A Streak Is Broken, A Sub-3 Not To BeRace Report from the 2009 New York City MarathonPart II – The Start and The Good Miles 1-10
Posted Nov 09 2009 10:02pm
Something just isn’t quite right…
I am staring at the head of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge just moments away from the start of the 40th running of the New York City Marathon. On my left is a Grey Line double-decker tour bus which is being used today as a spectator station for VIPs. On my right, a couple of Italian runners are taking pictures of themselves with a throwaway camera. Although I’ve been exactly here for three consecutive years (and 4 out of the last 5), here feels somewhat awkward and uncomfortable to me this morning. A part of me wonders why. Maybe it’s the warm and wet air that is not agreeing with me. Or maybe I’m just not used to marathon day without pain. Or I’m missing my teammates and friends who are almost all starting in the later waves. Or I’m just anxious to find out if my 16 wk, 50 mpw training plan will translate to a sub-3 today. I haven’t got a clue. Luckily, there’s that whole other part of me that just don’t care. All it wants to do is just run and let the anxieties take care of themselves.
Against this back drop of minor insecurity, I hear the Howitzer fire, old Frank (Sinatra) in the air, follow the masses across the starting lines and begin my epic journey into the streets of New York City.
I was eager to stretch out my legs and start running once I crossed the starting mats. Unfortunately, some of my neighbors were not. I had not run more than 5 feet before I found myself behind a slew of older folks moving at slower than a walking pace. I had to literally turn my body sideways in order to avoid slamming into them. A few seconds later, I find myself again behind a trio of heavy-set ladies walking (yes, walking) side-by-side onto the bridge, waving to the cameras and themselves as if they had not a care in the world. Although I am one for taking things slow at the beginning of a marathon, walking in mile 0.25 is utterly ridiculous. Not only so, but weren’t colors, corrals and waves instituted to avoid such disasters? What are these walkers and slow joggers doing here anyway? I feel my pulse and blood pressure start to rise as I fought the urge to weave and bob climbing the Verrazano. Calm yourself Lam, calm yourself, I told myself as I patiently waited for opportunities to pass folks who obviously did not have the same agenda for this race as me. You can’t claim victory in a marathon in mile 1, but you can definitely blow your chances and lose it! Things continued in the same manner for much of that first mile for me. I was a bit frustrated but not overly concerned when I checked my split at the end of mile one. Although the time was more than thirty seconds off my goal pace (6:50), it was still eight seconds faster than last year when I started with a 7:30 mile one and finished with a 6:57 final pace. I decide that given the scope of disasters that can happen in mile one, if this can be considered the worst part of the marathon for me, this will be one helluva race! (I didn’t find out until long after that race that some of the charity runners got preferred starts and began the race right behind the elites and professional runners. Again, utterly ridiculous!)
Mile two was all about finding space, running fast, controlling speed, and making up time as my neighbors and I make the long downhill entrance off the bridge into the borough of Brooklyn. It was opening up some now and I was scared that I was running a bit too fast. I didn’t dare to check the Garmin mid-mile for fear it would growl back angrily. Instead, I bargained with my body to allow gravity to do as much of the work as possible and just rolled off the bridge as fast and as effortless as I could.
A sign hung on the first telephone pole off the Verrazano welcomes me to Brooklyn. This is unofficially officially the start of the race for me. An early crowd is already forming along the streets, trying to cheer as enthusiastically as they can. Most of the spectators here are trying to juggle their signs, their props, and their early morning coffee as they await the arrival of their runner. After registering the split from the last downhill mile and realizing now that I’m back on pace, I measure out my stride and begin to run in earnest.
My game plan for this race is to build about 1:00-1:30 cushion at the half way point by running steady 6:45s, or about 5 seconds faster than goal pace (6:50), then aim to maintain goal pace until mile 20-22, and then coast to the finish with whatever I got left. Since I’ve never been a negative-splitter and this course is notoriously difficult to negative split anyway, due to the all the bridges and hills populating the second half of the race, I figured aiming for an even effort run would give me the my greatest chance of success. Now, as I carefully and purposefully slow a bit to establish a comfortable and relaxed pace that I would carry for the first half of the race, I suddenly realize that my strategy for sub-3 is strikingly similar to my race plan from last year, when I had no specific time goal in mind – Run first ten miles with your head, the next ten miles with your legs, and the last 10K with your heart! I decide right then I will once again adopt that mantra as my strategy for this marathon.
