If you haven't already, you really should run the New York City marathon. I think this is my 12th marathon, and I can say without hesitation that the race and the city are unforgettable.
With this being said, enjoying this race was the absolutely the furthest thing from my mind as I crouched in the porta-john at mile 14. This was the third time I'd done the knee-knocking sprint to the side of the road during the past 5 miles, so by now I was good at throwing the door open and getting on with it. "I'm sh**ting my race away", I shouted at the brown door in front of me. I stayed in longer this time than the last two abrupt trips, as I desperately wanted this to be the last time. A PR was by all accounts slipping away, my stomach felt like hell and I couldn't keep any calories down.
The pre-race fesitivities started with a scare when the announcement sounded that the race had closed the first wave corrals and was now staging the second wave. We were handing our bags to the UPS truck at the time, which was at least a quarter mile from where we needed to be, and the follow-up announcement made it clear that we were now relegated to the second wave. I'd seen this movie before last October when I was stuck in wave 2 at Twin Cities, and there was no way I was going to go through that nightmare again. Unfortunately, there were probably 1000 people milling about in the space between us (Lucas was with me) and the staging area, so we were forced to bump our way through what seemed like half of the race's participants en route to the tail end of our corral. Thankfully when we showed our bibs to the guards at the gate they waved us in. From there we worked to the front and ran into Ian, which was a nice surprise.
Staring ahead at the supports for the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and feeling the cold headwind blowing into the field gave me chills, and I couldn't wait to get started. I was going to get down to business quick, with my effort-based split plan in hand (actually it was glued to my Garmin thanks to Kiera's scrap-book talents). My planned 6:27 was 6:27 for mile 1, my planned 5:38 (big downhill) was a 5:37 for 2, and the 5:49 and 5:42 came in at 5:39 and 5:48. I was on it. I didn't feel great, and the headwind was really pushing against me, but the crowds and the atmosphere made up for it. It was going to be hard work, but I was going to make it my day.
Unfortunately, the stomach started to give me trouble the next mile, and while I kept hitting the splits, I put off the gel at mile 7 until mile 8. When I took it, I knew it was a mistake. Unfortunately the G.I. distress I'd had since Thursday afternoon hadn't disappeared yet, and the pepto caplets I took Saturday night had kept me from my usual pre-race,(ahem), ritual Sunday morning. In hindsight I should have waited until Sunday morning to take the pepto, but I was worried by then it would be too late to do any good. Suddenly the problem was urgent, and it was very close to being very ugly.
One quick side-trip to the john is no big deal, so I did what I had to do and made sure to not look at my split for that mile in an effort to stay positive and to keep thinking one mile at a time. Unfortunately, a sip of gatorade at mile 9 rubbed me the wrong way, and the cycle repeated itself.
Two trips to the john is in fact a big deal. I was now starting to panic and I could feel the heart rate creeping up with the same effort. Just like the first time, I tried to claw back just a few seconds a quarter or so, slowly dialing down the pace as I went to try to get back on schedule. Things again settled down a bit, and a glance at the big clock showed 1:18:15 or so at the half, though now we were on our way up yet another bridge. Maybe I'll just take another sip of gatorade... The next thing I know I'm at mile 14 where this post begins, shouting at the door of the porta-john.
As I sprint back out on the course and hear the door snap shut behind me, I make the plan: Forget micro-managing the splits, don't even look at them until you reach the tape. No more liquid, as it's just putting me on the toilet. Forget the gels. Push it to the red-line and hold the gear, and do what you're trained to do.
The moment of truth came on the Queensborough bridge. This comes at mile 16, and it's a steady, uphill grind run in silence (no spectators allowed). I'm generally good on hills, and thankfully the angle of the bridge took us out of the headwind. I was rolling by runners like they were standing still, all the while thinking about Mystery Coach's advice to keep an even keel until mile 16. Somehow tossing out the split collecting and focusing solely on effort made things feel easier, even though I could tell by my stride and cadence that I was on pace.
Just as the bridge finally tilts downward, runners are funneled down a quick 180 degree turn onto 5th Avenue and the lights come on...
It's a wall of people, screaming their hearts out for every runner. I instinctively give a little wave and the eruption doubles. This roar continues for miles, and I'm just rolling now. 5:53, 5:56, 5:53, 6:01, 5:52. I hit the park and dig in on the uphill mile 23 for a 5:52, and the calf muscles start to give. All of the sudden I can't drive quite as far forward with the knees because of this, but I make do. 6:11, 6:04, 6:03, then a mad dash for the last .2 for a 2:37:08. It's a meager PR, but I'm proud of myself for making the right decision at the right time, and for making the best of a bad situation. I gave it my absolute best. No ghosts.
Special thanks to Mystery Coach for the plan that made it all possible.