TCS New York City Marathon – an Abbott World Marathon Major
The New York Marathon was the final Abbott World Major Marathon in the series of six that I ran. Both Craig and I had applied for an entry through the ballot but were unsuccessful. We contacted Travelling Fit, the Australian-based tour operator we had used for Berlin and Boston, and gained two of their places in the marathon, as well as booking for Verity to come along as a spectator. She had well and truly earned her spot on this trip, having run the Wellington Marathon in June 2019 as the qualifier for our family excursion!
I was unsure of what to expect from New York. It’s a mega city and the sheer volume of people and things to see was quite daunting when I was researching the ins and outs of travelling there. The tour operator had arranged for three nights in an hotel not far from the finish line, right near Central Park, and I booked three additional nights in another hotel closer to Times Square for the days following.
Training for New York commenced the week Verity and I ran Wellington, meaning Craig ran the Wellington Half Marathon as his first long run of the program; and of course I ran the Marathon. After that effort things eased back to our usual 18 week training plan, with four runs each week. We trained right through winter, with long runs Fridays before work (for me). I was also well into training in my single scull for the regatta season and tried to take a balanced approach to both with no stronger focus on one or the other through the winter.
Craig had a week or so away motorcycling and also had a week or so off with an injury and thus missed the 29km run; and then I missed the 32km run because I was in Sydney competing as coxswain in the Iron Cove Classic with the Abbottsford Women’s 8+. Psychologically I guess it’s not great to miss the longest run, but at the same time I’d run 27 prior marathons and knew I could get to 42.2km anyway. For Craig it was a good opportunity to run the 32km on his own at his own race pace and feel confident that he could get it done.
After Boston I felt really bad, as I’d not performed overly well there and this impacted Craig’s experience. Boston had been difficult both physically and psychologically for me, and I recall at the time saying to Craig that he should run New York by himself. Nothing much more had been said following that comment until about two weeks out from the marathon when Craig indicated that he thought he would run alone this time. I considered the idea and decided it was good – I could run at my own pace and my cadence would be my own cadence and not Craig’s – when running with someone else you sometimes fall into their cadence which for me is too slow (his legs are much longer than mine) and leads to foot pain. Any concerns I had about who would be with Craig if he became injured were alleviated as there were going to be 55000 people there who could look after him.
So the last two weeks of running – really just the taper – I ran by myself at a somewhat faster pace than that at which we had trained. Psychologically it was good to go out a little harder and faster for those final training runs. I think Craig also enjoyed the last two weeks as it gave him more of an opportunity to experiment with race pace.
Our wonderful friends Anne and Steve whom we had met for the first time in Punta Arenas, and again in Chicago last year when both Anne and I ran the Chicago Marathon, were coming to New York for the marathon. They were going to volunteer on a water station but this plan fell through, and they instead planned to be in the Blue Line Lounge at the finish of the marathon. They kindly agreed to have Verity keep them company at the finish and so I arranged an adolescent-sitter to take Verity in the morning from the hotel to MoMA and then onto the Blue Line Lounge in the afternoon to meet them.
We flew Sydney to San Francisco; overnight there; and then onto New York the next day, arriving around dinner time. We found a great Thai restaurant next to the hotel for dinner. Next morning Verity and I went for a 5km run in Central Park.
Central Park was filled with runners and I could see the blue line on the roadway in the park that we would be following the next day – it was getting very real now!
The Expo was in the Jacob K Javits Centre in the Hells Kitchen, Manhattan area. Although I had originally thought to get there around 9am when it opened to avoid the crowds, in reality we didn’t arrive until around 11am. After the queues and searches at the Boston Expo I had thought with even more people we would be stuck in line for hours, but on arrival it was really pleasant to just walk straight in – up to the bib collection point – and then off into the Expo. So simple and fast!
The Expo was not huge like Boston but still had all the stalls one would expect.
We spent around 2.5 hours there, looking at different stalls and listening to a talk about the course.
Craig bought a pair of Altra shoes and I found the Abbott stall and had a quick chat to the staff about the process for collecting the Six Star Finisher medal I’d get the next day when I finished the marathon.
In Boston the Travelling Fit people had arranged a pasta dinner for runners the night before the marathon, but in New York, I guess because they had a group of 400 runners, it was find your own pasta meal. Not having realised this until the day, I was concerned initially that we would not find an Italian restaurant with availability, or certainly not anything decent. The Open Table app proved invaluable, showing different restaurants with free tables and I booked Valbella, in the Midtown area. This was an easy walk from our hotel, complicated only because the American President had made a decision to come to town for the fight night, and the tower in which he was staying was cordoned off and heavily patrolled by NYPD and others, which resulted in more traffic and pedestrian congestion. Valbella was a wonderful restaurant and we had an excellent meal there. I chose the squid’s ink pasta with octopus and it was delicious.
