TCS NYC Marathon Race Recap
New York was a whirlwind! It was such an amazingly cool experience, but my mind was definitely in a sensory-overload state for at least a week after the race. My brain was like the fried egg in those old commercials that described a brain on drugs. I was thankful for the race but also tired. Thus, weeks later, I’m finally getting around to collecting some of my thoughts.
In the days leading up to the race, I got increasingly nervous. I’m not sure if it was because NYC is like the biggest stage for marathons or because I felt more pressure to perform as part of the professional field. I do know that even though I got in all of the necessary longs runs and had been consistently doing workouts for months, I was still anxious about my overall mileage during my buildup. In short, it wasn’t great. I ran mostly in the 50s each week while the professional women were probably logging upwards of 120 miles per week.
While my mileage is never as high as Des’, it was lower than normal due to a case of mild peroneal tendonitis which occurred as a result of rolling my ankle several times during training. Even though the injury was classified as “mild,” it was bad enough for me to almost throw in the towel for NYC and cancel my race plans. Fortunately, about a month and a half out from the race, I saw an orthopedic surgeon who prescribed some serious anti-inflammatories which turned out to be a total game changer. I would say that my tendonitis was probably 99% better going into the race. And being healthy on race day counts for a lot.
Before the race, I would ask EVERYONE for advice. One of my favorite questions that I would ask those that had run both Boston and New York was “Which course do you think is harder?” One answer that stuck with me was “whichever course has the worst weather that day.” In Boston this past Spring, the weather wasn’t great. It wasn’t terrible (since Boston has had some truly terrible weather days) but, again, it wasn’t great. This year, NYC weather was shaping up to be as close to perfect as you can get.
I would, of course, ask people about the course and any additional advice that they could give. Everyone talks about the course being so hilly, but Allie Kieffer (who sat at our dinner table the night before) assured me that it really wasn’t that bad. She also mentioned carrying an extra gel just in case I missed a bottle. And, on the note of bottles, another great piece of advice that I got was to open and close the bottles that I was provided for my fluids 10 times each before I dropped them off to be carried to our fluid tables on race morning. David Monti (New York Road Runners Professional Athlete Consultant) explained to me that the bottles are hard to open when they are brand new so if I opened and closed them several times, then they would be easier to open on race day.
The only person that I asked advice regarding how fast I should try to run was my fiancé, Franklin. He told me to shoot for a sub-2:40. His words were “if you don’t break 2:40, it’s because of the course, but you can run sub 2:40.” With Franklin’s vote of confidence and lots of other advice from my fellow runners, I strangely started to feel less anxious in the last 12 hours or so before the race. Perhaps at that point, I was just ready to rock ‘n roll.
The morning hours leading up to the start were all a bit surreal. There’s that moment when you are sitting on the professional women’s bus being escorted through Manhattan when you wonder what you have gotten yourself into. I was going to have to run all the way from Staten Island back to Manhattan, up to the Bronx, and then back down into Manhattan – faster than I had ever run 26.2 miles before and on a hilly, challenging course. Gulp.
But I went through the motions of the pre-race schedule that morning. We unloaded at an indoor track that was a few minutes from the race start. I mostly sat around with friends except for a brief one-mile jog. Then, it was time to go and back on the bus. When we arrived at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge on Staten Island, we took a last bathroom break and then walked to the start for some final warmup drills and strides.
Standing and trying not to shiver in my race kit at the starting line, I had so much energy running through me. I was lining up with some of the best marathoners in the world at the start of the largest marathon in the world. Moments before the start, Sam Grotewold (also with the New York Road Runners) told us that they had never had better weather in New York. He said that if there were ever a day to run fast in New York, today was the day.
With the sound of a cannon, we were off. It was insanely windy but fortunately the wind was at our backs as we began to attack the bridge. In past years, the entire women’s professional field had stayed together for a while (or so I was told). However, it seemed only moments after we started running that the leaders were pulling away. I looked around to locate some other women to form a pack. Slowly, five of us found each other and we ran, side-by-side, together up the bridge as “New York, New York” played over a loud speaker.
