Post-marathon reflections & the official photos

Still backdating this to keep them all in 2018 – posted 1/1/2019

The one thing I really, really disliked about the New York Marathon was the emphasis on buying stuff. I had been looking forward to the email newsletters until I realized that they almost only/always were pitches for the paid training programs, gear, other races, etc… money money money. So by the time they started pitching the MarathonFoto packages, including a full set of tips on how to make your photos come out well, I was totally turned off. When I got the pre-race “Last chance for $60 download!” pitch, I researched the company and saw Yelp reviews that complained the photos were lousy and high-priced. I avoided the start corral photographers. But… I regretted those decisions, and ended up buying the download package at $70 after seeing some great preview photos. If I had to do it over, I’d follow the tips, pose for everything, and spring for the pre-race package. The number and position of the photographers make for some truly special shots. And you get the full-res photos and permissions at that price, so it’s actually not that unreasonable. I was also looking forward to the promised video, but that turned out pretty light on personal content and it’s kind of cheesy. Here’s a selection of my favorite shots:



Post-marathon thoughts:

  • Next time, I would:
    • leave more time for the start
    • bring fuel for the trip to the start
    • wear give-away socks and put on fresh vaseline right before the start
    • not take quite so many photos (I don’t regret that I did, but the 2nd time I wouldn’t want as many)
    • as mentioned above, buy the pre-race photo package and pose for everything
    • investigate the food bag more thoroughly and ingest or toss the heavy things
  • Training went fine, and I’m glad I wasn’t more ambitious with it. CityStrides helped keep it fun!
  • Despite the hassles and cost, it was amazing! If I only had the chance to run one marathon, I’m tempted to say this would be the one… but on the other hand I’m so glad it wasn’t my first, because it was hard enough without being new to the distance and the whole experience.
  • The shirt is the nicest race shirt ever and I love wearing it!
  • Dates and water is much better than Gatorade, but the caffeine gels are a great addition for the distance
  • Overall, I’m so glad this was the central experience of 2018 for me!

Marathon part 3: after the finish

Posted on 1/1/2019 They were so not kidding about Mile 27! After the finish line, we walked to get the medal, then the heat sheet (which we needed because of the trek to get the ponchos), then a bag of food – VERY heavy! – then eventually the poncho. It was cold and getting dark and it was crowded and confusing – I had to backtrack for a medal, help someone else to find the food bags, and then wait ages for a poncho. There were crowds around the poncho distribution areas and the one where I first lined up ran out of them twice before I got one. I was too tired to thoroughly investigate the food bag – I would have tried the protein shake if I’d found it then, but didn’t want it later – and just ate pretzels and the apple, which wasn’t really enough. People were sitting down along the edge of the road even though we were encouraged to keep walking. I really needed a porta-potty but there weren’t any until after the poncho pickup, so at least a mile after the finish.

The poncho felt great – warm, sturdy, fleecy, and so official! I had planned to walk back across the park near where we came out (72nd St), since we were staying at my mom’s place in the east 80s and it would be a fairly straight shot. But I started to realize that since everything was fenced off for the finish lines, I wasn’t going to be able to cross the park. It looked like I’d have to go all the way north to 85th St or down to 66th St, which felt closer (the other way probably would have been shorter overall, and looking at the map now I might have been able to cross at the 79th St transverse). Even once I got to 66th St, it looked shut down, but a race volunteer told me to walk through unless the police stopped me. The traverse was empty and quiet, and I slipped into a meditative trance. I wouldn’t have wanted to run another step, but walking felt fine. It was about another 2 miles to get home.

The other great thing about the poncho was its marker status. There weren’t many of us on the East Side wearing one, but each time we’d greet each other with “Congratulations!” A few non-runners gave me a shout-out as well. I got back to the apartment, greeted Jonathan, took a shower, and we walked further uptown to have dinner with my mother and stepfather, and then walked back again. Fitbit shows 68,261 steps for the day, which I think is my all-time record. I was very tired and had some soreness over the next few days, but really not too bad. And when I got back to work, this was waiting for me:

One more post to come, on post-race reflections and the official photos, and this blog goes back into mothballs!

Marathon part 2: the actual race

This would be the normal race report if it weren’t such an ordeal to actually get to the starting line (and to finish – part 3). Mostly made from notes shortly after the race, then re-thought about while consulting my photos and Google Maps. Posted 12/31/2018, giving up on the sucky photo placement – hey, I made it before 2019!

Approaching the starting line – not too crowded!

We moved out of the corral to the strains of “Lust for Life” by Iggy Pop, and I guess because the corrals are so far from the start we spaced out pretty well – it was actually much less crowded than it would be later on.

