Race Report: 2018 New York City Marathon

I’m relieved. I finished.

I feel like there should be something more epic, but between last year’s DNF and this year’s unbelievably terrible training cycle, those are the two thoughts that come up the most for me when I look back at the race.

The race didn’t go how I’d hoped, but neither did my training. Still, I managed to get under 6 hours, and even though New York doesn’t have a time limit, I really wanted to make sure I finished sub-6. How times have changed, as I was hoping (in vain) for sub-5 in each of my previous marathons.

Like I did the last 2 years, I flew up to Newark with my parents on Friday and got a shuttle to the hotel on Staten Island. We ate dinner at the hotel next door, and I ate pasta, as usual.

Once again, Saturday was my trip to the expo. Again, the expo had a different layout, but it was still freaking huge.

I got my bib from the Team For Kids booth, which was a lot closer to the entrance, and also very likely less busy than the booth where I would have needed to go to pick up my bib. I didn’t take a picture of my bib right away, because I saw a wall with all of the runners’ names on it, and thought it would be a much better picture if I got my name on the wall along with my bib. (And I figured I’d get a picture of just my name on the wall as well.)

Hey, I finally got a picture of my bib in landscape mode!

I don’t remember if they had a wall of names the last two years. I might have missed it. (Huge expo and all that.) I’m glad I saw it this year, though.

I also got a t-shirt. They came up with another great design this year.

I think I like the 2017 shirt just a hair better, but this one is still really nice, and has the added benefit of being from a race that I, you know, finished.

After I was done, my parents and I grabbed lunch inside the Javitz Center. There was a place that sold hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches. I went with a hot dog.

I lucked out after that. A friend of my parents lives on the Upper West Side and invited us to come visit for a couple of hours. We took a taxi to her apartment, and I was able to sit for a while, which I appreciated. It was a good visit. I don’t know her as well as my parents do, but she’s led a really fascinating life, and she’s a good storyteller (Clearly, it didn’t rub off on me), so I could still appreciate spending time with her.

We took the subway back to the Staten Island Ferry. I noticed in the ferry terminal that the sports bar where I had gotten beer and a burger after the 2016 race had closed. Luckily, I did a quick search for nearby burger joints, and found one just one stop away from the ferry.

We picked up sandwiches at the ferry terminal to eat for dinner, and rode back to Staten Island, and then the hotel. The problem with waiting so long to do a write-up is that I can’t remember exactly what kind of sandwich I had. I’m sure it was good, and I do remember having a large chocolate chip cookie with it. (Carbs.)

I stayed off my feet, hydrated a lot, and got to bed at a decent hour. I somehow managed to get a fairly decent night of sleep. It’s the same weekend as the time change, and I’ve often joked that everybody else gets an extra hour of sleep, and I get an extra hour to toss and turn, but this year, I slept a lot better. Compared to other nights, it was barely mediocre, but for the night before a race? It was fantastic.

I had a reservation on the 6:15 shuttle. I think I set my alarm for 5:15, but I woke up around 5, because I always wake up before my alarm on race day. I showered, used the bathroom a couple of times, got dressed, and went downstairs to get on the shuttle. I was surprised to discover that I was the only person who made a reservation for the 6:15 shuttle.

Traffic near Fort Wadsworth wasn’t quite as bad as last year, when they had to scramble to add security just a few days after a terrorist attack, but it still wasn’t quite as smooth as 2016. The shuttle driver took a couple of back roads, and dropped me off near a security checkpoint that was primarily for volunteers, but runners were allowed through as well. Because most of the volunteers had already gone through, and there weren’t many runners, I got through in no time.

I then made my way to my new temporary home.

Team For Kids had a tent in the Start Village. It was heated, so it was nicer than the pre-race temps which were in the upper 40s. Also, it kept me out of the sun for a few hours, which, with my complexion, is a very good thing.

I took that picture right after I got there. It got a little more crowded once buses from the ferry started arriving, but then it started clearing out a bit after Wave 1 and Wave 2 had to leave.