Further along in 4th Avenue, the atmosphere is beginning to turn more festive. A pair of little kids still dressed in their leftover fairy clothes from a Halloween party last night are holding out their hands, expecting acknowledgement from the sideline runners while an older couple is busy distributing cups of water and paper towels to all who will oblige. A high school band is playing the Rocky theme song in the background while the conductor is urging the crowd to cheer on the runners. I’ve been hearing a smattering of “Looking good, Lam!” and “Way to go, Lam!” since my first steps off the bridge but the accents seem to have acquired a more international flavor the further along I travel into Brooklyn. I have never run a race with my name printed so prominently on my race shirt before so this marathoning above obscurity is new and completely foreign to me. I reciprocated the shouts of encouragement with a wave or a thanks until they became so constant that I was unable to keep up. Somewhere along the fifth mile, I see a “Go Flyers!” sign off to the side and I couldn’t help but pump my fist in acknowledgment. In the sixth mile, someone shouts “Go Laminator” and I almost pull a neck muscle turning my head back fast to find the paparazzi who’s identified me. Although I was trying hard to run within myself and maintain even mile splits and an even effort through this early section of the course, the jubilant cheers from the crowd and the sideline watch for fans and friends made things a bit tougher than I had anticipated.
The journey up Fourth Avenue is nearing it’s end. I can see the Williamsburg Savings Bank now not so far off in the distance. I pass by a couple of Flyer guys who compliment me on my quick pace and relaxed form as I run by. I wish them a good race and reestablish my seemingly effortless cadence and stride. No doubt I was feeling good and had to fight hard to keep my exuberance in check. In my mind, I was making a mental checklist of all my bodily parts and functions as if I was a diagnostician in the hospital. Physically, my legs feel relaxed and strong. There was no semblance of the hamstring issues that I had in the middle of my training. My feet were comfortable in the new shoes I had bought just for this occasion - a renewed version of the Brooks Defyance 2 that I had used in Boston. My gut was comfortable with the pasta dinner the night before and the early breakfast of pastries and fruits I had this morning. My energy and hydration also seemed adequate as I took care to alternate a cup of Gatorade and water at every aid station. The only hint of trouble as far as I could see was that my mind was just a little bit off today. For some reason, it didn’t seem like it was ready for a race. Was it fatigue from the long training or was it the leftover from the intensely stressful work week I had? Mentally, I feel as if I’m on a fast paced training run instead of a goal race that I had been preparing for all summer. I turn my thoughts to the excellent pace I have already established, my good physical conditioning and the intense high mileage training I’ve done and prayed to the marathon gods that the combination will be enough to carry me across the finish line in less than 3 hours.
Fourth Avenue has come and gone. So far so good. A series of twists and turns and I’m scaling up Lafayette Ave and rolling down Bedford Ave. The change in scenery is good for me as it forces me out of the mental funk I had been in during the previous mile. It is quite loud and boisterous here with music and spectators lining the streets on both sides. I’m searching for a friend who had pre-arranged plans to meet me here. Alas, I don’t find her. Instead, my thoughts are on a couple others who were out here last year but won’t be cheering me today because they are somewhere behind me running in this race! It was a year long struggle trying to be a good coach and helping them train for their first marathons even as I’m preparing myself to run a good race. As I watch family and friends celebrate and congratulate their runners with multi-colored flags, tee-shirts and signs, I smile a bit knowing eventually there probably won’t be anyone left out here to cheer specifically for me if I keep motivating everyone I know to jump over the sidelines and join me in this running bonanza! Haha! Inspired by this happy revelation, I march through the ten mile marker and eagerly await what’s to come next.