In a fit of pique in January when Alan realised that he had a fair few air miles from his credit card (definitely recommend a reward or cashback credit card if you end up putting a lot on for work that you claim back!) he asked if I fancied going to New York again. I'd been twice before and both times loved it and so was up for the idea, he then did some research and found that Sports Tour International offer guaranteed marathon places with a combined holiday package and asked if I fancied it - and so feeling positive about my running in the midst of Red January I said yes!
Now first things first, it's not a cheap marathon to run or enter. I think that the ballot places are most likely as tough to get into as London and if you want to run as a group of friends/couple the likelihood of everyone getting a ballot place is probably very limited and I believe it still costs $358 per place if you are a non US resident.
If you are speedy you could try and run a qualifying time which is even tighter than London as for the 2020 race you would need to be nailing the following times, broken down by age group: 18 to 34 years old (3:00 for men, 3:30 for women) 35 to 39 (3:05 for men, 3:35 for women (I'm sure you still have to pay those chunky entry fees!).
You can also try and secure a place by running a "virtual" marathon between the 31st October and 3rd November.... although this has already happened for 2020 - but more information is here - again I'm guessing you'll still have to pay, although the fees listed for charity places seem to be around $150 and I think that is for US charities only and with fundraising targets of c$2650. I've tried to see what the fundraising targets might be for UK charities, but it seems as though you have to apply and will still need to pay for your flights, accommodation and the $358 fee.
So the costs are a bit prohibitive, but the good news is that you get all of this stuff included in your fee:
- Entry to the 2020 TCS New York City Marathon, including fluid/fueling stations, medical support, entertainment, bag-check handling, and security
- Official New Balance technical shirt
- Official transportation to the start from Midtown Manhattan, Lower Manhattan, or the Meadowlands Sports Complex (New Jersey) - Start area, including breakfast and entertainment
- Finisher materials: medal, food, beverages, and United Airlines/Foot Locker Heatsheet™
However...it's worth nothing that:
- The drawing is free to enter and limited to one entry per person
- Entry fees are charged upon acceptance.
- Once an entrant is accepted, the entry fee is nontransferable under any and all circumstances, and is also nonrefundable under any and all circumstances except in the event of cancellation of the marathon.
There are a few other ways to enter, but most likely out of reach for a few of us, but if you are interested and a budding elite athlete or philanthropist, here are some ideas.
Accommodation in New York is also not cheap, Sports Tours sell packages that include guaranteed entry plus accommodation, flights, transfers and other extras or a combination of your choosing. Alan being a frugal (definitely not stereotypical Yorkshireman(!!)) knew that the air miles sorted our flights (although we paid the usual air taxes) and we went for the guaranteed entry and minimum accommodation option of 3 nights to save money. We then used Hotwire to book a cheaper (and better quality) hotel for our last 2 nights. Hotwire is great if you are a bit relaxed about exactly what hotel you get - it allows you to stipulate an area and price range for your chosen dates and tells you what you might get and then you book blind and find out where you end up after you've paid. It's always worked really well for us previously (we didn't end up in the Trump hotel - phew no ethical conflict!). This time it took us to Hyatt House in Midtown/Chelsea area - only a few blocks from most of the places you'd want walk to in NYC, very roomy and a really friendly welcome.
New York Marathon was something Alan and myself both hoped to look forward to and train well for. The reality was that life got in the way a bit; things like getting engaged in April and married in September, Alan having a slipped disc injury flare up after London Marathon and not running more than Liverpool Half in May, me studying for and completing my CIRF course in September, both of us being a lot heavier than when we were at our running peaks back in 2016, me currently trying to be more than one person at work as well as my own on/off niggly injuries, This all meant as the weeks passed I was starting to dread the marathon I should be really excited about.
We'd clearly invested a lot of money in our trip and 4 days before race day (having only run 8 miles the Sunday before and the furthest before then being the Leeds Country Way (11.5 miles) on 1st September) I was really ill with a heavy cold/flu and I ended up working from home (not something I tend to do!). I was really worried as to whether I could make it around.
