Saturday, December 5, 2015

On the Run: NYC Marathon 2015

On Halloween, my mom dropped Brian and me off at the airport to head to New York City for the TCS NYC Marathon.  I'd only been to the city for one day so staying in Manhattan and spending the weekend there was going be be fun.  Work and life had been nonstop for both of us so we really hadn't had a chance to get excited about it until we got on the plane.  We both packed light, needing little more than running gear and jeans, so we didn't have to check a bag.  That made getting in and out of the airport super easy (especially LaGuardia, which is not a place you want to spend any more time than necessary).  

We arrived in NYC around 10:15am and hopped right in a cab.  The ride to the hotel wasn't bad since it was a Saturday morning.  Brian was busy looking up things on his phone so we knew what buildings and bridges we were seeing as we passed.  I got a preview of the Queensborough Bridge.  Oh man.  My back was getting tight just looking at it!

Since it was too early to check into our hotel we went right to the expo.  There was a shuttle bus that picked up right outside of our hotel and drove us to the Javits Center.  Perfect!


I've been to the Boston expo, which is huge.  This expo, however, is ginormous.  No comparison.  First you go to a machine to print out a ticket with your bib number, which you take to the volunteers who give you your bib.  I've never seen that before.  Usually showing your ID is enough.  Then you go to get your shirt.  Before you pick out your size you can try on all the sizes from volunteers who have "try on shirts".  I felt like they were my personal shoppers!  They let me know if the sleeves were too short or if it was too tight.  Together we decided that I should get a small.  Once you get your shirt there are no exchanges so it's best to try on first.

Now I had all the official things.  It was time go explore the rest of the expo.  First stop was the Asics booth.  Asics is the official sponsor so this was a huge area.  At first I wanted to avoid it completely but then I thought, hmmm... Maybe just a little look-see.  Brian braved it with me and ended up finding me some sweet shirts.  I almost caved and bought a jacket but they are just too expensive for something I likely won't wear that much.  I mean, I don't even wear my Boston jacket.  (Of course the next day I regretted not buying one and still sort of wish I had!)  Waiting in line to purchase merchandise was like being at Cedar Point.  The line wound around and around.  It was well-organized but I have just never seen so many people at an expo.

After Asics, Brian nearly jumped for joy when we turned the corner and he saw the GORE Running Wear booth.  I had no idea what had him so excited.  I know what Gore-Tex is and he explained that this is their gear and clothing line - hats, gloves, shirts, jackets, arm sleeves, etc.  Much of it is windproof and waterproof.  He really wanted a good hat, which he was able to buy.  The guys working the booth were cool and we chatted with them for a bit.  I was also able to help convince a runner that she wouldn't need arm warmers and a hat for the 60-degree marathon.  In her defense, she was from Dubai and probably hasn't felt 60 degrees in a long time.

Next I found the KT booth, where I waited an eternity.  I've been taping my knee myself for a month but wanted to see if a professional had a different technique (he did).  Mostly, however, I wanted to get my hamstring taped.  Since my knee injury it started to flare up again, likely due to a change in my gait.  I was worried about the race, not only because of the distance but also all the elevation changes as well.  So I waited for over an hour while people had their entire bodies taped.  I'm not sure why some of these people were even running!

While I waited, Brian was exploring the expo and making friends at Skechers and Saucony. Both had connections to RUNdetroit.  When I was finally done getting taped we both headed to Skechers to check out their new apparel and NYC shoes.  Brian got a really sweet waterproof, windproof jacket and I got a hooded zip-up jacket that's very cozy.  Both were 50% off.  Their apparel is new and I'm really excited about it.  Stylish, comfortable, reasonable priced, and good quality.  They didn't have a lot of different choices but I think the line will be expanding soon enough.

We made our way over to Saucony next.  I eyed the Granny Smith Kinvaras but didn't buy them.  I convinced myself I didn't need a new pair of shoes.  Instead I bought their cute NYC tee shirt that had just been marked down in price.  These are the advantages to going on the last day of the expo.  (I did cave and buy the shoes later from RUNdetroit!)

As we were walking toward the exits, we came upon a course strategy presentation and stopped to listen.  We got there partway through the talk but by then I was exhausted, both mentally and physically.  It had been a long day and we'd been at the expo for several hours.  I was only half listening.  In hindsight, I probably should have paid more attention, especially considering I didn't even finish watching the course video. Although I talked to friends who'd run it, I was focusing more on their experience than on what they had to say about the actual course.  I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into!

We were about to leave when I doubled back to the race day information section.  This is where you could view huge course maps, find out where to meet your family after the race, and see a giant map of the Athletes' Village.  I didn't really need to stop because it was all information I'd looked at in the Athlete's Guide; however, I wanted to make absolutely sure I knew what I was doing.  Bad idea.  All it did was overwhelm me and completely cause me to panic.

What if I didn't know when to get off the subway?  

Would it be easy to find the Green Athlete's Village?  

I hate crowds!  Why am I running this race?!!  

I get seasick.  Why am I taking the ferry?!!

What if I didn't find Brian at the "W" in the Family Meeting Area?  

My chest was about to explode and my eyes were welling up with tears.  I had to get out of the expo!  

[Note to future self: NEVER spend 3+ hours at a race expo.  Ever.]

It didn't help that I was hungry and exhausted.  Brian and I took the bus back to the hotel, checked in, and crashed for a bit.  While I was nearly comatose, he searched online for a place to eat.  At that point I honestly didn't care what we ate.  Pre-race rituals be damned!  He found a pizza place we could walk to called Pizza Arte.  (Apparently Matt Damon has been there so it must be good.  haha)  Because we didn't have reservations we sat at the bar, which is what we like anyway.  We shared a delicious kale and quinoa salad and each got a pizza.  It was dinner-plate sized pizza, super thin crust.  The style was very much like Supino, which is the best pizza in Detroit.  So basically it was amazing.  Mine had roasted veggies and red sauce (Toto on the menu) - I just had to ask them to leave off the cheese.  I ate the whole thing.  It was more than I usually eat before a race but we ate early (around 5:00/5:30) so I had plenty of time for food to digest.  Eating more food was a big help on race day.  I just might be a pre-race pizza girl from now on!

After dinner we went back to the hotel, I got my stuff all ready for race day, had a snack, and was in bed at 8:00, asleep before 9:00.  Sunday was going to be a long day and I needed all the sleep I could get!

Sunday morning my alarm went off at 4:30. I wanted to be dressed and ready to leave our hotel room at 5:00.  And ready I was, coffee and all!


The transportation process for the NYC marathon is seriously amazing.  Getting 50,000 runners to the start line on Staten Island is a huge feat and it all moved so smoothly.  There were three stages: subway, ferry, bus.

1. Subway: Being from the metro-Detroit area, I don't have much experience with taking subways (or any form of public transportation) so I was a little nervous about making sure I got on the right train. When I arrived at 5:20, there were only two people waiting. Both runners, of course.  I made friends right away, figuring I would follow them.  Eventually more runners filtered down.  I loved talking to different people and hearing their stories.  Most of them were running NYC for the first time, although some had been slated to run in 2012 when it was cancelled due to Hurricane Sandy.  The time passed quickly and eventually a train came, which we rode to Whitehall Terminal.  

2. Ferry:  From the subway to Whitehall Terminal, it was about a one-block walk.  I had made friends with a girl at the subway station so we walked in together.  She was on the 6:00 ferry and I was on the 6:15.  We said out good-byes and wished each other luck.  At that point I was alone again, wondering what to do with myself.  I turned to a woman sitting down and asked if she was on the 6:15 ferry.  Not only was she on my ferry but she was in my same Village!  Chrissie had run NYC the previous year and had also run Boston.  She was able to give me some comparisons between the two, as well as some tips for NYC.  We also met another woman, Emily, and the three of us stuck together.  

I'm not sure which ferry we ultimately got on - either 6:30 or 6:45 - because once you're there you can get on whatever one you want.  You are basically just herded toward the gate and if you make it through before the doors close, you get on.  We stood on the outside of the boat so we could see Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty.  It was beautiful.  One option is to take the bus but a friend had recommended taking the ferry for this view; I'm grateful I took his advice. It was peaceful.

Chrissie, Emily, and me on the ferry.  Thanks Emily for the photos!  

3. Bus: Once you arrive on Staten Island, you aren't at the start line yet!  You then board a bus that drives you about 10 minutes to the Athletes' Village.  Emily and I sat together and talked.  It made the time go by fast to have great people along the way.  

Athletes' Village

Finally we had arrived!!  The Athlete's Village is set up at the base of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, where the race starts.  Unlike the Boston marathon, which has one athletes' village, NYC has THREE athletes' villages - Blue, Orange, and Green - based on your start location.  Blue and Orange start on the top of the bridge and Green starts on the bottom.  Once you arrive and walk through security, you find your village.  This is where Chrissie and I had to say good-bye to Emily.  I hugged her and told her to run with happy legs and a happy heart.  (Later on Facebook she told me did run happy!)  Chrissie and I went to the Green village.  Once there we found water, Dunkin' Donuts bagels, tea, and coffee, and lots or port-a-potties.  I'm not kidding.  You didn't even have to wait in a line.  

By this time it was maybe 8:00.  Chrissie had brought her post-race poncho from last year so we used it like a picnic blanket.  While we hung out I ate my Cliff Mojo bar and changed into my real socks and racing flats (I had not only taken throw-away clothes but shoes and socks as well - everything was donated to Goodwill).  They announced that the corrals for our wave were open and would close at 8:50.  (We were both in the same wave but different corrals.)  If you didn't get into your corral by 8:50 you had to wait for the next wave.  Around 8:40 I gave Chrissie a hug, wished her luck, and said good-bye.  I was sad to leave her but it was time to move on to the next step.

The waves are sectioned off by corrals, A-F at least.  Once you are in your corral there are port-a-potties and Goodwill bins.  This is where I finally ate my banana.  I waited from 8:50-9:30 and heard the start of the women's race.  At 9:30 they pulled away the ropes for the corrals and we all got to move to the bridge.  Another 20 minutes to wait - almost time!  The time passed quickly again because I talked to some friendly people.  Before I knew it the countdown was on!  

Verrazano Narrows Bridge

The Race

Staten Island

As I've said, the race begins in Staten Island on the Verrazano Bridge, which is the longest suspension bridge in the United States.  It was amazing to be running on that bridge, knowing that I had all these people around me from across the country and around the world.  Not only were they next to me and in front of me but there was a whole level of people running above me as well!  Pretty awesome.  I had a good starting position so I didn't feel too packed in.  At first it was a bit tricky to navigate and there were a few people taking selfies (seriously?!!) but after a mile or so things opened up.  

One thing that was not so cool was my Garmin.  I wasn't able to lock in a signal until I was about 1/4 mile in.  Once I did get a signal it was completely wacky.  According to my Garmin, my pace was fluctuating between a 4:00/mile and a 12:00/mile - neither of which I was running.  I was frustrated that I couldn't rely on that for my pace and in turn, frustrated with myself for having such a bad sense of my own pacing.  It finally settled down after a few miles but was still jumpy for the whole race.  The bridges, buildings, and 1,000s of other GPS devices around me probably didn't help.


When you exit the bridge around mile 2 you're in Brooklyn.  All I kept hearing about this race was the crowds.  Crowds everywhere!  When I first got off the Verrazano Bridge, however, there weren't a lot of spectators.  It was a bit quiet at first, like people are just starting to wake up and come outside.  I was a little worried about how much I was already craving crowd support.

At the 5K split I realized I was running a 6:45 pace, which was not in the plan.  With a bad hamstring and a hilly course, there was no way I could sustain that pace.  I tried to slow it down a bit but was still struggling with knowing just how fast I was going.  I wanted to slow down but also didn't want to worry too much about pace.  I wanted to enjoy the ride. 

