Monday, November 4, 2013

NYC Marathon: VIP Style!

A few weeks ago, I was offered the opportunity to run the New York City Marathon for free, courtesy of Asics!

I would receive a free, legitimate bib into the marathon, plus VIP transportation to the start line, VIP bag check, and "head to toe" Asics NYC Marathon gear. It was through their "Celebrate Running" contest, and my friend Chad and I were both selected as winners. Score!!! Greg refers to it as the "Cadillac" of NYC Marathon experiences.

Not only does a NYC marathon bib typically cost around $250, but it's also extremely hard to get in through their lottery system. In 2010, I didn't get in through the lottery, so I raised $3000 for Central Park to gain entry. Plus the cost of the bib.

Even though New York City would be just three weeks after the Chicago Marathon, this opportunity was too amazing to turn down. I didn't think I would ever run New York again, and now I had the chance to run it for free, with VIP treatment!

During the three weeks between Chicago and New York, I ran a grand total of 5 times. Most runs were only 4 miles, and my longest was 7 miles. I wanted to make sure I was as recovered as possible for NYC, and didn't want to risk delaying recovery by putting more strain on my body.

For various reasons, Greg opted to stay home and track me remotely. Given that NYC is so crowded that you might not even see your spectator or vice versa, I was totally fine with this, although I definitely missed him.

VIP Expo Treatment
Chad and I drove up to NYC on Saturday morning. We met up with our Asics rep, and his driver drove us from the hotel to the expo. Once there, we were allowed to choose pretty much whatever we wanted from the Asics NYC merchandise section, including shoes! I loaded up: a hat, an ear warmer, gloves, arm warms, socks, a long sleeved shirt, 2 short-sleeved shirts, a pair of shorts, 2 pairs of pants, and a jacket.

Free NYC Marathon Gear. Thanks, Asics!

It was so much fun getting to pick all this stuff out. I decided I would wear the arm warmers and the white shirt to run the race in. I would have worn the shorts, but it didn't have enough pockets for all of my gels the way my skirt does.

After the expo, Chad and I went back to the hotel, relaxed, and then went back out to dinner. We met up with his cousin and her friends, as well as the Asics rep, who paid for everyone's dinner. Asics was definitely very generous and I am so grateful to have had this opportunity! After dinner, the Asics rep gave chad and me special wrist bands that would allow us to access the VIP tent at the start line. This was a warm tent with tables and chairs, and plenty of food. Much preferable to the 3-hour wait that Greg and I had back in 2010 sitting on the ground, freezing our butts off!

Before the Race
Race morning came and I found that I didn't have my typical nerves. This was actually a bad thing because those nerves combined with the bagel that I eat first thing in the morning allow me to empty my digestive system fully before the race starts. And since the start wasn't until 10:05, I had to wait until I was on the bus to the start line to eat my bagel. Unfortunately, that did not get my digestive system going like it usually does.

Anyway, we took a special VIP bus to the starting area and promptly found our tent. I only stayed in there for a short time because I had to drop my bag off and then make my way to my corral. Chad and I separated because he had a different color bib, which meant a different starting location.

I was in the second of four waves, which equated to a 10:05 start time. The one benefit of being in the second wave, as opposed to the first, is that there were plenty of warm clothes left over from the wave 1 starters that I could sit down on. I had en entire pile of jackets to relax on, which made the wait inside the corral much more bearable. I was surrounded by a bunch of French guys and I felt like I was the only American there! Luckily, I speak French.

I was fortunate to get an orange bib, which meant I got to run above the bridge instead of below it like I did in 2010. So my first three miles were different from the 2010 race, which was cool. The forecast called for a sustained 15 MPH headwind for the first 21 miles, with temps in the high 40's to low 50's. I was told that the wind would be especially chilly on the bridges. I decided I would start off the race wearing arm warmers, and then ditch them if I got too hot.

Finally, they moved our corral out of the staging area and up to the start line. It was an amazing view of the bridge.

Miles 1-8
The first two miles took us over the Verazzano-Narrows bridge. My plan for this race was to start at a pace of 9:15-9:30 and then try to speed up if at all possible. My primary goal for running this race was simply to have fun and enjoy the experience, so I wasn't hung up on time. But I also wanted to practice strong execution.

My stomach started to feel off starting at around mile 3. I experienced some mild stomach cramping, but I did my best to ignore it and run through it. I was seriously hoping that my inability to go to the bathroom before the race wouldn't come back to haunt me.

This part of the course wasn't particularly scenic, but it did have a good atmosphere, as does the entire race. I took my first gel at mile 5 and even though my stomach had been bothering me, it seemed to go down fine.

I wore my headphone like I did in Chicago, and they seemed to enhance the experience rather than detract from it. I could still hear what was going on around me, but with the added benefit of inspiring music. Five For Fighting and Panic At The Disco were the two prevalent artists, quite an interesting mix!

