An open letter to NYC

DISCLAIMER:  The following may contain anecdotes that provide counterintuitive to health and commonsense, and should not be taken in any way as a definitive guide for marathon preparations.

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There’s the wrong way to prepare for a marathon – and then there’s the Ross Pentland wrong way.

Final preparations started at home, having had my final sessions with my physio and massage therapist the weekend of the Melbourne Half Marathon and the one after, as well as my two last weekend runs: a 5km tempo parkrun (#49 -the coveted 50 parkrun shirt is waiting for me back home) and a 16km slow long run along the Lilydale Rail Trail. No problems which was a great sign, from there I was all set to go.

From there, it was off to the USA, starting off with a week in Los Angeles to acclimatize and embrace some of the local culture. It was a bit of a shock arriving in Los Angeles as I wasn’t expecting it to be so warm and yet it’s the sort of weather you have in summer all year round. Fortunately I wasn’t too jet lagged and the following morning I headed out for 10km run to Hollywood Boulevard and back from the hostel. This was my first experience coming across the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which is marked with the four silver statues of golden era actresses so it was quite the experience to run on a famous landmark  and reading famous names on the sidewalk. It was also unfortunately my first real experience with the air of Los Angeles – the pollution in the air made a rancid stink, and so I had to make a detour out of the Boulevard, for the sheer hope of finding cleaner air. My experiences in Los Angeles improved, takin the opportunity to explore Runyon Canyon a couple of times to get a little trail training into me, as well as spending the day walking along Venice Beach and swimming in the ocean, enjoying the view of Santa Monica. These moments of hiking, running and relaxing by day were were counterbalanced by nights of drinking, bar hopping,  karaoke and even a ride on a mechanical bull (that at time of writing I still have bruises from, 3 and a half weeks later – none of which are recommended if you’re serious about actually running a good marathon).

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After my wild week in Hollywood, it was time to fly out to the other side of the country for what was arguably the showpiece of the trip.  New York City, did not disappoint. The first couple of days were largely spent around Central Park, and during my hour long Sunday run a week from the marathon I came across by chance the NYC marathon week launch run. My run itself was just going anywhere the path fancied, going on quite a few twists and turns but I was just happy to run in such beautiful spot in the city.

My other 2 midweek runs were 10 and 8 kilometers on the Tuesday and Thursday,  with another light jog on Thursday with Eric, one of my running coaches at the Crosbie Crew to the finish line in Central Park. Because of the point to point nature of the course as well as a percentage of the course being made up of the bridges that connect the islands of New York City, it was too difficult logistically to do course research so my training runs in New York were made up of doing loops around Central Park. That suited me fine as Central Park was perfect for running with rolling undulations that broke up the monotony, plus the runners who I saw attempting to run on the sidewalks of Manhattan had to contend with the hustle and bustle of the daily crowds.
Other than my runs, a lot of my time was spent just playing tourist and taking in the sights of Manhattan, going on pub crawls with other travelers from the hostel and just taking as much of the atmosphere as possible.

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The expo for the marathon was something in itself too. Like the Berlin Marathon, the expo is held across the 3 days before the marathon and a lot of it besides picking up race numbers was merchandise from different exhibitors with the chance to meet some big names in running.  One of these big names was Kathrine Switzer who was the first woman to register and run the Boston Marathon, and a massive pioneer on getting women recognized equality within distance running. I was actually reading her book on the flight from Melbourne to Los Angeles but was sheepishly unaware she would be attending the expo or that she was to be inducted into the NYRR Hall of Fame that weekend. She was a very warm and caring woman who was kind enough to autograph my book when I eventually did bring it in.
On Halloween, the New York City Marathon held the Parade of Nations celebrating all the different nationalities that had made the pilgrimage to run the race and capped it off with a fireworks display. At this point I felt a bit tired and a little sore from all walking around the city I had done so decided it was time to rest up before the race.

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So having done so many exciting things for the week it was a bit of downer to go to just sitting, lying in bed the day before the marathon and getting our carbs up but with such a tough challenge just hours ahead, there was never going to be anything super special about it and had made a point of seeing as much of Manhattan as much as I could and using the time to enjoy the trip.

So then came raceday, and it did not disappoint – New York City knows how to throw a party. Race day in my experience is never hard to wake up for – generally you’re too excited to feel sleepy and this was no exception with my roommate and I being awake of our own volition at about 4am (we even got an extra hour due to daylight savings time ending overnight). Our hotel was full of other guests who had come down to run the marathon and at 6am we set off on the bus to the starting line.

The race itself didn’t start until 9:40am for the first wave, so in cold weather on Staten Island after going through the security checks, runners congregated around their respective starting corrals in their warm clothing, anxiously waiting to get the race underway.
When the cannon sounded though, it was on. Strong winds were forecast and from the very first bridge connecting Staten Island and Brooklyn you could definitely feel them – I spent a good portion of running on the bridges with one hand clutching my bib for fear of losing it, they were that strong! One of the tips I had read for running in winds was to turn your head to maintain your regular pace of breathing, while another was to stay in packs to mitigate the force of the wind, though this was a bit harder as the race drew on and people spread out on the wide roads.
The course itself is hilly, but the weather apart from the wind was perfect – it had rained for the 5km Dash to the Finish the day before but the road had dried out and there was not a drop from the sky. It was a beautiful day to run through the 5 boroughs, from Staten to Brooklyn, running through Queens and the Bronx before finishing in Central Park in Manhattan. The hills weren’t overly steep and rode the bumps of the course as a means to focus on getting to the next mile marker or landmark. My pacing was actually quite fast compared with the other races I had run this year – crossing halfway in what would have been a half marathon PB for the year in about 1:41. In many ways it was reflective of my two weeks prior – a bit reckless,  but I was running what felt good and was just letting myself be part of the atmosphere.

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Angela whom I met on a pub crawl on the previous Sunday night and again on a Halloween pub crawl on Thursday, (yes 3 days before a marathon – again, don’t try this yourself) was staying at the same hostel as I prior to moving to the hotel was volunteering handing out drinks at mile 22 and seeing her was such a massive lift I ended up giving her a quick cheeky hug before taking her gatorade and jetting back into the race. Her, all the volunteers and crowd cheering us on as well as banter with other runners gave everyone the best run they ever could have dreamed of, and this whole race would not be what it is without the organization and dedication shown by the crowd and volunteers.

The end result for me was ultimately 3:29:24 – the last 4km were a bit of a disaster hitting the wall but the crowd and volunteers were so supportive that it didn’t matter in the end, because it was the race of a lifetime and just being a part of it was huge privelege – the fact that I had made such a great time was such a bonus given how much of the year was spent in uncertainty as to how I’d perform, even going as far as the possibility of not being able to run at all had my hip scans had turned out positive.

The slight downer was the slow, sore walk from the finish back to the hotel room – thankfully I didn’t have any stairs to navigate but it still felt like it forever just to get out of Central Park and get our ponchos to warm back up.
It was the ultimate send off for a week well spent in one of the greatest cities I’ve been to.

The rest of my trip hasn’t featured anymore running until my return home – actually indulging in rest and recovery even though my legs feel better now, I’m actually going to give them the proper rest they need. As much as I love running, recovery is a vital part and was a somewhat ignored step last time around so I won’t be looking to get back seriously until December for Two Bays in January. I will be hopefully running my 50th parkrun and 4th City2Sea the weekend I get back but not running either one too seriously,  given they’ll be my first runs back since New York and the rest of the month will be focused on getting my general fitness back up through mostly cross training.
From here, I look forward to a whole new year of stronger,  faster running.

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