Wednesday, November 6, 2013

My First Marathon Take II: NYCM 2013

Short Version

Twenty years after my mother ran her first marathon, the baton has been passed down to one of her children. This is her story. [Cue Law & Order Music]

Goal Time: 3:59:59 @ 9:10 mm
Actual Time: 4:02:09 @ 9:15 mm
AG Rating: 55.92%
Official Placement: TBD 
Bonus: I made the NY Times!!!!!

Long Version

After the major setbacks I had over the past year, including a cancellation and an injury, a part of me thought that I would never be able to write this race report. Yet, just under three years after I started running, I sit on my couch, icing my legs, and struggling to figure out how to express the plethora of emotions I feel into words. While I had an amazing time at the expo, this report is already going to take you longer to read than it did for me to run the race. So for now, I will cut to the chase and start with the race day experience. 

Thanks to daylight savings time, I slept for seven hours before waking up at five am. After spending approximately an hour getting ready, I was all ready to head to Staten Island in style. 

This report would have been far
more fun to write if I got bib # 24-601
After buying a bagel, I was amazed at the number of runners waiting on the subway. As the 4 train continued down towards Bowling Green, more and more runners boarded, all of us united with one purpose. I was assigned to the 7am ferry, but got to the terminal early enough that I was able to board the 6:45am without any issues. However, security was beefed up significantly, as shown in the picture that a fellow runner generously shared with me. 

After arriving on Staten Island, I found the buses fairly easily. As I headed over, I heard my name, and I turned around to see my friend Rebecca, who was volunteering. After a quick hello, I boarded a bus, and rode the three miles to the heart of race central at Fort Wadsworth, which thankfully had re-opened around the same time as the U.S. Government. 

After braving the first line of porta-potties, I went to the Grete Weitz village - for orange bib numbers - got some coffee, water, and another half a bagel, and walked around a bit before settling down. Since I wasn't a pacer, or running for a charity, I sat outside, leaning against a fence, dressed in my throw-away clothes, reflecting on the challenge ahead of me. Well, either that, or I was just trying to stay warm. One of the two. 

Not terrible for a 5am wake-up call
There was a giant screen, along with announcements in several languages, in the middle of the village. As wave 1 was called to the corrals, I used the bathroom a couple of more times, and spoke with Steve, the race director of NYCRuns. It was nice seeing a familiar face. 

Before I knew it, it was time for wave 2 to head to the corrals. At the advise of a veteran runner, I kept my sweater and discarded my pants, which turned out to be a wise decision. I was initially confused as to where my corral was, but I found it, and all of us had to wait around for a while. I was able to hear and see wave 1 start thanks to a large screen TV close by. But waiting there was still pretty tedious overall. 

As we walked towards the bridge, I finally took my sweater off, and started to think about the race ahead. At that moment, I made a decision which would be extremely brave or foolish. I would not be looking at my Garmin during this race. Instead, I wanted to do this by feel, enjoy my tour of the five boroughs, and not worry about my time, and I knew that covering my Garmin with an arm warmer after starting would ensure that for as long as possible. 

After a beautifully sung national anthem - which strangely ended on the second instead of on the tonic - I was startled by the boom of the canon, followed by Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York". After approximately a minute, I finally started my watch and began my journey. As I started, I couldn't believe that it was happening, yet here I was, running with thousands upon thousands of my fellow runners. 

Where's Waldo Dahlia?
Since I was in the orange start, I was able to start on the top of the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge. Last year, I was supposed to start on the bottom part, but this time, I lucked out. I spent most of the first couple of miles taking in the view of the bridge, which was splendid. The images of people peeing on the side towards the foot of the bridge? Not so much. Then again, I was kind of jealous - I already had to use the bathroom but I didn't want to stop unless I absolutely had to. 

Entering Bay Ridge, I was pleasantly surprised to hear my name. How did these people know my name? I laughed at myself as I remembered that I was wearing a giant name-tag precisely for this purpose. When every other marathoner I knew stated the importance of putting my name on my shirt, I never doubted them, but experiencing it first hand really opened my eyes to how valuable that extra boost really was. 

The first 10K of the race went by very quickly, mostly because I was enjoying my tour of Brooklyn. I wasn't expecting any familiar faces in the crowd, so I soaked everything all in and focused on my strategy of stopping every two miles for water. After the 10K point, I took my first 3 shot bloks and continued on my merry way. 

Although I knew a few groups of people who were cheering me on in Brooklyn, I didn't manage to spot them. I would like to thank Leiba, Robin, the Prospect Park Track Club, Brooke & Dan. I did hear someone shout for me at mile 8 when the courses merged, and I looked back, but I didn't see anyone I knew. I found out later that I heard Brooke, Dan and the surrounding people shout for me. During this time, fellow runner David Halloran of NYCRuns said hi to me, but I was startled because he had a Mohawk and sunglasses, which wasn't his usual style. 

