I ran the Madhattan on Saturday December 1, but have been putting off this “race report” all week for several reasons. First, it wasn’t really a race! The organizers were very clear that this would be a fun run, and while we could get our times, there were no winners and losers. And EVERYONE would be getting a prize at the end! Yippee, I didn’t know that part when I signed up. I hoped this mystery prize involved alcohol. (Spoiler: it did!)
But the other part of the reason I put it off was that it just wasn’t quite as exciting as my triumphant finish at the NYRR 60K two weeks earlier. With that race, I finished feeling incredible – like I was born to do ultra-distance running and had finally find my calling. I had run 38 miles and flown past the many other finishers in my viciity who looked like they wanted to lie down on the side of the road and give up. And in fact, I wished I were running more! People have tried to tell me for a long time that my body was built differently, and that I have something that enables me to run fast. I usually pooh-pooh that completely; I’m just an average woman who’s been running for only a few years. I’ve pushed myself harder than most people do in running so many marathons, but I don’t finish any of them particularly quickly, and my results are far from extraordinary. That day, for the first time, I started to think that maybe I am special and maybe also a little bit crazy. I set the Madhattan as kind of a test – could I repeat my success on this day, be proud of how I did, and finish wishing I was running more?
I took my carb loading fairly seriously for the two days leading up to the race… until I fell apart on Friday afternoon. I had a rough day at work, and even after coming home to a super special surprise and cheering up for a bit, I soon lapsed back into a bad mood. BF and my best friend bore the brunt of my pre-ultra stress, as I cried incoherently into the phone about anything and everything. While my legs may do fine with an ultra-distance race, my brain still seems to go into panic mode whenever I have one coming up. I look at marathons as easy – they’re something I know I can finish, and I don’t worry about them at all. But ultras are sort of uncharted territory for me, and I worry that I’m not going to finish and I’m going to DNF. While I love writing this blog – documenting my races and random thoughts, and of course getting support from all my readers – it also adds an element of stress to know that if I fail, I’m going to do it quite publicly. I know that there is a whole community out there of people who hate that I don’t train seriously and that I often go into races unprepared, and I know that they would love to hear that I didn’t succeed. Unfortunately, it’s that kind of pressure that breaks me down and takes me to a very bad place.
That night, all the pressure made me completely sabotage myself. By 9pm, despite my careful carb loading for the previous 48 hours, I still hadn’t eaten dinner, nor was I even remotely close to being ready for the race and ready for bed. Finally, my best friend had enough of my hysterics and went into action – dragging me out to one of my favorite beer bars with a group of our friends. The idea was that I’d get food at the bar, have a drink to relax, and still get home to bed by 11pm. Unfortunately, in practice, what that meant was that I drank several pints, ate a plate of nachos (carby? Yes, but also plenty fatty and fried), and went to bed at 1:30am – back to crying since I was now mad at myself for being so stupid. What had I done?!
Despite my mess of a night, I woke up feeling okay. Yes, I had to run 32 miles… but that was 10K less than I had run two weeks earlier with no trouble. As I grabbed an everything bagel and veggie cream cheese from the new Pick A Bagel that just opened on my block, I tried to bolster my spirits with a “piece of cake” mantra.
That last until I was sitting in a cab on the West Side Highway, completely stuck in gridlock traffic, and with only 10 minutes until the pre-race announcements were supposed to begin. Crazy traffic at 7am? Apparently so when it is the holiday season in New York. In the meantime, I chowed down on my toasty bagel and continued trying to calm my nerves. (Cab driver: “That smells so good, what are you eating?” Me, in my head: “Uh oh, do I have to be polite and offer him half?”)
I arrived at the start with one minute to spare, and the nice women manning the check in desk took my name and then told me to head on downstairs – they’d finish checking me in after the announcements. The race start turned out to be at a small gym, ARC Athletics, and the gear storage and pre-race announcements were in the basement. I found it hilarious that some poor guy was there with a trainer trying to get his early morning workout on while a crowd of crazy runners invaded 🙂
The pre-race announcements were helpful, but didn’t really teach me too much I hadn’t already known. I was, however, very happy to see that the organizers had created laminated cards with the route directions written out. I had packed extra batteries for my cell phone (so that I could look at the instructions from the email), but this would be a lot more convenient. Separately, they also gave us “toilet cards” which listed all the bathroom facilities they could find along the route. Why can’t regular marathons offer printed cards like this? It would definitely come in handy to know exactly how far to the next portapotty, so you could decide whether to wait in line or hold out for the next one!
