I ran the Yonkers Marathon on Sunday, September 29, but have been a bit backlogged with writing the report!
The Yonkers Marathon didn’t even get off to a very auspicious start in the days leading up to the race. Organized by NYC Runs (so presumably targeting New York City runners), the race start was right at the base of the Yonkers train station, and many runners planned to take the Metro North train from Manhattan. While the location was convenient, the timing was not – in the early morning on weekends, the trains run every hour to arrive at :51, but the race was set to start at 8:00am. So you could either arrive 69 minutes before the race, or 9 minutes before the race. While I was leaning toward the latter option, I worried about the train being late and missing the start. I thought I remembered having this dilemma the year before (before I got sick with the flu and had to bag the race entirely), and I thought I remembered learning after the fact that the train had been delayed so the race organizers delayed the start to accommodate.
Unfortunately, when I posted on the race’s Facebook page to double check, the organizer seemed to be pushing everyone to take the train arriving at 6:51am to account for “pre-race rituals.” But I don’t have any of those?? After further back and forth with the organizer (who was fortunately very responsive to email), he said that worst case scenario if the train was really delayed, I’d get a gun time but not a chip time. Fine by me! For my next few races leading up to NYC Marathon, I don’t care at all about time – I just want to chalk up a finish and hopefully have some fun while doing it. I also asked if there had been any thought to perhaps starting the race to better coincide with the train schedule, and the organizer responded that it “wasn’t a bad idea!” (So apparently it hadn’t been considered before? Weird.)
The night before the race, I went out with one of my best friends and his new girlfriend (I was so excited to finally meet her!). We arranged to meet up on the early side (6:30pm) and when we arrived at my favorite beer bar for one drink pre-dinner, I announced that I really wanted to a) not drink too much and b) eat a real dinner, not bar food (though the bar food at Valhalla is delicious). Unfortunately, after just one beer, I had completely changed my tune – and ended up consuming three beers, a frozen margarita, and a quesadilla with fries as my pre-race dinner – and didn’t head home to bed till midnight. What was I thinking?!
I woke up at 5am feeling crappy – but also very glad that I was getting up at 5am and not 4am, if I had opted for the earlier train. After getting a few things together (including a plastic bag with just some magazines in it – I figured I could read those on the train but if I didn’t have time to do bag check and lost the whole bag, it would be fine), I caught a cab to Grand Central. I had originally planned to skip breakfast (having eaten way more than enough the night before), but after my nose caught the delicious smell of baked goods coming out of the bakery kiosks at Grand Central, I changed my mind and opted for a bagel with a bit of cream cheese. Perhaps the extra carbs would also soak up whatever remained of the margaritas in my stomach 🙂
I boarded the train with plenty of time to spare, noting that pretty much the only people on it were runners. Well, at least I was in good company in being late for the race if the train was delayed! I also ran into two women who told me they had taken the later train the year before with no problems whatsoever. So future Yonkers Marathon runners, take note: you can take the later train. The ride was uneventful, and I mostly read a Runner’s World magazine, munched on my bagel, and tried to relax. I was really not in the mood to run a marathon, and wished I could just go home and go back to bed, but I knew I needed to check the box on Yonkers so I’d be on track for NYC to be my 100th marathon. (This thought would be a reoccurring theme throughout the day.)
We arrived at Yonkers train station right on time, and as the train pulled into the station, I could see the couple hundred runners lined up right below us – the race start was literally five feet from the door of the train station. Convenient! From here, though, I think this story is best told in timeline format:
7:51am: Arrive at Yonkers Station, exit train.
7:52am: Arrive at starting line, ask people where bag check is.
7:53am: Get pointed in one general direction, and soon have a crowd of other runners following me (like I know where I’m going).
7:54am: Looking for bag check and asking random runners who are coming from the other direction in hopes that they know where to go.
7:55am: Still wandering around looking for bag check.
7:56am: We seem to be headed in the right general direction, but haven’t yet found it.
7:57am: Bag check spotted ahead!
7:58am: Bag check volunteer starts yelling at us for walking to bag check. “The race starts in two minutes! You need to run!” But while we had been wandering around looking for bag check for five minutes, it was actually only a two minute walk back now that I knew where I was going. Why the rush? The volunteer, frustrated with our tardiness, came running from behind the table to grab our bags from our hands, encouraging us to “Go! Go! Go! Hurry!” back to the start.
8:00am: Arrive back at start just in time for the race to actually start (right on time). However, while this was a small race (200 in the full, but another 600 in the half), the start chute was pretty narrow, so people were still lined up waiting to cross. Meanwhile, about 20 feet from the start were some portapotties. I decided to head for those one more time before beginning the race.
8:01am: Volunteer yells at me as I approach the porta potties. “What are you doing?! The race has started! You need to go run!” I ignored the volunteer and hit the porta potty anyway.
8:02am: Done with the porta potty and crossing the starting line, nowhere near the last runner to do so. WHY ALL THE STRESS?!
