By Dermot Slyne
Well with a bit of prompting from Mairead in the Eagle PR department I used my time on the plane back to write a bit of a report on the New York marathon. First a small bit of background (assignment no. 2 from Mairead!) for those who don’t know me. (The Sunday morning crew can go straight to the New York report!)
I started running in April 2012 after spending the previous 18 months reacquainting myself with fresh air thanks to getting my first Labrador dog called Bumble. We did a 5 mile walk most days and one day we ran between two telephone poles, Bumble was fine, I was in bits. Next day we did two telephone poles and six months later I ran DCM12 as my first ever race of any description.
Only for my wife entering me on last day of September I wouldn’t have entered it as I just wanted to do the training! Anyway I managed to get through it in 4:16 but the last six miles that day means it was still the hardest marathon I have ever done. Time is a personal objective, but for me anyone that trains for a time at the max of their ability whatever that is and subsequently executes it experiences the buzz of the marathon. I crave that buzz, those last 6 miles, the test of your training and race strategy. Over the following 3 years I got down to around 3:15 training on my own, mainly running Dublin and Cork once. I was improving each marathon but it was getting harder to do the training so I joined Eagle AC in December 2015. Best decision I made in running! I ran 3:12 in London in April 2016 and began to think seriously about sub 3. Unfortunately life and injury meant no marathons in autumn ’16 or spring ’17 so it was with renewed energy I trained in summer ’17 with many other Eagles and made the big jump to sub 3 hours in DCM ’17. I ran so smoothly that day and felt that there was definitely more in the tank. However I also never take anything for granted with the marathon and clearly remember thinking ‘Enjoy this as it may not happen again!’
I wouldn’t have planned to do so as soon after Dublin but with a deferred entry to London ’18 , a flat course and a savage atmosphere I decided to up the miles and see what was in the tank. Unfortunately on April 1st 3 weeks before London the wheels came off the wagon and I got what has subsequently turned out to be my first serious running injury. Never having done any strength work meant the engine was outperforming the transport mechanism and the suspension failed. Still in the service department today and well out of warranty so costing a fortune. London was an experience of mental and physical torture I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It was so hot that the injury wasn’t really an issue as just moving became a struggle. 8th marathon and first time not to PB so the string was broken. However with hindsight I knew the injury was coming before it happened and I also knew why – I wasn’t strong enough for what I was attempting. However I love running so much the other stuff is a chore.
The sub 3 in Dublin though had opened a few doors to entering other major marathons like New York and Boston. Back in January 2018 I threw my qualifying time in for New York and got accepted within a couple of days. Booked hotels and flights and left it at that. However when it came to start training for it in July I had to reduce the plan from 18 down to 14 weeks due to this same injury in my glute /hamstring that had happened in April.
The past 6 months have been the strangest part of my running journey so far and I can’t say I enjoyed much of it. I still love the feeling after a run and the lure of New York meant I somehow adjusted to running with pain as my array of physios advised would be necessary to deal with this type of injury. I have used masseurs , dry needling , epsom salts baths , tennis balls , sliotars , gyms , squats , weights , kettle bells , resistance bands , personal trainers , counsellors ( aka my wife and the unfortunates who have to listen to me Sunday mornings) but it won’t go away.. I eventually found dry needling seemed to reduce the pain to more manageable levels and I had about 7 sessions to keep me going since August.
So it was with trepidation that I travelled to New York – If it was a normal marathon I wouldn’t have even considered doing it. I figured I should try to convert a painful 1:27 half in Charleville into a 3:05 in New York but the nearer it got the more fear I had that this was too aggressive and would probably result in crawling to the finish in agony or even worse – a DNF. Running slower didn’t appeal much either though as I feared I’d just give in to the pain and walk if not focused. I also fear that the first time I walk in a marathon could signal the end and be a sign that the mind has had enough!
