Race report: 2017 New York City Marathon

Selfie in front of an ad for the 2017 NYC Marathon

It will move you

So, New York… we meet again!

Returning to NYC for the first time since running the marathon in 2014, I knew going into training that the minimum goal is to beat the 4:55:15 from three years ago.

The 16-week training cycle didn’t start as well as I would have liked; a sore knee was affecting my runs, and even when I wasn’t running. But trips to a physiotherapist and a chiropractor helped improve that. Even so, personal and professional commitments had me move my workouts so that I would go for days without running, then do three runs in four days. And on top of that, I signed up for a Virtual Trainer (VT) program that is based on my goals and past running. While I barely kept up with the workouts provided by the trainer, I enjoyed more the associated Facebook group where I connected with other VT users through advice and support. Over time, my main feed was almost exclusively populated with posts from the VT group.

For the flight to New York, I settled on a non-stop flight from Vancouver to JFK, but it was a red-eye on Cathay Pacific. Once I cleared security at YVR, I forced myself to think in New York time, which actually worked, as I managed to function mostly normally on a full Thursday. For accommodation, I stayed again in Brooklyn; it was a four-storey brownstone where other guests were there for the Marathon, either as runners, or parents or children of runners, or a member of the press corps covering the race.

Heading to Staten Island on race day, I just felt relaxed; as my second NYC Marathon, there wasn’t as much jitters as in 2014. The lines were still there, testing my legs early, and questioning why I’m there, but once in the start village, I was ready to go.

Unlike in 2014, I started on the upper level of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and that was an experience. Also unlike other races, I didn’t have a detailed strategy regarding pacing or milestones. A steady pace, with some surges, was the goal.

The drizzle started early, around mile 3, and never really stopped. It was typical Vancouver weather, and I was enjoying it. The simple shirt-and-shorts outfit was suited for this, and I was glad I didn’t layer up.

As in training, my fueling was necessarily precise: one gel packet every 25 minutes. Sometimes I timed it to be just before a water stop; the rest I used the water bottle I brought with me. That strategy worked; I was expecting some kind of wall or bonk on crossing back to Manhattan from the Bronx, but it never happened. I even picked up a bit of speed along 5th Avenue.

As the miles remaining went to single digits, I did my mental calculations to see if I can make 4:50, since going 4:55 looked likely by the time I entered Central Park. I rounded the turn off Columbus Circle with a chance, but even with a final kick I finished at 4:50:19.

Posing with the finisher medal at the 2017 NYC Marathon

I’m going to print and frame this! Moments after receiving my medal.

I crossed that finish line almost five minutes faster than when I ran the same course in 2014. I ran this marathon end-to-end non-stop without hitting the wall. This is a double win.

I went into this marathon not sure if I’d do another one. The training, while solid at the end, was inconsistent in terms of timing, which is one thing I’d like to control better. But after the way I ran it, I think I want at least one more chance to break my all-time personal best (4:39 in my first marathon in 2009).

For now, I’m going to take it easy until the end of the year. No training, but just run as I feel. I already have a couple races nailed down for 2018, but no marathons, yet…

32397 overall
21191 male
3571 male 35-39


Race report: 2014 New York City Marathon

Selfie with a subway advert for the 2014 New York City Marathon

Get Your Together On

It was not my fastest marathon I’ve run, but of the three I have now completed, I must say that this was the most satisfying in that I had a strong finish.

But let’s start at the beginning, in 2012, when I was originally scheduled to run this race. Of course that didn’t happen, and I chose to come back and run it this year. Throughout this training cycle, including two 10k races, I’ve felt I could have a chance to break my personal-best time, but I also wanted to have fun in this race and soak in the atmosphere, the joy, of running through New York. In my mind, they’re not mutually exclusive, but I’d go for the latter if the former becomes out of reach.

I tried not to stress myself out between landing in New York and the race, although getting into the expo to pick up my bib was a bit of an ordeal (the queue wrapped around several times on the streets surrounding the convention centre).

Read the rest of this entry »

Training update: dispatches from the long run

Yesterday, I completed the last long run of my training for the NYC Marathon. I brought my phone in an armband (that I bought a week ago) to test how well it travels with me.

The first hour was just pouring rain; I don’t how well I’d fare for four hours of it. But it mostly stopped by the time I entered Pacific Spirit Park. The first picture was on the trail after mile 7;  the second is not even 15 minutes later. It made the rest of the run much more pleasant!

Imperial Trail in Pacific Spirit Regional Park

Imperial Trail, around mile 7

Salish Trail in Pacific Spirit Regional Park

Salish Trail, between miles 8 and 9.

