NYC Marathon 2018 Race Report: Part 4 — The actual marathon

Part 1 — Race week
Part 2 — Pre-race planning
Part 3 — Race-day morning!

Warning: I’m trying to be as accurate as possible, so you’re getting a lot of what’s usually my “inside my head” voice, which swears way more than I do out loud. Especially once I get past Mile 9 in Brooklyn. You’ve been warned.

Oh, wow, this is really happening. Big Dog and I were still together-ish, but I knew he was planning on 16:30s, so I didn’t think about trying to stay with him. As we headed up the bridge, I thought it might feel windy, but it really didn’t. And the view, as I’d heard, was amazing. It was a clear blue sky, and the harbor lay out there with all the buildings looking tiny.

I kept an eye on my watch for heart rate because I usually go out too fast, and I really didn’t want to make that mistake in the marathon. I had to mix in some running and walking, but I’d expected that because of the incline. Big Dog pulled ahead of me, but I trusted the plan. Stick with the right effort. Words I’d heard from many marathoner friends echoed in my ears: “If it feels good, slow down. If it feels slow, slow down.” I focused on enjoying the view and keeping my breathing easy.

I was pretty sure this was slower than 16:00 pace, and for the first time, I wondered a bit about Brandi’s plan for even splits. Still, I knew I’d pick up some time on the downhill second mile, and she had that as an even split, too.

The bridge felt like it flattened out and we still weren’t at Mile 1, so I focused on finding a good groove. I was getting passed, but that happens every race because the last corral has such a wide range of paces, so I kept with my pace.

Mile 1: 17:11

OK, so that was slower than Brandi had said, but this was also the biggest hill on the course. 17:11 with as much walking as I’d done was pretty good. I wasn’t on plan, but I felt like I was at the same time. And now it was the downhill, which felt amazing.

I hit 30 minutes on my watch and started a new lap, then ate my first set of chews. I was alternating between salted watermelon and margarita, which are the two Clif Shot Bloks flavors with extra sodium.

As I came off the bridge, I restarted my iPod playlist, which meant I had 7:19 of music before it would stop. Plenty of time. I ditched my throwaway layer, a fleece running jacket that was too big and headed to Goodwill anyway, and stashed the iPod in my pocket.

At this point, I saw the Mile 2 clock. When I passed it, my watch showed 2:30-something, which meant I was at about 16:15-16:30 pace. I’d made up a pretty big chunk of that 1:11 I was over on the first mile. Everything still felt easy, even slow. Heart rate was on target. We’re good.

Somewhere along here was an overpass with people cheering on it saying “Welcome to Brooklyn!” This was my first experience with the power of wearing my name on the front of my shirt — even from all the way up there, I could hear them calling it out for a while. It sounds like a little thing, but it felt amazing.

Train Runner texted me at some point early on to let me know he’d be waiting for me after the Queensboro. So, he’s not in Brooklyn either. OK, then. Good luck, Mom.

The green corrals have a really different route until about the 5K mark, so at this point I was still just running with the people I’d started with. We’d spread out plenty, so it wasn’t at all crowded. We circled through the neighborhood and I kept an eye on my watch. To keep even splits and not go over low marathon effort until Queensboro meant I needed to be right on the line between Zone 1 and Zone 2 now. It felt slow, but that’s what everybody said it should feel like. And 16:00 pace is right in my easy run zone in the cool weather we had for race day.

But then I got to 5K and it looked like I was at about 16:30 pace for that mile, although I didn’t have an exact number. The downside of using my laps to mark fueling intervals was that pace math started to get increasingly difficult. Lap time, minus how much was on the watch when I passed Mile 2, and then trying to average with what my first two splits were… Yeah, that’s about my math limit while running.

Kids were handing out paper towels as we ran down the streets, but I smiled and shook my head no. I was good. And Coach B texted me “Good job being patient with your pace! You’re doing great!!!” since she’d now gotten my 5K split from the tracker. OK, definitely good. If I was sliding off pace, she’d nudge me.

Coming around the corner onto Fourth Avenue where we met up with the other corrals was another checkpoint along the course I was watching for. The other side of the road was pretty empty, but that was no surprise since we were the slowest set of corrals in the wave. Fourth Avenue stretched out forever in the distance, but it was lined with people, many more than along the “green-only” stretch I’d been running.

