anything under 4 hours, and that shouldn't be a problem. I just needed to run the last 10K in an hour or so. I focused on just keeping a consistent, albeit slow, pace and told myself that as long as I kept running, and avoided having to walk (with exceptions for water breaks, which were becoming more and more important), I'd make it. My legs were actually feeling OK (though not springy), but I was definitely getting fatigued.
The next few miles definitely required some real mental focus and concentration. Rather than looking around and taking in the crowds and the scene, I decided to just put my head down and block everything out. Just me and the road. I had to remind myself every minute or two to just keep running. It was like in the movies where all of the background noise and cheering is muted, but every once in a while, I'd pick out a "Go Len" yelled from the crowd by someone who saw my name on my shirt. Earlier in the race, I tried to acknowledge and smile at everyone who yelled my name. Now, that seemed like too much of an effort. I was looking at the ground and counting steps - something I often do on long runs to keep concentration. I'd every other step (each right-foot strike), and get up to 200, then start over again. Each time up to 200 was probably about 1/4 mile - 400 strides. I was slow, but consistent through miles 21-23 - around 10:00 pace, or a bit over, including short stops to drink and douse myself with Poland Springs. That little park on 5th Ave and 123rd actually kinda snuck up on me a little - I looked up from my "zone" and I was there? I remember it seeming like forever to reach that little landmark last time.
At mile 23, I checked my time again - just under 3:28. So I had 32 minutes to do 3.2 miles. I figured I had plenty of time to get under 4 hours - not really realizing how slow I'd been going. Mile 24 is probably the toughest part of the course. You climb from about 20 feet of elevation to over 100 feet - the equivalent of climbing an eight-story building after running for three and a half hours. My concentration - so good for the last few miles - was lapsing. I saw a few guys lined up taking a leak by a garden on the side of the road, and decided it would be a good idea to join them, even though I could easily have waited till the end of the race, which wasn't that far away. In retrospect, this is the only part of the race I regret - it was probably only about a half-minute, but that was 30-40 seconds that I basically just gave away because I felt like taking a break. And that 30-40 seconds were critical, as I was getting closer to the 4 hour mark. Soon after, I passed Amy, Amy, Alice, Bette and Michael on 96th street. This time Amy was holding a bottle of water, and I yanked it out of her hand - it was hot, and I was thirsty. I was glad to be able to swig down 8oz of water at a time, instead of those tiny cups. I waved to my fans, but barely even slowed down. I really had to concentrate, otherwise it would be too tempting to just stop to walk.
Finally, I hit the mile 24 mark, and my watch read 3:39:00. Uh, oh. Between the climb, and the "garden break", it was an 11:08 mile. I realized that my 10:00 mile pace would no longer get me under 4:00. For a moment, my mind started to wander. "What's the difference between a 3:59 and a 4:02, anyway?" "It's just a stupid number". But just about then, I saw two signs in the crowd that really really motivated me. One said "First 20 miles = legs. Last 6.2 miles = heart. That was true, I realized. There was no problem with my legs, right now, but I just really felt fatigued. I knew it would be a real effort to hold the pace I needed, but I also knew it that I was physically able to - it was just a matter of wanting it enough. The second sign said "Pain is temporary. Pride is forever." That one really got me. I thought about my disappointment in my time last time around, and how I didn't really even feel proud when I finished. Two years later, I still didn't really feel proud of the way I competed that day, and it still bothers me every time I look at the plaque on my wall. I may never even run another marathon. Right *now* is the time to push myself, and I'll thank myself for it every time I look at the plaque from this race. I picked up the pace, and promised myself that I wouldn't slow down until the finish. Not even to stop to drink. I was hydrated enough to make it two more miles - slowing down to drink would just be an excuse, and it might cost me the goal.
