NYC Marathon – Experience of a Lifetime (Part 3) The Race within a Race

12 Nov

Before I go into a detailed race report for the NYC Marathon last Sunday, there are are a couple of things to say:

1. I am a very competitive person when it comes to running.  But NOT with other people.  I never show up to a race and look around and say, “I want to beat her and her and him” or “I want to finish in the top 10.”  I look at myself in the mirror before a race and say “I am going to beat YOU”. I am competitive with myself.  I think it’s fair to say that any serious runner has to be – you train for a race, sometimes for weeks or months, with one primary goal in your head…you want to PR (*for those not familiar with the jargon: a PR is a personal record).  You want to beat yourself.  You want to beat the effects of age, pregnancy, childbirth, sickness, stress, or whatever challenge you have faced or are overcoming.  You are stepping up to the start line telling yourself, “I am going to run faster than I ever have before.”  

2. I had waivered months ago about whether or not I should even submit an application to participate in the FL5BC.  Those who know me, understand that I am a solitary runner. I wholeheartedly love running alone – especially during races. Running, for me, has always been my release and to have some alone time that I wasn’t afforded when I was in the army (communal living), at West Point (roommates and communal living), and now that I have a son (I need some time to think like an adult without the babytalk!).  When I race, I  don’t maintain an even pace – it’s all based on how I feel, the terrain, and weather conditions, When my body tells me to slow down, I slow down.  When it tells me it’s feeling good, I speed up.  I’m constantly making adjustments when I race.  And I knew that by participating, I would have to run with 4 people whom I never ran with before. The rules of the FL5BC were this: run together for the first 13.1 miles and then race to the finish.  5 runners with 5 different paces, goals, abilities, and race strategies.  It’s very hard for two people to run a marathon the same way – even if they end up with the same finish time.  Some like to push through the hills, others like to maintain the same intensity (and therefore decrease the speed).  Some like to walk through water points, others cannot slow down because their legs start to cramp.  Some shoot for negative splits, others end up running the first half fast and gradually slowing down.  So I knew that running together would be tough for all of us – and knew that my hopes of running sub 3:20 would be impossible since I would have no control over the pace of the first half.  But, my husband convinced me to submit the application because of the once in a lifetime experience the FL5BC would be – and push my plans of sub 3:20 to a spring marathon.

3. I’m not embarrassed to say that I wanted to win the FL5BC.  But it had nothing to do with bragging rights or plans to post pictures of me breaking the tape.  I wanted to win for a few reasons:
– my son – I kept thinking about how I would love for my son to grow up seeing that his mom not only ran a marathon but won the race she competed in when he was 10 months old.  
– my family (especially my parents) – I may be an adult with a family of my own, but that doesn’t change that I still am my parent’s “little girl”. I wanted to make them proud of me – and I know I didn’t need a victory for that…but seeing how excited my family was in the weeks leading up to the race was more motivation than I could ever explain. 
– to help gain publicity and $1,000 for a charity that I feel SO strongly about – Team Red, White & Blue. It’s a non-profit organization focused on helping wounded veterans reintegrate into society when they return from deployments.  My husband and I are both veterans and feel so lucky and blessed to have returned from our 5 total deployments without any debilitating injuries.  But we know plenty of veterans who were not so fortunate – and are grateful that there are still thousands of soldiers protecting not just our freedom – but, more importantly, our son’s freedom. 
– to give Staten Island good publicity for a change.  I think anyone who is from SI would agree that it is quite frustrating to see some of the reality shows’ portrayal of Staten Islanders.  I wanted to represent SI in the best light possible – and show that there are normal, everyday people from here. 

4. I am going to be completely honest and candid in this recap – I’m not trying to be mean or hurt anyone’s feelings regarding the pace of the first half or in the details of the second half. 

So with all that said, here’s the race recap! 

I had checked previous years splits for the participants of the FL5BC – the last 2 years, the first half was run around 1:53.  I made the assumption that we would be running the first half in about the same pace (8:45).  This turned out to be a bad assumption.  

Mile 1: 9:34.  We stared out very slow. I kept telling myself that it wasn’t a big deal. It’s good to start slow.  We’ll pick up the pace – especially since first mile is uphill
Mile 2: 8:40.  Awesome! We are getting into a grove. Gloves come off. Legs feel great. Comfortable pace. 

Miles 3-13.1: Average 9:18 pace – total time=2:01:45
We ran the first half almost 10 minutes slower than I expected us to run it (I had checked splits from the last 2 years of participants in the challenge and they were all around 1:53).  
It was extremely hard for me to run at a much slower pace than I had been training.  I guess I didn’t realize the negative impact the slow pace would have on me.  My calves started cramping around mile 7 and I found that I couldn’t get into a comfortable rhythm in the later miles.  
I’m NOT complaining about the pace – I signed up and agreed to run the first half with 4 others runners in order to participate in this challenge and knew that the pace would be out of my hands. But, as this is a race report, I have to be honest about how the pace affected me.
On long runs, I let my mind wander. During the race, each time I would start to zone out, I automatically sped up.  It was extremely frustrating to not be able to just run.  I could only think of the pace and slowing down.  To force myself to slow down, I completely changed my stride (shortened it) and by doing so, put more pressure on the balls of my feet.  By mile 7, my calves were on fire and cramping.  
I tried to open up my stride (speed up) and loosen my legs (and then would have to slow down to wait for the others). Unfortunately, it didn’t really work and only seemed to have created the perception that I was pulling ahead and not following the guidelines set forth by the FL5BC.  In truth, I had been told prior to the race that it was NOT necessary to run in a straight line (I actually asked about this during the interview process – after 10 years in the army, I know how difficult it is to run in a straight line for even a couple of miles).  I was told that as long as we were within range of each other, we were fine.  
If you look at the splits of the 5 runners, you’ll see that we’re not more than 2 seconds apart the whole first half!!  Pretty amazing for 5 people that never ran a mile together before!! 

