On November 1st I ran my first 42km distance in 3 hours 53 minutes and 56 seconds. The TCS New York Marathon 2015. My excitement is still buzzing strong and I would like to share the story behind my first marathon experience.

What running means to me? It helps me to stay mentally and physically fit. It also allows to be flexible on trainings choosing 7 am morning run or 10 pm evening run, whatever suits my often-busy schedule. But the ultimate reason is the feeling that I get during and after my runs. No matter how tired I am, I’m usually still full of energy and pumped up. It also gives some time to get deep into my thoughts and figure out some of the problems that are bothering me and of course get them solved.

Why is New York Marathon was so special to me? Here is my list: traveling to New York City, going to Marathon Expo, having race-day experience, feeling overwhelmed at the start line, stunning NYC sights along the course of all five boroughs (Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Bronx), crowds of supporters shouting your name, numerous signs either welcoming you to each of the New York neighborhoods or humorously cheering you to run faster to the finish line and it is all about YOU!

Verrazano Bridge // Image by Matthew Hutchinson CC2.0

Verrazano Bridge filled with marathon runners // Image by Matthew Hutchinson CC2.0

You are overwhelmed with emotions, excited, pumped up with adrenalin and when you cross the finish line you do feel dead tired but you also feel accomplished, you have completed one of the best marathon distances in the world! Amazing feeling.

Registration and Entry
Training
Food
Running Gear
Traveling and the Pre-Marathon Week
The Marathon Day
The Race
Post-Race and Next Steps

Registration and Entry

You have several options to enter New York Marathon.
• Time-qualify by running eligible races. Qualification times are strict and difficult to achieve unless you are a professional runner.
• Join Team for Kids and fundraise at least USD 2 650,- to get a guaranteed entry
• Enter the drawing process and hope for the good chances

I have submitted my application for drawing in the period of January 21st till February 21st . This year the chances of being accepted were around 18% (that is only 1 in 5,5 applicants getting the guaranteed entry). On the March 5th I woke up and instantly checked my phone to discover “You’re In” email! This was a moment of joy; I instantly jumped out of bed and went for a run. All kind of thoughts were flowing through my head starting with a training plan and ending with travel arrangements to the US. I actually didn’t really plan to run a marathon in 2015, but I still applied out of curiosity. So it’s safe to say that being accepted to run New York Marathon gave me this huge motivation to accomplish the marathon distance.
Run

I have been to the United States before for several times but I have never imagined running through 5 boroughs of New York and cross the finish line at the 42,195km (26.2mi) mark in Central Park.

New York Marathon Course Map // Image by TCS New York Marathon

New York Marathon Course Map // Image by TCS New York Marathon

I would also have to mention that the participation fee for non-US citizens is USD 347 and for the US citizens USD 255. I know. That’s a lot. In my city marathon entry costs USD 30. But that’s the price you have to pay for one of the best marathons in the world.

Don’t be disappointed if you didn’t get in from the first attempt. Sometimes people try to get accepted to run New York Marathon for several consecutive years. Nowadays marathons are held almost everywhere, so you do have a chance to try yourself out somewhere else before you actually get accepted to run New York.

Training

Although back in March I decided that I would train hard for the marathon, I actually started serious preparations only 6 weeks before the marathon. I was traveling and changing jobs in September, so it happened to be that I started running a bit too late. It forced me to pick up my shape rapidly to be able to finish the marathon on the 1st of November. But I do have to mention that I have been running half-marathons (21 km) for 8 consecutive years. It did mitigate the fact that I started practicing late, so if you are a beginner you better not follow my mistake and start 4-5 month in advance.

Total km run monthly in 2015

Total km run monthly in 2015

I was running 4 times a week consisting of relaxed 10-18km (6-11mi) runs, tempo runs with 4-8 fast and relaxed intervals, and of course Sunday long runs starting at 25km (15.5mi) in September and finishing with 32km (20mi) two weeks before the actual marathon. If you are a beginner, I would suggest keeping the same structure of training, but starting 4-5 month in advance and gradually building up distance and tempo. You will be amazed by your progress.

Somewhere in the beginning of October I felt how my shape is building up. I felt so great and I was anticipating each of the upcoming training runs. And of course pictured the race day in my head every time I went for a run. Unforgettable.

For the last two weeks before the event start reducing your training effort to give your body some time to relax and replenish energy before the big event. And don’t forget to stretch a lot! You should preferably do it after each of your runs, it really helps. I know, for some people, including me, it’s a bit boring to spend even 10 minutes on stretching, but believe me, it’s totally worth it!

