This is Steidl Running athlete Greg Miller’s insightful and fun account of his PR race at the NYC Marathon:
As the sun made its way over the horizon and began to peek through the cables of the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge, I had two thoughts running through my mind: “Hopefully it starts to warm up a bit,” and “man, my friends would give me a pretty hard time if they knew I was sitting here listening to Taylor Swift.” The first thought is easy to explain. Even with layers of “throw clothes” covering my singlet and inappropriately short shorts, Staten Island is cold on an early November morning. The second is a bit trickier...
The Taylor Swift album “1989” had become my unlikely training partner leading up to the New York City Marathon. Under normal circumstances, you’d find Led Zeppelin, The White Stripes, or something of that nature queued up on my playlist heading out the door for a run. At least when I’m not seeking solitude (leaving my headphones behind) or engrossed in some podcast or audio book. But compared to the past few years of running, the buildup to NYC was far from “normal” in a number of ways.
For starters, I began working with Trisha back in July, focused on some big goals. I’d come agonizingly close to breaking three hours at the California International Marathon at the end up 2018 (3:02:22), and after seeing significant improvements in each marathon I’d raced for the first couple years of training, I’d plateaued—and I was frustrated. I wanted to shake things up. I wanted to get faster. I wanted to break three hours.
Enter Trisha and cue the “shakeup.” In my first training log entry, Trisha wrote about the need for “blind faith” in all the changes we were going to make, and that it was going to be a “big transition” from what I’d been doing. She delivered on that promise, and I had a blast! I could feel my fitness rapidly improving, and by the time I started tapering for NYC, I was confident. I was ready to go have a big race. I believed in the training and I was ready to “trust myself” as Trisha instructed. I was also hooked on Taylor Swift.
The 1989 album by Taylor Swift begins with a song called “Welcome to New York.” This struck a chord for obvious reasons and I found myself coming back to this album over-and-over during my training. “You can tell me when it’s over if the high was worth the pain,” Taylor sings on one of the tracks. I mean come on, this is clearly an album meant for distance runners! Plus, I’ve danced to “Shake It Off” with my three-year-old daughter more than I might like to admit. So there I was, waiting around on Staten Island for my corral to open, listening to Taylor Swift. Who’d have guessed? (For the record, I don’t race with headphones. The atmosphere at NYC is incredible and shouldn’t be missed with headphones in. I found a 20-pack of cheap earbuds for $15 and I bring a pair with me to the race start, tossing them in a donation bin before entering my corral.)
The gun went off and we all surged forward. Somehow I got to start at the front of the first wave, right at the tip of a 53,000+ mass of runners all ready to tackle 26.2 miles through the five boroughs of New York City. I looked to my right and saw the professional men’s pace car take off followed by the lead pack (NYC has three start lines side-by-side, meaning the professional men start right next to everyone else). It was surreal watching some of the who’s who of distance running pass by, right on the other side of a waist-high lane divider. I took a deep breath to settle down, and reminded myself of the plan: consistent 6:40 - 6:45 splits all the way to mile 20, then see if I can speed up a bit. “Settle into a rhythm and run your own race” was my mantra going up-and-over that first bridge.
The first 20 miles were pretty uneventful, as hoped. I knew Trisha would be tracking me, and I sure didn’t want to explain myself if I went out faster than planned. It became a game of how close I could come to 6:40 min/mile pace on each split. Mile-by-mile, the race flew by. About 10km in, I started thinking about how well the day was going and how it might be a really big day for me. Each time that happened, I reminded myself to stay in the mile I was in and not think ahead. “Just hit your split for this mile.” I focused on form and made sure I was staying relaxed, hydrated and taking gels on time. I soaked in the incredible environment and crowd support of the NYC Marathon.
Mile 16 brings runners from Queens to Manhattan, going up-and-over the Queensboro Bridge—the second of the more significant bridges on the course. I knew this climb was going to be tough, but when I split my watch at mile 16, coming down the backside of the bridge into Manhattan—and saw a 6:44—I allowed myself a little celebration. I knew it was going to be a big day for me. The crowd support coming off that bridge and into Manhattan is unreal. It’s one of the loudest points on the course, and after the silence of the bridge, it’s almost disorienting. I gave myself permission to soak it in for about 10 seconds, waving my arms in an attempt to get the crowd even louder (this works and it’s pretty amazing to interact with the crowd in this way—highly recommended even if you look a bit silly in the race photos after). Then I got back to focusing on the mile I was in, not letting myself get carried away.
The last six miles of NYC are tough, with some of the more significant hills coming late in the race. My early thoughts of speeding up gave way to thoughts of just maintaining my pace. Each mile felt progressively harder, requiring more-and-more effort and focus to hold on. Reflecting back on my training, I told myself, “This is just another fast-finish long run. Finish strong!”
By mile 25, with my body screaming at me to stop, I just kept thinking, “What’s one more mile after all those months of training?” I reminded myself that I chose to be there and focused on being grateful for that moment. There are loads of people out there that would love to run NYC and there I was, coming down the home stretch through Central Park. I had to make the most of it! When I looked up and saw the “800m to go” sign I kicked with everything I had left. I imagined, “Just two more laps around the track and you’re done! Finish this thing!”
Looking up before the finish line and seeing a time that started with a “2” was super emotional. It hit me all at once: how hard I’d worked for this and how much support I had from family, friends and Trisha getting here. I put my hands over my mouth in disbelief and bounded across the line with an official time of 2:56:05. I’d had a really big day!
I met up with my wife and friends after the race and hobbled around the city eating everything that got in my way before flying home to Seattle. Now it’s time to recover and set my sights on the next race. The California International Marathon is only one month out and I have plenty more big goals. I guess I’ll have to find a new training partner though; I don’t think Taylor has written “Welcome to Sacramento” yet…