Race Report: TCS NYC Marathon

If you’re here to read about my experience leading up to and finishing the 2016 TCS NYC Marathon, I highly recommend you sit back and relax. This is going to be a long post.

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The 2016 TCS NYC Marathon was the fifth time I finished the marathon distance in two years and third marathon I did so this year alone. I was a spectator for this amazing race on two previous occasions when I was living in Brooklyn, NY and spoke to countless people who ran this race and shared their experiences. I thought I had a pretty good idea what to expect when it was time to participate in this amazing race, but the reality is I had no idea.

This weekend would be extra special as I was running for Team TCS and, together with my wife and son, would be treated like VIPs all weekend. I was excited about having them with me not only to experience what the city would feel during race weekend, but to see me finish as well!

Training

After the issues I had at the Erie Marathon in September, my goal was to toe the line on November 6th as healthy as possible. I had eight weeks to recover and I took full advantage of it. In hindsight, I may have taken it too easy in the weeks leading up to this race as I didn’t do any speed work, although I did a couple of long runs at 32 and 30 kilometers. When I ran the 2016 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon (STWM) on October 16th and had issues with the same knee, I decided it would be best to taper for three weeks instead of two. How this factored into my results I don’t know, but I’m sure there is a coach somewhere out there shaking their head at all this!

Arriving in New York City

We flew into LaGuardia Airport Saturday morning and took public transportation to the JW Marriot Essex House on Central Park South. The hotel was situated very close to the finish line which would be very convenient. Once we arrived at the hotel, we quickly checked in and headed over to the TCS New York City Marathon Health and Wellness Expo at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. My friend Claire (whom I met through Instagram and in real life at the Erie Marathon) was staying in the same hotel, so she joined us on the way to the expo.

The Expo

My first stop was the Team TCS booth to grab my bib and VIP passes for my wife and son. Next, we started to walk around a bit to take in the experience. My mom, dad, brothers, sister-in-law, and nephews and nieces were meeting us at the Expo, but once we saw how insane it was, my wife and son met my family outside and I speed walked past the booths. I saw a bunch of familiar faces from Instagram and the usual pro athletes; Kara Goucher was in the Nuun booth chatting with Kevin Rutherford (Nuun’s Chief Electrolyte Officer) and Meb Keflezighi was signing autographs in another booth. I bumped into Alan Brookes, race director for Canada Running Series as well as Mark Gardner from Tribe Fitness! Even Dean Karnazes was walking around chatting with people! My family ended up coming in for a few minutes, but it really was difficult to walk around with so many people.

The expo was a surreal experience and I wish I had more time to experience it, but we were getting hungry and my family had to leave.

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Alan Brooks of Canada Running Series (left) and Mark Gardner of Tribe Fitness (right)
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The Fam!
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Kevin Rutherford of Nuun and Kara Goucher!
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Liz (IG/emaiuolo)

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Pasta Dinner

For a few weeks leading up to race weekend, a few Instagrammers were trying to coordinate a meetup the night before the race. For weeks we chatted about the race and got to know each other a little better. It wasn’t easy to find a place that could seat 12 people, but somehow we managed and the food was fantastic! I now have friends for life and hope we can meetup again at a future race! Even as I write this race report, we’re still chatting about the weekend, how much fun we had, and how sore we are! Thank you Christina, Jess, Jenna, Joel, Robyn, Gregg, Claire, Gaby and Carlos for being part of an amazing weekend!

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Gregg, Jess, Me, Christina, Joel, Claire, Robyn, Jenna. Carlos and Gaby had to leave early!

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Pre-Race

Sunday morning was Daylight Savings Time, which meant we got an extra hour sleep. I still went to bed at 9pm on Saturday, but I didn’t get an extra hour of sleep. I was supposed to be up at 5am to get ready and board the Team TCS bus by 6:15. I ended up waking up at 4am and laid in bed for an hour waiting for the clock to hit 5am. We didn’t have anything to eat in the room (big mistake!), so I headed down to the bus thinking it probably would only take 45 minutes to get to the athletes’ village in Staten Island. I had to be in my corral by 9am, so I had plenty of time to fuel up!

