Race Report: 2016 New York City Marathon

New York City is the greatest city in the world.

I’ve half-jokingly said this in the past, admitting that I’m a little biased because I was born there. But after running the New York City Marathon, and seeing how the people of New York showed up, I really believe that it’s the greatest city in the world. (But I still admit I might be a little biased.)

Since this was my second marathon, I couldn’t help making a few references to my first, the 2015 Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon. You can go back and read my race report for that one if you’d like some more context.

My parents and I flew to Newark on Friday. From there, we got a shuttle to the hotel. We stayed in Staten Island, which meant that I could take a shuttle bus from the hotel to the start of the race. If you don’t mind being away from the city, and having a slightly longer trip after the race, I recommend staying in Staten Island. The rooms are definitely cheaper than Manhattan. (We did have a few issues with shuttle scheduling on Saturday, and after the race we ended up having to take a taxi from the Staten Island Ferry to the hotel, but they got the shuttle right on Sunday morning, and that’s really all that counts.)

I ate pasta Friday night at the hotel restaurant. (OK, it was actually the hotel next door, but we could walk to it, and there wasn’t really anything else we could easily walk to.)

Saturday, we went into Manhattan for the expo. We got a shuttle from the hotel to the Staten Island Ferry, got on the subway to Herald Square, and walked to the Javitz Center. Even though that’s the directions they posted on the race website, after studying the subway map, I think we could have gotten there with a little less walking. (Lesson learned for next time.)

The Race Expo was huge!

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First I got my bib in a bag with 4 safety pins.

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Then I got my t-shirt and pre-race goody bag.

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I’m not sure exactly what to call that color, but I’m going with teal. It’s not another blue shirt, but it’s closer than I’d like.

The bag included a nice official program, a small pocket guide, an even smaller course map, cards promoting Fred’s Team (benefiting an anti-cancer charity), Fitbit, and McIntosh apples (the card also informed us we’d be getting an apple at the end of the race, a nice touch), and a bottle of water.

I didn’t really walk around the expo, because I didn’t want to spend a lot of time walking around. Of course, after we left the expo, we got lost trying to find somewhere to eat lunch, and eventually just took the subway back to the ferry terminal where they had some places to eat. I drank the entire bottle of water while we were wandering the city.

When we got back to the hotel, I found out that the shuttle for the race would be leaving at 6:45. I was in Wave 4, which meant that my start time was 11:00. So I’d be spending a lot more time in the Start Village than I expected. Oh well, when you depend on unofficial transportation, sometimes that’s what you get.

We ordered pizza for dinner. I hydrated and stayed off my feet. I got to bed at a decent hour. We had the time change, which sort of helped, but mostly just gave me an extra hour to toss and turn. I got a few hours of sleep in there, though.

I got up around 5:30. I showered, used the bathroom, brushed my teeth, took a pre-emptive Imodium AD, and gathered all my stuff. My parents woke up (they didn’t need to leave for a while) and took a picture that they haven’t sent to me yet. They wished me luck, and I went downstairs to catch the shuttle bus.

On the bus, I overheard a guy from Brooklyn who stays at the hotel where I stayed the night before the race every year, because it’s much easier to get to the start from there than from his home. It’s always good to know that a local chose the same accommodations that I did.

We got to Fort Wadsworth around 7:15 or so. I went through security, and entered the Start Village.

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I ended up going to the porta-potties 3 times, so clearly, I had done a good job with hydration. I went when I first got there (no wait), then around 9:00 (5-10 minute wait), and finally around 10:00 (there was one person in line in front of me). By 10:00 the other 3 waves had either started their race or were already in their corrals, so there weren’t many people left in the Start Village, and it was a good time to use the porta-potties.

While I was in the Start Village, I ate 4 Chocolate Chip Clif Bars. I grabbed a small bottle of water that they were giving out. I think they also had Gatorade, which I generally don’t drink pre-race, and coffee, which I generally don’t drink period. They also had bagels, but I decided to stick with my Clif Bars. I’m really cautious with my race day nutrition, maybe more than I need to be, but (knock on wood) I’ve never had any stomach issues during a race.

The forecast was for temperatures in the low to mid 50s, and the possibility of some decent wind from the north, which would basically be a headwind up until we left The Bronx. (Luckily, except for a couple of instances, the wind wasn’t too bad.) So I planned on running in a short sleeved t-shirt and shorts, but I figured I’d need something to wear before the race (and after). I brought my hoodie from the 2016 Charlote 10 Miler and a pair of running pants for after the race, and an old gray sweatshirt for before. I figured I could ditch the sweatshirt and it would get donated to charity.

I ended up wearing my hoodie most of the time I was in the Start Village. I ended up sitting on my gray sweatshirt, because the ground was a little cold and a lot uncomfortable. A few minutes before it was time to drop off my checked bag at the UPS truck, there was an official photographer wandering around taking people’s pictures. I took off my hoodie (I wanted to show off my bib), and realized that it was warm enough that I didn’t really need a sweatshirt. So I put my throwaway sweatshirt in the bag check bag with the stuff I planned to keep. The throwaway sweatshirt lives to see another race.

My sister sent me a video of my nephew telling me to “Run like the wind!” I appreciated the well-wishes, even if he wouldn’t be able to run after me like he did last year at City of Oaks.

At 9:50, the elite men and Wave 1 started, and I got this picture of them on the Verrazano Bridge. They look like ants before you zoom in.

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I put on some sunscreen and put the bottle in my bag check bag before dropping it off. Then it was about time to walk over to the corrals. It was pretty crowded.

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From there we moved out on to the Verrazano Bridge.

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(OK, there won’t be any more pictures for a while.)

Someone sang the National Anthem. After it was over, I realized I forgot to take off my visor. I know, I was a Bad American. In my defense, it was only the second time I wore the visor at a race.

They shot off a Howitzer to start our wave, which was very loud but also pretty cool. They started to play “New York, New York”…and then abruptly cut to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” I was disappointed, they’re supposed to play “New York, New York.” Oh well.

At 11:08 AM, I crossed the starting line.

One note before I get to the actual race, I had heard that the tall buildings would make GPS go haywire, and someone suggested that the best way to deal with it was to set your watch to manual mode and hit the lap button at each mile marker, so that’s what I did. All the miles were very well marked, and most of them turned out pretty close, with one notable exception.

Also, I’ll break it down by borough. I’ll keep the Verrazano with Staten Island, but the rest of the bridges will go with the borough they lead in to. Well, except for one bridge that deserves special mention.

Miles 1 and 2: Staten Island

I got a little emotional at the beginning. I was really running a race in the city where I was born, with over 50,000 runners. Right then, somebody nearby stumbled (but luckily didn’t fall), and that was enough to jolt me back to reality. Also on the bridge, there was a lot of discarded clothing. I managed to avoid running on any of it.

The first mile, going up the Verrazano, is one of the only times you can go up a hill without noticing it. I still tried to take it easy, and I think I succeeded, with a time of 11:56. On Mile 2, we went back down, and pretty much everybody had their fastest mile of the race, myself included: 10:42.

It was pretty windy on the bridge, and I realized that I didn’t do a very good job pinning my bib on my shirt, because it started flapping. I put my hand on my bib to hold it in place as I ran, because I was afraid I might lose it.

Mile 3 to 12: Brooklyn

Brooklyn was just two giant parties, with a small gap in the middle where we ran through the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. That neighborhood wasn’t completely empty, but there weren’t nearly as many spectators as the rest of Brooklyn.

As much as I appreciated it, I had to be careful not to get too pumped up by the crowd. Early on I got a few high fives and had some fun with the crowd, even yelling to a guy in a Jets’ shirt, “Beat the Dolphins!” (Spoiler Alert: They didn’t.) But eventually I moved towards the middle of the street. I could still see and hear the crowd, but I was still able to keep myself from getting too excited.

My times through here were 11:22, 11:27, 11:38, 11:30, 11:24, 11:38, 11:50, 11:29, 11:38, and 11:35. Fairly consistent, nothing too crazy. The 11:50 was the mile with the biggest hill. Brooklyn wasn’t exactly flat, but for the most part, I didn’t think it was terrible.

I had Gu at Mile 6 and Mile 10. I drank either water (with the Gu, and at the mile markers before and after I had Gu) or Gatorade (all the rest). There were Aid Stations at every mile from 3 to 25, and I stopped at all of them except one (more on that later). The Aid Stations were very clearly marked, and they also marked where the Gatorade was and where the water was. Typically it was Gatorade first.

Miles 13 and 14: Queens

We hit the halfway point on the Pulaski Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens, and my time was 2:30:59. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. I felt like I had been running well, but I would have to reverse split in order to break 5:00. I started thinking about my goal of 5:10, and I still thought that was reachable.

Queens was pretty cool. Short, but there was still good crowd support. My times were 11:30 and 11:43. I had Gu at the beginning of Mile 14. I wanted to be ready for the 59th Street Bridge. (Spoiler: It didn’t help.)

Mile 15: The 59th Street Bleeping Bridge

This is where I made a terrible mistake, although it took a few miles before I realized it. I decided to be stubborn, and I ran all the way up the bridge. This was a very bad idea. It was long. It was steep. And it ended up taking a whole lot out of me. My time ended up being 12:46, and even though it was my slowest time to that point, it was still too fast. I really should have walked some of it.

