Monday, November 07, 2011

Going Big at the 2011 New York Marathon

This Sunday, I had the great pleasure of joining 47,000+ runners for the 42nd running of the New York City (NYC) Marathon, and I tell ya, it was BIG. HUGE. MONSTROUS. Just plain COLOSSAL. How big, you ask? Just look at the numbers:
  • 47,438 runners. That's a new high water mark for NYC, the biggest marathon in the world.
  • 130 countries represented. For a little perspective, only 120 countries are in the Olympics.
  • 3 million+ live spectators. That's 10x what the Olympics will bring, and about the equivalent of all of Norway showing up (and based on how many Norwegians I met, they were damn close).
  • 2.25 million paper cups at aid stations. Green party, prepare for "Occupy NYC Marathon".
This is a race so big, I just HAD to go check it out. I'm so glad I did - nobody celebrates running like the Big Apple.

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I put my name in the lottery for the NYC marathon for three years, only to have somebody point out I could submit one of my speedy race times for a "guaranteed entry". Doh! Don't forget to read the instructions, kids! (ha, ha) I just barely squeaked in with a qualifier which, like Boston, will be even tougher for 2012 due to increased demand. I hadn't trained specifically for this race, but felt I had good enough fitness to go sub-2:50 on a good day.

(A fireboat adds a little orange and blue to a perfect day, photo courtesy of Aaron Houston for the NYTimes)
And a good day it was! Sunny and high 40's with no wind - can't ask for much better. On top of that, my camera fizzled out 30 minutes before the start, so I had no excuses. I rode the bus out to Staten Island in the early AM, chatting with Hawaii ultrarunner Jeff Fong and local architect Philip Giang before finding some space under a tent to try and stay warm. Philip was nice enough to share his blanket as tens of thousands of runners came looking to homestead some space for the 3+ hour wait. Dunkin' Donuts coffee never tasted so good!

(Philip chills out as we all relax for the start)
In the corral, I met up with multi-day ultra champion Sean Meissner and 100-miler Bay Area stud Brett Rivers, and we cheered on the introduction of the elites. All the crazy fast people were here - Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02 at Boston '11), Emmanuel Mutai (won London '11), Gebre Gebremariam (defending champion and 2:04:53 @ Boston '11),  Meb Keflezighi ('09 champion), Ed Moran (10k national champ, going for his first marathon), Kenyan star Mary Keitany,  Lauren Fleishman (5k national champ, doing her first marathon), Kim Smith (2:25 is fastest on US soil this year), Devon Crosby-Helms (go, Devon!), and enough super-stars to have us all awe struck. This was a perfect day, and the hum of the crowd said records would fall for sure.

(In the elite corral, the last photo my camera would take)
Sean was feeling good, had done his speed work, and felt like a sub-6 minute pace was a good stretch goal to best his PR of 2:39. Brett just laughed, saying he was going to ease up and soak it all in (knowing Brett, this is probably a sub-3 marathon). I volunteered to hang with Sean for as long as I could, but as the gun went off, he zig-zagged his way through the crowd and blazed over the Verranzano-Narrows Bridge like an orange missile. I cruised along with Dr. Andy Baldwin, a Navy-doctor-turned-spokesperson and drafted off his gigantic muscular torso. Sean was long gone.

(Look out Brooklyn, here we come! Photo courtesy of Aaron Houston for the NYTimes)
The crowds filled both sides and both levels of the bridge, with elites dodging and cursing the 5-hour charity marathoners who somehow got to start up front. Within a mile, we all found our groove and enjoyed the peaceful calm of the waters below. It would be the last section of quiet we would have all day long.
(Just a few friends headed out for a jog)
At mile 2, we entered Brooklyn and the locals greeted us with signs, screaming, music, cheering, and tens of thousands of hands waiting for high fives. It was 20 thick on either side, and this was just one of the streams of runners coming in from the bridge. When we met up with the other streams at mile 4, we were six lanes wide with spectators filling every window, rooftop, and park. BIG. Simply insane!

(Marijyn Michaels from the Netherlands cruises through Brooklyn, photo courtesy of Kitty)
I didn't have a watch, but the mile markers were telling me I was running 6:09 min/miles (sorry, Sean!). It didn't seem like I was running that hard, but the chilly air and crowd support was likely good for 10 seconds/mile. As we flew through Brooklyn to Williamsburg (mile 6), I saw Jamaicans, Irish football fans, and Hasidic Jews all dancing to Latina House music and cheering together. You gotta love NYC.

(Finding that groove, photo courtesy of Maureen Sproul)
As we pitched up into Queens, I found myself running in a pack of six and delighted in the fact that there were six countries between us - Brazil, Sweden, Italy, New Zealand, Mexico, and USA. We hit the halfway mark in 1:20:45, where the sub-2:40 hopefuls around us picked up the pace. Despite the language barriers of our little group, we rotated our leads and drafted as we took the Queensborough Bridge (mile 15) to Manhattan. Runners everywhere, unite!

