NYC Marathon legend has it that the Green-bibbed runners crossing the Verazzano Bridge on the lower level are showered by the orange liquid emanating from the Orange-bibbed runners on the upper level. Whilst I cannot speak to previous years, I can tell you that definitely didn’t happen this year, perhaps because of the threat of expulsion from the race for perpetrators. However, as soon as we were over guys were sprinting to the side of the road to relieve themselves on the wheels of garbage trucks and on concrete barriers. As we passed them a female runner in front of me looked across with a combination of equal parts distaste and envy.
Making our way through Brooklyn there was consistently enthusiastic support – more even than I was expecting and on one of the least glamorous sections of the course. It was even too enthusiastic in some places: police had put up bollards with blue tape between them as markers for people to stand behind. Unfortunately many people decided they wanted to get closer to the action and either pushed the bollards/tape forward, or in many places ignored it altogether and stood well in front. The narrowed road at many spots contributed to crowding of the runners.
One of the tips I’d read in preparing for the run was to avoid weaving around slower runners. The slowing down, sidestepping and accelerating all depletes energy quickly and stores up problems for later in the race. On the Verazzano Bridge that was fine because we were going uphill and I didn’t mind posting a 10:20 mile to start for the sake of keeping in an easy straight line, but too many times to mention during the following 15 miles I’d come up behind someone who was either walking or running significantly slower than me, and I had no choice but to go around them, usually while competing with someone else for the space to do so.
Overall, it probably added nearly half a mile to my race without taking into account all the wasted energy. That wasn’t as bad as some other folks – a lady I was chatting with on the way out of Central Park after the race ended up with a 27.5 mile reading on her GPS – nearly a mile and a half over the official race distance.
Another tip concerned the drinks stations, which I’d successfully dealt with on my previous marathon by always going towards the last of the tables to avoid the crush of people trying to get their drinks at the first table. Unfortunately when a narrow route gets narrower there is little to be gained by waiting for the second half – I was still having to almost literally fight my way across to the tables and then back out into traffic. After a while I gave up and took to hugging the left side of the road as soon as I could see the drinks tables ahead, getting the drink as early as possible and then rejoining the melée to minimize the jostling.
The first half of the NYC Marathon is quicker than the second, but it’s not flat – far from it. In terms of compromising your energy reserves for the latter part of the race, assuming you have good hill-running tactics it’s more likely that the slopes will get you than the hills. When I see a hill coming I try to maintain cadence but shorten my stride so that I’m using the same amount of energy as on the flat without worrying about the pace. With slopes however you don’t always notice them and when I feel myself slowing down my instinct is to try and speed up, which is what creates the problems.
I did a systems check at mile 7 and was surprised and gratified to find everything seemed to be in good working order. Even the very mild left hamstring tightness I’d had for a couple of days was if anything slightly better, and having gone into the marathon figuring I was probably looking at about a 4:10-4:15 finish, at this point my ultimate goal of repeating January’s sub-4-hour race seemed on the cards. My pace was even, averaging slightly over race pace as I slowly worked back from the 10:20 mile one.
That feeling of optimism began to grow over the next few miles, and by the time I approached the half-way point at the bridge into Queens I was very confident of breaking 4 hours, particularly as I didn’t usually feel this good at the half-way point of any long run and I had recovered – fairly evenly – 40 of the 80 seconds I lost in mile 1. I planned to hold race pace for the rest of the race except the 59th Street Bridge and 5th Avenue (where I’d need to slow down), and try for quicker miles possibly at 21, but definitely 24-26. If systems were still functioning at that point it seemed reasonable to suppose I could pull out a couple of 8 minute miles in Central Park purely on the adrenaline boost I’d get from being that close to my goal time and the finish line.
It was going to be close, but it seemed to be there for the taking.