Alan and I had discussed our game plan for the marathon and as a qualified Coach in Running Fitness I would always recommend training appropriately for a marathon as it is a distance not to be trifled with! So none of the below is what I would actually coach.
However, with money invested and a non transferable place, we decided to research how long was available to complete the course and make it a true sightseeing trip of NYC. They have 4 waves and 3 different starts, somehow I'd ended up in Wave 3 and Alan in Wave 2. We checked and he was able to start further back in my wave. The sweep vehicle is 6 hours and 30, but unlike London starts at the end of the starting pack - so being in Wave 3 would mean we had more like 7 - 7 hours 30 until we were swept up. They also keep the finishing line open until 7.25 pm. This was my 11th marathon and Alan's 8th and I wouldn't recommend taking on a marathon as we did without the training, but we have the benefit of knowing what the demands of this distance are on our bodies and how to mitigate for this we knew we'd likely complete it, even if it was slow. We figured that we could walk run c9mins 15 secs KM and get around in sub 6.5 hours and so that was the plan.
We flew out from Manchester with Virgin at 12.30pm on the Thursday and Alan had strategically booked seats that allowed for him to comfortably stretch his legs and didn't have to pay extra to do so. For the week between our clocks going back and the Sunday of the marathon, NYC is only 4 hours behind UK time, so we arrived at a reasonable time. We made our way through crowded transport with the Air Train and then the subway to the Port Authority and we walked a few minutes to the Sports Tours International Hotel which was Double Tree by Hilton New York Times Square West. It was a good location to get to the Expo the following morning - around 15 minutes walk and also to the transfer buses on the morning of the marathon - around 15 minutes walk as well. The room was small, but functional and my only issue was that the shower seal was not present so the room flooded when you showered - Alan was also sad there wasn't a bath! Our first evening was a bit functional as I was still really poorly and so we grabbed a Five Guys for tea after checking into our room and got an early night.
The following day we went along to the Expo to pick up our race numbers and marathon t-shirts which were great - long sleeved and technical. Only slight niggle was I had to get an XXL as they'd run out of L and XL and M was a bit of a suffocating fit! However it looks great and I will definitely wear it often (first outing was to parkrun this morning!).
Speaking of parkrun - there is one in New Jersey - Delaware and Raritan Canal, you can get a train and an uber, or there was a bus arranged via Facebook...needless to say we didn't partake as it wouldn't have been sensible prep for either of us in these circumstances - they did have a record turnout of 111 as a result of the marathon. There is also an optional 5K Abbott race that gives you a great hat souvenir and is "race to the finish" for the last 5K of the marathon I believe - again not good prep for us so we gave it a miss.
The Expo was fun, and despite feeling gross I managed to enjoy picking up free samples of compeed (Just as we were saying damn...we forgot the compeed!) and we bought some cool looking, roomy and comfortable NYC Marathon branded running belts for $23 each. I also realised I'd totally forgotten my running nutrition, but fortunately managed to find the same Shot Bloks as I use in the UK, but with exciting new flavours like Margarita with 3 x extra sodium - useful when you sweat a lot!
We grabbed a self serve deli salad for lunch (they do it by weight rather than what you can cram into a container so it was a rather expensive, but delicious lunch!). And after a bit more exploring we went back to the hotel so I could rest and Alan went to get breakfast for the following morning and picked up bananas, croissants and belvita. We somehow managed to find a table that evening at an Italian restaurant - Il Punto and filled up on pasta.
That night the clocks went back and fortunately we had an early night as we were still jet lagged and so the obscenely early start of 4.30am to get the 5.30am transfer bus meant we still had around 6 hours sleep. Classically I had the anxiety sleep I get pre-marathon and kept waking up, panicking about everything - again not what I recommend as a coach. Eliud Kipchoge reportedly gets a religious 8 hours per night plus a 2 hour nap during the day!
We'd laid out our kit the night before and so we got ready quickly with each of us putting on a throw away t-shirt on and walked down to reception where the Sports Tours International rep met us and at 5.10am walked us down to the bus stop where the marshalls were super enthusiastic even at that eye-wateringly early time!
