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2009 NYC Marathon, Part 2

I felt pretty good when I got up for the race at 4:00 AM on November 1st. Things seemed to fall into place easily. My legs felt rested, my stomach was settled, and I was completely ready for this marathon. The rain was tapering to reveal near-perfect weather and the 4 train miraculously dropped me off at Bowling Green with just enough time to make the 6:00 AM Staten Island Ferry before the doors closed. And with each of us being assigned to a different color start village, my two brothers and I found a dry neutral spot in the center to chat and work through breakfast before we needed to go to our separate corrals. An easy Sunday morning with merely 26.2 miles ahead of me.

The marathon started perfectly. I stayed conservative in the first couple of miles and finally settled into a steady pace once I reached 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. I was aware that my pace was 10 to 15 seconds per mile faster than my target time, but I was feeling good about it and decided to maintain that speed. I hovered around this pace pretty consistently until I approached the Bronx – when my legs started to feel a bit heavy. By mile 21 I was stopping to walk every now and then. At mile 22 I realized that I could slow down to 10-minute miles and at least still come in under 3:30. After the water station at mile 24 my legs started to feel jittery and I suddenly noticed that I was starving. I finished my GU Chomps and alternated between running and walking (sometimes laughing out loud at myself in the process) until I finished in 3:31:08, more than a little disappointed with how quickly the race got away from me at the end.

Okay, so I didn’t make my goal time of 3:20:00. In fact, I was pretty far off. A big part of me really wanted to blow last year’s marathon time completely out of the water and I knew I had the training behind me to do it. What can I then say about all those months of focused training, of becoming one of those unemployed runners apparently creating stiffer competition, if I didn’t do as well as I had hoped I would? Well this is why I’m still proud of my accomplishment:

  • I still PR’d by cutting a minute and twenty seconds off of my 2008 finishing time.
  • Overall it was a stronger run than my first marathon. It took me longer to hit The Wall, and even then it wasn’t nearly as bad. I also found that I had far more emotional strength to battle the doubts and funny thoughts that run through your head when you push your body to such extreme limits.
  • I’ve started to figure out what kind of nourishment works for me on race day. This year’s menu: peanut butter pretzels and water for breakfast; GU Chomps and water only during the race. It still needs some tweaking so that I can avoid the jittery legs I had after mile 24, but I’m starting to understand how nutrition affects me.
  • I had much more awareness of my pace and I have developed increased comfort in recognizing the limits (or even the possibilities) of my training.
  • Speedy recovery. Physically I felt strong from the moment I crossed the finish line and I feel nearly back to normal only two days later.

As runners we often focus so much on speed and time. How fast am I going? Did I PR? But there are so many other things to consider when you think about your performance in any given race, and the reasons I’ve given above are just some examples. No matter the speed, it’s important to remember that pushing your body to cover 26.2 miles using only the power of your own two feet is an immense accomplishment whether you run, jog or walk.

Congratulations to everyone else who completed the 2009 ING NYC Marathon!

(And I’ll see you out there again next year.)

marathon medal

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2009 NYC Marathon, Part 1

Less than 24 hours to go until the start of the 2009 NYC Marathon – and I’m finally starting to get excited. There was something in me that was rather nonchalant about the whole thing starting sometime early in my taper. Then I went to the expo at the Javits Center on Thursday to pick up my race number and the excitement finally kicked in! Here are a few pictures:

expo1

Welcome banners at the entrance

expo2

Inside the expo

expo3

Bart Yasso, racing icon and Runner's World Chief Running Officer, signing books. Meeting him was a highlight for me.

And then I woke up to another thrilling sight yesterday morning – the Blue Line painted along the course:

Blue Line

The Blue Line marking the marathon route

Everything’s in place, I feel pretty good, and now I just have to make sure I get some rest, load up on carbs, and set several alarms to make sure I get up early enough tomorrow morning to catch the Staten Island Ferry.

Williamsburg Update: The Greenway

Great news for recreation in Williamsburg! Over the past few weeks crews have been busy developing the Brooklyn Greenway along the waterfront on Kent Avenue. Don’t know much about the Greenway and why this is exciting for joggers, walkers and cyclists? Here’s a little background from the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative’s website:

In 1993, the Brooklyn Waterfront Trail was identified as a priority route in the Department of City Planning’s Greenway Plan for New York City, which outlined a vision for a citywide 350-mile network of greenways. The Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway project area now spans 14 miles of Brooklyn waterfront, from Sunset Park to Newtown Creek in Greenpoint.

The minimum right-of-way sought for the finished Greenway is 30 feet, in order to accommodate two 7-ft. bike lanes, a 10-ft pedestrian path and 6 ft of landscaping.

When completed, it will provide a human scale connection between numerous waterfront communities now divided by highways and transit infrastructure. Benefits will include more waterfront access, better quality of life, healthier lifestyles, more diverse transportation options, and increased economic development, as more people find Brooklyn a desirable place to live or relocate their business.

So now the stretch of Kent Avenue from N. 14th Street down to Clymer Street has been re-zoned to one-way traffic only going in a northerly direction. This has freed up the side of the street closest to the river for recreational purposes and has already been painted with wide green lines to accommodate cyclists. This takes the large 18-wheelers off this road, reduces major traffic, and allows for a safer area to ride or run. Runners, note that the green path is intended to be a bike lane, so if you choose to run here please be mindful of cyclists and their right to use the route.

For more news about this project, take a look at this article from The Brooklyn Paper. I look forward to seeing this extended farther north into Greenpoint!

If you are interested in learning more about running in this area, see my previous post Industrial Charm: A Greenpoint-Williamsburg Run.