I don't remember exactly when this happened, but I felt a light drizzle. I was worried that it would become full out rain, but it didn't, and it actually felt kind of nice. The rest of the first half passed relatively quickly. I was a little annoyed when I arrived at the aid station just before the Pulaski bridge and saw that it wasn't that well organized - there were no cups of water ready to give out. Thankfully, one was poured quickly enough.  Although I remembered the bridge feeling really steep in training, I barely noticed it during the race. 

I had considered jumping into the porta-potties after crossing since there was no line, but I then finally checked my watch for the first time and noticed that my time at the half-way point was 1:58:xx (1:58:14 officially). While I knew that I would probably slow down in the second half, I didn't want a porta-potty stop to be the reason I missed getting a sub four hour marathon. 

Less than a mile later, I ran past my aunt Anne. At this point, I had been carrying my arm warmers for at least five miles, and was relieved to finally be able to pass them off to someone. She looked confused for a second as I said "hi! take these!" and threw what looked like socks at her, but she recovered quickly, smiled, and picked them up. To her credit, my mother did a fantastic job making the signs as they were extremely easy to spot on the course. 
Anne posing with sign she used
The rest of Queens passed by relatively quickly, and as we ran into Long Island City, I started to mentally prepare myself for the Queensboro bridge, knowing that it would be a very long stretch without spectators. I was also used to running on the pedestrian walk, which had nice views, but this time, I ran where the cars usually went, and to me, it felt more like a dark tunnel than a bridge. Fellow runners started chanting to pass the time, and I appreciated their efforts to keep us all entertained. At that point, I noticed a runner dribbling two basketballs the entire time. I can't even imagine how anyone would have the coordination to do that for 26.2 miles. This was the second person I had seen with some sort of gimmick or costume - I ran by a person dressed as a banana earlier on the course. 

I heard the crowds on first avenue long before I could actually see them. While I knew this was coming, the wall of sound was still overwhelming. As I got off the bridge, I reminded myself that I was now at the last ten miles of the course. It was now time to remember how I felt when I did this run with the Prospect Park Track club, and to recall how easy it was. I just had to act as if I hadn't just run 16 miles first. Yeah, good luck with that one Dahlia. 

Sibling Love: Belle, Erin, myself & Matt
I knew approximately where different members of my family would be standing along the west side of first avenue, so the next two miles mainly consisted of me finding my family. I first ran into my aunt Beep, uncle Dan, and cousins Josh and Jeremy somewhere in the late 60's / early 70's. After waving to them, I then saw my brother Matt & sister-in-law Erin in the mid-80's. It was crowded in both those places so I wasn't able to give them high fives but I waved at them happily. 

The next sighting was my sister Belle, and close friend Lily in the early 90's. Last year, Belle was in Spain, and was unable to come back for the marathon - she had considered coming back to surprise me but the cancellation made that point moot. The fact that she was able to be there was one of the few aspects which made the cancellation worth it. It was less crowded up there, so I was able to give them high fives. They told me my parents weren't too far away, and off I went. Here is some video of me passing by, provided by Lily. 

I then saw another "Go Dahlia" sign up ahead, held by my very enthusiastic, supportive parents. I gave my mother a high five while my dad attempted to take pictures. I don't have any in this area, but I do have a picture of my mother and sister posing with the signs by my apartment building on their way over to first avenue. My dad's photos are obviously much superior to MarathonFoto. 

Shortly after I saw my parents, I hit the mile 18 marker and after hearing my name, looked up to see one of my running friends, Stephanie, cheering for me. I smiled, waved back, and continued towards the Bronx, feeling confident. Just before the Willis Avenue bridge, I grabbed some water, then went on my merry way. 

Since I wasn't expecting any personal supporters in the Bronx, I spent the next couple of miles taking the scenery all in. I had read an article about the spectators there who took pride in cheering extra loudly, knowing that people were hitting the wall around this time, and they did not disappoint  Although we only spent a brief period of time, I enjoyed it, but was still relieved when I crossed the Madison Avenue bridge back into Manhattan because I knew that this would be the last borough change before the finish. 

I was still feeling good around mile 20, so at the time, I hadn't realized that I had fallen off sub-4 pace. While I was tired, I still felt like I had a lot of energy, and that finishing wouldn't be a problem. I was offered a half of banana, but after taking a bite, I knew that I wouldn't be able to eat it. Perhaps I should have taken another shot blok around this time, but I was more thirsty than hungry at this point. 