Jenna and I were discussing a race strategy over dinner the night before and decided we would run together. Jenna is an accomplished runner who ran Boston three times and will be running it again in 2017 so I was really looking forward to running with someone who could hopefully keep me in check along the way! She was starting in Wave 1 – Blue Corral D. I was in Wave 1 – Blue Corral E. She would be able to start in my corral as you’re allowed to move back if you want in the corral. The plan was for Jenna to meet me at the Team TCS tent at 8:15am and we would walk to the blue corrals together.

We boarded the buses just before 6am and rolled out around 6:30am. The cool thing about the bus ride is we had a police escort through Manhattan. Unfortunately, it still took about an hour to get to Staten Island and once we were there, another 25 minutes or so to get off the bus. Needless to say, I hadn’t had a bite to eat or a drink the entire time! I finally asked if anyone on the bus had a banana and someone was kind enough to give me one. At this point, I was starting to get a headache from the lack of food. Crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, many of us looked out towards Manhattan and joked that it seemed a lot further than 26 miles!

It was really easy to clear the screening area. I wanted the post-race poncho, which meant I couldn’t carry a bag to the start. This meant I was able to quickly head to the Team TCS tent for food, water, and a port-a-potty. By the time I got to the tent, it was 8:40. I had 20 minutes to eat, grab a coffee, use the washroom, and then run (yes RUN!) to the blue corral. I made it with minutes to spare. I didn’t see Jenna and assumed she went into her corral when she didn’t see me. I was feeling really rushed at this point and a little anxious about the start.

The weather was near perfect for a race (maybe a touch warm, but we were starting later than I have started in previous races). There was a slight chill in the air and it was a bit breezy, but I knew it would warm up once we started. I didn’t bring gloves or throw-away clothing with the exception of a pair of socks I cut holes in to create arm sleeves. Other than that, a singlet, shorts, and compression shorts were definitely the right choice!

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I walked around the corral a bit and was surprised to see Theo Rossi talking to a few people. Theo played Juice in Sons of Anarchy and was easily one of my favorite characters. For those that don’t know SOA, he currently plays  Hernan “Shades” Alvarez in Luke Cage. I asked if I could take a photo with him and he was really awesome about it! According to his IG page, the TCS NYC Marathon was his first time racing the marathon distance and he finished in 03:35:48! Very impressive Theo! Congrats!!

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Around 9:50am, they let the Wave 1 runners inch closer to the start line. One of the runners in front of me, Dariusz, had his IG name printed on the back of his singlet and I recognized him as someone I follow and chat with from time to time. One of my favorite parts of the race was chatting with Dariusz at the start as it really took my mind off what we were about to accomplish!

A short time later, someone sang the national anthem and immediately after that, I heard what I thought was a canon, then we were off. “New York, New York,” by Frank Sinatra was blaring on the speakers and my adrenaline levels shot through the roof! The best part about the start of the race is you really can’t move around as it’s fairly crowded and considering the first mile or so is an uphill climb on the bridge, you really don’t want to go out too fast.

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Theo Rossi!
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No, I didn’t bump into Madonna at the start!
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Dariusz aka IG\dariusz_l

The Race

I mentioned earlier I really didn’t know what to expect on race day. When the race started, I remember one thing very clearly. I kept thinking, “I’m about to run on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and I don’t have to pay $15USD to cross the damn thing!”

I also haven’t mentioned my race strategy yet. Deep down, I would have loved to BQ in NYC, but I was told by a lot of people it’s very difficult to do. It’s not impossible, but the course is unforgiving and can eat you up. If the bridges don’t beat you, the climb up 5th Avenue at the end likely will. My plan was to go out conservatively, build speed through Brooklyn, take it easy on the Queenboro Bridge, and see what I had left in the tank for the last 10-12 kilometres through the Bronx and Manhattan.

