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Also Ran New York

By Rohit Grover

It’s been a little over six weeks since I ran the New York City Marathon, and I’m still happily wearing the jacket and hat from the 2019 TCS NYC Marathon at every opportunity. And having a pint in a New Balance glass, with a prominent logo for the race. At my annual physical yesterday, my doctor asked me if I still run, and in the process of saying yes, I found a way to convey where I placed.

It went that well. You can stop reading here, but you’ll miss the parts where I boast, so please read further.

I am very fortunate that I have various classmates – from elementary through grad school – scattered all around the country, and the New York/New Jersey area is no exception. When I got a New York City Marathon qualifying time at the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon in 2018 (Also Ran, Part 6), one of my first thoughts were of which friends I’d be able to visit and save hotel charges at. Rangini (6th grade classmate) and Milind were willing victims, and even asked what foods and drinks they could have ready for me so we could have a good time together. I was sorry to disappoint them when I disclosed my monastic regimen of dairy-free and meat-free food in the days prior to a race, but I promised to indulge in a bacchanalian feast immediately afterward.

Training for New York went very well – I made some new friends to run with in the early morning hours through former Lizard Felice Kelly (hi, Ved, Sarah, Elisabeth, Rafe, Ashley, Troy, and others I should remember to cite but didn’t!). I used Paul McRae’s advice from many months prior to add long intervals to my training plan, which I’d avoided till then. Because long intervals are hard. I was very grateful to have Sarah, Felice, and Ved for company in those dark early morning hours to chase. Also, my last 20+ miler was a big confidence boost as Dave Harkin joined me and we started talking, then noted that we were running at a 6:30 pace (this was miles 18 and 19 – the rest were slower).

As the taper started, I looked into what pace I could reasonably expect to maintain on the NY course. Online calculators said I should plan for 3:08! That felt wrong — I had run faster than that in Chicago. Ved mentioned that should target 2:55 based on what we’d been running intervals in, and Coach Rick suggested starting out at 6:45 and seeing how I felt at mile 20. So I had a range – I elected to target 1:26 for the first half, and 1:28 for the second half (because it’s tougher).

And then two weeks before NY, Felice took us on a very hilly run which left my right quad and hip flexor complaining. I could still run at pace, but slower running and turns felt awful. Dr. Google said I’d be okay running if I avoided hills, which wasn’t necessarily reassuring because NY is, well, hilly (the bridges count as hills). However, massages, and a visit to fellow-Lizard and chiropractor Steve Hanson on Thursday, were reassuring, though Steve did say to visit him earlier in an injury cycle next time.

I taped up my leg and flew in Friday morning before the race, got in a shakeout run, and took the bus to New York for the expo. I picked up my packet, took a picture of my name on the wall of racers, saw Kathryn Switzer – who was greeting people in an area full of exercise bikes and treadmills – and took a picture to send to a friend. While wandering the booths and eating the various flavors of stroopwafels on offer (Honey Stinger was the official stroopwafel of the race), I overheard someone with a British accent talking about getting their bib signed – they were waiting for Paula Radcliffe! I got in line.

Paula was super nice. She signed my bib, posed for a picture, and not knowing what to say, I said, “It was wonderful to see you on TV greeting Brigid Kosgei at the Chicago Marathon!” She gave me a funny look; this is when Kosgei had broken Paula’s marathon world record, so it may not have been the best thing to bring up.

Louis LeBlanc recommended a motel on Staten Island for the night prior to the race, and that was probably the best advice I got. Various other friends from college had complained about my not visiting them, so we arranged for a get-together Saturday afternoon, where they indulged me in large servings of salad and pasta, and I went off to the motel Saturday afternoon, where I had more of the pasta Rangini had given me in a to-go container, and a cup or two of ramen. Local runners Fumie Weiby and Lynnette Nguyen snagged rooms in an adjacent hotel, and we decided to share a ride to the start the next morning.

Staying at the motel allowed me to sleep in, and we were in the athletes’ village fairly quickly. Race morning was bright and clear, perfect temperature for running (45 F), no rain, and not much humidity. I knew my leg might give out on me during the race, so I popped a Tylenol and hoped for the best.

I’d asked my indulgent hosts for an old blanket, and Rangini was very kind to give me an old blanket with colorful donuts on it to don to the start line (if her kids are reading this, that’s why they don’t have their blankie). Some people around me mentioned they were going to target a 6:30 pace.