The actual starting line

Everywhere along the start, and this would be true for most of the first section of the marathon, there were piles of trash and discarded clothing – all the detritus that didn’t make it into proper receptacles. This actually worked out really well for me, since I had really wanted one of the Dunkin’ Donuts fleece beanies – I saw and grabbed a discard before the start, so that was one goal checked off. I saw DOZENS later too!

We filed on to the bridge approach, heard the anthem, the cannon, and Frank Sinatra, and we were off! Even at the starting line it wasn’t as crowded as I expected–I crossed the start line within less than a minute of gun time.

The granular grouping into corrals works really well. I had lined up on the right to get a view off the side of the bridge, but even though the northbound lane was closed, we were all confined to the southbound lane (I guess to allow emergency traffic). So I veered over to the left. The bridge surface was extremely rough and we all had to watch our footing, especially with clothing and food that had been just dropped, or had rolled over from the sides. I hopped up onto the tiny sidewalk for photos of the great view over the river. Taking photos slowed me even further than I expected because of having to get well out of the way of the crowds, and then making my way back into the runners. The first few miles still went fairly quickly – looking at the splits, the second mile was my fastest pace at 10:31.

First of more selfies than I take in a normal year
Crowds on the bridge
Battery Weed
Mid-point of the Verrazano

We had been instructed not to pee on the bridge under pain of removal from the race, but a bunch of guys were using the bridge supports right at the exit.

A rare sight

Our first spectators were gathered as we got off the bridge, solidly lining the street even though the green course is split from the yellow and blue. I got a text from our friend Harold who lives in Bay Ridge, telling me where to find him, so that was my first goal to look forward to, at about mile 3, just before the dogleg back to 4th Avenue. I saw him on the right and my impulse was to stop and chat for a bit but he encouraged me to keep running.

We rejoined the other colors on 4th Avenue but we were on the right and the other colors were on the left; they didn’t actually merge until mile 10.

Runners from the top section of the bridge at left

Hydration stops were a sea of volunteers in green, and they made it very easy to get either water or Gatorade. But running through was treacherous because the street was littered with ground down cups and sticky with residue; there are just too many runners to keep on top of cleaning up.

I relished the huge variety of handmade crowd-support signs, although mostly they repeated a few themes in their own ways. My favorite jokes were:

  • Long way to go for a free banana
  • I trained for months to hold up this sign
  • Pain is just French for bread
  • Touch here to power up (with lots of different  Pokemon logos–and I often did!)

And such a range of runners and spectators! I saw little groups from Sweden, France, and Italy specifically (matching shirts). Tons of music played from boomboxes, bands, DJs, and church choirs. All kinds of food on offer. So many dogs and kids!

Dog before saying hi
Dog after saying hi

My favorite stretch was Lafayette Ave in Brooklyn. It was a combination of beautiful shade trees and architecture – much more residential feeling than 4th Avenue – and a fun hipster vibe. I spotted old favorite buildings and new ones as well:

Williamsburg Savings Bank Tower
The Brooklyn Masonic Temple – wow
Gorgeous terracotta

As the pre-race session warned, the Queensboro bridge was tough in terms of the pavement, incline, and length. But it wasn’t too cold and it was amazing to find there were places where you could exit from the roadway onto the pedestrian path and get a great view over the river. I took a selfie and a volunteer offered to take my photo – he took 3 and they really capture how happy and excited I was to be there, and what a gorgeous day it was.

A kind course official took photos at at cutout on the Queesboro Bridge

Coming off the bridge onto 1st Avenue was the wall of sound and spectators I’d heard about, but even better it was the section that really felt like home turf.

The boost from hearing my name shouted so much was way more than I expected. I would hear “Go Hilary!” and I would grin or say thank you or hi-five and they would shout louder; not just little hits of dopamine but little extended bursts. It was more emotional than I expected to see so many happy people, especially when someone would reach their group of friends and hug.

The dreaded slippery sponge area (mile 17)

I knew Jonathan and my mother would be around 92nd St and I looked forward to it from 59th St. on, so when I was counting down the blocks and scanning the crowd my anticipation rose and rose. It was a moment of pure joy to finally see them. We all teared up and I hugged and kissed them both. I have to say that was the peak moment of the whole marathon, followed by seeing Jonathan again at mile 23–way more emotional than the actual finish.

Still so many people! About mile 19
RFK Bridge from the south side of the Willis Ave Bridge?
Crossing into the Bronx
On the Willis Ave Bridge – 3rd Ave Bridge in the background?