October - pre marathon month training schedule

October – pre marathon month training schedule

I believe that anyone, given the goal to run a marathon, could get prepared with a certain amount of effort in 4-5 months. There are numerous training plans available on the internet (free and paid), but my suggestion would be to sign up for Endomondo premium account to create your own adjustable training plan and be able to track your performance. It costs USD 5.99 a month or USD 29.99 a year. I personally used Endomondo premium training plan and I am highly satisfied with it. I liked the fact that it adjusts given your current performance and it also motivates you to run as you can track your progress and share your workouts with friends.

When training for the marathon, take it serious. There is no option to skip a run or two now and then. Stick to your schedule and you will not regret it on the race day.

Food

During my preparations for the marathon I ate a lot! I mean it. I have never eaten this much in my entire life. I was burning 4000-5000 calories a week on my runs and I had to replenish my energy with food. What I noticed is that I had to have at least 4 meals a day.
Breakfast (8 am): Oatmeal / Muesli / Omelet (once or twice a week) / Cream cheese bagels
2nd breakfast (11 am): Mainly fruit / couple of light sandwiches
Lunch (1:30 pm) : A cup of soup and a meat with rice / potatoes
Dinner (7 pm) : Pasta / meat with a salad.

Pasta is a great way to carbo load // Image by jeffreyw CC2.0

Pasta is a great way to carbo load // Image by jeffreyw CC2.0

It worked well for me. Sometimes I allowed myself to grab a hamburger or two, just because I was really hungry. I don’t see a huge harm in having some junk food or even have a couple of beers now and then during your training period. Just try avoid junk food and alcohol for the last 1.5-2 weeks leading to the event.

Don’t forget to drink a lot. I drank at least 2 liter (67OZ) of water per day not including tea/coffee/juice/coke.

But the main advice is to start experimenting early. Do it two months in advance, try different foods, try drinking more/less water, try drinking tea/coffee, try eating gels/bars/fruit during your runs, try it all to understand what works and what does not work. Listen to your body.

I found that eating too many gels gives me indigestion and my stomach stops working. I was glad to get to know that a month in advance rather that on a race itself. So do your homework and experiment. There is no single right recipe that would fit all runners.

Speaking of gels, I advice you to try to use them. I found that they actually give a good energy boost when you need it the most, but only in the case you use them wisely. I used half a gel two times during my marathon and it proved to be efficient. But it’s up to you to try what works the best for you.

On the pre-race week you have to get a lot of carbs, but do it your usual way. If you didn’t eat pasta during your training months at all, don’t go and eat a huge bowl of pasta a day before your race. Here are some good foods to get carbo loaded on your pre-race week – whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, fruit, bagels, low fat yoghurt, pancakes, cookies. There are plenty of recipes on the internet, go ahead and explore them in advance.

Cream cheese bagels // Image by jeffreyw CC2.0

Cream cheese bagels // Image by jeffreyw CC2.0

Be careful when traveling on the pre-marathon week. It’s sometimes difficult to combine travel with a careful diet, however try to keep it in mind when arranging your travel plans and schedule your meals accordingly. You don’t want to run out of fuel on a race day somewhere at the 30th km (18.6mi).

Running Gear

The main rule here is to try out different outfits during your practice runs (especially during the long ones) and understand what works and what does not work. On the race day wear what you have been wearing during your training and don’t even think about wearing something new. Don’t don’t don’t! You don’t want to have pain in your foot or crushed nails due to the new shoes or to feel your nipples or armpits bleeding to to the new fancy t-shirt. Just go with the regular training outfit and enjoy your run.

Keep in mind that the beginning of November in NYC might be cold. Or not. This year it was around +15C (59F) and no winds. Last year it was a strong wind with temperatures as low as 3-5C (37-41F). If you are traveling to NYC, be prepared to have running gear for warm and for cold weather. Remember, that being cold eats up a lot of precious calories, and you don’t want to waste your race-day calories on anything but running.

This year I ran in a short sleeved running t-shirt (bought it in GAP a few years ago and it still works for me), Mizuno running shorts and Asics GT2000 shoes. I also had arm warmers that I took off at the first km because I was getting too hot.

Running gear

My running gear

The most important is your running shoes. Before starting your serious practice go see a professional consultant in a good running store. If they have a system to analyze your running – even better. I went to one of the stores myself and found out that I need extra soft shoes because my step leans a bit towards inward side of my feet, which can cause pain in my knees if I train a lot (which I did). One more advice here, pick the shoes that are ½ or even 1 size larger than your regular size. Your feet are going to increase in their volume during long runs and the last thing you want is your toes squashed.

Also keep in mind that you should buy training shoes, not the race shoes. The race shoes are for race only and for professionals. They have all the soft gels removed to make them lighter. When you are training extensively, you do have to have soft shoes, no matter how heavy they are. It helps you to protect your feet and knees.