I did not start the race in a good mood whatsoever, but it was ironic to me that it had nothing to do with my arriving at the start so close to the starting gun – and everything to do with anxious volunteers being concerned on my behalf! Meanwhile, the race itself started with a reasonably steep uphill… not improving my mood.
Luckily, the uphill was short, and we quickly settled onto a flat-to-rolling terrain that took us out of the main city of Yonkers and out to some of the surrounding towns. I felt like crap right from the first mile marker, and even more so when I looked at my watch. While I felt like I had really been working hard and pushing the pace, I had done the first mile in 9:40. (I would have guessed around 8:15.) I wasn’t in the race for time, but if a 9:40 pace felt speedy, how on earth was I going to do once I had been running for a while and losing steam?
The first few miles were pretty up and down – nothing too steep, but never quite completely flat either. We had row houses and apartments on either side of us, and every so often, we could catch a glimpse of the river – but it was really too far from the road/blocked by trees and houses to get a good view. The road wasn’t closed to traffic, but at this point in the morning, there was no traffic anyway (plus we had all the half marathoners still with us for a critical mass of runners) so it didn’t matter.
My mile 2 split clocked in just under 10:00 (and again, I felt like that had been a fast mile), and it was at this point that I began to seriously consider dropping out. I had specifically planned my fall schedule to have a week off (October 19-20) in case any races got screwed up and I needed to add another to my schedule (tentative: Hambletonian Marathon or Oklahoma City Marathon). However, I also knew it was a dumb idea to intentionally drop out of a race just because I wasn’t having a good time. I could finish, and it would be better to save those reserve races in case something went seriously wrong at either Wineglass or Hartford and I couldn’t finish.
But as the next few miles crawled by, I kept revisiting that decision over and over. There was a particularly nasty uphill around mile 4 that broke my stride from a (slow) jog to a complete walk, and once at the top, I was just not motivated to keep running. I kept taking walk breaks (even more than just when going through the water stations), and I found it really hard to get inspired to just run and be done. I was listening to Jillian Michaels’ podcasts to try to help me zone out and ignore how much I really, really didn’t want to be doing this – but while they’re usually pretty uplifting, I wasn’t really feeling those either.
Meanwhile, the course was still not really showing any signs of beauty. The little village of Hastings-on-Hudson where we had made the turn and done the quick uphill was pretty, but that lasted for only about three minutes of running. Around mile 6, we ran through a few neighborhoods (thank you to various Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops for coming out to cheer and man water stations), but then at mile 7 we were on a pretty crappy stretch of road next to the Sawmill Parkway, and our only scenery was gas stations, convenience stores, and some car repair shops. Not worry, though, because this soon gave way to… factories and abandoned warehouses. I had never been to Yonkers before, but I couldn’t imagine that it was all this ugly – why weren’t we running through the pretty parts?
Next up was a pretty dilapidated-looking flea market, although I was thankful for the volunteers at the water station just after it. But now we were running on one lane of a major four lane road, and it just wasn’t very fun to be running with cars all around us (whose drivers just looked pissed that we were in their way). I will say that the road was nicely coned off for runners, and I was thankful for the volunteers and policemen who were directing traffic and making sure they stayed out of our lane… at least for now. (More on that coming in loop 2.)
At mile 10, though, we finally got a halfway decent view, and I snapped a pic to commemorate the occasion. This was mile 10 of our first loop of the race, so it would be mile 23 when I came around a second time. I tried to take comfort in the fact that when I had 30 minutes to go, I’d be rewarded by a pretty view. But really, I couldn’t stop thinking about how absurd it was that this was the only pretty view in the whole race.
We turned right here, circled up and around the elegant building… and then hit downtown Yonkers, with lots of rundown stores and bodegas again providing not very much to look at. But at least I was almost done with loop 1! I had been talking myself off the ledge of quitting for the last 11 miles, but now that I had come this far, I knew I wanted to finish and just call it a day.
Unfortunately, there was now a new hurdle to overcome. My pace had been hovering around 11-12 minutes/mile for the last several miles (even when I tried in vain to pick it up), and since the course limit was only 5:00, I was actually in danger of not crossing the finish line in time to be listed as a qualified finisher. I hit the halfway point around 2:25, so if I slowed down more than 5 minutes in the second half, it would be disastrous. (Assuming that the race organizers stuck to their 5:00 time limit, which is always a crapshoot and annoys me. I know it’s nice of them to extend it, but I would rather know in advance exactly what the cutoff is rather than having them say one thing and do another.)
I headed back up that steep hill that marked the beginning of the loop, this time at least thanking my lucky stars that this was the last time I’d have to run it. But oddly enough, I was in a slightly less crappy mood this time around. It wasn’t that my pace was any faster (I was still struggling to maintain an 11:00 minute mile, which is normally easy for me). And because the 600 half marathoners had finished and only 200 full marathoners were left out there (going all different speeds), it was pretty desolate – and cars didn’t even realize that there was a race going on so I had to be very careful to watch for traffic. But somehow, my bad mood had eased with the promise that it wasn’t that bad and I only had another 13 miles to go.
