At the moment I am whiling away my commuting time by reading a book charting one man’s love affair with the marathon distance; Keep on Running: The Highs and Lows of a Marathon Addict by Phil Hewitt. Phil is a journalist who first trained for the marathon distance on a charity place for London, and has now run goodness knows how many (I haven’t finished the book yet).
Ever since I first read Running Like a Girl by Alexandra Heminsley, I’ve frequently sought out and read about other people’s chronicles of their running adventures for inspiration, and also because they usually afford a great sense of comradeship. We are all members of the same bizarre lycra-clad species. We’re crazy enough to spend most of our Sunday mornings covering unfeasibly long distances in all weathers. We understand that it’s completely normal to drop £150 on ‘essential’ supplies at the start of a training phase. We might be mad, but we’re not alone in our madness, and that’s comforting.
Anyway, today I came upon a chapter in Phil’s book all about the New York City marathon. Whatever else is to come in the rest of the book, this chapter alone was worth the Kindle price.
I am currently in the early weeks of my training for the New York City marathon. I entered the ballot on a whim partway into training for my first marathon in Rome, and since entering there have been a number of things about NYC that I’ve been concerned about. The chapter in Phil’s book covered a lot of the ground I have been worrying about, and I noticed with glee some startling similarities between his NYC story and mine so far.
For starters, he writes that he wasn’t aware how big a deal it was to enter the New York ballot and get a place first time. Neither was I; it’s only in the months since when other people have shown amazement that both me and Mr Duff got ballot places the first time we tried for them that I have realised how lucky this makes us. Phil had turned 40 three weeks before his NYC experience. This marathon will also come at a milestone date for me – I turn 35 on the day of the marathon, the race is on my actual birthday. This will be my first race as a V35 lady, so whatever happens my age grading should improve, right?!
Moving on, we get to Phil’s record of the actual experience of running in New York. Something that has been concerning me since spectating at the London marathon this year is the level of crowd interaction. This affected a lot of people I know who ran London, with several of them saying it was actually intimidating at certain points because of the volume and the proximity of the crowd to the course. I’m aware that the field for New York is slightly larger than London, and I’ve heard tales of runners at London taking 45 minutes to cross the start line, and there being a lot of dodging and bunching in the early miles.
Phil has set my mind at rest about both these potential pitfalls. Despite the larger field and more than double the number of spectators (an estimated 2 million to London’s 750,000), it seems that the fact that the roads are much wider and the start corrals better organised means that the crowding, bunching and intimidation factor should be much reduced. It also sounds like the New York crowd will be far more creative with their cheer squad capabilities:
“…a terrific, totally intoxicating atmosphere which was typical of the entire course from this point onwards. They don’t just shout ‘come on’ and your name. They give it the full works: ‘You can do it, go man, Phil baby!’ or ‘Go, Phil, go!’”
Phil does reference one runner falling in the early stages of the race, not far after the Statue of Liberty, which served as a lesson to look where you’re going as well as drinking in the atmosphere. This is always a major area of concern for me because I am very prone to tripping and falling (remember my pope adjacent humiliation in Rome). This was therefore a good reminder not to get so carried away on the day that I stop looking where my feet are going when we head past exciting landmarks like the Statue of Liberty early on in the race, when there will be more people around to trip over. I really should get back onto the whole learning to wear my contact lenses thing too…
Even Phil’s game plan for how he wanted to approach the race is the same as mine – but then I suppose it’s probably the same for a lot of people; he describes wanting to enjoy the run but not at the expense of his pace – admittedly his 8 minute mile pace was rather faster than my hoped for 10:15 minute miles, but the strategy is the same. I didn’t really manage to take a lot in at Rome because I was too busy watching where my feet were going after that early fall. This time I do have a real target time in mind but I don’t want to let that be the only focus – if you’re not enjoying it what’s the point? Especially as it will be my birthday! I therefore need to stay alert but enjoy the ride. Or as Phil puts it, I should be:
“enjoying everything and everyone, but never letting the numbers slip from my mind”.
It sounds like this is a race where the energy of the crowd and the overall excitement of the day can really carry you to great things if you let it. Maybe that’s why it has a reputation as a PB course when it’s not exactly the flattest. As we know, so much of running is controlled by the six inches between your ears, and if the experience is positive then you’re bound to do better.
It’s pleasing to note that I was wrong to assume that the crowd would mainly be in Manhattan and that the areas outside of the main island would be a bit boring:
“The organisers haven’t gone all out for speed. Apparently they could have come up with a quicker course if they had wanted. But these are people with a huge pride in their city. They don’t want you just to whizz through it. They want you to set foot in every borough – and that’s the course they came up with. Moreover, New Yorkers want to be there to see you do it.”
I am now really looking forward to the sections in Brooklyn and Queens and will certainly be on the lookout for the fire squads and gospel choirs – although I fear on the day they might reduce me to tears. I nearly welled up just reading about them on the Tube this morning, and I was reading about someone else’s race! I think for once I may also put my name on my running vest….and maybe even a note saying ‘it’s my birthday’ to see how many extra cheers I attract!
The whole NYC marathon chapter in Phil’s book gives a useful and practical idea of how the course works, what to look out for, and what makes this race so special. I’m sure I will read it through several more times in the run up to the big day.
The other major takeaway from the chapter for me was the reminder not to count your chickens if things are going well. Phil addresses this with reference to the early stages of the race itself, but I’m aware that this also applies to the training. I had a ‘so far, so good’ catch up with my coach yesterday during which I made a mental note of the importance of not allowing a few weeks of positive training to open the door for complacency to creep in.
There are still several months to go, and so much could happen in that time. I need to keep pushing myself to improve but also be sensible – now we are getting into the higher mileage (and because my physio poked it during a sports massage last week) the repetitive strain injury I carry in my calf is making itself known again. I need to take this seriously and manage it really carefully. Just because my first 14 miler went really well on Sunday does not mean everything will stay perfect.
So although I am able to notice the differences in how much stronger and fitter I feel in training this time compared to the training for my first marathon, there will be no counting of chickens here. I don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs.
I have no idea how many chickens there are.
Not counting. No ma’am. Not me.