I suppose I should start by saying that I never intended on becoming a runner, let alone a marathoner. Frankly, as athletic as I was growing up, running was just one of those things I could not do. At age 35 I decided to pick up the hobby as a way to get more active and take advantage of Prospect Park in Brooklyn.
I started late in the game, as many current runners do, with a couch-to-5K approach. With the target goal of being able to regularly run a 5K. Maybe not with ease, but consistently. Really, I was just trying to get healthy and stay active.
Cut to this year. I signed up and ran my second New York City Marathon on Nov. 6. For those of you who haven’t run it, it really does live up to the hype. The crowds, the cheering, the support. All top-notch. That being said, it is still a marathon.
When I ran NYC for the first time in 2014, it was my second marathon. So I set the goals of running the whole thing and beating my first ever marathon time. Despite headwinds at every turn and the overwhelming tunnel vision that creeped in on 5th Avenue, I was successful in both of these endeavors. It was truly an overwhelming experience. One, which I swore I wasn’t going to try and repeat.
Well, I didn’t really stick to that plan and decided in 2016 to run NYC for the second time. Mainly as a way to stay motivated. I’ve discovered over my short running career, that I need goals. This year I gave myself a PR window to shoot for. I spent 2015 trying to increase my pace and I felt confident that I could not only better my 2014 time, but also crush it. I set out to beat my previous time of 4:21 with a reach goal of sub-4 hours. That would mean bettering my per mile pace by nearly a minute—which is definitely ambitious, but based on previous half marathons, not so far out of reach.
Due to work and weather this summer training became incredibly tricky. I wasn’t able to regularly get in my weekly mileage, nor was I able to hit all of my long runs. However, I got a solid 20-miler in before my taper and I felt great and relaxed.
Now, on to the race. This year’s marathon felt very crowded. Maybe it was because I had moved up in waves or there really were a lot more people than 2014. I felt rushed and a little more frantic getting to the start and hadn’t really gone through all of my normal prep (which truthfully isn’t anything crazy).
As I started, I had a game plan in place. Shoot for my reach goal for the first 8 or so miles, back off a little and then push through the end. This was going amazingly well. I was ahead of target and feeling fine. Making great and quick water stops, coming into the half was slightly ahead of even my reach goal. It wasn’t until the top of the 59th Street Bridge that my legs get a little tight. Then the downhill started to take a slight toll on my hamstrings. All things I had noticed the first time.
Backing off and letting gravity do the work I made my way onto First Avenue. All going well, backing off a little on pace. Then it hit me. Mile 18. Muscles started to go sore, and fast. In fear of having my legs lock up completely, I decided to walk through the water stop and give the legs a little rest. It worked for a block or two and then the cramps started to kick back in. Not how I had hoped getting into the Bronx was going to go. I wanted to walk many times in 2014, but was able to push on. Now, I really did have to walk. I resigned to this fact and held on to the notion that I’ve had a hard time passing people in the past who have run walked marathons. So I took this approach for the last 8 miles. A little bit of regret and disappointment every time I had to walk.
As I came up on mile 25, I realized that I could still indeed beat 4:21, but I’d need to run as much of the last mile and a quarter as I could muster. Not an easy task. I made sure to run out of the park and back in. As well as many feet along the way. Once I made it in, I gave myself one last walk before marker 26. I was determined to push through the end.
Crossing the finish line in 4:16:53 was equal parts pain, excitement and disappointment. It felt surreal. I knew I had beaten my time, which I was very happy about. It just felt as if I hadn’t truly given it my all. As if somehow my need to walk was a failure because it didn’t fit into my overall plan.
As the days have gone on, I’ve come to terms with both of these things. Is it frustrating that I didn’t hit my “reach” goal? In short, yes. Probably more so, because I was so far ahead at one point. Should I let this overshadow my whole experience? Absolutely not. It is still a marathon in the books. A fast one, at least for me, at that.
About the author:
David Bowles is a TV Director living in New York City who began running in the spring of 2012. Since then he has completed three marathons and several half marathons. He runs regularly in Prospect Park in Brooklyn and with Iron Runners NYC. Follow him on Instagram: @minivanshoes