It’s been a little over two weeks now since I ran the New York City Marathon, and I’m still struggling to process the whole experience. An event with that level of pomp, circumstance, and sensory overload is both magical and utterly emotionally draining. As such, my thoughts and feelings about the race, along with my general state of being in the days since the race have ranged wildly from “That was awesome!” to weepy basket case and all order of things in between. Here’s hoping I can get my shit together soon. Meanwhile, I’ll tell you about the race…
But First, the Back Story…
The 2017 New York City Marathon was a long time in the making for me. It took signing up 3 different times, 2 two rounds of raising money for charity, and LOTS of love and friends and sweat and miles to get there. The training cycle leading up to the race started hot and slow and sluggish, but after a good, inspiration-filled late summer vacation I felt like I turned corner and things started falling into place. I executed an encouraging tune up half, and then, with the help and company of many fun and awesome teammates, a really baller final long run as well. As I moved into tapering I felt good about what the numbers were saying about my fitness and my ability to get the goal (Spoiler alert: the still-elusive 3:19:59.) I felt considerably less good about my high levels of general life fatigue and anxiety as race day approached.
I know New York City doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being a chill and relaxing place to visit, but I was hopeful that I might be able to find the pre-race zen I was craving once I completely removed myself from my regular daily grind. Long story short, that did not happen.
From the moment we landed in The Big Apple, Torrie and I were out and about and on the go living our New York City Marathon Weekend best lives. On Friday we spent hours on end at the expo buying ALL THE THINGS (seriously, all of them) geeking out over running celebrities, and posing for so many ridiculous photos. We also made Allie’s Big Gay Ice Cream dreams come true and starred in what’s sure to be Jared Ward’s 2017 holiday greeting card.
Saturday we watched the 5K with Tim Meigs and a number of other A-list running celebrities, did a Central Park shake out run and schmoozed with running idol Kara Goucher and athleisure fashion icon Sally Bergesen at lovely Oiselle meet up. All of this was fun. None of it was chill and relaxing. I regret nothing.
In the midst of this, our wild and wonderful whirlwind of a NYC Marathon Weekend, something happened. Nothing tragic or dangerous, but something that triggered the very anxiety I was struggling to keep in check in a big way, and surely resulted in large expenditure of emotional energy that I was really hoping to save for the marathon. Not the Zen-tastic Race Day Eve experience I had envisioned, to say the least. I tried (without much success) to calm down and regroup as Torrie and I moved through our ritual pasta-eating, manicuring, and pace strategizing, but I went to bed feeling spent and very far removed from an I-am-going-to-crush-a-marathon-tomorrow mentality. Uh-oh.
And just like that, the alarm went off and it was time to get up and go do it. I managed to dress myself, assemble all my fuel and other supplies I needed for the bus ride and the race, and attend Allie’s “Do it for the poncho!” pep talk in the lobby in an uncharacteristically punctual fashion. (For the record, if there had been a “Waiting for Ellen: New York City Marathon Edition Strava segment NO ONE would have had time to run it. #winning) A long walk, a lot of stressful bus waiting, some erratic bus napping, multiple porta-potty stops, and a teary good-bye to Torrie later, I was standing on the Verrazano Bridge high-fiving strangers, longing for just one more bathroom visit, and listening to a forgotten American Idol finalist belt the national anthem. At this point, it dawned on me that the New York City Marathon was happening today, and that if I wanted to get off this bridge and eventually back to my hotel room, well, I was going to have to run it.
Phase 1: The Verrazano Bridge
And that’s about the time that the scary cannon that gave me major Boston 2013 flashbacks went off, marking the start of my wave. My instructions for the first 5K of the race were to keep it slow and easy. When it comes to marathons, I’m a ride or die conservative starter/ negative splitter, and because of that (along with the uphill nature of that part of the bridge) I clocked a 1st mile that was nearly 1 minute slower than marathon goal pace. Mile 2 (still on the bridge) takes you downhill and into Brooklyn. Gravity alone made it significantly faster than the first mile, and keeping it under MGP felt like a pacing win. Mile 3 was my final “throw-away mile” before I had to start getting down to the business of actually running marathon goal pace. Time flies when you’re having fun (and/or trying to not panic) and before I knew it, Phase 1 of the NYC Marathon was in the rearview. On to Phase 2!
Phase 1 Splits: 8:23, 7:42, 7:52
Phase 2: Miles 14 through 15
Phase 2 encompassed miles 4 through 15, and my assignment, per Coach Ryan Warrenburg, was to settle into marathon goal pace (7:38 to 7:33) and maintain it with as little effort as possible until I hit the Queensboro Bridge. Ryan had recommended the mantra “Steady and Even” to get me through these critical early miles. (Obviously, he doesn’t know me all that well.) I rolled these words around in my head a bit, but I just couldn’t reconcile them with my internal motivations for the day or the energy I felt from the course. I soon abandoned them for other tried and true more colorful race day mantras. (Kara’s classic “Everything is fine! Nothing is f*cked!” and my very own Ellen Moss Original “I’m doing it! I’m not sucking!” prevailed, as usual.)
I also made a list in advance of the race of special people I wanted to channel and think of while I was running. People who make me feel calm and inspired and happy, people who contributed to my fundraising campaign, people who have overcome difficult things, etc. (Lots of you were on this list!) The list was great, and I’m glad I took the time to make it, but if I’m being perfectly honest my mind mostly pinballed wildly between the two specific images below for those ~11 miles that made up my NYC Marathon Phase 2…
— Ellen Moss (@RunFastandFab) November 25, 2017
Yes, friends, poop signs from cute, curly-haired kids, and questionable tandem mechanical bull riding videos really carried me through the meat and potatoes miles of the New York City Marathon. In addition, I thought a lot about that awesome point to point run we did on the ATT. (Especially the part where Rachel was mean to Jon Z.) And as if all that wasn’t enough to keep my mind occupied, there were these sweet jumbotrons out on the course from time to time. It was way cool to be able to check in on the elite races and draw some inspiration and excitement from Shalane’s win while I was running.