They had bagels, bananas, coffee, water, and Gatorade. They may have had a few other snacks, but I didn’t partake in anything that I didn’t eat before any of my training runs and stuck to the 4 Chocolate Chip Clif Bars that I brought and some water to wash them down. I did drink a little bit of the Gatorade.

We also had our own port-a-potties. I used them several times, and at worst I had one person in line in front of me.

After last year, I was in full Howard Hughes mode, trying to avoid germs as much as possible. They had some hand sanitizing wipes available. I’m surprised they didn’t run out considering how many I used.

I went outside to get a picture of the rest of the Start Village. I like to get a shot of the Verrazano, but I didn’t notice the line of port-a-potties in the foreground.

I also got my annual shot of the elite men and Wave 1 just after the start.

I went back into the tent for a little bit (It wasn’t that cold, I just wanted to stay out of the sun for as long as possible). When I was in there, somebody made an announcement about an “Arts and Crafts” table (it was really just a first aid table) where they had markers if you wanted to decorate your gear and add your name. I wandered over to the table and considered having my name on my shirt. On the one hand, I thought it would be cool to write P.J. on my shirt and have people cheering for me by name. On the other hand, I wanted to wear my shirt to the Y (I only own one other singlet, and I find that I generally like singlets on the treadmill where they help me stay cooler without exposing my upper arms to the sun), and I would feel funny showing up there with a shirt with my name on it. Luckily, I noticed someone who grabbed some medical tape, wrote their name on it, and stuck it to their shirt. I wasn’t 100% sure the tape would stay for the entire race, but I figured I’d give it a shot.

I’m going to spoil it: This was hands down the best decision I made that day (and quite possibly the 2nd best running related decision I’ve ever made, second only to going to a local running store to get fitted for some running shoes right after I started running). Hearing people yell my name all day was awesome, and I highly recommend putting your name on your shirt if you’re running a race with good crowd support.

I did my usual set of pre-run stretches, and then, when they called Wave 4, they led us outside where a coach ran us through some stretches. He wished us luck, told us there would be other Team For Kids coaches out on the course, and then they walked us over to the corrals.

We got to see Wave 3 start while we were in the corrals, which, while not quite as exciting as Wave 1, is still pretty cool to see.

Then we slowly made our way to the starting line.

A guy who was running the race sang the National Anthem. I remembered to remove my visor, so at least I got that part right.

They shot off the Howitzer, New York, New York started playing (unlike 2016, it didn’t get cut off, and unlike 2017, it wasn’t the duet version with Tony Bennett, this one was all Frank Sinatra), and we were off. I crossed the starting line at 11:04 AM.

Miles 1 and 2: Staten Island

Mile 1 was up the Verrazano, but on the lower deck. I swear it feels impossible to tell where the actual peak is when you’re down there. Still, I took it easy, and got through the first mile in 12:56. Mile 2 was downhill through the rest of the Verrazano, then it flattened out a bit on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Like most non-elite runners, it was my fastest mile (I think…more on that later) at 10:25. Maybe a little faster than I wanted, but it wasn’t ludicrous speed.

Miles 3 to 12: Brooklyn

Brooklyn is a whole lot more fun when your gastrointestinal system isn’t going haywire. In the back of my mind, I knew this was in all likelihood my last run through Brooklyn, so I tried to soak up as much of it as I could. It also helped that my legs were still feeling OK through here.

I stopped at every aid station, and got water if I had just eaten a Gu (miles 4, 8, and 12), and Gatorade at the rest. I tried to work in a few walk breaks as well so that I might not be completely wiped out near the end.

I really enjoyed this stretch. Also, this was the first time total strangers were yelling out my name, and that was really cool.

Just like two years ago, I saw some Jets fans and yelled to them, “Beat the Dolphins!” (And, just like two years ago, the Jets did not beat the Dolphins.)

Then I got to mile 12. You know, the mile where I stopped last year.

The aid station was a little bit before the end of the mile, but I recognized it immediately. Last year, I had gotten a cup of water, then was hit with a wave of nausea that told me that drinking the water would be a bad idea because it wouldn’t stay down for very long, and I even looked around for a tree or some other place I might be able to throw up on. I kept going until I saw a medical tent, and that’s where my day ended.

