Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Advice for running the NYC Marathon; where to meet after the NYC Marathon

It is Daylight Saving Time in NYC this weekend - you get an extra hour of sleep. But be forewarned that iPhones should not be trusted as alarm clocks this weekend. Don't ask, just don't trust them. 

Because there is no official family reunion area this year, I am getting a lot of traffic to this blog from runners looking for a post-race NYC Marathon meeting spot. 

Thus I have re-ordered the paragraphs to address that issue first; then I discuss info about pre-race nutrition, the start area, the course, where spectators should watch, etc.

After Race– keep walking after the finish! You have little choice, since it’s a walk to exit the park, but you cannot lay down; you need to keep blood flowing. Drink lots of water, and eat the food they offer you, even if it’s the last thing on your mind. Have an indoor meet-up place to meet, because it will be very cold and it will take your family longer than they imagine to reach you.

Runners will likely exit the park at 72nd and Central Park West. Meet-up possibilities include:

New York Sports Clubs (NYSC.com) at 73rd, half block west of Central Park West, or 62nd St. half block west of Broadway; you could pay $10 and use the shower while waiting, and meet them in the lobby.

Trattoria Sambuca on 72nd St, on the south side, a half block west of Central Park West

Cosi Sandwich Shop, 2186 Broadway (77th St.)

Starbucks, a block west on Columbus Avenue, at 67th, 73rd, 76th, or 81st.

Celebration- After you recuperate for an hour and re-hydrate and begin to feel human, you will not want to sleep - you will want to celebrate and talk about your achievement. I highly recommend these three places, all clients who promise to roll out the welcome mat for marathon runners:

The Brickyard Gastropub is at 52nd and Ninth – about a kilometer from the finish line.  It has great food, terrific craft beers, and a great ambience – and NO STAIRS; I know the owners, and they say several runners have reserved tables, so it should be festive. Call them at 212-767-0077 to reserve, or email them at Info@BrickyardNYC.com.

Mustang Harry's is at 29th and 7th; take the 1 train from the Upper West side to the 28th St station. It is a large place with room for everyone, including about 200 on the first floor alone. Call 212-268-8930 to make a reservation.

I have run the NYC Marathon 3 times, the last in 2007. I’ve since run Boston, and Philadelphia twice. The 3 in NY I ran in 5 hours; the next two close to four hours; and the last was my best effort of all, as I ran 4:28 on little training after getting over pneumonia. I’ve dealt with adversity: under-training, under-tapering, near-fainting, horrific cramps, and hunger so bad I nearly chewed my fingers. Andyet I can't wait to run it again this year!

I’m so eager to run another marathon because, as my last race showed, I’ve learned how to prepare properly in the last few days before the race. Here's how you can do the same.

The Taper – Yes, it’s maddening. But no, you’re not ruining all your training by taking it easy these last few days. I tapered too much the 1st time and not enough the 2nd; not enough was far worse. Even as I got ready for my 5th marathon, I was frantic that the inactivity would haunt me in the race. Part of the anxiety comes because heavy training puts you in a steady zen state, and as you cut back, you come down off a high. And you want to start the race NOW, prove to yourself you’re still fit enough, and get back that high. Relax, continue to recover, the race will come soon enough, and your legs will be ready.

The Nutrition – the most important thing you can do right now is eat smartly the rest of the week. I screwed this up in Boston, and had my most disappointing effort; I could have solidly broken 4:00, but ran 4:04. I got this precisely right in Philly last year, and ran my fastest final 10K ever, even though the lack of training had me believing I’d walk from Mile 15 on. For the next 5 days, food is fuel that will drive your engine on Sunday. Avoid alcohol, hydrate adequately, and eat lots of fruit, veggies, carbs and protein. On Friday and Saturday, overload on the fruit and veggies, particularly ones high in potassium, including bananas and sweet potatoes with the skin on.  Eat small snacks until late on Saturday night and even on Sunday morning, whatever you think you can tolerate. Bring small snacks to munch on during the race. You should know by now what you can eat and still run.  You cannot eat a last meal at 6 pm Sat night, a small breakfast at 6 am on Sunday, and then expect to run a strong 26 miles ending around 2-3 pm on Sunday. That was my method in Boston, and that's where I nearly chewed my fingers at Mile 20. You should also consume a gel every 4-6 miles. If you have never tried gels, I confidently recommend Hammer Gels, from Hammer Nutrition; you can buy them at JackRabbit sports on 14th St. I’ve turned half a dozen people on to them on race day and everyone has loved them.

