TCS New York City Marathon 2015. The main reason I travelled to New York City. Together with over 50,000 runners, I completed the marathon with a timing of 4 hours 30 mins and 57 seconds. My personal best so far. This race was also the best experience of my life! When the finisher medal was placed on me, it was the singular happiest moment of my life.
How did I get here? Last December, I completed the Stand Chart marathon. With a runner’s high, I harped on about how amazing the marathon was to a friend living in NYC. Having ran NYC twice and Stand Chart SG once, he said I HAVE TO run the marathon in the Big Apple as it was a totally different experience from Singapore. He said the crowd will be unlike any other. That became my dream. That very same night, I searched online for ways to run the NYC marathon. At first I applied for the race lottery. Obviously with a 5.17 hrs timing, no major marathon will accept that, and promptly failed to secure a lottery entry. However there is another easier but pricier option: purchase a marathon tour package from an authorised agent. In the world of running, there are tour companies that specifically provides marathon packages (generally the package just includes guaranteed race entry to the marathon and accommodation.) I went with the only Singapore-based authorised travel partner: Athlete’s Journey. There were a range of options to choose from and I picked the 5D4N package. The package included accommodation from Thursday (29/10) to Monday (2/11), a guaranteed race entry to the NYC marathon, transportation to the start pen, and shuttle bus to the expo. One of the best part of the package was the accommodation! We stayed at the newly-renovated Courtyard New York Manhattan/ Central Park in Midtown West. I got a big room with a super king bed, en suite bath, and an amazing view. Thanks to the super comfortable room, I hardly left the room prior to the race and got ample rest. I like to think that’s the main reason I ran throughout the race and clocked that timing.
The whole event – pre-race, race and post-race – was one big adventure! The NYC marathon organizers did not disappoint in ensuring us participants had an unforgettable weekend. Pre-race activities included: the Expo, 5k Dash to the Finish Line fun run, Nation Parade & Opening Ceremony. But the Marathon race itself was a whole different ballgame. 5 boroughs, 5 bridges, crowds and supporters the entire way (ok 99% of the way as spectators were banned on a bridge). It was not an easy course but one will finish the race not remembering the uphills at the end(!) Rather one will just remember the most hilarious posters spectators were holding up, the singing and cheering that pushed us through the tough route. Running the marathon, it felt like the whole city shut down for the race and came out in full force to support us. There were sooo many spectators. In Manhattan, the whole first avenue was closed to cars just for us to run. Post-race was quite an adventure too. There was a map just for the finishing line. When faced with so many runners, one has to be as organised as possible. The exit was so efficient, I left Central Park and back to my hotel in under an hour, as promised.
Here’s what went down on 1st November 2015.
At 5.30am, we met at the Hotel lobby where to our surprise, the hotel prepared for us runners a breakfast pack that included a bottle of water, a banana and a Clif/ Luna bar.
The hotel was filled with runners that weekend so they provided a lot of bags. So thoughtful. After a quick photo-taking as a group, we marched off from West 54th Street to West 42nd Street in front of Bryant Park and the New York Public Library. It was a chilly dark morning and the city was uncharacteristically quiet. The queue for the buses were long and there were hundreds of buses lined up ready for us. The whole system was super organized. We did not wait for long to board the bus.
The security there was in full force as they made sure our bibs were being shown before we got onto the bus. It was about an hour drive to the Start Village in Staten Island. The transportation was included in our tour package. Note those who didn’t purchase a tour package or got the transportation option could take the subway then Staten Island Ferry (all free that morning).
Arriving at the Start Village at 7am was extremely early given the first of four waves was to be flagged off only at 9.50am (last wave 10.50am). 50,000 runners could not start the race together so we were broken down into four waves (in accordance with your submitted predicted timings) and three corrals. My submitted predicted timing was 4:30 so I was placed in the third wave (flag-off time at 10.30am) and Green corral. The reason for the super early arrival was that Verrazano Bridge (and the only bridge into the island) was to close at 7.30am – 8am. Thus every year runners will arrive at the Start Village with throwaway clothes.
Throwaway clothes are layers of clothing just to keep us warm for the 2-3 hours before the race begins. Unlike last year’s unexpected freak temperature of 1 degrees with strong winds, NYC was extremely kind to us this year. The holding temperatures at the Start Village were a balmy 12-18 degrees. For us who expected 1 degrees, and wore at least three layers in preparation, ended up perspiring while waiting for the marathon to start. But better to be warm than frigid cold. My friend gave me three layers. I am forever grateful to him.
You might be wondering what happens to the throwaway clothes? At the start pen, there will be huge recycling bins which we throw our clothes into and they will be donated to homeless shelters.
