Just under 100 days to go until the TCS NYC Marathon. At this point, I should be well into official training, but the past couple weeks have been a series of starts and stops – I’ve dealt with on and off calf pain, my dog dying, and a cold for the past few days which brought my runs to a complete halt. I’m on the mend – Thursday was my worst day. My colds are usually minor and only last a few days, but they make me too weak to run. No idea where this one came from, as I haven’t had any close human contact lately. I guess I touched a gross subway pole and didn’t wash my hands like an idiot.
My last cold was in December and I only get them once or twice a year. I’m actually glad this one happened when it did, because now the chances of getting another one close to marathon day are almost nil. I can’t imagine the disappointment I’d feel if I got sick the day before the marathon.
But I’ve also had some great runs lately, including NYRR’s TCS NYC Marathon Training Series 12 Mile “race” held last weekend. This “race” – which I will put in quotes because although timed and scored, it wasn’t a race that people from all over come to run – was the first in a series of training runs designed to get runners in shape for the marathon. This one was 12 miles. There will be a 15 miler in August and an 18 miler in September – the latter of which I probably won’t run, as I’m running the Cow Harbor 10K the day before and might not be up for running 18 miles the following day, unless I run it really slowly. (Cow Harbor is extremely important to me – it’s in my hometown and last year’s race was the inspiration for starting this blog in the first place.)
I was excited for this 12 mile run. I know it wasn’t meant to be a true race, but since we were wearing bibs and it was timed, I wanted to do “well,” whatever that meant for me. I wasn’t sure I would hit the paces I did in the Brooklyn Half, since that course was so flat (and I had an unofficial pacer for that race in my friend Scott), but I wanted to come close. I ran an 8:08 pace in Brooklyn. My goal pace for the NYC marathon is 8:30, which sometimes feels possible and sometimes feels utterly ridiculous. I thought I would try to hit 8:30 for this 12 miler and see how that felt.
Then I heard they would have pacers! This was exciting. I’d never run with a pacer (except for Scott). I had no idea how many pace groups there would be or where they would be at the start. I thought there might be an 8:30 pace group and a 9:00 pace group, and I spent a few days before the run deciding which one to run with – would I rather go out at goal pace and then possibly slow down, or go out conservatively and then possibly speed up?
“Race” morning, I got up extra early, had my oat bran, banana, and coffee, walked my dog, and got ready. To my luck, the start was in northern Central Park, so only a short distance from my apartment. It took me about 10 minutes to jog there. That was my warmup.
Once there, I quickly learned a few things about the pace groups. This may be super duper obvious to some of you, but given my lack of pacing experience, it was all new to me. Bear with me.
- There were many more pace groups than I’d thought there would be, all easily identified by their striped shirts. I didn’t have to decide between 8:30 and 9:00. The pace groups included 8:00, 8:12, 8:23, 8:35, 8:46, 8:58, 9:09, and so on.
- The numbers didn’t round off to 5’s based on pace but rather expected marathon finishing time. So there was no “8:30” pace group, but there were pace groups for marathon finishing times of 3:20, 3:25, 3:30, and so on. One side of the pacers’ signs read the pace, and the other read the finishing time.
- The pace groups in my starting corral, D, were way too fast for me! These were the 7:26, 7:37 pace groups, which would have been fine if I were running a 5K or even a 10K. For 12 miles, I wanted to be a little more conservative. While standing in my corral at the start, I realized the pace groups I wanted to run with were way behind me. Instead of moving back, which I could have done, I figured I’d just let them catch up and then I’d see which one I wanted to fall in with.
My right calf had been a little sore earlier that week, but I did a lot of stretching, rolling, and icing the days before. I wore my compression sleeves just be sure, but miraculously it was feeling good that morning. Also, the weather was beautiful. Sunny but early in the morning, not too warm, not too cold. Perfect. I felt good and was ready to do my best in this race. Sorry, “race.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but there were over 4000 people running this morning. Before the start, Coach Mel (I believe her birth name) led everyone through a warm up, ending with high fives for the people on either side of us, which always seems like it’s going to be awkward but it usually turns out fun. I high-fived this guy on the lower right in the Queens shirt, and then saw him alongside me right at the finish line, so we must be at the exact same fitness level.
Still milling about before The Great Collapsing…
And we were off. I did start out conservatively, nowhere near the speed I am accustomed to for 5Ks and 10Ks. But that was fine. This was going to be 12 miles, or two loops around Central Park. Going counterclockwise starting on the east side of the northern end of the park meant that the first mile would be flat, followed by the loop’s biggest downhill, followed by the loop’s biggest uphill. The beginning-of-race crowding also contributed to my slower-than-average pace, but that was fine. Remember, I told myself, this isn’t a race.
The second and third miles were coming down the west side of the park, which has a mix of ups and downs but nothing too severe. I fell into a comfortable pace in miles 2 and 3 that was right in line with where I was in the Brooklyn Half. Probably a little faster than I had intended. Nothing in the 7s, though.
One of the most fascinating things about running that I’ve found is this idea of knowing your body so intimately well that you can determine precisely how fast to run for any particular distance that’s not so slow that you don’t finish as fast as you can, but is also not so fast that you don’t finish as fast as you can. Obviously, I guess that’s the whole key to racing. It’s very interesting to me. It’s, dare I say, an art?
MILE 1: 8:40 pace
MILE 2: 8:10 pace
MILE 3: 8:08 pace
By mile 3, a few pace groups has passed me by. I can’t remember all of them but they had all been too fast for me to even try to keep up with. Until I saw the guy holding the 8:12 pace sign. At that point, something clicked.
