Thoughts on the 2017 TCS New York City Marathon


I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the first Sunday in November is the single greatest day of the year in New York City.  Period.

Marathon Week begins the prior Sunday, with the annual Poland Spring 5 miler held in Central Park.  This is followed up with a week’s worth of events for kids, spectators and runners alike.  Then the Expo opens up at the Javits Center the Thursday before the race…and there is no larger marathon expo in the world than the huge running party through on the west side of Manhattan over a four-day span.  50,000 runners swing by to pick up their bibs and swag.

The Friday before race day, the Parade of Nations is held along the west side drive near Tavern on the Green.  Over 100 nations are represented in the awesome 5 borough black party, and the festivities are capped off with a pretty impressive fireworks display at the finish line.  Once this parade is over, the New York Road Runners host their annual Night of Champions…and the guest list reads like a who’s who of runner.  From last year’s new York City Marathon winners, to Bill Rodgers, Shalane Flanagan, the one and only Meb, and a whole host of other running elites – they all show up to help raise money for the New York Road Runners kids running programs.  I was lucky enough to score a ticket to this shindig, and it did not disappoint.

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Saturday morning, the annual Dash to the Finish is held, where runners can start a 5k in front of the United Nations, held down 42nd Street to 6th Avenue, hang a right and head north to Central Park, where the race finishes across the marathon finish line.

Sunday morning begins rather early, as some of the runners’ transportation from Manhattan to the runners village in Staten Island begins at 5am.  So runners are up and out early, knowing that the first wave of the race goes off 4+ hours later.  (A quick note to anyone thinking about running this race: the city of New York is basically shutting down for this 26.2 mile block party.  So yes – you are asked to get up really early to start your trek to Staten Island. And yes – once you get to Staten Island there will be a rather vigorous security check before you are let in.  And yes-  once you are in, you’ll have to hunker down and wait a while before you get to run.  And yes – it’s windy and usually cold in the village as you wait.  So please – accept these things as part of the overall experience, because the juice is worth the squeeze.)

Race morning was a bit chilly and damp.  I was worried about the rain, as I never really had to run this race while having to deal with more than the two usual elements: wind and cold.  Those two are not a surprise – each year I show up to the starting line a bit more prepared for those challenges.  Rain, on the other hand, would make this race a bit more challenging for me.  I was running with Team for Kids, so the charity tent came in handy!

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I started with Wave 4, at around 10:55am.  The first mile is a 200 climb up the Varrazanno Bridge, and runners usually get to view the Manhattan skyline very clearly here.  This morning, however, the fog kept that view from us.  The first mile should be run easily and under complete control, as runners need to deal with the exposure to a pretty strong, cold cross-wind as they head to Brooklyn.  However, I watched as runners around me took off like jackrabbits.  As the saying goes: “Let the Kenyans go….we’ll meet again at mile 18….”.

Mile 2 rewards you for the climb with a nice downhill into Brooklyn.  (A quick note hear: run in the middle lanes of the bridge, if you start on its lower deck.  If you don’t know why, I’ve leave you a hint….it has something to do with full bladders and a lack of port-o-crappers on the span of the bridge, along with 35,000 runners directly above you…..I’ll wait for that to sink in a bit…….ok – you got it?  Good.  Moving on…)  By mile 3, runners are thrown on to 4th Avenue in Brooklyn.  Here is where the party starts.  Even with the mist / drizzle coming down, people came out to scream their lungs out.  Miles 3 through 13 are amazing.  These miles are some of my favorites on he course, because it is a perfect display of what makes this city so damn awesome:  every race, color and creed together, screaming as one for 50,000 strangers of all ability levels from over 100 countries.  At one point, I just had to stop for a moment to soak in the general splendor before waddling on.

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Greenpoint is the last neighborhood in Brooklyn before crossing the half way point and entering into Queens.  Queens has a few loud spots – but it’s mostly subdued from miles 13.1 to 14.5.  Then the noise picks up, as if the fans were trying to help you step on the gas to get over the 59th Street Bridge (otherwise known in my home as Mt. Sonofabitch).