The race organizers did a few show-of-hands surveys, and I took this opportunity to look around at the other crazies setting out for this 32 mile journey around the island. I found it very interesting that there were a few runners who had never even completed a marathon – they were definitely ballsier than me! However, I did get some bravery points as “only runner to be attempting this without a hydration system.” I don’t own a Camelbak, and while I considered just packing water bottles in a regular backpack, I decided I didn’t want to deal with potential discomfort from carrying something I wasn’t used to. Instead, I would be running the race with my gels, extra batteries, and credit card in my pockets, and a cell phone and water bottle in my hands. Hooray for minimalism! I hoped this wasn’t stupid…
The pre-race talk ended up taking a lot longer than I had expected, and I had only a few minutes afterward to finish checking in and hit the bathroom. Good = getting to use a flushing toilet instead of a portapotty. Bad = one bathroom for 50 people. It smelled pretty terrible when I went in! I made the best of my wait time by making a few friends in line, though – I always love how friendly runners are.
We headed out en masse toward the West Side Highway, where the race would begin. (When the traffic light started to change while some of us were still crossing, we had to jog a little bit, prompting one guy to be like “Oh geeze, you mean I have to run? What IS this?” Hilarious!) At the official start, we got just a few more instructions from the organizer, who was wearing a giant top hat. (MadHATtan, get it?) Why hadn’t I thought of that? And then with the ceremonial pushing of the “start” button on an iPad set to stopwatch mode, we were off.
The iPad-as-race-clock was a new twist on timing for me, but the other twist was that I had accidentally left my Garmin plugged into its charger at home. Still, I wasn’t planning on setting any records for time, and I was more than content just to know that I started when my cell phone clock said 8:05. Between that and my previously-plotted Excel of the approximate locations of each mile marker, I didn’t really need much more information.
We headed down the West Side Highway and then took a quick turn to go around Battery Park City. In general, while there was some detours due to Hurricane Sandy’s wrath, the organizers had taken great care to make sure our route took us as close to the edge of the island as possible. For now, this meant that the Hudson River was on my right – and I would just need to continue keeping water on my right until I ended up back where I started.
For the first 10 miles or so, the runners in my vicinity formed unofficial groups, and I was psyched to get to chat with a lot of different people and hear their stories. Around me I had a 50 State Club hopeful as well as several people who planned to run the now-canceled New York City Marathon and were now doing this instead. I found that an interesting course – 45 people doing an informal 32 mile run around Manhattan was very different than 45,000 people doing a 26.2 mile run through the five boroughs with tons of crowd support all along the way. Then again, I enjoy both big and small races, so I suppose it wasn’t that weird!
I thought of Theodora as we went around “just the tip” of southern Manhattan, since that was our joking theme of a training run we did with BF this summer. As luck would have it, she texted me just a few minutes later to see if I was home and wanted to meet up for coffee. No can do – I was busy becoming the “Magellan of Manhattan” as I circumnavigated the island. I told her I’d be passing back by my hood in about 5.5 hours, if she cared to wait till then? No response on that one 🙂
I really enjoyed getting to run along the East River – I haven’t run over there very much, and little landmarks each reminded me of one of the times I had run there before. There was the previously-mentioned “just the tip” run with Theodora and BF last summer, the New York Rogue Runners’/AbbeLew’s Whiskeython that I did with Lauren in the spring, and the cassoulet run I organized last winter with Katelyn, Laura, and Jocelyn last winter. So many great memories of running with friends! I vowed to start organizing those group runs a bit more next year – they are so much fun.
When I hit the 30s, I thought of BF’s nearby apartment, and how he was peacefully slumbering in his comfy bed right now. I briefly wished that I could be there too – how wonderful was the idea of bed right now! But before I could dwell too much on that, the course got interesting. We detoured from the FDR Drive over to 2nd Ave, then followed that uptown past the UN. Hello, East Side hills! I had thought this entire course was pancake flat, so I actually welcomed the change of pace. (And I later found out that there were plenty of hills way up at the top of the island too.) I started tweeting out my whereabouts, knowing that a few people were going to be looking for me in this section… and then I turned a corner and found Beth and Steph patiently waiting for me. Amazing!!!