The Start Village was an eye-opener.
First we had to go through security and metal detectors.
Inside there were thrift shop clothing, garbage bags and make-shift cardboard box blankets everywhere!
Also there were a lot of portable loos. Said to over a 1,000. Roughly 1 for every 5 runners. Not bad huh?!
Also seen everywhere, Dunkin Donuts’ bright pink and orange fleece hat. Everyone wanted that hat. I got one and brought it home as a souvenir. Score for the first free souvenir! Dunkin Donuts was one of the major sponsors of the event and provided free flow of hot coffee. Thankfully they didn’t bring their donuts. Still, there were Gatarode Endurance supplements and plain Bagels for us runners to munch on. With the hotel breakfast pack, I had so much to eat that morning…
This is how the Singapore team settles down…
Time flew fast in the village. After exploring the stalls, people watching and chit-chatting with fellow runners, at 9am, the third wave was called to our respective corrals. I threw away my clothes into the big recycling bins provided. Right before 9.50am, God Bless America was played, the cannons were shot twice and the race began!
Mile 1 and 2: Staten Island
The Verrazano bridge is a long, long bridge. Out of the five bridges, this was the steepest and longest of them all. But one will be so high and pumped up that one will not feel it. Seriously. Every NYC marathon runner that I know will never remember that climb on the bridge. As I was assigned to the Green Corral, I ran on the second level of the bridge while the other two corrals run on top of the bridge.
Running that first mile felt like a long time for me. Due to the heavy breakfast, I ate and passed out a lot. Within the first half hour of the race, my brain was calling out to me for a Gu Gel. By Mile 2 we were off the bridge and into Brooklyn. You could hear Brooklyn wayyy before we got in.
Mile 2-13: Brooklyn
Brooklyn could not have welcomed us in the warmest and most fun way. I loved running through Brooklyn, it was probably my favourite borough. The crowds were loud and there was so much music, both live and stereo, being played throughout. The entire 11 miles in the borough, it felt like I was just dancing! The people were incredible and the energy was completely infectious. I interacted with the crowds as much as I could. I stuck right to the edges so that I could give out high-fives. It’s a nonstop party and the spectators cheer for everyone.
Through the crowds, and in front of Peter Luger Steakhouse, I spotted my friends, Ben and Linzi. I screamed out and rushed to give them the biggest hugs of my life! I really needed those hugs. It was taking a while for me to get comfortable and I could feel myself hitting the wall so I took another Gu after 45 minutes. The hugs perked me up measurably. Then I got worried about using up too much gels early in the race and panicked. But I saw many spectators giving out candies and bananas! I took them and ate them early in the run. Thanks to them, I didn’t hit the wall at any time.
I wore a pace bracelet, obtained from the expo, next to my garmin and whenever we went through a marker, it seemed I was just a minute slower than the time stated on the bracelet. But at this point, I was in no rush to pick up pace. Thanks to Athlete’s Journey, the course recount at the expo and many many race recaps on blogs, I learnt never go hard here. There was still a long way more to go and the last few miles were going to be a killer. So I just enjoyed the spectators and tried to revel in the atmosphere.
Mile 13 – 25: Queens
We reached the halfway mark of the marathon on the second bridge, Pulaski Bridge. By this time, I had a few gels and bananas so I was all wired up and feeling strong. This leg of the race passed so quickly. The spectators were still as loud and supportive.
As we left Queens I knew what was coming, the Queensboro bridge to Manhattan. I’ve read enough New York race recaps to know that bridge sucks so I had prepared myself mentally for this bridge. As I got running on the bridge it was eerily quiet. There were no spectators along the bridge and all I could hear was the pounding of the thousands of runners feet. As I ran along the bridge I thought to myself, this is it? This is the scary Queensboro bridge? I felt great and didn’t struggle along the bridge at all. Lots of people were walking the bridge so my biggest obstacle was trying to get around everyone.
Almost at the end of the bridge, I heard the roar of the crowds and knew what was coming: Manhattan.
Mile 16 – 20: Manhattan
HELLO MANHATTAN! Crowds here were loud and proud! However unlike Brooklyn, they were mainly runner-centred. They were cheering for a specific friend/ family.
We were warned about this leg. Apparently runners see the whole line of spectators and get so high, they end up pushing the pace here and end up bonking early at the end. At this point there was still 10 more miles to go. I was unaffected by the crowd cheering and kept eying the pace on my Garmin watch to ensure my pace was just right.
Also, at some point, wet ice-cold green sponges were being given out to us. I did not think they were necessary as the 19 degrees weather was so cooling and comfortable. However STANDARD CHARTERED SINGAPORE MARATHON NEEDS THIS. Organizers, please take note!!!
