I could have set a personal record today. I’m sure of it. There’s no catch to that statement other than I decided not to. It wasn’t an easy decision.
Put on by NYC Runs, the Central Park Marathon is a small affair, maybe 2000 runners. The park is still open, so it’s a race happening in the middle of everything else that goes on in Central Park, including non-racing runners (some running against the current), walkers, cyclists, hot dog vendors, and dogs.
I didn’t particularly care about this race other than counting it at my New York run for the 50 States and not traveling to it. It’s a race I’m sure to get into, unlike the big New York Marathon. I’m not even thinking about this as a race so much as a training run with a medal.
This is my first marathon in New York City, which reminds me of that great marathon coach, Barney Stinson: “Here is how you run a marathon. Step one: start running. Step two: there is no step two.”
Local runs are typically problematic for me. When I travel, I stay somewhere near the start or finish line so it’s a matter of rolling out of bed and stumbling to the start, then hobbling back at the end. When I was lived in Chicago and ran the Chicago Marathon I had a 40 minute train ride to get there and back. I drove to the Wisconsin Marathon and was 10 minutes late. I completely missed the South Bend Marathon because I started driving an hour too late, having forgotten the Illinois-Indiana time change. That was my first Did Not Start, and leaves a hole in my midwest tracker for the 50 States.
Traveling to this race wasn’t so bad. I had 15 minutes on the subway and a short walk through the park. I chose my apartment in Manhattan to be close to Central Park (but not close enough to impress anyone with my pay stub) so I could easily get there to run. And, the start was 8:30 AM, which I welcomed this time. Generally, I like them to start early to avoid the heat later, but today that wouldn’t be a problem. It was going to be in the high 40s F for the day—perfect weather for me. It’s even chillier in the park since there’s still quite a bit of snow on the ground.
New York City has another problem, though. The NYPD is still paranoid about a Boston-style bombing, so bag checks and “camelbaks” (but really any hydration packs) are sometimes complicated or even forbidden. There’s a general paranoia in New York City about these things and they often express themselves in odd ways. You can’t take a laptop into Yankee Stadium, because, as the security supervisor told me, they could be used to set off bombs. When I asked him why iPads and phones were fine, he just shrugged. The Mets have no such restriction. New York City is a big target, but these measures aren’t going to protect it. The security theater isn’t really the problem so much as its unpredictable application. Am I going to get to bag check only to discover that a new rule beyond the control of the organizers means I can’t check my bag because it’s not clear or it’s the wrong size, or I can’t use my running backpack to carry my food and drink? Will the cops show up with automatic weapons and dogs, like they randomly do in subway stops? I love this city, but that doesn’t mean the city doesn’t think I’m a terrorist. Most cops I encounter by themselves are okay people. Cops in groups executing panicky orders from above, especially when they know as well as I do it’s chickenshit, not so much. I’m not afraid of terrorists at New York events, but I am nervous about the police.
Despite how I thought later—that I might PR—I didn’t feel that way at the beginning. I didn’t even have the confidence that I would finish today. The organizers have a permit until 1:45 PM, giving them a 5h15m time limit for the marathon. If I had a bad day, say, like I did in İstanbul, I could approach that time. If this were South Africa, that would be a hard deadline, but this is the US. They have to talk tough because the city requires it, but they say “the finish line is the last thing we turn off”. That’s a coded message for “we’ll stop when the cops make us leave”.
I hadn’t run more than one mile at a time since the Punta Arenas Ultramarathon almost a month ago. I’ve been keeping up my goal of a run a day streak, but I’ve had no long runs. I’d like to blame that on the Sanitation Department because they aren’t plowing the roads and paths, but I could have easily run in Central Park. I just haven’t. I had planned to run the George Washington’s Birthday as another training run, but it was cancelled. I didn’t break my streak, but I didn’t replace it with a long run either.
This course is five counter-clockwise laps around Central Park, mostly using the main road but cutting across the park at 102nd Street instead of including Harlem Hill (a killer hill that I actually like). The marathon start was a bit farther down at 96th Street on the east side, but the finish was up at the short cut. The half marathon had some course that seemed too complicated for me because they ran different loops.
The start was slightly uphill before taking the shortcut to the west side, then it was a small hill. After that, it was mostly downhill to the bottom of the park. The bottom of the park is generally downhill, but the course turns north up the east side and is generally uphill. There are only two big hills, so it’s not that bad. The east side is a little scenic: you pass the Met Museum, Cleopatra’s Needle, the Guggenheim, and my favorite, Still Hunt, a life-size panther statue poised on a rock outcropping. You also run past the statue of Fred Lebow, the founder of the New York Marathon.