After crossing back into Manhattan, I started running down the right side of Fifth avenue as I was expecting to see some friends within the next mile. As I hit the mile 22 marker, I was definitely feeling more tired, but my legs were still working fine. I saw my Brandeis friends, Paul and Jen, waiting for me with a sign that Jen made. They had borrowed the hats of two other friends, Zahava and Abe, who were there in spirit even though they couldn't be cheering in person. 

Brandeis Represent! 
Around that time, I heard a familiar voice shouting my name, and I glanced over my shoulder to see my running friend Kathy shouting and waving. I didn't see her daughter Lucy at the time, but I know that she was avidly cheering me on as well. She was the one who made me my 2012 medal of "Faster than 3:59:59" last year. 

After hitting mile 23 or so, I realized that I was probably hitting the wall. My legs were getting stiffer, and I started to feel exhausted. The last time I felt this exhausted was when I was bonking towards the end of my first half marathon - only this time, it felt much worse. It didn't help that Museum Mile was a steady incline. 

At this point, I threw out the notion that there would be no walking and decided to walk for less than 30 seconds, but after about ten seconds I felt my legs lock, and was worried that if I didn't start moving soon, I wouldn't be able to do so at all. At this point, I was resigned to not getting a sub-4 hour time, and just wanted to get this last 5k over with. 

 Oh, I'm in pain! I think this is what pain feels like! 
Although the spectators crying out my name helped, all I really wanted to do was to get to Central Park and see my family. I had the notion that once I got to Engineer's Gate and entered the park, I would get this sudden burst of energy and speed up towards the finish. That didn't happen, but I still looked forward to seeing my family. 

I had expected to see Matt & Erin again first, but they switched spots with my parents. I high-fived them and did my best to smile, but they could tell that I wasn't as happy as I was before mile eighteen. As I saw my mother, I wondered why on earth she had signed up for a second marathon, much less a third and fourth. Had she completely lost her mind??????

At the mile 24 marker, I had gotten a Twinkie from my friend Beth due to a random Facebook Halloween post that had turned into an inside joke. I had intended on eating it, but after a while I realized that I crushed it beyond recognition while carrying it and cast it aside. I had just received this token when I ran into Belle & Lily once again. Belle grabbed my hand and attempted to run with me for a few feet, and Lily got a few awesome pictures of this happening. 

Unfortunately, this was not a relay hand-off.
Belle wasn't allowed to run the last two miles for me
I then saw Beep, Dan, Jeremy & Josh close to the 25 mile marker, and by that point, although I was trying to smile, I was just beyond miserable, but I forced myself to keep going. At that point, I understood the full meaning of "run the last 10K with your heart" because my legs wouldn't have made it without some mental fortitude. As you can see by the pictures, I was clearly struggling. 

Are we THERE yet????
Beep & Dan
I immediately deflated after that, knowing that my body was pretty much done. Every single tiny incline felt like a mountain, and I had to swallow my pride and walk a couple of more times. However, I knew that I was going to finish not too far off my original time goal, and that, plus the encouragement of the crowd, kept me going. 

At the mile 26 marker, I glanced at my watch and realized that the time was 3:59:xx (officially 3:59:51). Can't we use this time and call it a day? Oh wait, I still have about 300 meters to run. FINE. If I must. I walked up the last incline, then jogged it into the finish. I was under no pretense that I had anything left resembling a finishing kick. But, as I threw up my hands and crossed the finish line, I smiled widely, knowing that I had finally accomplished something three years in the making. My Garmin said 4:02:16 but my official time was 4:02:09 @ a 9:15 mm pace. Despite not getting sub-4, I was very proud of my accomplishment. 

You can see me crossing the finish here. Look at around 13:30 - I am on the left sign of the screen.

Getting out of the park took forever, and I could barely walk. MarathonFoto snapped a picture of me after the finish, but I looked terrible so I am not posting it here. Somehow they only managed to identify 3 pictures of me despite the fact that I ran 26.2 miles. I am not impressed....

.... and neither is she
Although I had an early exit bracelet, they wouldn't let anyone out of the park until 77th Street. Since my parents lived close by, that worked for me, but at the time, I didn't realize that the orange poncho pick-up would take place four blocks in the other direction. Even if I had known, the idea of walking an extra step, much less eight total extra blocks would have been horrifying to me, so I never received a poncho. Still, this should have been communicated better. 

After what felt like forever, I finally made it home, where my family awaited me. After lots of hugs, I did some stretching and icing before taking a nice warm shower. 

Shortly after changing into the clothing that I bought over that weekend, it was time to celebrate with all of "Team Dahlia". Not many people can say that they got two marathon parties for the price of one. 