First 5K splits: 5:23, 5:02, 4:39, 4:49, 4:33

For the first three kilometers, it’s just you and the sound of tens of thousands of feet hitting the pavement around you. There are no spectators at this point and that’s probably a good thing. I kept my eyes on the bridge in front of me and watched for the point where you can see the other side starting to dip downhill. I eased up on the gas on the downhill and let people fly by me. There was plenty of time to think about moving up. At the 4K mark, you exit the bridge and make a left on 92nd street (the spot where I used to watch marathon runners pass me years ago!) and then a right on 4th Avenue. 4th Avenue is the longest straightaway on the course and one of my favorite parts of the race. I lived in Bay Ridge for a number of years, so I know the kind of characters that live in this hood. As always, they did not disappoint! They were loud, funny, and very passionate about cheering on the runners. The signs were hilarious and I must have given high-fives to 15-20 kids. I was running on the right side of the street at this point as my family was waiting for me around the 9k mark.

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Crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge!

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My pacing was pretty good at this point and I was feeling great!

Second 5K splits: 4:43, 4:54, 4:52, 4:34, 4:48

My mom, dad, and nephew were waiting for me around 42nd Street and 4th Avenue. My nephew made a sign for me and I was slowing down every so often to look out for the sign. I wasn’t concerned as I really wanted to see them. In the few kilometers leading up to this point, I started to get really choked up. My parents never saw me run and here I was running the TCS NYC Marathon! I wiped away a few tears and kept my eyes peeled for the sign. Finally, around 40th or 41st Street, I saw them. My dad wasn’t looking at first, but I started waving my arms and my mom screamed! My dad and nephew turned around and saw me coming. I didn’t want to stop, but maybe I should have because instead of giving them a high-five, I think I hulk smashed the sign and may have caught my nephew in the face. For the next kilometer, I felt really bad and wondered if I should have stopped. It’s funny what you think about when you run a marathon!

I took my first gel at the 9k mark.

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The sign before I hulk smashed it!

Third 5K splits: 4:38, 4:36, 4:36, 5:01, 4:38

Once I passed my parents and nephew, I decided I would start my race. Time to dip down into the 4:30s. At the 11km mark, my right knee started to get sore. The same feeling from Erie and STWM. Not good! At the 14km mark, we made a right onto Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene and my knee was really giving me trouble. I pulled over to the right side of the course, jumped onto the sidewalk and crouched down for about 10 seconds to stretch. I got up and the pain was starting to subside; this really started to weigh on me considering we had so much running left to do. The crowds at this point were amazing and I felt as if there was music playing the entire time (there were DJs as well as people blasting personal radios with awesome music!). We passed through Clinton Hill and then made a left on Bedford Avenue towards Williamsburg.

Fourth 5K splits: 4:36, 4:39, 4:43, 4:38, 4:42, 5:06

Running through Williamsburg is a lot of fun, but also presents an interesting challenge. The crowds were really exciting here and the energy was awesome, but there are also a lot of Hasidic Jews in the area and they kept trying to cross the street. Sure, people try to cross the street along the course, but it was very prevalent here. I tried to look away every time I saw someone darting across the street because there were a lot of runners bunched together on Bedford Avenue and spectators were getting clipped by runners as they tried to cross. Someone running in front of me stopped short to let someone pass and I had to put my hand on his back to avoid slamming into him.

I took my second gel at the 18k mark.

Time at the halfway mark: 01:42:26. Slightly behind where I wanted to be, but I can make that up in the second half.

22K to 30K splits: 4:53, 4:43, 4:51, 4:37, 4:46, 4:19, 4:44, 4:53, 5:08

The next few kilometers includes the second bridge (Pulaski which takes us into Queens) and makes a number of turns before the lead up to the looming third bridge, the Queensboro Bridge (which takes us into Manhattan). My pacing around this point took a bit of a hit as I eased up on the Pulaski Bridge to conserve energy and then again on the long climb up the Queensboro Bridge. The climb wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, although this is the first time I saw people starting to walk the course. A few hands started going up around me as people were slowing down a bit. When you exit the bridge on the left, you make a quick jug handle turn under the bridge before entering 1st Avenue. Almost every race report I read mentioned the crowds were the loudest at this point, but either my mind was too focused on my the cramps I started feeling at this point or perhaps they were taking a break from cheering as they weren’t as loud as I was expecting them to be.

I took my third gel at the 27k mark.

