When I first registered for the New York City Marathon, I knew that my first and foremost goal would be to have fun. I was doing the race as a means of raising money for a great organization, it would be a short training cycle, and…it was THE New York City Marathon! It’s been a bucket list race for me for years, and I wanted to enjoy and relish my experience rather than have it tarnished by time goal pressure or suffering. Not to mention my last marathon was Boston 2016, and despite a near-perfect training cycle and a PR, my memory of that race has left a long-lasting bad taste in my mouth. NYC was about fundraising, training the best I could, and treating race day like the big ol’ party it promised to be.
To touch briefly on training, I went into the race with a roughly eight week training cycle following the Grand Traverse. I recovered for a week from GT and then slowly transitioned into bread-and-butter marathon training. I got in three 20+ milers, a small handful of speed workouts, and averaged between 50-60 miles per week. Granted, this wasn’t the ideal training season that I have experienced in the past, but considering the timing, it felt adequate enough.
I should also mention that I spent the eight weeks before NYC actually doing the little things. I saw a PT after the Grand Traverse for my never-ending glute/hamstring/quad fatigue, and a quick assessment landed me with a multitude of butt strengtheners to do. Every other day, I was spending 30ish minutes going through a variety of glute activation exercises, strengthening moves and general pelvis alignment stuff. It was tedious and inconvenient…but it worked. The all-encompassing leg fatigue I had been experiencing for nearly the whole year was subsiding, and generally I felt more durable when I ran. Coupled with dry needling every other week, I had started to feel much more like my old running self – which was a welcome change.
My fitness felt decent, but I didn’t really have much indication as to how that would translate in the race. So, when asked what my goals were and what my estimated finish would be, I truly had no idea! That’s what I told everyone who asked, including Adam, and it was the absolute truth. Plus, as previously mentioned, I wanted to have fun and enjoy the day – which I felt primped and ready to achieve. There was, however, one little sparkle in my eye when it came to potential outcomes: three weeks before the race, I ran the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon (following a seven mile “warm-up”) in 1:38, and it felt…easy. Legitimately easy. Hmm…maybe there could be more to NYC after all.
In the days leading up to race weekend, I felt so excited. Certainly more excited than I ever have before a marathon. My only nerves were surrounding logistics and getting there; when it came to the race, all I felt was pure bubbly anticipation. It helped that we’d never been to New York before and had a variety of other plans made that I was looking forward to. That said, I also had the best taper week I’ve ever had. I was sleeping well every night (8+ hours easily), I wasn’t fidgety due to decreased activity, and I generally felt calm and confident about race day. Every time I thought about running 26.2 miles during taper, I felt fired up but not antsy, ready but not over-trained. I can’t fully describe why this was such a good taper other than I felt either calm or pumped up all week, and it was a great respite from constant anxiety or nervousness.
We arrived at JFK at 1:00 pm on Friday afternoon, cabbed to our Air BnB on the Upper East Side, and immediately made our way to the expo. I always prefer to visit expos two days out from a race should the option be there, and we figured it would be a good way to get to know the subway system. We made our way to the nearby station without a hitch, got off on our stop, and voila – public transportation savants! I personally LOVE utilizing any available public transport in new cities and am always impressed be its efficiency while also disappointed Denver falls so short.
The expo was other-worldy in terms of size and organization. Volunteers were there to answer questions before you even knew you had them, everything was laid out in a completely logical order, and they even had a designated station in which you could try on a shirt to make sure you got the right size. Brilliant!
After getting our packets, we pitter-pattered around for a bit before bee-lining back to our home base to shower and change clothes before our Friday night outing…HAMILTON!
Since this is a race report, I’ll spare you the full details of our NYC extracurriculars, but I will say that outside of the race…Hamilton was the thing I was most excited for. My two-year fandom was honored by an absolutely awesome show, a delicious meal beforehand, and sharing it with my dude.
I’m a big believer in having race goals no matter if they’re time-oriented or not. That said, my “A” goal (and only goal) for New York was to run a race I was proud of; a race that was well-executed, in which I remained positive and fought hard no matter what. I talked a lot about my strategy with Julia beforehand, and she made the great point that since I had no time or pace objectives, this would be a great opportunity to practice tactical racing. For me, that meant being patient and chill to start off and then hammering home at the end. Every feel-good marathon I’ve had up until then (three out of seven) have entirely revolved around slow starts and fast finishes, so I wanted to try and execute a stellar negative split at this race if possible. It’s also worth noting that considering my 2+ hours in the medical tent following Boston, I was very intent on not allowing anything close to that to happen.