Mile 1: 9:55
Mile 2: 8:53
Mile 3: 9:22
Mile 4: 9:01
Mile 5: 9:02
Mile 6: 8:57
Mile 7: 8:53
Mile 8: 9:18

Miles 9-13
This was when my race took a turn for the worse. During mile 9, I really had to go pee and there were no porta potties in sight. I saw a few guys go off the course into a parking lot and pee in between cars, so I did the same thing. Not something I am proud of, but I didn't have any other options at the time.

I felt a little bit better after that but soon realized that my stomach problems were much greater than originally expected. During the 10th mile, I was lucky enough to find an open bar, and they let me use their bathroom. It was such a major relief and I am very fortunate that I found that bar when I did. I don't think I could have waited another few minutes.

I felt much better afterwards and it was technically time to take my next gel. I figured that even though my stomach had been acting up, I should still take my gel because I didn't want to run out of energy later in the race. A mile later, I was paying for this decision, and found myself in the Meatball Shop in Brooklyn. After my previous bathroom stop, I didn't think it was possible that I would have anything left in me, but I was very wrong. Sorry if that's too graphic! But once again, I was very lucky that this place was open and that they were more than happy to let me use their bathroom. In fact, after I was done, everyone in the place was very encouraging, telling me to go out there and finish the race!

I got back into the race and felt pretty good. Usually after I have major stomach distress, the rest of my
Not sure what mile this is.
run is killed. I think that because I found restrooms exactly when I needed them and didn't have to run in pain while waiting to find a bathroom, that helped a lot. This is the advantage of big city marathons!

By this point, I was coming up on mile marker 12. I decided that I should just take the rest of the race easy and not try and speed up at all. I actually couldn't believe I still had 14 miles ahead of me, so I figured the best approach would be to relax, run slowly, and take in the experience.

I was also thinking about Greg tracking me at home and what he must think. Obviously there was a major slowdown between the 15K and 20K marks, and I was hoping that he wasn't thinking I was hurt.  Part of my motivation to keep running strong was to not worry him!

I crossed the halfway mark in 2:13:09. My original plan had been to cross it at around 2:02, but that was obviously out the window. It seems as if the bathroom stops cost me about 10-11 minutes. But I wasn't trying to run a particular time, so it didn't bother me. I just focused on running my best for the second half of the race.

Miles 14-20
These were the glory miles. I felt better at this point than at any other time during the race. The stomach issues were gone, I felt energized and excited to be running the race. I consider miles 15-16 to be the toughest miles of the course-- the Queensboro bridge. It's a mile uphill and a mile downhill, similar to the very first bridge. But by this point, your legs feel it a lot more.

Many people were stopped on this bridge to stretch. I remember how tough this was for Greg and me in 2010 and how I couldn't wait to get over it.  During the uphill mile, I stayed strong and focused, running at a very conservative pace. During the dowhill mile, I made sure not to go crazy fast, and was looking forward to being on First Ave. where the huge crowd was.

After we got off the bridge, we were finally in Manhattan. Miles 17-20 are a straightaway along first avenue and there are loads and loads of people lining the streets. This is when my favorite Panic! At the  Disco album started to play on my iPod and the timing couldn't have been better. The music and the crowds pumped me up so much and it was a definite high. I was smiling and waving at all the spectators, having the time of my life. I glanced at my Garmin from time to time and noticed that I was back down to a pace of around 9:00 for these miles.

Because the Garmin reception wasn't great during the covered bridge portion, I don't have accurate splits for those miles. But I would guess that my average pace for the "glory miles" was somewhere around 9:00-9:15.

During mile 18 I had some Honey Stinger Chews. I hoped those would be better for my stomach than the gels, and I knew I needed more calories to take me through the end of the race. Thankfully, I did not regret this decision!

Miles 21-Finish
During these last five miles, my legs told me that they didn't want to be running anymore. This is where I could tell I wasn't fully recovered from Chicago, and/or the NYC course just took a toll on my legs with all of the bridges and hills.

Slow, focused run to the finish.
My energy level and spirits were actually really high. Overall I felt very strong. It's just that my legs didn't want to move anymore. I decided that I would run to mile marker 21, and then allow myself a 1-minute walk. I did that, and then ran to mile 22, where I got another 1-minute walk. I did this all the way to the finish and it worked.

At this point about half the people were walking and half the people were slowly jogging. I didn't see anyone who looked particularly strong. It's just a brutal course, and the headwind had also taken its toll.  There were times when I thought I would never make it to the finish.

One motivator for me was that one of my best friends was in town that weekend, and she was leaving that evening. We had tentative plans for an early dinner, so I knew that if I wanted to keep those plans, I'd better keep moving and not walk my way to the finish. (Of course, this is based on the experience of knowing it would take me well over an hour to get back to my hotel post race).

I also noticed that when I was running, my pace was around a 9:30, which is decent. Sadly, when combined with my 1:00 walk breaks, the slows down to a 10:30. I was just relieved that I was in the home stretch and that I hadn't hit "the wall" in terms of my energy. Just in terms of my legs giving out on me. I did run the entire last mile (no walking) and found the energy to do it at a pretty decent clip. My official splits show my average pace steadily declining over those last five miles, but with the final run to the finish, it actually got very slightly faster. I love the feeling of finishing strong. This also shows how much of a mental thing marathon running is.