I knew the Brooklyn Runners lived in this neighborhood, and Mr. and Jr. Brooklyn Runners had been out cheering at one point (Mrs. Brooklyn Runner was racing in Wave 3), but I didn’t expect them to still be out there, so I didn’t bother looking for them. I hit my second 30 minutes in this stretch and took another set of chews.

I took Gatorade at the Mile 4 water stop, but only slowed down to pick up the cup before running on. I just pinched the cup into a funnel shape and managed to drink it without spilling. Go me! I was feeling good through here, although I was pretty sure I was over pace. But if I picked it up, there was no way to get to Queensboro and still be at low marathon effort. Well, better to have more left at the end than to speed up too much early and bonk. Keep it steady.

At this point, I realized the reason I was hearing my name so much was because the guy in the neon shirt, who had been ahead of me and was now right with me, was named Kenny. One spectator called out “Hey, do you guys know you rhyme?” and he turned to me and said “I’m just trying to keep my legs moving right now.” I laughed, but I also thought that sounded more like a second half/final third of the race comment than one I would hear at Mile 4-ish. I felt good. Maybe too good? Nope, be conservative. Stick to the plan.

Except that was about when a police motorcycle came through from behind me and worked its way up through the runners. Maybe there was a problem up ahead? If they were trying to get through for something else, the other side of the street had almost no runners.

But then a police car was right behind it. A sweep car? It’s not even Mile 5. I shouldn’t be seeing anything like this until at least Queens, if not First Avenue. Was my math off? Was there a problem on the course?

We got through Mile 5, and I tried to figure out my average pace. I was still in the 16s, but definitely not at 16 flat. I thought about checking my watch pace, but there was no way that was right after running the first two miles on the lower level of a giant bridge. GPS is usually lousy at city races anyway, even without the bridge factor.

Just keep running. Strong and steady. You’ve got this. Mile 6 and the 10K mark are coming up.

Another police car. Seriously? There’s no way I’m that far off where I should be. Right? Big Dog is still behind me. (But what if he’s off pace, too, like he was in Chicago?)

Just keep running. Focus on the big tower in downtown Brooklyn — that’s Mile 8, which means Mom and the others (if there are others) are right after that.

No more police cars, and plenty of spectators, all yelling my name. You really do feel like a total rock star running the streets of New York the way people come out and cheer, even for the Back of the Pack. I enjoyed the race up toward Atlantic Avenue and the turn onto Lafayette. During this jog in the course, I moved over to the right side to both run the tangents and to be on the side Mom would be on.

There was this amazing band right as we got onto Lafayette, and one runner had stopped and was dancing to the music. The beat gave me a boost, and I could see up where Mom would be, which was a second boost. The road also narrowed here, so it felt more crowded. There were a bunch of us running, so those police cars must have just been something weird. Not the sweep bus prelude.

I didn’t see the Sub-30 flag, but Mom was wearing my fuschia Sub-30 jacket, so I watched for the bright pink. There she is! I hugged her and passed along Big Dog’s message: If he hadn’t come through when I did, she should head up to park rather than waiting for him. He’d told me that in the corral when I mentioned Mom was a one-person cheer squad, which she still was. I told her I’d see her in a few hours at the park.

Coach B was right — I really didn’t feel this hill. I walked it a bit, to keep my heart rate at the right level, but it didn’t feel like a hill. There was a whole tunnel of women outside a church giving out high fives, which also felt great. Amazing energy on this section of the course.

I saw the porta-potties and decided to stop, even though I wasn’t sure I needed to. Better now than in the flatter sections up ahead.

When I got back on course, I saw the people I’d been running around not that far ahead, and I was now hitting a downhill. I felt good, and I was catching up to them, but also in the right heart rate zone. Next up: South Williamsburg, which would be quieter because it’s a heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood. And it was.

But not completely quiet. There were definitely people out cheering, and I had settled into a good pace. I didn’t even look at my Mile 9 split because I knew it had the two stops — Mom’s hug and the pit stop — so it was going to be slower. No need to worry. That’s what the faster pace in the park was for.

And then the sweep bus showed up.

“The roads are re-opening. You may board the sweep bus to the finish line, or move to the sidewalks.”

Wait, what? It’s not even Mile 10. I’m not even to where we cheered the past two years in North Williamsburg. We stayed for all the BOTP Subbers, and never saw the sweep bus — and at least two of those Subbers last year ran 7:30+ races.

