I am writing this “race recap” over a week late, and maybe I’ve been putting it off because I am trying to block it from my mind. It was probably the hardest run I’ve ever done.
The New York Road Runners has three official training runs leading up to the NYC Marathon. I ran the 12 miler last month. This was the 15 miler. (I won’t be running the 18 miler in September because it’s the day after I’m running the Cow Harbor 10K and I’d be stupid to try and run 18 miles the day after an all-out-effort 6.2-mile race. But Ari, you don’t have to run a 10K at an all-out-effort while you’re marathon training! YES I DO.)
I was excited to run 15 miles, as I had only ever run that distance a few times. These training runs are all timed and scored, and even though we’re not supposed to think of them as races, it’s hard not to when you’re wearing a bib and crossing a finish line.
Speaking of bibs, it took me WAY too long to put mine on that morning. It was going to be a humid day, so I wanted to just wear a sports bra. I find that wearing a shirt when it’s just going to be drenched (either from sweat or rain) is pointless. But pinning a bib to a snug bra is harder than a loose shirt, and it took me too long to get it straight (but Ari, bibs don’t have to be straight YES THEY DO) and then the safety pins would get stuck and it was kind of a mess.
I’d gotten up a few hours before the start, eaten my standard pre-race meal of oat bran with banana, had a nice 40-minute walk with my dog, and did some light warming up. I’d also taken a shower, something I’m doing before every race now because it makes me feel good and also because Shalane Flanagan says she does it. You’re welcome, fellow runners!
According to my marathon training plan, I was supposed to run an “easy” 14 miles this day. Most of the long runs are prescribed at an easy pace, meaning a little slower than you can go comfortably – this ensures you can train your body to go longer distances. Running an extra mile to make it 15 (actually, 16 with the warm up) wouldn’t be a big deal. But as dumb as it may have been, I really wanted to try to go a little faster than “easy.” I wasn’t planning on racing like my life depended on it or anything, but I did want to give it more than an average effort. I guess blame it on the pressure of having it being timed. My results would be public record. Yes, my ego is more important than my health.
Luckily for me, as with the 12-mile training run I did last month, the starting line was only a mile from my apartment. So I jogged there as my warm up. It wasn’t so long ago that I had to drive into the city from Long Island to do a race in Central Park. Not anymore. So long, parking garages!
I packed light, as usual. No need to check a bag when I live 10 minutes away by foot. All I brought (in addition to my phone) was my arm band, a pack of Clif Bloks, my keys, and six salt tabs I threw in my pocket.
I did something I probably wouldn’t have done even a few months ago: I left my headphones at home. There was a time when I wouldn’t have even considered not listening to music on a run, and especially a race. Lately, I’ve cared less. The main reason I left them home was the humidity. When it’s humid, I sweat. My bone conduction headphones sit right next to my ears on the backs of my cheeks. When I sweat on a run, I find that just about every mile or so I have to lift each headphone side, wipe the sweat off my cheek, and then wipe the part of the headphone that was touching my cheek. It’s annoying. And I didn’t want to deal with it today.
So there would be no musical soundtrack to accompany this run. Just the sound of footsteps, breathing, and my own thoughts (which are always there anyway, and sometimes even musical!).
I got to Race Day Central in no time and found I had to walk a little bit to get to the corrals. A few people were warming up and stretching. Mostly everyone was trying not to sweat their assess off. Yet.
According to my training plan, I was supposed to run within a 9:40 to 10:02 pace. For the 12-mile training run a few weeks ago, I ran about an 8:30 pace. I thought maybe for this one, I’d try something in between. I decided to try following the 8:46 pace group. So, okay, maybe not exactly in between.
I was assigned to corral D but I had to walk back to find the 8:46 pace group, situated in corral G. There he was in his regulation striped shirt: the 8:46 dude! The back of his sign read 3:50, which is the marathon finishing time for an 8:46 pace.
A small group formed around him as he explained his strategy, which was pretty much what all pacers do: to not necessarily run that exact pace the entire time, but to go a little slower on the uphills and a little faster on the downhills, trying to have it all even out to an average pace of 8:46.
The humidity was really off the charts, and as usual my inner right calf was a little sore, so I had my doubts as to whether I could keep up with them the whole time. I wanted to try. The air was seriously so uncomfortable. I took a picture of the sweat on my torso while standing in the corral. Literally while standing still before we even started running.
I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about this race. First of all, this post has taken me way too long to write and a lot of it is a blur at this point. But also, it wasn’t exactly a race so I don’t feel the pressure of having this be a true race recap. It was just a long training run. A very long, hot, humid, uncomfortable training run.
As usual, it was a staggered start, so it was a few minutes before corral G got its turn. Once we were off, as is common with a lot of races, there was a lot of crowding and clumps of people I was trying to get around. Immediately, the 8:46 group surged on up ahead, but I eventually caught up. I managed to stick with them for the first mile. We started on the upper east side of Central Park (the green star below), which is all flat and then downhill.
