Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Surviving the cold, winds and bridges of the 2014 New York Marathon...

In case you were wondering, running marathons is hard, and I found running the 2014 New York Marathon (my first attempt) my hardest challenge to date.

Running the city streets of the 2014 New York Marathon
2014 New York Marathon Team to End AIDS runner
Before I get into details of race day, I've been beating myself up since the marathon about my time of 4:22:09.

It's my slowest ever result (out of my previous eight marathons) and even though it was a thrill to run the streets of New York City, it's a bit of a personal disappointment.

Arriving at Staten Island wrapped up before the NYC Marathon 
This year I've run the hottest L.A. Marathon for a decade and for the first time exceeded my four hour goal, ran the 2014 Vancouver Marathon in the rain and dropped three minutes off last year's result and now the cold and high winds (don't let these sunny photos fool you), not mention those bridges, have led to my worst race result ever.

Frozen a few hours later at Fort Wadsworth staging area waiting to run
Freezing Staten Island before NYC Marathon 2014
I think I need to change my thinking and quickly before I get too demoralised, and accept that this was in fact my best time ever for the New York Marathon and that if I'm ever lucky enough to race it again, that's the time to beat, with all the advance knowledge of the starting conditions, course route and obstacles along the way.

Representing T2: Team to End AIDS 
at the 2014 New York Marathon and raising over $40,000
2014 New York Marathon Team to End AIDS runners
Running a marathon is always a mind game and this time I think the unknown got the best of me. Not knowing what to expect at the start on Staten Island certainly rattled me, and arriving so early in those bitterly cold and windy conditions and waiting for hours drained me before the race. Even though I was wrapped up in layers of old clothes to keep warm, I still couldn't feel my toes by the time we started.
2014 New York Marathon runners
Conditions on the day really can affect you both physically, mentally and emotionally and that's what makes every race different, no matter if you've ran the marathon course before, or if it's your first time.

Crossing one of the many New York City bridges
2014 New York Marathon charity runner
I don't want to bitch and moan too much about all the negatives of my experience, but I will say my leg muscles were screaming at me every time we crossed a bridge and they totally sapped my strength.

Amazing spectator support along the course
NYC Marathon 2014 runner
The strong winds didn't help either and as we crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge of the first 2 miles I was lucky enough to reach up and snatch my cap as it flew off my head.

Jam-packed field of strong runners
Running NYC Marathon 2014
But enough of the negatives, there were so many highlights of running the marathon, first of all you get to run the streets of New York City.

Racing for the NYC Marathon Finish Line
2014 New York Marathon Finish Line
I was one of over 8,500 charity runners on the day and I got to run the first half of the marathon through the crowded streets of Brooklyn with my Team to End AIDS teammate and coach. I think we laughed a lot at the absurdity of the gusty conditions, but I know I also smiled through most of those early stages as the streets were literally crammed with local supporters cheering and holding homemade signs, it really did lift your spirits and ignited that competitive spirit.

Exhausted in Central Park after the race
After 2014 New York Marathon Central Park
Half the marathon seemed to take place in Brooklyn and there was huge cheering support along the route and I got to see many sides of the Big Apple I've never seen before. I ran the first 13 or so miles without any music as I didn't feel like I needed any, as there was so much other motivation along the early stages of the course.

Crossing the Queensborough Bridge between miles 15 and 16 into Manhattan was a big challenge and by that stage I knew I wasn't going to make a sub-4 marathon and psychologically it was also tough as all around me you could see other runners cramping up and starting to hit the infamous wall, so when I hit First Avenue I tried to soak up as much of the spectators cheers as I could to keep me going.

I finished the New York Marathon in 4:22:09
2014 New York Marathon finisher
This certainly felt like a destination race with a field of international runners, with family and friends lining the streets in support of British, French, German, South American, Italian and more nationalities.

That First Avenue stretch may be relatively flat, but it goes on for about four long miles and I was almost mentally grateful of The Willis Avenue Bridge into The Bronx to mix things up a bit, although my legs said otherwise.

These post-race ponchos for those with no baggage to collect were lifesavers
2014 New York Marathon no baggage poncho
From The Bronx we crossed back into Manhattan over The Madison Avenue Bridge and down through Harlem and you knew the end was within your grasp. The route down Fifth Avenue through Central Park was lined with supporters and the atmosphere was electric and infectious.

I felt strong in the latter stages of the race, probably because it had taken so long to get warmed up at the start and I hadn't gone off too soon, so even though there were some rolling hills in the park it didn't feel as challenging as I'd worried about. I was still taking my walk breaks at this stage and it's always funny when the crowds think you are too tired to run and shout their encouragement, rather than it being a part of your race strategy.
2014 New York Marathon finishers ponchos
The final 1.2 miles seemed to go on forever and the Finish Line could be found at the top of another incline in Central Park, just when you thought you'd seen your last hill.

Crossing the Finish Line was bittersweet for me, the atmosphere was amazing but I knew that I'd run my slowest race, so I was relieved to have completed the marathon with no injuries, but I still felt that pang of disappointment.

After receiving our medals, and then walking up another hill, all the runners with no baggage to collect were given the most amazing lined ponchos to help keep our bodies warm. They really were a lifesaver and made the post-race environment a bit more bearable until we could all be reunited with our friends and family.

Official 2014 New York Marathon medal and shirt
Official 2014 New York Marathon medal shirt
I have to say that the marathon volunteers were fabulous and all they had were smiles and words of encouragement and congratulations, especially faced with all the grim faces and cold runners who were all feeling the effects of the grueling 26.2 mile run.

On the day I was one of the 50,564 finishers and that's something I'm proud of as we all shared a tough experience and made it across that iconic Finish Line.

My initial thought was that I'd checked the New York Marathon off my bucket list and wasn't in a rush to do it again, but as always with marathons I find myself wanting to run the course again and improve on my time and vindicate myself. By lottery or charity place, I hope I get the opportunity again in the future.

Now that my ninth marathon is complete, it's time to rest, recover and then start training for my fifth L.A. Marathon in March, followed by my first ever London Marathon next April.

Oh yes, the marathon bug has well and truly bitten me...

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