Inner monologue: “My hip flexor is taped-up and the Tylenol will stop working at some point. Forget the race, let’s run as fast as possible in the beginning and limp to the finish at the end.”

“Hey may I run with you guys?”

The first mile across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is uphill, and went by in 7:01, so I wasn’t particularly happy and didn’t look at my watch again till the second mile marker — which arrived 5:46 minutes later. And that was scary. I wasn’t planning to run that fast. So I put the arm warmer over my watch and decided I’d look at it after the race and run by feel – something that had worked for me at the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. My new friends from the start line had disappeared – one had taken off much faster than I had, and the other dropped behind me during the second mile.

The next few miles were an overload of inputs. There was a very determined Amish lady running the race alongside me, in full skirts and the thing on her head. Some people in the Brooklyn clearly didn’t care for the crazy runners in their midst and insisted on crossing the streets in front of us – we had to dodge the mom and the stroller in front of us as we ran. But there was also so much support!

At the 15k mark, I realized I had a 15k PR.

At the half marathon mark (1:24:52), I realized I had a half-marathon PR (Rick tells me I’m allowed to say this, because it was a certified course).

Dan Bartosz came up to me on the Queensboro Bridge and we had a short conversation. “Dan, I got a half marathon PR! I’ll probably die in the second half, but let’s find each other at the finish.”

The crowds were great as we got into Manhattan – people everywhere were cheering. Every time I went through a quiet patch, I’d raise my arms and indicate I was a cheer-needy runner, and the crowds would erupt! Felice had said running New York was like knowing what it was to be the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. I’m pretty sure she was right.

At the 30k mark, I had a 30k PR, and I realized the Tylenol hadn’t worn off – or maybe I wasn’t as injured as I thought I was. As I ran past the Marcus Garvey Memorial Park (mile 22), one of my starting line friends caught up to me. “Hey, aren’t you from Oregon? Let’s finish this together!”

I tried running with him, but he was surging, and I was not. So we bid each other a tearful goodbye a mile later.

Mile 24 was uphill and not fun, but at the end of it we were in Central Park.

By then I knew I was on course for a PR and I didn’t have to hold back. I indulged in the crowds and passed many, many runners. Felice had warned me that it would be anti-climactic to come out of Central Park onto the street before heading back into Central Park, but it wasn’t too bad. The crowds kept me going, and I turned right past the rock band, and towards the finish.

The finish line timer was reading 2:51 and change and I was sprinting (or what counted for a sprint in my mind), and they held up a ribbon for me to break. No, they didn’t, but they didn’t need to. It was a win in my book.

I tried to stop when I finished, but although I stopped my watch, my legs were twitching and I felt I might fall over, so I jogged for about 400 meters and slowed myself down progressively. I grabbed a finisher medal and mylar blanket and started walking to the exits, and ran into Dan Bartosz, who’d finished a couple of minutes earlier. A kind race volunteer took pictures of us and texted them to Dan and we went to pick up our bags.

I took the subway and bus back to Rangini’s. The first moment where I felt like I might do myself an injury was as I tripped running up the escalator to make the 1:30 bus at 1:29 pm. On the bus, I was so busy texting my friends that I almost missed the bus-stop, and as I was rushing to the exit, I tripped again. The bus driver turned to me and said, “You already ran your race, and I don’t mind waiting.”

I waited in the Indian grocery store next to the bus-stop for Rangini and Milind to collect me, and a number of people gave me a funny look – who was this guy in a singlet and mylar blanket shivering at the entrance in 45-degree weather? If they’d bothered to ask, I’d have given them a race recap. But they didn’t ask.

There was a killer lamb curry waiting at Rangini’s (I’m still waiting for the recipe), and plenty of beer afterward. I had omitted to purchase a race jacket, but a few days later, I went on eBay and bought one, which I wear most days. I finished in 2:51:18 (the app still says 2:51:17, so my apologies to whoever got my texts immediately after the race), and I was 715th. The time qualifies me for Berlin 2021, so I know what I’ll be doing whenever that race happens. Dan Bartosz finished in 2:48:46, but he’s a fast runner.

Raghav said he’d let me know to stop if I boast into the new year.

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