On the first lap I felt good. I wasn’t pushing it hard, but when I checked my pace I was surprised to see it around 9:00. That’s much too fast for me. I tried to slow it down a bit, but at the end of the second lap, I was only 9:08. The problem, if I could call it that, was that I didn’t feel the effort. I took a porta-potty break at Mile 11, but that only raised my average pace to 9:20, the pace I’d need to hit 4 hours even. The first part of the third lap didn’t help because it’s mostly downhill, and somewhere on that downhill stretch I pass Mile 13. I made my next goal Mile 15, and after that, Mile 18. I reached that without much problem and extended it to Mile 19 because that was just around the corner going back up the east side. I got myself to the big hill and took a walk break.
As the day got later, the park got busier. New York City has been part of that Arctic cold spell for the past month, but we suddenly had temperatures in the 50s and this was the first nice weekend. I think there were more non-marathon runners than participants. This made it somewhat disconcerting when a fresh group of short distance runners would breeze by at fast paces chatting about something as I was just trying to maintain. Also, more runners were out and running clockwise, against our current (but also in the correct rotation based on the icons painted on the road). New York is an interesting place because only the biggest events put a dent in it. No one really cared that we were running a marathon.
During the middle of the run, I was trying to work out why the mile markers were where they were. They didn’t seem evenly placed; some of them lined up with paint on the road and some of them didn’t. I expect my Garmin to be off a little, but not 0.9 miles or 1.25 miles. At the end, my distance read 26.65, which is much longer than my Garmin is typically off. I was mostly synchronized until the third lap, where I was suddenly 0.32 miles off, and stayed that way until the end. That sounds like a Garmin error, but I wasn’t manually noting laps as I passed the markers. Still, I thought that if each lap is offset by the same amount, the 25, 20, 15, and 10 mile markers would be the same distance for each other (the offset). But they weren’t. I’m not very good at the math in the middle of a big run though.
Around this time I was thinking about a possible PR. I was on a good time. I had an 1h10m to run the final seven miles. I could do that. I had slowed down to about a 9:50 pace by then because I was nervous about hitting the wall. I had also taken a longer, luxurious porta potty break, and even with that I was ahead of my usual pace and not feeling that bad. Mile 21 was on the cut-off, so I had to run the downhill portion, around the bottom, and come back up the other side. Once I got there, I had a little less than an hour for the rest of it. I could have done it. My body was ready for it. But, I knew that I’d pay for it later this week, and I have an ultramarathon next sunday and another the thursday after that. This is a training run for me; my first long run in almost a month. That I’m on a PR pace on a hilly course means something good.
Part of my good day were the compression tights I was wearing. If the weather got any warmer, I would have taken them off. The tights don’t help with my joints, but they sure keep my muscles feeling good. Most of that is just from keeping everything in place. Wear the tights for a couple runs then try running without them. You’ll see how much your muscles bounce around, causing stress on connective tissue.
For this race, I ate Clif Shot Bloks, exclusively. I think I’m done with gels completely. I’ll use up what I have for shorter runs where I might eat one or two, but I’m off the gels for marathons. They are too sweet, they make me sick after three hours, and they are give me energy spikes. I could slowly sip on a gel to even out the energy, but Bloks already do that but coming in six pieces and aren’t sticky or messy like gels. At each mile marker, I put one Blok in my cheek and suck on it. By the time it’s gone, it’s another mile. Typically, I start that at Mile 6 since that’s when my pre-race peanut butter sandwich has done its work. In the early miles, I use the strawberry flavor, but toward the end of the race I switch to the lemon-lime flavor which is a bit more tart, and for the last part, the black cherry flavor, which is even more tart. There’s a black cherry with caffeine, but I haven’t tried that yet.
I’ve never had this problem, but at Mile 22 I decided not to try. I’d press on at the same pace, but I wouldn’t kill myself. I’d keep up the same level of effort, and possibly back off if I needed to. I got to the bottom of the park as was still doing good. I took a walk break on the two big hills on the east side, and after that I mostly ran at a decent pace, coming in about 10 minutes slower than my best time. Even at the end I felt that I could have taken off that ten minutes with a little suffering.
Since this was a small event (for New York City, but a big event for some places), I crossed the line, turned left up the path to bag check, and walked off. I think there was food there, but it was such an uncluttered exit that I had no trouble just leaving. It had much more of the club, no-frills run that like like rather than the ads and sponsorship events that just happen to have a marathon in the middle.
At the end of the run, I took the subway home, and despite following the Barney Stinson training plan, I was able to get off at my stop just fine. Walking up the stairs to the street was a little tough.
Not Barney Stimson
And, perhaps the best part of the experience is the NYC Runs iPhone app. It lists all there events and leads to the results. I can even add my results to a favorites so see them all together.