My first ING New York City Marathon, in a word it was, bittersweet. The more I look back on it the more it feels sweet, but at the time I had a little bitterness that took some of the excitement out of the day.
There was one issue that seriously got in my way mentally. I mentioned it to a few people but tried not to make a big deal about it before the race. The last time I went to a doctor she noted that I had a heart murmur (see diagram B below for a basic explanation.) I asked her if that would affect my plans to run the marathon and she said she didn't think it would be a good idea for me to do it. I decided I wanted another opinion so I went to a cardiologist with a copy of my echo cardiogram to get a better idea of exactly what risks were involved. His opinion was similar to the first doctor's. He said I had an increased risk of developing a fatal arrhythmia during extreme exercise. However, it was not a huge risk because I'm in great health with normal blood pressure and no other symptoms. As a doctor, he didn't want to give me 100% clearance. Although he did say if I really felt I had to run it, to use caution and drop out if it was too humid, polluted or if I felt dizzy. He also mentioned dehydration could increase the risks.
This was very upsetting because I had trained so well all season and I felt great. I had gotten the 9 minute mile down to a science and during my last couple half marathons I spent more and more miles in the 8:30-8:40/mile range. I got my 5K time down to a 7:30 pace and my 1 mile record was 6:31 which I hit once in practice and once during the 5th Ave mile race. I was really set on getting as close to a 4 hour marathon as possible (which would be a 9:22 min per mile pace.)
The other thing was not as big of a deal but was probably more of a consequence of my own stubbornness. I wanted this race to be a solo mission. All season I had been training with Team in Training. I ran the Hamptons Half with them as my main event so I did my duty with all the fundraising and mentoring already. I didn't do some of the fanfare with them that goes with race day. The main thing was that I didn't take the bus over with the team. Mainly because it didn't make sense since I live really close to the start line on the Brooklyn side of the Verrazano. So I got my own transportation thinking I would end up running into some people I knew in the corrals beforehand. I didn't see anyone! It was a maze of unfamiliar faces.
That aside, all my pre-race rituals went like clock work. I felt fueled, hydrated and I had a chance to empty my bladder. I decided to run with my fuel belt which I didn't want to do, but I was so paranoid about the hydration factor I really wanted the extra security. I felt really dehydrated after my last 20 mile long run and I didn't want to risk that happening again.
The route is very appropriate for my "solo mission." It is starts with a tour of all the neighborhoods I've lived in since moving to New York. Basically, the Brooklyn section starts where I currently live, goes through the neighborhood I moved from and ends in the neighborhood I lived in when I first got here. In between are an array of my favorite hang outs and stomping grounds. It's all the different evolutions that I've gone through since I moved here as a bright eyed girl from Michigan coming straight out of college. There have been different apartments, room mates, jobs, boyfriends, friends, the only common denominator has been me. It's my personal experience of the borough.
Waiting for the start they blasted Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York," through the speakers and I could already feel myself getting choked up. I was running with a heart rate monitor for the first time which was another factor in my overall race performance. They say nothing new on race day but a doctor friend of mine suggested it as a measure to keep an eye on what my heart was doing. It was the worst before the race because I would see the rate rise with every surge of anxiety that I felt. I felt extremely emotional listening to Sinatra and looking up at Verrazano, a bridge I can see from my apartment building and something I was really excited to run over. Still, I was extremely nervous and I didn't want to get too excited early on and create higher risks later in the race. At this point I decided I should try to develop more of an even kiel and stay cool in the face of this race.
I had talked to friends and co-workers beforehand asking them where they would be along the route. I figured I would see at least some of them. Not one. Somehow, I managed to miss everyone! The worst of which was my boyfriend who I missed in THREE places. I blame myself. I didn't specify the side of the road. I may have been to vague in my understanding of exactly where they'd be. Also, I was a little sad my parents weren't there, but there were some obstacles that came up for them and I told them not to worry about it. I could've tried to help them plan out a trip further in advance but I didn't. Early in the race this also weighed on me a little and again it caused me to decide to bury my emotions and keep a sense of calm detachment throughout.
My first marathon was very emotional. I ran with Team in Training in San Francisco. I ran with my friend Jess. We talked about our friends and family members touched by cancer we were running for. I saw my parents and our coaches along the route. It was more about the people than the place. New York was the opposite.