The wind was pretty bad on the bridge, so I grabbed my bib to keep it from flapping around. Another runner looked at me and thought I was grabbing my chest, like I was having chest pains. I laughed and reassured her that I was just holding on to my bib. After that I used my fingertips to keep my bib in place, and it didn’t look quite as ominous.

Mile 16 to 18: Manhattan, Part 1

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

OK, first, when I came off of the 59th Street Bleeping Bridge, I turned on to 1st Avenue. And when you turn on to 1st Avenue, there is this wall of sound, this absolutely incredible cheer from the crowd, and I was completely overcome with emotion. I don’t know how I held it together through there. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced in my life. That was the moment when I knew this would not be my last New York City Marathon.

A week after the race, I watched the video at the end of this blog post, and even though the video has music and you can’t actually hear the cheers, I still got goosebumps when he showed the turn onto 1st Avenue.

Once I got through there, I knew I had to start looking for 86th Street. My parents were going to be waiting for me between 86th and 87th Street, just outside of a Subway. (Side note: With all the great delis in New York City, why would anyone buy a sandwich from Subway?!?)

At the beginning of Mile 17, though, I started to feel it. My legs were just about dead. And that’s when I realized that I had screwed up when I tried to run all the way up the 59th Street Bleeping Bridge. Oh, and I still had 9 more miles to go on my dead legs.

At 17.3, I took my first non-Aid Station walk break, but quickly started back up again, because I was getting close to my parents.

At 17.5, I spotted my parents in the crowd and ran over to them. I hugged them both. I’m sure they had some very nice things to say to me, but I just couldn’t register any of it. I waved and kept running.

From that point on, I took a lot of walk breaks. My times through here were 12:48, 12:50, 13:01. Yeah, not good. By the way, the 12:48 for Mile 16 was the mile that was the farthest off, coming in at 0.91 miles on my Garmin. I guess the wall of sound messed with the GPS signal. Also, I had another Gu at 18.

Miles 19 and 20: The Bronx

During Mile 19, I walked up the Willis Avenue Bridge. As I started jogging the downhill, I saw it. The sign that said “Welcome to The Bronx.” And I got emotional again. I was born in The Bronx. I was home. That was enough to get me to pick up my pace ever so slightly. OK, Mile 19 started in Manhattan and included walking up the Willis Avenue Bridge, so it was 14:40, but Mile 20, completely in The Bronx, was an improvement, 13:54.

(I feel obligated to note that where we ran in The Bronx was nowhere near where I was born, or where I lived for the first 3 months of my life before my parents moved us to the suburbs. Still, it’s the borough where I was born, and that means something to me.)

Mile 21 to the Finish: Manhattan, Part 2

Manhattan doesn’t have the sentimental value for me that The Bronx does, so my pace got a little worse. Miles 21 to 23 were 14:41, 14:43, and 15:05. I walked quite a bit through here. I did have my final Gu at 22. 5th Avenue is a slow climb, so that didn’t help.

I knew 5:00 was long out of the question, as was 5:10. But I figured I could still get a PR. Then I got to Mile 24, looked at my watch, and started doing the math.

Oh, crap. I might not even get a PR.

Just after the aid station at the beginning of Mile 24, I started running as fast as I could. At this point, with dead legs, that wasn’t exactly fast. But I had to at least give it a shot. With the aid station and the late start, it still took me 14:15 to get through the mile, but it was an improvement.

On Mile 25, I skipped the last aid station and kept running. I got my time down to 12:20, my fastest since Mile 14. My only regret is that I was so focused that I really didn’t notice Central Park.

I didn’t have much left in Mile 26. There were hills, which was pretty cruel. At some point, I passed the 5:24 mark, but I managed to keep running, even though I knew I wouldn’t hit any of my goals. For the mile, my time was 12:46. Oh, and this also turned out to be the longest mile according to my GPS, 1.05. I’m not exactly sure how that happened, but that’s just mean.

Speaking of mean, there was one last hill before the finish. According to Garmin, it was .22 from the Mile 26 marker to the Finish Line, and I ran it at a 13:33/mile pace. (My distance for the entire race on my Garmin was 26.38 miles.)

I crossed the Finish Line and managed to smile.

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I like the picture on the left better, even if it’s just before the Finish Line. In the picture on the right, if you look closely, my foot is on the Finish Line, but it’s tough to see. I wish Cass and Julia had moved just a few steps forward before stopping to celebrate.

(Yes, those are official race photos. I was a sucker and bought the package.)

First, I got my medal, then a heat blanket, then a post-race goodie bag. It had water, strawberry Gatorade, a vanilla protein shake, an apple, some pretzels, and a PowerBar Chocolate Peanut Butter Protein Bar.

I pretty quickly got out my phone to check the race app to get my official time: 5:28:01. I was still a little disappointed. (I was also disappointed when I saw that the Jets lost to the Dolphins, 28-24. I actually cursed out loud when I read that, but I don’t think anybody noticed.)