Now here's the crazy thing: I just read Josh's trip report. Not only did he also happen to see that "Pride is forever" sign in the crowd. Not only did it also have a big effect on *his* ability to stay motivated when he started to falter at the exact same point in the race. But apparently, it turns out that that sign was actually held by a friend of Josh's who jumped in and ran a few hundred feet with him. I'm glad Josh was enough ahead of me that his friend had a chance to get back to his sign-holding by the time I got there 7 minutes later. Unbelievable...
Soon after entering the park, I heard some shouts on the left, and turned to see my parents, and Brett and Debra cheering me on. I didn't even break stride, and barely looked at them. I had work to do! But I raised my arm and gave them a thumbs up to let them know I was doing OK. I was moving pretty well, taking advantage of the downhill now. This is around the point two years ago where P. Diddy came up right over my shoulder, motivating me to pick up the pace. But I wasn't even thinking about that now. I was just looking for the mile 25 marker. When I got there, my watch read 3:48:33 - a 9:33 mile. I had 11.5 minutes to do a bit less than a mile and a quarter. Man, this is gonna be close! I thought it might even come down to a sprint to the finish to sneak under the wire at 3:59:59. I was mentally gearing up for this. I picked it up a bit more, realizing that my legs were actually feeling OK, considering where I was. Definitely some real pain, but not too bad. I was passing a lot of people now, moving faster than most of those around me, but I was barely even aware of the other runners. It was just me, the clock, and the road. Every second counts! I realize this sounds a bit dramatic, but that is really what was going through my head, after nearly 4 hours straight of running. It wasn't until about the 400 meters to go sign that I finally knew I was going to make it. But I kept up the pace through that last 1/4 mile, and when I finally crossed the mats, my watch read 3:59:36! I had run the last 1.2 miles at just over 9:00 pace - still slow compared to my normal training pace, but faster than I had gone since mile 13! And also faster than any of the late miles in *either* of my previous two marathons.
Even though I hadn't met my original goal of being in the 3:40s, I defintely felt like a winner this time. After running the NYC course for the second time, I realize that comparing my Stockholm time to my NYC time is not really a fair comparison. NYC is much hillier - nothing huge except the Queensborough bridge, but damn, that bridge is long, and then there's a *lot* of rolling ups and downs along the whole second half of the course, including that 80-foot climb in the 24th mile. And also, Stockholm was near-perfect running weather conditions, whereas Sunday was in the low 70s and humid. I actually feel like after factoring in the weather and course, that although my run on Sunday was not quite as good an effort as I had in Stockholm, it was close. I'm sure I could have eked a few more minutes off my time, but probably the best I could have done was the low-mid 3:50s. I never "gave up" on Sunday, like I did two years ago in New York. Back in 2003, I finished feeling like I had "lost". Sunday, I felt like I had won. Not a resounding "I kicked this course's ass" blowout, but a victory nonetheless. Once I caught my breath, I actually shouted "Yeah!" to no one in particular.
When I got to the family reunion area, I found out that Josh had finished in 3:51:59. He ran a really great race! And Marni was fantastic too - under 3:57 - two and a half minutes ahead of me. Lori was close behind, finishing only 6 minutes after me at 4:06 - also a terrific run, especially in that heat and humidity.
We all celebrated together that afternoon, with our families and friends (including several other runners) and LOTS of food and drink. Many thanks to Lori's brother Jonathan for hosting our post-party, even though more than half the people there were people he'd never even met! I think there were over 40 people there total! And while I'm on the thank you's, huge thanks to everyone who came out to cheer me on. I really appreciate you making signs, running around the city like mad-people to get to multiple spots, and staring into moving crowds for hours, just to give me some much-needed encouragement.
South Orange, New Jersey
Joined: 19 Dec 2004
Re: 2005 NYC Marathon Report
Posted: Sun Nov 13, 2005 7:00 pm
Wow, great report Doob! Thanks for sharing it. I always enjoy reading someone elses account of a run or race that I can relate to. It's interesting to see how different, or similar, we experience the same thing. And it's especially nice when the accomplishment is so positive.
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