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A Streak Is Broken, A Sub-3 Not To BeRace Report from the 2009 New York City MarathonPart IV – The Worst 10K, Miles 21-26.2

Posted Nov 14 2009 10:02pm
Mile 21 – 7:09; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:49 min/mi
In my experience, the race story of the NYC marathon doesn’t officially begin until you reach the Bronx in Mile 21. Prior to this point, the marathon resembles more of a twenty mile block party through the five boroughs than an actual competitive race. There are spectators and dancers, music players and banners, and costumes and of course beer everywhere until everything suddenly disappears after the Willis Avenue Bridge. Almost concurrently, gone too is the fun, the joy, and the general euphoria that accompanied us during the preceding miles. I become acutely aware of my physical surroundings as I feel my energy and effort fade ever so slightly. More and more people are breaking down and walking now and I start to wonder whether I will be joining their procession soon. We make six right-angle turns on our way over to the Madison Ave Bridge and out of this wasteland that inexplicably sapped my energy today.

Mile 22 – 7:06; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:50 min/mi
Back in Manhattan, I check my last mile time as we run through the 21 mile marker. For reasons that seemed completely rational at the time, I was physically and emotionally devastated by the 7:09 I ran during the preceding mile. Even though my overall pace was still significantly below my goal time for this race, I was unable to fathom how I could have just ran 20 seconds above pace. In my mind, I was unable to justify that momentary lapse in speed and doubted if I could even maintain seven minute miles for the rest of the race. All I could see were the obstacles coming--the vaunted uphill battle on Fifth Ave, the rolling hills in Central Park and the last steep climb near the finish at Tavern on the Green—and I start to lose faith in myself. I take a gel, hoping it would help and speed up some when I see some good Flyers (LG, DL, and JT) clapping and cheering on the sidelines

Mile 23 – 7:16; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:51 min/mi
Mile 22 ends next to Marcus Garvey Memorial Park and I tell myself that I’ve just 4 measely miles to go. Although I figure I still have about a minute or so of bank time left, judging from my horrendous times for the last few miles, it was fairly evident that sub-3 would be in serious jeopardy today. My legs are fatiguing and complaining now. The purple magic carpet ride that I’ve been riding for the last two and a half hours is now nowhere to be found. I take the turn onto 5th Ave and stare down my destiny. I knew right there and then that these thirty blocks, from 120th Street right up to the Central Park entrance at 90th would hold the key to sub-3 for me. For all the weeks of hard training, all the high mileage I’ve endured, and all the aches and pains and muscle strains I’ve had to fight through, all of it will come down to this next mile and a half. Suddenly, I remember that these are the heart miles. My heart is supposed to take over now that the legs have dropped off. So I ask my heart what it’s got left. Do we really want this or are we not so ready to be elite? I push onward as I search within for an appropriate response.

Mile 24 – 8:08; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:54 min/mi
I continue to ask, but all I hear is just silence in return. I search the skies, the trees, and the spectators, waiting for a reason to keep this fight alive. My legs are sore and my body aches as I climb further and further along Fifth Avenue. The race slows down and each block feels as if it’s a mile all onto itself. More and more people have slowed to a walk now and despite the crowds enthusiastically urging us runners to go on, the marathon starts to resemble a funeral procession more and more. I go through the motions for another half block but quickly realize that my race has come to an end. I’ve lost all hope for sub-3 and I feel defeated, fatigued, and too emotionally drained to care anymore. I give up on myself and take my first steps halfway up the Fifth Avenue mile. The truth becomes incredibly evident to me immediately upon taking that first step. Although my physical body was equipped and trained to handle 20 miles at sub-3 pace, I did not equip my mind emotionally to do the same for the last six. I forgot to give myself more than one goal. I did not mentally acknowledge the implications of THIS marathon THIS time around. I failed to think about my own reasons why sub-3 is so important to me. It’s just an arbitrary time standard that sounds cool but has no real-life merit, isn’t it? The absolute worst was as I was walking mid-race and self-diagnosing myself, I quickly realized that I wasn’t cramping, wasn’t in pain, wasn’t even exhausted or feeling particularly hungry or thirsty. I felt fine which ashamed and frustrated me to no end. I have no justification for walking right now. Fueled by rage and anger over my epic fail as a marathon runner, I increase my gait to a steady shuffle.
When I finally do make it out of the abyss and reach the park entrance on 90th, I had every intention of turning left instead of right to drop out and head home. Unfortunately right at that moment, I saw a few folks that recognized me, and I was too embarrassed to quit. So I smile, continue on, and wonder how I could even think about not finishing a marathon with less than a 5K to go.

Mile 25 – 8:35; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:58 min/mi
The park looks splendid today with the autumn foliage highlighting the course in different shades of orange, yellow and brown. The crowds are lined four to five deep on either side and the excitement is palpable as we approach closer and closer to the finish. If my mind wasn’t so trapped in my own negativity, I could imagine how this would have been the perfect day to run. As is, I’m reduced to walking and shuffling as best I can. At around the back of the Met, I see familiar faces from the Flyers and I force myself to pick up the pace again for a little bit. I say hi to the Cat, roll down the Hill and wish that I was an inanimate object so I wouldn’t have to move any further. Each step becomes psychological warfare as I force my legs to become my slave even as it’s firing back with pangs of pain. After the hill, my mind becomes blank and I no longer even have the strength to acknowledge or hide from the crowd. All I did, until the park mile was over was recite a villanelle I memorized for poetry class way back when which seemed oddly appropriate given the circumstance. It begins “ The art of losing isn’t hard to master…

Mile 26 – 8:12; Avg Marathon Pace – 7:01 min/mi
The park is behind me now as I make the turn onto W59th to begin the final mile. In the distance I can faintly see Columbus Circle, my destination. Although the sign on the lamp post clearly state that the distance separating us are less than 800 meters, to my tired and feeble mind, it seemed like forever and a mile away. I am overwhelmed by fatigue and I take my final walk break less than 800m from the finish. I sneak a peak at the crowds gathered on the south side of the street and hear them start to chant my name. How pathetic it must seem to those who know me to be seeing me now moving at a snail’s pace so damn close to the finish. I start running again and am determined not to stop until I either cross that finish line or death consumes me, whichever was going to happen first.

The Last 0.2 – 1:36
Columbus Circle finally comes as I make the last right hand turn towards the finish. I start to relax and gather my thoughts one final time. Well, at least I finished another NYCM and didn’t die. At least I didn’t take a wrong turn and quit two miles back. I am utterly disappointed that I ran the last 10K so poorly yet am slightly relieved that the pressure to PR in this race is finally over. I can claim a moral victory knowing that I finished what I started even though I gave myself every reason not to go on. I climbed the last hill and silence my inner critic to hear the roar of the crowd one last time. I blow kisses to the spectators and race volunteers nearby as I approach the finish. The course may have gotten the best of me today, but I take solace in knowing that NYC has not yet seen the last of me, and I’ll be back again, better and stronger than I was today, to claim the prize in this city on this course one day!

Official Marathon Time – 3:04:20; Avg Marathon Pace – 7:02 min/mi
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