The 59th Street Bridge rears its annoying head near mile 15.  This is a tough climb, and it takes a lot out of the runners.  I’ve seen the upward climb here turn into something resembling a zombie movie over the years.  if you are running this race, train with this hill in mind – don’t let it beat you.  If you aren’t prepared for it, it will kick you square in the teeth and set you up for a rough last 10 miles.

As you come down the span of the Bridge, you make the signature turn of the race: a 270 degree left hand turn that throws you onto First Avenue.  The party rolls on here – loudly – for the next couple of miles.  The noise bounces off the buildings and turns the course into a corridor of sound.  It’s one of those spans of the course where you are given a jolt of energy.  However, if you are running this race, do NOT let the fans motivate you to kick up your pace and release your inner Alberto Salazar. You still have work to do.  Stay under control and just enjoy the experience as you work your way north to The Bronx (the only borough of the city so darn awesome that it’s very name contains a “The” in front of it).

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Runners cross over into The Bronx via the Willis Avenue Bridge.  The Bronx has a few small twists and turns, but they bring the noise when you enter my hometown.  With the noise comes the attitude that makes this borough so special.  For instance: The DJ playing music right near the mile 20 marker will call you out if he sees you struggling a bit.  “…I see you, number 45867….in that red shirt… YOU GOT THIS!  NOW LETS CRANK THIS UUUUUUPPPP!!!!!!” He would say versions of this over..and over…again.  And trust me: I watched as that runner in that red shirt went from walking to jogging.  Grab some water at the water stop just past Mile 20, and you’ll be greeted with messages like “man, you’ve got this.  Kick this race’s ass.” Wall?  What Wall.  There may be a Wall on this course, but fans in The Bronx want you to knock that thing down.  I left The Bronx feeling better than when I arrived.

When runners leave The Bronx, they cross the mile 22 marker and enter into Harlem.  This section of the course is my absolute favorite.  They take the attitude that just embraced you in The Bronx, and they turn that up another 3 notches.  Runners have just four miles.  Harlem’s fans do not let you forget why you are here.  Time to go to work and get this job done.  The crowds, at points, push onto the course and basically will you around Marcus Garvey Park.  One highlight: the gospel choir.  THAT is an emotional part of the course, and it helps crank you up a bit.  Once the runners hit mile 22.5, a long steady climb begins up 5th Avenue to Engineer’s Gate: the entrance into Central Park.  Rain or shine, cold or windy, the enthusiastic fans come out in droves from here to the finish line.

Rolling hills bring you from the entrance into Central Park to the right hand turn that carries the runners onto Central park South.  Another brief incline at Mile 25.3 gets you to Columbus Circle.  Here, runners re-enter Central Park and head up the west side drive to the finish.  One last hill at mile 26.1 to conquer before you earn your medal.

The rain made this race a bit more difficult, because my gear (including my shoes and socks) were soaked about half way  through the effort.  I could feel the blisters starting by the time I entered The Bronx, which resulted in a slight change in my stride.  That may not sound like a big deal, but a change in the way you run due to discomfort midway through a marathon makes the rest of the race much more challenging, and the added distraction messes with your head a bit.

I elected to receive a runner’s poncho instead of checking a bag this year – and this allowed me to exit the park and head home much quicker.  I think I’ll elect not to check a bag every year from now on.

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This was my 12th New York City Marathon in a row.  I haven’t missed one since 2005 (knock on wood).  Each year, the course is the same.  The hills are in the exact same places.  The wind is still there to smack you in the face at the start.  The pain still shows up.  At mile 15 I always zone out as I climb Mt. Sonofabitch.  When it’s all over, I’m sore everywhere.  All of these things occur annually, and they aren’t so warm & fuzzy.  But you know what else hasn’t changed?  The fans.  New Yorkers spill out onto the streets, rain or shine, every year to the tune of 1-2 million just to yell for shlubs like me.  Brooklyn is still….Brooklyn (and that’s a compliment).  First Avenue is still loud.  The Bronx gets better every single year.  Harlem is still marathon holy ground to me.  Spilling into the park is still glorious.  The final 3/10 of a mile is still the greatest 3/10’s of a mile in the sport of running.  And there is always that moment of two after the medal is hung around your neck where you stop and look around at the people that you ran alongside – complete strangers hours ago, now all carrying that glow that comes from not giving up, embracing the suck, seeing a goal through…and standing in the park, quiet and victorious.