I kept walking to the bag check area, and got my bag. I then stopped to drink the Gatorade. I took out my car key, which I brought with me even though my car was parked over 500 miles away, because I had to take a picture.

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That’s actually light from a streetlight. By the time I got a chance to take the picture, it was after 5:00, and with the time change, it was getting dark.

I then picked up my stuff and walked to the exit from Central Park, around 81st Street. It took over half an hour to get there from the Finish Line, but the walk was probably good for my legs.

I crossed Central Park West and found my parents. I sat down in a nearby bus shelter, drank my water and ate my apple. The apple was a really nice touch, and even better, it was a McIntosh, my favorite kind of apple. At that point, it was the most delicious apple I’ve ever tasted.

(As for the rest of my goodie bag, the pretzels and protein bar made it home with me – the protein bar was meh, the pretzels were pretzels. I remembered the protein shake Tuesday morning as I was getting my stuff packed to fly home. I’m lucky I did, because I’m fairly certain the TSA wouldn’t have let my protein shake through, so I drank it before I left. It was OK, I guess.)

My parents had scouted the area before I got there, and it looked like it was mostly residential, and there wasn’t really a good place to eat near by. So we decided to get on the subway and head back to the Staten Island Ferry terminal, where they had some restaurants.

I saw a video at some point in the week before the race showing people trying to navigate the stairs down to the subway after running the marathon, and it was painful to watch. I was nervous as I approached the stairs, but I found that, as long as I took it slowly, one step at a time, I could handle it. Also, they let any marathon finisher ride the subway for free, which was really cool.

I went to a sports bar in the ferry terminal and ate a cheeseburger and drank a beer. The beer was a Flagship Metropolitan Lager, from Staten Island, because I had to have something local. Objectively, it was a decent beer, nothing special. Subjectively, after 26.2 miles, it was delicious.

During the race, I didn’t have any issues with my ankle, with the joint leading to my big toe, with chafing, or with my stomach. My hydration and nutrition strategy seemed to work out OK. I don’t think I really “hit the wall,” my legs just got really tired. I never cramped up or anything, and I was always able to keep moving, even if it was very slowly.

Here’s a better picture of the medal.

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Like with my City of Oaks medal, I decided to use a Gu packet for scale. This medal is slightly smaller, but it feels heavier. It’s pretty solid, definitely thicker.

So, it’s now been 2 weeks. What does it all mean?

Last November, if you had told me that my second marathon would be over 3 minutes slower than my first marathon, I would have been pretty disappointed, and I probably would have wondered if there was an injury involved, or if I had found a course that was actually more difficult than City of Oaks. Well, there were no injuries during my second marathon, and the course may not have been easy, but it wasn’t brutal like City of Oaks.

Now, as I write this, I’m not really that disappointed. Sure, there’s a little bit of disappointment, because I know I screwed up. But I know what I did wrong, and I know I can fix it.

The biggest difference between last year and this year, though, is something that’s been bothering me about my performance in City of Oaks. I’ve realized that after around Mile 19, when it started raining, mentally, I pretty much checked out. I didn’t even attempt to run up any of the really big hill at Mile 21. When I got back to Hillsborough Street, and I had to turn right even though I knew the finish line was off to the left, I walked because I was frustrated. I had 3 miles in a row where my time was over 15 minutes. My slowest mile in New York, Mile 23, was 15:05, and that was my only mile over 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I had more miles in New York over 14:00, and that’s why my time was slightly worse. But I ran at least a little bit, even if it was just a shuffle, during every mile in New York. I don’t think I can say that for City of Oaks.

In New York, my legs may have been tired, but I always felt strong mentally. Granted, the amazing crowd support certainly helped. Lack of rain also helped. (After 24 races and 23 race days, City of Oaks is still the only race where I’ve gotten rained on.) But still, I had this determination, especially near the end, that was missing in City of Oaks. My time may not reflect it, but I really think that, outside of the 59th Street Bleeping Bridge, I ran a better race in New York.

Finally, I’ve touched on the crowd support, which was really incredible and definitely helped, but I haven’t said much about the volunteers and the race organization. Both were outstanding. With over 50,000 runners, there are a lot of moving parts, and as far as I can tell, everything ran smoothly.

So I really do think New York City is the greatest city in the world. And I’m eventually going to get back there and run the New York City Marathon again.

Vital Stats

Full Name of Race: TCS New York City Marathon
Location: Starting Line on the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Staten Island, New York
Date and Time of Race: November 6, 2016, 11:00 AM (Wave 4) (Actual start: 11:08 AM)
Bib Number: 63359
Official Finishing Time: 5:28:01, 12:31/mile. 42,659th of 51,390 Overall, 26,217th of 29,928 Men, 4,701st of 5,188 in Age Group (Male 40-44)

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