New York is the backdrop to countless cliché movies, Hollywood’s dreams are woven through it’s every avenue and street. It is a place that you can’t help but feel hopeful in. Those cinematic endings where the music swells and everyone gets their happily ever after overrides your self-held sensibilities. It is intoxicatingly inspiring.
On December 31st, 2016, I made a resolution that I wanted to run a sub 4:30 marathon. It became my sole aim in marathon running. I had tried 11 times since then and failed every time. New York would be my last marathon of the year and 2019 is focussed on ultramarathon training so it was now or never, the last scene was still to be written.
Yet I had no reason to be hopeful about the New York City Marathon. Having only just run another marathon 8 days prior, one often called the toughest road marathon in the UK, my body shouldn’t have been put through another one. I’ve been told numerous times that I should only be focussing on two marathons a year if I actually wanted to beat my personal best. New York would be by third in five weeks, with a PB half marathon squeezed amongst them just for fun.
Before I left the UK I was calm about the race because deep down I knew this would be too much for me, that a PB was simply not possible. I planned just to plod along at a slow pace and enjoy the iconic city’s atmosphere. But as soon as I was in the concrete jungle I helplessly began to dream big, Hollywood had gotten under my skin.
Race day, 5am and the alarm clock cut through my deep sleep, screaming me awake.
Forcing myself up I started my marathon morning rituals. I had brought my own breakfast for race-day; a porridge pot that only needs boiling water to make a decent energy filling breaky. One problem; the hotel room didn’t have a kettle. I tried the trick I picked up before the Berlin Marathon and used the hot tap in the bathroom to create a lukewarm, uninspiring porridge that I had to force down. Within only a few minutes I was lycra-ed up, Vaselined in unspeakable places and ready to roll. Only problem is that it was still five hours before kick off. Because the race starts 26.2 miles away from the finish line in Central Park you have to get public transport to the start but because some of that route is used for the race you have to arrive painfully early for the race. I was using the travel company 2:09 Events (read my review here), so we had a bus waiting for us outside the hotel. The sun began to rise as we meandered our way to the southern tip of Manhattan, through the tunnel to Brooklyn, and finally over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, which we were due to run across just a few hours later. I tried to nap but sleep was not forthcoming, I was too exhilarated to shut my brain off. As we passed through areas I knew we would be running along I closed my eyes tight, not wanting to spoil the views that I would earn later on. In those moments, I pictured all the marathons that I had run before, attempting to find some nugget of knowledge to strengthen the race ahead
Because of the incredibly long wait, the organisers make a real effort to make you feel comfortable with free bagels, coffee, water and Gatorade. But it did little to affect my swirling, muddled mind. I was feeling incredibly anxious before the start, I was about to do something way out of my comfort zone by running two marathons so close together. I found myself sitting down only to then have a sudden screaming desire to stand up and pace around again. The repetitive restlessness led me to the therapy dog area where I sat with a black labrador and found the first shard of peace since I had woken up.
Within that clarity I looked around and felt a crackle of excitement sparking through my body. I was about to do something incredible and in that moment, it finally sunk in. I had been so engulfed in the logistics of the race and the panic of what my body was about to go through that I hadn’t stopped to appreciate the race itself.
I am not a religious man but the New York Marathon was blessed this year. I arrived in New York on the Friday to thick fog and horrendous rain, the following day we were buffeted by strong wind and rain showers for much of the day but come race day it was perfect blue skies with cool but ideal running conditions. It was a gift I did not want to waste and as we finally made our shuffling way to the start I hatched my race plan. It was painfully simple; run at a 4 hour 20 minutes pace and wait for my body and mind to give up. I was going to push the limits and see where they lay. If a personal best was possible it was going to be earned not given.
The cannon cracked through the nervous silence and we were off…