I ran my first marathon, the New York City Marathon, on November 3, 2019…Here is a mile by mile breakdown of my experience…
4:30am the alarm sounds. I sprung out of bed. The morning silence triggered my morning running ritual. I checked the weather, 42 degrees and mixed up my pre-run potion and popped in my Air Pods and played my meditative music while consuming my pre-race drink.
Mile 1: Wow–This is the Real Deal
Packed into the crowded corral jammed full of fellow runners, I elbowed my way toward the front right
of the start line. The scent of tiger balm infiltrated my nostrils as the runner next to me applied pain
relief ointment. I removed my red sweatshirt and the hair on my arms stand on end from crisp cool air.
The cannon went off. Adrenaline rushed through my blood as I thrust one leg in front of the other like pendulum. The 44 degrees no longer felt cold as my mind shifted to the reality of the 26 mile race I was about to run. As I crossed over the Verrazano Bridge, everything the magnitude of the race set in. This bridge was the steepest incline of the race, but my adrenaline and energy made it feel like nothing.
Mile 2–8: The Random Runner Who Became My Pacer
Running through the streets of Williamsburg — the narrow roads and trees brushing up on arms as runners weave through the city streets. DJ’s blast their songs. The stretch of Brooklyn was kind of a blur. I tried to eliminate the crowd from my perception and lock in a steady pace and rhythm. One thing that remains vivid was running into a guy from a Race Strategy session I attended earlier that week. Oddly enough, I saw him walk to the ferry sporting his “Boston Marathon” jacket just a few hours earlier. I overheard him say to his running buddy, “6:40 pace, we’re locked in.” Perfect I said in my head. Instead of using my watch, I used them as pacers for the next 5–6 miles.
Mile 8: Finding Family Among the Crowd
At mile 8, all the corrals converged into one race multiplying the crowd that lined the streets. The night before, my family, friends and I established our meeting locations and times. Mile 8 was the first location to see everyone. I scanned my head up and down the crowd that lined the streets like guardrails. I wasted quite a bit of energy turning my head and focusing on trying to locate my family. I end up not finding them. They found me. In the heavy congested field of thousands of runners, they spotted my red Henwood Hounds singlet.
Mile 9–12: Stick with the Plan
The Williamsburg street narrowed, and the race got really congested. This was the only point in the race where the road was so narrow that could I feel the crowds from both sides. The roar from the crowds hit like a wave of motivation. My energy and adrenaline was through the roof. I looked down at my watch and my pace picked up.
The allure of running fast with the crowds was overcome by my plan to run at pace.
I kept looking down to monitor my split times. Every time I checked my pace, I slowed down to avoid a burn-up later on. My breathes shallowed as my attention focused on checking my watch and avoiding stepping on others around me. It was effortful to not pay attention to the crowd with their hands reaching for high fives, horns blasting, signs and music blaring for your attention.
Mile 13–14: Hitting the Half Way Point at Pace
I reached the half marathon mark to see my time at 1:28. I looked down at my forearm to check my time and was about one minute under my planned pace. I realized later, the time 1:28 was official race time (gun-time), not accounting for the 2–3 minutes that passed before I started the race (chip time). I hit the Pulaski Bridge and it triggered a mindset to prepare for the beastly Queensboro Bridge
All I could hear was my coach’s voice echoing in my head, “work the bridge.”
Mile 15–16: Queensboro Bridge
One by one, I passed runners. The sound of spectators drifted away as the sound of strides working the pavement amplified. I reached the top of the Queensboro Bridge as the runner in front of me abruptly stops, as his leg is in a straightened position and his hand reached behind him to grab his hamstring. His left elbow connects with my right bicep… “Fuck” I scream. I was pissed, but quickly realized my future in this race was far more important. I rolled into the downhill off the bridge, eased my pace and deepened my breathes in an attempt to absorb the energy and grab some recovery.
Mile 16–17: A Boost From Family
Coach told me in advance the downhill off the Queensboro was a trap for fast running. At the bottom of the bridge was an intense wave of spectators cheering. I turned the corner at the bridge and heard the roar of spectators. The crowd was music to my ears and the open street lanes was beauty to my eyes. First avenue was one of the most exciting parts of the course. I felt relaxed and worked the crowd’s energy. I looked down at my watch at Mile 17 to find my pace creeping down towards 6 minutes. I pulled back my pace and made kept telling myself “stick to the plan.” I moved over to right side of the street to get distance from runners and focus on my strides and pace.
Mile 18–19: The Race Just Begins
I felt fresh up until eighteen, my strides were fluid, my breathing was under control and felt relaxed after taking in the crowd. Coach said if I was feeling good, I could start turning it up at mile 18. Seeing family at on First Ave felt so energizing. The the smile on Mom and Dads face hit me like a shot of adrenaline.
