It’s Me Again, Training for a Marathon
For some reason I waited until I was halfway done with my marathon training to start writing about it. I don’t know exactly why that is. I wish I could say it was something symbolic and poetic, like how the real race doesn’t start until you’re halfway in, so neither did this journal. But I don’t believe that — I don’t even know if that’s a real idiom. I actually think the idiom is that the race doesn’t start until you’re at Mile 20, which I still don’t believe. The race starts when it starts. The whole entire exercise is grueling in its way, even in the nascent miles. Your body is fresh but your mind runs itself in circles almost immediately conjuring ways to get you to not think about all the miles you still have in front of you. It’s exhausting, then it’s exhausting.
I’m starting now because Week 10 of 18 is when I was finally compelled to start writing about this. That’s it. Halfway through my training for the New York City Marathon, I finally feel like documenting it. Sorry if you expected me to start Week 1. You didn’t. It’s likely nobody is reading this, let alone had any expectations of me to document my experiences at all. But I apologize anyway, because I can’t stand the idea of anyone holding any grudges against me.
Some background: In April I ran my first marathon, a DIY race with my wife and some fellow Jersey City Runners in Liberty State Park. It’s already been well-documented. I definitely wanted to do a “real” marathon at some point in the future, but had no imminent plans to run another. The future approached rather quickly in June, when I entered a lottery through my running group and won the first of the four spots it was raffling off for the 2021 New York City Marathon. (I actually won the third spot too, but thought it would be selfish for me to run the course a second time under a second number on race day, so I humbly relinquished it. These are the sacrifices we make, though I won’t let anyone forget that this Goblet of Fire spat my name out twice. It really wanted me to run this race.)
The first nine weeks of my 18-week plan have gone according to plan, though that’s a deceptively mundane way to put it. Considering how humid, wet, and just plain fucking brutal this summer has been in the Northeast, the fact that I can count the number of runs I’ve missed on one hand through nine weeks is no small feat. (This is the part where I give myself a polite pat on the back, then recoil in disgust at how sweaty it is.)
Training for a marathon in the summer months for the first time has taught me some hard-earned lessons about hydration and nutrition, such as: stay hydrated and replace the calories you burned. Again, apologies if you were expecting anything more profound or specific. You should be warned that this is and will be a woefully incomplete tome of marathon training best practices. What it will mostly be is more stream of consciousness, thoughts that have come and gone in my head before, during and after runs. Some thoughts stay for a while, others make intermittent trips, while others still just hang for the day. I’ll try to jot as many down here as possible.
The first half of my marathon training ended with a 16-mile long run — the first run at that long a distance so far. That’s where it really starts to get imposing, you know? Maybe you don’t. Maybe running even a mile sounds daunting to you and the thought of 16 is an abstraction that the human brain can’t compute, like the number of galaxies in the universe or the amount of cells in the human body. I get it. I hope you’ll continue to bear with me.
Fourteen feels like it should be imposing, but you’re able to trick yourself into thinking it’s just a half marathon with a post-credits stinger, and you’ve done plenty of half marathons. So 14 is really just play-acting. It’s a Scooby-Doo villain. But 16? Sixteen feels like uncharted territory. Sixteen is eight times two. When you get to eight miles, you’re only halfway done with 16. That’s imposing. What matters is that I did it. It wasn’t particularly pleasant — I went out way too quick and my legs gave me an exasperated “nah, fuck this” around miles 11 and 12, but I slowed down, recovered, and even finished somewhat strong. Only that plus 10 more on race day. Dope.
What to say about Week 10? It started with a pleasant five-mile run on the first morning of Rosh Hashanah with my wife, her dad (both of whom are running the marathon) and her brother. It took us up and down Pinebrook Road, a shaded suburban thoroughfare, which happened to be where I ran my first sub-1 hour 10k.
That was Tuesday. I was supposed to run eight miles on Wednesday (with the middle few miles at a half-marathon pace), but due to some logistics issues, had that run pushed to Thursday. You don’t care about any of this, but I’m just saying this is what happened.
Eight miles is a long way to run before work. I much prefer running in the morning — it gets the endorphins going and just sets a good physical and mental tone for the day. I find it hard to muster up the energy to run in the evening after the day has worn on me, but like I said at the top of this paragraph: eight miles is a long way to run before work. My commute to Brooklyn is an hour flat on a good day, so eight miles is a hard bargain in the morning. Unfortunately it’s a hard bargain in the evening too, when I get home around 6:30 or 7:00 and have to muster the willpower over an energy-sapping commute to go run for over an hour.
