In the coming days I will post race recaps of the 9 marathons I’ve run so far. Since I didn’t write a recap for my second marathon immediately after running it, this is coming from memory eight years after the fact, so I’m sure it’s wildly inaccurate and mostly fictitious.
In training for my first marathon I ran a lot of NYRR races. This was back in the golden days when races were only $11 for members and didn’t sell out in 30 seconds. I ran enough to qualify for the NYC Marathon the following year (back then it took 9 qualifying races with no +1 volunteer requirement), so I thought, “what the heck, I love me a marathon, let’s do this thang!” (Luckily, I only thought those words and did not say them aloud.)
So, after the first marathon, I kept running. I have no idea what training plan I followed or what the heck I was doing back then. I do know that I came down with a nasty case of knee pain and even went to a sports doctor who told me my something-something in the middle of my knee was inflamed and I should stop running and take up to 18 Advil a day. Ok, I’m not 100% clear on the details, but I do distinctly remember him saying “Look, most of my patients are professional dancers or athletes I’d be out of business if I told them all to stop before a competition. So I’ll tell you — run as little as possible, then do the marathon if you really want to, then stop running long distances. As in, don’t run long distances. Ever. Again.”
Reflecting back on that advice makes me realize that maybe he wasn’t the best doctor for me. I never did go back to him, nor did I take up to 18 Advil in a day (although I did partake in quite a few of those orange unicorn pills of magic). I did skip my remaining long runs and I did run the marathon, and then I did stop running long distances. For a few years. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It seems like everyone and their running mother wants to run the NYC Marathon. And I guess I can see why. It’s really expensive & difficult to register and held in a really expensive city and it’s really crowded and you start in Staten Island. Ok, ok, running all 5 boroughs in a day is pretty cool, and every time I see the Verrazano Bridge in the hazy distance it shocks me to think I ran all the way from there up to the Bronx and back down to Central Park. But the race itself? Shrug.
Granted, I was in a lot of pain. A lot. At mile 17, amidst the cheering hordes lining 1st Ave, I chewed up an extra strength Tylenol like it was an Altoid. My knee didn’t hurt as much as my hip, which was an unexpected new pain that cut through all the other typical marathon pain. I swore to myself then and there that I would never run another marathon as long as I lived. This goes to show you that the promises you make to yourself while you’re running, especially distance running, are about as valid as the $10 million check from Publisher’s Clearing House you got in the mail last week. (Everybody knows the real checks are huge.)
My biggest problem with the race was the disorganization, specifically at the water stations. I reached several water stations (Brooklyn, I’m looking at you) that had NO WATER. The volunteers (bless their hearts) were cheering instead of pouring, leaving the tables empty of any actual cups of water. I skipped one station like this, but after another couple of miles, I desperately needed water. I joined a line of runners while we waited like Oliver Twist, holding out our cups, pleading to have some more (water, that is).
I think they’ve improved the stations so I can’t imagine this happening now, but you never know. I don’t think they have the Spongebob mile anymore, right? That was a veritable minefield of wet sponges you had to plow through around mile 16 or so. I think with so many runners on the course the volunteers couldn’t clear them away or something, so by the time us mid- to back-of-the-packers came through, the sponges were at critical levels. I felt like I was in Double Dare, minus the Gak.
Also, the streets of NYC are really not the best. There are a lot of potholes and manhole covers with humped asphalt around them. Basically you just had to watch your footing. But it was quite the big marathon experience and overall it wasn’t terrible. And now when people find out I “run marathons” and inevitably ask if I’ve run the NYC Marathon, I can say yes and not be lying.
Finally, if your loved one is coming to watch you run, I think they still have a deal where you pay them a bunch of money and your guest can hang out at the finish line/Tavern on the Green and eat and relax while you’re running your butt off. I got the deal for my mom, who apparently liked it so much she actually missed me crossing the finish line (5 1/2 hours weren’t enough for her). She did buy me a burrito after the race, though, so we were even.
Thinking of Running NYC ING?
If you’re thinking of it, you’re going to do it, and nothing can stop you (not even a hurricane. What, too soon?). Because here’s how you’ll get in –
- Lucky lottery, which you’ll take as a sign from the universe that you should run this year. (By the way, it is a sign from the universe, because nobody gets in that way.)
- Unlucky lottery, which means you kept trying and trying and after 3 failed attempts you got a mercy admission at the 4th year, which you won’t pass up because you’ve been waiting sooo long.
- 9+1, which means you’ve run at least 9 NYRR qualifying races (paying at a minimum $153 for those races, not counting membership fees), and volunteered at one of the races (or paid $1k to charity), all of which means you have paid in blood and sweat for your marathon ticket and you wouldn’t let anyone tear that away from you.
- Charity runner, which means you’re willing to ask your friends and family for money to support your running habit. A lot of money. Like $2,600 to $3,500 money.
- I’m not going to cover those who get in because they run really fast or they’ve run over 15 NYC marathons already, because we are not those people.
At any rate, I’m glad I ran NYC, especially back then, so I got it out of the way. I think most of the magic was lost on me since I lived here, and a lot of the fun I have in running different states is to see new sights (even if it’s crushed rats on the streets of Baltimore). I would never tell someone not to run NYC (go tourism!), but keep your expectations low and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
New rating system!
At the suggestion of a reader, I’m going to add some quantifiable measures to my race recaps. I hope they will help you decide whether a particular marathon is for you or not. The number one way I decide whether to run a marathon is based on the reviews at MarathonGuide.com. I read a page or two to get a sense of whether it’s a good race for me, then I visit the race’s website to get more info on the race and see how difficult logistically it would be to get there. Your considerations will certainly differ from mine, but the more info the better, eh?
Scores on a 1-10 scale, 10 being the best.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 10/10 – very easy, 3 major airports and no need to rent a car when here. 24 hour subway, plentiful taxis, and shuttles take you from Manhattan to the starting line (and while it’s early in the morning, it’s not the end of the world).
- Staying There (Hotels) – N/A – sorry, since I live here I’m the worst person to ask about hotels. In general I think they’re expensive, but there are definitely deals to be found (like $150/night or less at decent hotels).
- Cost & Registration – 5/10 – see above for more on that. As of 2013, it’s an $11 processing fee, $216 for NYRR members, $255 for non-members, or $347 for non-US residents. Shuttle to the start, one shirt, and one medal included.
- Organization – 5/10 – Expo was great but huuuuge, course support I discussed above, and then you get dumped into Central Park which varies every year in terms of how well that goes. Also, they keep changing the baggage check policy, so who knows what’s going on there.
- Course – 7/10 – it’s neat to see the 5 boroughs, but it’s also bumpy and crowded (so New York!).
- Crowd – 9/10 – there are few places along the course that don’t have spectators. Personally, I can take or leave cheering crowds, and they can be demoralizing when you’re in pain (some people yelled at me to run while I was in the worst pain along 1st Ave, and back then I was too polite to tell them what they should do to themselves instead).
- Other Factors – 9/10 – As discussed above, it’s NY, so just do it already.
- Overall Rating – 7/10 – Certainly not my favorite marathon so far, but glad to have done it. Also, I’m volunteering to work the expo this year, so maybe I’ll feel a little more loyalty to the race after that!
Have you run NYC? Share your experiences in the comments!