Mile 19: “Keep Going…You Can Do It”
The small bridge at mile 19 was one of the quietest points in the race, but I was prepared for it. Coach told me this part of the race gets really tough because it’s deserted of crowds and energy. I crossed the Willis Avenue Bridge and a woman wearing a Bronx t-shirt and her son offered up some words of encouragement from the sidelines. The “keep going” and “you can do it” echoed in my head on top of the silence in the Bronx. The streets were empty, but I pushed on. I passed a group of firefighters standing in front of their fire truck that was blocking the exit. Before the race, I was mentally prepared to expect a nightmare up in the Bronx, I heard it was deserted of crowds and I would be ‘feeling it’.
Mile 20: Waiting to Hit the Wall
I prepared for a tough rut at Mile 20 up in the Bronx. The frequent sharp turns at this stage of the race felt like trying to turn a shopping cart on a dime. Despite the weaving and turning, the Chinese drummers lining the streets helped me push through. I ran under a bridge that had a sign that said something about ‘Hitting a Wall.” Coming into the race, I was prepare to be in for “the wall” where my mind would go south, and I would start doubting myself. I didn’t know when it would come, but everyone made it clear it would come. I got to the end of the Bronx, and crossed the Madison Ave bridge back into Manhattan — and will never forget the sign a guy held “Last Fucking Bridge.”
Mile 21: Manhattan Never Felt So Good!
Crossing into Manhattan onto 5th Ave down to Central park felt like the home stretch. “Welcome to Manhattan” ignited the self talk in my head. This is your race, Jason. Time to bring it home. One leg in front of another, I barreled down 5th Ave as I got to mile 22 and I started to prepare mentally for the hardest part of the race. The uphill to Engineers Gate into Central Park.
Mile 22–23: The Hardest Part of the Race
A quick glance at the adjacent runners, and their faces display a wear and tear. Some were slowing their pace and cramping, doing their best to finish. These raw observations fueled a burning desire to dig deeper and push out these last 4 miles. I repeated to myself, “that will not be me.”
I was laser focused on the hill until I got distracted by hearing, “JASON!!! JASON!!” in loud screamed tone. I turned my head and saw my fiancé’s father waving his arms to catch my attention. I was so tired, but mustered the energy to give a wave and turned my attention back to the course. I could barely process the crowd as my focus was on getting up this hill.
My mind gripped the descending street signs like a mountain climber ascending up a mountain. 110th, 100th, 90th provided relief as I worked the long, steady uphill. I saw Coach and don’t remember anything he said, but his mere presence was a motivational force.
Mile 24: This is what I trained for
I reached 90th street the entrance to Central Park at Engineers Gate and felt at home. For the prior 5 months, I did most of my training in Central Park, starting at Engineers Gate, so this stretch felt familiar and comforting. Central Park was filled with spectators lining the streets, but I couldn’t see them. My attention was so tuned into the race, I was blind to the crowd.
I noticed a runner stopping just as he entered the park. Although my training well prepared me, all of my long runs only went up to 22 miles, and being my first marathon, it made these last miles a bit uncertain. I was anticipating a moment when I would feel like “hitting the wall” but it wasn’t going to be now. My mind drifted to to my tiring legs and feet, but I resisted. I forced my attention to deepening my breathe, and repeating in my head “I trained to hard for this”.
Mile 25–26: I will pass you
I ran along the west side of Central Park, and I heard the “Go Henwood Hounds,” as people spotted the red singlet on my shirt with a Great Dane across the chest. As I hit the bottom of Central Park south, the scent of horse manure hit my nose and the roar of the crowd grew larger. I saw a sign that said “800 meters” and had no idea how long that meant in miles, but I knew it was close. With less than a mile left, this was my time. Runners were falling apart — many just trying to get across the finish, but for me, I was turning it up.
Something came into me. The race turned into a game of passing as many runners as possible before the finish. The arches of my feet were on fire with pain, but my mind could only think about passing runners. I noticed a runner a head of me with a bright blue singlet with the letters DWRT (another competitive racing group in NYC) and was determined to not let him finish before me.
Mile 26.2: Win 2:54!
Coming around a corner on a slight upward slant, I could finally see the big blue archway. As I got closer to the finish line, a time clock with seconds ticking upward accelerated every last ounce of energy in me. I set out for a sub 3 marathon, but all I could think about crossing the finish line before the guy in the blue and yellow singlet.
First Marathon couldn’t be more happy for crushing my first marathon under 3 hours 2:54:32!