The New york City Marathon is the single greatest marathon on Earth. I tell you this having only run 6 marathons total, 3 of them in New York.
2 million people come out to spectate along the course and the only time there aren’t any crazed fans screaming or banging away on cowbells is while going over the Queensboro Bridge.
Since April I have been training for Ironman Arizona, which happens to take place 2 weeks after the NYCM. As the race approached, Coach Sonja decided that the NYCM would be raced, instead of used as a training run! This both excited and terrified me as I would be held accountable for my performance rather than just take it easy.
Saturday night Abbe made an amazing dinner of Shrimp Fra Diavlo, one of my pre-race staples. Her friends Bradley and Chrisitin were in town for the weekend so they joined us as well as my brother Jeff and my soon-to-be sister-in-law Ali. I think I was in bed by 10, which was really 9 due to the time change that would take place in the middle of the night.
Thank god I slept well Friday night because I certainly did not Saturday. I woke up every hour on the hour. This was due more to shear excitement rather than nervousness. I love NYCM more than Christmas, so the faster it arrives the better. Instead of presents, you get pain! Super.
I met my neighbor Kelly at 5:45AM out front and we popped a cab to pick up Meggie. It was the most desolate I have ever seen 2nd Avenue.
We boarded the Ferry at 6:15 and soon found out Susan, Betsy and Megan also were on board. We linked up and formed an Army, a Runner Army.
Once we were at Fort Wadsworth I said goodbye to my friends as I was in the Orange Camp while they were in the Green.
I sat down in a sunny spot and proceeded to eat my steel cut oats, basking in the warm morning air. Previous NYCM’s were a bit cold and windy, or maybe, just maybe I’m getting tougher! Naw. You crazy Baker.
Having 45 minutes until Corrals opened I just kinda walked around aimlessly, saying hi to a handful of runners I knew, and using the port-o-potties when I passed them. At 8:20 they announced the opening of Corrals and since I was pretty much full of oatmeal and bored to tears I thought it appropriate to move into new scenery.
Arriving at my start Corral, there were maybe 100 people stretching and sitting around. Since I am anti-stretching, I just walked up to the front and started chatting with the race volunteers who were actually organizers and in charge of ‘stuff.’ Time passed and then they instructed us front guys that we were going to lead the Orange Corral out to the Start. “Whaaaaa?” “Are we the lead Corral for Orange?” She informed me that yes we were and she needed us to lock arms to prevent others front running past to try and get a better position. This was really cool.
Right before we walked out I heard them announce (in the distance at the Start) the Footlocker 5-Boro Challenge runners and my friend Elizabeth! I smiled and clapped and looked around wanting to tell someone, “Hey, that’s my friend Eliz! How cool!” until I realized all my neighbors spoke terrible English being from France or Italy or Ohio. Ha I’m kidding, just wanted to throw a dig at Ohio.
Slowly walking out to the bridge, of course there were some schmucks (from Italy) who ran around to get in front of us. They were yelled at by the organizers. I mean really guys? You are already like 4 rows from toeing the Start. I was right on the Start mats in the sun with 30 minutes to go. It was awesome. What was not awesome was all the dudes peeing on the right side. I don’t really care about seeing that, hell puke if you want to, I just don’t want to think about HAVING to pee.
The gun went off and in a hot second we were bookin’ it up the bridge. Knowing that even though I may be fast, I am no 2:45 marathoner like many of the guys behind me, so I moved far right. It was so cool having no one in front of me as I was crossing the Verrazanos. I will never forget it.
I will also never forget this: As we approached the apex of the bridge, to my right a few TV crew cars were passing, filming something behind me. Well duh, they were filming the Professionals coming up from the rear! SIDENOTE: Pros start in Blue and are situated like 500 yards behind Orange based on course turns. All of us running were freaking out. As the Pro group came up on our right we all started cheering for Meb. Lots of guys were yelling stuff about being on TV but I hardly think we were more interesting then the fellas cookin it at a 4:30 Per Mile Pace.
I flew down the bridge taking advantage of the downhill.
Mile 1: 6:26
Mile 2: 5:42
Sure enough as we hit Bayside and started making our way North I had to pee. Thanks a lot to the guys in my Corral peeing all over the place. I pulled over and jumped into a port-o-pottie, losing an easy 2-3 minutes JUST LIKE LAST YEAR. SIDENOTE: Last year I ran NY in 3:02:00 and attribute my pee break to not breaking 3 hours.
