My blog has been moved a few times, from Blogger to being self-hosted to hitching a ride on RunnersMalaysia’s website. I even put up an entire blog – Road To New York City Marathon (I don’t think the link even works anymore) – documenting my research, planning and preparation for the big race. Most of my posts weren’t ported over to this WordPress blog but the NYC Marathon memories were too precious to lose. I regret not buying the official photos and am still scouring for 2008 photos but while the NYRR has an extensive archive of past years’ results, MarathonFoto don’t keep their records that long.
I’ve only moved over a few posts from the entire series dedicated to training. At that time I was still chasing my first sub-4 marathon and 12 years on re-reading these, I can say that I’ve learned so much about myself and marathon training (it’s about consistency!). The mistakes I did in those pre-Internet days, and my weaknesses and my lack of full-on resolve were apparent in the posts below. This is a long one, so if you’re just interested in the race, scroll down just after the middle. NYCM is one of the greatest road races in the world, one of the six World Marathon Majors and is a must-do, if you’re lucky/privileged enough to get in.
Pre-Periodization Week 2: 29.85K (June 22nd 2008)
Still keeping to the light and easy theme, there was an increased in the weekly mileage even if the frequency of runs dropped.
The week’s highlight was Saturday’s first long run. I woke up at 4am and as usual the first thought that ran through my mind was “Here we go again!” but not with that kind of enthusiasm that precedes second helpings of ice-cream, mind you. Fueling was a slice of peanut butter bread with black coffee and after averaging 90km/h I reached the BA car park sharp at 5am. No other runners were there and while I got ready, Geraldine pulled up. 5 minutes later we were huffing off into the dark. I wore the blue-silver stability Nike Air Structure Triax 11+ (AST11+) as part of the breaking in process. On my right wrist was the Nike SportBand and the left wrist my Forerunner 205.
The effort were conversational and there wasn’t much problem except for a spot of surprise at the Arabic School just before the Bukit Tunku hills. A dog which we didn’t notice suddenly jumped out with a growl. We stood our ground and it didn’t come any closer and reluctantly walked away still with some menace. That got the blood flowing a bit and we were definitely fully awaked after that! Kit’s friend Fu Yee (hope I got his name right – thanks man!) generously provided us with some drinks at the Hartamas stop and we gulped down the H2O quickly and made our way back.
It got a bit chilly for me as we headed back – my shirt was soaked through. After crossing Jalan Duta and a road kill later, we ran into Ronnie and his band of runners (over 10 of them!) on their way to the 15K route. 30 minutes later I was back at the car park ready to take on another 4.5K with the RunnersMalaysia group. Now that second run was certainly tougher, indicative of my fitness level. But time is on my side and I’m glad to have maintained the slight momentum going into the actual 2-week Periodisation Phase which starts tomorrow. Periodisation Phase calls for more regular runs, with no single runs exceeding 20K. Weekly mileage peaks at 30K though I think I may not be able to stick to that number. We’ll see.
I met with Wong, an EKIN with Nike, who was there to exchange the Pegasus 2007+ with the Zoom Elite 4+, which looks really great. Compared to the E3 (my PR shoe), the 4 has fewer overlays (good!), is Nike+ enabled (moving with times!) and reportedly lighter (great!). The most significant change is that there’s no longer a full-length Zoom Air due to the accommodation of the Nike+ shoe sensor. I shall be reviewing the Elite 4 after the SportBand and AST 11+. I know there’s quite a lot of cool gear to test out and that’s certainly keeping my training very interesting indeed. Thanks once again to Nike for all the cool hardware.
Before I end this posting, I got the chance to test-run (OK only a few steps!) in the yet to be launched 9oz lime green Lunar Trainer (see image below). It felt like a pair of Frees with more cushioning. It’s pillowy ride is different from Nike’s super soft Vomero and all I can say for now is that it’s revolutionary. The secret to achieving all that is via the use of Lunarlite foam which was developed by the aerospace industry. It’s 30% lighter than Nike’s Phylon (the company’s hitherto lightweight midsole material). I’m really getting ahead of myself here but it’s something to be really excited about in the later part of the year.
Periodisation Week 2: 35.79K (June 29th 2008)
Week 3 of light training is over. Am glad to report that it’s been quite good thus far. Highlights of the week were the late afternoon tough runs at Lake Gardens on Tuesday (9.6K) and Wednesday (11.1K). Weather’s been scorching of late and within the first K, my heart rate would have climbed to 70% MHR.
After being razed by the sun on Tuesday during which I did 3 lake loops and 1 Carcosa, I ran a shadier route on Wednesday. Started from the Bkt Aman Car Park then headed down to the National Mosque before hitting the lung-quad busting uphill at the Islamic Art Museum. Down past the Deer Park, hang left around the lake then the reverse Carcosa Hill, round the playground and back to the car park for a drink before heading the second loop.
I took Thursday and Friday off to rest and focus on clearing work. Saturday comprised of 11K and 4K, while poor weather waylaid my evening run plan. Fitness is pretty much still work in progress and I’m glad for it. I’d be concerned about getting through the workouts easily. It’s not been easy, trust me, even if the volume and variety is standard stuff. I like it the way it is as this means that I’ve the luxury to slowly build the body up over the coming months and peak as close to the race as possible.
My goal for the Periodisation Phase is max 30K weekly mileage. Ooops, looks like I busted it! Next week is the final periodisation week before the start of 6 weeks of Base Phase. It’s going to get more and more interesting!
Periodization Week 2: 35.46K (July 6th 2008)
Today sees the completion of the 2-week Periodization Phase. Not much changes to the weekly mileage and I ran without pressure. No chasing of splits, mileage or anything of that sort. Just go out there and run 4 times a week.
I noticed that the weather in the evenings have been very hot of late with temps hitting 34C even. Just like today. I’ll never be able to run in temps close to NYC. So the feel of cold weather will be alien to me until Oct 30th when I arrive at The City. The sun was still blazing at 6:30pm but I had a run scheduled. After guzzling down copious amount of fluids, I put on my shades, changed into a lightweight NikeFIT vest and shorts and went into the kitchen filling up 2 bottles of iced isotonic drinks. 10 minutes later after tying up the Vomero 2+, I was out of the door. I usually don’t train with my sunglasses (Oakley Half Jacket) on – the fact that I did today pretty much tells you how glaring it was.
At the office, work has been holding steady but our Department has been rocked by 4 resignations of late. With replacement head counts difficult to get, expect more work heading my way.
Tomorrow will see that start of the 6-week Base Phase. It’s a very important period where mileage will be gradually increased to the mid 50s per week. No matter how many times you’ve done it, it never gets easier. As you grow older, you’ll need to monitor your recovery period and so on. Focus will be on quality not quantity… for now.
This is when real work begins.
Base Phase Week 1: 44.88K (July 13th 2008)
The upwards movement of my mileage continues. I’m 3 weeks into my training and I’ve managed a very modest mileage. It’s approximately half the volume that I’ll be doing in 2 months’ time and I’m glad to be getting in some quality runs. I’ve moved some runs to the morning and it wasn’t too bad either. I just needed to ensure that I get to bed by 11pm. The earliest and longest run so far was a 19K with Geraldine and Loke at 5am Saturday morning. Going long was fantastic and I thought finishing strong at the end of long runs were important. We covered the final 2K in under 5:30/K splits.
