Thursday, November 6, 2014

NYC Marathon 2014 - Highs & Lows of running five boroughs

After the year long wait and months of training I finally made it to the start of New York City marathon last Sunday ready to explore 26.2 miles of the beloved city. Weather forecast predicted it to be freezing cold with ridiculous windy conditions. I ignored the forecasts all week before the race hoping they were lying. But they were spot on and I could feel the cold wind blowing when I opened my garage on race day morning. A brave friend from my RVRR running club woke up early on this crazy weather Sunday to drive a packed van of 5 runners to Staten Island. We had a blast picking each other’s brain on their planned strategy to conquer the five boroughs of New York City.
Awesome friends ready to rock NYC
We reached Staten Island by 7:30 am and I was not scheduled to start the race until 10:30 am. I was well prepared with several layers of throwaway clothes. Ate a bagel and banana and sipped Gatorade for breakfast. After few trips to the portapoty I headed to my corral by 10:00 am. 30 minutes before the race I threw away extra layers of clothing and did some dynamic stretches to get warmed up. Despite the cold weather I was determined to run in half sleeve shirt and shorts, as I usually get sweaty during races. Guns went off exactly at 10:30 am and we were off running on top of Verrazano Bridge.
 Aerial shot of Verrazano Bridge(Thanks Google)
Staten Island was the first borough to tackle and Mile 1 was the hilliest part of the course. Wind was blasting us in all directions and my only goal was to run the 2-mile bridge without getting blown off. Just as I ran down the bridge into Brooklyn (2nd borough) there was a wall of A+ noisy & insanely energetic crowd in Halloween costumes screaming at runners on both sides of the road. Stayed in the middle of the road just soaking in the excitement and enjoying all the funny posters enthusiastic spectators held in their hands. I stayed calm for the next 11 miles and tried my best not to get carried away by the crowd support. I was patient and maintained tight control over my 9:30ish pace and ran at this conversational pace till mile 13. Made it to half way point on Pulaski bridge in 2 hours 5 minutes and crossed over to the next borough of Queens. Volume of crowd got thinner and I continued to run at the same pace till I hit the Queensboro bridge at mile 15. No spectators were allowed on this hilly 1-mile Bridge. It was dead silence around and all I could hear was the heavy breathing and feet thumping of runners. along the tough uphill portion of the bridge. I saw many folks who ran like hell on flat roads of Brooklyn were struggling to climb the Queensboro Bridge. Numerous runners were cramping and stretching. I slowed down a bit and kept chugging along the bridge remembering all the hill repeats I had done during the training.
Chugging along Queensboro Bridge
Just as I crossed the 16-mile marker into 1st Ave of York, massive crowd were greeting runners and their noise level was 10 times louder than Brooklyn. My plan was to start pushing my pace a tiny bit. But I let loose and little did I know I was running 45 seconds faster than first 16 miles. I was picking on runners and chasing them down left and right. Passed 4:00 pacer and maintained a clear lead over him all through the fourth borough of Bronx and as I crossed the Wills Ave bridge entering Harlem and all of a sudden my hips began to tighten up and distracted me totally from focusing on my plan. My body was sending warning signs and all the energy I had for mile 17-20 dissipated. Hips and Quads had absolutely no power to continue pushing and I slowed down quite a bit. I began doubting everything from my volume of long runs, strength training to nutrition and hydration.
Ran out of gas by 35k
I looked around and saw many folks struggling to walk and I felt lucky that I’m still running. I relaxed a little and gave myself loads of pep talk. Told myself not to prematurely panic and I’ll deal with whatever happens. I was too caught up in my own thoughts to enjoy crowd support but continued to run south on 5th Ave of Manhattan without looking at my watch and made it successfully to Central Park at Mile 24. After another mile of chugging I saw post-saying 2k to go. My face lit up a little and my legs seemed to be moving tiny bit faster. Little after mile 25 I exited the park and turned right into 59th st and Central park south. Smile was back on my face and started noticing enthusiastic crowd again.
Approaching Columbus circle
Kept fist pumping and high-fiving kids in the crowd grinning at cameras and made the final right turn into Central park at Columbus circle. It was getting insanely real and I crossed the finish line with a huge roar. My finish time was 4:16:27, which is an improvement (PR) of 27 minutes over NJ Long branch Marathon last year.
Almost over

Finishers printed on NY Times . Thanks Elaine for pics
It was incredibly emotional and I could barely walk at that point. Collected my finisher medal and kept moving hoping to find some friends. One of my friends from running club was volunteering at finish putting heat sheets on runners. I hugged her and I got teary-eyed just thinking about what had happened. Last 10k is when you want to feel “How much do you want it “. Sadly that’s when plan and strategy were thrown off. Thanks to all training during polar vortex I handled the windy freezing conditions without any concerns. Probably biggest mistake was letting loose at mile 17 which cost the pace for last 10k. There is a reason why they say marathon starts at mile 20. A friend who ran NYC last year had told me few days ago “You will develop respect for this course”. I now get what he meant. I have a newfound respect for the course, crowd and energy of the race. NYC marathon is truly a world-class event I’m thrilled to be part of it this year.

All my friends had a fantastic day of racing and we wrapped up the evening with food and shenanigans. We absolutely will cherish the sweet memories of this evening for a long time.

That's how we roll after a race !!