by Josh Hatcher
How many marathons have you run? Why did you decide to run NYC'17?
This was my fourth marathon, and my second NYC Marathon. The marathon is my favorite distance, and racing it is always a remarkable, spiritual journey. In my admittedly limited experience, there's nothing more spiritual than NYC. Marathon day in New York is a rare time when everyone seems to light up. There are over 50,000 participants in the race. Obviously the hardcore athletes among them are gung-ho about competition, and there's ample space to get competitive. But thousands of people who aren't super serious, or have maybe never even run a race before, are welcomed into this ritual. Folks who don't run, folks who don't pay the slightest bit of attention to this sport still get amped to watch and cheer. Whole neighborhoods of every borough enthusiastically welcome runners in. New York can often feel lonely and isolating, and it also has serious issues with segregation, so for a single event to so strongly bind the communities of the city together is extremely meaningful for me.
Tell us about your marathon training.
As with my last two marathons, I followed the 55-70 mile/week Pete Pfitzinger plan. "Advanced Marathoning," by Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas is, in my eyes, the bible for competitive marathon training. It includes some great, multifaceted training schedules, but also has whole sections devoted to seemingly every dimension of race prep, from pacing, to cross training, to nutrition, to figuring out how best to hold the paper cup so that you don't spill the Gatorade all over your face. My PR prior to this race was a high 2:46 from Chicago last year, and I made the arbitrary goal this year of going sub 2:40. NYC is a much tougher course than Chicago, and 6 minutes is significant, so this goal seemed very ambitious and possibly delusional. But, barring health issues, one is generally in solid shape to meet their goal if they follow the training schedules closely.
Due to such health issues, my overall training didn't go so well. The summer heat wasn't particularly bad, but I missed at least four weeks of training due to an ankle injury. It made me anxious watching my teammates cruise through a seemingly flawless training cycle, and to see them get stronger and stronger, while I was just trying to get healthy enough to go on a single long run without feeling like my foot had been put into a meat grinder. Once I got better, I accepted that there wasn't ample time left, and that I wouldn't be going sub-2:40. I had a very good last few weeks of training, but I still had little idea of what to expect. I decided that if I got any sort of PR, I'd be satisfied. It was sort of a bummer, but I figured it was better to be realistic than set myself up for disappointment or go out too fast and have to bail out.
Night before marathon - what was going on in your head? did you sleep?
I've got a pretty specific pre-race ritual, which basically involves domestically pampering myself over the course of several hours. I find it helps me sleep and keeps the nerves at bay. I get home super early so I don't have to rush through it. I put on a record and take a bubble bath. I will have run 3 or 4 miles easy that morning, and I do some foam rolling and light stretches to make sure my muscles are loose. I charge my Garmin, and put out my race clothes and bag with everything I need in it, so I don't need to think about it the next day. I make a cup of herbal tea. I cook up half a pound of plain pasta with a little oil and various spices. If it's still relatively early, I allow myself a single beer, but otherwise I drink water. I skim through the pre-race chapters in "Advanced Marathoning," particularly the sections about pre-race nerves, which calm me down. Then I curl up in bed around 9:30, set my alarm for 4:30, and read until I'm dozing off. It's an extremely romantic solitude.
Tell us about your 5 borough experience - how’d you start out? too fast, too slow, just right?
As I mentioned earlier, I had deemed my initial goal unattainable, but I still kind of wanted to hit it. So I was left without a really good idea of how fast I should go out. Generally I try to run my first mile slightly slower than goal pace, but what was my goal pace? Even though it still seemed unrealistic, I figured I would just shoot for a 2:42 marathon, which translates to about 6:12 pace. I got through the first mile in about 6:13 - OK, cool. The second mile of the marathon is straight downhill off of the Verrazano Bridge though, and it's an ongoing joke how everyone's second mile is absurdly and excessively fast. My second mile was around 5:45 pace, so I chalked it up to the downhill, and committed to calming down, and easing into a more conservative and relaxed pace. Thing is, the next few miles, which felt relaxed, were all slightly sub 6-minute pace. The crowd support up 4th Avenue definitely helped, and I expected the excitement to grow as I climbed into North Brooklyn and began seeing more of my friends. I started getting concerned I was getting too excited and setting myself up for implosion. But I kept feeling good. At some point, it dawned on me that if I kept this up, I could go sub-2:40, which was my initial goal. I decided to say screw it. I didn't have anything on the line with this race except my personal goal. I wasn't making any money or supporting my family here. Worst came to worst, I would fall apart, I would have to drop out, and life would go on.
First thought crossing? Did you hit your goal? Any regrets?
I started hitting the proverbial wall with around 4 miles to go, which is to be expected, especially given how brutal the last four miles of the NYC Marathon are. However, the final stages are relatively easy to mentally break up. For example, running parallel to Central Park from 110th to 90th Street is probably the most torturous point in the race, but it's only about a mile, so going into it, I kept telling myself "just get into the park, and then it'll get easier." Then, running across the base of the park on 59th Street, I told myself "just get to Columbus Circle and then there's less than a mile to go." The final 0.2 miles feels insurmountable in the context of the race, but you can see the bleachers ahead, at the start of the last straightaway, which makes it feel closer. Breaking up the course into pieces and duping yourself into thinking you're "basically done" after each section is a good way to stay sane in those last few miles. As I was running down the final straightaway, I saw the clock above the finish line tick from 2:39 to 2:40. I came in at 2:40:12, 12 seconds off of my initial goal, which I had deemed impossible, given my training. I was privately a tiny bit disappointed I didn't go under 2:40, but as a whole I was completely taken aback that I had come so close. Having resigned myself to maybe getting a small PR if I was lucky, getting that close to a seemingly unrealistic goal felt amazing.
Did you bleed? cramp?
One bloody nipple. I didn't even notice it until someone pointed it out at bag check. Adrenaline is great anesthesia for such things.
What race do you want to do next? (or not)
This time qualified me for the Berlin Marathon, so I decided to bite the bullet and register the next day. Pending any issues with my application, that will be my next marathon.
Any shoutouts? Who helped you along the way?
This phenomenal club we have is honestly the main reason why I still live in New York. The inclusivity of NBR allows for runners of all abilities to come together, train, and develop friendships. For this particular race, I feel especially inclined to shout out my teammates, Jack Mulvaney, Ben Leese, Alex Walsh, and Jeff Poindexter, with whom I trained a lot this summer and fall. Those four have instilled a sense of discipline in my training and really inspired me to work hard. They're also generally great guys and have become wonderful, supportive friends.
What advice would you give someone about to run the NYC marathon?
Just have fun. As competitive/team-based runners, it's easy to get caught up in the intensity of training and our goals and the pain and everything else. But remember that we do this for fun. I can't speak for everyone, but the less pressure I put on myself, the better I generally perform. The marathon is a unique race in that you're capable of feeling very good for a very long time. Don't take that for granted - soak it up and enjoy every minute of it. No better place to do so than on the loud, exciting streets of New York. Your fellow New Yorkers will have your back the whole damn way.