The bus takes you across to Staten Island and took around 45 minutes as we watched the sun slowly rises over NYC. The weather was perfect running weather - completely dry, clear sky, but pretty chilly as a result! We got off the bus and walked through to the security gates - it's a sad fact that you have to be scanned for weapons and bombs and aren't even allowed to wear large fancy dress costumes or camel bak style water packs.
We then were in the race start village which was great! We had complimentary coffees, bagels, Gatorade and water as well as picking up Dunkin Donut hats (brilliant marketing on their part!). There were also Honey Stinger waffles and bananas available. We found a spot to sit down at around 6.15am and then had over 4 hours to wait until my 10.35am start wave! It was a great atmosphere, everyone was in good spirits, but it was FREEZING! We'd fortunately picked up rain ponchos and so we huddled together and tried to keep warm, but if there is one piece of advice I can give for race day it's please take extra layers and even old blankets to use and then donate to the goodwill bins (which I thought were excellent ideas!).
About an hour and a half before the start we wandered down towards the blue start village area and I had a quick glance in the Therapy Dog tent (if I wasn't so cold I'd have been tempted to sneak in for a stroke!) I needed the toilet again (they were plentiful and with not many queues) and as I walked back, I spotted a full goodwill bin and so "borrowed" a blanket for the last hour of our wait to share with Alan (we returned it to the bin after we'd finished with it).
I realised as we were waiting that my hair band had fallen off... I tried tying my hair up with string from the start village bag, but it wasn't great. At least my buff would keep most of my flyaway thin hair away from my face I hoped.
We queued up for our wave having heard the cannon fire for all the previous waves! When you sign up you can either choose a bag drop (as you get at London Marathon etc) or a post race Poncho - we went for the poncho which meant that we didn't have to drop a bag off with the UPS trucks.
We were in our wave, it was all becoming real and we were about to take on 26.2 miles. The sun was shining, the atmosphere was buzzing and we started to walk towards the bridge for our start. As we walked over the bridge I noticed there were lots of clothes thrown on the floor (no goodwill bins on the bridge as per all the regular tannoy announcements!) and I said to Alan "I wish there was a spare hairband" and 2 steps later there was one there so I was able to discard the ineffective string and properly tie my hair back! I then said "I wish I could find £1m" sadly this wish wasn't granted...should have gone with that first?
We were started with a cannon, ticker tape and the sound track of "New York New York" and even though there are 2 starts as per London Marathon, there are more runners (53000) it somehow felt more intimate as a start rather than being moved like cattle over the start line.
The first 2 miles is just running over the Staten Island Bridge, loads of people stopped for selfies on the bridge, but we cracked on with our slow running plan and cleared the bridge in a solid time of just over 20 minutes. The bridge workers were super excited to cheer all the runners on!
We then got onto Brooklyn and that's when the support really kicked off! It's a hard to describe the dichotomy that New York Marathon was both more and less serious than London Marathon and other UK races. More serious - very few fancy dress costumes at all, no club runners generally, but everyone mostly in serious running gear and certainly walking around NYC before and after lots of very obvious "runners" or as Alan sometimes referred to them "running w**nkers" i.e. always in running gear, wearing their medal for 3 days after the race even in the airport with a hint of arrogance about them. Less serious - overly enthusiastic supporters who literally screamed with excitement, even by the time we reached some of them after 4 plus hours, people with great sense of humour on banners like at mile 10 "you're nearly there - Fake News! and printing out huge personal pictures of runners faces and even their pet cats and dogs. NB. I'm definitely printing out massive Maya and Qubit faces for the next race I have to support Alan for!
Brooklyn I think was my favourite in terms of support - it was the longest section and had full on marching bands, rappers and rock bands - we loved it! Alan kept a close eye on his heart rate and we adapted our pace to make sure we didn't peak his heart rate and so ran walked and got fairly quickly to around 10 miles and I figured as we had the opportunity to do so I'd use the walking sections to share some of the atmosphere, sights and sounds of the marathon on facebook live. I'd intended to use it as a distraction to Alan from his sore back, but I'm not sure he altogether appreciated it! The first time I'd taken my phone out I started jogging and ended up throwing shot bloks everywhere!