New York Marathon 2018
So after arriving in New York with my good wife Jacqueline on Thursday, we settled into our hotel on Lexington Avenue and as arranged, spent Friday shopping after we went to the Expo. The Expo was mad. New Balance was the sponsor and with an imaginative marketing team! They printed NYC 2018 on everything they produced, doubled and trebled the price and let the yanks in. The result was a frenzy I hadn’t seen since 2003 when LIDL invented the power drill for 25 euro. We saw one couple dressed head to toe in New Balance gear at a conservative estimate cost of 1000 dollars each. Got a top and got out of the place ASAP. Anyway we had bigger fish to fry in Macys!
My last run had been on Tuesday so I had 3 days of rest when I accompanied Jacqueline to the 5K Dash to the finish on Saturday morning where she got a 5k Strava PB. All was good! Didn’t realise it was so easy to join in and the only way to the finish was to run so I jogged the 3 miles back to Central Park . Things weren’t looking very good, the pain up my hamstring was intolerable and I could hardly accelerate up the few hills without wincing. I tried to forget about it and mentioned to Jacqueline that the she should get her space on the route tomorrow as early as possible. I wished I knew a dry needles man in New York but didn’t. I was meant to take it easy Saturday but instead went shopping for the day. I would have went demented in the hotel so instead spent most of the day in shops and Starbucks researching drugs. I had bought a stash of Arcoxia I was once prescribed for ITB pain. Research noted you could die if you took them during an endurance event so I popped one in Macy’s and was glad I was still feeling fine when I left there!
Went for the usual Italian on Saturday night, ate well, hydrated well but was still feeling a bit of trepidation regarding the following day. Got loads of texts and well wishes from Eagles and the fact that most were emphasising enjoying it meant I was thinking this should be my main priority for the next day. I had done a lot of runs with Tom and Donal during the summer. In fact I had considered going for 2:59 after Donal’s DCM exploits. I got confidence that it was in fact him getting faster and maybe not me getting slower! One text in particular from Tom told me to not to do anything mad and that there would be plenty of other days for PB’s. I’d bored Tom so much with tactics for Dublin I figured I’d better take his advice back in return!
Anyway we were back in hotel for around 8 and with the extra hour I got my stuff together, slept well and was up at 5am. Jacqueline is very organised and had ensured I had everything leaving the hotel at 5:45 am for the 15 min walk to NYC Library. However when I’m left to my own devices I tend to drift! Passed the Starbucks that I had checked would be open as I knew there was another one on the way. That one though was not opening till 6 but I met a couple of Americans also running and chatted to them. No rush they told me. At about 6:10 while still chatting they told me they were in wave 4. Sh*t I was in Wave One! Grabbed my coffee and breakfast muffin and hit the road. The one thing Mark Smith warned me about was the queue for the bus, yep I forgot that too!! So, 45 minutes queuing for the bus, 90 minute bus ride plus 30 minutes through security and 30 minute queue for toilets meant my wave was closed when I got there. I just stood there for a minute looking stupidly at the stewards asking them where I should go and then one of them just pulled the barrier and left me in. ‘Last one’ he roared!
Anyway it’s now 9:40, 10 mins to kick off and I haven’t as much thought about anything bar getting to the start line since I got up 5 hours earlier. What’s the plan Dermot? F*&k it I’ll run 5 miles and see how the leg is. I had read how to “attack” New York if you were able for it! Easy mile 1 , make up time mile two, float for 13 miles til te top of Queens Borough bridge, up pace a little on miles 16 to 20 as it’s a net downhill, then throw all you have at it remembering that mile 23/24 are the making /breaking of an attempt at a faster second half .