When I first signed up for New York I put my estimated time as 4:30 because I wasn't confident in my goal at that point. As a result I was in a slower corral than I've been used to the last year or two. The crowd was so thick and I was running slower than I had run in a race in well over a year. I was running slower than I had run in any of my training runs by a minute and sometimes over. That was both hard and frustrating. There were so many people it was tough to do anything different from the pack. Plus worrying about my heart made me paranoid about taking off too fast too early. Interestingly a few of the times I tried speeding up my heart rate actually went down. I really do feel like there is such a thing as running too slow and that it is almost as hard as running too fast. Unfortunately the nature of the course and all the people made it difficult to ever find a truly comfortable rhythm.
That's all the bitter, now for the sweet. The race fans were awesome!! Even though I couldn't find my friends there was no shortage of complete strangers cheering me on at every turn. I loved seeing all my familiar neighborhoods and how they fit together. It was like putting together a puzzle I always missed when riding the subway.
Then of course there was the music!! I really got excited by all the bands. Of course you would only get a small taste of each of them while running, but the ones with a lot of guitars and a good beat always got me really excited.
That's what gives me hope and makes me not too sad about the heart murmur thing. I still want to be a part of the marathon experience even if I don't end up running another one. The thought of putting together a new band and playing more races in the future definitely got me going.
Running so conservatively through Brooklyn and Queens meant that when I got to the 59th street bridge I still felt pretty good. First Ave was great of course with the cheering crowds and the road opened up so it didn't feel so packed. Getting to the Bronx was pretty sweet because it meant we were turning back toward the finish.
Fifth avenue was tough because it was so long. Also, a lot of people were reduced to walking at this point. There were so many walkers that at one point they actually blocked the entire width of the road and I had to slow down and squeeze in between people to get through. It was awful.
I also faced the mental block that I had been hitting in the last few half marathons. That last 3 miles is my worst. I know I'm close and that makes me want to stop and I'm not close enough that I feel comfortable picking up the pace because 3 miles is still pretty far. This is what I was feeling as I entered Central Park. I was starting to feel how sore my muscles were particularly on my right side. The rolling hills and the fact that the finish was not in sight made it feel impossible to speed up. It wasn't until the finish was actually in sight that I felt I could pick it up a little.
As I crossed the finish line the time was the same as my first marathon 2 years ago 5:37:30 (or there about) but I started an hour after the clock started (plus the time it took me to cross the start line) my official time ended up being 4:35:51 (10:31 pace per mile.)
For the first time in long time I decided to get an official post race shot with my medal (I usually skip these in the regular NYRR races.) The look on my face is utter relief and elation. I did not die and I did not feel the least bit dehydrated or injured! However, all the muscles in my legs were screaming as I waddled into the flock of slow moving runners being very gradually herded to our bags and out of the park.
At this point I saw my friend Jess, which seemed appropriate since she was the person I ran my first and only other marathon with. It was good to re-connect with her after not seeing her in so long.
In the end it was overwhelmingly a positive experience. I think even on a day when I was not worrying about my heart I probably wouldn't have run a 4 hour marathon. My guess is it would have been closer to 4:20 or maybe 4:15 given all the thick pack, hills, and my lack of experience at this distance. The weather was perfect! You couldn't ask for better!
Now I'm looking forward to perfecting my half marathon and 10K times. I don't want to go through that worry again over the marathon distance. The doctors said it was fine for me to keep running, it was just the distance that was dangerous.
I want to make my contribution to the marathon experience be the music. I can live with that.
Speaking of which, I have teamed up with Hella Sound Premium Running Music and PRS Fitness in contributing to a series of running music workouts. The first one is a collaboration between Jonathan Jones of Linwood Studios and I called, "Strides: Choose to Run." It is a 25 minute, 180 bpm tempo running rock music set that contains a warm up, 6 x 30 sec "stride" intervals with 1 minute recoveries and a cool down. I used it through out my marathon training as a sort of maintenance run between my more intense speed/hill work and the long runs. I found it really helpful.
The thing that differentiates "Choose to Run" from other types of running music is that there is a narrative story line through out the work out. I really want to create more pieces like this. It's a different way to relate to a piece of art, by actively moving with it. Plus, you're getting your speed work in. There are more of these in the works. Please try it out and give me feedback on how it goes! You can tweet me @lady_southpaw or join the Lady Southpaw Running Music Facebook fan page and comment on the wall.
Here's an excerpt we put on Youtube: