Friday, November 4, 2011

New York City Marathon... A year later

With the 2011 New York City Marathon right around the corner, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience running it last year.  And since the expiration date for me rehashing the story without living too much in the past is quickly approaching, I thought now would be as good a time as any to tell my story.  Hopefully it will calm the nerves of someone about to run it this year and maybe inspire someone else to run it next year.

Why did I want to run the marathon?
I didn’t have any great reason to want to run a marathon other than just to say I did it.  For whatever reason, I kept hearing about marathons.  It was either someone I loosely knew was running one or stories on the news, but one way or another I kept hearing about them and it planted a seed.  At that point, I really didn’t run very often and would not have considered myself a runner.  Sure I had gone through brief periods of time where I would take a jog but nothing too substantial.  My biggest challenge to date was a 10k mud run.  The idea of running a marathon was kind of crazy.    
"Marathoning is just another form of insanity" ~John J. Kelly     
One day, after hearing an inspirational story about a about a person that overcame a grave illness and went on to accomplish some grand goal, I remember thinking that if I ever get some disease or illness that I hope I’m one of the people that fights back as opposed to just rolling over and accepting my fate.  
"If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon." ~ Katherine Switzer
But why should I wait for a potential tragedy to motivate me?  I was perfectly healthy and able now but wasn’t doing anything special, why should I wait?  So I decided that I would run a marathon.  Knowing that completing the goal would take a lot of time and motivation, I decided that it would be easier for me to get psyched up over a major marathon as opposed to a local race.       

How did I get in?
Immediately following the 2009 New York City marathon, I went to their site to find out more information and discovered there are many ways to become a participant.  The “simplest” way is to pledge to raise a large sum of money or to get in through a lottery.  So... I added the lottery entry date into my calender and then basically forgot about it.     
"The marathon is a charismatic event.  It has everything.  It has drama.  It has competition. It has camaraderie.  It has heroism.  Every jogger can't dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon." ~Fred LeBow 
A few months later, I received an email alert that today was the day that the lottery would open.  At first, I ignored the message.  Running a marathon would be crazy.  But as the day went on, the thought of running kept coming back into my mind.  So I did a little research and realized that the odds of me being selected were quite small.  So I went for it...  if I didn’t get in it would still be an interesting story (sort of).
"You should run your first marathon for the right reasons, because you'll never be the same person again.  You must want to do it, not because your boss or spouse did it." ~Bill Wenmark
About a week before the lottery results were going to be announced, I figured it would be a good idea to go for a jog.  Considering that it was quite possible that I’d be training for a marathon, it seemed like a pretty solid idea.  Well, as it turns out it was a good idea because to my surprise I was one of the lucky people selected.

My Training Plan
The first thing I did was research how to train for a marathon.  I read as much as I could and tried to learn the basics.  Quickly I realized that most training plans only lasted a few months.  So I decided my the best thing for me to do was to get running, build up my miles and over the next couple of months develop my training plan.
"A marathoner is a marathoner regardless of time.  Virtually everyone who tries the marathon has put in training over months, and it is that exercise and that commitment, physical and mental, that gives meaning to the medal, not just the day's effort, be it fast or slow.  It is conquering the challenge." ~Mary R. Wittenberg
I researched just about every site, blog, and book I could get my hands on.  What I learned was that marathoners, and marathon training plans for that manner,  fall into one of two groups.
  1. Anyone can run a marathon.  With proper training and pacing anyone can finish and enjoy the marathon experience.  Oprah ran a marathon, how hard could it be?
  2. Marathons are only for serious runners.  If you are not running 75+ miles a week and training everyday you should not enter a marathon.  Marathons should not be a bucket list achievement but instead a race that you intend to win.  The first person to run a marathon died so only the fittest should attempt!
I ultimately found both groups rather annoying.  Group 1 was too easy going and Group 2 was out of my league, so I ultimately developed my own plan.  My plan certainly won’t be touted by anyone as a recommended option but it worked for me.  I basically ran three days a week and tried to improve each week.  My plan kept my legs fresh while still allowing me to work towards the 26.2 goal.  (If you are interested my training log can be viewed here:  My Training Log)
"No doubt a brain and some shoes are essential for marathon success, although if it comes down to a choice, pick the shoes.  More people finish marathons with no brains than with no shoes." ~Don Kardong
One race day tip offered by almost all sources was to do nothing new or different on race day.  During your training you should figure out what actions work best with your body and stick to them.  Good in theory, but this run was going to be different than all of my training runs.  I never had: travel to take a run, catch a bus to a parking lot where I’d have to wait in the cold, and I had never run as far as I was going to run.

The Big Event
The night before the race was surreal.  After all my months of training, coming to NY and partaking in all of the pre-race hoopla, the race was all that was left.  Was my training sufficient?
"The body does not want you to do this.  As you run, it tells you to stop but the mind must be strong.  You always go too far for your body.  You must handle the pain with strategy... It is not age; it is not diet.  It is the will to succeed. ~Jacqueline Gareau
Standing at the starting line I felt great.  Any shred of doubt I had was gone.  I was going to run the New York City Marathon and I was going to do it now.  I felt pumped!
"The Marathon is an art; the marathoner is an artist." ~Kiyoshi Nakamura
Aside from just finishing, I had a personal goal of finishing somewhere between 4:30 and 5 hours.  As the race began, I felt healthy and confident that I could accomplish my goal.  After the first few miles, my confidence grew.  
"A marathon is a string of moments, mixtures of events and emotions that we sample as we move along." ~Unknown
I felt so good, I quickly got caught up in the excitement and was giving the spectators high-fives as I ran the course.  I stopped briefly twice to say hello to two groups of people that made the trip to see me run.  (They were both exactly where I thought they would be and I found them without any difficulties.)  Around the 13 mile mark I was ahead of my goal time and still felt great.  I felt unstoppable...  
"The marathon can humble you" ~Bill Rodgers
Over the next few miles things began to change and my body quickly began to tire.  I slowed down, walked a few times, but managed to keep going.  Despite feeling tired, and going noticeably slower, I was still confident that I would not only finish, but still manage to finish within my desired time.  However, my spirits quickly began to damper with about 8 miles to go.  I knew I would finish (no matter what I was going to finish) but my goal time was quickly becoming unrealistic. Approaching mile 20, I was 4 hours into my race. To achieve my time goal, I would need pick up my pace and gut out the last six.
"If you feel bad at 10 miles, you're in trouble. If you feel bad at 20 miles, you're normal. If you don't feel bad at 26 miles, you're abnormal." ~Rob de Castella
I gave those last few miles everything I had.  My legs were shot, I was chafed, snot was flowing out of my nose, and tears were flowing down my face with each step, but I kept going as best I could.  At this point the race became personal.  I set a goal, worked towards the goal, and had the goal insight.  All I needed to do was make it a reality.
"If you want to win something, run 100 meters.  If you want to experience something, run a marathon." ~Emil Zatopek
When it was all said and done I finished in 4 hours and 56 minutes.  
"There will be days you didn't think you can a marathon.  There will be a lifetime of knowing you have." ~Unknown
I know my time is far from great, but it is my time.  I put in a lot of hours into getting that time and I am proud of every second.