Friday, November 6, 2009

The Barefoot Experiment: Week 4 - New York Marathon Report

No running in the VFFs this week as I slowly work my way back into a running schedule after the marathon.  In lieu of writing about the shoes, I’ll give you my race report from Sunday’s New York Marathon experience.

My girlfriend and I got up to NY on Friday and were staying with my aunt and uncle in Brooklyn.  Friday and Saturday we played tourist, visiting friends in the City, while trying to limit our walking. This is much easier said than done – NY is a big city, so if you don’t want to take cabs all the time, inevitably you will walk A LOT. 

For those of you who don’t know, and didn’t watch the Marathon (shame on you, what better things do you have to do the day after Halloween?), the NY Marathon starts in waves so that not all 42,000 entrants are trying to start running at the same time.

I was in the first wave on Sunday, with my start time at 9:40, much later than I expected.  Getting everyone to the start at the Verrazano Narrows Bridge is a major issue.  You get placed on different mass transit depending on where you’re coming from, so I had to catch the Staten Island Ferry at 6 a.m. in Lower Manhattan. 

After managing to set my alarm for 5 p.m. and not 5 a.m., my aunt solidified her place as a great marathon host by waking me up (Thankyouthankyouthankyou!), but I was still about a half-hour late. I managed to make it to the ferry by 6:30, along with thousands of my fellow runners.  The ferry was a massive cattle call so missing my scheduled ferry wasn’t an issue, I just got on the next one and arrived at race start at about 7.

For the next two hours I tried to stay warm (it was chilly) and stretch.  Fortunately I did pack a book (Darkness at Noon - because nothing gets you pumped to run 26.2 miles like an allegory about Stalin’s Moscow Show Trials), and my iPod to help pass the time.  I got in my corral at about 9:30 to await the start of the race.  Instead of the schedueled 9:40 start, the cannon didn’t sound until 9:50. And I didn’t actually cross the start line until 10 because there were so many people!

The first two miles take you over the bridge into Brooklyn.  It was fairly congested over the whole bridge.  I made one passing attempt on the left shoulder – until I looked to my side and saw the drop down to the water. I decided to just deal with the crowds in the road.  After the bridge the next 11 miles go through Brooklyn. The route was packed with crowds the whole way.  It was very impressive.  I’ve done the Marines Corps Marathon before, and on that route you definitely have stretches with little or few crowds. But New York was pretty packed the whole way.  They have about 130 bands/dj’s playing along the way, and in Brooklyn, it seemed like there was a different band every other block.  It was just a great atmosphere!

The Brooklyn-into-Queens stretch (miles 11-15) gives you a great cross section of New York’s neighborhoods and diversity.  By my estimation we ran through Puerto Rican, Dominican, Italian, Korean, Orthodox Jew (who were the only group that didn’t clap, why no love from the Hasidim?), Chinese, and hipster douche bag (wow - is Williamsburg ground zero for that?) neighborhoods.  My legs felt ok and I was running at a decent clip up until the Queensboro Bridge at mile 15.  I had given up the 3:30 dream before the race because of some issues recently. But other than a cough, I wasn’t showing many effects from being sick the past two weeks.

While crossing the bridge into Manhattan, my quads started cramping, and I began to see the dreaded “wall” looming ahead. For the rest of the race, I had to do periodic stretches and my pace slowed as the cramping persisted.

Making the turn off the bridge into Manhattan, I was faced with a wall of screaming spectators - pretty inspiring.  On the whole course spectators are shoulder-to-shoulder, but in Manhattan they are shoulder-to-shoulder and go several rows deep! After a brief sojourn in the Bronx, we quickly turned back into Manhattan for the home stretch. 

My favorite two moments of the race occurred when we crossed back into Manhattan in Harlem:

  1. There was a dj who had a wall of sound set up. Everybody within a few blocks could hear him and he was pumping the Prince when I went by. 
  2. Two cops right out of central casting for NYC policemen were using a unique motivational ploy to any runner with their name on their shirt, “Come on Paul, I know you can run faster than that,” “Mary, is that really all you have?”

Anyway, I didn’t have much of a kick, but I finished in just under 4:00, about 16 minutes off my marathon PR (personal record).  Perhaps next spring I’ll take another shot at 3:30…

My overall thoughts on NY? I highly recommend the race.  Start to finish it’s just a wonderful experience.  My only complaints about the race are how early you have to get to the start, and the logistics at the finish.  After finishing you walk for another mile or so in Central Park to retrieve your gear.  After running a marathon, walking that mile, when you’re really sore and cold, just seems cruel.

As with every race I’ve done, I quickly forget the bad parts and only remember the good things (it’s like every old girlfriend, only the exact opposite), and I’ll definitely try and run it again. 

Back next week with multiple runs in the VFFs.  Oh I should mention I didn’t see anyone running the marathon in them.