And, we even crossed the halfway point together, in one line, before saying a few words and breaking off to run the second half on our own. 

Mile 14: 8:00. Drew (rep from Brooklyn) and I took off together.  We stayed side-by-side over the Pulaski Bridge and into Queens. My legs felt good and I was happy with the pace.
Mile 15: 7:57. Drew and I were still next to one another. I didn’t want to pick up the pace too much. Drew had run a great half-marathon only a few weeks before with negative splits, so I didn’t want to push too much early on.  But, I also knew Drew had much better speed than I (he is faster than I am on shorter races) so I was worried that if I was too cautious, he would stay with me and then pull away with a few miles left.  It was at this point that I told myself to run my race.  To pretend like he’s not there, run comfortably, and enjoy the crowds. 

Mile 16: 8:10. Queensboro Bridge.  The 1/2 mile up was tough – no one else was running on the bridge so there was no one to try to stick with. We got to the top of the bridge and started the downhill portion together. Drew started to pull ahead. I considered staying with him, but felt that I needed to fully catch my breath from the uphill portion.  After a few moments, he pulled over to the side of the bridge.  As I passed him,  I saw him stretching his calf.  He must have been experiencing the same thing I had a few miles earlier.  He was back to running and right behind me within a few seconds and we continued on.  Another 20-30 seconds passed and when I glanced over my shoulder, he was no longer there.  I looked behind me and saw him stretching again.  I debated going back to check on him but before I could make up my mind, I saw him start running again.  I decided to take advantage of this small window (maybe 50m?) I had gained and push the pace for a few miles to see what happened. 

Mile 17: 7:51
Mile 18: 7:49
Mile 19: 7:52
The crowd along 1st Avenue was SO intense.  I completely zoned out and tried to keep my pace sub 8. Sometime around mile 18, I saw a runner I knew from Staten Island.  He jumped out on the street and was going crazy – told me that I had a block and half lead on the next runner.  Up until that point, I wasn’t sure how much of a lead (if any) I had built.  Knowing that I had a slight lead was exciting to hear.  I felt great and knew I could keep this pace up for another couple of miles. 

Mile 20: 8:07.My calves start cramping terribly going over the Willis Ave Bridge.  I found that if I tried to lengthen my stride to speed up, it only got worse.  So I had to change my stride to alleviate pressure on my calves.  Doing so made it tough to go much faster than an 8:00 min/mile. 

Mile 21: 8:06. I started to feel dehydrated and my calves were on FIRE.  Then, something amazing happened. There werehuge jumbotrons up ahead.  As I got closer, I saw scrolling photos and messages from my family and friends!  I knew several family members had decided to participate in this sponsored feature of the marathon, but had NO idea that so many of my friends did as well!! For those not familiar with the Support Your Marathoner feature, I would highly recommend doing it for next year’s marathon! Seeing SO many smiling faces (especially my son’s) telling me they believe in me and to finish strong (army strong!!) was all the motivation I needed to keep pushing through the pain I was feeling!!

Mile 22: 8:01 Another jumbotron with MORE messages, photos, and videos from different friends and family appeared just before mile 22.  I really think I ran with a smile on my face for most of the rest of the race.  
Somewhere just before 5th Avenue, my bike escort pointed out the cameraman and police escort up ahead and told me they were waiting for me.  He also gave me the update that he could no longer see the 2nd place runner – that I had built a couple of minutes lead.  I knew that all I had to do was maintain my pace to the finish. 
Loving every moment!
Waving to the crowd!

Mile 23: 7:58 The crowd along 5th Avenue was AMAZING. Despite the 23rd mile being one of the tougher miles in the marathon, I ran one of my better mile splits!  And I was completely enjoying myself and the wonderful opportunity NYRR and Foot Locker had given me.  I am usually all business during races – I typically don’t wave, slap high fives, or smile – but this was different. I was not racing against the clock. I was racing against 4 other people and had set myself up to win.  I didn’t want to wait until the finish line to enjoy this all!  

Running up Central Park hill

Mile 24: 8:24
Mile 25: 8:11
Mile 26: 8:12
The last 3 miles are a blur. My calves were still hurting and I was worried that I would have to walk if they cramped up any more.  I grabbed 2x cups of water and gatorade at each of the last few water stations to ensure I was hydrated enough. 

Me and my bike escort!

The miles flew by.  All I kept thinking about was my family at the finish line and how I couldn’t wait to see and hold my son again! (I’m never really away from him for long periods of time – this was one of the longest stretches to date!)

Before I knew it, my bike escort said goodbye, and I was on my own back in Central Park –  pushing to the finish.  

I had no concept of how long I had been running or what my finish time would be.  For the first time in my life, the number at the clock meant nothing to me. What mattered this time was what was waiting for me at the finish line – my son and husband. 

Excited to see my son and husband!!

Just a few numbers:
1st Half: 2:01:45 – 9:18 pace
2nd Half: 1:45:05 – 8:01 pace
5k splits:
5k: 28:41: 9:14 min/mi
10k: 29:16: 9:25 min/mi
15k: 28:23: 9:08 min/mi
20k: 29:08: 9:23 min/mi
25k: 25:35: 8:14 min/mi
30k: 24:17: 7:49 min/mi
35k: 25:14: 8:07 min/mi
40k: 25:10: 8:06 min/mi
Finish Time: 3:46:49 (8:40 min/mi)

One Response to “NYC Marathon – Experience of a Lifetime (Part 3) The Race within a Race”

  1. Blair Robinson November 13, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Loved reading all of this! Felt like I was there watching or even better running with you! Congrats mama!

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