My last post was a marathon recap and it’s crazy how much has happened in the course of 5 months from one marathon to the next, including a Presidential election. Perhaps I’m choosing to write tonight as a distraction from what’s happening to the fate of the future of our country. I’m much happier reflecting on my new PR just two days ago at the TCS NYC Marathon. Long story short, I finished the NYC marathon in 3:33:31, a time that crushed my previous PR from 2013 by 2:11. AND it earns me a 2018 BQ by a 7 minute margin! While I am still riding this runner’s high, possibly one of the things that makes this PR so sweet is that it’s not even what I set out to do. I set out to run smart, to run a specific race strategy; I set out to run through pain, to run with everything I had in me. I set out to finish hard. As it turns out, the combination of these things resulted in an incredibly rewarding race and new PR.
Custom Marathon Training
Over Memorial Day Weekend I ran the Buffalo Marathon with high hopes of earning a solid BQ finish time. For many reasons that did not happen. I spent the summer rebuilding a base and like so many runners trudged through steaming hot and humid runs. Somewhere along the way, marathon training for the NYC Marathon restarted. I got into NYC via lottery and it would be marathon #11. And coming into marathon #11, I was experiencing my 11th new marathon training plan. I have not trained the same way twice for any marathon. These last two have been under the custom guidance of Coach Scott Fishman and it wasn’t until the final 4 weeks of training that finally I started to get back into marathon training. I had a couple great long runs and most importantly I had a fantastic half marathon during the Baltimore Running Festival. The strategy for this race was one that I executed right, felt good about, and that resulted in a confident finish. It was not a 13.1 PR but it was exactly how a well run and rewarding race should feel. The Baltimore Half Marathon was also 3 weeks before NYC so timing was ideal.
For me, the combination of this well executed half marathon, following Coach’s plan (including his consistent strong suggestion to meditate), and a host of other little details added up to a successful NYC Marathon. Here’s what worked.
NYC Marathon Recap
I went into the NYC marathon calm and confident. I felt good about the long runs I had leading into this race and I felt empowered by the half marathon performance I’d had three weeks prior. I found time (honestly thanks to the shorter runs during my taper) to practice 10 minutes of guided meditation every day using the Calm app. While I “fought” this addition to my routine despite believing in the benefits it would provide, I genuinely believe that the meditation played a role in my run results. Leading into this marathon, not once, literally not once during my training, did I have a finish time goal or pace goal. I had a general sense of what I wanted to do and figured based on my training I was capable. My hope was that I could run under 3:40 for a BQ. That was it. My goal was as simple as that.
Three nights before marathon morning I had an hour long pre-race strategy call with coach and everything came together. A year’s worth of working together; a prior marathon; a hot summer; a great half marathon; a new marathon training plan that was a simple mix of easy runs, one day of cross-training, runs with strides, and long runs that included fuel/hydration practice; meditation; connection with teammates also running NY; and a pep talk only a coach can provide…it all came together.
My plan was positive splits. Any good marathon advice will include “don’t go out too fast.” Nearly all of my races defy this advice even when I try otherwise. In Buffalo, going out too fast burned me hard for the rest of that race. I was to aim for a 9 minute pace the first 2 miles, then turn on a better clip of an 8:08 average through mile 14, ease down to 8:20 through mile 24, and gut it out with everything left in the tank for the last 2.2. My overall race goal that we ID’d 3 days pre-race was an 8:15 average pace. I wrote this – and many other race strategy notes down. I read them for 3 days in a row. I wrote my split goals on my arm. I shared these goals with my team and my friends.
I think a different post warrants all the nitty gritty of this race because there are details to it that I would like to share with future NYC marathoners. (Literally everything from the bus ride from midtown to the village to the start, dealing with congested water stops, and why you should choose the bag check option vs poncho.) But for now I want to focus on what worked for me while it is fresh.
NYC Mile by Mile
Miles 1-2: My goal was to run a 9 minute pace. I was wave 1, green, corral C which meant I was the lower bridge and as I had been warned, I lost GPS satellites and had to run by feel. I tried very hard to follow the advice of just run slower but it was very hard to gauge. And it was windy, and cold, and the first two miles of a marathon. I think I averaged in the 8:30 range.
The experience: It was SUPER windy on the bridge, the loss of GPS was definitely disorienting, but these miles went very fast and the incline was not noticeable at all.
Miles 3-13: My goal was to average 8:08. I had been warned the Brooklyn crowds would be energetic and they did not disappoint. I ran too fast. I had to stop at a porta pot at mile 4 or it would’ve ruined my whole race. These miles, as anticipated, felt easy and fast.
The experience: WOW. I remember thinking about Boston during these miles and the crowd there and how it compared. These races are so similar in that each and every mile is lined with spectators which makes such a huge difference. Brooklyn was awesome. I thought about friends who live there and how much fun it must be to live there.
Miles 14-24: My goal was to average 8:20. I was NOT, under any circumstance to run too fast and I did. I have only one mile slower than 8:20 which was the bridge at mile 15-16 which I did not love at all. It was a covered bridge, dark, uneven footing, windy…nothing good for someone who did not have her prescription sunglasses on.
The experience: I did not enjoy whatsoever the bridge at mile 15-16. Other than that, this stretch was fine. 1st Ave was amazing, very similar to Brooklyn and also reminiscent of coming down Boylston St in Boston. The crowds, the bands, the volunteers…everyone was amazing, inspiring, and energetic. Maybe a little too energetic.
Miles 25-26.2: My goal was to just run fast, to gut it out, to power through pain. And that is exactly what I did.
At mile 23.5, I remember this, still climbing up 5th avenue, I finally allowed myself to look at my overall time instead of just my pace. When I looked at the time I knew I had a chance to PR and realized this would be the true test of my grit, determination, belief in myself, and my ability to run through pain. I channeled my meditation, coach’s mantra “Execute. Dig Deep.,” my husband’s general advice “just run faster,” my last long run that included a fast finish, my half marathon that included a fast finish…I let everything come together for the last 2.2. Those splits are 7:31, 7:43, and 7:30 for the last .2 (or .4 per my Garmin).
The experience: Somewhere along 5th Ave I realized I was on 5th Ave which had been described as the worst hill. I would absolutely equate it to Heartbreak Hill. If it weren’t at that stage in a marathon, you’d likely not even know there was a hill. But I just wanted to know when I would be at the top and when I would have sight of the finish. The little bend rounding 5th Ave to Central Park was a shaded stretch of the street that oddly was less crowded with runners. We had finally, in the last 2 miles, found some breathing room. Once in the park, I followed coach’s advice and just tried to run exactly on the blue line, the flattest part of the road. I remember really wanting to notice the crowd but only caring about how hard I was running and how close I was to the finish.
I ran this race one single mile at a time. That was it. I checked my watch at least 5-6 times per mile to see how I was against goal pace. When I knew I was consistently under goal, and still feeling good, and when I knew I had a shot at a PR, once again, it all came together. I went directly into the mental state required for running a marathon and finished what I set out to do which was run those last 2.2 miles as hard as I could. And I did. And I PR’d.
Thank you NYC. Thank you Coach. Thank you Brooklyn, and Queens, and Harlem, and Manhattan, and the 50,000 other runners with your contagious energy. Thank you family and friends. Thank you meditation. Thank you marathon for keeping me humble, excited, challenged, and inspired.