Over 50,000 runners and cheered on by 2 million spectators, the NYC Marathon is probably the world’s largest gathering for any individual sports event. The race course goes through all the 5 boroughs of New York City: Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Manhattan, which is what makes it iconic. I’ve wanted to run the NYC Marathon so badly that I entered the lottery four times and ran the virtual edition three times, all without luck. Finally, when I received the entry to the race, I was overjoyed.
After a decent performance in London Marathon early part of the year, my initial plan was to learning from my previous training cycle and aim for a better time. The primary focus was on enhancing speed endurance and becoming more comfortable with the marathon distance.
This cycle diverged from my previous cycle in a few different ways.
The training was largely based on the Jack Daniels method, structured into 18 weeks comprising four training cycles. However, an early setback occurred due to a niggle in my right gluteus medius, forcing me to cut back on mileage and intensity. This issue resulted in approximately four weeks of lost training. Upon resuming, I found sustaining the intensity of my original plan challenging, leading me to recalibrate my goal to a 3h:35m finish.
Participating in the Ladakh Marathon as my non-goal event was perhaps not the wisest choice, given the altitude acclimatization challenges it posed. This decision cost me another two weeks of training. Then, a severe viral infection in early October led to the loss of three crucial weeks of peak training. Consequently, my target time shifted to under 3h:38m.
Despite these challenges, a good performance at the Wipro Bangalore Marathon served as a great tune-up. Coupled with two strong weeks of training just before tapering, my confidence was just right.
Arrival and Acclimatization
My journey to the New York Marathon began with an arrival in the city on Tuesday, a planned decision to allow myself five days for acclimatization. Melatonin aided in a swift adjustment to the local time zone. By Wednesday, I was ready for a run, which helped my acclimatization.
The marathon expo, which I visited on Thursday, was a highlight of the pre-race activities. Collecting my race kit was a breeze, a well-organized process that set the tone for the event. The expo itself was a runner’s dream, sprawling with various booths and stands. It was interesting to note Adidas, Asics, and New Balance were the only shoe companies present. New Balance, as the main sponsor, had an impressive setup. Asics has their soon-to-be-released Novablast 4, a tempting purchase, which I could resist. On the nutrition side, there were several key players, including SiS (the official sponsor), Gu, and Maurten, while Nuun and Gatorade represented the hydration segment.
I was back at the expo on Friday, this time with a friend who was hosting me. We’ve collected his race kit and spent more time exploring the expo.
The last shakeout run on Saturday was perfect as the weather got much better with a temperature of 10-12 degrees. Sreeram, a long-time reader of Geeksonfeet and a contributor with his Tokyo marathon report, offered to drop me at the start line. I accepted this generous offer and spent the evening before the race at his place, ensuring a stress-free race morning. Madhukar (from Soles of Bangalore) also stayed overnight at Sreeram’s place.
My race day began with a familiar breakfast ritual. Two packs of MTR ready-to-eat Poha, a dish that has become an integral part of my pre-race diet. Thanks to Sreeram, The journey to the marathon’s start was surprisingly smooth. We started at 6:40 AM and reached from New Jersey to Staten Island by 7:40 AM.
A short warm-up run helped to calm my nerves and get ready for the race. After warming up, I dropped off my additional layers at the designated clothing drop point in Staten Island. I was placed in Wave 1, the Pink start area. The New York Marathon’s unique start system includes three different starts, Pink, Blue, and Orange. The Pink start uses the lower deck of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. While the Blue and Orange Starts use the upper deck. Entering my designated corral was a smooth experience. Notably, there was no pushing or shoving.
Given my training, I didn’t have any meticulous pacing strategy in place. But the goal is to run 5:05-5:10 min/km pace on flats, and slow-down or speed-up on hills as the course demands. Given my past history of cramping episodes in the last 10kms, I didn’t want to go out too fast.
Varrazzano-Narrow Bridge (1-3km):
Soon after the start, the route enters the Varrazzano-Narrows Bridge. I started in the Pink, which means I ran over the lower Deck of the bridge. This is the segment where I’ve recorded the most elevation gain. Since the legs are fresh I didn’t feel much. The lower deck has no GPS which means I was in the dark about my pace. So I had to go by the feel.
As the route exits the bridge into Brooklyn, the scenery changes quickly. Wider roads and there is plenty of space to run. From here till the half-way point, the route is flat and fast.
Running through the lively streets and cheering crowds, there is no way anyone can run slow. Energy in the air is infectious, and there goes my pacing. I was under 5 min/km pace for much of this segment.