Beth had brought a bottle of water for me to supplement my limited rations, and I eagerly dumped it into my now-depleted plastic Nuun bottle. I was so very excited to have Beth and Steph’s company for the next few miles, not least because they were the first of many wonderful people who had agreed to come join me. From here on out, I would basically have a friend with me at all times. What better way to catch up than go for a run??
Beth planned to do just a few miles, since she had a Physique 57 class planned for later that afternoon and was going to be racing in Central Park the next day. Steph wanted to go a bit longer, but not too hard, as she was prepping for a PR attempt the following weekend at the Rehoboth Beach Marathon. What can I say, all my friends are exercise addicts!
The miles flew by, and I was especially grateful to Beth for guiding us through some of the tricky parts on the East Side where the main path was still closed and we had to detour through parks and streets. Before I knew it, it was already time to bid Beth goodbye; shortly afterward, Steph too headed for home. Luckily, I had only about a mile to go before I’d get to meet up with my friend Ellie – who was scheduled for an 18 mile long run and was therefore going to be running the rest of the way with me. Yippee!
In that mile, I caught up with a few other Madhattan runners, and I was definitely glad for the company, since we were getting into some seedy neighborhoods. In fact, I took out my phone at one point to let Ellie know my ETA and the best place to meet, and another runner reminded me that this maybe wasn’t the best neighborhood in which to be flashing around my fancy smartphone. Oops! I shoved it into my pocket pretty quickly after that – the last thing I wanted was to get beat up/mugged.
I needn’t have worried about that once I saw Ellie though – her tough attitude and constant random yelling of “Backseat/Windows up/That’s the way I like to…” was more than enough to scare any baddies away 🙂 Aside from her pacing assistance when I ran the 60K a few weeks earlier, I hadn’t seen Ellie in months, and I was so excited to again catch up with her and allow random antics to ensue. First adventure? Bathroom stop – at the not-listed-on-the-toilet-list-because-it-was-probably-way-too-sketchy-for-inclusion public park restroom. We took turns using the one open stall, as the other was occupied by a homeless person with their shopping cart. I was so glad Ellie was with me!
By now, we were up in the 150s, and I couldn’t believe we still had another 90 blocks to go. Was Manhattan really that big before it turned into the Bronx?? Apparently. Fortunately, it was somewhere around mile 15 that we got to leave the grimy city streets and get back on a pretty riverview parkway. We both marveled at the beautiful views in this area, and what a nice place it was to run. (Or at least it was if you looked right to the river; the highways on our left were not quite as picturesque.) Further and further north we climbed until finally turning off the river path and back into the urban city around mile 17. We caught up with a few other Madhattans in this area before detouring to a convenience store. Fuel stop!
My pace had definitely been much slower throughout this run than I had anticipated when I made a pace chart for my friends of what time I expected to be where. That said, I wasn’t really totally sunk until we stopped at this convenience store – where Ellie and I proceeded to goof off for a long time and shop for random items that we thought would be funny to carry with us while we ran. Pint of Ben & Jerry’s and a spoon? A full roll of premade Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough? All of these were considered, but in the end, we went with straight up Gatorade. So lame and boring! If I regret anything about this run, I regret not defying convention at that point 🙂
But that convenience store marked the northernmost part of Manhattan (just the tip again, Theodora!), and we now cut across to pass Columbia University stadium and head for the West Side. In this section, though, it got a bit hairy. Our directions instructed us to enter the park and “follow the trails under the Henry Hudson Bridge.” Problem was, the bridge was way off in the distance, and there was a whole network of trails to navigate in the meantime, any one of which could be the correct one that would lead us to the West Side.
We didn’t see any Madhattan runners ahead of us, and those who were behind us seemed to be following us for guidance (the blind leading the blind), so we just picked at random and were pleasantly surprised when it seemed to be the correct choice. We had done it! We were on the West Side! Both Ellie and I live on the West Side and frequently run along the West Side Highway, so the course definitely seemed easier from here.
That said, there was still another 12 miles to go, so we were hardly out of the woods yet. In fact, we proceeded to get even more lost than we had in the woods when we came to various piers that were closed down for construction, blocking our access to the river path. When in doubt, stop and take Christmas photos, right?