Throughout Phase 2 I ran a few faster than MGP splits, and one or two slower ones as well, but for the most part, I clicked off high 7:30s like a boss. F*CK, YES! Here are the splits… Feel free to marvel at my consistency.
Phase 2 Splits: 7:38, 7:39,7:37, 7:38, 7:24, 7:15,7:29, 7:43, 7:37,7:37, 7:29
Phase 3: The Queensboro Bridge
Which brings us to Phase 3. I had been advised that the miles on the Queensboro Bridge would be among the slowest and quietest of the race. This was absolutely accurate. I found some relief in taking a little break from goal pace to get up and over it. In hindsight, I probably played this more conservatively than I should have. I was kind of bummed to see a mile that started with an 8 flash up on the watch for mile 16, but I knew had lots of solid well-paced miles in the bank, and I could already hear the glorious roar of the 1st Avenue crowds, which kept my spirits up and my legs moving forward.
Phase 3 Splits: 7:52, 8:19 (🤦)
Phase 4: Miles 17 through 20
Everyone (or maybe just Ryan Warrenburg?) tells you to hold back and take care great care not to shoot your wad when you hit 1st Avenue. (To be clear, the previous sentence is not a direct Ryan Warrenburg quote.) I wasn’t able to do that. The energy from the crowds on that part of the course was close to orgasmic, and this was amplified by its contrast to the prior silent miles on the bridge. Not to mention the fact that this was the part where my OG marathon mom and spirit guide, Allie Bigelow would be cheering! I found what some might consider to be a creepy amount of energy and motivation in finding and hugging her, (sorry if that’s weird, Allie.) And I scored an awesome surprise high-five from fellow Triangle runner Sam Guo en route to the Allie Hug-fest! The “F*ck, yes!” vibes continue!
Phase 4 Splits: 7:21, 7:28, 7:19, 7:35
Phase 5: Miles 21 to 26.2
Ok, I did it! I made it to the part where I could go for it if I was feeling good. A brief mental check-in (plus a mandatory fun check) confirmed that yes (f*ck, yes!) I was officially having a good day and should continue along my current trajectory towards marathon goal crushing success. My assignment for this portion of the game was to break things up into small, manageable chunks until I reached the finish. I longed for the creativity to segment things into more interesting and exotic increments than simple miles, but miles are easy and my watch automatically counts them for me. So “one mile at a time” became my painfully cliché, but effective mantra.
By this point, fatigue was definitely looming in both my legs and my mental game, but I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged to clock splits well below MGP for miles 21 through 23. Mile 24 was a different story entirely. This was one of the course’s hillier hills, and boy, did I feel it. It’s only saving grace was the Oiselle cheering station situated at the beginning of it, where I helped myself to some much-needed hugs and words of encouragement. I promised myself that I could walk if I ever made it through this god-forsaken mile. I’m a little fuzzy on what happened in that final push through Central Park, but my Garmin indicates that I did not walk, and to my great amazement, I did, in fact, succeed in resuming some semblance of goal pace for the haul into the finish. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Phase 5 Splits: 7:17, 7:21, 7:15, 8:06 (hill of sadness), 7:30, 7:28, and 3:30 for the final .2 (or the final .5, as recorded by my watch.)
Throughout the race I kept my watch on the lap time screen and didn’t look at my cumulative time at all. This meant I never really knew where I was in relation to the goal time. I did know that I had run some miles overly conservatively and others overly aggressively. As the finish line and the clock came into view I hoped really hard that the aggressive to conservative ratio had worked out in my favor. It hadn’t. I crossed the line ~90 seconds shy of the goal time and 4 seconds shy of my marathon PR.
Naturally, I felt the tiniest twinge of disappointment and frustration in coming up oh-so-short on the goal (again) but I can’t and won’t let that overshadow all that was good about my NYC experience. So let’s review the positives…
First of all, I actually, finally did it. I ran the New York City Marathon. Booyah! Secondly, I successfully separated myself from a big, gross depression/ anxiety episode and ran well and had fun! (That may not sound like much, but I think it’s the thing I’m most proud of as I reflect on this experience.) Furthermore, despite missing the goal time, I’m not sure that my pacing could have been anymore consistent, and can I get another F*ck, yes! on that negative split?All of that stuff is good and noteworthy, but what really made the New York City Marathon awesome and special was the amazing humanity and community of it all. My most heartfelt thanks to all of you who were a part of it. Whether you were a cheering spectator on the course (especially if you hugged and/or high-fived me), a stranger who took articles of clothing off yourself and put them onto me to warm me up after the race, a friend who waited patiently on me to show up for any number of training runs, a person who generously contributed to my fundraising campaign, one of those fools who ran the whole ATT with me, someone who sent me a kind, encouraging message (or care package!) on race day, or all of the above, you were a meaningful part of this experience for me and I am very grateful for that. The energy and love I felt from you, wonderful running community, both during the race itself and throughout the training that got me there felt like one big, long, fun, sweaty group hug and I f*cking loved that shit. Cheers to checking big things off the bucket list, doing difficult things, and to our next big adventure together, whatever it may be.
I’ll leave you with some pics of Torrie and Tim and I partying our faces off post-race, and me rocking that legendary finisher’s poncho. You’re welcome.
Until next time, friends… Rattle, rattle, F*ck, yes! and thanks for reading!