Well, I sure enjoyed Brooklyn!  That was one of my favorite boroughs.  At this point, I was still running only with the Green wave (those who started on the bottom of the bridge).  The Orange and Blue waves run a different way for just over 3 miles before converging.  The part where we came together was indescribable.  It was amazing to be running down a relatively quiet street and to see a stream of runners ahead.  When I got there I turned right onto that street to join them.  I felt like THAT was where the real marathon began!  And that is where the crowds began!  Spectators were shouting, "Brooklyn!"  Police officers were standing in the median, looking like they just stepped out of NYPD Blue.  Music was playing.  The miles just clicked on by.  Before I knew it I had hit the 10K mark.  6:49.  CRAP.  Not much better.  The Beastie Boys and the Strokes played in my ears and I was soaking up the sights.  Running happy.  Afterwards I read that Brooklyn is the flattest and fastest borough, which definitely showed in my splits. 

Although Brooklyn may be the flattest borough, that doesn't mean it is flat.  The whole marathon was up and down.  Around mile 6-8, the course runs up Lafayette Avenue, which is a beautiful street lined with trees, brick townhouses, and cheering spectators.  It was at this point that I realized just how important that crowds were going to be for me.  Their cheering drove me forward.  There was an incline that, under normal circumstances, should have felt challenging; today it felt brutal.  I had a hard time getting my breathing back under control after I got to the top.  This was not a good sign.  

After I regained my composure I took my first gel, probably around mile 7.5, and grabbed a water at mile 8.  Nothing about that fueling stop went well.  The CLIF Shot tasted too sweet and sticky; it didn't digest well.  I felt like I didn't get enough water but the water I did get seemed to be sloshing around.  I tried to forgot about it, hoping I would miraculously not need another gel.

I leaned on the crowd for support, waving to them and smiling when the going got tough.  They were fantastic.  With one exception.  All of a sudden I heard, "Yeah ROCKY!"  Then about 30 second later there it was again, "Go ROCKY!"  Every 30 seconds or so I would hear some variation of it. I finally figured out that the shirtless, headband guy I was keeping pace with down Lafayette must have "Rocky" somewhere on his body.  It was starting to get annoying. I had to get away.  And I did.  Phew.

For a short while we ran through a Hasidic neighborhood, which was relatively quiet compared to the rest of the course.  Traditionally-dressed residents of the neighborhood were out heading to work and the streets were not lined with spectators. One of the women darted out into the street and I came way too close to running her over.  

Somewhere between 10 and 13 miles, things started to slow down for me.  Maybe slow down isn't quite the right phrase.  I was still running fast enough but I was feeling slow and I couldn't believe I still had so many miles left to run.  I passed the halfway point in 1:30:44 - on my way to a 3:00 marathon.  In all honesty, I wasn't prepared to run a 3:00 marathon on flat roads and here I was busting ass on hills.  The course was already way more challenging than I had anticipated and I still had more bridges to climb.  Confidence was dwindling and my hamstring was getting more sore with each passing mile.  

Moving from Brooklyn into Queens I crossed the Pulaski Bridge.  I actually liked this bridge.  It was short but steep.  I enjoyed powering up and passing people on the way.  Although there weren't too many spectators there were enough to make it fun.  My favorites were the construction worker guys sitting there with a lunch pail.  I waved and said hi.  I almost wished for a cat call.  Then it would have felt like true NYC.  

Queens & Manhattan (Part 1)

When you exit the Pulaski Bridge you're in Queens.  One of my racing mantras is "run the mile you're in."  I tried to forget about the miles that I'd already run, the boroughs I'd passed through.  No matter what had happened I was here in Queens and I could run it happy.  It was my race and mine alone. 

And then I heard, "Yeah ROCKY!"  Damn it.  

