This was the big one, the one race I have been looking forward to running since I decided to enter the New York City Marathon back in 2014 for the first time. I didn’t get in that year or the year after. My wife got in through the lottery in 2016 (read the race chase recap here) and in 2017 I finally got in through the lottery…which then clashed with a family event which led to me having to defer. Quite a build up. 2018 was going to be the year. I had a long time to plan for this.
As you may know from previous races I have run to raise funds and awareness for autism charities over the last few years. This year I chose to run for the Organization for Autism Research (Run OAR). I had met members of this charity group at expos over the years and always promised I would run for them one day. With my own entry I was able to choose to run for them with no minimum fundraising commitment. They were a very gracious team and they provided everyone with a free training plan. Although I had already chosen a specific plan (which I will talk about later in this write-up) I was still able to interact with the team coach and take part in some of their online pre-race presentations.
This was going to be the largest race I have ever taken part in. As soon as I was a year out I was able to book my hotel room. I followed the same trip plan that we my wife and I took back in 2016 when she ran. Staying in ‘Hells Kitchen’ mid-town about a 10 minute walk from the Javits Center and about 10 minutes or so from the New York Public Library where the buses would leave for the race village on the Sunday morning.
So, re-winding a few months before the event I decided to choose a new training plan. This time using the Hansons Marathon Method. This is a unique approach to marathon training and the plan has had a lot of success from professional and amateur athletes alike. I decided to put this to the test for myself and committed to a 14 week plan which would start early August about a week post the New Jersey State Triathlon. The 14 week plan started off at 40 miles per week peaking at 60 miles per week. The longest run on this training plan was 16 miles where previously I would have run 20-22 miles in preparation for the marathon distance. This plan is highly structured and includes two specific speed workouts each week. The mid-week distances were greater than I was used to and with the ‘shorter’ weekend long runs this would explain the distances run each week. One of the key factors behind this plan was ‘cumulative fatigue’ which essentially is to use speed/strength workouts with minimal recovery to build up a stronger base. The aim is not to train for the first 16 miles of the race but the ‘last 16’ miles of the race. I decided to give it a go and programmed all my workouts into Garmin watch ready to go each day. By the way, they were not exaggerating about cumulative fatigue. This training plan pretty much wore me out but I was committed and stuck to the plan as best I could. Whether or not it would work for me would be seen on November 4th!!!
The weekend finally arrived (thankfully…I guess I was getting a bit obsessive about it) and I made my way up to NYC on the train. I met up with our friend Stephanie (who also traveled up and ran in 2016 with my wife) on the train and we traveled up to New York City together. Once we arrived in Manhattan we dropped bags at the hotel and headed to the expo at the Javits Center. Stephanie and I were in the same starting village and wave (blue-wave 2) so we planned on meeting up the next day.
This was a huge expo. I remembered when my wife ran it there was so much to see. The expo volunteers were great. The logistics for getting to and from this race are involve selecting your mode of transport pre-race (bus or ferry) and selecting post race poncho or bag check (it’s all about the poncho). The volunteers made sure that I had all the right details in my packet including wave and corral, wristband for post race poncho and the timing of my transport to the race. Following this was the t-shirt pickup. There was a selection of shirts of different sizes to try on before picking up the shirt. This was a good job as they ran small for their size and so I was glad of the opportunity to make sure I got something that would fit.
From there it was onto the official gear store (run by New Balance this year vs Asics when my wife ran). I tried (in vain) not to spend too much money while there. My goal was to get a jacket from the race. I did get one in the size and color I wanted (one of the last) and I have to say that the Asics jacket my wife got a couple of years earlier was much nicer. Still I would wear this jacket everywhere and as much as I could after the race (weather dependent…it wasn’t a warm jacket).
After checking out of the official race gear store there were some great opportunities for unique photos to remember the weekend by before entering the rest of the expo. Once we were in the main expo, Stephanie and I bid each other farewell until the next day and I was able to spend some time exploring. I stopped by the OAR booth and picked up my charity village wristband which would provide me access to the specially reserved area at the athletes village on Sunday morning.
After spending some time in the expo I made my way back to the hotel to formally check in, get my gear ready for the next day and relax before heading out to the charity dinner at Carmine’s just off Time Square.