After The Race
I finished in 4:28:29, which makes this my 2nd slowest marathon of 16, and my slowest marathon since I started running them in 2006. I am totally fine with this, as NYC was meant to be about the experience and
About to finish
the fun, and not about running a particular time. I just PRed in Chicago three weeks ago, so I was by no means hungry for a fast race.

One of the reasons I had decided that NYC was a 1-time marathon was because the post-race experience is so miserable. Even with my VIP bag check (which means you can avoid the mile-long walk through the park to get your bag, and it takes 45 minutes because it's so crowded) it still took me nearly two hours after I crossed the finish line to get home. It was in the 40's and overcast, and I was freezing. One of my fingers even went numb. This put me in a really bad mood because I was tired and cold and I just wanted to be back at my hotel. Instead, I probably walked an additional two miles at a snails pace because all of the runners were going the same way.

Eventually I made it back to my hotel with enough time to shower and meet my friend for dinner. Chad actually waited in the VIP finish area for them to find his bag. They lost my bag and his too, but mine didn't have anything in it that I cared about. Just some food and a warm throw-away jacket (which would have been nice-- but not worth a wait).

Final Takeaways
I'm very glad I took advantage of this opportunity. I ran the race to the best of my ability, kept positive even when my stomach was acting up, and focused on the experience rather than the time on the clock. I ran the second half only 2 minutes slower than the first half, which shows that despite all of the stomach drama and leg stuff at the end, I was overall pretty consistent with my pacing.

Because I was injured for six weeks this past summer, this fall season has been a great opportunity to focus on the mental aspects of racing-- the area where I struggle most. Now that I have two "positive" marathon experiences under my belt, I am beginning to see the marathon as something to enjoy, and not something where I have to go out and prove to the world that I am a great runner. Of course I will ultimately want to run faster and set PRs, but in order to do that, I first needed to establish that it's not just about the finish time. Marathoning can offer a great deal of personal satisfaction even if the time on the clock isn't as fast as I would like, or as fast as I think it "should" be based on training. It's taken me 16 marathons to figure this out, but I'm glad I finally did.

I think this fall racing season has set me up to continue marathoning in a much more positive light than ever before, and I look forward to being able to train consistently and tie the whole package together at some point!

My name in the NY Times. I placed 27,627th. 


  1. You continue to be my inspiration. Great job girl!

  2. That is SO cool! Even if the outcome isn't what we like, some races you just can't say no to... I would do it even a week after a race! Or I say that, but anyways, good job and way to score a sweet deal!

  3. Sweet swag, and what a great way to do a race! Of course the 2hours back to the hotel is no fun, but overall, you walked away with some great items and experiences.

  4. Wow that pretty cool experience for sure!!! You did great and made the experience memorable! Congrats on running NYCM!!!

  5. Wow, what a tremendous opportunity - VIP treatment plus cool swag! Glad you managed to overcome your digestive issues and have a (mostly) enjoyable run.

  6. Way to go! If I were to ever run NYC (I am not a big race kind of person), I am sure I would do it for the experience and fun, rather than try to PR. What a great experience you had :)

  7. Hi Elisabeth,
    CONGRATS ! What an experience ! I ve also discovered your blog : great job !
    Really awesome to be on a VIP treatment !!! However, I feel very sorry about your stomach issues. You cannot control this kind of problem and have to take it as it comes….
    I also ran the NY marathon yesterday and got my own experience too 
    The crowd is massive and diversified, always pushing , shouting, supporting, offering bananas or water. I did not experience this during the only marathon I did before, in Paris, last april. NY is very special on that perspective. The entire city and its boroughs are all behind the race and the runners. That s amazing.
    I felt the elevation quite hard there . I still suffer the Queensboro bridge steep elevation. Everybody around me was silent. Weird moment.
    I was then more than happy to cross the finish line in Central park. However, like you, I have experienced a painful exit after the finish line. The crowd was so slow. We are all so exhausted that we would like to exit fast…but it s impossible. It was windy and cold when I arrived that I then felt almost immediately into hypothermia. Fortunately , there are many kind volunteers willing to help ..and oriented me at getting to the medical center to stay under several layers of blankets. It took me almost 1 h to recover and I reached then the hotel 3 h after I crossed the finish line. Hard.
    Anyway, it was a big day. It s a tremendous and unique experience and I recommend to do it at least once in lifetime ! I like your note on the mental aspects of the marathon. That s a BIG thing. Everyone will have a different experience during the race but in the end we will all learn something about our own personal motivations in life.
    Final comment : the Opower office in London is getting inspired with the running and is almost about to kick off the training for the London marathon in… 2015. We have several beginners and it gives them the time to find their way in terms of training and objectives.
    Join the crowd in London !!

  8. What an amazing experience, indeed! I think I would be most excited about the gear. I love how you did the race for "fun" and didn't tie any time goals to it. That added to your pleasant experience for sure!

    I can identify with that "OH no, gotta GO" feeling. Terrible. Ick.

  9. What a great experience! I am super jealous of you!! :-)

  10. I really loved this RR and your takeaways for this marathon experience. <3