This year, I saw the medical tent in the exact same spot, and I started to tear up. I knew I was going to go farther than last year. I turned a corner, and I could see the Mile 12 marker. I looked at the crowd, and I saw a woman with a sign that said “You will finish.”

I teared up some more.

The feeling of passing the 12 mile mark was just amazing. I knew I had a long, long way to go, and there were still a million different things that could go wrong before the finish line, but I got a huge boost knowing I had made it that far.

Another mile, and our time in Brooklyn was about to end. This time, I was able to leave Brooklyn on foot rather than on a bus, and I was extremely grateful.

My times through Brooklyn were 11:59, 11:49, 12:16, 12:18, 11:56, 12:27, 12:25, 11:57, 12:18, and 12:45. (I guess the mental boost didn’t result in a physical boost. Oh well.)

Miles 13 and 14: Queens

We ran over the Pulaski Bridge into Queens. We didn’t get to see much of Queens, but the crowds are still great through there. I got through in 12:30 and 12:28. My time at the halfway point was 2:39:38. I felt like that was fairly close to where I wanted to be. A perfect split would have given me a PR, but I kind of figured that wasn’t going to happen.

Mile 15: The 59th Street Bleeping Bridge

It’s The Big One. I was about as ready for it as I could possibly be. It’s a slow slog climbing up the first half of it. I did take some walk breaks this time, I was smarter about it. (It still sucks, and adding Bleeping to the name is still warranted.) While I knew how bad the bridge was, I also knew that the turn on to 1st Avenue was waiting on the other side, so slowing down was tough. I managed, though, with a time of 13:25.

Miles 16 to 18: Manhattan, Part 1

Yes, the turn on to 1st Avenue is so much more fun when you’re running than when you’re riding on a bus. I’m not sure why, but I felt like the noise built up more gradually this year, while two years ago it seemed more like a giant wall of sound that hit me all at once. Still, the end result is the same, the loudest cheers of the entire course (this year, with added shouts of my name), and once again, I got choked up. I did reach out and high five a few people under the overpass as you turn on to 1st Avenue, and I think I even thanked them, because it really is a huge highlight.

Here is a good spot to mention that New York City is the greatest city in the world. (But I might be a little biased.)

I was still feeling pretty good at this point, and then I had to focus on looking out for my parents. Once again, I had given them instructions to stand outside a Subway (as in the fast food restaurant, not the underground train) between 86th and 87th Street. (And, like 2 years ago, I again have to ask, why would anyone go to Subway when there are so many great delis near by?) This time, they saw me before I saw them, since they weren’t right in front of the Subway. I ran over and hugged them. Even if I was writing this hours after the race, I couldn’t tell you what I said to them or what they said to me, it just didn’t register. But the words don’t really matter. I know I was thankful that they were there to support me, and I know they love me and were proud of me.

After that, things started to go south. With my reduced mileage in training, I just didn’t have the endurance that I wanted. Even though my paces had been slower than any of my previous marathons and I had taken some planned walk breaks (including on the 59th Street Bleeping Bridge), I still had almost nothing left by around mile 18.

I had Gu at 16. I got though these miles in 13:01, 12:39 (Mom and Dad gave me a little boost), and 13:02.

Miles 19 and 20: The Bronx

I was really struggling. Even the sight of the “Welcome to The Bronx” sign wasn’t enough to overcome my lack of sufficient miles in training. (I still choked up when I saw it, of course.) I was happy to be back in the borough where I was born, and the crowd was great (of course they were great, it was The Bronx), but I still had to walk a lot.

Right around this time, my Garmin Forerunner 220 started beeping at me and warning that the battery was low. It’s over 4 years old now, so the battery life isn’t what it used to be. The combination of me being out there for a while, and the tall buildings making it harder to lock in to GPS signal meant that it wasn’t going to make it to the finish. (It’s OK now, I recharged it and I’ve been using it since then. It just can’t handle a marathon any more. Kind of like me.) All I could do was hope that it made it out of The Bronx. For some reason, I didn’t want it to stop while I was in the borough where I was born. I don’t understand it either.

I had Gu at 20. My times were 14:18 and 15:29. Yeah, this is not a good trend.

