I’m sitting here composing this race report carrying out my usual post marathon workout of stuffing my face with chocolate and crisps trying to decide where to start. I was very lucky (jammy) this year. First I got a place in the London marathon from a sponsor competition on strava followed up by getting a place in the New York marathon through the lottery. (If you need some luck try rubbing my bald spot)
After a short break post London I got back into training and as there was only a week between the Dublin Marathon and New York I could follow the plan that Myles and Emily prescribed for the Dublin group. Following a trip to Morocco I got stuck in and churned out some 100km weeks and was feeling good. However disaster struck five weeks before the marathon when I suffered a leg injury which meant little or no running for a couple of weeks.
I’ve never really had an injury before in my short running career and the level of frustration is now something I can really appreciate. After two weeks of rest and ice the leg was better and I was able to get one more week of training in before a two week taper. Usually before a marathon I look back at my training and this gives me confidence when you see all the weeks and the milage you have accumulated. However with holidays and injury when I looked back I could see a lot of gaps in my training and I really did feel under prepared and expectation levels were low.
After spectating at the Dublin marathon and seeing such fantastic times and performances from the club I was suitably inspired and enthused. Myself and Martina flew out to New York on Friday arriving in New York at around 1pm and after checking into the hotel we went to the expo to pick up my number. I’ve done a few international marathons now and generally I arrive the day before the marathon and by the time you get to the expo it’s jammed and I can’t wait to get out. Turning up two days in advance meant the atmosphere was more relaxed and it was the first expo I enjoyed and spent a bit of time there looking around and listening to some talks.
The next day I had signed up for the Abbot Dash to the Finish which is a 5k race through the streets of Manhattan. I usually don’t run the day before the marathon and try to put my feet up as much as possible but I’m so glad I signed up for this. The start was outside the UN headquarters and the morning was sunny and crisp. There was a great atmosphere and it was a fantastic experience to run up Fifth Avenue and into Central Park which was beautiful. My goal was to run as slow as I possibly could and stopping to take photos certainly helped. After the race we went to see a few sights including One World Trade Centre. Following dinner I had an early night as I would need to be up at 4.30am the next morning.
Karol had warned me the week before that the NYC Marathon wasn’t as glamorous as you think. I found out what he meant by this the next morning. I was in the first wave so I needed to get the bus from 5th Avenue at 5.30am for the hour and half journey to Staten Island. This was my first experience of the incredible volume of people and logistics involved in this event. Over 50,000 people need to be transported to the start line which is on an island which can only be reached by a bridge or the ferry. I hate queues and to my horror when I arrived at the bus I was greeted by the mother of all queues that for anyone familiar with NYC stretched right around the full block of the Public Library. In fairness it moved quickly enough and I was on the bus on my way to the start village. I arrived at 7am and it was freezing. I met one lady who had been at the start village from 6.30am and wasn’t starting to 11am!!! I had two and a half hours to wait here and after helping myself to some coffee and bagels found a spot in the sun and tried to keep warm and amuse myself with some of the outfits that people were wearing. At 9am I entered my start corral and spend the next 30 minutes queuing for the loo.
Finally we were walked to the start area for the start at 9.40am. The atmosphere on the bridge was fantastic with the highlight being flyovers from the NYPD in the police helicopters. And then finally after such a long wait they played New York, New York, the cannon sounded and we were off.
The start was mayhem. For some reason they organisers let big groups of either VIP or charity runners start at the front of the 1st wave and they caused carnage. People were elbowing, pushing shouting trying to make their way through the slower runners who were in front of them and this really didn’t sort itself out for nearly eight miles as the initial part of the course is quite narrow for the amount of runners.
The marathon course takes you through the five boroughs of New York and you start the race crossing the Verrazzano Bridge which connects Staten Island to Brooklyn. Apart from the mayhem at the start this is an amazing spectacle as you are running over a two mile bridge with clear views of the Statute of Liberty and the NYC skyline ahead of you. The first mile is quite a steep uphill followed by a downhill off the bridge into Brooklyn. There are no spectators allowed on the bridge and it was great to be able to take in the views. When you hit Brooklyn you get your first taste of the amounts of people who come out to support the marathon which is estimated at over two million. The noise and support in Brooklyn was overwhelming. The crowds narrowed the roads and it felt like you were running in a tunnel made up of people. While this was great it did cause a lot of log jams at the water stations and it was almost single file running if you weren’t stopping to get water. You stay in Brooklyn for the first half and then cross the Pulaski Bridge into Queens for about two miles and then you cross the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan and First Avenue. After the silence of the bridge once again you are hit with the sheer noise and crowds on First Avenue. You can’t help but increase your pace here as you get swept up the length of the avenue with the atmosphere. After Manhattan you cross into the Bronx where the crowds are a bit sparser. There was one guy who was jokingly (I hope) shouting at the runners to “get the hell out of here and go back to Manhattan” Finally you cross back into Manhattan onto Fifth Avenue for the last five miles. It’s a tough finish but the crowds carry you through and once you turn out of the Park by the Plaza you can smell the line which you cross after turning up the hill by Columbus Circle back into the park and pass Tavern on the Green.
As a spectacle and experience the New York Marathon is hard to beat. This year there were a record number of finishers of 53,629 with the average finish time 4.23.45. When I ran London earlier in the year I thought it would be hard to match the atmosphere generated by the crowds but I have to say the supporters and bands in Brooklyn and First Avenue surpassed London and I found myself being genuinely overwhelmed by it all. As a race New York is tough. The course has a lot of rolling hills, the bridges are difficult, the ground is quite uneven and the volume of runners make for tough conditions.
As for my own race, I had a goal time of 3.10 and aimed to run with the pace group. This went out the window quite quickly as I found it hard to fight my way through the crowds for the first 5 miles and although I was just about on pace until about mile 18 I think the lack of training and the energy taken up by the course and fighting the crowds
took its toll and my pace slowed for the last 5 miles. I did however mange my B goal of a PB and crossed the line in 3.14.01 so was happy out.
It goes without saying that if you get the opportunity to do the NYC Marathon jump at it. It is an amazing event. The advice I would give is to run it for the experience rather than trying for a PB and be prepared for a long wait at the start. Apart from that soak up the atmosphere and enjoy running in the city that as they said at the start welcomes everyone no matter who you are or where you come from which I thought was a great message especially in the current political environment.