When chatting with Adam on race eve about these goals and whatnot, I told him that my race was going to come down to one question: “Who do you want to be today?”
This is the thought I planned to keep in the front of my head the entire day as a reminder that I was, in fact, in control of how my race was going to go. It’s so easy to look back in hindsight and think that you “should have” and “could have” in certain situations, and I’ve fallen victim to this backward-looking mentality more often than not. But when it came to NYC, I decided to flip my attitude and instead have some foresight: if I’m writing the story of this race, I’m in charge of the role I play in it. How I want to remember it, then, is entirely up to me.
My alarm went off early, and thanks to DLS it didn’t feel too bad at all! Right away, I read the “Do Not Open ‘Til Race Day” pump up email Julia wrote me, which was SO good and totally got me in the right frame of mind to start the day. I took a shower, dressed, ate some overnight oats, and before we knew it we were on our way to the buses! As you may or may not know, since the NYCM starts on Staten Island and is a point-to-point course, all runners (yes, all 50,000+) are either bused or ferried to the start line, which is no small feat. Sure enough, when we arrived at the line-up of people to get on the buses, it was overwhelming. So many runners with their checked bags, sweats and food all huddled in lines that weaved around multiple city blocks. It took us probably 25 minutes of waiting in line to actually get on a bus, but once we did it was super chill and relaxing. In fact, both Adam and I fell asleep on the ride to Staten Island. Bonus sleep! We sat next to a Swedish gentleman who was running his second ever marathon, and it was his first trip to the U.S.! I should underscore here that this race is SO international in nature and the variety of languages overheard surrounding the race was incredible.
Arriving at the start village was pretty smooth sailing, and we easily navigated through security to Adam’s start corral. Even though we were in different corrals, I wanted to hang with him as long as possible beforehand, and it wasn’t any trouble to do so. We found the coffee and bagels immediately as well as a spot close to bathrooms with nearly an hour to go. I put my legs up, ate a little, drank water, and remained pretty darn chill up until it was time to get into my corral.
Once we heard the final announcement for me to get going, I kissed Adam goodbye and wished him good luck (more emotional than I expected!) and somewhat hastily rushed my way to check my bag and find my group before they closed the entrance. Thanks to NP NYC, I was able to get a spot in the “Local Competitive” corral which is a qualifier group that starts in the front of the other waves following the elite men. Fancy! It was a small group of people, and we were right up in front of the start line of the lower level of the Verrazano Bridge. I quickly found Starbuck in his crab costume as well as some other NPers. My people! We had another 20 minutes or so of standing around waiting to kick things off, but between the National Anthem, the elite women starting, and last-minute stretching, it flew by. During the one-minute countdown, I frantically realized I kind of had to pee, but hoped it would just go away once we started (spoiler, it did).
All at once, Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” was playing over loud speakers, and we were off! Woohoo! The atmosphere was as electric as I’d anticipated, and I was already smiling from ear to ear. The bridge is nearly two miles long up and then down, and I’d been instructed to neither care nor pay attention to my pace for the first mile since it’s so crowded and satellites are wonky. My watch was set to show lap pace, meaning I’d only know what I was averaging for the mile I was in.
A lot of people were passing me on the bridge, which I both expected and welcomed. The quality of my entire race was going to be determined in my first 5-6 miles, and I focused on how great it would feel to be passing people later on rather than right now. Not to mention…I was so distracted! From the bridge we could see skylines and buildings all around us, and upon entering Brooklyn, there were tons of people already welcoming us! My friend Franny told me to find a good groove in Brooklyn since it’s mostly flat, and I could immediately tell how easy that would be once we got there.
If I’m being perfectly honest, I have very little memory of the specific miles during the first half of NYC. I remember the crowds, I remember establishing a solid fueling strategy, and I remember feeling super happy and relaxed, but as for mile-by-mile details, I don’t have much. Which is actually a great indication of just how floaty the miles were – they were flying by! It was so easy to break this race up too thanks to the different boroughs and various people/landmarks I knew were coming.
Save for one downhill mile, all these miles were over an 8:00 pace which was entirely my plan. Conservation was key for a fast finish, and I wanted to make it to the halfway mark feeling as fresh as possible. While I didn’t exactly feel springy to start off, I quickly established a comfy rhythm to ride along and enjoy the early sites of the race. Brooklyn was charming as could be and positively PACKED with people. I was constantly smiling, thanking people and trying to take in as much of it as possible. I noticed I was sweating more heavily than normal, which I could easily chalk up to humidity since it was overcast and misty, but that was mostly a non-factor.
