Finish Time: 3:24:23
It’s been over a week since I ran the New York City Marathon and I have yet to figure out what the fuck happened. In my wildest dreams I never expected to run a 3:24 - well, in my wildest dreams I’d run like a 2:07 then bang Megan Fox as showers of money rained from the sky - but in my practical version of my wildest dreams I figured I’d struggle to get to a 3:30 and fight through crippling pain while cursing myself for the last eleven. Not really the case as I completely cruised and in all honesty didn’t feel like I left everything out there. Not to say I could have dropped much but certainly felt like my first half could have been faster.
So what happened? How did I go from completely untrained race crasher to a top 4000 finishers in one of the biggest marathons in the history of the world? Was it a fluke? Steroids? Dark sorcery? Is Paul Leone just that fucking awesome? The last one is obvi, but after a week of thinking about how I did what I did my expert opinion is that what happened on November first was an absolutely perfect confluence of disparate elements the likes of which could NEVER happen again. Ever. None of it makes any fucking sense.
I mean I knew I hadn’t run that much since May, but after checking the running log on my Nike+ account the extremity of my lack of training is mind blowing. Fifteen runs for 75 miles. Let me repeat that in all caps for emphasis: IN THE FIVE MONTHS LEADING UP TO THE NYC MARATHON I RAN LESS THAN 20 TIMES FOR UNDER 100 MILES. That breaks down to like a half mile a day.
Huh? Is that even possible?
Granted, I‘ve run sans Nike+ a few times and I feel like I had some workouts stolen, but even if you double it you‘re talking 150; maybe 200 miles tops. If you spread that over a single month that would amount to almost enough miles to run a good 5K. People training properly probably dropped four to six times that.
And I didn’t just run the race - I owned it. Completely fucked it up, bent it over, and owned it from the gun to the Tavern. What follows is a detailed analysis of the pieces that made up the whole. Read, don’t read, I really don’t fucking care. But it’s basically the model by which all under trained runners should aspire to.
The most important thing I did? Probably going into the race with a degree of fear. Only replace fear with terror and by terror I mean holy shit I’m going to die. The last time I ran for over two hours I was 18 years old, in college, and dropping 100 mile weeks - the next day I pissed blood. Since then I’ve done an 18 miler in May but nothing remotely close to 26.2. I’m willing to admit that an 18 miler is a hell of a run, but you’re not even getting out of Manhattan with that. 26.2 was a different animal. I knew it. I respected it. Frankly - I feared it. It’s probably the best move I made.
Related but not exactly the same I went into the race with ZERO expectations. Maybe not zero - I was outwardly extremely confident I could go 3:30. I was willing to admit that a small part of me held ridiculously grandiose notions that I could go through 15 at 7:15 then hold on for the next 11 to get under 3:10, but I didn’t honestly believe that. It was a dangerous dream. The truth is I was pretty terrified about mile 18, which was where I assumed the wheels would come off. And why wouldn’t I be? I’ve been there maybe three times in my life. It would be like hoping in bed with Alessandra Ambrosio and expecting to last the point where I hopped into bed with Alessandra Ambrosio. Wisen up man, you’re fucked.
The weather was awesome. Can’t really say enough about that. My lack of running ability in warm weather is documented, but it was cool, overcast, perfect.
I had an unbelievable bib for someone who didn’t deserve to be there. First wave, right behind the elites. While that would have been great any other time, that would have been my end in this situation. I know Paul Leone and you put Paul Leone around a bunch of people running 6 minute pace and Paul Leone is running 5:59 pace. I needed to avoid that. My boys Chris Anderson and Josh Zito were looking to run 3:25-3:30 which was exactly where I wanted to be. They were trained so they knew what they were doing. They were much smarter than I am so they were sticking with the plan. And they were just good people to run with. I was happy to be with them. At one point the crowd got crazy and Chris Mommy stopped me and was like, “Slow down buddy.” He couldn’t have been more right at the time.
