For a variety of reasons, I hadn't done a marathon since Boston, 2004. And, after my cardiomyopathy diagnosis in 2010, wasn't sure that I would be able to do another. But, in the last year the effects of the cardiomyopathy seemed to stabilize and I seemed to be more comfortable in my running. So, I figured, what the heck - let's try one more. And, why not do it big - why not New York City!! I qualified for guaranteed entry by time with a 1:26:40 1/2-Marathon in Austin, TX in January. Then, right around 4th of July weekend, marathon training started.
I had some good training last spring and felt fairly good about where my running was at. So, for predicted pace in my marathon entry, I listed right around 7:00 pace (3:03:03 predicted time). But, as my training started to unfold during the summer, I started to feel as though sub-3:00 was realistic.
I really had a great training cycle. In the past I had followed a pretty traditional program for my marathon training; but, for both the 1/2 in Austin and NYC (and after doing a bit of research and reading) I decided to follow the concepts espoused by the Brooks-Hanson's program. I made a few adjustments for my age and cardiomyopathy; and, settled into more of a 14-day program that looked something like this. Sunday, week 1 = Long Run (max long run was 20 miles). Wednesdays = longer intervals. Started with with shorter, faster early in the training (600's, 800's, ladders @ 6:00 pace), then as the training progressed, moved into longer stuff (3 X 2miles, 2 X 3 miles, etc. @ 6:25 to 6:30 pace). Sunday, week 2 = Longer Run (12 to 14 miles) with last miles at Marathon pace (started with 6 @ MP, and got up to the last 10 miles of these runs at MP - pace was typically in the 6:45 to 6:50 range). Outside of that, it was mostly easy miles - with my weekly miles at 60 to 70 over the last 8 weeks of training. At least twice a week I also included some core and/or strength work; and, did some pretty regular stretching and dynamic flexibility exercises.
There were only a couple of minor hiccups in the training. Early in, my right achilles flared up a bit during some interval sessions when I was wearing the shoes I intended to race in (Brooks Pure Connect - which I used in the 1/2 in Austin). (Needless to say, I bailed on those shoes and looked for different options.) Although the achilles was tender off and on, it never really caused me any issues for the rest of my training. I had a bit of tenderness in the outside of my left foot over the last month; but, that seemed to be a soft tissue issue and never really affected my training, form, footplant, etc. Finally, about 2 weeks out I came down with a bit of a cold. Not severe; and, the only really impact it had was that I skipped a short, minor workout on the Tuesday of race week. But, by race day, the cold was pretty much gone and didn't seem to affect my running at all by that point.
All in all, training went great. All my key workouts feel into place, I was at racing weight and feeling lean and strong. My diet had been very good; I had slept well; and, quite frankly, felt the best that I have for the last 3 or 4 years. All signs were good to go for sub-3:00.
Race morning came awfully early for a race with a 9:40 a.m. start - was up at 4:00 to get in a bit of food. Then a walk of 4 or 5 blocks to the Public Library to get the bus to the start at around 5:15. Was in the start village by about 5:45 a.m. I have to say - logistics were smooth. Easy on and off the bus, check in at Fort Wadsworth was smooth (although a bit intimidating to see the sheer amount of law enforcement presence), and the start villages were really well set up. Found a quite place in a big tent to curl up and laid down for a bit.
Even with the sheer volume of people, it was reasonably orderly and calm getting to the start line. It was more just trying to keep the nerves in check with long waits. They call you into the corral for the 1st Wave at 8:20. Then you hang out until 8:55. Then they move you to the start until 9:40. Meanwhile, you have the wheelchair and handcycle start, plus the elite women starting before you. So, really have to work to keep from getting too wound up before the howitzer fires at 9:40. I kept pretty calm and did a good job of staying warm.
Coming into NYC at the end of the week, the weather was great. Mild and mostly calm. Race day - not so much. Cool (about 45 at the start, about 49 @ finish) and breezy (with a wind that was mostly out of the north, which meant a headwind for most of the race) with winds of 10 to 15 miles per hour in lots of sections of the course. And, the first 2 miles on the Verrazano Narrows bridge were super windy. It's a quite section with no crowd; and, the most significant noise you could hear was everyone's numbers flapping and snapping in the wind.
I went a bit too easy in the first mile. It's a solid uphill on the bridge; and, I really wanted to be sure to not charge out too hard right off the line. But, imagine my surprise when I hit only 8:15!!! Freaked out a bit; but, realized that better to be 1:00 slow than a minute fast at that point. And, coming down the back side of the bridge I hit a super controlled and comfy 6:45 and new that I would come back to pace.
And, over the next 12 miles, that's exactly what I did. I settled into a decent rhythm of 6:40's and 6:50's for the most part. And, felt controlled - on the surface, right where I wanted to be. But, pretty early on, my right achilles started to flare up. By 9 is was pretty noticeable; and, my right calf was starting to make a few noises of it's own.
I had decided to race in a pair of Mizuno Wave Sayanora's. Have been training in the Brook's Pure Cadence for the last year; and, while I love the shoes, wanted something just a bit more streamlined for racing. Plus, the Sayanora's have a bit more heel lift than the Cadence's - which I figured would be good since 1) I traditionally beat the crap out of my calves during marathons and 2) was hoping to minimize any pressure on the right achilles. Guess that didn't work out so good....
