Race Report – New York Marathon 2015

Ouch! It was a miserable New York Marathon race today. I completely fell apart at mile 18. My mind gave up. My body just about gave up. I did finish but was slower by 30+ minutes than my goal to finish in an official time of 4:14:49. There were so many pain points and lessons learned that I will write blog tomorrow about the peculiarities of the New York Marathon. Here’s a play-by-play on the race:

5:00AM: I woke up and showered. I had barely slept. I was up every hour to see if it was time. By the end of the day today, I will have checked off 2 of the 6 Marathon Majors. I have trained hard for this race. I was determined to have a good day. I dressed slowly and methodically. I checked off everything I needed for the race. I had half a cup of coffee. I packed 4 Gatorade endurance gels and 4 Stinger waffles in my new fuelbelt. I was hoping it would hold up.

6:35AM: I left my room and made my way to Grand Central station. The hotel lobby was chaotic with confused runners going helter-skelter with last-minute chores. I took the short walk to the subway, bought my ticket and boarded the 4-5 trains to Bowling Green. The train was packed; I had to stand but so far, it was smooth.

7:00AM: The Long Island Ferry terminal was crowded. I estimate that there were 6,000 of us crowded in the terminal. After a brief wait, we went up the escalator and waited for the door to open. There are 4 doors and they open randomly. We waited near a door for it to open. It finally did and we moved forward. With a couple of hundred people in front of me, it closed. A different one opened for the next ferry. And yet another different one for the next ferry. We waited patiently making small talk with random people. By the time our door opened again and we boarded the ferry, it was around 8:15AM. Ya, we waited for more than an hour. Frustrating!

8:15AM: About two thousand of us boarded the ferry. I found a quiet seat and closed my eyes. The ferry moves slowly and smoothly towards Staten Island. We passed the Statue of Liberty on the right as people took thousands of pictures. I was not carrying my iPhone. No picture for me!

8:45AM: We reached Staten Island, went up the escalator and had to take a bus to the starting line. Once again, the scene was absolute chaos. There were dozens of buses waiting to transport us and there were thousands of people waiting in line. The line moved slowly and definitely not methodically. It was around 9:30AM by the time I boarded a bus. Yes, another chaotic wait! I found a seat on the bus and sat next to an Indian girl. It was her first marathon. We made small talk about running. It took about 30 minutes but we finally reached the starting line at 10AM

10:00AM: The starting area was yet another chaotic scene. I was scheduled to start in wave 2, corral F. It was already closed. I managed to enter corral F of wave 3 and also managed to move up to corral B. Instead of starting at 10:15AM, I would start the race at 10:40AM. My pre-race meditation, stretching, nutrition, etc. was out the window. It would lay a pathetic foundation of what was to follow.

10:40AM: Some famous singer sang “America the Beautiful” and I was off and running the New York Marathon with the sound of two cannons. In spite of all the waiting and slight lack of water and nutrition, I felt good. There was a slight tail wind that would carry me through. Or so I hoped…

Mile 1 to 4: The first mile is straight uphill on the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. There were way too many people to run at any pace. I started with a slow jog. I looked down at my Garmin to see what my heart was doing. It was already flirting up into the mid 140s.I’m a pathetic uphill runner. Even going more than 10-minute-mile pace, I was feeling the strain in my quads and my heart. The first mile felt labored but the first major uphill was done.

The second mile is straight downhill on the bridge. My heartrate settled a bit and my speed picked up. Unfortunately, with hundreds of slower runners around me, it was really hard to run fast. I was weaving through traffic using up valuable energy. I was stopping and starting using up even more valuable energy. Little did I realize how this would cost me later in the race.

After taking a left, the third and fourth miles are gentle uphills. My heartrate began to climb again. I wanted to regulate it under 145 but didn’t manage that. I was feeling good. I thought, “maybe today I will be able to sustain my high heartrate for the entire race.” In retrospect, that was a stupid thought!

Mile 5 to 8: This long, stretch of Brooklyn neighborhoods is cheered on by thousands of locals. The streets are uneven, crowded and undulate down and up constantly. I was trying to find someone to follow at my speed but the scene was too chaotic to zero in on a specific person. At every mile, there was a Gatorade and water station that I stopped at for a few seconds. I had no choice because the runners created a traffic jam at the stations! I ate my first Gatorade gel at mile 5 and ran on through at a pretty smooth pace. My heartrate was into the 150s now but I was still under the delusion that all was well.

Mile 9 to13: The ups and downs continued along with a few lefts and rights through this still-crowded patch of 4 miles. My heartrate went up on the uphills and came down just a bit on the downhills. My pace slowed with time and my effort started to feel hard. My quads were burning now. I felt a slight knot in my right hip but thought nothing of it. I had a mild tailwind helping me along but that didn’t seem to help. I passed dozens and dozens of runners who were walking. It would be a long walk home to the finish line for them. I ate a Stinger waffle at mile 10. It was just before the hour-and-a-half mark.

Miles 14 to 16: Right after mile 13, there is a steep but short hill (another bridge) that took us to the half-way mark. I was still optimistic about the race but knew in the back of my mind that I was being unrealistic. After crossing the 14th mile, I saw runners on the Queensboro bridge. They were obviously running uphill and the bridge height looked like a skyscraper. I ate a pack Gatorade gels as I began the climb, I knew it was only a matter of time before I was toast. I had slowed, my heartrate was now in the mid 150s and my body was starting to hurt.

In the middle of the Queensboro bridge, I saw an ambulance take a runner away on a stretcher. Ouch. I hope he is okay He didn’t look good.

Mile 17 and 18: Right after the steep downhill coming off the Queensboro bridge and entering Manhattan for the first time, all runners looped around and went under the bridge to go uptown. This is another straight stretch (1st Ave) with thousands and thousands cheering us on. I was struggling. I was trying to draw energy from the crowds. The road has the same ups and downs. Plenty of people were walking. Some were jogging slowly. At mile 18, there was a Powerade station where I picked up a vanilla gel pack. I sucked it down only to make my stomach queasy.

I also noticed that my heartrate was showing in the 180s. That had to be a mistake. At that heartrate, I would be puffing and panting and would be completely exhausted. I wasn’t. I was just super super super sore. My quads were shot. My calves were shot. My mind was shot.

I ran on slowly. My early optimism had turned. I tried to zero in on a runner to follow him or her as my key. It didn’t work. As we crossed into the Bronx, I started to walk. My body had a bit of energy left but my mind had given up. It was now just a matter of finishing. I decided to walk for a minute every mile and take it from there.

Mile 21 to 24: The bridges of New York had humbled me. Each time I saw one, a knot appeared in my stomach. I wanted to hide. Much as I didn’t want to walk, I had no choice. At even the slightest of uphills, I would walk. On the downhills, I would jog slowly. I followed a few people. The guy in black; the girl in the pink headband; the short Asian woman with a blue bandana. They were all in the same boat. After a few hundred meters, they would stop running and start jogging. We entered Central Park with more hills. The crowds thickened. The cheering was loud. My headphones were off. I decided to have some fun with the crowd high-fiving lots and lots of spectators. They were all receptive to my hand. On race day, even New Yorkers are the friendliest people in the world.

I ate another gel at mile 21 and another at mile 24. I had no nutrition left but I only had a mile to go!

Mile 25 to the finish: Right after the mile 25 marker is a steep but short downhill. Naturally, my pace had accelerated knowing that I only had a mile to go and it was downhill. I heard my name. Naman, Binita, Kruti and Shruti were cheering me on. It was a welcome sight. I ran to them and stopped for a few seconds to say hello.

Two more right turns and I’d be to the finish line. I ran with renewed energy. The last stretch is a bit uphill but I ran on.

I took the final right turn at Columbus Circle to enter Central Park. 400 meters to go. Crowds thickened even more. I passed the 26 mile marker. 200 meters to go. I still couldn’t see the finish line. A final uphill and I saw it. I finished the final half-a-mile strong but had a pretty pathetic race.

4:14:59 is my official time but I received the medal with grace.

The rest of the day was spent hobbling around on sore legs. I will sleep well tonight. In the next day or two, I will blog about tips for the New York Marathon.

For now, I am going to bask in the glory of finishing yet another marathon. Pretty soon, my concentration will shift to London!

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