Selfie on Salish Trail, Pacific Spirit Regional Park

Selfie on Salish Trail

Maybe it was all the breaks I was taking for photos, or to consume gels & water, but I survived the almost four-hour run, completing 21 miles (33.9 km). My pacing was consistent, and even on the five separate miles I sped up, my legs were up to the challenge. I just have to be just as consistent with pacing and fueling, and I think I’ll do well for the big race. I just have to endure three weeks of agonizing taper!

Kitsilano Beach, Vancouver, taken 11 October 2014

Kitsilano Beach, about mile 14.5

Cancellation of 2012 NYC Marathon and running instead in support of Staten Island

I started composing a post soon after learning of the cancelation of the 2012 New York City Marathon, but I was so affected I couldn’t put anything into words.

Having arrived in New York a few days earlier amid the growing controversy over letting the marathon continue as scheduled, I personally felt torn about running the race while recovery efforts continued. It also emerged that Staten Island, where the race normally begins, was hardest hit within NYC.

I went to the convention centre on Friday to the race expo, but the reservations grew, especially as I made a slight detour through Chelsea, where emergency food rations were being distributed in a park. I picked up my bib despite those reservations. At the time, I figured I can run the race, and help out in any way I can afterward.

I returned Friday evening to the hostel where I was staying to use the wifi (no exorbitant data roaming for me) and see the twitter explosion about the race cancellation. “Shocked, but not shocked” formed part of my reaction tweet.

Saturday morning, the hostel organized a cleanup of a local park. We were shuttled by a parks employee to the riverfront park in northwest Harlem. There are signs of storm damage here, such as fallen trees, but our group was just tasked to rake the fallen leaves gathered at the edge of the basketball courts. Not what I expected, but every little bit helps, I supposed.

When we got back to the hostel, I discovered a newly-created Facebook group, New York Runners in Support of Staten Island. The group’s plan was for runners, whether or not they were supposed to run the NYC Marathon, to head to Staten Island to drop off needed supplies for the relief effort. So as not to overwhelm what’s already happening there, various groups would spread out across Staten Island, according to one’s intended running distance.

Sunday morning, I set out for the Staten Island Ferry. Accompanying me was John, who was also staying at the hostel and was also set to run the marathon. I had told him about this initiative, and he was keen to go. On the way, we could see many people clad in orange, as that was the uniform for those participating in this endeavour.

Some of the organizers of New York Runners in Support of Staten Island

Some of the organizers of New York Runners in Support of Staten Island

It was great to see thousands of runners, carrying backpacks full of stuff, but others had boxes, and one even had a suitcase. The vibe was positive, and there were great cheers when the organizers starting using a bullhorn to make announcements (see above photo). John and I settled on the group running 10-12 miles total.

Once on Staten Island, the various groups splintered further, and we set off toward our destinations. I’ve never run with a backpack, let alone one that is filled with clothes and food, but this is not a race. Everyone went along at their own paces. For the first 5 miles, I saw what I’ve already seen on Manhattan: downed tree branches, and broken signs.

Soon after I saw curbsides full of garbage and a pump sucking water out of a house. We reached our destination, which was a distribution centre for relief supplies. One of the volunteers who was there requested that we take some items and pass it on to other centres along the way. We gladly dropped some of our stuff, took more, and continued on.

The scene changed very quickly. The severity of the destruction became more acute as we ran toward the ocean shore. John and I, along with two other runners, encountered a pair of brothers who were there to help out their parents, who live on Staten Island. According to them, their parents punched a hole on the roof of their house to avoid the rising waters.

There are many more stories like that from everyone who lives on Staten Island. We helped clear out the garbage and disassembled the shed of the house of Mary Anne, a 70 year old who lived not far from shore. (A photographer from the island newspaper stopped by and took this shot of her and John hugging.) As the flood waters were rising, she tried to call the attention of a passing rescue boat, but it was full. She then scrambled out a window and clung to her house’s gutter until someone finally rescued her. While she was clinging to the gutter, she witnessed a nearby fire to a house, the remnants of which are in the photo below:

Remnants of a house destroyed by fire caused by Hurricane Sandy

Remnants of a house destroyed by fire caused by Hurricane Sandy

Having never witnessed such destruction in person, I was humbled to see it for myself, and to be a part of the recovery. I totally agreed with the runner-volunteer who was quoted at the end of this New York Times article: “We had our marathon today. But it was just more of an emotional one.” I did run about 12 miles out-and-back that day, all told, but that is irrelevant compared to what happened between those 12 miles.

There were some moments of levity, mostly before we ran into the devastated area. While waiting for the ferry, I met members of Team Takbo, an NYC-based run group, some of whose members had been ready to run the marathon. There was some Gangnam Style dancing as the ferry docked on Staten Island. This is John, a French runner-volunteer, me, and two members of Team Takbo; we were at one of the distribution stations at the parking lot for the beach at the end of Midland Avenue:

Me and other runner-volunteers on Staten Island

Me and other runner-volunteers on Staten Island

But just because we runners have gone through, the emergency is not over. There is more to be done on the ground to help storm victims get back on their feet. New York City’s Service page is one resource where you can volunteer or donate.

