New York City Marathon - 42.195 km
After moving to New York in September 2017 it quickly became clear that I wouldn’t be able to cycle as much as I had done back home. As some of my colleagues ran regularly, and I live close to Central Park, I set myself the goal of running the NYC Marathon. I hadn’t run since the Eindhoven half marathon 9 years ago, so this would require some training.
Initially I started running just a few kilometers after work, but I gradually reached a level where I could comfortably run the Central Park loop (9.6 km) several times a week. I also joined the New York Road Runners (NYRR), which organizes the NYC marathon and many other races throughout the year. Those were a good way to keep motivated and measure myself against others. The only way I could still gain entry to the 2018 edition in November would be through the lottery, which I had a 1/6 chance of winning. Around January I heard that I didn’t get in. This was probably for the best, as I had severely injured my ankle during the winter and hadn’t been able to train properly for about 2 months. To get into the 2019 edition, I would have to qualify in 2018 by running 9 NYRR races (mostly 10 km races and half marathons) and volunteer once. Luckily, there were plenty of options and the races motivated me to continue training throughout the rest of the year, including during a -12 °C show storm.
Until March 2019 my training consisted mostly of running faster and faster loops through Central Park and, although I finished a half marathon in 1:32:38, I wasn’t making much progress anymore. Soon I learned why. I met some people at work who ran regularly and were much more experienced. With them I started doing other types of workouts, such as intervals, hills, long runs, etc. The interval trainings were really tough but definitely helped me get faster. Four months before the marathon it was time to get serious, so we joined one of NYRR's virtual training programs. These provided daily assignments tailormade to my running abilities. A really nice thing about the program was that it adjusted its intensity based on my daily feedback. If I regularly ran faster than planned, the program would get tougher and vice versa. My schedule made me workout 5 times a week, with running on at least 4 of those days.
The medals I collected while training for the marathon
I expected to have a hard time motivating myself to run nearly every day for 4 months, but ended up really enjoying it. The first 3 months of the training program went really well, although I had a hard time with the weekly long runs, which gradually went up to about 30 km. I also got better at figuring out how much and what to eat and drink. By now I had also finished about 20 races, which took away much of the unknowns. Three weeks before the marathon I was supposed to run 32 km, but felt a bit overtrained so decided to sign up for a half marathon race instead (the Staten Island half). Despite the hilly course and not being fully rested I finished in 1:28:45.
I knew I was in very good shape, but because I was never fully rested during the entire 4 months it was hard to say how fast I could go. Three weeks before the race it was time for ‘tapering’. This, I learned, was a period of 2-3 weeks in which I had to gradually decrease my workouts to fully recover before the big race. I expected this to be the easiest part of the training, after all it mostly involved resting. According to the training schedule I would be running at 70% of the intensity I had been training at the week before. Because of a weekend trip and bad weather, this ended up being more like 50%. A few days later my legs felt horrible and I couldn’t motivate myself at all. All the running likely made me addicted to the ‘runner's high’ and the sudden reduction resulted in withdrawal symptoms. For two weeks I was running way slower than before and got all sort of pains I hadn't felt at all during the more intense phases. Luckily, I started to feel better a week before the race and the weather predictions were good. The training plan predicted I would finish the marathon between 3:22 and 3:28, but as I consistently ran faster than my assignments I would aim for 3:15-3:20.
BIB pick-up was in a huge hall filled with merchandising. It was nice to see so many fellow runners and the latested equipment. I received start number 6226 and would start in corral B of the Green wave. There were three waves that would start on different levels of the Verrazano bridge, each divided into multiple corrals based on the runners' expected finish time.
There would be 53.000 people at the start. On the day of the race I set 3 alarms and went through my by now familiar ‘race morning’ procedure. I ate my oatmeal at 4:45 and took two bananas for the subway and bus ride. About two hours before the start I and two friends arrived. There was an entire village with food, drinks, music, toilets, photographers, therapy dogs, etc. I was very happy I had brought some old clothes to wear over my running outfit, because it was about 5 °C. Unfortunately, there was no toilet paper, but I improvised.
The start would be on the Verrazano bridge, with a beautiful view over Manhattan. At 8 o’clock a real cannon was fired to start us off. After two full years of training it felt surreal to finally be there. I had read online that it was common for people on the upper section of the bridge too urinate down just after the start, raining on the runners below. Luckily this turned out to be exaggerated and I made it over without getting wet.
My plan had been to follow one of the pacers for a 3:15 finish time as long as possible. Unfortunately, all pacers started off way too fast and were out of sight before I even finished the first mile, even though I was perfectly on track for a finish 3:15 time. This meant I would be running by myself, but I still had my GPS watch and a wristband with split times to keep my pace in check. As soon as I entered Brooklyn the amount of noise and people became ridiculous. The entire course was an endless line of live music and shouting people. There were also drinking stations every mile with screens indicating the elapsed time. In terms of food I ate ‘Probar energy chews’ which contained a good amount of sugar and caffeine.
The support helped a lot along the way, the sign says 'make way, Bram is coming'.
The first 15 miles contained a few small hills, but no large climbs. I managed to run at a very steady pace and stay within a few seconds of my desired split times. My girlfriend Diane had planned to cheer me on at various places but, as I would later learn, we just missed each other a few times because of all the crowds. Later I had to climb the Queens borough bridge. This involved about a mile of uphill running which was difficult to pace because the overhang made my watch loose GPS signal. Upon going down I felt the first feelings of fatigue. The next few miles were again through crowds of people and nearly perfectly straight until the Bronx. I had heard a lot of horror stories about the Bronx section and they were all true. We had to climb a few smaller bridges and my legs started to feel really tired. About 5 miles before the finish I was still on track to finish around 3:16, but felt like I couldn’t run anymore. I kept pushing but gradually went slower and slower while the pain became worse and worse. Two miles before the finish Diane and some other friends were cheering me on, they later told me I looked fit, but in reality I had tears in my eyes because of the pain.
A few kilometers before the finish
I don’t remember much from the last part except the pain. A few corners before the finish I realized I had lost more time than I thought so I sprinted with the last bit of energy I had left. I finished my first marathon in 3:18:54. After crossing the finish line everything hurt and I felt sick. There were people throwing up and lying on the ground. My legs hurt so much I couldn’t sit down nor walk. Step by step I struggled on and eventually sat down for a bit. It took me 25 minutes to walk the mile to the exit, where Diane was waiting. Meanwhile I had received my medal and some food and drinks, I also received a warm poncho. That was a bit overkill for the 30 minutes I would wear it, but it did feel good to be warm.
I made it!!
During the taxi ride and walk home people were congratulating me everywhere. Back home my parents had seen me finish on TV and my name was also printed in the New York times. While the fatigue went away fast I had injured a tendon in my ‘upper hamstring’ and couldn’t walk normally for 2 weeks. It took about 3 weeks before I could jogg again and another 2 weeks before I felt motivated to push myself again. I certainly went to my limits during the race and am happy with my finish time. I also qualified for 2020, which will be the 50th edition. If I keep training during the winter and do some more long runs I should be able to do even better next year.