Miles 21 to the Finish: Manhattan, Part 2

As I crossed the Madison Avenue Bridge (the last bridge, and several people had signs noting this) and landed in Manhattan, my watch was still (barely) alive. It had made it out of The Bronx. I was relieved.

However, at the 21.85 mile mark, its day was over. It served me well, but now, I’d basically have to run blind. I mean, it’s not like I could speed up that much at this point, but it would have been nice to know my paces. To my surprise, I was able to retrieve the data up until it stopped, but after that, I can only rely on my 5K splits that I got from the race app.

In this stretch, I saw a few Team For Kids coaches. They seemed to always catch me while I was walking. (Then again, I was definitely walking more than I was running, so the odds were in favor of them seeing me walking.) Of course, each one checked in to make sure I was OK and wasn’t hurt. Nope, just undertrained and exhausted.

I made my way down 5th Avenue, then into Central Park. As I was turning into the park for the first time around 90th Street, they had a video screen set up. In the official app, they had a thing where you could generate cheer cards for a runner, and there was a chance they might get to see the cheer cards somewhere on the course. Well, my parents made one featuring a picture of me at the end of the Trophy Trot 10K, and I happened to see it on this video screen. That was really cool, and I think I did manage to start running a little bit right after I saw it.

I had my last Gu at mile 24. This time, I actually stopped for Gatorade at the mile 25 aid station. Two years ago, I had been trying in vain to get a marathon PR and skipped the last aid station in the hopes it would help. This year, I figured I needed the aid.

After that last stop, though, I did start running again, and I pretty much ran the rest of the way, with one exception.

We came out of Central Park onto 59th Street. And near 7th Avenue, my parents were waiting for me. Once again, they saw me before I saw them, but I slowed down so I could give them hugs, and then I headed towards the finish.

Mile 21 was, uh, 17:09. The last 0.85 that my watch caught was at around a 16:15/mile pace, although I don’t know how accurate that 0.85 measurement was. I think it was pretty close, I could buy that the next mile marker was roughly 0.15 after that. My pace from 35K to 40K (21.7 miles to 24.8 miles) was 16:12/mile. My pace from 40K to the Finish was 11:26/mile(!) which was a pleasant surprise. I somehow managed to finish strong.

As I approached the finish line, I knew what I wanted to do. It’s something that I thought about before my first marathon, but in the moment when I got to the finish, I just completely forgot about it. I’m sure it crossed my mind in 2016, but I’m not sure why I just ran across the finish line. Maybe it was because I was disappointed that I didn’t PR? Anyway, I knew that there was a very good chance that this would be the last time I’d cross the finish line of a marathon, so I decided to make this one count.

I’ve got my arms raised up, and I’m making the N.C. State Wolfpack hand sign with each hand. I’m a proud graduate of N.C. State (Go Wolfpack!) even if I wasn’t much of a runner back then. And, as you can see, my little piece of medical tape with my name on it made it to the end.

Side note: This is not only the best marathon finishing photo I’ve ever gotten, it might be the best race finish photo I’ve ever gotten.

My official time was 5:52:03, an average pace of 13:26/mile. I have to admit, when I saw it, I kind of winced. But I finished, and that’s the most important part.

After I finished, I got my medal, and then they had some photographers taking pictures of people with their medals. A few lines had formed, so I waited, and ended up with a picture that looks like I had been waiting in line and just wanted to get going. (I’m not going to include that picture.)

I got my heat blanket and goody bag after that. The goody bag had a delicious McIntosh apple, some off the wall flavor of Gatorade that was almost clear but tasted like cherry (I really didn’t care after 26.2 miles), a bottle of water, a protein bar (meh), a vanilla protein shake (I think I drank it on Monday rather than waiting until the morning of my flight and realizing it wouldn’t get through security), and a bag of pretzels.

After that, a Team For Kids volunteer found me and guided me to the special post-race area they had set up. It’s on Cherry Hill, so, yes, I had to walk up a hill to get to it. I survived. We had a heated tent (not that it was all that cold outside) with chairs. I was a bit worried that if I sat down I wouldn’t be able to get back up, but I took a chance.