After a resounding live rendition of the American anthem we were ready to rock and roll. Then the whole bridge starting shaking as 4 NYPD helicopters took off just alongside us. Christ this is some show I thought! I downed the 4 paracetamol’s I had grabbed from the medical tent on the way in and away we go. Up the Verrazano Bridge and into a biting wind – it was freezing even though the sun was blazing. Looking to my left I could see the Manhattan skyline glistening on the horizon in the morning sun. What a sight but my thought at the time was more, #F**k that’s a long way away!’ Watch was all over the place, pace was showing 9:40 but I was blowing hard. Told myself relax we were going faster, nice climb and then down the other side the pace naturally picks up, Mile 1 pops up about 7:55 so I push on a bit down the hill on other side, miss watch split for mile 2 but shortly after clock shows just over 14:30 so I think first two miles are average 7min miles. As course flattens a bit I think leg feels a bit better than yesterday but just after 3 miles I start to feel the discomfort more acutely again. Now with some sense of measurement on pace/pain/adrenaline I start to formulate what’s been spinning in my head for days. 3:10 is 7:15 pace I will go no slower. 3:05 is 7:05 pace I will go no faster until I get over that lovely bridge in Queens. While this is going on I’m carrying my main sponsors Ballygowan 750 ml bottle of electrolytes and 6 gels. When I check at 4 miles two gels are gone. FFS… ok I ask a runner where we can pick up a spare gel, guy tells me mile 18. Ok I take gels at 5, 10, 15, 18 and 21 so the 4 I have and the one at 18 will keep me going. I decide to hold the bottle and sip as it’s quite warm and need my water mix. My salt tablets won’t work with water cups , I try after mile 5 buts it’s impossible , nearly dropped my water bottle . To ensure I don’t lose any more gels I have to take one in my hand and keep securing the other 3. While I’m at all this we’re 10 miles in and I have realised that even though my leg is hurting like mad on uphill’s it not too bad on downhills. I see a big Bud sign on a wall “only 16.8 miles for beer” – only a 17 mile Raffeen loop left I think and I will swallow one!
Around mile 11 the 3:05 pacers passed me , I’m surprised in one way as I didn’t think I should be ahead of them at all but I didn’t take much notice and left them off. What is driving me now is the atmosphere and the sense of what a pleasure it is to be able to partake in this. I start to notice landmarks I’d seen on television and think of the way the pros steam through these parts. At one stage I hear a song from my running playlist, Alicia Keyes blasting on a loud speaker “Concrete jungle where dreams are made of “. I’m immediately having to rein in my pace a bit here especially with the music but it’s a raw part of town and you can feel the energy. Through halfway in 1:33:30 ish and on a nice uphill bridge (The Podalski I called it after the German striker!) I’m starting to flag a bit as the leg just won’t drive me. I’m feeling ok, have adjusted to the pain just no power. I’m thinking now though I can use the downhill off Queens Borough Bridge once I get over it to up the pace a bit and then hopefully maintain it to 20 miles. Then if there’s anything left I’ll try my best to run 10k as fast as I can, leg or no leg.
Queens Borough Bridge in the NYC marathon has fascinated me on TV. For the pros is looks a lonely death march where they try to hold pace up a long ,barren piece of floating metal, eerily quiet with no support, and open to the elements . For the rest of us in reality it means having to take your medicine and slow up the hill. It’s longer than you think and steeper too but once you crest it was the highlight of the race for me. Hearing the deafening noise, a nice downhill and seeing the open country of First Avenue. Floating over , I think ‘ let’s see if we can add a bit of pace.’ I start to go under 7 min pace and immediately my legs seems to release a bit. I notice the effort but after a mile start to settle in to it. Then the top comes off my Ballygowan water bottle , cant keep my finger on it properly and so I run out of juice on mile 18 where I pick up that extra gel. In all this I have also missed Jacqueline in the crowd. (She saw me but as usual said I looked like I was in another world,) I was too, trying to keep water in my bottle and deciding which gel to take at mile 18, the vanilla thing I had just picked up or the last of my own. Went with my own as thought the other one would just have less time to make me sick! Anyway now out of my own water I had to start taking cups,. First one I took -Gatorade, spilt it all over my face and hands and was feeling all sticky. On the plus side I now had two hands and could actually use them to run someway properly so the pace continued to increase until unexpectedly for me we hit a another lovely bridge/ hill on the way into Bronx at mile 20. Broke my rhythm a bit and was now getting serious reminders from my glute hamstring on this hill, real darts of pain the type you can’t ignore. However I was also now where I wanted to be ….the last 10K. In the marathon this used to be the part I dreaded until I had run about 5 of them, now it’s the part I look forward to most. Could I keep this up and finish stronger? Thinking about the last time I sped up at mile 16 I thought I would go again at mile 20 off the bridge, was actually travelling smoothly at 6:30 pace until I’d again hit a lovely hill/bridge and momentum would shift to just dragging a leg. In expectation of a difficult mile 23 /24 I also popped the vanilla gel at end of mile 21. This was a disaster. It was some sticky shite that made my mouth feel instantly like the Sahara desert and I had to spit out most of it as it was going to block my larynx without water which I had just passed. So mile 22 in preparation for mile 23 /24 was waiting for water as if I hadn’t drank in days.
