One of the many articles I read in the days following the race was from Competitor titled “2013 New York City Marathon By The Numbers.” As expected from the title, the articles uses a series of graphs and charts to break down various facts about this years race. What I found the most significant was the field size. The 2013 NYC Marathon was the largest marathon in history to date with 50,740 starters and 50,304 finishers. That’s the size of my hometown of Bismarck, North Dakota in the ‘90s. An entire city ran the New York City Marathon this year. Another series of statistics from the article that stand out are the average finish times overall and between the men’s and women’s fields. The average finish times from this years marathon when compared to the 2009 NYC Marathon are slower. We aren’t running as fast, but more of us are doing it. Onward! I say. It’s arguable that the running boom that starting in the ‘90s hasn’t reached a plateau.
Running across the both bridges was a unique moment, something most of myself and the other runners will probably never do again, and likely will never do outside the context of the New York City Marathon. The Verrazano-Narrows was all about excitement. Runners hopped onto the median to take pictures of the wave of runners both before and after them. Others pulled over to the side of the road and photographed the view of the rest of the city. I always want to document these things, but I’m too much of a competitor to do so. It was, after all, a race. Plus, the camera on my phone could not capture what my eyes saw; some things are best left as mental images.
The energy of the runners was quite different on the Queensboro Bridge, which spanned most of mile 15. If runners pulled over to the side, it was because they needed to stretch their legs or slow to a walk. The only sound was of our sneakers scraping the pavement, softer than it had been back at the start. We were getting tired, most of us probably trying not to think about the 10 miles we had yet to run after we crossed the bridge. A series of signs proclaiming, “If easy means 10 more miles, then this is easy” greeted us as we reached the other side of the East River. Following the signs, the crowds packed in thick, 6 deep or more and cheered us on.
The worst part about being under-trained is how soon the pain that is inevitable when running 26.2 miles sets in. I could feel my low mileage base at 5 miles. The crowds were so thick at that point, that it was easy to ignore. The pain that had started in my hip flexors at 5 miles, soon spread down my legs and by 11 miles, the bottoms of my feet stung like they were burned. I swallowed a couple Tylenol at the 11-mile aid station and kept pushing forward.
By 16 miles, I was ready for it all to be over. Ten more miles did not sound easy. I could feel my footfalls becoming fatigued and I worried that I might trip over my own shoes if I didn’t pick up my legs. Miles 16 to 20 had us running straight north on First Avenue in Manhattan. I couldn’t wait until mile 17, which meant that I would only have single digits worth of miles to cover. I started to have a hard time focusing on the crowds, on anything other than running and how much doing that hurt. I was also quite hungry and was grateful to find a group of spectators handing out bananas. Miles 21 and 22 were by far the worst part of the race, at least mentally. The mileage that remained seemed so long, too long to deal with my pain and hunger.
At 23 miles, I was exactly where I wanted to be. Only a 5k left. I repeated one of my mantra’s to myself, “You can run a 5k in any condition.” I knew there would be rolling hills during the last 3 miles, but I was still irritated by them, even though the views of the trees in Central Park were vibrant and colorful. The spectators, as expected, were the thickest yet here. I had been trying to avoid looking at my Garmin watch, mostly because it was nearly a half a mile off at this point, claiming that I had covered more distance than the course mile markers said. I expect this discrepancy in any race; any course, at its shortest is measured exactly, but a runner can’t run on the best tangent at every turn. I’d never been off a half a mile before though. I did glance at my pace, wondering how far over 10-minute miles I’d fallen and was surprised to see that I was running at a 9-minute per mile pace. It had to be the spectator enthusiasm carrying me. I ignored the watch and focused on the few remaining miles.
As I passed by mile marker 26, I thought about the Boston Marathon course, where the final 385 yards (0.2 miles) span the distance between Hereford Street and the finish line just before Dartmouth Street. in a straight line, 385 yards seems kind of far, farther than anyone who’s just run 26 miles wants to run. New York was different than Boston. The path curved; I could hear the finish area announcers, but I couldn’t quite see them. When I saw the finish line, I was surprised to feel myself moving a bit faster than I had been. Most people stop running the second they cross the finish mats. For some reason I kept going for a few steps and thought, “If it didn’t hurt so bad right now, I’d really like to keep running.”