Still in Brooklyn, still cruising. I gave myself permission to up the pace a little, and when I saw my watch click off 7:50, I actually said out loud, “This is where you live now.” Somehow by telling myself to stick right around a certain speed, I thought it would just subconsciously make it happen. Anyway, my next checkpoint goal was getting to the halfway mark feeling good, and I felt well on my way. Per usual first-half-of-a-marathon protocol, I tried to “stay boring”; deep breaths, shaking out my hands, high-fiving people – all in the name of relaxed running. I was easily distracted though, thanks to the nonstop party going on and the anticipation of all that was to come.
The halfway point came right before we left Brooklyn for Queens, and it was the single time in the race that I clicked my watch to check overall time. 1:44 – perfect.
Somewhere around this point, I heard over a megaphone that Shalane had taken a dominant lead with about a mile left to go, which gave me actual chills and pumped me up so much! We were only in Queens for a hot minute, and I was primarily focused on getting to the Queensboro Bridge which I’d heard would be both quiet and a good place to check in with how you were feeling. Back at the start line, I chatted with an NYC local who had run the race numerous times and told me that this bridge is always a make or break indicator for him as to how the rest of the race would go, which I took pretty seriously.
As luck would have it, when we got onto the bridge and the crowds subsided (pedestrians aren’t allowed on), I actually felt…antsy. I was ready to GO! I heard a “Robyn!” as I was running along and turned around to see Jason from NP Denver! Out of all the people out there, he managed to spot me and we chatted for a few seconds about our races and how we were feeling. It was comforting to see a familiar face and he told me something like, “Go and get it!” when I left him.
My glutes were feeling fatigued (standard procedure) at this point, but that was just a reminder to think about my form and engage my butt muscles. As soon as I made some slight tweaks, I felt fresh again, and this self-reminder helped me throughout the entire rest of the race.
“Who do you want to be today?”
I remembered my mantra as we crested the bridge and prepared to pummel downhill into Manhattan. I was already feeling proud and satisfied with my execution so far, and when it came to how I wanted to remember the miles from here on out…I knew I wanted to compete and fight.
1st Avenue promised to be perhaps the biggest hype party of the day, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Admittedly, I didn’t necessarily the notice the famous “wall of sound” that’s describe here, but it was positively electric regardless.
Miles 17 through 20 of this section are essentially a straight shot in which you actually feel like the crowds are pushing you from behind. There were rows and rows of people lining the entire way, and I stuck to the left since I knew there would be familiar faces on that side of the street. Ali! Mary! Danielle! Amelia! Angel!
A peak down at my watch showed that I’d increased to a 7:30-ish pace, which felt very manageable. I was passing a lot of people too, which the crowds seemed to love and acknowledged when I ran by…totally firing me up! I was smiling at and thanking basically everybody I could, and I figured that once this section finished up I’d settle back into a little bit of a slower pace.
We crossed over into the Bronx at mile 20 (notoriously “the wall”!) and I started to get antsy for Central Park. I wanted to be there! I knew we had a bit of a ways to go still, including the 5th Avenue “hill,” but all at once I had this itch to really race the rest of this thing. My energy and legs both felt intact and sustainable, and I loved all the energy in the Bronx and actually wished we had spent a little more time there. All the crowds seemed to know and appreciate that this was where the marathon can get really hard, and they were all welcoming and encouraging us to press onward.
Right when we reentered Manhattan (final borough!) we went through Harlem which easily had the best entertainment of the day! There were multiple bands lining a fairly concentrated section of the course, and it really motivated me for the climb to come. Loud music keeps you out of your head! Again, I could not physically stop myself from smiling, which consequentially found itself powering my legs. Miles 21-23 were 7:26, 7:20, 7:21. Um…was this actually happening?
I’d prepared myself for the 5th Avenue mile for a long time, since I’d read that despite only a moderate gain (~100 ft), at that point in the race it was killer. And truly…I think I over-hyped myself a little bit for it. It wasn’t too bad! My pace naturally slowed a little and I began to feel both my IT bands, but since we were running right alongside Central Park, the siren sound of the finish line was getting louder…and I was psyched to be so close!
“Who do you want to be today?”
As soon as I started to feel that familiar leg fatigue, I actually said this out loud to myself. I knew my energy was plentiful enough to keep up my momentum, and I wanted to do everything I could to execute what was left of my speed.
