NYC Marathon pre-race thoughts

6 11 2010

Thoughts, expectations, and goals on the eve of the 2010 NYC Marathon:

I’ve had a very strong training season for this marathon, my 5th marathon overall and 3rd NYC Marathon. I achieved new highs in monthly mileage (203 miles September, 206 miles October; previous high 156 miles) and in weekly mileage (52 miles, then 58 miles, then 60.6 miles; four weeks 50+ miles; previous high 50 miles). A key component of my training has been including medium-long mid-week runs (topping out at 14 miles) most weeks, an addition that has substantially improved my fitness and endurance during the long runs. While going longer than I ever have before, I also consistently completed speed and tempo workouts, including 8×800 workouts that got progressively faster, highlighted by my final speed workouts of 8×800 in 3:22 average time and 3×1 mile all sub-7. I’ve gone longer and faster than ever before, and the work I put in has shown in shiny new PRs in the 4-mile (28:56) and half-marathon (1:43:52) distances. The latter race to me was my real coming out party as a much better distance runner, as I was sub-8 on 10 of the 13 miles, including a 7:46 on the last mile, with a PR of 7:12 over my 2010 Manhattan half-marathon time.

My progression at the marathon distance has been steady: from a 4:51 (NYC 99), to 4:18 (Seattle 09), to 4:05 (NYC 09), to 3:59 (Green Bay 10), but the progression in my training and mindset has been more noteworthy. In my first marathon, my goal (as a prior non-runner) was to complete a marathon for the sake of running a marathon. The crowds were incredible and I fell in love with the NYC marathon, but for a number of reasons I stopped running until February 2008. In Seattle, my goal was mostly just to finish, ideally with a respectable time, on a beautiful course in a city I love (and once lived in). I had typical overtraining injuries in the preparation that limited my distance as the marathon approached, and I limped in to the finish with cramps over much of the last 10 miles. In NYC last year, I started strong, was constantly reminded of how much I love the NYC marathon (Brooklyn in particular), and then faded as I got into Harlem and the Bronx and struggled to the finish. NYC 09 was the first marathon I ran the entire distance without walking, however, and was an incredible day of running for me and a huge PR. Green Bay was the first marathon I was able to put in real marathon training (2 20-milers and a 22 in the course of 40-50 mile weeks, plus far more long runs than previously), hitting my first 50-mile week and new 132-mile and 156-mile months. An overtraining injury that struck at 5 weeks prior to the marathon reduced my training substantially in those critical weeks 4 and 3 plus the taper, but I ran a strong race through 16 miles before really dropping my pace in the last 10. Nonetheless, I had the physical and mental strength to push hard at the end, through the last miles and my lap around Lambeau Field, to finish with my first sub-4 marathon! I felt a real sense of accomplishment as a marathoner and of my potential for the future.

As I look back on the splits from my two most recent marathon efforts (NYC 2009, half splits 1:52:23, 2:13:32; Green Bay 1:51:53, 2:07:43), I see my progress as a runner in the critical area of pacing. I actually ran the first 11 miles of NYC faster than GB, with miles 1-7 of NYC at an 8:20 average pace (GB was 8:27), but last year at NYC I wasn’t sub-9 after mile 12. In both cases, I clearly started too fast for my training at the time and that showed in the dropoff at the end (NYC miles 20-26 were 10+, with 22 and 24 actually 11+; GB was better, with only miles 22, 23, 24, and 26 over 10). I have learned these lessons and hopefully will show that on the course this year. Interestingly, my goal pace actually will have me aiming for last year’s (then) too-fast pace on 4th Ave as this year’s goal pace on 4th Ave.

Without further ado, my NYC Marathon 2010 race goals:

A+ goal: 3:37 (8:17/mile pace). If everything breaks right (the weather is a great start!) I think this is what my body can do on its current training. Obviously this requires a neutral split or a negative split and pacing the first half correctly, something I have never done before in the marathon. However, see above, there are a lot of things I have never done before in training for a marathon either.

A goal: 3:39 (8:22/mile pace). I feel confident that if I run smart and nothing odd befalls me, this is what I can do. I note that my Staten Island half-marathon time, run in the middle of training with essentially no taper, predicts 3:39:02.

A- goal: 3:40 (8:24/mile pace)-3:43 (8:31). My favorite part about these goals: they really require me to run at the pace I ran over the first half of my last 2 marathons, and then repeat it. I can totally do that. (Although more likely what it would mean is a first half in 1:49, and then I lost several minutes in the second half.) Times in this range mean I did a good job pacing and lost a bit at the end. Achieving this goal would mean a huge PR and still easily my best marathon pacing ever.

B goal: 3:45-3:49. A huge PR still, but would clearly indicate that something went wrong (early pacing too fast, endurance problems, or both). Still a fine effort that I would be happy with and that would also represent my first sub-2 second half of a marathon.

C+ goal: 3:50-3:59. This would represent an incremental (but still substantial) improvement over Green Bay and establish that I really am now a consistent sub-4 marathoner. This would also represent over 2 hours on the second half, something I would like to leave behind as a part of my past.

C goal: finish. Finishing a marathon is always a major accomplishment, and something I’ve only done 4 times in my life. A fifth marathon (with two this year, four in two years) is still a major milestone for me as a runner.

Overall goals: run a happy race and enjoy everything about the NYC marathon: from the runner-filled early morning subway, to the anticipation at the SI Ferry terminal; to the passage across the bay toward the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and past the Statue of Liberty (looking all inspiring, and shit); to the waiting and waiting in the runners village at Fort Wadsworth and in the corrals, to the momentous start and run over the bridge; through the incredible crowds on 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, along Bedford Avenue from Hasidic through areas I know and love well, through a taste my Polish ancestry in Greenpoint and over the Pulaski Bridge; through the nebulous zone in Queens, home of two of my favorite inspiring runner-writers; over the Queensboro Bridge listening to the pat-pat-pat of feet as the runners have their last period to themselves; through the walls of noise on First Ave; through the streets of the Bronx and Harlem, where I will see friends and family (including a short run with OHK); up the last major climb on 5th Ave as the park starts to border the runners before enveloping them at the Engineers Gate and entering running routes I know well; back out onto Grand Army Plaza and onto Central Park South, with midtown intimately cheering me on; back into the park at Columbus Circle and back onto a road I know and love as a runner; up that last hill at mile 26 and the push to the finish at Tavern on the Green (as the finish will always be); and crossing the finish line, knowing that I have given the very best effort I can that day, taking the medal and the mylar and walking with all of the other marathoners as we all realize that we have pushed our bodies to do incredible things, and that now our bodies were letting us fully know about it.

The last paragraph was such a thrill to write- I killed off the “stay calm” vibe I had going most of today. Hey, it’s marathon Saturday. I know what is up ahead. It cannot come soon enough. I am ready for my run with Haile Gebrselassie, Meb Keflezighi, Hendrick Ramaala, Martin Lel, Peter Kamais, Robert Cheruiyot, Derartu Tulu, so many of my running friends, and 45,000 other runners, in front of 2 million cheering spectators, on the bridges and streets of the greatest city of the world.

I will be on the 5:30 a.m. ferry to Staten Island and then on to the orange corrals, starting in wave 1. My race day garb will be the same shirt I’m wearing in my dailymile avatar (red Pearl Izumi with white highlights) with black Asics shorts and white Brooks Adrenaline shoes. Less than 12 hours to my wakeup call! Eeep! (So, so, so very excited!) Let’s do this! Best race wishes to everyone else running the NYC Marathon tomorrow! This is why we run!

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