Race report: 2012 Surrey Half Marathon

Posing with the finisher's medal for the Surrey Half Marathon

P366:335 – Surrey Half Marathon

I’ve totally neglected the blog over the last couple of months. But I’m not going to neglect the tradition of posting a report after a running race. This past Sunday was the inaugural running of the Surrey Marathon. Like the Green Sock Half this past March, I’m treating the half marathon event in Surrey as a stepping-stone in my training for the NYC Marathon. My intention was not to break my PR, even two hours, but to get a feel of marathon race pace for the big day in New York five weeks hence.

It was a great fall race: the weather was cool and cloudy, and the number of participants was small enough that everyone spaced themselves out after the first kilometre. The course looped counterclockwise around north Surrey, touching a number of the city’s largest parks before returning to the start point in the city centre. The course was generally flat with some gentle hills, but there are a number of turns, including a turnaround point on a (closed) Fraser Highway in Green Timbers Park. I personally liked when the race went off-street and into a couple of greenways that felt really serene when I ran on them.

The plan was to go very easy for the first few kilometres, pick it up to marathon goal pace for the majority of the half, then finish at a slightly faster pace. I executed it perfectly: averaging about 6:40/km (10:45/mi) in the first 5 km, and 6:25/km (10:20/mi) in km 5-15. I wasn’t thinking of a particular finish time, but 2:15 was reasonable. When I got to km 15 and noticed I would have to pick up the pace just to make 2:15, I picked up the pace. At some point the lead marathoner passed me (completing a 2nd lap of the course), and I vainly tried to catch up, finishing that particular km in a time of 5:25. In this last section, I assessed my progress each kilometre and felt I was on track to beat 2:15. Knowing this I slowed down slightly, but picked it up again in the last 500 metres, finishing in a chip time of 2:13:42. The last 5.1 km were all run under 6:00/km (9:40/mi).

Approaching the finish line of the Surrey Half Marathon

Finish line (photo by instagrammer freshlemon)

Surprisingly, I didn’t cramp near the end as I had done in previous races. It was also a good thing I wasn’t gunning for a PR, because the first half of the race seemed to lack adequate fluids at the designated aid stations. What could have been a table for drinks was shockingly empty, and I was left to downing my gels (at my usual long-run frequencies) without the requisite water. And speaking of water, I was disappointed that among the post-race treats for runners was bottled water.

However, I was quite pleased with the “music markers” scattered throughout the course; in keeping with the international theme for the race, a number of different countries were represented. The “Indian mile” along 88th Avenue, and especially the high-tempo performance when I passed in front of Bear Creek Park, was one of my favourites. Overall, I liked running in Surrey, and it’s now added to a dizzying collection of area races held around this time of year (the others are Victoria and Okanagan). Next year’s fall race might be a tough one to choose!

Training update: gotta find some place to stay!

Two books side-by-side: On the High Line and Walking New York

I picked up these two books I had placed on hold at my local library. I hope to spend some time in New York (likely after the marathon) exploring, both by transit and on foot. The book on the left should be a good introduction to the High Line, which is an abandoned elevated railway that has been converted to park space. It would be a good chance to see what, if anything, can be applied to Vancouver’s situation, particularly with the ongoing viaduct debate.

As the title of my post suggests, I still have to find a place to stay. I’ll be researching reasonably-priced accommodation in the next few days; this is where you come in. If you have been to New York (not necessarily for the marathon), where did you stay? My price point, by the way, is under $100/night. I don’t think that’s impossible, which is why I’m trying to book it now.

15 weeks until race day! Training has been going well so far. I’ve been going to hot yoga twice a week (got myself one of those online deals for a month of unlimited yoga for a dirt-cheap price), and my last long run has gone up to 18 km.

Training update: on the road to NYC

I have just started week 3 out of 22 in my training for the NYC Marathon. I’m using the same 22-week schedule that led up to the Vancouver Marathon to train for NYC. I plan to run at least three days a week (tempo, speed or hills, and weekend long run), with extra days for easy runs or cross-training when I can fit them in. I want to see if it was the training or race-day actions that contributed to my massive bonk on the Vancouver course.

I’ve also booked my flight to New York, so it’s getting a bit more real; it’s a bargain, but I’m flying out of Sea-Tac. As much as I would love to fly out of Vancouver (YVR), and on a non-stop to boot, the lack of choices (only two non-stops) and high cost forced my hand to fly out of SEA. I still have to book accommodation, and that cost will make me more determined to find work in order to finance this trip.

How about you: are you training for a race this summer? Tell me about it!