I’ve been eating well too. Plenty of smaller meals and snacking, so that my energy level is on the level. My weight stands between 57-58kg.
Nike have been most generous with their support. I’m rotating between the Vomero 2, Structure 11 and Elite 3. And just 2 days ago, I laid my hands on the cutting edge Zoom Victory+. Wearing it is an experience. I’ll just say for now that it’ll see some action in speedwork and short races – definitely the pair for the Aug 31st Human Race.
Week 2 of Base will have me cross the 50K mark for the week and it’s a mark that I plan to hold till the end of Base Phase. Time for bed now. Have a good running week ahead!
Base Phase Week 3 & 4: 35.42K & 50.72K
Week 3‘s training was a downer. Things were going well and I thought a 50K week was a clincher. Easy peasy. I caught some of my colleagues’ flu and was out for a day (only) and managed a few very good midweek runs. There was even a day of double workout, though in retrospect it might have come too early at this phase. I was quite tired because of it. Then Carbokid 2 fell ill, floored by cough, fever, flu with bouts of vomiting. The 3 adults at home were running around like headless chicken attending to him. And if you know C2, being a feisty character that he is, it’s not easy getting him to cooperate. He’s so different from C1 whom you can at least negotiate with. The couple of rough nights knocked me off and the targeted 19K on Saturday were busted. I managed to salvage a 13K on Saturday evening but couldn’t recover on time for an early run on Sunday morning, and I ended the week on a low.
After such a seemingly discouraging week, the natural reaction would be to hammer the next week like crazy right? Then I thought about it and put everything in perspective. I’ve been running really well. I’ve not lost any of my speed – in fact I’ve been running faster, very near to marathon goal pace. I don’t think I’ve problems hitting a sub-50 minute 10K. So I’ve taken slightly longer times to recover but that could be due to the generally faster pace I’ve been running. Perhaps I should take it easier so that I’m able to last through the week in better shape.
Week 4 ended quite well. Other than hitting the 50K milestone for the NYCM training, the quality of workouts have been consistent. I’m getting more comfortable with steady-state runs and remained in control on the faster sessions. My stated goal for the Base Phase is 55K weeks and if I pace myself accordingly I should be able to hit it either this week or next. I plan to be consistent throughout this training even if the volume remains just so-so. My aim is to make sure that lower volume, with higher quality will bring about peaking at the correct time.
Certainly events, unplanned they may be such as C2’s continued illness and my brushes with cold/flu, are making sure that I don’t overdo things. I ran 5 days last week and due to some pre-planning, I knew that I could run in the evenings. That allowed me to sleep in on weekday mornings, even if that only meant an additional 10 minutes in bed. Tuesday’s 11.8K was fantastic – 6:02 pace aerobically – while Saturday’s stupendously hard hill workout with running partners, at first with Geraldine and Loke, then Geraldine (up the 2.4K Kiara Hill) and finally with the RunnersMalaysia group with last 2K with Chen. The trip up Kiara Hill deserves a special mention due to the hard work it brought about. It was a new route for me and I ran without knowing where the peak was. It was a series of curves and more curves that took its toll on the lungs (I maxed out my HR), quads, calves and glutes. On a couple of stretches I was even reduced to walk breaks. Sweat were dripping off the tip of my nose! And Geraldine couldn’t be seen in front!
Despite the 2 days, the run that took the cake was yesterday’s late evening 9K which I somehow cranked out at 6:06 pace despite the sore legs. I shall be returning to this hill a few more times before the main event. I’m thinking of this workout to simulate late stage hills – a 10K “warmup” incorporating 3K easy, 7K at LT pace around the lake before heading to the hill. There, do 6 repeats up the hill before a 2K easy warm down around the lake.
Changes to the NYCM Start Process
“Acting on feedback from runners, the NYRR will be implementing several changes to the start process this year. Chief among them are the Wave Start and the Baggage Handling. With these enhancements to the system, NYRR hope that runners can look forward to the following benefits:
1. Reduced crowding and wait time standing in corrals
2. Reduced crowding and wait time standing on the bridge, waiting for the race to start
3. Reduced time to cross the start line (NYRR hopes that runners can cross the starting line within 6 minutes)
4. Reduced crowding on the course and at the finish
So what’s the Wave Start all about? Instead of releasing a mass start of approximately 40,000 runners at one time, the field will first be organized into three separate start lines designated with blue, orange or green colors. Then each starting line will be broken down to 3 waves designated white, yellow or blue. There are 6 corrals within each wave – A to F. Each wave will have approximately 13,000 runners and will be released at 20-minute intervals. Wave 1 will begin at 9:40 am., followed by wave 2 at 10:00 am., and then wave 3 at 10:20 am. The runners will be allocated their “waves” according to their projected goal time. I’m so average that I’ll probably be placed in either the Wave 2 or 3. Wave 1 would probably be assigned to the elites and sub 3:30 finishers.
Runners fearing the loss of the unique starting experience – the firing of the starting cannon and Sinatra’s rendering of “New York, New York” – need not worry as each wave will still have the same ceremony. The cannon will just see more action and Sinatra will have to sing a few more times!
Baggage Handling is also revamped. The UPS trucks will be parked near the entrance (in the open zone) to the Staging Area to receive your checked in baggage (in case you’re wondering, only official clear goodie bags are accepted for deposits). From the alphabetically sorted manner of yesteryears, the organizers are sorting the trucks by bib number in increments of 1,000 this time around.”
My plans for race morning as follows: Get up early at 5am (since there are bound to be some queues at the hostel toilets) and leave the hostel by 6:30am by subway. I sure hope that the other bed in our room is taken up by a fellow runner! At this juncture I’m not sure if we need to pack extra breakfast since a wide variety are available at the staging area from tea, Poland Spring Natural Spring Water, Gatorade Endurance Formula, bagels, PowerBars, and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. The posse should arrive at the Battery Park ferry terminal at 7am and take the 30-minute ferry ride to Staten Island, in time to hop onto the 7:30am Staten Island shuttle to take us to the Fort Wadsworth staging area. While making new friends from all over the world are all part of the NYCM experience, it’ll be even better if my friends and I are assigned to the same starting line, wave and corral. At least if we’re within the same wave, we can still hop between corrals. Well, we’ll know in September.
Back To Backs And Hell Week
Strip away all the technical aspects, training is all about systematically stressing the body and mental systems over a period of time. Build up and sustain the stress-load on the body, breaking it down, recover and repeat.
I came up with the Back to Back (B2B) approach at this stage of my career as I can no longer maintain an end to end 4 month marathon training program. I will either lose focus halfway through the period, peak too early as a result of poor management or fall sick. Since I’ve been quite blessed at staying injury free over the years, I thought I can compress the period of serious training down to 2 months by incorporating 2 days of high quality (LTs and Tempos) workouts on weekdays and hitting the long runs on weekends. More recently I invested in a spinning bike to ensure that I not only prevent cardio and strength loss but to build them up.
The benefits of these adjustments are lower running mileage (and thus reducing overuse risk), increase in quality workouts, reduction of training period, while maintaining fitness. I’m also hoping that all that spinning will bring about quicker leg turnover. All good but this approach is not for everyone. You need to have about 40K weekly mileage and have tackled distances of up to 30K a few times. It’s not recommended for beginning runners and non-marathoners, simply because it places too much stress on the unconditioned body and mind. In view of that I’ve been fortunate to have like minded running mates to tag along. Training in a group can and will pull you through tough patches.