The sweep bus? Now?

Just keep running. You’ve been passed by the sweep bus plenty of times before. It doesn’t really mean move to the sidewalks. It hasn’t any other NYRR race.

Mile 10, and I tried to subtract the elapsed time when we started from the gun time showing on the clock. 2:30? That’s pretty close to my 10-mile PR, and definitely faster than my goal pace. I checked my watch. No, more like 2:50. Yeah, that’s definitely too slow. But not sweep bus slow. Not with all those people still behind me at the start. I didn’t get passed by that many people.

Oh, now we actually do have to move to the sidewalk. Just follow the runners up ahead. They’re moving back to the street. Good. Now back to the sidewalk, and around the people walking. Around the trees. Oh, good. Back to the street before we have to skirt the giant pile of trash bags.

All this time, the sweep bus convoy is basically keeping pace with us. Do I speed up? Could I even pass the people in front of me between the sweep convoy on the left and the spectators on the right? And so much for staying near the center of the road to avoid the camber close to the sidewalks.

Mile 10. Mile 11. Street. Sidewalk. Street. Sidewalk.

But there are still a ton of people out cheering.

The sweep bus guys keep checking in. “Are you OK? Do you need water or anything?” Nope. I’m good. And I’m staying with the bus, so if they’re going to have this the rest of the race, maybe it’ll be OK.

But still, I’m not that far off pace. Am I? Coach B is texting me through here, and her texts are super-positive about my pace. But is she just trying to keep my head in the game? Or am I really on pace? But if I was on pace, the sweep bus wouldn’t be here.

Williamsburg was one giant mind-fuck. Big crowds, water stops, but also the sweep bus. They were also starting to take down the mile marker clocks, so I wasn’t sure all my splits were recording. I’d warned people that they’d probably lose tracking at about the halfway point, maybe 25K. But I wasn’t even halfway. Urgle!

Still running. Still leap-frogging with the sweep convoy. Still getting encouraging texts from Coach B. Still having to move from street to sidewalk and back. But still getting course support, even if they were starting to pack up.

Through the spot where we used to cheer, past the McCarren Park water stop. The Pulaski’s up ahead, which means it’s the halfway point. Then the Editor Runners are cheering in Long Island City. Then the Queensboro. Then Train Runner. I’ve got this. Unless…

Will they re-open the Queensboro? The pedestrian walkway picks up at a different spot, and comes off on the other side. Is this going to be the whole FDR/East River Greenway all over again?

Keep running. Pulaski. Editor Runners. Queensboro. Train Runner. You got this.

The sweep bus stopped somewhere in the stretch before the Pulaski, but we kept running.

Going up the Pulaski, I felt a twinge in my left adductor. It wasn’t the first thing I’d felt in this run — after a few hours on my feet, stuff’s going to hurt. But this was more consistent. I shifted a little, and it felt better. Yay, coming off the Pulaski. The sweep convoy passed us coming off the bridge, but that was fine. The streets in Queens were wide. There was plenty of room. The Mile 14 water stop was still set up. Just keep going. The Editor Runners are right around the corner.

There were not a lot of spectators at this point, but Mr. Editor Runner had promised they would still be there when I came through. (You know I’m shooting for Sub-7, I’d said. It’s going to be a while before I get to Queens. He assured me they would be there.)

And they were! I saw them up ahead on the right holding all the signs for their various running clubs (Mrs. Editor Runner is in three — local, work and Sub-30) and waved both hands. I could tell when they saw me because she started jumping and they both started waving. Seeing them felt absolutely amazing.

Mr. Editor Runner ran with me for a few steps and got a photo, and they high-fived me and asked how I was feeling. Sore. Hurting.

Yeah, that happens, he said.

“I’ll finish though,” I said as I started to leave them behind. “I’m too stubborn not to.”

There it was, the Queensboro. Would I be able to get on, or would I have to find my way to the pedestrian walkway. Or would my race end here, in the third borough?

I got Gatorade from the water stop that was packing up and ran toward the bridge. I didn’t know if I would be able to actually get on the bridge until I got to the ramp and saw they were letting us up. OK. All I have to do is make it to Manhattan. The other bridges are straightforward for pedestrians, even if the roads are open.