One of the things my wife had me do before leaving for New York was to grab a Sharpie and write my name on my shirt. There is so much information on the NYC marathon bib that there is no space for the runners name. She remembers people shouting out names from the crowd and remarked that it was such a great experience I had to find a way to get my name on my shirt. So a Sharpie it was.
After relaxing in the hotel and charging up all my devices for the next day I made my way to the team dinner. It was a great evening with so much food. This was a great team to run for and everyone seemed very excited to be a part of the team. They kept bringing out more and more food but when the mountain of cannolis was brought out I bid my farewells and made my way back to the hotel for an early night…via Starbucks so could get my regular pre-race cookie. The clocks went back an hour during the night so I was pleased to get home early and take advantage of that extra hour of sleep. It was going to be an early wake up the next day.
After a pretty good night’s sleep, the first of my ‘4’ alarm clocks went off at 4:00am. I had set 4 alarms for 4:00, 4:01, 4:02 and 4:03…I wasn’t going to take any chances. My bus was set to leave the New York Public library at Bryant Park at 6am and I still had to check out, stow my luggage and walk across town. I also recalled the long lines for the buses from when my wife ran in 2016. I had a cup of coffee and a breakfast bar for what would be my first breakfast of the day and got myself bundled up together with my race bag (to be disposed of at the race village) and headed out to Bryant Park. I was wrapped up in a few layers and had brought with me a spare mylar blanket and some spare towels to sit down in the starting village. We would be waiting around for a long time.
It was a brisk walk to the buses and once I arrived it was very well-ordered. You get on a bus, it is filled and they go off with minimal fuss. I got settled in for what would be at least an hour ride. I sat towards the rear to the bus and was surrounded by a whole group of British runners, some from my hometown. I tried to start a conversation with my seat mate for the journey only to find out he was Italian and spoke no english. Ha, just my luck. I settled in and enjoyed (?) the ride to Fort Wadsworth over in Staten Island. We arrived at 7:15am. Having been up since 4am it was time for my second breakfast. I wasn’t set to go off until 10:15am so lots of time to wait around although we needed to be in the starting corrals by 9:45am.
Once through security and entering the village I searched out the charity tent area to check in with the team, grab a cup of coffee in the heated tent (and the reserved port-a-potties for the charity village). Getting to the charity village involved moving through a sea of people. With 50,000+ runners in various waves there were plenty of people milling about before the race. Once my wrist band had been checked I went into the charity tent village area to relax for a while. I had plenty of time to wait around and I would spend some time here before going out to meet Stephanie.
After chatting with the other OAR runners I made my way out to meet up with Stephanie in our color village (Blue), after another stop at the private port-a-potties. Although there were signs everywhere as the place was so big it took a while to walk and find Stephanie. Once we were together we hung with a crowd of runners and chilled out until our wave was called. In the meantime we heard the cannon go off for the elite runners and the first wave. A loud bang in the distance. It wouldn’t be long before it was our turn.
We had been chatting with a group of runners from all over and there happened to be another British runner with us. This would be his second marathon and he and I were in the same wave and corral so we hung out until the start of the race. Stephanie was in corral B and I was further back in corral F so we wished each other good luck and made our way off to our respective corrals when they opened at 9:45am. I left my hooded jacket with one of the runners we were hanging with as they were not going off until Wave 3 at 10:45 and it was still cold enough for an extra layer.
Once in the corral we made our way up to the base of the Verrazzano Narrows Bridge where the race was to start. I was feeling relaxed and ready and now it was all up to my performance on the day and to see if the Hansons training would truly pay off.
After all these years waiting I was finally at the start line. My goal was to hit my pace as best I could with a goal of 3:45 (stretch goal) second goal 3:54 (PR) or break 4 hours if possible. My iPhone was switched off, I would need to save the battery to find everyone at the finish line, and I didn’t plan to listen to music. My wife told me when she ran the crowds were so loud she couldn’t hear her music anyway. Let’s do it!!
The start of the race is from Staten Island from the foot of the bridge so we start the race by essentially running up hill. We would reach Brooklyn by mile 3. The sky was sunny and clear blue. The view from the top of the bridge right into downtown Manhattan was truly breathtaking. Let’s just stay the up half of the bridge was a little steeper than I had expected. This would be the first of 5 bridges we would be crossing during the day. Once clearing the bridge we were welcomed by the first of what would be a lot of very vocal crowds for the day. Welcome to Brooklyn. This would be our home for miles 3-12.
