In January, having just started training for what would be my 3rd Marathon (Manchester), I received an email about applying for the New York City Marathon ballot. My best mate had just moved to Boston and we were planning a trip to see them at some point during 2015, so I thought a cheeky little marathon just around the corner would make a perfect trip.
I had read somewhere that the chances of getting in where 1 in 11 so in reality it was unlikely, but for some reason I sensed that I might be lucky and having clicked refresh on my NYRR profile page about 20 times, I finally received the news that I wanted at 4am one morning in March. I was super excited so woke Rhian up to tell her the great news – at 4am she didn’t share my excitement.
So New York would be my 4th marathon. A month after getting my place I ran 3.22.35 in the Manchester Marathon, so I decided that my goal would be sub-3.20. 3.15 at this point seemed too much of a push, especially as Kieran had told me that New York isn’t the fastest course due to the undulations caused by crossing the bridges.
For my previous 2 marathons I had used the ASCIS runnersworld plans to great effect, but felt that I needed something a little extra to tackle the challenge of New York and also something different to keep me motivated. So the darkside it was – Rhian was soon to join the P&D widows club.
So 30th June, I made my way to the track for an 8 mile Threshold session in 30 degrees of heat – I lost 2 kg of water in one session, things could only get easier. They did, but the reality of training for a marathon over the summer had dawned on me. Hotter runs and generally more social activities in the diary were to test my motivation and commitment to the limit.
For the first 11 weeks things were going well, I hadn’t missed a session – PBs were flowing – I’d adjusted my target to 3.15 – then injury struck my foot. At one point I could barely walk but somehow I managed to get myself running again after 2 weeks and a week later after running a strong half in Cardiff I decided that despite missing around 100 miles of training, 3.15 might be possible after all.
So, on the 26th October we headed to the US – starting with a boozy few days in Boston before heading to New York. The City was buzzing and the reality was starting to sink in that I was about to run the world’s largest and one of the most iconic marathons.
The EXPO as in London was heaving and as we were on holiday we didn’t spend too long looking around. I picked up my race number and marathon t-shirt and Rhian and I picked up our Dash to the Finish 5k tops that we were running the next day.
The 5k race (definitely not a race) is run by 10,000 people the day before the marathon and many of the runners use this as a warm up for the big day and provides an excellent opportunity to take photos on traffic free roads in Manhattan and through Central Park. It also helps to build excitement for the main race.
The main difference that I noticed between New York and London is the friendlessness of the general public. Getting the marathon t-shirt before the race and wearing this around the city meant that every other person we walked past wished me good luck.
I was ready to go and with 24 hours before the start I preceded to Carb load New York style, beginning with French bread and bacon. Not sure whether this is on Mo Farah’s diet plan, but it’s got to be better than a bowl of Quorn!
Race morning in New York was a different experience to what I’d been used to. As Staten Island is quite far from central Manhattan, the race organisers arrange transport to the start line. As a New York rookie, I got on the early bus at 5.30am, which meant that I arrived at the race village almost 4 hours before the start. Luckily the weather was good and I got chatting to someone from the hotel so had some company during the wait. At the village, they put you into 3 separate villages and to make up for the early start they provide free drinks, bagels, energy bars and gels. But remembering not to try anything new on race day I helped myself to tea and water and stuck with my pre-packed breakfast.
After dropping off my bag, I headed to my starting Corral. I could see the 3.15 pacer up ahead and although I didn’t want to run with the pacer, I felt that starting around a group of people running at a similar pace would be my best option. I got talking to some of the other runners and the majority of them were experienced marathoners, many of which had previously gone below sub-3.15 or just missed out last time round. One of these runners was a girl called Laura Brine and just happened to know fellow Eagles, Lydia O’ Donoghue and Martin White. Oh yes, The Ealing Eagles Facebook group and the timing mat thread – pressure time – I could hear Santry’s voice in my head. 7.26 Linney – don’t let the club down!!
After the national anthem, it was finally race time. Time to tackle the first of the infamous 5 bridges – well in all honesty the first bridge wasn’t much of a challenge as the sheer congestion (including actually stopping for a few seconds) meant that my first mile was almost a minute slower than race pace. Whilst initially frustrated, I had read that ideally you should run 30-45seconds slower than race-pace for the first mile so all was not lost – I would have the time to make this up on the downhills.
After the bridge, running into Brooklyn, the Atmosphere was amazing as it was throughout the race. One of the interesting things that makes New York special is running through the 5 boroughs. Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Manhattan all have a completely different feel and it’s great to experience some of the areas that you don’t normally visit whilst in New York.
After about 2 miles, a fellow runner, Simon pulled up alongside me and asked me whether I ran Manchester this year. Turns out Simon and I ran the last few miles together in April and it was great to have some company for a bit. After about 10k we lost each other during one of the water stations, so I powered on alone to the half way point. I was feeling good and at 13.1 miles, I was 7 seconds ahead of my target. The ‘Eagles’ would be happy.
I continued feeling good up until Mile 15 – now it was time for ‘killer’ Queensboro Bridge. This is a strange part of the race as the crowds disappear and all you can hear is the patter of feet on the bridge. Without the noise I started to feel a bit lethargic, so I was glad for more company, this time a runner from Reading who had been running a similar pace to me throughout so we decided to run together for the next few miles. There is something about New York that makes people friendly.
Coming off the bridge and down into first avenue was surreal. The crowds were amazing and it felt like the home stretch – not a good thing as most people (including me) get carried away and run the next couple of miles too fast. I also knew that I would soon see Rhian so my adrenaline was flowing now. 17.5 miles, Rhian was waiting for me, but she was in for a bit of a shock – what she wasn’t expecting was that instead of my usual high 5 or hug I decided to go for a full on smacker on the lips.
This spurred me on further and I felt confident that I could maintain this pace until the end. In truth I probably went a little bit too fast again over the next couple of miles, but I struggled with my pacing throughout as the GPS was all over the place and with the undulations I felt a need to bank time on the declines.
At the end of 1st Avenue, the next 2 bridges take you into The Bronx and Harlem and miles 19-22. This period was tough but I’d been here in Manchester the previous 2 years and I knew that if I could get through I could push on.
Unfortunately here, unlike Manchester was a bloody big (well it felt big!) hill into Central Park. This destroyed me, I had cramps in my hamstring and from nowhere I was on the brink and thought that I might need to stop if it got any worse. I changed my running style into more of a shuffle as I way of preventing too much muscle movement. Rhian was watching again between Mile 23 and 24, this time I barely managed a wave and a couldn’t afford to veer off the racing line. I was suffering but I wouldn’t give up. 3.15 was disappearing but I was still on for a massive PB and a time I could be proud of.
The final undulations in the park were tough but I battled through with the help of the crowd. I tried to enjoy the finish but I needed to concentrate to get me to the end. I was on the home straight and managed a little smile and punched the air. I was there – 3 hours 16 minutes and 13 seconds. I left everything out there and could hardly walk to get my medal.
It’s after races that I usually get quite reflective. I’ve been running for just over 3 years now and have now knocked off 1 hour 20 minutes from my first marathon in London 2013. I didn’t make 3.15, but who cares. I am immensely proud of my time and hugely thankful for everyone that has helped me on my journey. If it wasn’t for the Eagles I wouldn’t be running anywhere near this quick. The coaching, the training sessions, the advice and possibly above all the friendly competition between each other that keeps pushing us on to achieve and exceed our goals.
I’m going to take a rest for a while (which you probably need to do as well if you’ve read the entire race report!) and not run a marathon until 2017. Who knows what my target will be then!!??