 

 

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The 2017 NYC 60k in Central Park


Every year, two weeks after the TCS New York City Marathon, the New York Road Runners hold their sole ultramarathon of the year: The New York City 60k.  This is a 37.2 mile endeavor that takes runners around….and around….and around….and around….Central Park.  For the uninitiated: Central Park consists of three specific “loops”.  The Lower Loop consists of a 1.7 mile road that goes in an oval from the southernmost part of the park to the 72nd street transverse.  The Middle Loop consists of a 4 mile oval from the 72nd street transverse to the 104th Street transverse.  The Upper Loop goes from the 104th Street Transverse around Harlem Hills.  One entire loop of park translates to about 6-6.1 miles.

On Saturday morning, at 8am, I’m going to try to complete this 60k.  I’ve tried three times, and I’ve failed three times.  Twice I’ve failed because I lacked the stamina – I was still too burnt out on running after the marathon.  Once – I lacked the heart.  I just quit on myself.  That’s been gnawing at me all year – the fact that this is the only race that I have ever DNF’d is irritating enough.  The fact that I DNF’d last year simply because I lacked the damn heart to push myself through discomfort is causing me to chomp at the bit for this race. In 2015, I pushed myself well past what I thought was my limit with regard to endurance or pain threshold.  I was hit by a car, and kept going.  I came face to face with a mountain lion, and I kept going.  I injured myself more than once, and I kept going.  Needless to say – this year I have some unfinished business.

I’m going to be representing two teams during this race.  The first is Do Away With SMA – my charity that I started in 2014 to honor my brothers and fight Spinal Muscular Atrophy, the number one genetic killer of kids under the age of two in the world.  The second is the New York Road Runners team for Kids – the charity that provides running programs for kids in an effort to fight childhood obesity.  Both are solid causes, and both can use any assistance you’d care to donate.  I’m asking you to consider a donation to either cause, for both of them are doing their best to help those that need it.  Any donation will help their missions.  Here’s the information, if you are interested in contributing:

Do Away With SMA:    Do Away With SMA

Team for Kids:    New York Road Runners Team for Kids

I’ll be posting live on Facebook on Saturday, just to give you all the jist of what this type of race is like during my 9 laps around Central Park.  Wish me luck…I’m going to need it!!!

 

The Experiment Continues…PART TWO: Power


The experiment continues.

Over the last couple of weeks, my plan has consisted of swimming, biking, running and strength training sessions.  I’ve logged the workouts in an app that I LOVE, called Training Peaks, recording within the application all of the data that comes along with 21st century technology (heart rate monitors, triathlon GPS watches, and my IPrecious).  I’ve completed a number of training sessions in all four disciplines, so that I have a fairly decent-sized sample in order to crunch some numbers that will actually mean something to my training and improvement.  This is the second post wherein I’d like to briefly talk about the data.  In this post, I’d like to elaborate on a number that stares me in the face every time I hop on my bike (I named him Maximus, after a horse from a Disney movie…and with that, let the lambasting commence within the comments…) or take a cycling class at my gym: Watts.

20130626-055155.jpg   (This is Maximus)

If you ride your bike a lot or go to spin classes, you can track the amount of power your legs are generating through the amount of watts shown on your GPS or the device attached to the stationary bike on which you take your spin classes.  Here’s what the device on the bikes used within my usual spin class look like:

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My spin classes normally go for 45 minutes, but I try to get there early in the hope that they will turn on these devices 10-15 minutes before class starts.  In the example above, you can see that the device was only turned on about 5-6 minutes before the class began, so the only hard data I have to go on for the morning’s effort is captured here.  Normally, I’ll start my morning with a run of 45-60 minutes before transitioning to a spin class, so my legs have already been forced to work for a bit before this 45 minute cycling session begins.  This means I am warmed up and awake – but the tank of energy has already been depleted.  During triathlons I will already be tired by the time I hit the bike – a 2.4 mile swim can do some damage – so hopping on the bike not feeling 100% is a good thing.