The entire course would be three loops of the 5-mile loop of the park, which goes from the top down to the 72nd transverse – not all the way down to 59th like the usual full loop. As the announcer (I forget who) reminded us before the start: “That means three Harlem Hills. That means three Cat Hills.” I’ve run the loop many times. So I was fully aware of what was to come.
Mile 2 was the first Harlem Hill. I fell behind the 8:46 pace group at that point – exactly what happened to me with the 8:12 pace group on the 12-mile run. Hills. I am bad at them.
For the next couple of miles, the 8:46 group got further ahead of me. I started to think that maybe I wouldn’t be able to stick with them after all. And that maybe that wasn’t so bad. Maybe it would be fine. Maybe I should just run my own damn race.
The weird thing is, my first three miles weren’t really all that far off from an 8:46 average pace. In fact, they averaged out to an 8:38 pace. But the 8:46 group was way ahead of me. Hmm.
After mile 3, I decided to hell with trying to follow a pace group. I still wanted to run a solid effort, but I’d do it myself. Mile 4 was going across 72nd and then up along the east side and Cat Hill, the second-steepest hill on the course. Honestly, I was relieved not to have a pace group to follow while going up Cat Hill. I didn’t need any extra stress. I’m not super strong on hills, and I wanted to take them at my own pace. I don’t entirely remember but I might have been fully drenched in sweat by this point.
Mile 5 was the best section of the course: nice and flat! I always feel great on this section.
MILE 1: 8:31
MILE 2: 8:50
MILE 3: 8:34
MILE 4: 9:01
MILE 5: 8:38
Miles 6-8, starting with my second Harlem Hill, were a little slower than miles 1-3. Mile 9 included my second Cat Hill so I slowed a bit on that. But at least I was more than halfway done.
I began to notice that everyone was drenched. Every article of clothing covering every part of everyone was just soaked in sweat. They always have cooling sprinklers set up throughout the course, so maybe some of it was from that, but I know I was sopping wet from just sweat. Guys were taking off their shirts. I felt awful for the women wearing long leggings, and wondered if they either didn’t check the weather that morning or just, Jesus, I don’t know. I don’t understand why you would wear leggings on a day like this.
It was hot. I was uncomfortable. At one point, a mantra started repeating in my mind: Settle into the torture. Not unlike Embrace the suck which my friend Scott taught me during the Brooklyn Half. I don’t know where it came from but I kept repeating it, and it actually helped. Settle into the torture. Just acknowledge it’s happening and you can’t do anything about it right now. It’s torture. It’s fine. Just accept it.
MILE 6: 8:47
MILE 7: 9:16
MILE 8: 8:59
MILE 9: 9:13
MILE 10: 8:50
The last loop is always the best loop. By this point I wanted to be done. It wasn’t the distance, it was the weather. My god, it was terrible.
One new thing I am trying on these longer training runs/races is stopping at water and Gatorade stations. I never need to in 10Ks and definitely not 5Ks, but I’m trying to condition my body to get used to ingesting fluids on long runs, as I imagine I will have to do that during the marathon. Surprisingly, there is less stomach sloshing than I always think there will be, so it’s been a good experience so far. I don’t drink a lot. I haven’t yet mastered the art of drinking while running, so I do have to stop and walk for a few seconds. On this very humid day, I think I stopped at every single station except for the last two, because at that point, who cares – it’s almost over.
I also didn’t even eat all of my Clif Bloks. I ate three and then didn’t want any more. NYRR was handing out free gels on the last loop but I didn’t bother. By this point, I just wanted real food. And I didn’t think an energy gel was going to suddenly make me surge. Although, as usual, I managed to save enough for a little kick at the end, clocking in my second-fastest mile of the race in mile 15.
MILE 11: 9:00
MILE 12: 9:13
MILE 13: 8:58
MILE 14: 9:13
MILE 15: 8:35
It was over. Two hours and 15 minutes of torture. I had done it.
A volunteer handed me a piece of cloth dipped in ice water and it was THE BEST THING I HAD EVER FELT IN MY LIFE. I almost cried it felt so good. I am not joking.
They had the same fun giant frames as at the 12-miler, so of course I couldn’t resist getting a pic. That smile is one of relief. And also excitement at the bagel in my left hand you can see peeking out from behind the frame. That would be in my mouth very soon.
I tried taking a selfie and a nice women offered to do it for me. The rumor is true: runners are the nicest people in the world.
I walked home – or maybe I hobbled home, from what I remember – and cooked some eggs mixed with whatever the hell was in my fridge. It was good.
I took a post-run pic with an expression that represented how I felt.
I was so tired, I lay down on the kitchen floor for a bit with MacGregor. I was a disgusting sweaty mess anyway. What’s a few crumbs and dog hairs stuck to my body?
It was a difficult run, but I’m glad I did it. Believe it or not, I actually like doing hard runs. They make me feel stronger. They make the other runs easier. They build character. They give me good stories. They make me a better runner. Bring it on, torture.
- Time: 2:15:35
- Pace: 9:03/m
- Age Group: 33/269
- Women: 237/1904
- Overall: 940/3981