For my NYCM training, I put together a series of B2Bs. B2Bs are essentially medium-long to long runs done on Saturday and Sunday. With 5 weeks to raceday, the workouts were 25K and 31K. With me were Luc, Frank and Lawrence. I decided to carry a loaned Olympus SW850 to get a feel of it and the unit felt quite good in my hands. It also fits snugly into the Nike slim running pouch. Barring any change of mind, the camera will be coming along with me on the 5-borough journey.
The 31K started an easy pace. We decided to take the new Solaris route. I was running in and out of pace testing the camera at various spots. It was only near Desa Hartamas that Luc turned the power on and disappeared. Frank and I stopped over at the 7-Eleven for drinks and quickly resumed. By the time we neared the Petronas station after a loop, Luc came storming from behind. He’d gone around loop while waiting for us.
The run to the IRB office was with Luc as Frank had dropped back a bit. I raised my pace to MP and managed to stick close to Luc. Of course it was his easy pace. I was comfortable throughout and the Lunaracers were holding up very very well. We took another loop before stopping at the station to replenish. Frank arrived soon after but indicated he had to relieve himself. So Luc and I went our way, this time taking the reverse Solaris route. And boy was I in for a hard run. The reverse was even worse than coming. But with the construction workers streaming to their site at the killer hill, there was no way I could stop. I hung on as long as I could as we hammered the ascent.
After we cleared the Duta crossing, Luc jestfully suggested we detoured to Double Hill. I’m sure he could’ve but there was no way I’d make it back. Sure, NYCM isn’t flat but it isn’t even as hilly as the regular Hartamas route (just several well-placed bridges to knock your pace off). Hopefully Luc wasn’t frustrated with my non-interest for he zoomed down Kenny Hills and wasn’t seen again until back at the car park. I maintained pace and was clipping along fairly fast back to the car park to conclude a good week of running and spinning.
This week with the Aidil Fitri celebrations, I have opportunity to log the highest mileage – just about right timing too with just 3 weeks to tapering. It calls for 2 midweek runs of 21K and 30K followed by 15K and 25K on the weekends. In between will be some spinning and a couple of short runs. I’ve been eating and snacking more the last 3 days and I’ve found the extra calories to be extremely helpful. I’ve also found that I’ve energy on my long runs even while maintaining my policy of no gel intakes during training. My snacks have been a mixture of oats, fruit and cereal bars, and Powerbar Triple Threat. I also eat normal food, just more frequently. Mondays are treat days after the hard weekends, so it’s usually McDonald’s Milkshake for me.
The next 2 weeks leading up to the taper period, I will reduce the distance to be covered on Saturday but increase Sunday’s long run to 35K. Overall mileage will still remain decent.
Before Oct 30th
Realizing that chronicling my experiences could potentially be taking too much of my resources, I’ve decided to keep things in check by covering the aspects of my training and racing very broadly to just 2 or 3 “episodes”. The first of which is the title of this post, and that would be generally my training and preparations up to the day I boarded the Cathay Pacific flight to NYC.
I eased into the marathon training mindset sometime end May and as usual plotted a 4.5 to 5-month training program. In retrospect it was a long program, and something which I know that I’ll never be able to realize given my many commitments. My future marathons will most likely be based on a 3-month training window. A 5-month window allows too much distractions to creep in be it from work or health perspective.
My training was supported by the generous gestures of Nike and Powerbar and I logged all my workouts into the Buckeyeoutdoor.com training log.
The later stages of my training leaned heavily towards quality long runs, many of which were done back to back to simulate the stresses of marathon running and midweek shorter runs of up to 10K. I didn’t do any interval training, and relied on tempos and effort based long runs to get my fitness level up. Once again I was blessed with no injuries when my training volume went up, at one stage 114K in 7 days, 160K in 9. Prior to the self-labelled Hell Week, my weekly mileage fluctuated between 45 and 65K. Hell Week was a milestone in my running life. Never have I run so much in my 20 years of running. I kept the runs mostly between an easy to steady pace, and the goal was to get the miles in. I figured that if I can survive the stress, I should be able to run at my targeted 5:42 marathon pace. There is really no point in running fast when the body isn’t conditioned to take the stress of pounding. By “body” I mean the whole works – from the neuro-muscular to mental toughness. That’s why longevity in the sport of running requires patience, lots of hard work and months if not years of base building – something Arthur Lydiard preached, not that I’m a disciple 100% (it’s quite impossible to log that kind of mileage for one) but his doctrine is what I believe in. In the last 2 months of training especially, what I did mirrored what he prescribed. There’s not much ground to be made nor continuous improvement realised if one jumps directly into speedwork. Speed is addictive and races can detract a runner from his or her ultimate goals whatever they may be. I’ve seen many fledglings succumbing to injuries within the same running season in the hasty pursuit of fast times. Or plateauing or burning out. But these lessons are not heeded and the mistakes continue to be committed.
Throughout the roller-coaster regimen, a consistent feature has been Geraldine whom I could count on as a fellow long run junkie. She would be the only rose among the thorns. As the months wore on, I had Frank and during the critical later stages, Luc, along for the ride. Lawrence and Loke were also regulars with 1 month to race day. Most of our long runs started at 5am, just so that we could return to our non-running commitments, which in my case included a session with the Beginners Group and a trip to the wet market for my weekly shopping.
Running the same route were boring after the umpteenth time, and in searching for new routes to charter, the Solaris route was established. Even hillier than the traditional Bukit Aman-Hartamas way, running the Solaris way build strength, something which came in beneficial when tackling a challenging course such as New York’s. The extra distance also meant that we needed to do less looping around the Petronas station. Tapering was somewhat an anticlimax and I couldn’t get in as many short runs as I wanted to due to inclement weather. However I’d purchased a spinning bike which I’d been hopping on a few times a week which helped maintain some aerobic fitness and leg strength. I credit my newly acquired strength to these workouts as I didn’t increase my core workouts by much. So it had to be due to the spinning and the hilly runs.
I’ve been preparing for New York a year ago ever since of the bungled offer of the previous “sponsor”. I’d researched about the place, the event and participated in the RW NYCM forums and read up past year reports in the many blogs. I’d even kept the Empire State Building ticket I bought online, which was a good thing, since it was still valid. Nevertheless having not travelled to a colder climate before meant that I’d to invest in a couple of suitable apparels. Some thought had to go into the packing since I’d be staying for a week. Race packing was equally complicated since the NYC course is a point to point. There would be many throwaway clothing due to the cold start and I didn’t have any idea on what I should be wearing for top – Long sleeve or short? Any base layer? Will conditions be too cold? Will I overheat? I’ve the hard data on the predicted weather but how does 10C really feel like? In the end I packed both long and short technical shirts and the Nike Pro base layer. The choice for the bottoms was easier as with the shoes.
The other thing was I had plans to head upstate New York to experience Halloween in the suburbs and had to consider bringing a change of clothes. What’s a visit to a foreign land without experiencing some American culture right? So I hopped on the chance as it was presented to me, thanks to Geraldine.
