Bring on the banana pudding, I’m a marathoner! It was fun, exciting, and eventually painful, but thank gosh I made it.
Warning: this post is a long one. But 26.2 miles demand that, no? I promise shorter recipe posts again tomorrow!
If you’re a regular reader of my occasional running posts, you know I spent the past 3 months training for the NYC Marathon. On two separate occasions, I found myself sidelined due to injury — one of which caused a training drought of two weeks. Somehow, I perservered and managed to put myself back together enough to make it to race day.
After a week of taper, a long car ride, and a fun expo, I did what any first-time marathon runner would do before the big day: carbo-loading to the max, complements of Panera! High-glycemic index foods are vital to race prep, so I spent Saturday morning and afternoon eating lots of white bread. I need to allow myself to eat white bread more often. Especially sourdough… mmm!
After prepping my race gear and getting to bed early (three cheers for the extra hour due to daylight savings!), I hopped on what I thought would be a quick half-hour shuttle ride from the Meadowlands to Staten Island. Well folks, we can add one more reason to the ‘Reasons to Dislike New Jersey’ list, because apparently NJ Transit bus drivers aren’t very familar with their own stomping grounds.
Two hours and several detours later, we made it to the start village. During our extended stay on the bus, I was thanking my parents. Even though breakfast would be offered at the start village, they suggested I pack my own breakfast incase I didn’t want the breakfast offered. Since we were on the bus for so long, other runners became worried about not having enough time for their food to digest. Not me! I was able to eat a banana and peanut butter sandwich at 6:45, three hours before my start. This allowed my body enough time to digest.
Other than a not-so-fun bus ride, pre-race events were fairly uneventful. Except for the fact that we were in the corrals an hour before the start. Not good for a girl with a small bladder. As the cannon sounded and ‘New York, New York’ played, I was more focused on my bladder than 26 miles. As we descended the Verrazano Bridge (and I jealously watched several men relieving themselves over the bridge!) I was certain I wouldn’t make it through this race without a pit-stop. My two-minute bathroom break (um, yes.. world’s largest race = lines for bathrooms during the race) was quite possibly the best decision I made that day. Running in comfort early on is key!
I moved right along at 8:15-8:30 miles through Brooklyn, which had amazingly enthusiastic crowds. My pace at this time was quicker than I anticpated, but I was completely comfortable, so I continued to cruise along at that pace through the half. We reached the half marathon point (1:51 for me) as we crossed over the Pulaski Bridge into Queens, and the two miles that followed were flat with fans!
Then, it came. My pace slowed to an 8:45 as we made our way over the East River. They don’t lie –the Queensboro Bridge is dark, quiet, and no fun for tired runners! Before the race, I was determined not to become a victim at this point, but I definitely didn’t tackle the bridge as well as I’d have liked. I think the NYRR should set up some speakers in there and play music to keep runners’ spirits up.
Anywho, once off the bridge, I spotted my parents straight ahead with their neon green sign…
They were actually interviewed outside on the Today Show that morning! Speaking of celebrities, I kept my eyes peeled for Bobby Flay the entire time, but turns out he was in the second wave. Darn! I did think I saw the Chilean miner at mile 24, decked out in mining gear, but apparently it was an imposter. No celebrity sightings here!
Back to the race. I knew to expect big crowds on First Avenue, as I was a spectator here just two years ago. But after the thrill of huge crowds wore off a bit, things took a bit of a downhill. Well, the road was actually going uphill, but it was that steady incline did me in. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but I hit my ‘wall’ in this part of the race, around mile 18-19. I guess that’s what you get for not getting to do the training you hoped to do. But as I tired here, I reminded myself that I was lucky to be racing today, and that every step I took was the furthest I’d ever run.
The incline at the Willis Ave Bridge into the Bronx didn’t help one bit! Mile 20 was a low point with crowds in the Bronx more sparse, and I actually started to feel hungry and a bit light-headed. I grabbed some gatorade and reminded myself that I was just a quick 1.5 mile stretch away from Manhattan. And boy did we receive a warmed welcome upon re-entry into Manhattan — thank you Harlem! At this point I was focused on not letting myself drop past 10-minute miles. Gosh, I had never run 10-minute miles until yesterday, and I never ever would have thought it’d take so much effort.
