2017 New York City Marathon race report
It was the morning of the big race - the NYC Marathon. I was standing in my corral oddly calm with a sense of confidence that I wasn’t quite used to. As I looked around, I was surrounded by men. I made a point to count the number of women I could see – maybe 12? It was hard to tell; I was standing shoulder to shoulder in a sea of people. I was grateful for the deep crowd that shielded me from the wind. It was cloudy with a slight drizzle, around 55 degrees, and I was doing all that I could to keep warm as I stood shivering in my light t-shirt and shorts. Perfect weather for a marathon, I thought.
"Should I go for it?"
We were slowly walking towards the start, when a friendly runner turned to me and joked about feeling like she had to pee. “Doesn’t this always happen? Pre-race nerves make you feel like you have to hit up the porta potty one last time.” We were talking about our race goals when I noticed that beyond my corral’s 3:10 pace group sign, which was held high above the heads, I saw the 3:05 pace group in a corral farther up. “Should I go for it?” I asked. Moving up several rows of people is no easy feat, especially when it’s the world’s largest marathon. “Yes, get up there!” She wished me luck and I did my best to politely weave my way through the massive crowd.
Just remember the good runs
I had been training at a 7 minute per mile pace at home, and nailed my last long run. Just remember the good runs, Greg, my coach, told me. I didn’t know what time I was going to get that day, but I knew that I was going to run a personal best. Settling in with a pace group that would be hitting slower miles than I was used to seemed silly. Letting myself settle wasn’t an option; I trained way too hard to let myself become complacent.
Zigzagging through the crowd
The start of the race had phenomenal views as we ran two miles across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge from Staten Island to Brooklyn. I took a second to appreciate the moment and the magnificent scenery, but quickly returned to my focused race mode mentality as I didn’t want to let the 3:05 pace group out of my sight. Unfortunately, I didn’t quite work my way up to my desired pace group prior to the start, so I spent the first mile zigzagging through the crowd. The first mile went by: 8:00 minute pace. Damn. This was much slower than what I would have liked, but I was hopeful as I had greatly narrowed the gap between the pacing group and me.
Once I was with the group, I was pleased with how comfortable I felt hitting paces between 6:50 and 7:03 minutes per mile. Two other women were in the group with me and we all had similar goals. At the time, my best marathon was a 3:20, while their best times were 3:11 and 3:08. It was surreal to be able to speak in sentences without losing my breath and to be able to run with great marathoners who had personal bests much faster than mine. We all agreed that we were going to stick with the group for as long as we could. The camaraderie felt good.
The first fourteen miles of the race were comfortably hard. It was exciting to run through the half marathon mark ten seconds faster than my personal best, which was a nice confidence boost. At this point, there were small undulations on the route with the largest climb occurring at the start of the marathon on the first bridge. I was keeping pace very well with the group, until the Queensboro Bridge, when I began a climb of approximately 111 feet for over half a mile.
I feel light, I feel fast, I feel free
My long runs at high elevation in Prescott often included elevation gains of over 1,000 feet, so when people told me that New York had a lot of “hills,” I wasn’t too concerned. About half way through the climb, I could have sworn that my group was picking up the pace. Why are they running so fast? I realized that my breathing rate was increasing and I felt my effort switched from comfortably hard to hard.
Your pace will slow as you go uphill. Don’t increase your effort to keep the same pace. I remembered Greg running with me on my last pacing run two weeks prior, giving me race day tips. He was right. I needed to slow down, which meant that I needed to leave the group. Although I was disappointed that I had to back away from the group, I wasn’t about to burn myself out when I still had another 11 miles to go. I feel light, I feel fast, I feel free. I used my usual mantra to help me stay on track and took an energy gel.
Are we there yet?
As I rounded the corner at mile 16, finally coming off of the Queensboro Bridge, I entered Manhattan. As I was finding my 7 minute per mile legs again, I glanced up at a Jumbo Tron, to watch Shalane Flanagan cross the finish line. What an honor to follow the footsteps of my idol, the first American woman to win the NYC Marathon in 40 years! I used her win as motivation to plug through the next 7 miles.
Within this span, I passed both women who had been in the 3:05 pace group, at mile 18 and then at mile 20. They looked like they were struggling, so I cheered them on and gave encouragement. I had been bummed earlier that I wasn’t able to stay in the pacing group with them, but I was glad that I had listened to my body and slowed my pace when I did. Unbeknownst to me (I didn’t study the course map too well), I had another big climb ahead of me.
A marathon is 20 miles and then a 10k
My coach and I had talked about the possibility of negative splits. I spent countless hours on the track working on mile repeats at paces 40 to 60 seconds faster than race pace, to prepare me to finish strong the last 6 miles of the race, when your body wants you to be DONE. At mile 20, I didn’t feel like I had the energy to go any faster, so I tried to hold onto my 7 minute pace.
At mile 23, I saw the long, gradual hill. Dammit. No one wants to go up a hill at this point in a marathon. I felt my legs begin to stiffen up, on the verge of what could be a cramp. Fearing a debilitating muscle cramp, which happened to me at my last marathon, I took Hot Shot, which is 1.7 oz of ginger spiciness that nips cramping almost immediately. The cramping stopped, but my stomach turned as my body didn’t know how to handle such an intense flavor after over 2.5 hours of grueling exercise.
Please don’t throw up, I told myself. I had a small handheld water bottle that Greg had lent me (I will never do another marathon again without one!), which had a little bit of water left in it, so I took a swallow, and felt slightly better.
Just 3 more miles, c’mon, Jess!
I felt my form deteriorate and I couldn’t help the grimacing on my face (which, by the way, makes for very attractive race photos). I pushed my legs, I pumped my arms, and dug deep, thinking of my friends, family, my Run Far charity and teammates, and coach, Greg, with High Altitude Training Institute for all the support that was given to me over the long training weeks leading up to the marathon. Don’t give up now.
A new personal best
I crossed the finish line: 3:08:22. I did it! For two years, I tried to break 3:20, and on that day, I was able to run 12 minutes faster. I never would have thought that this was possible 6 months ago. Now, as I approach a new training season, I look forward to seeing where High Altitude Training Institute will take me. The 2018 race calendar includes the Boston and Chicago Marathons. Do I see a sub 3 marathon in my near future? Anything is possible, right? Believe and achieve.
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