The Weather – right now, it looks very good – cloudy and a high of 50 degrees F.  This can change drastically right up to race time; the first two times I ran, on the morning of the race they projected partly cloudy and a high of 60; each time, it was sunny and in the low 70s by noon.  Using current forecasts, there are two things you need to know: first, the early morning wait before the start will be very cold; you have to turn in your post-race bag about an hour before the start, so plan to have a throwaway blanket and lots of throwaway clothes. Second, the weather may warm up by mid-race, causing you to toss your hat, gloves and extra shirt – and then temps may drop again in the later miles, leaving you freezing. Keep at least an extra pair of gloves and a head warmer in your pocket, or have a spectator available to meet you with them in the later miles. In a worst case scenario, ask someone in the crowd to give you gloves or a hat – believe it or not, someone will.

The Start Area - it is crowded and uncomfortable, and you spend most of it waiting on a bathroom line and talking to other runners. Don’t wait too long to bring your baggage to the truck; in 2007, this was a chaotic process, but I’m sure they’ve improved it.

The Race – If you have an ambitious time goal, do your best to be near the start of your wave. I've  started further back and no one was monitoring bib numbers; while it may be different closer to the front,  you should be able to move up past your assigned number. Unless you start near the beginning of a wave, there will be times in the first ten miles when you are very crowded; at times it will open up nicely, then get crowded again as waves come together. Don’t sweat it, and don’t waste a lot of energy zig-zagging. Go with the flow and know that it will clear out by about Mile 10, letting you run the final, most important 16 miles unimpeded.

There are three separate groups crossing the Verrazano - one on the upper left, upper right, and then lower - and they eventually join back up, one at a time.

If the weather looks warm and sunny, try to start on the right side of the upper level of the bridge (green?) - this means you run several miles in the shade on 4th Avenue, while the left side people run in unprotected sun  - this makes a BIG difference. Conversely, if it is cold, you may prefer the sun, so run on the left side of the upper (orange?).

Running across the Verrazano is an unbelievable experience - the views are stunning – NYC Skyline, Statue of Liberty, fireboats in the harbor spraying water. The first mile is straight uphill, but you don't feel it much since you're fresh and pumped; the second mile is equally downhill, to the end of the bridge. Then you run straight up 4th Avenue for about 4 miles, then weave 4 miles through ethnic neighborhoods in Brooklyn. These crowds are the best you'll see - spirited, proud of their heritage and eager to share it with the runners. ENJOY THEM!

The halfway point is on the Pulaski Bridge, going into Queens. It is fairly hard, but not that long.

You then run around Long Island City and onto the 59th St Bridge, the hardest part of the race. It is a long climb, somewhat similar to the Verrazano, though not quite as steep or long; it may be 3/4 mile to the top. There is no crowd support, and you're on the lower level, so it's dark and dank, the mood of all the runners drops, and you run seemingly forever before you even get over the water. I found it very hard the first two times, as I was not in top shape, but a bit easier the 3rd time.

Beware of the down hill of the 59th St Bridge - it is a short, steep, spiraling drop, and the 3rd time I wrenched my back a bit by taking it too fast - nothing too bad, but any little thing at 16 miles is a big thing.

If you ever find you need a bathroom stop, the Manhattan side of the 59th St Bridge always has a long line of porta-potties for which the wait is usually not bad.

Running up First Avenue is great - a rock star experience - the crowds are gigantic and boisterous and loud - though mostly drunk young people, not as interesting as the crowds in Brooklyn. First Avenue has a slight incline the whole way. Make sure not to get carried away by the crowds; one elite runner famously ran a 4:34 mile on First Avenue because of the excitement, and did quite poorly the rest of the way.

When you get near the top of First Avenue, past 100th St or so, the crowds thin for the only time of the race; you then run a mile in the Bronx, then came across another bridge back into Manhattan. I've worn headphones for this 4 mile stretch only in some races.