I had worn the shoes on 4 or 5 shorter runs, a 10 mile easy run, and a 14-miler with the last 7 at tempo pace. The shoe definitely felt different than the Cadence; but, really gave me no problems of note. I also wore them to travel in to the race and walked around in them a bit in the days leading up to the marathon. Had gotten to where they really felt pretty comfy on my feet and I had no red flags go up to suggest that I shouldn't use them on race day.
I hit halfway at 1:31 (6:56 pace) - maybe a bit slower than I had hoped; but, right within the realm of still being okay. Cardiovascularly I felt great. The effort was easy and I felt full of running and ready to attack the 2nd half of the race.....................except for the legs. By this point my achilles was screaming and my calf was tight as well. Which was leading me to alter my stride a bit, which was causing some discomfort in the ball of my left foot. All of which was starting to affect my rythm and form.
The wheels really started to come off at about 15. At that point you're climbing up the Queensborough Bridge. It's a long, significant climb; but, I was ready for it. Several of my long runs had been on courses that had good, solid hills in the last half of the runs - specifically to get ready for the last half of NYC. I fought the uphill a bit; but, where things were really telling was on the downhill side of the bridge. I just could not open up my stride. My achilles wouldn't let me drive off the right foot; and, the form issues were now causing my right hip flexor (piriformis) to get really tight. Here I was coming into the part of the course that should have allowed me to fly (net downhill until 20, huge numbers of spectators on 1st Avenue, the finish into Central Park) and my right leg was saying No, No, No....Not Today.
I still hit some 7:10 to 7:15's until 19, then things go really tight. Just no real leg drive left at all. It wasn't a fueling issue - felt great there. It was purely biomechanics. 20 and 21 were really bad - hit 7:58 and 7:43. But, then, I realized that it wasn't getting any worse; and, decided to try to do what I could to finish things off in a semi-positive way. For the rest of the way, pretty much hit in the 7:20's (with the exception of a long uphill section in mile 24 on 5th Avenue along Central Park @ 7:40). Hit the finish with a net time of 3:08:08 - so a 1:37 2nd half. Not bad; and, considering the leg issues, happy that I didn't completely fall apart. But, it was definitely not what I had wanted.
Really felt okay in the LONG walk through the chutes to get my gear and connect up with Erin. Legs a bit sore; but, actually better than most of my marathons. Was doing pretty good until found Erin and stopped for 15 or 20 minutes to change into warm clothes and visit for a bit. We then had about a mile walk back to the hotel and that's where things got tough. The hip flexor tightened up and I had a hell of a time walking. But, we made it back to the room; and, once I warmed up the leg felt good and we did a bit of sightseeing that afternoon (Empire State Building, Times Square, Dinner and Beer).
We walked about 7 miles the next day (from Ground Zero at the south tip of Manhattan all the way back to Central Park) and felt pretty good. The hip flexor was still a bit sore; and, the right achilles is a bit beat up. But, the quads and calves are fine; and, those are usually the muscle groups that kill me after a marathon. And, was actually able to do a couple of miles by Tuesday and Wednesday - very slowly. Hip is fine; but, achilles is still pretty sore. Really taking it easy; but, expect that all is going to be okay within a week or so.
So, what's the takeaway. Very disappointed with the time. Really felt good about my training and know that I was in sub-3:00 shape. The wind was a bit tough; but, I drafted when necessary and I would say that it had less than a minute of impact on my race. The course is definitely hilly. It is definitely a challenging course. Much more of a challenge than Cleveland, Twin Cities and Boston. But, I was ready for that as well.
In the end, I think it was just a poor shoe choice. Should have just stuck with my training shoes - they were plenty light enough and would have been just fine. But, I guess the old 20/20 Hindsight thing huh???????
Not sure what's next. I have a cardiologist appointment in 2 weeks and we'll see how things look with the old ticker. Will have to see if it's prudent to make one more crack at a sub-3:00; or, do I need to hold things back a bit from here on out. I have to say, I really enjoyed the training and the preparation. It felt a bit like old times - putting in the miles and hammering some workouts. And, like I said - it's probably the best that I've felt all in all over the last several years. I don't know. We'll get through the end of the year and then think a bit about what to do.
But, I'm definitely glad that I did the race. It was a great experience. As a fan of the sport I've watched and followed this race for over 30 years; and, it was finally great to participate in one of the great marathons of the world. Even with 50,000 runners, they did a great job with the race logistics. The crowds along the course were amazing - the energy in Brooklyn and Manhattan was beyond description. And, Erin and I had a great time in NYC. What a great overall experience - to see the sights and sounds of this metropolis was incredible. It was a worthwhile journey and I'm so glad I did it. Yes, sub-3:00 would have been fantastic; but, some days it works, some days it doesn't. I'm still happy to hit sub-3:10 with a less than perfect heart and a drug regimen that makes me a far different runner than the "old days". And, was still the first Montanan to finish - hey, sometimes you just have to take the little victories.
Thanks to my wife for putting up with me during the 16 weeks of serious training - the early bed-times, the weekend long runs, the obsession with keeping my weight down. She's my rock and she makes it all possible to allow me to fuel this passion. And, thanks to "my kids" - the Plains HS XC team. They provide a great training group for my easy days and give me somewhere else to focus some of my running energy and keep me from obsessing too much about my own racing.
See You On The Roads, Tracks and Trails
The Muddy Buzzard