Sunday, November 14, 2010

NYC Marathon Race Report, Nov 7, 2010 - Ton C.

By Ton:

2010 ING NYC Marathon Race Report, Nov 7, 2010 - Ton C.

For those of you who are aware of my history with the marathon, you’ll know that it’s my trickiest event by far. In my two previous attempts, I failed to hit my sub-4 hour goal, something that many people, including myself, are surprised by based on my (perceived) level of fitness. It's been like an annoying monkey on my back. This year, I was able to string together 6 personal records in triathlons and running events at various distances, including a 2:24 olympic distance triathlon, a 5:24 half ironman, two 1:38 half marathons, and a 4-miler at a 7:06 pace. One would naturally believe that, especially now, I should be able to confidently go out and snag a sub-4 hour marathon… riiight?

Well, that’s the problem with “should” (aka, the bastard child of “could” and “would”). An elusive goal haunts you even more when you’ve thoroughly convinced yourself that you are capable of attaining it (regardless of whether you truly are). This is especially the case when there are other people who you believe are less fit than you who have accomplished this same goal on their very first try. I believe every athlete, at some point in their racing career, will struggle with the concept of “should” with varying degrees of frustration.

Anyways, on to the race report

What a beautiful morning for a race. A bit cold (in the 40’s) and windy but the skies were clear on this nice fall day. I was fortunate enough to have a good friend who lives literally 5 minutes from the race start offer me a couch to crash on the night before. Whereas I had to wake up at 4:15am the year before and stand out in the cold in Staten Island for 3 hours, I didn’t actually wake up til 7:00am this year and didn’t leave for the race start until 8:30 am. Most importantly, I didn’t have to endure the pre-race porta-johns. AWESOME. My breakfast consisted of some toast with peanut butter and bottle of GU Electrolyte Brew.

Gun goes off for my wave at 10:10 am, and we’re off!

Nothing to report from the first 13 miles of the race other than that I was in complete control. I held my heart rate in the mid/upper 160’s and was pretty much gliding. My mile splits were pretty consistent, and I had a lot left in the tank.

At the half-way point, I looked down at my watch and it showed a 1:52:xx and I thought “I’m feeling great, and I know I can cruise to a 3:4x marathon finish.” Then I thought to myself… how far away is a 3:3x marathon?!” knowing very well that this would require negative splits in a race with a much tougher second half.

At mile 15/16, as I cross the Queensboro bridge heading into 1st Avenue in Manhattan, where the crowd support is simply insane, and I decide to ramp up the effort. I’m at about 170 BPM average at this point and decide that I will stay at this effort until I hit Central Park at Mile 23. The crowd is roaring and I get amped up when I see the Chilean miner up ahead. The crowd is going wild for him! I pat him on the back, and say “good luck!” before I pull off. (He looked like he was hurting BAD, but he would eventually finish the race in 5 hours and 40 minutes with ice wrapped around both knees.)

At Mile 19, Rachel (my girlfriend) and Alex (my friend and former roommate) jump in and run with me. I’m so happy to see them! I utter these words:

“I’m a few minutes off of a 3:40 finish. I’m going to try to maintain this pace and then go for broke when I get close to Central Park. Whatever you do, don’t let me slip slower than this pace!”

In hindsight, this was way too tough a goal, but I was feeling too amped to realize it. I would’ve had to make up 3 or 4 minutes in 7 miles, meaning I would’ve had to average slightly below 8 minute miles during the toughest part of a race, whereas I had been averaging about an 8:30 pace up until then.

At mile 21, Alex pulls off and I’m running with Rachel. Less than 200 yards later, I suffer a really bad right hamstring cramp that pulls me out of the race for a couple minutes. (I had dropped my SaltStick tablets at around mile 12. Damnit!) Not sure what was more painful – the cramping itself or seeing hordes of people pull away, along with marathon goal. I start to panic a bit and stand up, only for my hamstring to re-cramp and send me back to the ground. Rachel runs to get me a bottle of water from a spectator nearby. I take a drink and say to her, “We have to keep going!”

For a while, we walk as I shake out my leg. Then we start to jog lightly. We hit the next mile marker, and my heart drops to the floor when I see the agonizing 11:10 time split for mile 21. OUCH!!!

* Ouch!!!

It’s at this point that I really started to panic because I knew damned well what was on the line. I knew I would not be able to return to an 8:30 pace again, and maybe not even a 9:00 pace, but…. what was the slowest pace I could afford to maintain to break 4?! Clearly, I had to pick this up, but… when? How? And would I cramp up again?! So many thoughts racing through my mind that everything around me seemed to disappear. What a complete mind screw!!! To go from chasing down a 3:40 to risk not even breaking 4:00!


The next few miles felt longer than the entire race leading up to that point. I decided that my mind was too scrambled to do any more math on pace and predicted finish times, and I simply had to coast along as fast as I could while staying just a twitch below cramping. The only thing I can think of to describe this experience is walking a tight rope. Anything that triggers another cramp will effectively end my day and put me through the LONGEST off-season ever. I had to hover below that cramp threshold.

My only source of comfort at this point comes from Rachel running beside me, encouraging me to push on. I stay silent the entire time, and she knows I’m hurting.

At mile 23, Rachel pulls off and I’m running by myself. The thought of not breaking 4:00 (AGAIN!) really struck a lot of fear and anxiety in me that I began to cry for a moment. (In hindsight, I’m quite surprised at how emotional I become out of nowhere. I guess I just knew I couldn’t bear the disappointment.) My heart rate drops significantly, down to the mid/low 160’s, and I’m upset that my muscles won’t let me hammer a 180+ BPM effort. Cardiovascularly, I probably had enough capacity to be smoking a cigarette at that point, but my muscles were shot.
At the beginning of mile 25, I make a decision to make one final push, praying that I wouldn’t cramp within a couple hundred yards of the finish. (I’ve heard stories of this happening all the time at marathons, but I never thought that it could be me!) I hadn’t looked at my watch in a few miles and decide at this point, I don’t want to know my time because it's too late to do anything about it. The last 400 yards felt like an eternity. I let out a scream and finish strong, not letting anyone pass me in the final dash…

Finish Time: 3:53:36


(HUGE sigh of relief.)

Tears in my eyes, I’m practically ready to fall to the floor. I walk over to the medals table, waving off this dude trying to give me my medal, saying “No! I want HER to give me my medal!” (pointing to the girl wearing a sash that says “Miss New York 2010”). Alas, as this girl puts the medal around my neck, I’m already thinking about Rachel, who’s waiting for me at the steps of the Museum of Natural History about half a mile away. I relish every moment of my “Walk of Pride” to see her, all the while feeling very light, especially with the sub-4 hour marathon monkey finally off my back.

Avg HR: 167 beats per minute
Time: 3:53:36 (vs. 4:02:40 in 2009 and 4:12:36 in 2007)
Pre Race Nutrition: Toast w/ Peanut Butter, 1 bottle GU Electrolyte Brew, 1 Gu Roctane packet (Blueberry Pomegranate).
During Race Nutrition: 1 Gu Roctane every 5 miles, 2 SaltStick tablets (until I dropped my pouch at mile 12), Gatorade Endurance at each aid station.

1 comment:

  1. Great race report and congrats for FINALLY breaking 4 hours!!