When I first looked at this screen, I could understand RPMs (revolutions per minute – how fast those pedals were going around in a one minute time span), MPH (miles per hour, just like a car), heart rate (beats per minute – got that one), calories burned (say hello to an extra Oreo – oh hell yeah), time and miles covered.  The one data point I didn’t really understand was Watts.  So I did some reading and I asked a couple of Ironman athletes in my gym about how to use this data point in my training.  What I learned was freakin’ awesome.

Up until a couple of weeks ago, I focused all of my time and attention on average speed and miles covered.  I used these two pieces of training data to measure my performance.  The faster I went, the bigger my smile at the end of the 45 minute training session.  The other athletes poked holes in my analysis almost immediately.  Here’s the breakdown on what they shared:

  • average RPMS – a nice statistic to track, because the higher your average, the quicker your leg turnover.  That’s nice to know – but it’s not a predictor of future race performance because you aren’t pedaling in wind, rain, on uphills, downhills, etc.
  • average MPH – another fun little statistic – but don’t use it as a predictor because a) you are only going 20-23 miles in an hour on the stationary bike, and b) no elements, heat, hills.
  • Calories burned – nice if you want an excuse to eat another Oreo.  (I do.  I like this number.  So there.)
  • Miles covered – nice little piece of information, but it doesn’t mean you will rack up mileage even close to what you see on the screen when you are riding in a crowd of other athletes on race day.

So there I was, left with only one data point left: watts.  When I asked about this number, I got a solid lesson over awful cups of burnt coffee that left me re-thinking how I attack my cycling workouts from then on.  The average watts figure at the top of the picture above measures the average amount of pure power being created during the training session.  This figure is a more pure measurement of cycling strength because it is immune to the other variables.  It simply states how much power your legs are giving off.  The More power generated, the faster you go.  Simple.

OK – so how the name of Zues’ rear-end do I measure my average watts, comparing the power that I currently generate to the amount of power I need to generate over a 112 mile bike course (leaving some juice in the tank for a marathon)?  Well their obvious first answer was “just try to meet or exceed your average every time.” OK, well that’s easy enough to track.  But how does watts translate into speed in a race?  That’s where the conversation got a little gray.  However, they recommended looking at pro triathletes statistics on-line, since they usually share these data points post-race.  I followed their advice, using my Unicorn as the race of measurement (Ironman World Championships in Kona).

Ben Hoffman is an elite Ironman triathlete.  He came in fourth this year at the Ironman World Championships, as was the top American male finisher.  While I couldn’t find his 2016 stats, I was able to google his 2014 cycling statistics for this race, and the numbers blew me away.  Ben covered the 112 mile Kona bike course in 4 hours and 33 minutes.   He maintained an average speed of 24.4 miles per hour, with a cadence (RPMs) of 89.  He averaged 2:27 per mile.  The average watts he generated for this portion of the race was 274.

Whoh.

While I am not nearly looking to keep up with these beasts, at least it gives me an idea of how watts translates into speed.  Hoffman averaged 24.4 miles per hour and the average watts were 274.  While listening to the live coverage of this year’s Ironman World Championship, the announcers estimated that the leader on the bike (and eventual winner – Jan “Frodo” Frodeno – was probably putting out close to 290-300 watts on average.  He covered the bike course in 4:29.

Using the elite athletes’ numbers as a point of reference, I designed a couple of goals for myself going forward:

  • During these 45-50 minute spin classes, my primary goal is to generate an average watts figure that beats my prior workout.  In the picture above, I averaged 254 – so I know cranking out a 250 average watt session is possible.  My next goal will be 255…then 256…etc.
  • I’ll need to attach a power meter on Maximus, and then collect a sample of data to measure my watts for longer rides.  Obviously, the average will be lower than in my spin sessions.  However, I am hoping to begin at around 220 and then get stronger from there.
  • By the time next July rolls around, I am hoping to have an average of 230-240 watts for a 100 mile training ride under my belt.  That should get me back to the transition area in plenty of time to begin my 26.2 mile waddle to the finish line before the clock hits midnight.