Sunday morning, marathon day, we woke super early, and even more early because daylight savings ended, giving us another hour. The little café downstairs in the hotel opened at 4:30am and we got there just as it opened (I had imagined 400 runners just from our group, let alone the three other groups, all trying to use the elevators at once). The offering for the morning was a coffee; bagel with cream cheese or peanut butter; and a banana. We got those and went back upstairs knowing we had to be back in the lobby by 5:45am.
Kissing Verity goodbye we made our way back to the lobby and posed for the group photo. I was sure the tour operator at this point said the spectators and kangaroo mascot would be at mile 20, but more on that later. Coaches were outside and it was quite seamless getting onto the coach and finding a seat. Unlike the bus to Boston, filled with excited youthful American men, these coaches contained more restrained Australians who chatted quietly among themselves.
The trip to the start was uneventful and took around 50 minutes. We saw the sun rise over New York and watched crazy drivers thrashing their vehicles over footpaths and taking exits that did not exist as the traffic became more congested near the start line. The bus dropped us about 1km from the start with an instruction to “go left”. No-one really had any idea of where we were or where to go, but Craig spied some other runners walking down an on-ramp and we followed them through long grass and weeds, just as the Police were closing that part of the road to vehicular traffic. It was probably the only poorly organized aspect of the whole day and I am sure this was more about the coach driver than the event organisers.
We approached security at the edge of the athlete village. This was airport style security with metal detectors. We got through easily as it was still quite early, and then walked further to the village. On the way we saw other coaches arriving and their occupants alighting to join queues to be searched by teams of perhaps eight Police Officers at around 10 entry points. The walk continued as we entered the village – we were Green start – and our part of the village was furthest away from the entry point.
The weather was fairly chilly – I think it was about three degrees Celsius with a slight breeze. The villages were identical, equipped with water, tea, coffee, bagels, biscuits and fruit. Dunkin Donuts, a sponsor of the event, was there with donuts and free beanies for runners, and Craig gladly took one of those. We walked around the village and found a spot in the sun against a temporary fence, and sat down on the plastic bags we had with us. It was 7:30am – just over three hours to wait before our start!
In truth the time went by quite quickly. People-watching, ever a favourite, proved entertaining with plenty to see. The event bag contained a disposable raincoat and we put those on over our running gear and our throw-away Kmart cloths, keeping the breeze out. I was actually wearing my running gear and track pants and jacket, with a last minute addition of the Qantas pyjama shirt obtained on our flight to San Francisco. It was cold enough to need all of that.
But back to the people-watching – clearly others had done this marathon waiting game before, and perhaps the most elaborate set-up we saw was a woman who brought what looked like an inflatable boat – something you’d see in a backyard swimming pool. It was more fancy than that though as she inflated it by pulling a string. She then got into said boat with the pillow and blanket she had tucked into her bag, and took numerous selfies.
Nearby was a group of three men whom you would think were professional runners. They too had blankets they put on the ground, and then from their bags emerged more apparel and more powders, gels and snacks than you would see in a running store. One guy in particular mixed several powders into one bottle. In the bags these guys also had their marathon shoes so when the time was right they took off their “disposable” runners and put on what we then recognised were none other than the new Nike runners worn by Eliud Kipchoge only weeks ago when he broke the two hour marathon time. Who would have thought – weekend warriors in world record shoes!
Toilets were plentiful and queues came and went as the start groups went out. While we were in the Green start, there were four groups within start waves, and within those waves, numerous corrals. The three guys must have been in group one as they disappeared with all of their gear maybe an hour before we were due to make a move. I had time for a little walk around the village, taking in the sights and even coming across the assistance dogs brought by owners to give comfort to anxious runners. The Americans think of everything!
It was when the three guys set off that I re-checked our start wave and discovered that we were actually in wave three and not in wave four as I’d thought! This meant we were due to start running at 10:35am rather than 11am and of course this made a difference to our preparation plans – lucky though we had a substantial amount of time to make this adjustment. We gathered up our rubbish and I thought about peeling off some of my clothes, but changed my mind when I made half an effort – it was too cold!
We started the walk to the corrals – Craig was in Corral D and I was in Corral F – no idea why as we both had the same expected finish time, however as we were running separately it made sense to say goodbye at the corral – and then he was gone! By now I had the track pants off and I sidled up to other runners to stay warm – no-one notices me as I’m smaller than most – it’s a strategy I’ve used for years.