Today I wasn’t concerned with breaking 3. I broke 3 in January and that has satisfied my speed needs for now. I wanted to run a great race with what I have learned this year. Mainly, nutrition and how I can use it more efficiently. I was told by Sonja that eating ‘Race Burritos’ was out of the question. Instead I was going to go mind over matter and use a few Gu’s.
Onward! Picking up the pace and kicking it up I switched my Garmin to only show me my heart rate. I was maintaining a 173 and felt that it was a good rate.
Mile 3 – 6:09
Mile 4 – 7:15 (pee break)
Mile 5 – 6:12
Running up 4th Avenue I was very strategic on liquids, listening to my body very carefully to see if I needed Gatorade or not. I probably hit every other aid station.
Up ahead I saw a familiar form. This guy running topless, completely jacked, my height and on even pace with me. I had not only run along side of him in 2 other NYC Marathons, but had seen him at many local races. We both nod at each other (think Darth and Obe Wan before Darth kills Obe Wan) but in a friendly way. As I rolled up along side of him we fist bumped and say hi. We had a brief chat about pace in which he stated he want to go Sub3. Looking at my Garmin our pace was well beyond that and I assured him we were doing well.
We ran quietly side by side, overtaking many a runner, for the next 10 miles. We were a force to be reckoned with.
At Mile 6 I said, “Yo, names Baker, never caught yours in all these years of running.” “Names Rowland. Cool to finally meet you Baker.” It’s really fantastic to run with an experienced runner because you both know to shut the hell up and just run, chatting only when needed.
Mile 6 – 6:21
Mile 7 – 6:27
Mile 8 – 6:29
Cruising past Atlantic Terminal and onto Lafayette (and into Fort Greene) I mentally told myself Sector 1 was over, 3 more Sectors to go. (I break up races mentally by course logistics) I was still feeling really good, but knowing that Williamsburg and Greenpoint lay ahead (2 of my least favorite parts of the course) was bringing me down.
I’ll tell you what helped adjust my attitude! Bryan’s ‘High Five Station!’ SIDENOTE: Bryan and Deeds used to live in NYC, recently moving to Boston. They invented the ‘High Five Station’ during a local race where I got to actually cheer and participate ringing the cow bell and high fiving runners It’s awesome. Well, just as I round a corner is Bryan with the ‘High Five Station’ set in place. I was on the opposite side of the street so I just waved as he yelled my name. Then, something inside me said, “No way. That just aint right.” I stopped and ran against the flow for a couple yards, almost hitting a German guy dead on. I jumped up and gave Bryan a sick high five, screamed, then went on my merry way. If you aren’t having fun out there then why the hell run in the first place right? Right?
Mile 9 – 6:30
Mile 10 – 6:25
Mile 11 – 6:35
Mile 12 – 6:19
I really hate the Pulaski Skyway too. It sucks. It’s hot, a crazy incline and a pre-cursor to the Queensboro Bridge which is just a mile away. Rowland told me we were hitting the halfway point at 1:25:00. I’ll take it.
Mile 13 – 6:32
Mile 14 – 6:40
Entering Long Island City I saw 2 familiar faces, Amanda and Stephan Walker, cheering me on! Soon after I ate the 1st of 2 Gu’s I would eat all day. I washed it down with some delicious water. Then, the Queensboro reared it’s mighty head and for the first time all day we were in darkness, ascending in pain. I felt like walking, but I held on. Many people passed me as I slowed my pace to a 7:45.
Descending toward mighty Manhattan the sound of the crowds ever so slightly grew until the noise emulated that of a football game. My pace quickened and as I rounded the corner onto 1st Avenue as I was overwhelmed with energy, the crowds 5-10 deep. I tried to not let it affect my speed, maintaining some sort of logical pace as I still had 10 miles to go. For those that have never experienced this moment in the race, it really is an overwhelmingly proud time to be a New Yorker, having your entire city route for you.
I had broken the final 10 miles into 2 Sectors, miles 16-21 up 1st Avenue into da Bronx and 21-26 down into Manhattan for the finish.