The data matters.

 

The 2016 NYC Half Marathon: A Review


I haven’t been posting very much lately because of my insane schedule.  What’s that old quote…”Life is what what happens when you are busy making other plans”.  Well my plans included a brief break from the stress of daily life…until reality basically told me cancel my plans and get the hell back to work.  So much for the mental break I so desperately needed.

 

I was lucky enough to have the time to run the 2016 New York City Half Marathon last Sunday, March 20th.  I wanted to provide my readers with a brief review, just in case anyone was considering running in next year and beyond.  So without further gilding the lily, off we go…..

 

The Expo: Held in the flatiron section of Manhattan, it was easy to get to by mass transit, and it was open and well-staffed during the week.  Picking up your bib and your race shirt is a quick and easy process – I was in and out of the expo within minutes.

 

Pre-Race: OK, let’s be honest here – security was tight for this race, as it had been in prior years.  Each runner has to go through a metal detector – and there are not many of them – in order to gain access to Central Park and the runners’corrals.  There were plenty of bottlenecks and the wait time was a bit annoying; however, in light of what occurred in Belgium just yesterday, let’s just appreciate the added level of safety that these precautions provide – waiting in line is a small price to pay.  If you don’t like lines, then show up early with a blanket and a book.  The race was organized into three waves, set of go off with spaces of 15 minutes in between each.  Accessing the corrals was easy, and there were plenty of port-o-crappers available to runners right after they passed through the security check.  Runners were able to check a clear plastic bag with your bib number affixed to it before you walked through the TSA-like checkpoint.  They also had a number of large blue bins inside and outside the corrals for depositing any layers of old clothing you may have worn to keep warm before the start.

 

The Course: This course has changed a few times over the years.  The 2016 version of the race began along the east side drive of Central Park, right near the 72nd Street Transverse.  Within the first quarter mile of the race, the runners climb Cat Hill, and then head north along the outer loop.  Just after you pass the hockey rink at the northeaster-most section of the park, you turn west along the outer loop, and then exit the park briefly on Central Park North.  A quick out and back brings you back into the park at the 3 mile marker.  From there, you climb Harlem Hill and make your way south along the west side drive.  You exit the park just past the 6 mile marker, and spill out on to 7th Avenue.  The first six miles of this race are fairly quiet as far as fans are concerned.  If you are running it, focus on getting past the hills.  When you exit the park, the hardest work is already behind you.

As you spill out onto 7th Avenue and head toward Times Square, there are numerous races held for kids along the left hand side of the course.  So runners can also cheer the young runners on as they begin the trek downtown.

Once you hit 42nd Street, you hang a right and head west, to the West Side Highway.  After waving hello to the USS Intrepid, you are at the 8 mile marker.  At this point, the course becomes flat and fast as you make your way toward the southernmost point of Manhattan.  You pass Ground Zero and the Staten Island Ferry terminal, and then turn back north toward South Street Seaport.  A couple of quick left turns brings you to the finish line.

Crowd support is solid along the course from miles 6 through 8.  The course is very quiet until you close in on the finish.

 

There were 20,149 finishers in this year’s installment, with the winning men’s time of 1:01:35 by Stephen Sambu of Kenya.  Think about that for a second: The winner averaged approximately 4:45 pace for 13.1 miles.  I have one word for that: BEAST.

The story of the day was the women’s race – which was won my Mollie Huddle by…are you ready for this….eight one-hundredeths of a second…over the second place finisher, Joyce Cheplrul of Kenya.  The winning time?  1:07:41.  That’s somewhere between a 5:10 – 5:15 pace for the race.

 

It was cold – approximately 37 degrees at the start, with some decent wind along the course.  The wind definitely chilled things off along the west side highway during the latter half of the race.  So I recommend running in layers – this race falls at a time of year where the conditions are hard to predict.

 

All in all, it was a solid, fun race.  Well run.  I would recommend it to anyone!!!