Home > Marathon Tips, NYC Marathon 2008, Race Reports > Reflections on my First Marathon, NYC Marathon 2008

Reflections on my First Marathon, NYC Marathon 2008

Here I am.  Labor Day, Sept. 7, 2009, 54 days to go before I test my fitness again at the marathon distance.  Last year was my first attempt at the marathon.  At age 34, I felt it was time to venture into the unknown.  As you may know (from previous post), I’ve been running for most of my life, but usually 5k, 10k races.  In 2007 I started running more 1/2 marathons, which at the time was about the distance of my longest long runs.

Last year, 2008, I decided to run the NYC marathon as my debut at the distance.  I felt that I trained consistently but not as focused as I needed to be, in hindsight.  I only really did one “long run”, during training, I now consider anything 18 miles or over a long run.  The problem was my mileage build up was not sufficient to support these longer runs.  Ideally you want long runs to be about 25% of your weekly mileage, mine were 50%.  Needless to say a developed an injury, guess….stress fracture of the lower leg, right shin to be exact.  And it really became noticeable in my 18, which turned into a 20 miler in Sept 08.  It was a formal training run hosted by NYRR in Central Park.  3 loops of the park, it ended up being 20 because I needed to pick up my number and when I got the the park I was told the numbers were at the NYRR office, about 1 mile away.  So my day of running started with a sprint back to the NYRR office and then back to the start line.  The run was going well pace wise and body wise thru about 13, 14 miles then I started to slow, cramps and tight hamstrings started to become more prevalent, shins started to hurt more.  I ended up with a 2:12:51 effort, which is a 7:22/mile pace.  Not bad for the first time running that far, but health wise I was whipped.  I would have loved to continue with my 40 mile weeks and get up to 50 before the taper, but I decided it would be better to take it easy and not get a full blown stress fracture and be unable to compete come November.

So, my training from then on consisted of easy runs in the 3-8 mile range, with the last 3 weeks before race day of minimal running.  I felt rested but not very fit, and not very confident about the task of 26.2 miles.  Race day arrived and I psyched myself up mentally, I was ready.  My father flew out from Cali to watch and my girlfriend would be cheering me on.  They traveled around the course by subway to see me in 3 locations, very impressive.  They saw me in Brooklyn, near our apartment, then on 1st Ave and 50th, then again in Central Park for the last few miles.

It being my first marathon, I was a little nervous, I didn’t know what to expect.  I’d read articles and blogs extensively on the internet and magazines, so I had an idea of what was to come.  I’d read all the tips and top 10 lists and tricks,  I felt like I wouldn’t be surprised by anything.  I read in an article that putting your name on your race shirt is very helpful and motivational since spectators will cheer you on by name.  I decided to do this and it was great, for a while.  I felt like I had a million friends in NYC, all saying “Go Chad, Cmon Chad, Keep it Up!!”  On the day of the marathon I was ready, all my racing clothes were neatly piled, all my gels, fluids, and other gear was stashed in my racing bag, and I headed out to catch the subway at 5am.  After catching the 2,3 subway from Brooklyn to the Wall St stop, I walked to the Staten Island Ferry pick up spot in South Street Seaport.  There I waited for about 30 minutes with a few thousand other runner waiting for that pickup time.

Night Before Race Day

Night Before Race Day

Once to Staten Island we all walked to a bus stop pick up and were transported closer to the start line.  Once we exited the bus we walked several hundred meters, thru a police check point for a bag search and arrived at the main staging area where thousands of runners were gathered.  There were also about 50 UPS trucks to transport our baggage to the finish line, all coded by our race number.  Oddly, there was coffee and doughnuts to eat while waiting for the start.  I’m hoping that was to cater to the volunteers who planned on a sugar caffeine brunch , because I can’t see how that would be a smart pre-race snack, coffee maybe but not doughnuts!  I stuck with my power bar and gatorade.  I snuck in about 5 minutes of light jogging.  It was about 47 degrees and breezy so I didn’t want to get too sweaty and then cold, we still had about 1 1/2 hours before start time.

I changed out of my real warm-ups into my $10 warm-ups I’d purchased at the expo a few days before, they were cheap, but were meant only to keep me warm for the last hour before the start and then tossed to the side once the gun went off.  So Nate and I made our way to the color coded, number coded corral.  We were in the front group which is key, we had good seed times based on our half marathons that year and our NYRR club affiliation also got preferential placement.  Each corral held about 4,000 runners, luckily we had 10 port-a-johns for our exclusive use.  I made 1 last trip to the port-a-john about 40 minutes before start time, and when I exited, the stampede had begun.  They were moving the runners from the corral to the starting area, and I wouldn’t see Nate again until the finish line.  We did a 1/2 mile jog/walk to the start line, even though I was in the “front” group, I was still about 40 rows of people back.  It would take me less than 1 minute to reach the start line once the gun went off, for people in the back of the pack it would take 20+ minutes to reach the start line.  Thankfully most races are chip-timed, which means your clock doesn’t start until you cross the electronic sensor at the start line.  The problem with races of this size 30k and up is it will take at least 2 miles to weave your way through all the people to finally be able to run comfortably and not have to dodge slower runner/walkers.

