The “A” goal was 3:10, the “D” goal was to just enjoy the race and have a great vacation. The result? 3:37:39, my third slowest marathon ever. D-minus. I add the minus because, while I’m very disappointed that after months of high mileage and consistent strength-training I couldn’t pull it together on race day, I’m just as disappointed that my experience of the race was anything but enjoyable.
My friends would tell you I tend to be very hard on myself after a bummer race. I’ve succumbed to negative self-talk both during and after a race, and I’ve worked hard to overcome that in the past several years. I used those skills pretty hard during the race Sunday and in the days following.
Now that I’m a few days out and had time to process and analyze, I think I can describe my New York City Marathon with a minimum of f-bombs. So, what happened?
I had a fantastic taper, the best ever. My body felt rested, recovered, and healthy. My mind felt secure and confident of my goal; I didn’t have any anxiety-dreams, and I hit my pace in my dress rehearsal run easily. I traveled with a group of five friends and my husband from Oregon to the race, and our trip started out on a positive note when we ran into Craig Leon at the Eugene Airport. He ended up getting 8th place, second American after Meb.
We arrived at JFK at 7:00 a.m. on Friday, cabbed to my friends’ hotel and walked to the expo, which was a total mad-house, to pick up our bibs. So began a long day of walking (probably too much) and filling the time with some touristy stuff until we checked into our hotel rooms at 2:00.
My husband and I stayed at a hotel on the Upper Westside, so we spent a lot of time on the subway going to hang out with our friends who all stayed near Times Square. I have always gotten motion-sick very easily (coming down a spiral staircase even gets me), and by the end of that first day of cab and subway travel, I felt the effects. I developed a dull headache and nausea a couple of minutes into each ride, then recovered slowly after reemerging into the fresh air. Not fun. We met up for dinner and more walking before calling it a day and sleeping for nearly twelve hours.
On Saturday morning, I did a gentle 2.5-mile shake out run in Central Park from our hotel. Then we were on the subway to meet up with our friends again for food and, in hindsight, too much walking and sightseeing, and way too much public transportation for me. Spirits were high, though, and we kept ourselves busy to push away the pre-race jitters. That night, I put out my race gear, packed my bag for the morning commute, and went to bed feeling calm and ready. I slept well.
Sunday morning the alarm woke me at 4:15 and I was out the door to catch Cab #1 to meet my friends by 4:45. I ate a banana and planned to eat my normal-pre-long-run breakfast of bagel and nutbutter at my friends’ hotel. Motion sickness set in on the ride.
Waiting in the hustle-and-bustle lobby for my friends, I ordered my coffee and when I got my bagel out, the garlic and onion smell made me gag and my stomach clenched. I threw it away and ate a Luna bar instead. It’s okay, I thought, I have another Luna bar and there are bagels to eat at the athlete’s village, where I’ll have at least two hours before the race.
We caught Cab #2 to the Staten Island Ferry. I sat in front and stared straight ahead, but my nausea and dull headache persisted and grew. Although we had all signed up for the 6:30 ferry, it filled up because no one was actually checking to see what anyone signed up for and we had to wait for the 6:45 ferry. I ate my second Luna bar.
After the ferry ride, where the fresh air kept my nausea from increasing, we stood in line for the long shuttle bus ride to the start. The bus ride was my final undoing. Nausea settled in the base of my throat and clenched stomach. I ate a couple of my friend’s crackers with my almond butter to try to help the situation and get more calories into my body. We arrived at the start at 8:35, no bagels in sight, and last-minute panic began to sink in.
We all started in Wave 1 at 9:50, and time was suddenly shorter than I had expected or planned for. After waiting in a never-ending port-o-potty line, I urged everyone that we just needed to get to our corrals. Within a minute of entering the Blue Corral, race volunteers closed the entrance. I tried to focus and use positive self-talk as we waited for the start:
I will feel fine after I start running.
I am fit, rested, and ready.
The energy from the crowd will lift me.
I’ve only been taking two gels on my long training runs, so being a little under-fueled will be okay.
3:10. 7:14/mile pace. 3:10. 7:14/mile pace.
I’ve proved to myself I can, and I will.
The national anthem was followed by introductions, the cannon, and then we were off. Mile one (8:30) was a crowded cluster-eff-word as I tried to get through the masses to find my own pace.
It’s ok, the crowd will thin and there is plenty of time to make up for the first mile. Relax. 3:10.
Mile two (6:43) was fast, but my legs felt ok and it was downhill and nice to get away from slower runners.
Settle in. My stomach is a knotted up lump, but I am a marathoner. I am strong.
Mile three I hit 7:14 exactly, and I tried to find my groove while ignoring my stomach. Miles four and five went by at 7:23 then 7:14. I could feel that I was under-fueled and had already been awake for six hours, so I took a Gu. The gel hit my empty, clenched stomach like a shot of acid but the sugar hit my muscles and allowed me to get out of my own head enough to try to connect with the crowd to glean their energy.
I ran along the right-side of the road accepting the high-fives from little kids, trying to absorb the awesomeness of the moment and to summon my love for my own two kids 3000 miles away. It worked, for a few short miles. 7:11, 7:14, 7:26, 7:33. The short-lived euphoria wore off and I felt light-headed, out of fuel, and my stomach clenched tighter.