Physically it was an arduous race, and my feet started feeling hot fairly early. I wished I’d had time to re-vaseline them at the start, but decided to do so at mile 20, in the Bronx, which I planned again to think of as the transition between the last training run and the actual marathon. Harold, who was watching my progress and keeping Jonathan updated, later said it looked like I’d taken a nap, because my split for mile 21 was 17 minutes. I grabbed a water, hobbled over to a little fence in front of an apartment building, sat down, and tried to be as quick as I could taking off socks, putting on vaseline, sucking down a gel, swallowing ibuprofen, and drinking water.

Madison Ave Bridge back to Manhattan

Getting back up and running again was painful and I hobbled for at least a quarter of a mile. But knowing I only had 6 miles to go, that I would see Jonathan again, and my friends Nancy and Craig, really helped. Marcus Garvey Park was a good marker but I couldn’t remember exactly where that was and I was missing most of the RunKeeper cues with the sound of the crowd. I saw Nancy and Craig and their daughter and granddaughter, got some hugs; found Jonathan and hugged him again.

I kept thinking we were further along than we were.

Dog’s tocks ahead – my only Central Park photo

Getting to Central Park felt like “almost there” but really wasn’t. I liked the small hills in the park, but when we passed the back of the Met I realized there was a still quite a ways to go since 20 blocks is about a mile, and then we still had to exit the park and go up 59th Street. I was speeding up too soon but kept up the pressure. By the time we got to Columbus Circle I was really feeling the exhaustion but I finished strong. The last 2 mile splits were 11:13 and 10:45 according to the NYRR tracker, for a finish of 5:19:23 (average pace 12:11). Not too far off my predicted time of 5:25!

The post-finish gets its own post; “Mile 27” is a real thing…

Marathon part 1: getting to the start

Part 1 published 11/24/2018. Marathon, post-marathon, and reflection to follow – 2019?

My Goodwill sweats to donate back. I chose a Circus Smirkus hoodie to not be completely generic!

I hadn’t slept very well Friday night, but Saturday night was actually good, defying common wisdom. We had a nice early dinner at Uva. We overheard that the guy in the couple next to us was also running, and J encouraged me to tell him, but I got a weird vibe and declined. We went to bed super-early even before accounting for the extra hour, so I woke up at 5:30 without much trouble but could tell I had walked too far. I didn’t stress about it, though; the advantage of it being my 3rd go-round was the calm conviction that I would be fine, and that served me well throughout the day. I thought I might have time to work on a blog post—of course not!—but I made coffee, burbled around on the Internet, took a quick cold shower to get myself more awake, and started getting my stuff together. Luckily everything fit in my new fabric waistband (FlipBelt knockoff which Jonathan brilliantly named the “runnerbund”) and I didn’t have to bring my old fanny-pack style waist bag that has been annoying me. I was looking forward to exploring the start villages—I was assigned to green but they told us at the Expo that we were welcome in any—especially petting the therapy dogs and trying to snag one of the Dunkin Donuts fleece beanies.

1. Subway

I was aiming to be out the door around 7 for an 8:30 ferry (they told us to get to the ferry terminal half an hour before departure), and it was only a little later when Jonathan walked me to the subway station at 77th St and Lex. We speculated about seeing other runners but I didn’t see any until I was actually on the train. Two women holding the recognizable plastic bags got off at 14th St, telling each other “That’s right, we have to switch trains.” I belatedly realized/remembered that I needed to catch a 4 train and I was on a 6, but luckily there was still the Brooklyn Bridge stop where I could just cross the platform. An older man got off the 6 with me and said “We’ll still make it, won’t we?” He ran for the first time last year and told me his time would be around six hours. He was scheduled for the 8:00 ferry and it was already close to that time when the 4 finally arrived; a little bunch of us were socializing by then. I remembered the 4 only runs every 15 or 20 minutes on Sunday and it would have behooved me to catch the earlier one; oh well, I thought, still plenty of time!

2. Ferry

Many people have identical backlit photos – we all took them of ourselves and each other

The Staten Island Ferry station was much bigger than I remembered it, and absolutely jammed with people in multiple massive lines that bled together. It was just a few minutes past 8 so I was right on time. At about ten past, the doors to the ferry opened and the crowd surged ahead. I asked the people next to me if this was the 8am ferry, thinking I should maybe hang back to get on the one I was assigned to, but they said “it’s a cattle call at this point” and you just catch whichever you can. So I followed the crowds and the injunction “there are four levels, please fill them,” finding a spot at the rail on the top deck, looking across to the New Jersey side. It was a chilly but beautiful ride. We all tried to take selfies and photos of each other with the Statue of Liberty in the background, but we were backlit. My favorite part of the trip was watching gulls close up as they hovered on the wind around the boat; you could see their feet dangling and their contour feathers fluffing. Despite my hoodie I got somewhat chilled and went indoors for a bit to warm up. As we docked a bunch of us were sent to the back of the boat to join the end of the disembarkation line, and I went out on the stern to get a good view of the Verrazano Bridge. Amazing to think we’d be running across it! Now I know I should have attempted to get off the boat sooner, even though it was only about 8:45, but no regrets.