Other than the confirmation of race entry, the NYRR was supposed to send us our registration card with which we could pick up our race bibs and goodie bags among other things. Both Geraldine and I were checking our mailboxes like maniacs the week before we left and having seen no signs of it, we emailed NYRR and received our electronic confirmation the very same day. At this point I should compliment the NYRR for doing an excellent job from day 1 when I applied via the lottery to the acceptance of my entry and to how much I’m welcome to the city. They even went so far as to say that it’s their honour to sacrifice their time just so that we runners have the ultimate running experience. We would be lavished similar attention through many of our interactions there be it the volunteers or officials. More on that later.
Finally all the waiting was over and it was time to head on to KLIA. Both Geraldine and I arrived within 5 minutes of each other and since we’ve checked-in online we needn’t rush. Our ride to Hong Kong was on the 777-300 which is a large plane and I looked enviously at the First and Business Class seats as I headed towards the Economy seats. The 4-hour flight was uneventful, which was good, during which I watched Get Smart and The Hulk on the monitor.
The Hong Kong Airport was stupendous. Very well maintained and a hive of activity. We had 3 hours of layover and we leisurely covered the shops, did some product sampling and had lunch. It had to be pasta you see. I’d gained 1 kilo over my 2 week tapering period but it’s normal and I wasn’t concerned about it. In fact I was glad to finally hit 60 kgs!
Before long it was time to hit the second leg of our journey – a 15-hour flight over the edges of the Arctic Circle en route to New York. On board I switched over to the EST time zone which NYC is on and tried to catch some sleep which I failed miserably. My travel partner on the right had no problems. She tucked in her legs and was happily shipped away to dreamland with nary a sound. Me with the long legs were shifting around like crazy. Furthermore, the Singaporean on the left kept her reading lights on! To make a long story short, I got all of 40 minutes sleep on the 15-hour flight. Crazy! How was I to stay on my feet at the expo and Halloween night and to race?!
The Arrival, Expo and IFR
JFK is one heck of a busy airport. Taxiing took 20 minutes while immigration clearing took another 40 minutes. By the time we were directed to the respective processing officers by a supervisor who looked like Robert De Niro. I was processed by a Erik Estrada lookalike while Geraldine a Cuba Gooding body double. Erik commented in a resigned manner that it was going to be another long night and when I asked on the sparse manpower, he replied that it’s always been the case. Erik was very friendly and posed just a couple of obligatory questions to be before taking my fingerprint and mug shot. All International visitors to the U.S have to go through this procedure.
Once off the checkpoints we had to pass another gruff Asian-looking officer who growled “Go” after giving us a once over. Like Erik nearly every officer there carried a sidearm. The arrival area was spartan, with only a Subway stand. We didn’t hang around and promptly got into line for a mad cab ride to the hostel. Ride cost $55 including tips, expensive if converted to Ringgit but I’ve since ditched the conversion mindset. If there’s any chance of enjoying the travel experience, you need to do away with the depressing thought of the currency conversion. The cab was equipped with a small LCD TV with a GPS showing our travel route in realtime. We could either pay by credit card or cash.
The air was chilly but not uncomfortably cold. The most obvious feeling was the lower humidity and you instantly feel lighter. 40 minutes later, after a nausea inducing ride we arrived at the hostel in one piece. I paid the elderly Indian or Pakistani driver and got ourselves checked in. Seow Ping was already under the sheets when we entered the dorm and we sorted out our things quickly before calling it a day. Finding myself in an unfamiliar room with unfamiliar sleeping partners (we shared the room with 2 other Dutch men and another guy of unknown origin – a snorer) didn’t help and I tossed and turned the many days I was there. Snorer didn’t stay long, thank goodness and he checked out the very next day. The other 2 Dutch guys were cool dudes, friendly and didn’t mind our early rise and rustling about. They’re the night owls while we’re the early birds.
As it turned out, the Hostelling International (HI) was a neat place to stay (see photos). Residents range from young teens on their school trip to old folks but we only see them in the lobby or outside the building. It wasn’t noisy and our room was just 2 doors from the toilets, bathrooms and water cooler. The place was clean enough even though we found a few of our food packs were chewed through by small mice and there was a dank smell either on the carpet or the room mates’ clothing, but it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. We always left the window slightly ajar to air out the room. Each of us had a locker large enough to stow our bags and we came prepared with padlocks.
The first order of the next day was to head out for breakfast and then to the expo to collect our goodie bags, shop and meet Mohan and Hazel. I had coffee with a toasted cinnamon bagel with cream cheese and committed the mistake of taking photos with the proprietor in them. You see, many New Yorkers don’t like to be photographed. This was only one of two incidences I encountered, but I had my wits about and there were no further problems. I supposed they knew I was a tourist and cut me some slack but I thought they should really chill out.
After buying the $25 7-day unlimited ride Metrocard, we took the A Train from the 103rd St to 34th St Penn Station and took a short walk to the Javits Center (JC). It was quite easy to get around the subway system despite looking quite imposing on the map. All you need to be sure is to orientate yourself correctly once you exit the station to get your bearings right. Manhattan was clearly geared for the marathon. Marathon buntings were everywhere – on the street posts, buildings, buses, even subway cars. Asics, being the main sponsor, were very visible with pictures of Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor. Nike wasn’t to be left out and Paula Radcliffe images were plentiful too and their taglines “Keep Up Or Shut Up” and “Limits Lie” were quite catchy. Everywhere we walked, we came across marathoners. You’ll know they’re runners by the knowing nod you exchange with them. It was like gunslingers exchanging glances before a high noon confrontation minus the animosity and suspicion.
We got to the glass and steel structure of the JC within 20 minutes and the place was already bursting with people. The amount of energy and excitement was palpable. I paused for awhile to take the whole set up in but almost immediately, we were greeted by volunteers who ushered us to our correct lines. “International runners proceed this way” and “This way in” were frequently heard. They were all very polite, warm and I observed, never curt even though I can’t imagine the number of people they had to handle the 3 days of the expo. The flow of the collection were very very structured. International runners will firstly approach the International Friendship Run (IFR) booth (manned by 3 volunteers) to collect the free bibs and goodie bags – time spent 20 seconds. If you didn’t receive the registration card, you can stop by the Service Desk to get a pickup slip – time spent 20 seconds, but if you’ve the card or email printout, you can skip this step. Next would be a short walk to your respective bib range to pick up your Marathon Goodie Bag – 20 seconds (my booth was manned by 2 volunteers). I immediately tried on the long sleeved Asics technical tee for size but found that M was just too large, so I made my way to the Exchange counter (3 volunteers) to swap for an S size – another 20 seconds. They were so fast with the exchange process because there were always people exchanging shirts and they just basically swap the sizes on the spot. I was lucky in that I received an untried shirt. At every touch-point, we were greeted with smiles and wishes of “Have a great race”. It was apparent that regardless of where they’re stationed, the volunteers take pride in their job.
That out of the way, it was time to check my chip. Just pass your chip (a 1 second job) over the sensor and verify that your name is flashed on the screen. This table was manned by a single volunteer. Up until this point, the total time spent was about 7 minutes (a PR for bib collection!), as I did spend some time gawking at the whole setup. Geraldine and I then settled in a corner inspecting our goodie bags while waiting for Seow Ping. In the clear coloured UPS goodie bag, which doubled up as a deposit bag, were the race bib, yellow timing chip, pasta dinner ticket, post-marathon party ticket, event book, a long sleeved Asics event tee and some coupons and snacks.