Somehow, while battling my way down Fifth Ave, I mustered up the courage to tackle the heartbreaking 3/4 mile hill at mile 23. Sure, I could slow my pace like others around me, but I knew this was the last big challenge, so I went for it. It hurt at the top, but also restored my hopes of making it to the finish before the clock hit 4:00. It’s funny (but, not really) — at the half, I was on cloud nine thinking I’d easily make it under 4:00, and now here I was, racing against time.
A quick jaunt through Central Park and it was onto Central Park South! I’ve watched runners here before and know about the slight incline, so I was a bit worried it might keep me from breaking 4:00, but the crowds (and the shade) allowed me to pick up my pace. I put the pain aside and pushed ahead. Sure, I was just running this race to finish, but who wants to finish in 4:00? I knew I didn’t. And as we re-entered the park one final time, I realized I was going to make it. My legs moved as quickly as they could while my eyes looked around at the enormous crowd.
I crossed at 3:59:20. As soon as my feet stopped to walk, all I could think was, whoa, I made it! While my legs wobbled through the finish area (which took 45 minutes to get out of), I clung to my mylar blanket, shoveling salty pretzels in my mouth. I knew it would be important to get calories and sodium into my body as soon as possible. As soon as I retrieved my phone, I called my mom and told her to meet me with this…
What better way to celebrate your first 26.2 mile run with a pint of Magnolia Bakery banana pudding? Come on guys, would you really expect anything less of me? 🙂
For your benefit and mine, here are the tips that I took away from my first marathon:
1. If you have to be at the start early, bring your own breakfast. You can’t always rely on what will be offered at the race, and you’ll likely feel comforted eating something you’re used to. I knew I wanted to eat three hours before my start, and having my breakfast with me allowed me to do so.
2. Fuel early and often. Sure, eating a good breakfast is great. But I think fueling during is equally, if not more important. I purchased a Spibelt at the race expo on Saturday and carried four Gu’s with me – I ate all of them! I took the first about 45 minutes in and continued that pattern to the end, regardles of how I felt. I knew I wasn’t going to be drinking Gatorade during the race, so the Gu was crucial to keeping my legs moving.
3. Break the race into smaller races to make it seem less challenging. Yesterday, I ran over the Verrazano, then through Brooklyn, a quick run through Queens, then Manhattan, a mile (not-so) fun run in the Bronx, and a ‘simple’ 5 miler in Manhattan.
4. When your legs get tired, turn your brain off and take it a mile at a time. You may not hit a wall, but you will surely reach a point where your pace slows a bit. When my legs tired at mile 18, I easily could have beat myself up mentally, but instead, I just turned off my mind and kept running, pushing through the pain. This is where I think years of competitive swimming benefit me.
5. Don’t look at people walking. My dad actually told me this the day before the race, and I responded to him by suggesting I encourage the walkers to keep running. This might work for others, but for me, my dad’s advice worked best. I actually never ever wanted to walk though, because (a) I knew if I stopped to walk it’d be a true battle to the finish, and (b) I don’t want to tell someone I ran a marathon and know in the back of my mind that I didn’t actually run the entire course.
6. If you have to go to the bathroom, go early before your legs fatigue or your stomach hurts. The only thing worse than walking would be stopping altogether, in my opinion. When I started the race I knew I needed to take care of my bathroom pit-stop before the 10k — before I built too much momentum. As I said previously, I think this was the best decision I made in the entire race. I can only imagine how my body (and bladder) might have felt if I tried to run through it.
The furthest I had ever run before yesterday was 17 miles. My training was a much rockier road than I imagined. Sure, I would have finished stronger in an ideal world, but making it to the finish was really the goal this time around. As I wrap up this post today, my quads are terribly sore and walking down stairs is a bit of a struggle. But it was worth it. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I actually woke up this morning wishing I could go back and run again. If you ever have the chance to run the NYC Marathon, do not pass it up.