As we ran on the bridge, it wasn’t the great contrast I’d heard because Long Island City had been pretty subdued, so there was no real drop-off in volume once we had no spectators. With the trucks coming along beside us — the right side this time — it wasn’t exactly quiet either. They were packing up the course markers along here, too.

One guy next to me said “This bridge has been going on forever.” I looked over to see where we were and decided not to tell him we still weren’t even out over the East River. No need to add to the angst in his head.

We passed Mile 15, and it was still up, and the timing mats were possibly still recording? It was hard to tell because sometimes I’d pass a marker and the mats were there but the white things on stands were gone. Other times those were there, but the mat was up. Or both would be there, but somebody would be fiddling with the control box, possibly turning it off. I had no idea what the last tracking data anybody had gotten was. And my adductor was hurting again.

Another shift, and that just moved the pain. Adductor, knee, tibial tendon, adductor, back to tendon. Ugh, not that. Maybe I should have taped my feet? But they’ve been fine all training cycle. At least my knee isn’t what’s cranky. Of course, I did tape that.

Dammit, I’m going to finish. I want that finishers jacket. I’m not quitting. That was High School Jennie. Not the runner I am today. But everything hurts. And I’ve been dealing with these stupid trucks for miles. I’m definitely behind pace now.

No, I have to keep going. Kathrine Switzer said it yesterday, like she’s said before. After Jock Semple, she had to finish because otherwise people would think women couldn’t do it. I have those Subbers who told me (some privately, so I’m not naming names) that they now knew they could run a marathon because of watching me train. I can’t drop out and let them down. I have to keep going. It’s supposed to hurt.

25K. OK. That’s still live. That’s the last timing mat I thought I’d be able to get through. Last year InknBurn Queen lost timing mats at the halfway point, and she finished in 7:30-something. That’s fine. I can do that. And Train Runner’s up ahead. I just have to get off the bridge, and it’s almost the downhill.

At this point, one of the Subbers who is now looking at marathons after watching me train texted me “You got this, Jennie! I believe in you.” That was the first point during the race that I cried.

I’m going to do this. I’m going to finish. I have to finish. Not just for me, but for them. I’m not going to quit. I’m not that runner anymore.

Yay, downhill. And it feels pretty good. Mile 16! No time clock, but the mile marker is there. Down the hill, around the bend. Pit stop? No, I’m good. Just keep going and find Train Runner.

I didn’t know that would be the last mile marker I’d see the rest of the race.

First Avenue was still closed. There weren’t huge crowds, but people were still out there. And there were a handful of us still running, from what I could see.

I kept my eyes peeled, and after a few blocks I saw Train Runner. Oh, thank god. He gave me one of his bone-crushing hugs, and it was just what I needed. I started crying again, and he started walking with me. He had water — Coach B had asked him to get me some. I knew there had to be a reason he was over here cheering. Everybody was cheering for me in Sub-30, he said. And then he pulled out his phone to do Facebook Live. We’re walking, and I’m talking, thanking everybody, and he’s reading out some comments, and I’m just a mess. But still determined to finish. As we’re walking, people are cheering and he’s pointing to me, telling them to cheer for me.

He hugged me again, gave me the water, and headed off and said he’d be at Columbus Circle waiting for me.

I picked back up into a run, but now we got back into the road re-opening mess I’d had in Brooklyn. Street, then bike lane, then street, then sidewalk, then bike lane. The sidewalks were crowded, but people were (mostly) good about moving aside as we came through, and everybody was cheering. People had water, bananas, orange slices. I took a small water bottle from a little kid, 3 or 4, in a navy blazer, and downed that. I finished the water from Train Runner, but had to hang onto the bottle for a while before I could find a trash can.

I knew where I was on First Avenue — thank you, grid layout — but there were no mile markers, no course clocks, no water stops. Nothing but cops and metal barriers, and even those were coming down. Still, I was getting closer to the Bronx.

And my left leg was alternating between my adductor crankiness and the posterior tibial tendon. The adductor was hurting, but the tendon was starting to worry me. I know how that feels when it’s flaring up into full-blown tendonitis, and it was getting pretty close to that. I still had at least eight miles to go. And the sun was going down.

Coach B and I had figured that the sun would go down as I was crossing the Madison Avenue bridge back into Manhattan from the Bronx, which is Mile 21. I was definitely behind pace, and with all the walking I was doing to keep my leg happy, getting further and further behind.

And then they started opening up some of the cross streets, which meant waiting for the lights to change so I could cross. More time.