Next on the agenda was, well, spend some money. Asics being a main sponsor had the largest floor space. The shelves were full of merchandise and most were not available in this part of the world. Asics even had anti-chafing powder which I admit worked quite well for me on race day. Everyone had to pass through the Asics section and pay before getting to the other exhibitors. The major exhibitors were all the major sporting brands and stores covering apparels, shoes, accessories and timepieces (Timex, Garmin, Polar, Suunto). Of course charity organisations and nutrition companies were also there. Gatorade, Powerbar, Gu, Clif, Snickers all provided product sampling from their full product range as well as value buys.
One could’ve easily got carried away, which was what happened to me when I totally lost track of time and missed the Fdipper meeting at the Team Boomer charity booth. Paragon Sports were giving away tokens for free pasta lunch at their outlet. Having picked up some socks and event t-shirts, I hit the Runners World booth to pick up Bart Yasso’s book (Bart, RW’s Chief Running Officer, autographed the following words in my copy: “A marathon is like life – it’s not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters”) and got Peter Reid to sign a postcard for me. Next was the Asics promo booth where I got my photo taken and uploaded to a hosting server. The novelty was that I could have my photo displayed on the giant electronic wallboard at Times Square when I send an SMS to a preset number at a certain time. I also picked up several pace bands at the ING booth but I was disappointed that there wasn’t a 4-hour pace group in my wave. The fastest was the 4:30 group. Besides ING, Nike also gave away customisable velcro pace bands. Here are some videos of the expo.
The 3 of us finally linked up with Mohan and Hazel when they arrived close to noon but we couldn’t hang out that long as we had to make our way up to Danbury, Connecticut for an evening of Halloween with a friend. The experience made the 1-hour trip worthwhile. It was unfortunate we couldn’t stay longer. A good night’s sleep awaited me and I managed a full 5-hour sleep, which was an improvement over the previous night’s 4. After a hearty breakfast, it was back to Manhattan and just in time too since we caught the IFR runners running down 42nd St. The IFR is a free fun run the day before the race organised so that overseas runners can mingle. The run is also open for Americans but they need to pay. In line with the global theme, the run starts from the UN Building after the presentation of the Abebe Bikila Award to Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands (check my previous posting here). There was such an air of festivity when the runners (reportedly numbered 16,000) ran by that all my tiredness from lugging the expo bags was instantly lifted. Runners were from all over the world, many of whom ran in costumes or carried their countries’ flags. Fine weather and mild temperature brought out the crowds and traffic stopped in busy Manhattan for the runners. There were no impatient honks from the stranded motorists and New Yorkers came out to applaud the runners and they ran by singing songs.
So far NYC has lived up to its billing. It was apparent that Marathon week is when the city unites and puts on the best show for visitors. And being tourists we were on the receiving end of all these good vibes.
D Minus 1
With 1 day to the big day, we had to slow things down and tried to relax and kept our feet up at any opportunity. Since Seow Ping, Mohan and Hazel were still separated from us – Geraldine and I returned to the hostel to drop off our bags back at the hostel while the trio were still out for the IFR – we took the chance to rest a bit on our bunks. All of us will only rendezvous for pre-race dinner. Our roomies were out, so we had the whole place to ourselves. That presented the perfect opportunity to get ourselves organized with the shopping goodies and prepping the race gear. This involved getting the racing shoes out – G’s choice was the ST Racers while mine was the Lunaracer. While we laced up the timing chip for races in MY and SG, the method in the US is to secure the chip to the shoe laces using the provided plastic ties (the thin version of what the security of hypermarts use here). After the race, a volunteer will snip it off for you, so you don’t have to bend your stiff body and struggle with the laces. I’d to adjust it a few times to ensure that the yellow chip didn’t flop around.
I’d more or less decided on my race apparels or what the US Army call the Army Combat Uniform (ACU). A race is, after all, a form of battle in which we put ourselves through. Don’t we constantly fight our own doubts and physical limits during a race? My dressing for the commute to the Fort Wadsworth staging area, on top of my Nike ACG jacket, will be:
- Bin bag
- Light thermal jacket courtesy of Dan, our friend from Connecticut
- Light wool top
- Knitted head warmer
- Cotton gym pants
- Nike Pro base layer
- Nike FIT-Dri short top
- Nike thin running gloves
- Arm warmers fashioned from cutoff football tube socks
- Injinji toe socks
- Forerunner 205
- Paris Marathon 4-Hour silicone pace band
- Nike small running pouch (to carry 2 gels, $10 and the Metrocard)
- Brooks long tights, since Nike long weren’t available in MY and I didn’t want to try new and untested apparels purchased at the expo
I also pinned 2 Powergels to my long tights on top of the 2 in my running pouch, stuck the name bib on my running tee and pinned the bib on. The name bib will ensure that my name will be shouted out at least a hundred times along the course. OK, that was an exaggeration. It turned out to be much less than that!
That done, we rested a bit and at about noon, headed out for lunch. Since we were meeting Mohan’s entourage between the 66th to 79th St area, we hopped off the subway at the Lincoln Center and walked eastwards, hoping to find an eatery. Unfortunately there weren’t much choices and I decided to just be a little adventurous and headed into Le Pain Quotidien, a French boulangerie. I ordered a split pea quiche to share, and tartines (open-faced sandwich, a supposedly trendy lunch staple in Parisian cafes) – G’s was made with organic wheat bread with roasted turkey, diced tomatoes, scallions and herb dressing that looked too beautiful to eat but too dry to chew and finish. It tasted a little odd, if I may say so, having not been exposed to such food. The pea quiche nevertheless provided plenty of protein and carbs and the serving was so big that we couldn’t finish. I washed everything down with iced water. Americans seem to have thing for iced water even in cold weather. It was warm in the bistro so it was OK for me but I found it a strange preference.
Just fooling around with Fred.
We landed at Central Park after another short walk to check out the last 400 meters of the race route and to soak in the atmosphere at the park. As with the IFR in the morning, the place was alive with activity. It was hard not to be caught up in the energy of the people there. Crews, suppliers, media and broadcast teams and volunteers were really busy putting up the final touches to the finish area. Barricades had been erected all the way, scaffolding and stages were in place and the expensive reserved spectator seating were up on the left and right of the road. Team leaders were briefing and walking through their crews on what to do and what-if scenarios. Nations’ flags lined up both sides of the road up to the finish line. Cartons of bottled water were being unloaded from the Poland Spring trucks. Despite all the congestion and action, there were many who were out running and biking or simply walking their dogs.
There was a fun run for the kids further south of the park and the macho NYFD men were there giving hi-fives and encouragement to the kids. Looking at the size of some of the kids, they really need to run more! So the McD sponsored (“run, so you can eat more of our burgers or you better run more since you eat our burgers?!”) fun run was definitely a good move.
Tavern On The Green was being prepped to receive thousands of runners for the night’s pasta party with the first batch of runners expected to arrive at 5pm. Fred Lebow’s bronze statue had been traditionally moved from its original spot to just before the finish line. Fred Lebow, the star of a newly released documentary Run For Your Life, was of course the late founder, promoter and race director of the modern NYCM taking it from a run around Central Park to a 5-borough spectacle. In a poignant way, it appeared that Fred was still watching over the marathon from his strategic spot.