When we reached 125th Street on First Avenue, it was time for the fifth borough and bridges #4 and #5. When I reached bridge #4, Willis Avenue Bridge, I was so over it. I was so done with bridges. But this made me more determined to get it over and done with. I did not walk while going uphill and climbed it slowly at a steady pace.
Mile 20 & 21: Bronx
As I entered into the Bronx, the crowds were significantly less than Manhattan but I still appreciated every person who was out there. There was a water station with bananas. As we were just leaving the Bronx, on the Madison Avenue Bridge, in my head I knew what was coming: Manhattan – uphill slopes. David from Athlete’s Journey cautioned us about the slopes at the end. Before exiting the Bronx, I was struggling whether to take a final Gu gel even though I had one less than 45 minutes ago. In the end, the thought of hitting the wall at the final stretch felt so painful. I popped in another gel and was so wired up. I’m so glad I did that.
Mile 21-26: Manhattan
The final stretch was an absolute killer!!!
For 2 miles on Fifth Avenue, it seemed sooo long! I could see the route ahead of me and it seemed like it could go on forever! I could not even see the race turn into Central Park and felt discouraged. But I put my head down and didn’t interact with the crowds for those 2 miles because I was solidly in the zone. I wanted to stick to the timings on my pace bracelet and wanted to finish strong.
At mile 24, we entered Central Park. Finally! But this was the hardest course of the entire race. There is a constant slow incline and I felt every single inch of it. My thighs were screaming out at this point. For the first time during the race, I feared they would cramp up. I could not afford to go down at this point. I was done with this race but my brain was not ready to give up and walk. No way! I had come so far. I knew I would never forgive myself if I gave up now. I did what I could. I dug deep and RAN through the pain and the park. All through the uphills, I maintained at a steady pace. At Mile 25, I checked against the pace bracelet and saw I was still a minute behind the stipulated timings. However I threw in the towel here. I knew there was no way I could push any further. I gave up my goal of 4.30 here. When we reached Mile 26 I was searching desperately, looking for that finishing line. Then I saw it in the distance and I made a race for it.
After passing two black markers, DONE. I had completed the NYC Marathon!!!
I checked my Garmin and saw 4:30:57. Just 57 seconds shy of my goal.
The finishing walk out of Central Park was an impressive and efficient organization. There was a map and accompanying video just to show us how to exit the race. Us participants were shown the video weeks before so we all knew what to expect. Right at the finishing line, we got medal-ed, space blankets and finisher bags were given out.
I liked the space blankets a lot. I saw one on the ground and picked it up and stuffed it into my finisher bag. So now I have two. 🙂
We finished at West 68th but had to walk up and exit at West 77th. As we left Central Park, the super popular and limited edition fleeced-lined ponchos were given out. Volunteers helped drape the poncho over us. Please note that the Post-Race Poncho is available only for runners who chose this option; runners who chose the Bag Check option are not eligible to receive the Post-Race Poncho and must exit via the bag check exits. Everyone wants that poncho! It comes with a cape, good quality and FREEEEE. An army of runners marching down Central Park West with our badass ponchos. It felt sooooo good. The long slow walk out allowed me the joy of accomplishing the NYC Marathon set in. I was in heaven.
This race was also thoroughly enjoyable for many reasons.
The organizers were good and generous with hydration.
Poland Spring® Brand 100% Natural Spring Water was available at the start, finish, and at official fluid stations every mile beginning at mile 3. Gatorade® Endurance Formula™ was available at official fluid stations every mile beginning at mile 3 except at mile 17. There were tables of fluids on both sides of the course. The Poland Spring® Hydration Zone—including water stations, sponges, and music— was located at mile 17 on First Avenue. At the PowerGel Energy Zone at mile 18, assorted PowerGels was to help us hurdle “the wall” and energize us to the finish. Fruit will be available at the fluid stations at miles 20-23.
Mile/ KM Markers and Clocks
I liked this feature best.
Mile markers and clocks was posted at every mile. And there were 5K, 15K, 21K and 42 K markers too. These markers helped ensure I kept to the timings on the pace bracelet accurately. My Garmin GPS failed to register some routes and the distance reflected felt off to me.
After the race, wth my badass poncho, I took a train down to the Lower East Side for beer with my friends. It tasted so good and instantly cured the muscle soreness. For dinner I went to Xi’an Famous Foods for their famous Spicy Lamb Noodles. It was sooo carby. On any ordinary day, I will definitely steer away but these thick unrefined carb noodles was just what my sore thighs craved.