So I found an inefficiency and I exploited it: I ran home from work. Not exactly the whole way—there’s no way to run from Manhattan to New Jersey unless you find yourself up at the George Washington Bridge, which yeah, not looking to turn an 8-mile run into a marathon. But I ran from my office in Sunset Park to the World Trade Center PATH station, and it’s a quick train and walk home from there. Anyway, here it was:
The other reason I chose to run my commute home, besides efficiency, was that it afforded me an opportunity to run a slice of the marathon course — up 4th avenue along the border of Gowanus and Park Slope, across Lafayette in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, and up Bedford through South Williamsburg. It’d be nice to get a little preview of what I’d gotten myself into.
I think I would’ve been able to enjoy the first leg more if I wasn’t hampered by some of the worst shin splints I’d had since I began running six years ago. The pain was like a time machine, exacerbated by the fact that I was running through some of the same surroundings as I did back then, trying to complete Couch-to-5k in 2015 as a then-resident of Carroll Gardens. The good news was I was able to place the blame squarely on my sneakers, and not anything that might be wrong with my body. The pair was a few hundred miles past their expiration date. You wouldn’t drink spoiled milk, so you shouldn’t run in it either.
The run through South Williamsburg was a trip. I’ve heard from several people that this is the strangest part of the race, because Brooklyn is mostly a raucous madhouse — especially on the narrow Lafayette—but this stretch through the Hasidic neighborhood is abruptly and eerily quiet.
Well, it was bustling on this particular Thursday night. One night after the end of Rosh Hashanah and one night before the start of Shabbat, there was presumably lots to get done. And at around 7:15pm, the streets were teeming: mothers with entourages of children in tow, frantic-looking men on flip phones, live chickens (literal live chickens). It was like one of Stefon’s choice clubs, in that it had everything.
There hadn’t been a square inch of this city (or any I’ve run in) where I’d have felt immodest in my running tank and 5-inch-inseamed shorts, but I sort of did here, and it got to a point where I was just running to escape the neighborhood, darting around pedestrians and toward the Williamsburg Bridge. It’s not that I was made to feel uncomfortable by the folks in the neighborhood. On the contrary, I felt like I was intruding. I ostensibly believe in the same god as these people, though in practice our religions could not feel more different, and I felt as much like an outsider there as I’m sure many of them do beyond their confines. Monotheism and the Old Testament could not bring us together. Running through South Williamsburg is a secular pursuit in a fundamentalist world.
The ensuing climb up the Williamsburg Bridge was difficult; the trip down into the Manhattan gloaming was beautiful. I took Delancey down to Lafayette (the other one) and wound up finishing a few blocks from the World Trade Center PATH station.
On Saturday morning, my wife and I did a nice little 4-mile run along the water. This one actually was mundane. Nothing deceptive about it. And pretty nice.
Sunday brought another crack at 16 miles, this time with four miles at marathon pace thrown in the middle, buffered on both sides by sixmiles at an easy pace. My new shoes had arrived Saturday afternoon, and contrary to last week, there would be no boil water advisory in Hudson County and the water fountains would be on. There was no excuse for this week’s 16-miler not to feel better than the last. Good news! It did!
I was relieved to do this one with little issue, considering how shitty last week’s version was. But I was especially proud of what those marathon splits looked like:
That’s a 9:33 pace over four miles. I’m not going to run a 9:33 pace on marathon day. I mean, I don’t know, maybe I could. That’s a 4:10:13 marathon. That feels pretty blistering for me. That would be amazing. But what I really set out to do was run that 4-mile stretch at around a 10:00–10:15 pace, which is my goal for the marathon. But I got caught up in some conversation and was feeling good, so I let myself go. It did feel good to slow back down, so again, I’m not going to run a 9:33 pace on marathon day. Maybe I could do it at a 9:55 pace though. A 9:55 pace could allow me to finish at around, or exactly, 4:20:00. I’m not gonna lie and say that wouldn’t be funny.
The final two miles weren’t particularly pleasant, but the first 14 were and it’s not like I was completely toast at the end. That’s a good harbinger for when I have to run 10.2 more after the first 16.
It’s gonna get hot again this week, which is irritating. If I had my way it would never be hot again. Heaven for me is an eternity of 62 and partly sunny, but somehow it always still feels warm enough to swim and cold enough to ski. But we don’t need 88 in mid-September in Jersey City. Consider me over it.