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Queensboro Bridge

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31K to 35K splits: 5:06, 5:49, 5:07, 5:47, 5:00

At some point around here, I started to side stitch really bad. It was really hard to run and this is the point of the race where I changed my strategy from racing to running. I found myself slowing down often and, on some occasions, walking to catch my breathe to allow the cramps to subside. 1st Avenue is a lot of fun to run on as the street is wide open and there is plenty of space to spread out. There were quite a few people walking at this point and some were in pretty bad shape. Not much more running left to go, but given the state of my cramps, I was just hoping it didn’t take me too long to finish!

36K to Finish: 5:33, 5:15, 5:40, 5:49, 6:19, 6:24, 6:59, 5:47, 5:26

The rest of the race I just started taking in the sights and sounds. The final 6km or so was a combination of walking, running, and stopping. I took a few seconds to stretch my right hamstring at one point and I was welcomed by a wicked charlie horse that scared the heck out of me! It was around this point when I witnessed the first runner collapse. Thankfully there were volunteers in the area who were well prepared and they started to treat him immediately.

We crossed the fourth (Willis Avenue) and fifth bridges (Madison Avenue) bridges at this point. It’s also an interesting part of the course because we run through Manhattan, cross into the Bronx for a mile, and then cross over into Manhattan again. I read a sign that read “Welcome to the Bronx” and had to laugh because we were only there for a mile! Regardless, they were very proud of their borough and happy to have us pass through!

Making the turn on to 5th Avenue was one of my favorite parts of the race. Various Running Crews were lining the streets at this point and the spectators were absolutely awesome! At one point, 5th Avenue is cut off by a park and we had to make a few turns to get around it, but once we did, we could see Central Park on our right. it started to get really loud here and I felt obliged to stop to talk to a few spectators. Just kidding! My right hamstring was twitching really bad at this point and I had to stop a few times because my leg no longer wanted to work correctly!

We reached The Ninja Hill, as Liz (IG\emaiuolo) refers to it on her blog, on 5th avenue before turning into Central Park. It was around this time I started to get really emotional again. The park was packed with people and they were all amazing! My right leg wasn’t even working properly at this point, but I don’t think my legs carried me through the park at all; it was definitely the energy from people going nuts as runners passed them. I gave high-fives to everyone I could and had plenty of time to do so!

Unfortunately I did pass a few runners on the ground who were surrounded by medics and being treated with smelling salts. It really broke my heart to see them being treated less than a kilometre from the end.

We exited the park and made a right on 59th Street and then a right near Columbus Circle before heading back into the park. My hamstrung completely locked up at this point and thankfully I was close to the side of the course. I grabbed the railing and let the cramp run its course. I massaged it a bit and then did my best to make it appear as if I was running to the finish!

I don’t recall seeing any of the flags that lined the last few hundred meters of of the course. The very next day we walked through the finishing chute and there were clearly over a hundred flags from various countries, but for some reason, I completely missed it on race day. My wife and son were waiting for me in the grandstands just before the finish line, but sadly, I didn’t see them.

I raised my hands in the air and crossed the most famous finish line in the world! The first thing I did was look back. I wasn’t looking for my finishing time, rather I wanted to see others crossing the finish line. Some were running, some were walking, but all were smiling! I walked a few meters and saw Meb on the side handing out medals. I grabbed a medal, took a selfie with one of the world’s most famous marathoners, and hobbled towards the Team TCS recovery tent for my poncho and recovery bag. On the way to the recovery tent, I bawled my eyes out. I couldn’t contain it if I tried and it had nothing to do with my time. Running the TCS NYC Marathon is an incredible experience and when you cross the finish line and see the faces of other runners who crossed with you, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the moment.

I found the Team TCS recovery tent, grabbed my poncho and recovery bag, and headed to Tavern on The Green to find my wife and son.

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Meb!

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The Results

The TCS NYC Marathon will humble even the best runners in the world and I’m no exception. The course is not easy which is why people often rely on the spectators to carry them when their legs no longer will. There’s also a reason why this is one of six world marathon majors. Shutting down parts of five boroughs on New York city, including five heavily used bridges is no easy task and then there’s the heavy security presence required to ensure everyone is safe! I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m glad I had challenges on this course, but if it weren’t for some of these challenges, I would have missed out on a great deal of the race experience. I hope I get another opportunity to run this beautiful course again one day. When that happens, I may run it a bit slower to really take it all in.