Unlike the rolling start in Boston, this start was a proper start. The national anthem was played. There was a cannon fired for each start (they gave warnings all the time in the village (“do not be alarmed by the sound of the cannon”), and ticker-tape was sprayed over the top of the runners. It was awesome. I’d seen some people jumping a barricade to join the Blue or Orange start group and wasn’t sure why, finding out later that the other groups ran over the top level of the Verrazzano Bridge, while our start group ran the lower level. People said they wanted to know if the view was any better up there and apparently it isn’t! As we ran over the start Frank Sinatra was playing “New York, New York”.
The Verrazzano Bridge is a long, fairly steep incline, multi-laned roadway. It was packed – so packed that it was almost impossible to get through. I dodged in and out, not exerting myself too much, but pushing enough to run up the slope to the top of the rise. People were walking; taking photos; taking selfies – I was pretty cold, with frozen fingers and my feet were a little numb, and I wanted to run enough to warm up properly. I came to the top and started the descent, still cold, but pleased that section was done – I think it said one mile at the top, so I think the bridge was about 3km. Partway down the bridge I saw a 6 min 30 per kilometre pacing group with a familiar head sticking out above the crowd – it was Craig! This was the moment when I had to either slow down and run with him with the plan to separate again as the need arose; or keep on running. I decided to keep on running, and with a yell of “Craig” we waved to one another and I was gone.
At the bottom of that bridge was sunlight and at that point I finally warmed up. I was feeling pretty good. There were thousands of people all around me and while I recalled the talk at the Expo saying “if you’re running past more people than are overtaking you, slow down”, my assessment was I was doing fine and that I just needed to stay relaxed. I was running about 5 min 40 per kilometre and it felt pretty easy.
Green group merged with Blue group around 5km. By this time I’d run through a couple of drink stations and decided at the next one, for the first time in many years, to grab a water and not to stop running. I finally mastered the grab, squeeze the cup, and take sips from the spout formed in the squeeze! We merged with Blue and it was more congested for a while, but then people seemed to find more space in which to run which made things a little easier. We ran then in parallel with the Orange group before the groups merged again around 13km.
I’d decided to try to stick with the blue line painted on the road. In most other marathons I run further than 42.2km and I was quite motivated not to run any further than needed, so I knew the blue line would not only take me to the finish line quickest, but also back to Verity the quickest. There was something about her being in the Blue Line Lounge too that made it more meaningful. There were clearly other runners with the same idea, as one would expect, but still plenty of space for us all.
Often in a marathon my psychological state fluctuates from very positive to very negative, and back again. I was pretty determined this day and kept imagining not only Verity and our friends at the finish, waiting for us, but also the medal I knew I’d get from Abbott when I finished. This medal is coveted by many and has only been achieved by 3440, including 112 Australian runners, and I was super excited to be getting it that day. I also thought a lot about rowing to keep my mind in a more neutral state, and especially about the words my rowing friend Osamu tells me – “strong position” which equally applies to rowing and marathon running.
The course runs off Staten Island, through Brooklyn, before going onto Queens, The Bronx, and Manhattan. Brooklyn went on forever! It was very scenic and had wonderful crowd support, with the course undulating over those kilometres. There were bands, drums, rock bands, and DJs, both official and unofficial all along the course. Aid stations were every mile or two, and I settled into a pattern of a gel each 7km with a drink of water in between.
There was an epic bridge from Brooklyn into Queens. I thought that bridge would never end – I think it was the bridge to Long Island – but honestly it just went on and on. People were walking but I was determined to keep running. Coming off that bridge and then around into Queens is something I’ll never forget. I could hear the crowd before I could see the crowd, and as I ran down the off ramp and onto the main street the roar of the crowd made it very exciting. I am sure the people were several deep for the length of that section of the course. The encouragement was phenomenal and made this section of the race so uplifting.
Back to that kangaroo. I was sure Traveling Fit staff had said to be on the right side of the course around mile 20. I veered from the blue line to the right – no kangaroo! I don’t know if the kangaroo packed up and went home, or if I missed it. It was a little disappointing but at the same time I’d spoken briefly with at least six or seven other runners from our tour group on the course. It’s always nice to speak to other Australians when racing as you’re sure they speak English and the accent is easy to understand.
I was also wearing the Abbott “Cheer me on, I’m going for my Sixth Star today” sign on the back of my running singlet. Again perhaps ten people congratulated me on running the six marathons and frequently gave a little story about their own efforts. It was lovely.
I was starting to think about Verity making it safely from the adolescent-sitter to the Blue Line Lounge and it was around here I took the time to walk through an aid station at 36km, phoning Verity to check where she was. She said she was just about to go into the lounge and I knew then I had only a few kilometres to go before I’d see her.