Now, though, I was constantly checking my watch in a panic. Would I make the 5:00 cutoff? I tried to keep pushing the pace as much as possible (and avoiding walk breaks), but I was really frustrated to see that even when I pushed my hardest, I was just barely making 11:00/mile. This is what you get when you don’t fuel properly, and I was definitely paying the price for my stupidity.
In the latter half of a race, though, I’m always counting down to the finish – and it was a huge relief to get past the hill at mile 17 and know that I had only 9 miles to go. That was doable, right? I kept focusing on mini goals (get to the next mile marker, get to 20 mile mark where I’d have only 10K left, get to mile 23 where I’d have that one pretty view) and micromini goals (don’t take a walk break on this short hill, walk only until you hit that tree after the water station) – it was a lot easier to think about that then to consider that if I didn’t finish the race in time, I’d be potentially risking my big goal of having NYC be my 100th marathon.
Around mile 20, I started picking up the pace a bit. My watch was showing around 3:45, and it was frustrating to know that normally I’d almost be done with a marathon by this time… but here I still had over an hour left. Still, the idea that I could do it (and would do it) helped me keep going – and I even managed to pick up the pace a little bit.
At mile 23, I passed that one pretty spot on the course, and I also chose that time to switch over to listening to music instead of listening to podcasts. It turned out to be just what I needed – and for the next few miles, my pace improved dramatically. I really enjoy listening to podcasts while running, because I feel doubly productive, but I have noticed that my pace isn’t quite as speedy doing that as it is when I’m listening to music. It seems I have to make the choice between being fast (for me) and being productive, and for now, I’m picking productivity… but it’s something that’s good to remember if I ever decide I want to run a race to see how fast I can go.
I was coming into the home stretch, turning from the storefronts of downtown Yonkers into a quick stretch of residential area. Here, however, my good mood started to evaporate as I experienced something I found to be really absurd. The roads were closed to traffic in the direction of the race (and fully lined with bright orange traffic cones in case anyone missed the memo), though traffic was allowed to go the opposite way. I was cruising along, at this point pretty confident that I’d make it to the finish in time, and just excited for this race to be over, when an SUV turned onto the race route and started driving right behind me. Almost immediately (before I could move over, even though I shouldn’t have had to since there weren’t supposed to be cars on this way), the driver started honking at me. Are you kidding me? (Actually what I yelled at the driver was “are you effing kidding me”… not my finest moment.) There were cars parked nose-to-nose on the side of the street, so I couldn’t get off the road, but I moved over and flattened myself against one of them so that she could zoom past. I was so pissed off by this incident, and just a tenth of a mile later, I saw her stopped at an intersection while a cop explained to her that she couldn’t be on this road (making the u-turn gesture). I wished he had seen her rude behavior toward me – what a jerk!
I was completely unscathed, though, and now had a downhill, a straightaway, and another downhill to bring me into the finish. At this point, I was listening to my favorite Fun. songs to keep me going, and getting an extra pick-me-up from Carry On (“on our darkest day, when we’re miles away, sun will come we will find our way home!”), since the sun was indeed out and showing me the way home. This time around, the industrial part of town didn’t seem quite so terrible – and I even laughed to myself as I passed a Citgo station at mile 24, thinking about the iconic Citgo sign in the beautiful Boston Marathon that marks mile 24 and the home stretch there. This was a lot less pretty, but the idea of only 2.2 miles to go was still very welcome!
I picked up the pace even more in those final two miles, and was rewarded by applause from the policemen who were guarding various intersections. Thanks, guys! When I was finally around mile 25.7 (half a mile from the finish), I also started seeing some finishers of the half and full brunching or walking with their friends/family around the downtown area. Almost there!
I ran past the start line for a quick little out and back, then turned under the train’s overpass in the direction of that mysteriously missing bag check from the beginning of the race. While I thought the course was pretty ugly throughout, they did do a nice job with the finish – I turned right onto a pier, then left to hug a building and had the finish line right in front of me. Even better, the announcer seemed to know me, announcing that I was a “local running celebrity” (really?) for being the youngest woman to run a marathon in all 50 states. I crossed the finish line proud to be recognized in such a way (I later found out the announcer was my friend Todd Jennings, which made sense because I couldn’t figure out how anyone else would know who I was!), but also a little embarrassed at my poor showing in this race. Either way, it was done!
I was pretty quick to gather my things from the bag drop, and stopped only to chat with a really nice woman who wanted to know about my heritage (yup, I’m Polish and proud of it!) and to get a bottle of water. Then, I literally ran for the train station – probably faster than I had run the race! I knew the trains came at :59 and :31, and I really preferred not to have to wait another half hour for the next one.
Overall, I didn’t think this race was particularly well-planned… but I also think if I had fueled/rested properly and been in a better mindset, it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad and I might have enjoyed it. I don’t think I’ll be back to do it again, given how unattractive the course was… but at least it’s done now. Three more marathons and then onto NYC!
Distance: 26.2 miles
Overall place: 170/196
Gender place: 45/56
Age group place: 12/14
Personal marathon rank: 83rd fastest out of 96 run