The whole affair was impressive and I closed my eyes picturing how it would feel running up that stretch the very next day. We still had time to kill so we strolled over to the Sheep’s Meadow to take in the view. Weather was mild and just nice to laze around. While kids were playing ball, I ended up napping on the lawn! More leisurely strolling until we ended up in front of the Museum Of Natural History, made even more famous by the Ben Stiller movie “Night At The Museum”.
Dinner with Mohan, Hazel and Seow Ping was at Niko’s Mediterranean-Greek Grill and Bistro (per latest Google search, Niko’s is permanently closed 😦 )along Broadway at W76th Street. I was still full so food was on a shared basis, at least for me. I ordered Pasta Fagiole (soup with carrots, celery, parsley, beans, and pasta) and a plate of tomato and basil pasta. Again, both orders came extra large. I was amazed that Seow Ping could finish her monster plate of rice. The waiter even served us complimentary sweet Greek white wine (more like an aperitif) which had no kick. I was counting on it providing some warmth and knock-out power to get me to sleep. The party split an hour later while the fireworks were exploding in Central Park as part of the pre-marathon celebrations.
Before retiring I made one last check on my race packing, set the alarms, put on my eyeshades and tried hard to sleep in anticipation of the race of my life.
We set the buzzer for 3:30am but we had no problems waking up earlier! Our bags and race paraphernalia was laid out the evening before, so we geared up quite quickly. As courtesy, I’d informed our Dutch roomies a day before to expect some noise from the 3 of us on Sunday morning. We’d set our watches backwards by an hour due to daylight savings, and thus we had a extra hour of buffer. I made sure my feet was double protected from blistering by applying Bodyglide on top of shaking anti-chafing powder into my socks.
Since we were on time and only meeting Mohan and Hazel at the South Ferry Terminal at 7am, we could still relax in the comfort of the hostel lounge. While munching on an unconsumed cereal bar provided by the airline, I updated my Facebook status and checked some emails on SP’s notebook while the 2 ladies went out to get coffee. It wasn’t from the corner Starbucks since they “only” open at 5am, but diluted black coffee would have to do. Other than the three of us, there were several other marathoners who also stayed at the hostel, among them a wheelchair participant and 3 very fast runners (we identified them from their low bib numbers). They were catching the earlier bus ride to Fort Wadsworth, and so had to leave earlier. Given the 4 celcius biting temperature on race morning, plus the longer waiting period, that couldn’t have been good!
The roads were wet when we left the hostel and it was still dark. As we stayed very close to the 103rd St station, we could still find seats on the train. A few more stops and the whole train was filled. 90% of the riders in our car were runners and it was an exciting experience. It felt like we were going into battle together and the energy were palpable as conversations centred around the race. I got round to chatting with a sweet woman next to me who was going to run her 3rd NYCM. 30 minutes later, the train reached its destination (the South Ferry terminal was the end of the line). 4 escalators moved us to the Level 1 waiting lounge where a line had already formed leading to the only coffee and sandwich stall. I sat on the floor as with many others while munching on a Powerbar and sipping Gatorade, to wait for the arrival of Mohan and Hazel. I tried to catch some shut eye but failed miserably.
I had to get in more food as the race would not be starting for another 2.5 hours. I remembered hitting the wall prematurely at the 27K mark of the 2007 Penang Marathon due to poor eating. Just as I took the last bite of the bar, Mohan and Hazel arrived, and there were more photo ops. I discovered to my annoyance then that the Olympus had ran out of juice suddenly without warning. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise so that I could concentrate on the race. The volunteers informed us that we didn’t have to wait for our scheduled ferry timing, and so we joined the hordes of runners to board the vessel.
Not having the chance to walk/run across the Brooklyn Bridge remains one of my great regret. Behind it is the Manhattan Bridge.
The fuchsia line denotes the ferry route. From Whitehall Terminal (Brooklyn Bridge was to our 7 o’clock position) not far from Wall Street, we wound our way southwards towards Staten Island, passing Lady Liberty to our right. We disembarked at St George and bus a short distance to Fort Wadsworth. Plenty of waiting in freezing temps before getting our adventure underway across the VNB to Brooklyn.
The ferry ride was nice and we got reasonably near to Liberty Island to get some shots of Lady Liberty – we were after all tourists! Other runners were contented to sit quietly keeping to themselves or chatting quietly. We reached Staten Island’s St. George Ferry Terminal in 30 minutes and the experienced ones among us – namely Mohan and Hazel – advised that we needn’t hurry to the shuttle buses and should stay in the comfort of the terminal.
Best way to see New York! The race route as published in the 2019 media pack.
Sagely advice. The place resembled a refugee camp as nearly every square foot was occupied by runners. Some slept or pretended to while most just sat there reading or listening to their iPod. Others, like me, stretched. I had enough time to empty my bladder before we left the shelter of the terminal close to 8am. It was very cold out and I pulled the wool hat down to cover my ears which was an exercise in futility. The thin running gloves offered no more protection than the hat. Luckily there was no waiting for the buses and we were whisked away very quickly. The ride to Fort Wadsworth took about 20 minutes and when we disembarked and walked to the Village security checkpoint, the wind was blowing even more. It was miserable and took away quite a bit of my excitement. Perhaps the senses had been numbed by the cold. I had to dump my non-transparent bag at the checkpoint and retained only the official clear UPS bag.
There were already many runners in the Village and directional signboards to the various areas were plentiful. I mentally noted the directions to the 3 starts (Orange, Green and Blue) and decided to deposit my bag with the UPS truck before the crowd got bigger. It took me less than 3 minutes to accomplish that. Of course with my ACG jacket off, it became much colder for me.
That’s the VNB where we’ll be flagged off.
On my body were already 4 layers of clothing, arm warmers, woollen hat, 2 garbage bags on top of my disposable light jacket. And it was still cold! Any more layers and I’d be looking like the Michelin Man. I saw people hiding in between trucks and leaning on the hoods of vehicles to stay warm and out of the wind. I even contemplated standing behind a tree but realised how ridiculous that idea was. Where possible we turned our backs to the sun in a vain attempt to get some warmth. Desperately needing some comfort, we got into the line for Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. I also topped up my bottle with Gatorade, which the volunteer gladly and politely did for me. Then I picked up a plain bagel and dipped it into the coffee to make it easier to eat – otherwise the bun was a little dry. That done, the 5 of us had a group huddle for good luck before splitting up into the various start locations. Seow Ping and I were in the Blue Start but her’s was the 2nd Wave. Mine was Wave 3 and so had to wait just a little longer.
The PA announcements in English, Spanish and Japanese were very regular and clear as there were many speakers positioned in the Village. The announcer repeated that the baggage check for a certain start was closing and called for the runners in certain waves to start making their way to the holding area. I tried to stay calm and warm (failed miserably on this) by laying down on the grass and totally covered myself up like a human cocoon in a garbage bag. And munched on another Powerbar Triple Threat.