The crowd support did not waiver as we continued to run through Manhattan. I realised suddenly that Central Park was on my right and that I was coming to the home stretch. I was so excited. I had a burst of speed along that part of 5th Avenue, but slowed again on entering Central Park as I still had 3.5km to go. I would have liked to have picked up here and run faster, but I just couldn’t manage it. I was still overtaking people and running around 6 min 20 per kilometre, but I wanted to run it faster! We swung out of the park and onto the road, before re-entering the park for the finish line.
By now I was getting impatient – where on earth was that finish? A sign had said 800 metres (I picked up the speed to 5 min 56) and here I was still running!
Along a bit, down a little hill and around a bend, and there were grandstands. I knew Verity, Anne and Steve were in the western stand so I ran to the left of the course thinking this would be the stand closest to the lounge. There they were! Giant waves and smiles!
I was at the finish mats. I was momentarily confused as the finish arch was along a bit further, but the mats were the place to be. DONE! 4 hours 27 min – fastest marathon I’ve run in a couple of years and in fact only 53 seconds slower than Berlin from 2017.
The finish area was very congested, as one would think. Again everyone seemed taller than me but I had known I had to look for the Abbott tent just after medal collection. I was handed the event medal – in Boston they put it over your head, but no matter – and then came upon a guy with an Abbott sign.
As I walked to the Abbott tent a fellow said “Anne?” and put their medal over my head. Yay!!
I posed for a few photos, and one of the many staff gave me an Abbott pin which was nice.
This guy asked me why I wasn’t crying – he said he would cry if he had finished all six marathons!
I walked on, eager to get to Verity whom I had arranged to meet with Anne and Steve in the family reunion area. I knew they would still be waiting in the stands for Craig but I was unable to check on his whereabouts as the cell network was on overload and Find My Friends was not working.
There was a really long walk out of the park. They said it was a mile at the Expo but by the time I made it to Verity it was well over two miles. We had selected “poncho” rather than bag check as the finish option and I followed the poncho signs for what seemed like forever. There was a foil blanket to wear in the interim. The poncho option was supposed to be the short way out…..
Fortunately the finisher bag had a protein beverage in it that I drank along the way. When we came to the poncho collection area there was a near riot when one volunteer refused to hand over the ponchos, making the crowd continue to walk to the other end of the zone.
I walked another few hundred metres and found Verity, Steve and Anne. They told me that Craig had finished around 10 minutes behind me. We agreed to meet up for dinner that evening, and then Verity and I sat in the gutter waiting for Craig. I was concerned that he would find the going very tough getting to us as his finish time at 4 hours 37 was an unbelievable 30 minute PB for him and I imagined he was completely spent. Nonetheless he appeared in good time but was clearly done.
The walk back to the hotel was again very congested as the route we would have taken was actually part of the course and was closed. We walked on for around 15-20 minutes before getting back to the hotel, where there was a 15 minute wait for the elevator. This was probably the only down side of staying in this hotel, as three elevators for all of those people really couldn’t meet demand.
That night we had a wonderful dinner in the Chrysler Building with Anne and Steve, and the next morning I walked back to the finish area for the Abbott photo. We wore our medals around that day (as did everyone else) while visiting the sights and had plenty of people congratulating us. One man checked it was me who had run the six marathons – clearly I didn’t look the part in his eyes, but I can’t imagine why he may have thought I’d be wearing a medal belonging to someone else – I’m not four years old.
So what made this marathon special? I’m sure it was determination on my part that made a huge difference this time. I was determined to get to the finish, see Verity, and obtain that medal. I made the decision early in the run not to walk any of it until at least 28km, and by the time I got to there I’d decided not to walk at all if I could help it. Around 20km I developed pain in one of my glutes that pinged every time I pulled my leg forward, and I did stretch the muscle twice, leaning against a power pole. As I said earlier I walked one aid station to phone Verity, with the call lasting 12 seconds. What else? Well I wanted to finish the Abbott series well – not running badly like I did in Boston. I wanted it to be positive and by focusing on positives and neutrals I was largely able to keep negatives out of my head. It doesn’t mean I didn’t have some negatives – of course I did, but I tried hard to wipe them out as quickly as I could.
And of course the other significant factors were the crowd and atmosphere. I am sure this was the best crowd I’ve experienced for racing these World Marathon Majors. Tokyo had an amazing crowd but I couldn’t understand what they were saying; Berlin had quiet pockets; Chicago the day was wet and the crowd was more packed to one end of the course; Boston I just had a bad day so the crowd could have been great but I missed it, although I do think there were some quiet spots; and then there was New York – best crowd ever.
I highly recommend the New York Marathon. The city is amazing with plenty to see and do. Hotels and restaurants are plentiful making the city ideal for spending some time either side of the event. I had the best time.
TCS New York Marathon was #28.