The race is split into 3 starting waves. The green and blue waves start from the top of the bridge and the orange wave starts from the lower deck and all three waves merge at the 5K mark. If you think it is crowded for the first couple of miles it was nothing to when everyone merged at mile 3.
The crowds were amazing and having my name on my shirt was a really good piece of advice. The water stations were plentiful and clearly signed so that you could see them from a distance. Despite the crowds I was still able to keep pace. My first mile was over 9 minutes but that was due to me going easy up over the bridge and weaving a little through the field where I could. I was holding a low 8 minute pace for miles 2 and 3 and still under 9 minutes through mile 4 including my first water stop. The field of runners were packed into the streets which sometimes appeared narrower. The first water station was at mile 4 and as it was beginning to warm up I decided to walk through each water station and alternate between water and Gatorade at each station.
I was slightly behind pace but maintaining in the region of my goal pace through mile 7. By mile 8 I needed to take a potty break which slowed me down somewhat but I was able to get back on pace shortly after. I was over an hour into the race by now which meant it was 11:30am. I had been up since 4am. Usually I would be done by a marathon at this time and I still had another 18 or so miles to go.
As I said before, the crowds were great, well maybe, except for the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood toward the tale end of our time in Brooklyn. The sheer number of runners still didn’t stop people trying to cross the roads in their neighborhoods. We even encountered an old lady in the worlds slowest powered wheel chair who was determined to cross the street regardless of the oncoming surge of runners. All part of the on course entertainment I guess.
We spent 9 miles in Brooklyn which was by far the longest stretch of any borough during the race. The road ahead was rolling hills and all you could see ahead was a mass of people. We then entered into Queens across the Queensboro Bridge around mile 14. I was beginning to notice that this course was hillier than I had expected. The bridges also added more to the overall elevation. We hit the halfway point as we were going up towards the Queensboro Bridge. At this my splits were already slower and I passed the timing mat at just on the 2 hour mark. I figured out very quickly that NYC was not the place to PR. The crowds are too much to get a clear pace and you cannot help but weave about as the roads are not that wide. I also think that as we were already past noon the heat was becoming more of a factor. PR gone, let’s see how I would handle the second half and see how close to 4 hours I could get.
My goal for Queens was to enjoy the race and maintain my pace. This was a more quiet part of the course but this all lead up to entering Manhattan for the first time as we crossed the 59th Street Bridge onto First Avenue. The run across the bridge was pretty much a silent march. Yes, another hill. As it was a bridge there were no crowds. All you could hear was an eerie silence and the footsteps of your fellow runners. I will admit that at this stage I had to stop and walk up the bridge for a little. I knew that once I rounded the corner after crossing the bridge I would be in Manhattan and the noise and crowds would be insane. I needed to regroup so I would be able to enjoy my experience. I knew my wife and other family members would be waiting somewhere along the route at mile 17 so that motivated me to go onwards.
Once you get away from the silence on the bridge into Manhattan you are hit by what I can only describe as a wall of sound. Think ‘THe Beatles at Shea Stadium’ kind of noise. Utterly crazy. And what a spectacle. Crowds multiple people deep on each side of the street. Again, I’m glad I had my name written on my shirt. These crowds were keeping me motivated. I kept looking left and right for my wife (she’s not that big LOL). As I had put a Red Fraggle puppet on a pole to help her find me in 2016, this year I was looking for Super Grover on that same pole. Pretty easy to spot from a distance I thought.
I have to admit that seeing my wife really helped. She was tracking me and she knew my goal time so she must have known I wasn’t hitting my splits. When she asked me how I was doing I had to admit that I was struggling a little. I think the heat was getting to me by this stage. My heart rate was more elevated than normal. It could have been a combination of many things, adrenaline, caffeine in my energy gels (not doing that again) and perhaps just the whole being up for multiple hours playing trains, planes and automobiles getting to the race start. I was just feeling tired. But after having seen my wife and family I had a new pep in my step as I made my way up First Avenue and headed out towards the Bronx.
