“DO NOT SPEED UP!”, they said with sympathy but an undertone of eye-roll. You’ll mess yourself up for the last three miles, they warned.
Mile 16-17 along First Avenue is by 5% the fastest of the race. The two NYRR trainers giving their advice at the Expo put this down in large part to the enormous buzz you get emerging from the spectator-less 59th Street Bridge onto crowded 1st Avenue as well as the slight down slope.
I did as recommended and kept my pace even, and as we passed underneath the 59th Street Bridge my main focus was seeing Rachael, waiting just past Starbucks on 69th Street. It occurred to me that “Just past Starbucks” was probably a phrase that passed between more than just this runner and his partner. However, she knew within about 10 minutes when I’d be there and made sure she was in position.
When we were chatting before about where she could stand there were a few spots in Brooklyn we spoke about, but I asked her to make sure wherever it was, that she was standing somewhere in the second half of the race, not the first. I knew I’d be looking forward to seeing her face, and that when I did so it would be an enormous lift, which I didn’t want to waste on a phase of the race where I knew I’d be feeling fine anyway. Sure enough, when I saw her I desperately wanted to do one of two things: preferably go over and hug her for a year, or failing that sprint the last 10 miles, which for those few seconds seemed both plausible and sensible.
As I passed grinning and waving, she pressed record several times on her iPhone, successfully catching video of…many people who passed her both before and after me.
Running up First Avenue it really is hard to avoid the thought that you’ve broken the back of the race – after all, you’re in Manhattan, the race finishes in Manhattan, there are crowds everywhere cheering you on…how hard can the rest of it be? Sure, you know if you’ve run a marathon before and you’ve heard it said a thousand times, “The real race starts at 20 miles”, but at 16 miles and with optimism in full bloom, hip flexors causing no ruckus, pork ropes behaving themselves and less tired than at the same point in the Disney Marathon, I allowed myself a smile about how it was going. Optimism was giving way to near-certainty I’d reach the goal I had previously been sure was beyond me. Just sit two minutes behind schedule for the next 6-8 miles I told myself, speed up around 22, slow down for the hill up Fifth Avenue and then give whatever you’ve got for the last two miles to squeak under four hours.
But whatever happens I reiterated to myself, DON’T speed up now, DON’T ‘go off’ too early because then you’ll ruin yourself for the finish.
Except that I also remembered in the Expo, after leaving the talk by the expert trainers I moved on to the pace teams booth – also organised by NY Road Runners. As I stood there waiting to get some information I overheard one of the Team Leaders chatting with a lady about pacing strategy. She mentioned coming onto First Avenue and said that sometimes folks have a tendency to speed up when they get there because of the great atmosphere and the slight downhill.
“What should I do if that happens?” she was asked.
“Just go with it – SPEED UP! If you can run faster, run faster.”