On November 2nd I ran my first marathon. It remains to be seen if I will run another, but at least I’ll have done New York. It really is the most awesome experience, the weather was just about perfect and the crowds from start to finish were incredible.
I took a package with Sports Tours International so everything was bought and paid for. Not only was this my first marathon but it was also my first trip to NYC ( If I’m going to see the city, I may as well see 26 miles of it… ) so I didn’t want to have to worry about transfers and getting from A to B, but in the end I doubt this would have been much of a problem.
I had been warned some months beforehand that the route was hilly ( well “undulating” would probably be fairer ) and it is, but not that I noticed at the beginning of the race such was the level of enthusiasm. The steepest climb is over the Verrazano-Narrows bridge at the beginning but the shallower, longer climb at the end through Central Park is much tougher, and is magnified by fatigue. Hill training helps but it’s not enough to train when you’re fresh, I think training when tired would be more beneficial and that means longer runs. My own training was interrupted by a calf problem in the last month and by a near disastrous ankle injury the weekend before, but such is the risk you take when you put in the mileage necessary during training.
I was amazed how quickly the first half of the race passed, and I put this largely down to the incredible atmosphere. The new yorkers are incredibly proud of this race, and the route is lined with crowds from start to finish. There are live bands – I high-fived a guitarist on the way round – there’s the inevitable Rocky theme music and at one point a full Gospel choir. You don’t get that on the Cambridge Boundary Run.
The one negative aspect was the size of the race ( about 40,000 competitors ) necessitates large-scale organization, which for us meant getting up for the buses from central Manhattan at 4.00 am and hanging around in the freezing cold until the 10.00 am start. I don’t think this is really necessary, and although I had some fun getting to know some of my fellow runners I would sooner have had the extra few hours sleep and a proper breakfast. So that said, here are some other things I’ll be bearing in mind if I ever do this again.
- The 7.30 am Staten Island ferry is probably sufficient to get to the start on time, but if you must take the 4.00 am buses, take some warm clothing and probably a sleeping bag and a bivvy bag – I kid you not. I raided the charity shops in the week before hand and so kept warm, but even so I looked with envious eyes upon those who were better prepared.
- You’ll need to dump your kit at least an hour before the start, so take some clothes you can dispose of en route, like the aforementioned charity wear. I bought a fleece for £3.50 from a British Heart Foundation shop, which I quickly disposed of after coming off the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and ran the rest of the race in a singlet.
- Bring your own breakfast, since you can’t rely on picking up more than a cup of coffee and a bagel at the start.
- The last few miles are uphill, and are magnified by fatigue so make sure your training takes this into account. There aren’t many hills in Cambridge but even so I could have been better prepared.
- Get your name printed on your running top, I envied the runners getting personal encouragement from the crowd toward the end of the race.
- Try to overcome any weird sense of British modesty and wear your medal everywhere you go for the next day. New Yorkers are incredibly proud of their race, the medal is like a VIP pass.
- Don’t trip over any tree roots the weekend before the race. If you do, Diclofenac is your friend.
All in all I was pleased with my time of 3:57, particularly given the trouble I had with my ankle. Luckily a large tube of diclofenac gel and an ankle support was enough to see me through the race, plus the long straight sections of the race minimized the risk of further injury. I hope I’ll be able to do this race again. No more flying economy class though. It sucks.