3. Bus

Half an hour into the interminable bus line (boarding is still nowhere in sight here, line is probably 20 people wide)

The giant blob of ferry passengers emerged onto a concrete taxi/bus stand and slowed to a crawl. We couldn’t see where we were going and it was cold and windy (would have been worse if not for the huddle). I chatted with several people—one woman was supposed to be in the 10am wave and eventually broke ranks to try to get further ahead. (I saw her again at about mile 21 so she must have ended up in the last wave). Passengers for the return ferry filtered by, gawking at the giant mass of people—one woman marveled aloud “Look at that!” and took photos. We must have been in line for at least 45 minutes. Eventually we could see the stream of buses pulling up, and finally we turned onto the sidewalk where the boarding happened, four buses at a time. The barriers were loaded with last-minute discards.

Trash on bus barriers
Bus barriers covered in discards – saw more of this all the way through the marathon! Cleanup must be a bear.

The line I was in appeared to be for a bus that was so full that someone said “I don’t want to stand!” and backed off, and I said “I’ll stand!” But there was still plenty of room, so I did get a seat (and the ride ended up being long enough that standing would not have been much fun). My seatmate ran last year for a charity and said they were bussed to the village, got there at 7, and waiting that long in the cold was awful. We drove very slowly, with lots of stops for traffic lights or jams. Across the way, a woman got a text from a friend who’d taken the direct bus to the start, but their bus driver took a wrong turn and missed the window to get over the Verrazano before it closed, so they had to take the ferry after all and were behind us. I wonder if they made it! The warmth of the bus was a relief, but I was starting to worry about the time as it was well past 10am. I knew I’d make it to the start line but wasn’t sure I’d have time to explore the start villages. I had noticed how everyone was carrying beverages and food, and wondered why they didn’t just rely on the stuff at the start, but now it all made sense. I hoped I’d at least get some coffee as I hadn’t had much at home.

4. Finally: the start village!

We disembarked from the bus at around 10:30. After another round of security I followed the crowds along New York Avenue. We passed the orange village and I saw a Dunkin Donuts truck. No beanies in sight, but I got coffee and a lousy bagel (no taste, bland texture—as I suspected it would be, but as Jonathan pointed out, what a shame in the city of the great bagel!) and started wolfing it down. The therapy dogs were gone. Everyone was loading up and we were already being instructed to go to our start corrals. I barely had time to get to a porta-potty (no line by then, everyone was clearing out) when I heard a cannon and “New York, New York”—that was Wave 3 starting. I made my way to the B corral just a minute before it closed. Despite straw laid down on the grass, it was a sea of mud and I was extra-glad I’d worn regular shoes instead of my Five Fingers. To be continued!

Pre-marathon excitement: expo etc.

Posted 11/8/2018

The expo/bib pickup spans multiple days at the Javits center. I thought Friday might be a little calmer than Saturday (and it was Bank of America free museums weekend, which I wanted to prioritize). We got in early enough that I could attend the logistics presentation at 1:30, the strategy session at 2, and still have oodles of time to browse all the booths. It was truly overwhelming—a sea of people and a million things to look at.

They very sensibly have a separate area to try on the shirts before you pick up your packet so you can get exactly the right size. I ended up with the women’s small and it’s one of the nicest race shirts I’ve ever gotten! I was late for the logistics presentation because I had so much trouble finding the expo itself and within it the “Running Lab.” You had to make your way through the giant New Balance store, full of everything from the really nice but expensive official gear to useless accessories, and not straight through either—the exit was kind of hidden—then past three lines for photo ops with a giant New Balance logo, a Lady Liberty, and “NYC,” into the maelstrom of the expo.