I took another Gu at mile ten (7:29). The light-headed feeling didn’t lift and the gel pushed the ball of nausea in my throat into the back of my mouth. The food smells from the different neighborhoods hit me in nauseating waves. I took a walk-break, unheard of for me. Mile 11 (8:00). Swallowing heavily to push the nausea down, my thoughts shifted to the negative.
The game just changed. Am I going to make this? I will not quit. Should I make myself throw up?
Miles 12 and 13 at 7:43 then 8:10. People started to pass me. One of my friends caught up with me at mile 14. “You do hard things,” she said and put her hand on my back for a few steps. I stopped and hunched over the concrete barrier and gagged. My clenched stomach was empty.
Mile 15 was 9:24, and I took another gel. I knew my husband Iton was waiting for me at mile 17. I pictured him and ran on. Mile 16 (8:27) passed and then I heard my name from the blur of the crowd. I collapsed into his arms. “I’m sick,” I cried as he kissed me. “I am so proud of you. So is everyone back home. Keep going,” he said, so I did.
Mile 17 (8:09), mile 18 (8:36) then another walk break during mile 19 (9:03). At mile 20 (9:36), I decided to force down two gels as a last-ditch effort to make it to the end. Miles 21 through 23, 8:57-9:12-8:22, passed and there was Iton again. I clung to him and cried. “I’m so proud of you. Keep going,” he repeated but I held on long enough that mile 24 was my longest (9:57).
The acrid smell of urine hit me at mile 25 (8:38) and I put my hand over my mouth to try to block the smell. Usually I am able to speed up and sprint it out at the end of the race. Not this time. Mile 26 passed in 8:58. I crossed the finish line.
I skipped the post-race finish picture and swallowed against the lump in my throat as tears slowly trickled down my cheeks. The much-too-long walk to get my poncho sucked, but the warmth felt comforting when I finally had it around my shoulders and stopped shivering. A kind New Yorker stopped me on the street and let me use her phone to help me find my husband.
After our reunion, we walked back to our hotel. Messages from friends and family filled my phone, all so excited for me. I felt so disappointed I didn’t even want to reply. Yes, I’d gotten my eighth Boston-qualifier, but I’d finished at a pace one minute slower per mile than my goal and worse, I felt screwed out of an experience. I can’t describe the passing city, the crowds, the excitement of the day. I didn’t notice them much.
During the race I felt stuck in a tunnel, engaging in a mental battle to just keep going despite my nausea. I feel like I actually missed the race, except the incredible soreness in my neck, shoulders, back (from hunching and holding myself so tensely) and legs tell another story. Hence the self-imposed D-minus score.
Back at our hotel I showered and wallowed in weepy disappointment while messaging a few close friends. I found out Craig got 8th, my friend Lonn finished second in his age group, and another friend, Brad, finished 62nd overall. Usually after a marathon, I eat fairly soon and go into bottomless-pit-mode for the rest of the day. Not this time. I couldn’t stomach much more than a few pretzels and sips of water. Iton brought me a panini after several hours that I forced down, and then we went and got a piece of cheesecake at a nearby diner.
I knew I had to rally and couldn’t let my attitude ruin the night, so we got a cab (shudder) and met up with everyone at their hotel. We chatted, vented, and celebrated. I managed a glass of sparkling wine and a slider before heading back to our room.
Over the next two days, I hobbled around NYC landmarks feeling more beat-up than I’ve ever felt post-marathon, eating and drinking much less than normal as I waited for my unhappy stomach to come around. Seeing New York and enjoying the sights and people healed my heart a bit, though I uncharacteristically wept at the 9/11 Memorial and at the sight of a VanGogh at the Met. On our last morning, Wednesday, I realized I didn’t have a single picture of me with my medal and managed a smile and a pose for the camera.
I placed so much on this race, I wanted a Boston-repeat for myself, a big PR, and a race experience to top all other race experiences. I wanted a fairytale ending to this bucket list race. I qualified a year ago, signed up ten months ago, trained harder than I ever had before. I truly felt prepared for my goal.
My friends all believed in me,and I felt guilty I let them down and guilty that I couldn’t whole-heartedly accept their congratulations. Congratulations for just finishing?? I know I can finish a marathon, that’s not the challenge. For me, it was about a particular speed goal I’ve been chasing since 2011; a goal I’ve repeatedly trained well for, but repeatedly failed to meet. For the New York Marathon, what would I do differently?
- Stay on Staten Island the night before the race. I knew getting to the start in the morning was going to be a journey, but I underestimated the reality of being up for almost six hours before racing, traveling for more than half of that.
- Walk less the day before the race, avoid public transportation as much as possible, and wear one of those motion-sickness patches.
- Be more prepared with my pre-race breakfast: have all my prerace food premade and a schedule for consuming it.
- Combat the negative self-talk better.
As this trip and race fade into memories and I start to consider the next race, I want to focus on the positives that my family and friends keep reminding me of:
- I loved training as hard as I trained and got so much faster; chasing a goal and challenging myself is part of who I am.
- I managed to run my eighth BQ feeling like hell and taking several walk-breaks on a tough course.
- This trip and the sights we saw were worth it and gave me my New York Experience even if the race itself was such a blur.
- So many fantastic life opportunities have grown out of this year of throwing myself wholeheartedly into my passion for running, from expanding my running-friends circle to becoming a blogger, to gear-testing for Nike, to showing my kids how to focus on a goal and go for it.
Each and every marathon changes who you are and adds a layer of toughness whether or not is is a “good” race, and I’m already eyeing the horizon for my next one.