Just Follow the Flags

On my way out to do some laundry this morning, I noticed something exciting that I don’t recall seeing yesterday. It’s like Christmas morning for the New York runner:

Marathon Route

The blue-orange-white banners marking the path of the ING NYC Marathon route have been installed on lampposts – and with the countdown to race day now in single-digits the air in the city is becoming electrifying.

Time to Taper

The true reward of all those months of training comes at that moment when you cross the finish line at the end of 26.2 miles and you recognize your huge accomplishment as you proudly hobble over to accept your medal from a volunteer, have your picture taken, and warm up with a shiny Mylar blanket.

But the SECOND best reward that comes from all those months of training is the three-week taper period before the big race. What does this mean to me? Cutting back on mileage, sleeping in a little longer, being a little bit lazy and maybe eating whatever I feel like eating. Bring on the cookie dough ice cream. Enjoy it, because it’s the quiet before the storm. And right now I am enjoying it!

I finished my last long run this past Sunday with my running club. As we do every year, three weeks before the NYC marathon we start in Park Slope and run the last 20 miles of the course. Along the way we have dedicated teammates stationed every few miles at water stops, helping the rest of us get through that last major training run. We end in Central Park at Tavern on the Green, and those who feel like pushing it a little more can tack on an extra two miles by running the lower loop and then some. For me it was very strong this year. I ran with good company, stayed on pace, and felt like I could easily tackle another 4.2 miles. Exactly the kind of place you want to be in three weeks before the big day.

And now I’m in the taper zone. Suddenly it’s a different world with new challenges.

I remind myself that it’s important to stick to your plan and fight the urge to run the extra miles you are used to. This will give your body time to rejuvenate and be in the most well-rested shape it can be in for race day. So with a decrease in mileage, that opens up my calendar quite a bit. What do I do with my extra time? Cross train a bit with some swimming, and then maybe spend a little bit more time on the job search…

Finally, a Personal Record

I made one more step toward becoming an unemployed running superhero today (see also previous posts Unemployment + More Training = Superhero? and Maaaybe getting a little faster). Finally, after three months of focused training I finished a race in record time. At this morning’s humid Grete’s Great Gallop half marathon in Central Park I finished in 1:29:42, a PR by more than a minute and a half. I actually wasn’t sure if I had it in me when I got up this morning, though. I barely slept and when I did manage to snooze a bit I had crazy dreams, including one where I woke up to find dozens of clocks in the house – but all reading different times – so I had no idea if I overslept or not. Nothing like an anxiety dream before a race.

But just before the horn blew at the start I realized that this was my fifth and final half marathon of 2009 and it was going to be my last chance to break that record for some time. And I finally broke 1:30! (I’ll admit, though, that those last two tenths of a mile were really tough.)

Looks like this course agrees with me. My previous PR for the half marathon distance was set at the same race in 2008. Too early to set a goal for 2010?

Superman!

Reach the Beach, Part 2

Out of the 207 miles of the 2009 Reach the Beach relay I ran 19.09 miles, divided into three legs, over the course of 24 hours with only two hours of sleep. It was tough mentally and physically but a lot of fun. Here’s a quick rundown of each of the legs I ran:

The Start at Cannon Mountain

The foggy 3:00pm start at Cannon Mountain

Leg 6 (8.62 miles):
When I started my first run it was still light out, but I was required to wear a flashing reflective vest and a headlamp. The vests our team brought had a ridiculous number of flashing lights that made each of us look like running Christmas trees.  A moving disco might also be an appropriate comparison. It was a good thing we had them, though — at least the rest of the team was able to spot me as I came down the hill to the transition area in complete darkness. I was lucky to be able to run in the New Hampshire mountains during a beautiful sunset, but this long leg, mostly downhill, was very challenging. Also, I was passed by two people. At first I was dismayed but then I found out that they were both on top-placing teams so I shrugged it off. At the very least they helped me quicken my steps a bit and I finished with about a 6:40 pace. My van then took advantage of the handoff to Van #2 and drove down the road to Conway to get some dinner.

Transition area at AMC's Highland Lodge

Transition area at AMC's Highland Lodge

Nervously getting ready for my first leg

Nervously getting ready for my first leg

Leg 18 (4.89 miles):
With my hardest leg already completed, I figured this would be a piece of cake. Not necessarily so, I soon learned. This was probably one of the strangest moments I had during the entire race: running through small, sleepy Laconia, New Hampshire at 3:30 am with no one in sight, not sure if I was going in the right direction (I was, thankfully). The tough part was that last mile, entirely uphill. I think this might have been the first time in my life that I went running that late at night (or that early in the morning, depending on how you look at it). Finishing this leg meant that my whole van got to take a short, well-deserved sleeping break.

Leg 30 (5.58 miles):
By the time we got to my third leg it was around noon on Saturday. And by the time we got to my third leg I was also functioning on about two hours of sleep. We were able to crash for a bit at the last van transition area, but were woken up a bit early by our over-zealous Van #2, giving us a 90-minute warning before their arrival. A few hours later, and still desperate for a coffee and a meal of something other than granola bars and pretzels, maybe something like the delicious breakfast I had at Polly’s Pancake Parlor the day before, I took off on my final leg. Of all my legs, the level of difficulty for this one was the lowest, but it ended up being the hardest. My body was pushed to the limit, but I held my pace knowing it was the last few miles I needed to do. Can’t let the team down! When I finished I was tired and starving but exhilarated. We made our way to the beach, got some food and waited for the rest of our guys to come in.

My Final Leg

My final leg. Tired. Trying to fake a smile.

It was great to leave the city for a couple of days and enjoy the fresh air of New Hampshire. My team did a fantastic job, completing the relay in 24:49:43 to finish 24th overall. The training paid off and recovery went well – and now I’m back to focusing on the NYC Marathon.