Still, the crowd was out there cheering, and people were handing out orange slices. The last two times I’d taken my chews, they were nauseatingly sweet, and I could barely choke them down. They were sitting fine once I swallowed, but getting them through my mouth was the challenge. So the orange slices were amazing.

A marathoner, in his poncho and wearing his medal, parked a CitiBike on a cross street and started walking up First Avenue. I congratulated him, and he encouraged me to keep going. He asked if I needed anything — protein drink, Gatorade, recovery bar — as he walked with me, holding out his recovery bag.

I declined, since I still had more than 32 ounces of Ultima in my bottles and plenty of fuel. (The Gatorade was blue, the one kind I hate.) And, frankly, I really didn’t want to try something I hadn’t trained with at this point.

I kept going, and after another block, he caught up with me when I had to stop at a cross street, and offered again. I thanked him, said I didn’t want to use things I hadn’t trained with and said I still had plenty of fuel. He told me that was smart thinking, and headed off his own way.

I love the running community. I don’t know who the gentleman was, but he was a nice boost at a point where I didn’t have anything to look forward to for a while. Columbus Circle was a long way off, and Coach Corgi was going to be long gone from the Bronx.

I still had more than a mile to go before the Bronx, and I was starting to realize the inevitable: I wasn’t going to finish.

I could keep going. Once I was through the Bronx, I was on a part of the course I knew really well and had run many times before. But my foot was really not happy, and I knew what tendonitis could mean. Time off. Lots of KT Tape (if I was lucky). A boot (if I wasn’t). And if it got really bad… Yeah. Not going there.

At this point, though, I was pretty sure the only way I could avoid that was doing the one thing I was determined to avoid: Quitting.

Just keep going. Walking. Running. Finally, I saw porta-potties and figured I’d better stop in case that was the last set I saw. I was getting close to the Willis Avenue Bridge, gateway to the Bronx, and I wouldn’t need to stop again.

Through the next couple of miles, I talked with other runners, encouraged them, and received encouragement in return. But with every block, I realized the question was not if I would finish. It was how far I would get before I dropped.

Past 110th Street. Just make it to the Bronx. Get the fifth borough. There’s the bridge in the distance, or at least the sign for the bridge.

As I headed toward the bridge, then up it, the sun completely went down. It was dark, and cold. I was wearing just a tank top and arm sleeves, and my shoulders were cold. Just get into the Bronx.

I slowed down, and runners behind me caught up and encouraged me. “We’ll stick with you,” they said. “We’ll do it together.” It was tempting, but I knew I needed to stop. I declined. One offered me Advil, and I declined that, too.

In college freshman year, I got tendonitis in my foot, the tendons that run from the toes to the ankle on top of the foot. We had the home opener for marching band in two days when I finally went to Student Health. They gave me heavy-duty ibuprofen, and told me to take 800 mg every four hours. Saturday morning, I was at the band practice field talking with some friends. “It doesn’t hurt that much,” I said. “I can march on it.” One of them, whose dad was a doctor, told me I was being stupid: if I was taking that much ibuprofen and it hurt at all, I shouldn’t even be thinking of marching.

I wanted to finish, and knew I shouldn’t, and I didn’t want to take the Advil because I was not sure that if I did and if it worked, that I would actually drop out. As much as I didn’t want to stop, I knew if I didn’t, I was risking a long layoff and having to push all my 2019 and on goals further out.

They flagged down the cops on the bridge, who offered to call me an ambulance. No, I definitely didn’t need that. “What about the Road Runners?” one of the runners asked.

“Oh, they came through hours ago.”

The next half hour was a stop-and-start adventure of trying to figure out how to get out of the Bronx, full of “Oh, go up there and this person will help you” — only to find that the person or tent was gone.

Finally, I realized I just needed to find a subway and get back to the Airbnb. Thank goodness for the maps they put up, and for cops who know the subway system. It took a while, and I ended up going all the way through the Bronx to the intersection right before the Madison Avenue Bridge before I was able to turn off my watch and officially leave the course. Or as officially as possible when you’re that far back.

I remembered to stretch once I stopped, and headed down into the subway. No elevator, but I at least could go down the steps without going backward.

Mile 20.75, more or less, and my first marathon was over more than five miles before the finish line.

Not how I’d pictured the day ending.

Next: Part 5 — Aftermath