The plan for the group (which I learned the night before at the pre-race dinner) was to run around “2:40 effort.” The first mile up the bridge was a 6:29. I didn’t know what to expect but the effort felt right. The next mile coming down the other side was 5:53. Then, the third mile was a 6:10. Oooh. A little slow. I felt like that third mile should have been faster. Warm-up was over and it was time to get down to race pace.
I slightly picked the effort up a bit, but then I realized that I was pulling away from everyone. No one was coming with me, and there was a huge gap between our pack and the next runners up the road. Oh crap. I was willingly entering no-mans land.
It wasn’t the group’s fault. They said that they were going to run at 2:40 effort which should be at least 2:42+ pace on the hilly NYC course. My body, however, was finding a marathon effort that was just a tad faster.
Mile four was a 5:57. I was either having a good day or making a big mistake. I just hoped that I wouldn’t see any of my friends again until after I crossed the finish line.
Mile five was a 5:55. It’s fine. Just a fast mile. I would check my watch after each mile split but never during the mile. I was trying to just focus on effort and not on hitting a certain time. The first few solo miles were fast, but I think it was probably also a faster section of the course. I believe the wind was at my back and I had some long straight sections.
Very early in the race I started telling myself things like “you’re having a great day” and “today is your day.” I repeated these mantras many times throughout the race, and I believed it.
Roughly every 5K we had our professional bottles laid out. I would alternate between Maurten drink one 5K and then water with a Gu Roctane tapped to it the next. I used these stations as ways to break up the race. Thru the 5K and got my first bottle. Check. First gel down. Check. Next up is another bottle of Maurten. I was clicking off miles and checking off fluid stations. It was fun unexpectantly seeing Franklin at the 10K as I grabbed my bottle. Before I knew it, it was 10 miles down and I started looking forward to the halfway mark. I was excited to see how fast I would come through.
I crossed the halfway mark on the Pulaski Bridge in 1:19:38. Beautiful. It was the fastest half that I had ever run in a marathon, and I was under 2:40 pace. However, the most challenging section of the course was the Queensboro Bridge and it was rapidly approaching.
NYC is known for its many bridges…they are what make the course tough. However, the only two bridges that stick out in my mind are the Verrazano-Narrows at the start and the Queensboro bridge around mile 15. Because you attack the Verrazano-Narrows with fresh legs and a tank full of energy, it isn’t hard. The Queensboro bridge, on the other hand, is a meat grinder.
From mile 15 to the 25K mark (15.5 miles), I ran at a 6:46 pace. It was way too early in the race to start pushing so I focused on just getting up and over the bridge. Coming back down I was around 5:51 pace. Still, I lost time on this monster.
Hitting first avenue at mile 16, I was careful not to get overly excited about the crowds and run too fast. I was still trying to maintain the same effort, but the first sixteen miles had slowed my pace a bit. According to tracking, my next few splits were as follows: Mile 17 – 6:08. Mile 18: 6:07. 30K: 6:08 pace. Mile 19: 6:06. According to my watch, my splits were: Mile 17 – 6:14, Mile 18: 6:02, Mile 19: 6:05. The discrepancy between these splits is why I always take my watch with a grain of salt. And that’s more or less what I told myself to do for the next few miles of the race when I saw some slow splits.
It was also somewhere around this section of course that I passed my first runner. On the long straightaways, I had seen a woman up ahead for some time but I don’t think it was until Manhattan that I caught her.
My watch mile 20 was a 6:11. I was definitely getting a little nervous about my slowing pace, but I tried to convince myself that it might just be the course (or my watch). Just keeping running. There is no secret. Just keep running. I picked it back up a bit: Mile 21 – 6:08, Mile 22 – 5:57, Mile 23 – 6:04. Somewhere in there, I think I moved up another spot or two.
