Sunday 3rd November 2019
Sorry, I’m not very good at being succinct so you might want to put the kettle on (more on that later) and settle in for a long read.
This was my first marathon and I had been told by a lot of people that it would be a learning experience. They weren’t wrong. I learned a lot about running a marathon, or more specifically how not to, and about myself whilst taking in the 26.2 miles of New York City and its 5 boroughs.
I gave myself a 16 week training plan and although aim number 1 was to finish, I did have a time in mind based off my half marathon times. Unfortunately, 3 weeks into the plan I got injured and ended up with 1 week of no running and 3 weeks of light running/recovery. These were tough weeks to get through and I was on the verge of pulling out. At the Vale of York half I decided to just go for it, see what happened and decide from there. I managed a 1:27:39 and although it was hard, there wasn’t any pain, the plan was back on.
I got to New York on the Thursday and visited the Expo on Friday morning, like everything in the USA, it was huge. The volunteers provided a guard of honour for everyone entering the expo, accompanied by clapping, whooping and cheering. Being typically British about it, this was met with a sheepish wave and a muttered “thanks” from me. I managed to not part with too much cash at the expo but did listen to a couple of experienced runners talk about the course and some useful tips (which I then dutifully ignored).
I also then spent the rest of Friday and all of Saturday doing far too much sightseeing, something which I told myself I wouldn’t do and something I would later pay for. On Saturday I did a short 20 minute run and watched some of the Abbott 5km Dash to the Finish race. I later discovered there was a fellow Strider in this race although sadly I missed them
Getting to the start
Despite purposefully getting a hotel close to the bus pick up point, it was still a 5am alarm call to get a bus that would take up to 90 minutes to get to the start. Well, that was the plan, instead, the bus took over 2 hours, to the point where I was still on the bus at 8:10am which was the time my bag drop was due to close. Although there were a lot of runners arriving, the security process was smooth and thankfully the bag drop wasn’t as strict about timings as the website had suggested.
On a side note, the start village was large enough to take up an entire fort (Fort Wadsworth) and had free coffee (with accompanying woolly hat), bagels and bananas. Something I would like to see implemented a lot more (wonder if it can be sorted for Percy Pud) is therapy dogs. Volunteers brought their pooches and runners could just sit with them and stroke them for a while, passing the time before the start.
Being in the first wave I was treated to a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, flag-wielding parachutists, and a fly past by Navy helicopters. Using a cannon as a starting gun and with Sinatra’s New York, New York cranked up to 11 on the PA, we were off.
The first 2 miles are weird, running over the Verrazanno-Narrows Bridge, there was nothing except the sounds of other runners. With views of Manhattan in the distance, Brooklyn in front and the ocean to the East, the 1st mile marker is also the highest point on the course.
Coming off the bridge and you get the first experience of the New York City crowd. The off-ramp was full of people that you heard before you saw them. 3-4 deep for a lot of it and never an empty piece of road, the Brooklyn section is loud. It’s also very straight, there is a 5 mile stretch all on 4th Avenue, and where I crossed paths with a Totley runner. I was counting down the streets as I went, easy enough I thought given their street name conventions. When I got to 1st Street though I had been duped, there were another 10 or so streets where they’d ran out of numbers so had to use names.
After the lumpy start over the bridge I’d settled into my running and was averaging just under 7:00/miles and knew I would see the family just after 8 miles for a pick-me-up.
Half way meant the next bridge, the Pulaski Bridge, out of Brooklyn and into Queens. As well as the half way mark, the bridge allowed for great views over to Manhattan and the Empire State Building in particular. It also allowed the ear drums to recover a bit as there are no crowds allowed on the bridges.
Into Queens and the return of the crowds, and the pain starts. It was around this point I started to slow, drifting out to 7:30/mile and not long before I went even slower. I was starting to pay for a stupid early pace, too much sightseeing, and not enough training miles due to injury. Seeing the family again perked me up but I knew I was in for a long slog from here.
Manhattan (part 1)
The bridge out of Queens, the Queensborough Bridge, was a desolate place. Running on the lower deck made it feel quite claustrophobic compared to the wide avenues of the previous 15 miles, and positioned where it was meant a number of runners were starting to walk for the first time in the race (I suspect this was also to do with the fact there were no crowds there so they could walk in peace). I managed to persevere and continue running, although was overtaken by a Hallamshire Harrier on my way off the bridge.
The reception of the crowd in Manhattan was on another level. New Balance had their cheer zone on the plaza off the bridge and coming round onto 1st Avenue, there were 4 straight, flat, miles with at least one side of the road consistently 4 people deep. Coming into the mile 18 feed station I was so tired I couldn’t open my gel so gave up the ghost and walked. I needed to make sure I could take on the fuel and water and, frankly, needed a rest. Getting out the other end, I picked it up again but was now slower than 8:00/mile and would stay there for the rest of the way.