I’ve raced dozens of 5Ks, a handful of five milers and 10Ks, and two halfs. Nothing longer, nothing in-between. What’s important to note about my race experience is that in both halfs I have come completely fucking unglued. My first I held 6:20 pace through eight before dropping to 7:30 through the next five. I thought that was bad until Brooklyn last year where I was turning 6:15s through eleven only to finish my last two around nine. The first time I ran a half I was completely under trained. By mile three I knew I was fucked. But there’s no doubt in my mind that the last half I did got screwed because I was COMPLETELY under fueled. I felt shockingly well through 9. But I missed water stops. I did one gel way too late. Didn’t start as fueled as I could of. The result was the bottom fell out. It’s haunted me since. Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice and I’m a fucking moron. This wasn’t going to be a factor in a marathon. I took five gels and did one every six miles. I hit EVERY water station taking both Gatorade Endurance and water. I had a good breakfast in the morning. It was done perfectly. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
Part of the reason the crew was so brilliant was how relaxed Josh and Chris were. We started in wave two and it couldn’t have worked out better. Our first mile was 9:12. Next was 7:50, then 8:10, then 8:00...Super consistent. When we picked it up we did it conservatively: 7:34, 7:45. 7:41, 7:38. This is not how I run, but it was brilliant. We came through the half at 1:44:38. DEAD THE FUCK ON 3:30 pace. I doubt I could have been where I ended up if not for that start.
At mile 13 you hit the Pulaski Bridge. At mile 14 you’re in Queens. At mile 15 you’re on the 59th Street Bridge. At some point between there I got a little quick through a water station and accidentally put some distance between the crew. I was looking back to find Josh and Chris but I’d accidentally put some distance between us. At this point I feel great. I was worried that slowing down and dropping back would have actually been more strenuous. I was warned to not do what I did. Mile fourteen is not where you decide to make your move when you don‘t have a clue how you‘re body is going to react past mile fourteen. But you know what? FUCK IT. Hello 7:11 UP the bridge. Hello 6:59 down the bridge. Hello 7:15s down First Ave. Hello freaking out at mile 20 and dropping to 7:51 into the Bronx. Hello realizing at mile 21 that I’m better than that and turning a 7:31. O Hai 7:37 at 22. Ha 7:30 at 23. I makes one wonder. And by wonder I mean how the fuck did that happen?
I gave my mom and sister a plan to hit me at 11, 20, and 24. One of my slowest miles was dropping back in BK to try to find them. Nothing. But BK is kind of crazy so maybe I missed them? Then up to 125th it’s kind of dead so I thought if they were there I would find that. But nothing. By the time I got back into the City I’d written them off, but as I passed her at mile 23ish she yelled for me. MOMMY! Totally put a spring in my step and made me so happy that she made it.
I kept waiting for the infamous wall. Mile 22 I was literally terrified. Until I blew through it. Mile 23? 24? Really? This wall thing is going to happen right? Finally mile 24 I dropped to 8:12. 8:12!!!!! That’s my wall!?!?!?! Granted it was my second slowest mile but mile three was an 8:10. Mile 12 was an 8:11. So none of this was outlandishly slow. I picked it up to 7:59 for mile 25. And while 26 and .2 was a pretty painful struggle, it was also only 1.2 miles. HA!
In the end I think my biggest takeaway from the experience is that as shocked as I am with what I managed to do, and even though I’m pretty convinced it’s one of my most amazing accomplishments, I’m not proud of the actual race. In the last week I’ve taken praise, but never said my time without preferencing it with, “I was completely untrained.” Which is true, but it amounts to saying, “You think that’s good just imagine if I actually cared.” Sadly that’s precisely what I’m thinking when I say it. I didn’t put in what I should have and despite the fact I’m proud with what I accomplished I can obviously do much better. I need to prove that.
But at the same time, and as elitist as it sounds, my success has bittered me on the whole marathon experience. All these people who earmark the marathon on their bucket list, so they can do 13 minute miles, to walk by mile 4, and finish in seven hours, have disgusted me for years. While they‘re taking their sweet time thousands of runners are being denied from ACTUALLY RUNNING THE RACE? And it is a race - granted as much about beating personal perceptions as winning, but as long as the clock is on ,ever second should be an enemy. Team in Training, Jeff Galloway, Oprah, and frankly anyone who either sets their personal bars remarkably low in order to avoid pain, or advocates that kind of thinking, rather than trying and teaching that running is about reaching those boundaries and breaking through them, can suck it. Humans are capable of remarkable things. The marathon is meant to be the place that’s proven. I feel like to some small extent I did, and it’s why I’ll be back to prove that confluence or not that as amazing as not training and doing a 3:24 is, my next race will be even more remarkable.