Queens is only about 2 miles of the course but it's a lively 2 miles. The bands and spectators helped the miles pass quickly. One band was doing a Pearl Jam cover.  Before I knew it I was at the Queensborough Bridge, ready to cross over to Manhattan. Compared with all the hooting and hollering of the rest of the course, the Queensborough Bridge was eerily quiet.  No spectators and just a few other racers around me. I could actually hear my music. Being a "King of Queens" fan, I'd been waiting for this bridge for months!  Coming off the bridge, however, it wasn't my back that was getting tight (that would be later). It was my calves. Hoo-wee!  And my hamstring was in really rough shape. Remember how I was on track for a 3:00 marathon at the halfway point?  Just 3 miles later that 3:00 marathon was quickly slipping away as my pace slowed to 7:00 min/mile (3:03).  And I knew I wouldn't be able to maintain that for another 10 miles.

Thankfully, exiting the bridge at mile 16 begins an amazing journey down 1st Avenue in Manhattan. The crowd support is unparalleled here.  Crowds are 6 deep for miles and the roar was louder than any music playing in my ears.  Brian was on First Avenue and was able to catch a few pictures of me.

First Avenue

First Avenue

After the Queensborough Bridge I was in bad shape.  My hamstring a mess, my calves were tight, and my pacing had been all over the place from the get-go.  It had been a rough race and I was struggling to find my happy.  I knew I had to make a decision.  Either hurt myself trying to hit an unattainable goal or just run happy and cross the finish line whenever I got to it.  I knew I wasn't going to hit my time anyway and why ruin my experience by being miserable for another 10 miles?  Or push myself and make my hamstring worse because of it?  No, at this point it was more worth it to be happy.  I moved myself over to the side of the road so I was close enough to wave to and high-five the crowd.  I used their energy to get me through.  Not to say the rest of the race was easy but it helped a lot to worry less about my pace and enjoy the experience a bit more.

First Avenue

While Brian was waiting for me at mile 16 he also got to see the elite men and woman, plus the race director and grand marshall Spike Lee.

The Bronx

Honestly I can't say a whole lot about the Bronx.  It's only 2 miles, went by pretty fast, and there were lots of turns.  At this point I somehow ended up running with the 3:10 pace group, the only pace group that had started in my wave and corral.  Considering I'd been aiming for a 3:00-3:05 finish, it was a bit disconcerting but at that point I didn't really care.  I was honestly just grateful for some company.  There are two bridges in the Bronx - the Willis Avenue Bridge just before mile 20 takes you into the Bronx and the Madison Avenue Bridge takes you back into Manhattan.  One of my favorite signs was on the Madison Avenue Bridge.  Last damn bridge! it read.  Amen to that!

Willis Avenue Bridge


I know that the last 10K of a marathon isn't easy.  Had I paid attention during the Course Strategy presentation at the Expo, done any research prior to running the race, or listened to my friends, I would have known just how challenging the final miles of this course were!  There's a mile stretch up 5th Avenue (Mile 23) that is a seemingly unending gradual incline.  My pace slowed by over a minute.  I could not will my legs to move any faster.  At one point I turned to a man next to me and asked, "Will this ever end?"  His reply was, "I don't think so!"  Again, thank goodness for the crowds that lined this stretch of the course!  

Central Park

When I finally hit mile 24 I was in Central Park.  I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day to be running in the park.  After that last uphill mile, my legs felt like they were moving through molasses and it took a full mile to get myself together. I turned to this guy above and commented that this race is a true test of strength.  The rest of our exchange went like this:

Him: "You hitting your goal?"
Me: "Nope!  You?" (laughing)
Him: (laughing) "Nope!"

Clearly the photographer caught us at a more serious moment.

As I wound my way through the rolling hills of Central Park, the spectators' cheering grew louder.  I almost didn't care how slow I was moving.  I was taking it in and grateful I was still running.  I think this is where I finally took my second CLIF Shot.  I didn't entirely feel like I needed it but maybe it would give me a boost for the last couple of miles.