I was very fortunate to have a unique experience this past weekend. Running for Team TCS meant my family was treated like VIPs. The generous hospitality by TCS which included virtual training plans, the hotel, transportation to the start line, fueling at the start, getting swept off the finishing chute to avoid the long walk to the exit, grandstand seating for my wife and son, and finally recovering at Tavern on The Green were all part of the Team TCS experience. For that, I am eternally grateful. Thank you Haley from TCS for being an awesome resource and coordinator for the rest of the Team TCS runners!

I also want to thank Margot from New York Road Runners for the incredible opportunity to share my experience through the TCS NYC Marathon social medial channels. Taking over the TCS NYC Marathon Instagram account was a highlight of my year! Thank you so much!

Official Time: 3:39:37

Post Race

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When I finally made it to Tavern on The Green, my wife and son were waiting for me inside. My wife bought me a rose which my son handed to me and I nearly broke down again. I wish they could have seen me finish, but hobbling over to them with the medal around my neck truly was an emotional moment.

We hung out for a few hours to eat, drink, and recover. There were mats in one section of the restaurant for runners to stretch and foam roll. Runners were also able to get their medals engraved with their finishing time, which I did. I never engraved a medal before, but this one was very special.

While we were relaxing, we starting chatting with a couple that was sitting with us. Turns out it was Cynthia Meyer, 4-time Canadian Olympian in shooting and her husband (and coach) Robert Cranshaw who also ran the TCS NYC Marathon. They were really cool!

After a few hours, we headed back to our hotel so I could get changed and we could head out for a walk in the area. People were still exiting Central Park hours after I did and it was a truly remarkable thing to watch.

The next day, we walked around Central Park so my son could blow off some steam. It was tough for him to be in an amazing city with nothing to do because everything was shut down. My wife really deserved the medal I proudly wore the next day just for trying to entertain him while I was running! Of course all my son wanted to do was climb the big rocks in Central Park with his dad and even though I could barely walk, I was happy to do it.

My wife wanted to visit the Strawberry Fields memorial in Central Park and there were quite a few runners taking photos with their medals. We then spent the next hour explaining to my son who John Lennon was and why a memorial was commissioned to remember him.

A perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

What’s Next?

2016 was a dream year for me with incredible results in multiple race distances. For the first time since I started running, I was healthy all year. The knee issues I had the last three races may likely be due to overuse, but it’s concerning nonetheless. I’m taking two weeks off from running to recover and heal, then I’ll be slowly building my base again. I have very lofty goals for 2017 which includes smashing my BQ time in the Spring to avoid having to suffer through the registration process like I did in September. I am already registered for the 2017 Chicago Marathon (my second World Marathon Major) and can’t wait to experience it!

Congratulations to everyone who finished the 2016 TCS NYC Marathon! Whether it’s your first time running it or your tenth, you’ll have incredible memories for life!

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17 thoughts on “Race Report: TCS NYC Marathon

  1. Wow! Such a great recap and so wonderful we got to meet up! Y’all 🙂 were all so amazing in person and I felt like we made forever friendships! I felt so similar with emotions and so angry at all the spectators crossing the course! It happened everywhere Congrats on a huge accomplishment, another marathon and enjoy the well deserved rest!!! Excited to see how 2017 shapes out for you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great recap!!!

    NYC has so far been my only marathon – I loved every single minute of it. I can’t wait to go back and run it again. I had to laugh at your comment about how long it would take to get to the start. I thought the same thing. I also didn’t eat much before and had less than 20 minutes to get into my corral when I finally arrived hours later. Lesson learned for next time!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Rebecca! NYC really is an amazing experience and I’m glad I got to do it! There are so many nuances you don’t think about in smaller races, but yeah, next time I’ll plan my nutrition a little better!

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  3. You, my friend, are a BEAST! Congrats on such a wonderful time. Reading your report brought back all the feels. NYC marathon was my first marathon and it was just such an amazing experience. 🙂 I can’t wait to try all the other world marathons minus Boston. Not fast enough for it yet. Maybe…one day. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah. I really wanted my first marathon to be a fun one and boy did the NYC marathon deliver. I entered the lottery for next year’s Chicago marathon. Just playing the waiting game now. 🙂

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