The “lab” was a corner area with seating and a stage, surrounded by walls covered with blow-ups of the course map, sped-up video of driving through parts of the course (taken from the lead vehicles, I think), hints and tips, etc. Both the logistics and race strategy sessions mostly covered things I already knew from my obsessive reading and research, but there’s something both reassuring and exciting about hearing it from a live person with a giant screen. The strategy sessions (I attended the whole 2pm one and saw part of the 5pm) were led by a pair of coaches breaking down the course sections by borough. Some helpful tips were where it’s tempting to go out too fast (the start, obviously, but also the first section in Brooklyn and the first in Manhattan because they are both full of crowd support, flat, and straight) and where you can think you’re further ahead than you are (mistaking Marcus Garvey Park for Central Park, forgetting that once you do hit Central Park you still have more than 3 miles to go and some of it is uphill). Coach Roberto, one of the 2pm pair, made the great analogy that the last section of the marathon is like a “bad high school reunion,” because you start seeing lots of the same people you started with but they look terrible. The logistics session emphasized getting to the ferry at least 30-45 minutes early (great advice) and pumped me up for the therapy dogs in the start village (which I totally missed, alas). I stopped to pick up a pace wristband and asked one of the pace runners whether I should go aspirational or realistic; I ultimately took both a 5:00 and 5:15.

Our friend Harold met me mid-afternoon and we had a lot of fun exploring all the booths, from the slightly to the very bogus. After finding my name on the giant wall of runners, we started at the Bedgear outpost where there was a crazy cardboard tunnel to walk through that went from warm to cool. I tested a pillow which really did feel like it would stay cool longer (the salesperson assured us that the products are “technology-driven”). But the price? $199!!! The Michelob Ultra booth, which was gigantic, served actual beer (maybe not as terrible as most low-calorie beers, but I avoid them so hard to remember) and had the most confusing messaging: they are about the “future” where beer includes ingredients like cinnamon (?) and coconut oil (???) and is somehow related to running shoes and bicycles? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ We tried a bazillion recovery drinks and energy bars and I actually had a super-upset stomach that night and was really glad I went Friday and not Saturday! Ooh, I was trying to find out the name of the actually-delicious energy cookies and found the marketing materials which say that the expo creates “a forced flow of over 50,000 runners.” Hah. I loved every minute of it, though, and have a zillion stickers and multiple drawstring bags to show for it. It also says that 79% of runners made a purchase and that the median spend is $86. I got off easy: I did buy one thing, Race Dots, which the strategy  emphasis of “nothing new on race day!” convinced me not to try until a smaller-scale race (the next one for me is the “Give ‘Em the Bird” turkey trot). I was also super-tempted by Running Buddy and the Illumio jacket.

Marathons and other races from around the world had booths encouraging people to sign up. Harold and I were most interested in the Ottawa Race Weekend; J and I love Ottawa and as I recall Harold hasn’t been. The rep showed us the marathon course which goes along the Ottowa river and Rideau canal. I’ve biked most of it on a visit when I was training for a triathlon and got to stop and swim in the river, which was awesome. Unlike many cities with waterfronts (looking at you, Toronto!), Ottawa was smart enough to protect the whole water edge for public use, and it’s just gorgeous. I also randomly entered the drawing for a bib in the Marathon des Sables, an ultra with a little Burning Man thrown in (you have to carry all your water and food). Then we waited in a long line for a free photo on the cover of Runner’s World, for which I donned the shirt.

Saturday I had signed up for two free events at the NYRR RunCenter: a stretching class at 9:30 and an “inspiring stories” panel at 4. I walked through Central Park, gorgeous in the drizzle, and crossed the tail of the 5K Dash to the Finish. The class was Active Isolated Stretching, which I guess I’ve done some of without knowing what it was, and I discovered that my hips are really tight. I’ve just never been able to stick to any kind of stretching routine, and the instructor was reassuringly understanding and tolerant of that; I think my pseudo-Pilates routine does help, and in general I seem to do fine, so I’m not too worried. From there I went to the Museum of Art and Design, the American Folk Art Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History, before heading back down to the RunCenter. A three-museum day, hurray, but overall I probably walked quite a bit too much (3 miles was what the training schedule called for, and I did at least 7). The panel featured a guy who’s run 90+ marathons and is fundraising for pancreatic cancer, which his wife succumbed to; the founder of Fat Girl’s Guide to Running; and Wilfrin Fernandez-Cruz, a NYRR youth ambassador, along with his mother, and a surprise visit from Mikey Brannigan. It was inspiring as promised! I also used the time to write up my checklist for the morning:

  • Sunscreen and vaseline everywhere
  • Hat, bandana, phone fully charged
  • 2 wristbands: for poncho line (they emphasized you absolutely must have it to get your poncho) and 5:15 finish
  • Metrocard, ID, credit card, $20
  • 7 dates and 3 Rocktane gels
  • Baggie of extra vaseline
  • 2 ibuprofen