The two Americans hope the New York City Marathon plays to their strengths.
The New York City Marathon is a racer’s race. It’s less about pace and all about place, which is part of the appeal for unheralded Americans Nick Arciniaga and Luke Puskedra.
“It’s one of the reasons I come to this race,” admits the 31-year-old Arciniaga. “The course is tough, the weather conditions aren’t always favorable for running fast. It levels the playing field for a guy such as myself who is more of a strength runner than a speed runner.”
Arciniaga, who won the 2013 U.S. marathon title and finished seventh at Boston earlier this year, has fared well in championship-style races over the course of his professional career. His 2:11:30 personal best only ranks him 19th amongst the elite field, but Arciniaga isn’t someone who concerns himself with the clock. He knows the Big Apple’s point-to-point course and undulating layout will level the playing field while allowing him the opportunity to compete with guys who, on paper, should be finishing a mile ahead of him.
“I’m shooting for a top-5 finish,” Arciniaga admits. “I was seventh in Boston earlier this year and I was eighth here five years ago so I need to improve on those. If that means I’ve got to beat Meb [Keflezighi] or I’ve got to beat Ryan [Vail] than that’s what it’s got to be. On the same token, I wouldn’t be surprised by any of the American guys that beat me, or any of the international guys as well. It’s a great field. I just want to go out there and run my best.”
Based in Flagstaff, Ariz., Arciniaga has been experimenting with his training this fall, bumping his mileage into the 140-160-mile a week range for the first time in his career. In the past six weeks, he’s dropped his mileage closer to 100-120 miles per week and shifted the focus of his workouts to include more pace-changing fartleks in order to prepare himself for the unpredictability of how the race in New York might play out.
“I feel it’s the mindset of just being able to be in the lead group and not really having that pressure of time in the back of my mind,” Arciniaga says. “I’m able to go out there and challenge myself and push myself more. It’s kind of like when I’m out on the trails. I’m not really focused on the time. I’m just out there running. Running by feel is the best way I can test my limits.”
For the 24-year-old Puskedra, Sunday’s race will be his marathon debut. An 11-time All-American at the University of Oregon, Puskedra has shown promise on the roads since graduating in 2012. He clocked a 1:01:36 half marathon at Houston in 2012 and finished second at the U.S. 20K championships later that year. Rather than chase an impressive time on a rocket fast course like Berlin or Chicago, Puskedra and his coach, Alberto Salazar, decided New York would be the best place to hone his long distance racing instincts in anticipation of 2016 Olympic Trials Marathon 16 months from now.
“I think just going in and racing is why we wanted to do New York,” says Puskedra. “We’ve prepared for a marathon race and not a time trial like Chicago where there’s a lot of pressure around the time. And also, if we’re shooting toward Rio 2016, the Olympic Trials is going to be a race where you just throw the times out the window and compete against the guys who are around you.”
A member of Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project, Puskedra has been hunkered down at the group’s altitude training base in Park City, Utah over the past two months. Salazar or assistant coach Pete Julian would fly in on occasion to join him for key workouts, but he’s been training mostly alone, laying down long runs of up to 28 miles at 5:40 per mile pace in preparation for his 26.2-mile debut on Sunday.
“I was crying during [that long run],” Puskedra says half jokingly. “We’ve just been taking it workout to workout. A lot of the other training I’ve done was a lot of the same stuff I’d been doing, mile repeats and stuff like that, so I was familiar with it.”
After months of 100-mile weeks and punishing workouts, Puskedra says he hasn’t spoken with Salazar yet about a goal time or specific strategy to target on Sunday, but he plans to pick his coach’s brain on Thursday afternoon “for whatever tricks he knows about the course.” Unsure of exactly what he’s gotten himself into, Puskedra is nonetheless excited to mix it up with some of the best marathoners in the world.
“Sometimes you’re scared, sometimes you’re excited,” Puskedra says, “But going into the race I’m definitely nervous. You push your body to a different point [in a marathon]. Everyone talks about the wall and hitting the wall and I think the people that run the best are the people that hit the wall and are able to bring themselves to the finish line.”