This would be my group. The 8:12’ers! Yes. I would follow them. The back of his sign read 3:35. This meant that running this pace would be the equivalent of finishing a marathon in 3 hours and 35 minutes. This is a bit faster than I anticipate finishing. But when has aiming big ever failed? I mean, lots of times, sure. I felt like aiming big anyway.
The pacer, whose name I didn’t know at the time but whose build and back of head reminded me of a friend from college, had what looked like perfect running form. Light on his feet, effortless. Even his sign holding capabilities were professional. He ran alongside another guy in a blue shirt and was followed by several other runners, all men, it seemed. Wonderful. I fell in step with them.
This was great. It actually forced me to catch my breath and not run too fast. I felt comfortable, strong, and fantasized about crossing the finish alongside all of them.
As we rounded the loop’s southern bend and came up the east side – even up good old Cat Hill – I felt pretty good. I ran immediately behind Mr. Pacer and Blue Shirt Guy for these miles, sometimes worrying I was so close I’d step on their heels. At times it almost seemed like we could have been filming the intro to a great 70s cop show – the two of them in front, me in between right behind them (because I’m the lady cop), on our way to fight crime in the inner city, knowing we’d always end the episode safe and alive, a freeze frame on our laughter as we sat on the edge of our cop desks and dunked our donuts into styrofoam cups of black coffee.
Some of our miles were faster than 8:12, but some were slower. I think the point is they would all eventually even out to an average 8:12 throughout the entire run.
MILE 4: 8:19 pace
MILE 5: 8:09 pace
MILE 6: 8:02 pace
Then, mile 7 happened.
Mile 7 went up Harlem Hill, on the northwest corner of the loop. The loop’s biggest hill. I played it safe: I slowed down. I still don’t know if I could have kept up with them had I really tried, but I was afraid of blowing it too early in the run. So I slowed, and thought maybe I’d catch them after it leveled out at the top.
Amazingly, I found a picture on facebook of these guys on the hill, with me way in the back at this point. You can barely make me out, but there I am. Struggling.
I am sorry to say that I never caught up to them again. I just didn’t have it. I ate the last of my salt tabs at the top of the hill once I caught my breath, but even they couldn’t help speed up my legs to catch Mr. Pacer and Blue Shirt Guy. I mourned our brief relationship, and hoped that I would someday be lucky enough to find its equivalent.
I spent the next couple of miles feeling a little bad, wishing my legs were in better shape, wishing I could tackle hills better, wishing I was Shalane Flanagan. But I didn’t get totally down. There would be other runs. Other races. Also, not sure if I said this already, but this wasn’t even a race.
MILE 7: 8:33 pace (Harlem Hill)
MILE 8: 8:19 pace
MILE 9: 8:18 pace
I really didn’t fall that far behind those guys, but that 8:33 pace really set me back. I would have had to run a 7:50 pace for a mile in order to catch them.
By mile 10, I had reached the “acceptance” stage of Grief & Loss, and actually felt okay with running the remainder at a decreased speed. I didn’t want to kill myself to finish this thing. I just wanted to cross the finish feeling okay and get my bagel. I relaxed a bit. I even fell in step with another pace group – but, as I noticed, this lead pacer didn’t carry his sign as perfectly as my 8:12 dude. It’s not the same, I whined inside my head. I stayed with them for a bit anyway.
Things got a little interesting in the last mile. This was, to my delight, on the flattest section of the course, so I picked up speed naturally. At one point I felt someone directly to my left. It was a guy. Some dude. I never got a good look at him. But he was right next to me. I wasn’t sure if he was… racing me? Using me to run faster? Trying to beat me? Trying to make me run faster? It was odd. But as much as he may have been trying to race me, I tried racing him right back. I thought, okay, you want to race? Fine. I sped up and didn’t let him pass me. Eventually, he fell back. I smiled. A small victory.
MILE 10: 8:33 pace
MILE 11: 8:47 pace (Cat Hill)
MILE 12: 7:52 pace
One thing I didn’t mention is that this was the first “race” where I stopped to drink! I never stop at fluid stations. I don’t even carry water on my long runs. But for the marathon, I will have to take in fluids. It’s too long a run. Might as well get used to it now. I’m not sure how much this slowed me down, but I’d like to think that drinking a bit of water and Gatorade made up for whatever time I lost. And it didn’t slosh around in my stomach as much as I always think it will (which is why I usually avoid it).
I crossed the finish feeling strong and headed straight for the bagels. No medals, as this wasn’t a race, but that’s fine. People get too worked up about medals.
Anyway, this was better than a medal:
As was this:
I took a few more pics and then headed home. I felt good about what I had done, but also knew that I still had work to do. I am determined to get stronger on hills. If Mr. Pacer (whose name turns out to be David) is there for the 15 miler in August, I will do my best to stay with him for the whole time. It’s ambitious, but so what. When has ambition ever gotten the better of someone? Okay, fine, many times throughout history.
All of the splits I listed were from my Garmin, which said I ran a total of 12.12 miles at an 8:19 pace. My official results were slightly off from that, as usual. I wound up running an official 8:25 pace. My goal had been 8:30. So, you know what, with all of the things that didn’t go perfectly in this run, I think I did okay.
- Time: 1:40:51
- Pace: 8:25/m
- Age Group: 23/275
- Women: 125/1869
- Overall: 702/4034
I saw this car on the way home. I’ve seen it before. It’s insane. Its windows are always open and there is writing on the other side that reads “NO FREE PICTURES, PUT MONEY IN CAR.”
I still have never put money in it.