The water and Gatorade stations are pretty frequent (every mile?) after the first 3 miles (none on the Staten Island bridge) and they all had paper cups which I think I preferred as it felt potentially less environmentally harmful that plastic bottles and was certainly much less of a trip hazard. I tend to not recommend using anything on race day that you haven't had in training and Gatorade isn't something I've had much of before, but it worked well for me on the day. There are also toilets every mile and fortunately we only needed to stop once. The best thing is that there are formally arranged and informally arranged music stations around 3 per mile! I had quite a few dances as we were running along and we clapped every single band and singer regardless of talent!
I like to count down all long distance races in miles, kilometres and parkruns to mean that I'm ticking something off every few minutes. As a distraction (annoyance?) technique with Alan we nominate parkruns for each 5K segment of the race and always finish on Woodhouse Moor of course! We ticked over the halfway point and then soon reached Queensborough Bridge which is 16 miles in and even though the bridge itself wasn't the most scenic there were some great views across to Manhattan Island as we trudged over onto Manhattan and up into Harlem before heading into the Bronx and then back into Manhattan for the iconic finish in Central Park.
I had hoped that by not spiking my heart rate and run walking it would mean my legs didn't get that 20 mile ache where every step hurts a bit. Neither of us hit the wall as a result of the slower place which was great and actually we could have taken advantage of the 20 mile Biofreeze station, but the end was in sight so we kept going. We continued with our Facebook live breaks which I certainly enjoyed and it was nice to get support from our friends back home whilst we were running!
The last couple of miles you can count down the blocks until you hit Central Park and the support continues to be great - I really enjoyed a brass band just before we hit Manhattan again coming out of Harlem. Once you hit Central Park it feels like the end is in reach, but there is still a good nearly 2 miles to count down (amazingly our Garmins were fairly accurate despite all the huge buildings that usually skew GPS). There was an incentive to run the last mile the fastest - we tried, but Alan's back by this point was incredibly sore so we had to walk a bit, although we did manage to run over the finish line!
As we crossed the finish in 5 hours 51 minutes (my second slowest ever time next to Medoc - the wine marathon!) we held hands and it was an amazing atmosphere. We then walked down to pick up first a heat sheet (necessary as it's a 30 minute walk to get your poncho or bag), then the great big apple medal, then a very good quality (and reusable!) goody bag which included water, an apple, pretzels, more Gatorade, protein shake, Honey Stinger waffle, biofreeze and I think some other things!
We walked down to our poncho collection point and they were fleece lined, waterproof and felt like a hug! It was funny watching all the runners dressed in them as we walked out of the marathon area. Fortunately we had no need for the reunion point as we ran together, but like all big races phone signal is patchy, so definitely worth pre-arranging a meeting point if you need one. We staggered a bit confused to the subway and managed to get on a train back - it was only 20 minutes walk, but we'd done just enough thanks. The trains were rammed and one lady even passed out and had to get off the train early - she seemed ok thankfully.
After a shower and change of clothes we had just enough time to walk down to the pre-booked post race celebration party (kindly only 5 blocks away from the hotel) for £20 we got 2 cocktails and canapes which included tasty mini slider burgers and meant we didn't need to buy dinner. We chatted to one of the reps who was lovely (I feel this may be my future "retirement" job!) and after the food was done and we'd had a final JD and ginger to celebrate we walked back to the hotel stopping off at Shake Shack for a celebration Salted Caramel milkshake and then went straight to bed clocking up 66267 steps for the day!
All in all, whilst it was nearly a personal worst for me in terms of time, it was definitely a personal best in terms of experience and atmosphere. It was lovely to "run" a whole marathon with Alan and cross the finish together and not once did we argue about stopping or pace. The views were incredible and the organisation was great! I said as we set off and as we shivered in the start village "I definitely won't want to do this again"...but I might have changed my mind...
PS. if you want to do NYC 2020 it's their 50th anniversary and I think the day before Trump is either re-elected or knocked out of the Whitehouse - could be an interesting time to visit!