As expected in mile 23/24 came the last long hill which is about a mile climb. I tried to go on it but the harder I tried the less I felt I was making any headway. The only thing is I was still passing runners by the hundreds every mile and had been since halfway. The watch wasn’t responding to passing all these runners on this hill though as the 7:39 split on mile 23 showed. Missed Jacqueline again here but this time I just know I was looking at whomever was in front of me and trying to pass them.
After here we were now in Central Park properly and I remembered my times running here before and the fact that I would probably never have this opportunity in this marathon again so I gave it one last push for the last two miles making time on the downhills and just enduring the uphill’s. A 6:55 split on mile 26 popped up but my leg was now on fire and the darting pain was constant, the red light was on internally now in the engine room as well. I had at this stage passed both 3:05 pacers but as I was only going mile by mile I had no idea on overall time. When I passed a 3 hour pacer I kind of figured the 3:05 guys had gone bust too but was too busy trying to ensure I met my now firm goal of running the second half faster. Passing the real 26 mile marker I made a quick calculation off the timer that I was on about 3:06/7 pace and instead of grinding out the last .2 mile I actually stated to slow down, look up and around me to take in what a sight the finishing part of this marathon is. It heightens your appreciation of what a great racing course it is as the last mile alone is not a given for any leader trying to hold on here. In the end I was both surprised and delighted when watch threw up 3:07:43 as on a quick calculation from half way I knew I had made a good fist at what I had set out to do – Make it hard enough to feel Iike I was racing it (PB style) while making sure I gave myself the opportunity to enjoy it and finish it also! And enjoy it I did.
The marathon itself more than makes up for all the hassle around it, waiting, queueing, distractions. London is better/more easily organised in that regard but for me looking at New York on TV it was always my favourite. Running it just confirmed it.
In the end I missed the negative split by 5 seconds but in other ways I am beginning to understand even more how one should optimise their training to run these things. I definitely now need work on the floating bit! My Strava buddy Allie Kiefer ran a negative split 1:16, 1:12. Her assessment ……..she needs to work on the first 18 miles! And so the merry go round of the marathon goes on.
In making this report more acceptable for general consumption I used MS word to edit appropriately. So any mention of words like ducking, used mainly to describe bridges were replaced with the word lovely.
This should in no way take away from the fact that NYC marathon is all about bridges and your relationship with them! Like the people of New York things are straight up. I like that…… so it’s no surprise the first thing you see is an uphill mile on the Verrazano Bridge. It sets the scene for what’s to come. It reminds you that there’s another 7 or so of these suckers. It’s what drew me to it on TV. It’s straight up in your face, they don’t start on a downhill which they easily could. You then get 10 miles of relative flat before they blaze you with bridges until you can’t wait to never see one again. Til mile 23 that is when you wish that last hill was a bridge because you could at least see the top of it! If you like bridges run NYC……. If not stay well away.