This was probably the shortest part of the race after Staten Island as you are really in and out of the Bronx very quickly. It is just miles 19 and 20 and for that you have to cross two more bridges. People around me were definitely starting to tire at this stage. I wasn’t doing so great myself but I started recognizing people I had either started with or had passed me in the earlier miles of the race. I’ve never truly ‘hit the wall’ in a marathon but I was definitely feeling it a bit here. Was it the training plan that only took me up to mile 16? I don’t think so based upon the Facebook group from Hansons Marathon Method runners who all seemed to be PR’ing left and right, it must be me. I would later find out from all my friends running the race that they were all fading around the second half of the day. I think I mentioned before that this, although not the hilliest marathon I’ve ever run (see Baltimore, Pittsburgh, DC and Delaware), it was just relentlessly rolling.
Once back into Manhattan we had another 10K to go to get to the finish line in Central Park. I remember my wife saying that the run up Fifth Avenue to was tough at this stage in the race. It was all uphill until around mile 23 where we reach Central Park for the first time. This was the second location where it was planned to meet up with my wife and family again. Time to start looking for Super Grover.
My splits for the second half of the race were disappointing for me. The race goal itself was a bust but I made a choice to just soak in the atmosphere as this may be the only time running this race and experiencing this marathon major. It was an incredible experience and one I had been looking forward to for a long time. All I wanted to do now was to finish under 4:20 and enjoy the last few miles. After my brief but energizing stop for a kiss with my wife I certainly picked up the pace over the last two miles. Central Park is not flat by any means but as we left the park and rounded Central Park South before returning into the park, the crowds were huge, the noise was amazing and it was a really great way to motivate myself to get to that finish line. And there it was. I saw it and made my way across under 4:20 (4:18)…although Tiki Barber crossed at the same time and they shouted out his name….who does he think he is??? Well, he’s Tiki Barber!!!
I was cooked. I was tired. I was relieved. I made it through the five boroughs of New York CIty. The biggest marathon in the world. In fact, I ran the race faster than it took to get to the start line. That is truly crazy. I was so happy to get my medal.
I got my mylar blanket from another volunteer and made my way to where the post race goodies were being handed out. We were given a clear bag which contained water, gatorade, an apple and something else…I cannot remember. All I wanted was the water. I was so tired. Then came the walk out of the park to where the ponchos were being handed out. That was a loooong walk. I actually had to ask a volunteer to loosen my laces on my shoes as I just couldn’t bend down at that moment to undo my shoes without the fear I could not get back up again.
I was finally able to get through the crowd and had arranged to meet up with my family at the JCC in Manhattan where a good friend had provided me with a guest pass so I could get showered and change into some fresh clothes which my wife had brought along. What an amazing shower. Loved it. Felt so good. It was around 3pm by the time I was able to feel fresh and clean. We left the JCC and headed out to get a cab, grab my luggage and head for a nice post race meal.
There was no way we could get a cab at that time of night at that location and Uber was pricing us at around $90 for a journey down town so we decided to head to the subway on 72nd street and ride down to 34th street which was near my hotel. Luckily runners ride for free on race day. 🙂
We grabbed my bag from the hotel and headed to Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen which was on the same street as my hotel and where we had celebrated my wife’s New York City Marathon in 2016. I was very hungry. I had been thinking about being here since I passed the deli on the way to the buses at 5am that morning.
Don’t question why I am wearing my Delaware Marathon shirt and not my New York City shirt. That was packed in my bag and I was too hungry to change my clothes at the hotel. This was what I had put in my change of clothes bag. The medal, however, was a giveaway that I had run. That and the way I was walking probably were the hints.
After dinner we made it over to the train station in time for a 7:30 train back home which meant I would probably be in my own bed just after 9pm. It had been a long day and I was still going to work the next day. Once on the train my Garmin buzzed and told me I’d been sitting still for too long and to ‘Move’. Ugh…as you can see from the picture below, after 33 miles on my feet, moving was the last thing I wanted to do at that moment. I won’t discuss here how I lost my car in the parking lot carrying all my luggage for an extra mile only to remember I parked the floor above. As I said…it was a long day. Finally I got home and other than doing my teeth and going to bed I cannot recall much once my head hit the pillow.
It was not the PR race that I had been planning for. I’m not sure I would jump straight back into another Hansons plan without losing a few extra pounds (yeah…that doesn’t help). It was a truly memorable event logistics aside and I was really happy to be able to run for this charity. In fact, I received a thank you card and a team medal in the mail soon after the race. Very thoughtful. I would run this race again if the opportunity arises but would love to run it with my wife next time.
So that’s my (very long) New York City marathon recap. It was almost as long as my build up to the race. Memories 🙂