Queens and Queensborough Bridge (22-26km):
Pulaski bridge takes you into Queens, and crossing this bridge marks the halfway point of the race. I crossed this point at 1h:45m, which is good for a 3h:30m finish. However, reaching this milestone, I didn’t feel as great as I had hoped. The initial excitement had faded slightly, giving way to the realization of the long road still ahead. I have removed my head band and hand gloves as it got warmer now.
This segment however is relatively easy to run, till you reach the Queensborough bridge (25th and 26th Kilometers). Approaching the Queensborough Bridge the race’s dynamics have shifted. The long incline on the bridge, known for its silence devoid of spectators, offered a moment of introspection. I paced myself steadily (6 min/km) to ensure I am not overdoing it as I took the incline. But I am not sure if I have already exceeded my current fitness.
Manhattan Part #1 (1st Avenue, Harlem) (27-31km):
As you come down the ramp of Queensborough bridge, you enter Manhattan. This probably is the loudest part of the course. The course here is smooth and the energy is back thanks to all the cheering. I could maintain my target pace, but clearly I am struggling and not feeling very good.
Boogie down Bronx (32km-34km):
Approaching the 20-mile mark, or 32 kilometers into the race, I faced the Willis Avenue Bridge, as you go into The Bronx. Despite its relatively small size, the bridge felt surprisingly steep, I am sure it is my tired legs. Entering the Bronx, the air was electric with music and lively crowds, a stark contrast to how I am feeling inside. This is when you remember that Marathons are brutal. I experienced cramps in my upper back on the right and it was hard to move my right elbow naturally. I had slowed down, run-walked a bit and that helped.
After a short 2-kilometer stretch, I approached the Madison Avenue Bridge, leading me back into Manhattan. It was at this very point, on this bridge, where Daniel do Nascimento, who was break-way leader during the 2022 NYC Marathon, famously ‘hit the wall.’ Through the Bronx I see several runners cramping and needing medical attention. That worried me as a possible DNF was looming over my head.
Manhattan Part #2 (5th Avenue) (35-38km):
The cramps were getting worse, so was my fatigue. To manage the situation, I adopted a strategy of breaking down the race into 2-kilometer segments between the 36th and 39th kilometers. Walked for about 100m in each of the 2 kilometer segments whenever I hit the water stations. This approach helped me mentally.
The Final Push - Central Park (39-42KM):
(The final push)
Raising my elbow and slightly altering my running form, I managed to keep the cramps at bay. Entering Central Park around the 39th kilometer brought a sense of relief. Despite the fatigue and lactate accumulating in my legs, I gathered all the energy for the final stretch. The urge to walk was strong, but I persisted and ran non-stop from the 40th to the finish. The rolling terrain of Central Park, with its endless twists and turns, added to the challenge. Approaching the finish line, the sight of an uphill climb juxtaposed with the anticipation of completion evoked mixed emotions.
Crossing the finish line at 3 hours and 42 minutes was a bittersweet moment. It was way slower than my initial goal, but considering less than ideal training and the demanding course – it was satisfying. The moment I received the beautifully crafted dual-toned gold and silver medal, a sense of satisfaction washed over me, after all that is what Marathon is all about.
Throughout the first half of the marathon, I consumed energy gels at every 6km interval. As I crossed the half marathon mark, I reduced the interval to every 5km. My choice for the race was Fast&Up’s non-caffeinated gels. This decision was based on previous experiences where I found that caffeine seems to aggravate cramping issues, though this is more personal observation. Alongside the gels, I intermittently sipped on Gatorade, approximately every 50 minutes.
Through the course there are several points where GPS reception is bad. That occasionally caused anxiety about pace. NYC marathon uses mostly mile markers, and has KM markers at only every 5KM intervals. So Pete’s Pacer (Garmin ConnectIQ app) wasn’t that useful either. Here are the official splits
The immediate aftermath of the marathon was a mix of relief and reflection. I started my recovery with a protein drink, some electrolytes, and carbs. These helped to alleviate my cramps but also began the process of recovery.
The finish line was festive. Meeting friends from Bengaluru and my hosts was really enjoyable.
Surprisingly, I found myself not overly exhausted, which means there is lot more to unlock.
This was one more Marathon Major this is in my kitty, however with every race completed and finish line crossed, introspection, gratitude and the feeling of calm increases.
The focus for my next cycle is building speed endurance. I will probably run a few half-marathon races to master before I run my next full distance by the end of the winter.
Aravind is a techie, running geek, and a marathoner. He is a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer. He loves all things technology and technology in running, with special interest in running form analysis.