Central Park

Central Park
When I saw the 25-mile marker ahead I picked up the pace.  I pretended it was a tempo run and gave it all I had.  That helped . . . for about half a mile.  I just didn't have much left in me!  I did the best I could to finish strong but even the last .2 was uphill.  I finished as strong as I could and with the biggest smile on my face.  


7:15 min/mile
CLIF Shot - Vanilla (Miles 7.5, 24)
Welcome to New York / Taylor Swift
New York / U2
Piazza, New York Catcher / Belle & Sebastian
Loretta Lee Jones / Langhorne Slim
New York, New York / Ryan Adams
Counting Stars / One Republic
NYC / Interpol
Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothin' / Mayer Hawthorne
Uptown Funk / Mark Ronson (feat. Bruno Mars)
New York City Cops / The Strokes
An Open Letter to NYC / Beastie Boys
Y Control / Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Empire State of Mind / Jay Z (feat. Alicia Keys)
And She Was / Talking Heads
Southern Bells / Langhorne Slim & the Law
Call Me / Blondie
Holiday / Vampire Weekend
Judy is a Punk / The Ramones
Maps / Yeah Yeah Yeahs 
Last Night / The Strokes
Sabatoge / Beastie Boys
Kool Thing / Sonic Youth
Rattlesnake / St. Vincent
New York Kiss / Spoon
Dead Brains / Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas
You've Got Time / Regina Spektor
Blitzkreig Bop / The Ramones
Blood for Poppies / Garbage
Youth without Youth / Metric
The Innocent / Mayer Hawthorne
Rope / Foo Fighters
Random Name Generator/ Wilco
Shake it Off / Taylor Swift
Goin' Down to New York Town / Counting Crows
No Sleep Till Brooklyn / Beastie Boys
Dance Apocolyptic / Janelle Monae
Supermassive Black Hole / Muse
Bad Romance / Lady Gaga
Brooklyn's Finest / Jay-Z
Get in My Way / Robin Thicke
What Makes You Beautiful / One Direction
Mallie Chan / Otto Vector
The Walker / Fitz & the Tantrums
Man / Neko Case
50 Ways to Say Goodbye / Train
Deceptacon / Jessica Hernandez & the Deltas
Run Right Back / The Black Keys
Discipline / Nine Inch Nails
Brave / Sarah Bareilles
Uprising / Muse


I chatted with other runners, congratulated them on their race, and thanked all the volunteers I saw.  As I walked toward the post-race poncho area, I chatted with a man from Poland who had run NYC many times along with countless marathons. His English wasn't great but we when you want to talk about running, you can find a way.  

After I got my poncho I happened to run into two of my running friends from Michigan. John and Merlin.  In a race of 50,000 people I didn't expect to randomly see anyone I knew!  I started telling them how challenging I thought the race was, thinking it was just me.  They thought it was hard too and said it was a +5:00 course.  True or not, that at least made me feel a bit better.  

We walked together to find Brian in the Family Meeting Area, which very easy.  It was much easier than finding him in Boston.  He was waiting with his Uncle Al, who had come from New Jersey to watch the race.  I was so excited to see them both!  In fact I shrieked with such excitement that the NYPD looked over with concern.  Oops.

We hung out for a while as a parade of athletes walked past to find their families.  Eventually we left and made the 1+ mile walk back to the hotel.  After all the morning transportation I was glad I could just walk!  

By the time we got back to the hotel and I showered and got ready, it was time for dinner.  We walked to an organic burger place in Hell's Kitchen called Bare Burger.  It was great because they had both meat and vegan burgers, plus fries and vegan carrot cake.  It was basically the best place ever!  

Between Sunday night and Monday morning, we checked out a lot of the big things around the Times Square/Central Park area.  Here are a few photos.

Back to the finish line Monday morning
We visited Rupert Jee at the Hello Deli!

It was a fun and exciting weekend.  The marathon was an amazing experience.  I met great people, saw cool sights, and ran through places I wouldn't have otherwise run through.  I am proud of my effort and performance.  That being said, however, I think one NYC marathon may be enough.  There are plenty of other marathons to run!