I have officially joined the ranks of family marathon runners, which include Erin (fourth from left), my mother Susan (standing right behind me), my cousin Josh (standing to the right of my mother) and my uncle Barry (who was cheering for me from Atlanta). However, my mother is the only one so far who has been crazy enough to do it more than once. 

Before I go on to analyze my race performance, I would like to thank everyone on team Dahlia for all of your love and support, including those who were unable to cheer for me in person. Each and every one of you played an integral role in my success and I will be forever grateful. I plan on expanding on this section more in a couple of days when I reflect upon my three year anniversary. 

Now it's time to obsess over the numbers. Here are some fun statistics for you all, courtesy of NYRR and Microsoft Excel. In addition, feel free to check out my highly inaccurate Garmin splits here. Please note that NYRR only provided 5K splits until mile 8, which is why I don't have completely accurate splits for miles 1-8 (feel free to check out the Garmin link for estimates). 

As you can see, I stayed on or close to sub-4 pace overall until I hit mile 20, so this gives me hope that with more time and training, I will be able to keep this pace for the entire distance. I had almost two minutes in the bank, but it wasn't enough to balance the degree I slowed down later in the race. 

Don't get me wrong - I am very pleased with how this race turned out - but it wouldn't be a true race report without reflecting what could have gone better. In all races, marathons especially, there were factors that were in my control, and factors that were not. In no particular order, here was the list of things I thought about: 

1. Weather: It was notably windy that day, and almost the entire field was slowed down. Not much I could have done about that one
2. Pacing: I probably did the first half at least a couple of minutes too fast, or 10-15 seconds per mile too quickly. The question remains though - had I started closer to 9:05 mm, would I have faded as far as I did towards the end, or would I have had better splits? Honestly, it might have been the case, but then I would have spent the race going nuts over what might have been an inaccurate signal. But I should probably pay more attention to the watch in future races and actually make the effort to use manual splits instead of going solely by feel. 
3. Nutrition: I more or less stuck to the strategy of taking 3 shot bloks every 6 miles up until mile 18. I didn't take anything after that, but I have a feeling that a pick-me-up at mile 22 might have helped matters. I also had a harder time chewing as I got further in, so I might need to change to a gel or a GU and just get used to that consistency.  I was probably also affected by the extraordinary amount of travel & waiting time before the start. 
4. Attire: I think I got that one spot on, but I should figure out a better way to carry my phone / nutrition in the future. As my waist pack got lighter, my keys jingled louder and louder to the point where I gave up and carried them in my hand since I didn't want to fumble in my shorts pockets while running. 
5. Training: I will be the first to admit that my training wasn't as thorough as last year. I wanted to get to the start line without getting injured again, and as a result, did less mileage and not as much speedwork as I could have. I averaged approximately 37 mpw with a peak week of 48.5 miles and 22.22 miles as my longest run. While that's not slacking off by any means, I know that more intense training may have changed things.  

I knew that my friends would be spot on when they told me that a marathon is more than twice as hard as a half-marathon, but knowing it in theory is far different from experiencing it first hand. Although I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment, I don't think that I will ever enjoy the marathon distance enough to to it more than once every couple of years. But I will discuss future plans in a separate entry. Either way,  I will always cherish making the NYTimes

I'm famous!!!!!
While I enjoyed running the NYCM course, I am not sure that I would do it again any time soon, mostly because of the logistics at the start and the finish. My travel and waiting around time was almost exactly equal to the time it took me to run the course, and getting out of the park took way too long for my taste. Although I know it's hard to coordinate getting that many runners to Staten Island, I do think that steps should be taken to make the wait at Staten Island a more comfortable one. That being said, I would like to thank all of the NYRR staff and volunteers - without them, NYCM wouldn't have gone as smoothly as it did, and I will always be grateful. 

To end this report, I would like to give my dedicated readers a present. Thanks for reading!!!!!! 


  1. Great race recap! Congratulations! Pretty awesome cheer squad and legacy that you carried on.

  2. congrats!! so happy for you, and a fantastic time given all the factors, wind and waiting and all that, nyc never has ideal conditions given the crowding. such a fun place to run though :).

    1. Thanks Bethany! Despite all the logistical issues, the NYC course is pretty amazing.

    2. Thanks Bethany! Despite all the logistical issues, the NYC course is pretty amazing.

  3. You ran so fast for your first marathon! And missing your goal by only 2 minutes is super impressive! Congrats again, Dahlia!

    What's next? ;)

    1. Thanks Stephanie! I have a 10K at the end of the month that I'm hoping to get sub-50 at, but it will depend on how recovery goes. I also will be training for the NYC Half in March. How about you?

  4. You are a Marathon Star! So proud of your perseverance and athleticism. Plus, this recap is great. Great!
    Love Love

  5. Thanks Anne! And thanks again for coming out to support me! :-)