Verrazano Bridge

Verrazano Bridge

I looked backward and forward for Nate for about 15 minutes to no avail, and saw 40 others doing the same, trying to locate their friends.  We stood at the start line for a good 30 minutes listening to announcement, National anthem, Elite runner intros, the mayor, celebrities, more announcements, Peter ChaCha giving the race course description as he does in every NYRR race.  If you find a way to get lost on the NYC marathon course, you have big problems.  At least it was semi-warm in the tightly packed group.  As a side note, runners can be gross.  I’ve been a runner my whole life, so maybe I’ve become caloused to it.  I was also warned/advised that the start takes a long time once you leave the corral so hang on to your empty gatorade bottle and use it as a personal port-a-potty, OK fine, fair enough.  But one forgetful gentleman apparently forgot his gatorade bottle and proceeded to just squat amongst the thousands and urinate while waited to start.  Thankfully I was off to the side, I felt bad for those downhill from him who got a surprise creek.

My goal going in was 3:10 (Boston qualifier) but since it was my 1st marathon and I had no idea how I would feel, I was open to faster or slower, I knew both were possible.

dad with sign

My Dad at Mile 22

Finally it was go time…the gun went off and adreneline surged through my body.  Keep in mind that we are starting at the base of the Verazano Bridge, which is the biggest hill of the course, and the biggest down hill.  http://www.nycmarathon.org/documents/elevation.pdf   I decided to keep my warm-up top on, just for the first bit since it was so cold and the bridge was really windy.  We started out and everyone was going so slow, I was weaving in and out, got to the top of the bridge, crested it and started the decent, passed the 1 mile mark in 6:45…not good, but I felt great.  Now we are on the downhill so I can’t slow down.  I come off the bridge, now the crowd starts to appear, first a few people, then more, right off the bottom of the bridge is 2 miles, 13 flat!, that was a 6:30 on the downhill, oops.  OK, I really have to slow down, I come through 3 with a 6:50, better, but that’s 3 hour pace.  So, I’m thinking, OK, maybe I can get 3 hours.

Verrazano Empties into Brooklyn

Verrazano Empties into Brooklyn

I was so pumped running through Brooklyn, I knew Alex (my girlfriend, now fiance) and my Dad would be cheering soon, and of course I wanted to look good for them, I came throught 10k in 41:46 (6:44 pace), I hadn’t slowed down at all. I was still on sub 3hr pace, I really had to ease it back. I did, whether I wanted to or not, by the half way point I was at 1:32, overall 7 min pace average, but I was now running 7:30/mile and it wasn’t going to get better…

Mile 7

Mile 7

I was mentally relieved to reach the 1/2 marathon, the sun was out, and I felt pretty good still.  We meandered through Queens and finally arrived at the Queensbridge, the connection to bring us to 1st Ave.  The bridge was long and quiet since there were no spectators.  From the base of the bridge to the end is roughly 1 mile.

Now coming off the bridge, I’d heard from many people it was like a “rock star” welcoming.  I was not impressed.  Maybe because I was expecting a roar.  There were a lot of people cheering but it wasn’t anything different than Brooklyn 4th Ave.  I’m a good downhill runner, but sometimes I go too fast, coming down the bridge and into Manhattan was an example of this.

Wow.  I clocked a 6:34 mile and I didn’t really realize it until I analyzed my splits.  I forgot to hit my lap button various times during the marathon.  Not because I was “in the zone”,  more like in a daze.

I was now eagerly looking for my Dad and Alex they were around mile 18.  Before I got there I had to stop and stretch.  Quad, Hamstrings, Calves, groin.  Everything was starting to give the indications of cramping.  And my upper back was on fire, it hurt to turn my head.

I saw my family and gave them a wave.  The next time I would see them is at mile 23, they would walk directly West to Central Park.  I had signed myself up for email race updates as I crossed 5k, 10k, 15k, etc and my Dad had my Blackberry so they could follow my pace.  Needless to say, they expected me at mile 23 much sooner then I actually showed up.

So, after seeing them at 18mi and heading toward the Bronx, the crowd thinned dramatically, it was hard to stay focused.  My splits were getting slower and slower

I was able to stop and stretch and hold off the cramps. I could feel the pre-cramp twinges, so I would shorten my stride, adjust my gait, anything I could do. I was drinking gatorade at every station, consuming Powergel every 30 min. but to no avail. My lack of training and going out too fast was blatantly apparent. I also don’t think I was consuming enough sodium.   Adding the trouble was the cold windy air. I was forced to stop and stretch once per mile from here on in. Even when I had some energy and tried to push, the imminent cramping suggested otherwise. So, I struggled, and struggled, and struggled, eventually being held to 9+ minute miles for the last 6, I was able to dig down and manage an 8:30 for the last mile. 3:25:22 was the final time, 7:49 average, nothing to be ashamed of, especially for my 1st.

Mile 23--Struggling

Mile 23--Struggling

People on 5th Ave and in Central Park really encouraged me, even though, “Go Chad” was the last thing I wanted shouted at me as pain shot through my legs with every short stride.  I still can’t believe how long the last 3 miles felt.  Never did I think I would quit and not make it to the finish.  I didn’t have any guess to what I could run, but I knew I would finish.  And finishing felt good, for 1 second, then walking hurt more than when I was running.

After the finish, probably my biggest complaint about the NY marathon was the “death march” after the finish line.  We had to walk (crawl) approximately 1 mile to retrieve our baggage from the numbered UPS truck.  I guess in the long run it was good to “cool down” after, but it was the last thing I wanted to do.

Are We There Yet!?

Are We There Yet!?

Debut Marathon In the Books 3:25

Debut Marathon In the Books 3:25

My beginning stress fracture hurt during the race but I forgot about it once the cramps started.  I took 5 weeks off from running and started back with very light jogging.  Although due to lack of activity I had ballooned up to 208 lbs by Christmas time.  Now it was time to re-focus and get back into shape for my 2nd marathon the next year…I was hooked.

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