The crowds along First Ave were literally deafening, with rock bands, bars, megaphones, air horns, and anything else that could egg on a runner. There was no problem getting water at the aid stations though, and the top 500 runners barely took up the left half of the army of volunteers at each aid station. This marathon is a well-oiled machine! One of the runners next to me said that Mary Keitany had hit the halfway mark in 1:07:45 - 20 seconds faster than Paula Radcliffe on her world record run - and was still out front. The men had a field of seven coming of the bridge, and were already turning into Central Park. Wow!

We took the Wills Ave bridge to the Bronx, and I was just in time to see Geoffrey Mutai on the big screen winning the NYC Marathon in a course record 2:05:06, with Emmanuel Mutai (2:06:28) and 24-year-old Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia (2:07:13) also coming in under the previous record (that's $70k bonus each!). Inspired, we dug deep and crossed back into Manhattan for the final push.

(Geoffrey Mutai wins, photo courtesy of the BBC)
About mile 22, my glutes were cursing the 2 degree climb, and I chuckled that even after 53,000' of vertical at Wasatch, these little rollers can be killer! I passed up Sean, who had slowed to an 8:00 min/mile after 20 miles of sub-6...not his day, but certainly his destiny. As we closed in on Central Park, the carnage began, and runners started blowing up left and right. Mary Keitany had slowed, enabling Ethiopian Firehiwot Dado to pass in the last mile and steal the victory (2:23:15). Even Meb Keflezighi stopped to puke (but still managed a 2:09:13 for 6th) as I watched dozens of people hit the wall at the same time. It was like there was a sniper just picking them off! I kept my head down, shuffling along at a 7:15 min/mile into Central Park. Most of my international crew had enough left in the tank to surge and went for it.
(Getting it done, photo courtesy of WHBL)
Now here was a stretch of Central Park that I have run dozens of times, and my body relaxed as it felt familiar ground. I checked the clock at mile 25...sub-2:50 was still in reach. I apologized to my body in advance, clenched every orifice as much as I could and charged down Central Park West. I don't remember much on this section, but luckily my friend Paige Alam and Kristin Armstrong were smart enough to bring an iPhone to get it on video.

I crossed the line in 2:48:45, good enough for 376th place, and made my way towards the Amsterdam Ale House for some refreshments while congratulating many on new PR's brought by the perfect day. Sean finished right behind me (2:52), and Brett did manage to go fast (2:55), but the ultra community was best served by Devon Crosby-Helms (2:42) who managed to be 5th American and win her age group. Won her age group at NYC! That's wicked fast.

(Beer and fries, oh yeah!)
Kik and Paige found me at the Ale House, and we shared some beers and fries while reminiscing about the spectacular marathon day. I have to say, this race is a "must" and worthy of your bucket list. Just be ready to go BIG!

With that, I toast the finish to a wonderful 2011 season. Cheers!

- SD


  1. Thanks for the shout out Scott! I wish I had gotten to see you (or had people to run with, ha!). I am pretty stoked, 21st women in that kind of field. Heck yeah. I am so glad I got to run this race and definitely think it is a must do for everyone!

  2. My words may not mean much, as I have never run a marathon (heck I am just training for my first half now...) but I have to say, every time I read one of your "race day" posts I feel supercharged! The unification of racers is extraordinary! I feel as though I have joined a fairly exclusive club, and this club is filled with people who push, who overcome, who struggle and sweat- people who RUN!
    You inspire me, thank you so much for your beautiful words and insight!!!
    WAY TO GO on the placement and the time, both AWESOME! Well done you!!!!! My daughter looked at the pictures with me, and we both couldn't stop smiling!

  3. I like your homey down-to-earth race reports! Too bad the camera died....

    Someday I'll do NYC! I love that town.

    Congrats on another fun race!

  4. nice scott !! you setout for under 2:50, finished with 2:48. pretty cool !!

  5. So jealous! and impressed! The play by play is really helpful for someone who's never done one like myself. I'm looking to start training for one but winter in Boston is tough. Course that always makes me think of the Bill Bowerman quote "There's no such thing as bad weather, just soft people."

  6. To run a marathon is a exciting task and i love to take part in it. Such a wonderful blog.

  7. Great pics, I love the Brooklyn Bridge one!

  8. What was your qualifying time to get into the NY Marathon? And maybe I missed it but didn't see in what race you may have scored the qualifying time.

  9. Lacey Sue - ah, just a matter of time before you're toeing the line at a marathon! Keep it up!

    Webgal - the qualifying times differ by age, and a Masters Male only needs a 3:10 marathon or 1:30 half marathon. I went 2:49:30 at the 2010 Oakland Marathon, so I just submitted that. For 2012 and beyond, it's getting 25% tougher, so I will need a 2:50 marathon for next year. Luckily I got it here!

  10. Ultra dabbler (won women's NFSF 50K last year), Tyler Stewart, ran 2:48 I believe. Pretty fast considering she competed in Kona just weeks before. And now slated to try her first 50 miler again at NFSF in a couple weeks.

  11. Loved your recap! I ran NYC this year as well, and it was amazing. Your comment:Re: elites having to dodge 5 hour charity marathoners made me laugh! I'm no elite -I started in the back of wave 1, and still had to dodge and weave through so many people to hit my goal time. It would be nice if people were (a) honest about their abilities (b) seeded according to predicted times and nothing else.


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