My crew (Abbe, Mad Dog, Stryker, Jeff, Ali, Phyllis, Jon, Billy, Shamin, and a few more) were waiting for me at 83rd Street. My heart rate monitor happened to be annoying me to I took it off and tossed it over to Abbe. I also saw my super, Charlie, who was cheering people on as well! He yelled to me in his 80 year old Italian accent, “Chris! Go get em!” Rowland was gone since there was no reason for him to say hi to my friends, so I was off running on my own again.
Mile 15 – 7:16
Mile 16 – 7:57 (Bridge alert)
Mile 17 – 7:17
Getting up 1st Avenue takes forever. I was trudging along, trying to keep my pace in check, but knowing that I had lost some steam. My quads were on fire, which is not normal. It’s always my calves that seem to hurt during a distance race.
It got me thinking… what DOESN’T hurt during a marathon? There are no excuses. Pain, fatigue, upset stomachs and mental anguish are all foreseen factors. The question is, will you stop or will you dig deep and push forward knowing you have trained properly and have the courage to face the task at hand?
Mile 18 – 6:50
Mile 19 – 7:20
Mile 20 – 7:34
The Bronx wasnt as bad as I remember it the last 2 times. You’re only there for like a mile anyway. Mile 21 was like an angel greeting me back onto my island, sending me home.
Pushing through Harlem the blinding Autumn sun is right in your face. I saw Stu, Claire, Heather and Anna cheering me on right around Mile 22. Oh, and Marcus Garvey Park showed up right in the middle of Fifth Avenue as usual. I hate going around this park, such a time killer. When I’m Mayor I’m moving it between Avenues, a more logical setting. I ate my second and last Gu at this point, wishing for some speed.
Mile 21 – 7:46
Mile 22 – 7:29
Mile 23 – 7:42
The absolute worst part of the course is Mile 22 ½ to Mile 24. Its a steady uphill during the end of a marathon, not cool. I saw Amy here yelling at me to, “Go Baker go!” I tried. I did manage to hold a steady pace and as I neared the entrance to the Park where the incline leveled out I looked at the time. I had 15 minutes to travel 2 miles in order to break 3 hours. It was like some twisted math problem, and I hate math.
I thought to myself, “Hmmm, should I make an attempt? It is my backyard after all, I know the rest of the course like the back of my hand. I only have to go DOWN Cat Hill!” Sure, lets try and break 3 with 2 miles to go. I threw in the clutch and punched it.
I saw Erica and Jess followed by Annie and Moses, sending me good cheering vibes. I was passing people and any pain I was feeling was masked by rushing adrenaline. Could I run this hard for the last 4 Miles? No, but 2 miles, yeah I got this.
Mile 24: 7:30
Mile 25 was breached and I had 7 minutes to go! I kicked it up again, lungs burning. As I turned onto 59th Street it looked like an infinite distance to Columbus Circle. I was timing the distance between the Avenues, trying to make the numbers work.
Up ahead I passed a gal who yelled, “Hey! Baker!” As I turned I saw Elizabeth from the Foot Locker Challenge! Unable to speak, I simply waved 3 fingers in the air and pointed forward, knowing that she, a seasoned runner understood. We could chat later.
Mile 25 – 7:01
Mile 26 – 6:29
Passing Mile 26 the clock said 2:59:19. I had 41 seconds to run 400 meters, seemingly impossible and still I pushed it. (We always underestimate that 0.2 of the 26.2, it’s pretty far!) I passed many people, but time seemed to speed up as my running slowed down. I cleared the Finish with 3:00:48 on the clock! I felt great (aside from my quads being literally on fire) and was very happy with my time.
I had given it all I got that day and that was good enough for me. It was a 2 minute course PR.
In the finish chute I met up with Rowland who achieved his 2:59 goal. We walked and chatted about our races before splitting off. I jumped in the 86th Street crosstown and headed back to my neighborhood. The rest of the afternoon was spent with friends celebrating the run. That night Abbe cooked me a celebration meal and I was in bed by 8! I was pretty exhausted this time around (compared to previous marathons) and I think it had to do with my lack of sleep the night before.
Thanks to anyone I might not have mentioned that was out there cheering me on. It’s so great seeing all my friends out there supporting one of the greatest marathons! Thanks to Coach Sonja too for helping me through all this and getting me more fit! Now it’s time for Ironman!