Not long after, my wave was called. I slowly drained my drink, headed to the porta-potties for the last time before taking my time to shed my cotton track pants. I kept my tops on until the holding area. My corral was the first one, so I had a distance to walk. Once Wave 2 cleared the holding area, we were allowed in. Our bibs were checked as we entered to ensure we were in the correct corral. There weren’t many runners in my corral and each corral was separated by volunteers holding a line of rope. My head was aching either from the cold or lack of sleep and strangely felt a little woozy but I tried to stay as calm as I could. I didn’t have any race expectations, other than to enjoy the occasion. But at that time I was finding it hard to even enjoy it. I took in deeper breaths to get oxygen into my lungs and brain and was glad to spot a diversion in a guy dressed up like Superman but instead of the “S” on his chest, it was “Marathon Man”. I thought I saw a group of English women in bras featuring the Union Jack, flowers and other adornments. They were apparently there to spread awareness on breast cancer. At the head of my corral, a volunteer held up a round sign which showed “Stop”. it reminded me of the sign flashed to the F1 driver in the pitstop. A boom sounded in the distant to indicate the start of Wave 2 and some runners clapped and cheered.
Our turn would come next as we then followed the volunteer (he flipped sign over to show “Walk”) on a short walk to the base of the bridge. Everything was planned so smoothly. Volunteers even told us to watch out for tree roots as we walked out. We were getting more and more excited and some let out shouts and hoots. The walk was surreal to me. No words could describe it – I was walking to the same starting point that the world record holders had stood earlier, and was about to run the very marathon that I’d read, researched and dreamt about since the early ’90s. I was finally about to run my 10th in perhaps the greatest marathon in the world that a Joe Ordinary could possibly run in. Unbelievable. The veil of discomfort lifted momentarily when the public services personnel (NYPD, DOT, and other workers and volunteers) applauded and wished us good luck as we neared the start. We were made to feel really good. If there was ever to be another NYCM for me, it’s to experience this level of support again. It’s really about the people making the event fantastic.
A short speech was given and a dedication was held to Victor J. Navarra, the retired NYFD lieutenant who served as the start coordinator for the marathon for 25 years. Navarra died last December at the age of 55, having suffered for more than two years with sinus cancer said to be brought about by his work at Ground Zero during 9/11. I found myself in the 6th row from the start and with the open road ahead, felt immediately like an elite. The wave start concept seemed to be working in easing congestion so far. Hazel however, reported that there were some confusion and congestion in the corrals further behind. Finally the song America was sung by someone and with the media helicopters whirring above, the cannon was fired. Almost immediately Sinatra sang “New York, New York” and we cheered as we raced off! Gosh, I have goose pimple just thinking back to that moment.
The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge (VNB) is 1 mile up and 1 mile down but with the training that I’ve put in, it wasn’t a problem. The REAL problem was the headwind and crosswind bringing down the temperature even lower. Don’t take my word for it – check this report out too. If an Englishman complained about the cold, what more an Asian who trains in 32C?! I found that I had to breathe harder and I was pumping my arms more in an automatic response to generate more heat. The woollen hat was no help as it had little thermal properties. My nose was just a little snotty, which was a relief. In fact save for this little discharge, my breathing and nose irritability that periodically bothered me (blockage and sinus) had been non-events ever since leaving KL. I ran a distance with a girl with a sign “I’m running the marathon on my birthday” sign pinned on her back – she received plenty of wishes from fellow runners. I also spotted a bib which said “I’m proposing to my fiance after this race”. I passed a few participants with disabilities from the Archilles Track Club in their trademark top, and there was a particular one who stood out – he was tackling the course backwards! I also spotted a blind runner tethered to a buddy running at a brisk pace.
The issue with the wind went away as soon as I got off the bridge and into Brooklyn. The runners on the upper deck veered to the right into Brooklyn, while the those on the lower deck veered left. I don’t remember much of the route specifics except that this borough was probably, the best in terms of crowd support. Some stretches bordered on maniacal – in a good way! After all, nothing less is befitting the largest marathon in the world (since 2003). By the 5th K I observed that I’d been hitting steady splits and running comfortably, so I ditched monitoring my splits on my watch so frequently and went with effort-based approach. Other than the headache, I was really running well. The flats of the early miles allowed runners to settle into a consistent pacing. While the fans were doing the best in cheering for us, I tried to limit my interaction with them to periodic waves so that I could focus on my running. Not only did they lend their voices to move us, but ordinary Brooklyn folks came out to provide us with anything they can think of – be it orange slices, bananas or tissue paper to wipe our sweaty faces! We were being pampered! There were bands every half a mile and from what I read, there were about 100 of them out there on race day. Support for the Italian and Mexican runners were plentiful and vociferous. Larry the Lighthouse got his fair share of cheers too. The world’s only running lighthouse were there for Camp Sunshine, a retreat for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. I stayed in the middle of the road for the most part as I skipped the first 3 stops and relied on my own Gatorade supply. I knew of the false sense of being hydrated when running in cool weather so I ensured that I drink regularly, even if in hindsight, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to be waylaid by a loo stop.
Congestion was at an acceptable level at the drink stations and tables were available on both sides of the road. The first stations were always the plain water (water temperature was always naturally chilled!) followed by Gatorade. The last table was marked with a balloon. At each table, paper cups were stacked 3 high and runners were kept away from them (there were security) to prevent the cups from being knocked over.
You can imagine the efficiency of the volunteers in managing the incoming runners, which was constant. Besides handing out the drinks, they cheered and nearly always put in a good word of encouragement for us.
The next bridge we had to pass was the Pulaski Bridge at about the halfway mark in the Polish part of Brooklyn. This bridge offered a fantastic view of Manhattan to the left, with the Empire State Building clearly visible. But there was still some distance to go before we would reach the island. Pulaski was a short bridge with medium steepness but there wasn’t any problems on this one too, and my timing at the halfway point was 1:58. I remained spot on for a 4-hour finish. The temperature rose to a level where I could throw away the woollen hat but I kept the gloves on as it was still chilly. Cheering was consistent throughout Brooklyn and only subsided just a little when we passed the Jewish section. I enjoyed the short but fun section of the fans who sang “Y-M-C-A”! Almost instantly we runners raised our arms to mimic the lyrics. There were several climbs that I passed that needed more focus and I switched my target to getting to the Queensboro Bridge (QB) at the 25K mark. Before that, I had to ask for Tylenol at one of the aid stations before the QB to relieve the headache. The woozy feeling had gone away but the pounding in the head was made worse by the many rock bands along the way.
The QB was where many runners struggled. Some complained loudly, some walked. Once again all the running on the Solaris route allowed me to stay on pace. I gained confidence passing the runners, while looking forward to the notoriously loud 5-deep spectators of First Avenue after exiting the bridge. The atmosphere was exactly like that up the crowded road. I remembered wondering how I could possibly navigate past the thousands of runners who were in front. The First Avenue stretch is no less than 6K in length and it took a bit out of me with the long gradual climb (see photo). The roads were wet from all the spillages of fluids from the runners in front of me and it was sticky as a result of the sugary mix. Volunteers were raking the excess crushed cups from the street so that we have an easier passage.
My condition at this stage was still reasonably comfortable. I was breathing normally – no huffing or puffing. I’d been taking gels consistently – 12K, 22K, and at 30K when Powerbar handed me a pack. I’d not yet hit the wall and save for some twitching on the quads, all systems were good. In terms of timing, I’d slipped by 4 minutes (I guess I just slowed down bit by bit over the last few miles) but I wasn’t too beat up about that. Things turned a little more difficult when I reached the yellow carpeted over the steel-grated 4th bridge, the Willis Avenue Bridge leading to Da Bronx. It was a little surreal that a group of bagpipers were playing on the opposite side of the bridge as we crossed it.