I have to say, Ellie was so totally awesome for sticking with me throughout all of this. I was pretty wiped out at this point in the race (perhaps because I had now run 22 miles fueled by nachos and craft beer?), and Ellie was a champ about not caring what pace we ran – despite the fact that she needed to get in a solid 18 mile long run as part of her own marathon training. We gossiped about everything from guys to TV shows to politics and then some, and it just made me think how running is really the solution to all life’s problems. Ellie and I definitely had some different viewpoints on certain topics, but talking about politics with a running buddy just came very naturally – we both had plenty of time to explain ourselves and listen to what the other person had to say. Running is a great way to build tolerance and acceptance when dealing with a conflict of opinion! Perhaps we ought to start insisting that congressional sessions take place as a group run instead of sitting in a stuffy room on Capitol Hill?
When we finally reached what we surmised must be around mile 26, I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was so close – only 10K to go! On the other hand, I had already run a marathon, and we were about to literally pass my apartment in half a mile. How great would it feel to go home, take a hot shower, and crawl into bed? Note to self: do not ever plan a long distance running route that goes past my own apartment; it’s too tempting!
With Ellie’s encouragement, though, I resisted. Instead, I took advantage of my familiarity with the area to suggest a bathroom stop at the restrooms just past the Boat Basin. I also hoped to find a working water fountain in this area, but alas, it was already turned off for winter. Ellie and I debated the pros and cons for a while, but I finally ended up just refilling my water bottle from the sink in the public restroom. Gross? Kind of. I like to think that since I ran the tap for a minute or so first, any germs on the faucet got washed away before they went into my water bottle. Obviously. The “sink water” became a big joke for the two of us for a while, especially when we discovered that just 1/4 mile further, the organizers had set up a surprise aid station for all the runners. You mean I could have filled my waterbottle with Gatorade instead of “sink water” from a public bathroom that looked and smelled like it hadn’t been cleaned in decades? DARN IT.
But whether I wished the aid station had been sooner or not, I was not about to let it go to waste – and I gratefully grabbed some gummi bears and a mini-Snickers. After 28 miles of running, candy tasted awesome! Now, just 4 miles or so to go, and I’d be able to have whatever I wanted.
In the meantime, I started looking for Fiona – my final running buddy. Fiona is a fellow Upper West Sider, and while we’ve tweeted at each other many a time, we’ve never yet gotten to meet up. Today, we were finally going to change that! (If I could find her, that is, since my original pace chart was by now way off.) Fiona was tweeting that she thought she missed me and was sprinting to catch up, but I hastily tried to let her that I was still miles behind. Would we get to meet?
Finally, on the boring stretch of West Side Highway between 57th Street and the cruise ports, we caught up – and she arrived just in time for an Ellie-and-Laura special discussion of “what is love, anyway?” (We had decided a few miles back that we need to have our own show on public access, because we are so entertaining.) To Fiona’s credit, she didn’t seem at all put off by our heavy choice of topics, and jumped right in on the conversation. With two friends instead of one, the final miles flew by, and soon enough, I was approaching the finish line. I sprinted the final yards, took a quick turn onto the sidewalk, and ran through the finisher’s chute as people cheered and I screamed “I am Madhattan!” (Obviously that was a requirement for all finishers.) From there? It was bar time – at a festive little taphouse that had not only good beer but also a nice Christmas tree.
I was very proud of myself for circumnavigating Manhattan, but a little disappointed in myself for not taking it more seriously and finishing in a faster time. My time for the 32 miler was only about 10 minutes slower than my time for the 38 miles I ran in the NYRR 60K, which was crazy! I had so much fun running with my friends today, but I was a little disappointed in myself for not making it the epic race that it probably could have been. This was just not a day where I really pushed myself, and while I completed the 32 miles, I am rather disappointed by my lack of effort.
On the plus side? The return of Madhattan will happen this June, and I am all in. Perhaps (with some better preparation!) I can make it a run that I’m really proud of, especially if I can hype myself up and adjust my attitude so that I really go for it.
Up next: Rehoboth Beach Marathon on Saturday, and then I am done racing long distance until January. My blistered feet will be quite happy!
Distance: ~32 miles