Marathon #6: Finding My Pacing and Mental Strength


On Sunday, November 4th, my alarm went off at 5:15am.  I had my outfit ready to go, the layers of clothing I was ready to shed during my time at Staten Island, my phone was charged, I had my bananas, my peanut butter sandwiches, my rehydrate gels.  I made my morning coffee, had my oatmeal, drank my water.  It was time.


Based off of my previous 5 marathons, 4 New York marathons, I was as prepared as I could be.


I got a cab at 5:45am, in order to ensure I would make my 6:45am ferry to Staten Island.  The weather felt warmer than I expected; while I am never one to complain about nice weather, on marathon day, I started to worry that my racing vest, although it was sleeveless, was going to be too warm.  With everything I DID have, I had nothing else that I could wear during the actual marathon; the bib which tracks me was already attached to the vest, and as I was planning on not wearing any tank top underneath, there was no other option as I was not going to run through the five boroughs in a sports bra. 


I got on the Staten Island Ferry at 6:45am; once we were off the ferry, we had a long line to wait on for the buses that would take us to the start village.  Staying as present as possible, I spoke to people around me.  Many had run marathons before; but never New York.


It wasn't until about 9am where I actually arrived at the start village.  With over 50,000 runners, New York Road Runners runs an incredibly organized event.  Four different waves, three different corral colors, we are separated accordingly right at the start village, with two of the corral colors starting at the top of the Verazzano and one of the colors at the bottom.  


It was around 10am when my nerves started to act out.  I felt my heart racing, my legs shaking.  I was waiting on a bathroom line, and I knew my corral would close in 20 minutes and the line was long.  While I remembered there being porto-potty in the corral the year before, a NYRR volunteer told me this year there were not, and I was not going to take any chances (there were).  So I waited...and waited....I finally made it to the front of the line, went to the bathroom, with 3 minutes to spare before having to be in my assigned corral.  


The biggest game of hurry up and wait. 

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A Tough Start

 My wave start was 10:40; My plan was to take the first mile nice and slow on the uphill of the bridge, speed up a bit for the second mile as I went downhill into Brooklyn.  Miles 3-8 I knew were relatively flat, and I planned on pacing around 9 min/miles for those, anticipating a very special break around mile 7 where I would see Sophia, my nephew, my parents, and my brother and sister in law.  My plan was to hold back a bit, average around 9 min/miles for the first 16, then pick up the pace for the final 10.2.


And yet, as we all know, what happens when we make plans?


For the first 5 miles, I struggled to find my pace.  I did not actually start until 10:47; it was so crowded, with people often running in a line with one another; and I found myself speeding up to pass people but then slow down, expending much needed energy.  I knew better than to have my GPS watch turned on, because with the weaving I was doing it would put me at a higher mileage than I was according to the actual race, but I had my watch on to keep track of the actual time.  Meanwhile the race clock threw me off, because it was on the wave one time, and I knew I crossed about 54 minutes into the marathon but with all the craziness of the start I didn't know if it was 54:30? or 54:45? or 54:15? 


In essence, I was completely out of sorts.


And already too hot.  


Easy Middle: Coasting Miles 5-16

Fortunately, around mile 5 I felt like I had some breathing room to do what I was supposed to do; run.  I was excited to see Sophia and my family, and felt as though my pace was starting to jive.  Seeing Sophia, my nephew, and my family; well, there is nothing like it.  It's overwhelming, and magical, and amazing and....


Oh shoot...I have to start running again!


The exhilaration after seeing them sustained me, and I saw a client and friend of mine, who I trained virtually, with her son around mile 9.  She had a sign for me, and her son started doing burpees as he would do when we would do the livestreams.  Receiving texts of well-wishes from friends who were tracking me kept pushing me along.  My friend, Janna wrote, "you are killing it."  Since I was still somewhat unsure of my pacing, I checked the app and saw I was scheduled to finish around 3 hours 52 minutes.  Feeling good, I stayed at the pace I was at, hydrated every few miles, had my gels, I was cruising.  


Until, just like last year, that sneaky Queensboro Bridge

Mental Breakdown: Down the Rabbit Hole Miles 16-19

Fortunately, I had listened to my running coach and had tackled the Queensboro Bridge three times.  I knew that, while at mile 15/16, it felt like a big incline, in actuality it is gradual, and whatever goes up must come down so there is recovery on the back end heading into Manhattan.  But whereas  in 2010 the first avenue crowds invigorated me, this year, I started to feel leg cramping which reminded me of exactly what happened last year.


I started to panic.


How could this happen again? I was so much better trained.  I just want to stop.  This is stupid.  Why am I doing this AGAIN? Forget breaking four hours it isn't happening....and....I AM NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN! 


That was what was going on in my head.  And as each mile hit on first ave, I stopped to drink water and walk a bit.  I texted my loved ones, who were meeting me at the finish line, that I was slowing down.  THIS IS SO HARD. HOW DID I EVER GET A 3:50 New York? 


Around mile 19, I saw my friend Kate, a marathon runner herself, who had offered to hand me water and my favorite gels.  I saw her.


"This sucks, I feel like s$&t" I told her.

"You look great! Keep on going!" she said.

 Recovery: The Amazing Last 6 miles

I cannot say for sure what happened.  But once I saw Kate, then I was on the Willis Avenue Bridge and in the Bronx.  The leg cramps stopped, I started to feel good again.  Breaking four hours was probably not in the cards anymore; but finishing my second fastest New York Marathon was. 


"C'mon Laura," I told myself.  "Woman up! Put your big girl pants on! 6 miles is nothing.  You have work to do and your loved ones are waiting for you at the finish line. Get to it!” 


Unlike any other marathon I have ever run, the final 6.2 were great.  I knew the terrain like the back of my hand, especially the final 4.  I knew I would be on a steading incline for a mile on fifth avenue, head into the park where it would be flat.  Then I would go up a hill, then down a hill which- at mile 24- would hurt my hip flexors but still give me some recovery.  Then there would be a slight uphill then downhill into Central Park South, which would be a steady incline.  Then, the nasty last .2, in Central Park, where you finish on an incline.  


I finished: 4 hours 13 minutes. 14 minutes faster than last year; 13 minutes slower than my goal.

What’s Next?

Good news; my recovery is going well.  I have your normal soreness; going down the stairs is not my friend, thankfully it is not open toe shoe season, but no injuries and I feel overall ready to get back out there.


But where? 


Full disclosure: I am not done.  I still do want to break my personal best of 3 hours 50 minutes.  I may, however, have to let go of the fact that it will be in New York where this happens.  I may have to accept that when I did 3:50 New York, I was 32 which is prime running age for women, childless, and at a different point of life.  


I still do not believe that age determines all, and I just demonstrated that by running, at age 40, the NYC Marathon faster than I did when I was 20, 29, and 39.  But it is true that, you do have to put more effort into getting where you want to be; and more and more, balance and off-set the chance of injury.  


So; am I done running marathons? No, I am not.  But each needs to have its own meaning.  And when it comes to the New York Marathon, it is truly about the experience; the crowds, the terrain, the hills, the views, the energy and, for that it should be celebrated.

Laura Kovall