We entered Central Park right at mile 25, and this was probably my favorite part of the race. With all I’d heard about the magic of this park and this race, there was nothing quite like actually entering it with a little over a mile to go. We were gifted a gradual decline down Cat Hill, which gave me a refreshing moment to take in what was happening before getting to the grand finale. My legs were really starting to talk to me and my stomach was turning ever so slightly, but all I remember was nearly feeling weightless. I was passing so many people and consequentially getting “You go girl!” feedback from the crowds, which only propelled me forward even faster. I have no memory of feeling like I was grinding or bearing down to just get it done with, and in fact over that last mile I felt a hint of sadness that it was almost over.
With just over a half mile to go, we ducked out of Central Park to run along the south side before reentering at Columbus Circle. I can distinctly remember looking up and seeing the beautiful Plaza Hotel right in front of us and thinking it was hysterical that I was so distracted by a hotel at this point in the race. Looking back…maybe I was a little more delirious than I remember.
Back into the park, and we ran by a main-stage where the performer announced, “Look out, NP is taking the lead!” referring to my tagged shirt, which I loved! Right then I clicked off a 7:11 mile, which I was sure had to be my fastest of the day, and I buckled up as we headed into the finishing chute.
Again, my mantra pulsed in my head in those final moments, and my brain flashed back to Boston as I giddily thought, “I’m still standing!” as I made my way to the end. The finishing chute is long and a little uphill, but it felt like the most celebratory place in the world to me. I was whooping and cheering, and all of a sudden, there was the finish line! DONE!
I stopped my watch and finally looked at my cumulative time: 3:24:16. What?!? I actually looked at my watch multiple times when I stopped it because I couldn’t quite believe that without any intention or plan whatsoever, I managed to run a PR race that felt so strong.
I was SO excited up as we made our way through the medals, heat sheets, and food. I was probably a little annoying, in hindsight, as I couldn’t stop talking about how amazing that race was!
I immediately became focused on getting to my phone to find out how Adam was doing, and somewhere in my gut…I was pretty sure he was having a good day, too. Call if wifely instinct, but somehow I felt like we had shared a race plan that day that was going to work out for both of us.
After a longggg walk, I finally got my checked bag and got updated on Adam’s status. He was running SO well and on track for a 3:56! This was his first marathon and his big goal was to run under four hours, although he wasn’t totally sure how do-able it would be. Of course, he was crushing and I couldn’t wait to see him!
With about an hour to go though until then, I made my way out of the park to our designated meeting point and desperately tried to find a bathroom. There isn’t a bounty of public restrooms in NYC, but luckily an employee at a small grocery store took pity on me and let me use theirs. I was able to change and warm up a little before heading to find a beverage and a bench to plop on. I responded to messages from friends and family and anxiously waited for the notification that Adam had finished. When Julia texted me that his last mile was a 7:56, I knew he was feeling good and was going to destroy his goal.
A few minutes later, a notification came though: ”Adam Mayer has finished the New York City Marathon in 3:54:07.” AHHHH! Best day ever.
We spent the rest of our time in NYC eating, sleeping, and seeing as many sites as our sore legs allowed. I was actually grateful for all the walking we did, ultimately, as I think it helped move along my recovery since my soreness subsided after only a couple days. As we cabbed back to the airport on Sunday night, I was positively starry-eyed: the city, the race, my race, Adam’s race…all of it was just so good and I couldn’t have imagined a better outcome for the weekend.
The universe, however, decided to grant us one more magic moment.
As we sat at our gate before boarding, Adam was looking behind me and said, “…is that the female winner? Shalane?” I whipped around to see a familiar tiny blonde taking a photo with someone. Holy crap! I told Adam to grab his phone as I walked over to her with zero chill to say hi. She was literally the last person boarding her flight (and carrying her wreath crown!) and could not have seemed more tired (understandably!), and then there’s me…blubbering away about how inspiring she is and how much she means to female runners.
Cherry on top of the weekend!
I could not be more proud of how I ran this race and how I approached it in general. Lower-pressure races with fewer expectations and more question marks seem to work very well for me, and it’s something I’m definitely going to remember going forward. I have no real idea of what the next big thing will be for me, but for the time being I’m happy to hang my hat on a high note. This year was full of so many different kinds of running experiences as well as lots of ups and lots of downs, and I’m so pleased to have finished it off with a big performance I can remember so fondly.
Thank you NYC!!! I love you.