An enthusiastic DJ welcomed us into their domain. I was too embroiled in my personal battle that I didn’t hear nor see the Bronx’s famed Gospel Choir. Neither did I see the kids from the pediatric ward of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center earlier although I spotted many of their cheer teams along the way. Sighting the kids would’ve been ultra inspiring. I picked up pace a bit and fought back to reclaim 2 minutes off my deficit and held on to that until just before entering Central Park on the Upper East Side next to the Guggenheim Museum (which wasn’t that large as compared to the photos I’ve seen). I’d thankfully passed the now-famous Borat guy (to see how he looked like, read Marci’s report) who were being butt slapped by cheeky runners. A participant in the RW forums reported that when asked how he was doing, “Borat” replied that he was chafing (duh!) and at that point of being asked, he still had 10 miles to go!
The elevation charts as published in the 2019 media pack.
Having run up the never-ending Harlem to Fifth Avenue stretch to find that we still needed to negotiate the winding and undulating Central Park was a bit demoralising. There were signs that a nasty cramp was imminent on the quads. I knew hitting 4-hours would be near impossible since I needed to cover the last 2K in 10 minutes flat. However I wanted to give the race and clock a good fight and steeled myself not to walk which would otherwise had marked the end of my race. I even thought if I landed myself in the hospital with my effort, so be it. I’d simply come too far to end this race like a wimp. In fact I picked up pace whenever the cramping receded momentarily a few times. The cramps were like toying with me. The fans were getting thick here and they could easily have reached out and touched me – I had images of Lance Armstrong climbing up the Alps. Yeah, like real! Where I blocked them out earlier, I was finally embracing their cheers. Next to Brooklyn, this section had to be the next best. They never let up and thoughts of both my kids cheering me from home carried me to mile 25 and into the short Central Park South stretch and then round Columbus Circle. A little bit up was the beautiful “26 mile” sign and all the crowd support got me a bit emotional as I pushed the final climb toward the finish gantry. I lifted my Oakley to my forehead and savoured crossing the finish line. I thought to myself, “I’d done it, I’d done it!”. A check on the watch showed 4:03.49 which meant this was my 2nd PR (an improvement of 13 minutes or so) in the marathon this year and my 6th PR this year for distances from 10K, 15K, 21K, 30K and the marathon. If I take my 30K timing from the marathon into consideration, I’d broken my 30K PR by 6 minutes, for a 7th PR. Given my other aspects of life which take away much of my running, I couldn’t have asked for more. And I believe I can go faster as I age. This 4:03 somehow felt like a barrier had been broken. I’d previously thought that it’s very very difficult to dip below 4:10 but with this, a sub-4 race is certainly in the near future. And other than the quads and headache, I felt really good!
In the heat of the battle, I’d totally pushed aside my headache but now it returned with a vengeance. And nausea was beginning to hit home. We weren’t allowed to stop, but I was like the leaning tower tilted to the right. The first group of volunteers greeted us with congratulatory words – “You guys were awesome!”, “Fantastic jobs everyone!”, “You’re all heroes”. Let me tell you that after running 26.2 miles, those were nicest things you could possibly hear. We all needed affirmation for our effort, and justification that what we did was something to be proud of. Next was the Grete Waitz medal and an opportunity to be photographed on the event board. We were moved along and the photographers worked really fast in snapping runners – everything seemed like a conveyor belt.
Then I was handed my HeatSheet, the volunteer said, “Hope to see you again next year”. Then another taped my sheet together so I needn’t bother to hold it. It was details like these that runners felt appreciated. But I was still nauseous and burdened with a throbbing head, so I stopped a medic captain to report my state. After a few probing questions, he asked that I wet the back of my hand so that he could empty a salt packet. He said, “Like when drinking tequila except that you need to get that tequila much later”. I licked the salt off and drank from the Gatorade bottle provided in the food bag given out, thanked him and went my way. The symptoms didn’t go away but I needed firstly to get my bag from the UPS truck. I guessed I must’ve walked about 400m to reach my truck after which I quickly changed out of my wet top, put on my thicker jacket and made my way back to the medical area I spotted. I was again asked some questions about my condition and was given 2 more salt packs and 2 Tylenols.
The second administration of the painkillers did its job and the headache subsided and the salt steadied the nerves as I looked for the exit from the Central Park. I stopped by to have my timing chip cut – yes we needn’t bend down. Just rest your shoe on a bench and a volunteer will snip it off. I made sure I thanked the cherubic lady enough and she was very happy to be appreciated. Outside the park were signage of bib ranges where family members can wait for the runners. A long stretch of Central Park West was blocked off for this Reunion Area and the atmosphere there was quite amazing as runners met up with their family and friends after their accomplishments. I walked a few streets westward to the 79th St station to catch the subway back to the hostel. My legs felt quite alright and the quads had pretty much eased up. I liked the fact that I finished the race in gear that were just moist and not soaked and dripping sweat. I reckoned it was due to dehydration that led to the cramps and nausea – a lesson learned. The next time I run in cold weather, I’d be sure to drink more and carry salt. The folks in the subway looked at my HeatSheet and medal which I wore proudly. I found it hard to believe that the marathon was over – it felt too short. The crowd made the journey that much quicker and I went through the miles not realising how far I’d covered. Unlike the sparse and unforgiving local marathons in Malaysia where no one cheered the runner on in the late miles making proceedings tough and seemed much longer. Good for building mental toughness but culture shock for those accustomed to well supported events.
When I reached the dorm, SP was already there, showered! I quickly did likewise and appreciated the warm shower – even though cold water would’ve been better to minimise soreness. Changed into fresh clothes and while sipping on a large bottle of Powerbar Recovery and munching on yet another Triple Threat bar, I was wondering where G was when she walked right in. We would be meeting with my friend Mitch for dinner at Tony’s at 8pm, but there was plenty of time. In fact we chose to get off the subway at Columbus Circle and walked to down to the Hudson, Mohan’s hotel and then down to Times Square. My legs were surprisingly fine probably because I’d refuelled with 2 bars and 2 recovery drinks. It was very nice to have finally met Mitch after staying in touch over emails the past 2 years, or more. Mitch played the perfect host and food was great. The dinner came to a close 2 hours later and we said our goodbyes. Everyone had a great time and many new friendships were established.
In fact so many marathoners wore their medals out that evening and the next day.
Congratulations to all of the finishers of the ING New York City Marathon. And thank you from the bottom of my heart, to all the race organisers, the NYRR, volunteers who welcomed and treated me like a hero from first interaction to post-race. To New Yorkers who came out in droves to support all of us – you have every reason to feel proud of your city and the marathon. The NYRR blog mentioned that the runners inspire them to improve upon the event every year. In actual fact the club and its volunteers inspire us runners. And so we need each other!
- Unbelievable fans, volunteers and organisers
- Wave starts
- Plenty of porta-potties, food at the start, and drinks all the way
- Best way to see NYC in half a day, or lesser
- Energetic just like the city
- Nice sized expo – not too mega, not too small
- Technically first class, attention to details
- The weekend when the entire city came together
- It’s THE marathon to experience
- Point to point course meant long commute to the start and wait time.
- Very expensive entry
- Difficult lottery system (though a necessity, given the popularity of the race)
- NYC is located on the other side of the world, which meant a killer flight time for those from Asia
More race reports to check out!
Awesome race day and IFR photos from Alex’s blog and also at the official website.