Also, while seated, I took the picture I’d been waiting for.

I did manage to get up after a few minutes, since I wanted to go meet my parents. The thing is, when you leave Cherry Hill, in order to leave Central Park, you have to take a path that includes a pedestrian bridge, and the bridge has steps leading up to it, and (even worse) steps leading down from it. I survived this as well.

I exited the park at 72nd street and found my parents. We walked a couple of blocks west to Broadway and got on the 1 train. I was able to ride for free with my medal, which is a lot better than riding for free with a MetroCard that a volunteer gives you after you have to drop out of the race due to illness. We got off one stop before the end at Rector Street and walked about 2 blocks to Bill’s Bar and Burger. Last year’s dinner was ginger ale and saltines. This year, I had a beer (Five Boroughs Brewing Company Pilsner, which, based on the name, I think would make an excellent choice as an official beer of the race) and a cheeseburger, and it was glorious.

So here’s my usual picture of the medal with a packet of Gu for scale.

(Fun fact: I used my last Gu during the race. From then until Christmas, I had no Gu packets in my house. I always get a few for Christmas, so, since this report was so late, I used one of my gifts in the photo.)

It’s roughly the same size as the 2016 medal, a hair thinner, but with a little extra near the top of the bridge. I do like the medal design, but I’m a little biased.

I haven’t mentioned the weather during the race yet, because really, it was perfect. 52 degrees, sunny (OK, I would have preferred a few clouds, but I didn’t get any sunburn), and most importantly, no wind. It was good enough that the Men’s winner, Lelisa Desisa, finished with the 2nd fastest time ever for the course.

So, almost two months later (sorry), what does it all mean?

My time was definitely slower than I’d hoped. But my training didn’t go as well as I’d hoped. There’s one thing that I noticed when I looked at my training cycles before my previous marathons. For those, the average pace of my marathon was slower than the average pace of the majority of my long runs. This time, my average pace was faster than the majority of my long runs. That’s really how it’s supposed to work, your training kicks in and you race faster than you ran your long runs. You could argue that I underachieved slightly in my first two marathons, and, if anything, I actually overachieved in this race.

I guess I’m satisfied with my performance. I’m still disappointed that my training didn’t go well, but considering how poorly it went, I did OK on race day, and I finished. That’s the important part.

It doesn’t erase 2017, though. Maybe if my training this year had gone as well as last year, and I ran a really good race, I might feel differently. I’ll never know how well I could have run last year if I hadn’t gotten sick. It still sucks. But on November 4, 2018, I did manage to find a little bit of redemption. This time, I finished, and I’ll never take that for granted again.

And with that, I’m about 99% sure that I’m done with the marathon. I won’t say never, but right now, if I was a betting man, I’d bet on no more marathons. Each has been an unforgettable experience (Unfortunately, I couldn’t forget 2017 if I tried), and I learned a lot about myself and what I’m capable of doing through each training cycle and running each race. But I’m 45 years old now. It’s not going to get any easier. And the amount of time and effort that I have to put in to train for and then run 26.2 miles…I just don’t think I can do that again. Ultimately, though, at this point, I just feel like I have nothing left to prove. I’ve completed 3 marathons. Not many people can say that. I’ll still run shorter races (as I write this, I’m just a couple of weeks away from the Charleston Half Marathon), and I’ll continue to enjoy running, because I do love it. It’s just highly unlikely that I’ll ever run 26.2 miles again.

I said in my 2015 Raleigh City of Oaks recap that I’d heard this saying: “I’m not saying it will be easy, I’m saying it will be worth it.” I had wondered if it was true as I was training for that race, and in the end, I realized that it was absolutely worth it. The 2016 New York City Marathon was worth it, too. Even if it didn’t turn out as planned (that’s an understatement), the 2017 New York City Marathon was worth it.

The 2018 New York City Marathon? Yeah, it was absolutely worth it.

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 4, 2018, 11:00 AM (Wave 4) (Actual start: 11:04 AM)
Bib Number: 68671
Official Finishing Time: 5:52:03, 13:26/mile. 46,977th of 52,697 Overall, 4,378th of 4,699 in Age Group (Male 45-49)