Another bridge, another borough. Moving into the Bronx I was really struggling but kept moving forward, slowing to a walk through water stations to make sure I was taking on fluids, but running the rest. The Bronx has a reputation for being the quietest part of the route but I don’t know where it gets that from. I think I suffered short term hearing damage from the dubstep being blasted in one of the underpasses while the crowds remained as loud as ever too.
Manhattan (part 2)
Mile 21 saw one final bridge and back into Manhattan and onto 5th Avenue. I’d been warned about 5th Avenue as apparently it had a hill, the only hill that wasn’t on a bridge. Unfortunately before I got to the hill I broke down. Coming through the water station at mile 22 I’d been nursing the onset of cramp for a while but had it managed. Someone decided last minute that they did want a drink after all and cut right in front of me making me half stop and half jump out of their way. This change of direction was the last straw for my hamstring which just screamed at me. I was right outside a medics station when it happened so instead of stretching it myself I took refuge in their tent and had it treated by a professional. This did eat away the time and I think it was a good 4-5 minutes I lost in the end.
Coming out of it though my time picked up (I mean I had just had a 5 minute rest so you know) and I finally got to the hill everyone had warned me about. Thankfully it wasn’t really a hill (not by Sheffield standards) and I picked off a fair few people on the way up, the first time I’d passed people who were still running for a good number of miles.
Coming into Central Park it turned surprisingly undulating and the downhills were now giving my calves a lot of problems. I think it was around this time, about 2.5 miles to go, I realised I wasn’t going to quite make it under 3:30 and started looking for things to blame. I think my most creative one was blaming the American War for Independence some 300+ years earlier (bear with me here…). You see, the Americans, annoyed at having laws passed down from British parliament without having a vote took it upon themselves to rebel. Tea, being the epitome of all things British (e.g. not actually from Britain but we like it so claim it as ours) became a symbol of the anti-British feeling and is the reason why Americans to this day heavily favour coffee as there hot drink of choice (ah, memories of my undergrad history dissertation come flooding back). Now, for me, this meant that my hotel room only had a coffee machine and not a kettle. I could get just water out of it but at best it was moderately warm rather than boiling. In turn, this meant, whilst I had a great cup of coffee, my porridge for breakfast was less than appetising being only lukewarm. I ate it at the time, but it didn’t feel the same and I could swear there was less calories and carbs in it because it wasn’t so hot.
This mind-wandering helped me through to less than a mile to go where I saw the family for one last time before turning back into Central Park for an especially mean uphill final 400 metres. I crossed the line, trying to smile and wave, in a time of 3:32:33. My first thoughts when I finished were, “where’s the water?” How far do I have to walk for my bag, a mile you say? Man, you’re evil,” and “I can do better than this.”
On the walk to pick up my bag there were what felt like a thousand volunteers on hand, all telling us how awesome we all were and offering any assistance they could. I was so tired, I was staring at a kerb thinking, I really want to sit down but don’t know if it’s such a good idea as I might not make it back up. I must have been staring for a while because another runner woke me from my daze asking if I was alright. He had a familiar accent (Geordie, you know, the best one) so we got to chatting on the way to our bags and it turns out he went to school with my brother and grew up a street away from me up in the North East.
Getting the medal around my neck (and then fairly quickly taking it off again because it is ridiculously heavy) did feel good and the more time that has passed the more I do feel proud of what I did. Less than 3 years ago I couldn’t even run 5k, my first parkrun in 2017 (30:23) was slower than every 5k split I did during the marathon (except for the one where I visited the medics which was 33:19) and 3 months before the marathon I couldn’t even run due to injury.
If you’re looking for a marathon where every step of the way you’re made to feel like a superstar, then run this one. The crowds were amazing everywhere, with their noise, their encouragement, their signs and fancy dress.
If you want to run and wear your medal for days then run this one, if you’re lucky you might even get the odd free drink or dessert but you will definitely get random people in the street congratulating you.
If you want to do a marathon where you’ll recognise the scenery whether you’ve been there before or not, run this one.
If I was to do this again (which I do hope to do) there are a few things I would change. I would give myself more time at the start village. My Geordie friend at the end said he got the bus 20 minutes earlier and only took him 40 minutes on the bus (although I think I would choose the ferry next time). I would also change my breakfast to something less affected by the American War for Independence. I would definitely do less sightseeing the days before and would most certainly not spend the following day driving to Philadelphia and walking up the steps from Rocky (it still hurts to think about that now).
53518 people took part in the 2019 New York City marathon, including at least one Strider. Well done to Malcolm Baggaley.
The race was won by Geoffrey Kamworor of Kenya in 2.08.13. The women’s race was won by Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya in 2.22.38.
|6747||Malcolm Baggaley||MV 35||3.32.33|
Full Results: here