At the technical meeting, it was mentioned that the slower women may have their bottles moved to just one table at the last aid station if the men were approaching. Thus, I was not surprised that volunteers were indicating that my bottle was going to be on the last table at the 36K elite fluid station. At the meeting, I remember thinking that this might be a problem and, sure enough, there looked to about a dozen plus bottles bunched together on a small table. I spotted my bottle on the second row and went in for the grab. Unfortunately, I came back with only the pipe cleaner (that I had used to decorate my bottle) in my grasp. I remember looking at it, almost comically, and then tossing it away. Fortunately, thanks to Kieffer’s advice, I had a Maurten gel stored in my bra. I whipped it out, tore open the package, and then emptied the sweet gel as I approached a water stop. I grabbed a cup of water to wash it all down. It was perfect. Crisis was averted.
If the Queensboro bridge is the toughest part of the course, then mile 24 is the second hardest. I knew that there would be some uphill here (70 ft according to Strava), but what I did not expect was the headwind. It was almost laughable how hard it was at times. I felt like I was barely moving when I got hit by a few gusts. The only bright spot in this slow stretch was the Oiselle cowbell corner. The team lifted my spirits and helped me get through a challenging section. Mile 24 – 6:18.
Shortly before turning into Central Park, I passed another woman. Later, I would find out that I had just moved into 20th place.
I seriously remember thinking about Shalane Flannigan and watching her race to a NYC victory in Central Park. It was go-time and I started to push. I could smell the finish line, and I knew I was no longer in danger of blowing up. Mile 25 – 5:56.
I loved the rolling hills and all the turns in the park. The course tricked my brain into thinking that I was making so much progress and that the finish line was right around the corner.
The crowds were INSANE. All day, I couldn’t hear myself breath because people were cheering so loudly. In Central Park, it was even louder and more intimate on the narrow park streets.
There was one section where I think the course kicked me back out of the park and I had what seemed like a super long straightaway. Oh no. I thought I was almost done. Keep pushing, PJ. Keep pushing.
And then I was back in the park, and I felt like I was seriously getting close this time. For a while, camera crews and lead vehicles had been passing me. I knew the leader(s) were close, but I wasn’t sure how close. I was approaching the 26-mile maker and that’s when the male winner passed me. I told him “Good job” because at that moment, he just seemed like any other runner that has passed me in a marathon. Only later would I fully appreciate his accomplishment. Watch mile 26 – 5:48.
I glanced down at my garmin to try to calculate if I was going to break 2:40. I thought I had it until I realized that .2 miles still takes some time (Note: my math skills are not so great at mile 26 of a marathon). I started realizing that it was going to be tight, so I pushed even harder. As I charged up the final hill to the finish line, I had a shooting pain in my left hamstring. Oh dear God. Don’t let me stop now when I’m so close. The pain only lasted a second fortunately and I kept working. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch. 2:40:04. I had just missed a sub-2:40, but if you had seen me at that moment, you wouldn’t have known. I was just so happy because it was a PR by about a minute and a half. I was also 9th American.
I may have run the TCS NYC Marathon mostly by myself, but I know that there were so many people who helped me get across that finish line. I am thankful to my fiancé, my friends, my Charlotte Running Club training partners (who are also my friends), my massage therapist Adrienne Blackwood, Dr. John Ternes at OrthoCarolina, my sponsor and team Oiselle, and many others that have helped me in previous training cycles such as chiropractor Ryan Danner and coach Brad Hudson. And I want to thank the good folks at Balega who were kind enough to send me a box of socks (better than a box of chocolates!) after the race to congratulate me on the NYC success and to support my training for the Trials. There are truly so many great people in this sport, and I am so appreciative of what everyone has given me. I only hope that I can give back as much to others and the sport as I have been given.
Very nice, Paula. This blog is awesome. My son lives in Charlotte now. I found this when I was looking for a Strava segment in that area for next time I visit. I found a 20 mile run you did in December and set 9 Strava coarse records. Best of luck with the Olympic Trials.