I woke up to silence. Where was the annoying buzz of my alarm clock? Looking at the clock it said 6:00. “Damn I forgot to set the alarm.” I wanted to be finished with my morning stretch and walking Chico by now. “Don’t worry Frank, you still have time,” I told myself. Moving faster than I wanted, I did my stretches made coffee and walked Chico.
Kissing Esther before I left, I let her sleep in, a luxury she rarely gets. She planned to meet me towards the end of the race when seeing her smiling face would give me a much-need boost.
Leaving home at 7:30 there was still time to get to Central Park before the 8:30 start. Listening to the Canada/Sweden gold-medal game as I drove in I tried to get into race mode as the butterflies were swirled around my stomach.
It’s no secret I came into this race unprepared, I’ve posted about it here and here. The last time I ran a marathon without any long runs was the 2012 Long Island Marathon. My Dad had hip replacement surgery a few weeks before the race and I did very training runs and no long runs while he recovered. I knew if I didn’t run a smart race, it would start getting ugly after about 15 miles.
Coming in I knew I wasn’t running a p.r.—I was ok with that. Running a smart race meant fixing mistakes made in past marathons. Before yesterday I ran 10 marathons—went out too fast in all of them—and paid for it in the last six or seven miles. A 4:45 marathon was my goal, to do that I planned on running a 2:08 for the first half and 2:37 for the second half. That meant running 9:46 splits for the first half of the race and 11:59 splits for the second half.
Dropping off my bag at 8:15 I said hello a few NYC Runs Crew members who are Facebook Friends and walked the mile to the start of the race. I got my first surprise of the day when I heard, “Hey Frank!” Looking up I saw my friend Linda, who told me here husband Leo was running the marathon.
I found Leo at the back of the corral with a hug and a smile. Leo is training for his next Ironman and like me the rough weather cut into his mileage. Coming into the race with a tank of gas that was less than half full we knew running a slow steady pace was the only way to get through this race. Leo looked at me and said, “5:14:59”, a reference to the race’s 5:15:00 time limit.
The course started on 96thStreet, 1.2 miles from the 102nd Street Transverse from there it was five loops from the transverse to the bottom of the park. Thankfully Harlem Hill was not part of the course. Leo and I spent the first loop catching up on family and friends and cracking the kind of jokes that make our wives roll their eyes. Passing the 72nd Street transverse we cheered a woman running the half—on crutches.
We ran the first loop faster than we wanted—running splits between 9:18 and 9:49. Starting the second loop Leo told me his longest training run was 10 miles. “Don’t worry,” I told him, “we’ll make up for it today.”
The second loop was similar to the first, only slower, running “the tits” the pair of hills on the west side and Cat Hill on the east side will do that to you. Passing the Fred Lebow statue Leo pointed to the other side, “Look there’s Linda!” We waved as she snapped a few pictures as we passed.
At the midway point at my watch said 2:09 and change, my legs still felt good but were moving slower. Running over 40 races in Central Park taught me where the downhills are and where to ride them for speed and where to let gravity carry me to save my legs.
14 miles in Esther texted me, she was leaving for the park, I replied, “14.30 in two2217. Linda is in the park—call her when you get there,” thankful for the voice recognition software on my iPhone.
Finishing our third loop, I looked up and saw Coach Maria, who told me she’d pace me for a loop or two. Seeing Leo and I running together she said, “You guys look OK.” I told Leo about the running joke Maria and I have. Almost every time she’s come out to pace me, she finds me running with a pretty girl. Today she found me running with you.
On our fourth loop, Leo said, “you carried me 17 miles, you have to go.” I told him,” You kept me
running a steady pace, I didn’t carry you.” Fighting our way up a hill that felt like a full D Cup we fist bumped and I coasted down the next hill to navigate the last nine miles solo.
Running more than walking I passed Linda as I started the last loop—giving her a high five I said, “One to go.” Checking my watch and doing mental math, I realized I was ahead of pace. Coasting down the east-side hills with three miles left, I thought if I could keep this pace, I’ll run a 4:40.
I spent the last three miles alternating between running and walking. I played leap frog with a blonde runner dressed in green for two miles, taking turns passing each other. Walking up Cat Hill my 4:40 was slipping away from me. Starting a slow shuffle at the top of the hill I passed her, when my shuffle became a walk, she passed me, and then I passed her. At 96th Street she passed me for the last time.
With a half mile left, I shuffled towards the transverse listening for music and the end of the race. Checking my watch at the last turn, I could still break 4:45. Looking up and seeing Esther and Linda shouting “4:45” I mustered up a last kick finishing in 4:44:26.
After hugging and kissing both Esther and Linda, I gave them my race recap as we waited for Leo to finish. He came in at 5:02:10. Walking over on shaky legs I gave him a hug to congratulate him. Coach Maria came by to congratulate both of us. “Hey Maria, I ran my 20 miler today,” I joked.
It didn’t matter that this was one of my slower marathons. Coming I knew I didn’t have my best, but I dug deep and finished what I started. For today, that was enough.