You then enter Spanish Harlem and Harlem, which are interesting places, and then end up on Fifth Avenue for a long run down to the entrance to the Park. The crowds on Fifth are fantastic because they are right on top of you; but they also shout "you're almost finished" when to you, 3 miles away is not almost finished. You enter the Park around 5th and 89th, and 8 blocks into the park, you get a fantastic, long, sloping downhill, followed by a short, steep uphill. You run down to 59th and out onto Central Park South, then go back into the park on the West Drive, to the finish.

Friends / FamilyThe runner has to find the spectators - if they simply stand at some random spot and look for you, odds are overwhelming that they will miss you, since many runners look the same and in your running get-up you don't look much like you do when they usually see you. So I always knew where they would be and ran right up to them; it gave me something to think about! They also got a distinctive mylar balloon so I could spot them a few blocks away.

My support group was ambitious and knows the city well, so they met me in 3 places, at Miles 14, 18 and 23. I always met my group at:

Long Island City (approx 13.5 miles) on Vernon Blvd. Between 47th and 48th (on the right hand side of the runners), right outside the Vernon/Jackson stop on the 7 train.

Then, they took the 7 towards Times Square and switched at Grand Central to the Lexington Line UPTOWN 6 local to 103rd St and walked back to 101st St, and met me on the northwest corner (runner’s left side) of 101st  and First Avenue (Mile 18). 

Then they walked across 101st St and met me on the northeast corner (runner’s left side) of 101st and Fifth Avenue (Mile 23).

The good part of this arrangement is (1) Long Island City is less crowded and easy to get to - the meeting spot is right outside the subway station, and (2) It allows for three spots; you REALLY appreciate seeing them at Mile 23, and it's a great place to view the race.

The bad part is (1) they have to move quickly to get from stop 1 to 2; if you run a 9 minute pace, it's only about 38 minutes, and they have to take the 7, switch to the 6, then walk 3 avenues east; but it is doable, my family has done it 3x, with kids in tow, and never missed me; the reason they go to 101st is that First Avenue is very, very crowded, particularly at the streets of the subway stops; and (2) it is a LONG walk - about 2.5 miles - from 101 and Fifth across the park to CPW and down to the meeting area around 72nd St. It will take them about 50 minutes, while you'll finish about 27 minutes later at a 9 minute pace.

A less ambitious plan would be for them to see you in LI City and then take the 7 to the R train in Times Square; then take the R uptown to 59th and Lexington, walk up to 6th Avenue and watch you in Mile 25 along Central Park South; then it will only be about a one mile walk to where you exit the park.

Have a great run!


Sonya said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this post! it's my first time running a marathon and I'm really nervous. These tips will surely help :)

Mark Moran said...

Good luck Sonya! Trust your training. If you followed anything close to the recommended schedule, the race will be easier than your hardest training run.

Patty said...

Mark, this post is great! I am running the NYC Marathon on Nov. 6 and starting to panic! I like your comment about trusting your training because that's exactly what I'm NOT doing right now...I keep worrying I didn't do enough or shouldn't have skipped some runs! ahhh...I just hope to finish, I'll be so upset if I can't for some reason!

Andy said...

Thanks for the tips! I'm a big fan of Fordham Law runners. I'm a current 3L and a bunch of classmates are also running the NYC marathon with me this year.

All the best,

Mark Moran said...

Patty, you will rock it. Aside from the pros, no one hits every workout according to the schedule. If you do 85% of them, that's good enough. There's also not a darn thing you can do now, other than get in a good 8-10 miler on Sunday and a few modest runs next week to maintain your current condition. The other CRITICAL thing to do is to eat right for the full week; see my newest post on what to eat the week before the marathon. I cannot overstate how crucial it is that you go to the line with all essential vitamins and minerals in your system- so eat plenty of fruits, veggies, and low-glycemic carbs in the 3 days before the race. I did this right once in 6 marathons, and it was the only time my legs did not cramp up.

Mark Moran said...

Andy,have a great run! That's terrific that you and so many of your classmates found the time to train for this. As you will learn, there is no greater alumni family than the Fordham Law Alumni. Let me know how it goes!