Asics GT2000 worked well for me both during my training and during my race, so you could definitely consider them if your are in a doubt about your running shoes.

Traveling and the Pre-Marathon Week

So yes, it was the marathon week! By that time I was in my best shape and ready to travel. I flew from Riga to Washington (one layover in Frankfurt) on Wednesday and went by bus to NYC on Thursday. I would say it’s the latest time to arrive to New York. If you can, do it earlier, especially if you are heavy traveling through time zones like I did. I didn’t get much proper sleep at nights due to jet lag and was feeling a bit tired first couple of days. We stayed at The Time Hotel in New York . The main criteria for a hotel was proximity to the finish and the price at the time of booking. It all worked very well.

WTC One

WTC One


In general, I stayed in the US for 12 days, out of them 1 in Washington DC, 4 in New York, 4 in Las Vegas, 1 in Grand Canyon, 1 in Page and 1 in Kanab.

Remember that the marathon will be your ultimate sightseeing through New York. If you are traveling on the pre-marathon week, keep it easy on your legs. Don’t walk too much. Go see a show. Go to observation deck. But don’t walk through Manhattan or any other city whole day around. Leave it for the post-marathon week.

Don’t forget that you have to visit Expo to pick up your number and free t-shirt. There are also several nice things you can do there – shop for running gear, get your race time predictions, chat with running experts. I went there on Friday and it got me into an amazing mood. I was super ready to run the marathon.

TCS New York Marathon Expo

TCS New York Marathon Expo

I also went for a short run in Central Park and got pumped up even more. All of the preparations were finished by that time. Finish line, spectator tribune, and autumn in Central Park. There is nothing like that in the entire world. I couldn’t get the smile out of my face for hours after that run.
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Autumn in Central Park

Autumn in Central Park


The last thing I did on Friday was going to WTC One observatory, which opened its doors just recently. I have been on Top of The Rock and Empire State Building before, but this is another point of view of New York. I really liked it as it involves a mix of usual sightseeing and modern technology, but my personal favorite is still Top of The Rock.
View of Manhattan from WTC One observation deck

View of Manhattan from WTC One observation deck


On Saturday I went for a short walk, had lunch and dinner and the rest of the day I spend laying in a hotel room, watching TV. I was glad to get a rest day and enjoy my pre-marathon feeling.

If you have your spectators with you, decide on the exact location where they will be standing. They can track your progress using the official app, which will show your exact location at any point of time.

THE MARATHON DAY

I woke up at 5 am. Put on my running clothes and extra layers of old clothes. It was supposed to be pretty cold in the morning so I wore an old jacket, a hat, gloves and jeans to keep me warm. I donated all of the clothes at the start in the special bins. I highly advise to wear warm clothes that you can donate at the start. It keeps you warm and saves your precious calories.

I went for a quick breakfast at The Times Square Diner and Grill. I had oatmeal with fruit and green tea. I also packed a banana with me because my start was not until 10:15 am and I was pretty sure that I would want to have some more food before the start. Then I went to South Ferry Terminal and waited for my Staten Island ferry at 7:15 am. The crowd was huge, but somehow we all managed to get to the ferry (they are running each 15 minutes, so if your miss one, don’t worry).

Staten Island Ferry

Staten Island Ferry


The ferry ride is around 30-40 minutes and you can enjoy the views of New York from the deck.
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Next you take a bus, which is another 30 minutes to the start village. You should locate your village corresponding to the color of your corral. In the village you can grab bagels, tea, coffee, water and just relax before the start. There are no benches, so think about bringing an old blanket to be able to sit down.
Orange village

Orange village

Even though, I had my breakfast at around 6 am, and a banana at 7 by 8 I was so hungry. When I arrived at the village, I went straight to the bagels stand to grab something to eat. It would have been better if I had some extra food with me, because I got to eat that bagel only at around 9, which was already kind of late. My start time was 10:15. So keep in mind that your start time will be probably 4-5 hours after your breakfast and you might get hungry.
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THE RACE

Depending on your predicted time that you mention at your registration, you are assigned to a specific corral and a specific wave (start time) that is clearly visible on your BIB number. The faster athletes start earlier. Your corral closes around 50 minutes before your start time, so be sure to get there on time. There are restrooms in the corral, but do make sure to use restrooms before that. If you are stuck in the line for the restrooms, you will probably be last in your corral, which will make getting out of the crowd troublesome for the first 2 km (1.2mi).

Entrance to my corral

Entrance to my corral

You are warming up. Getting ready. Excited! And then the gun goes off. You start slow because of the entire crowd, but gradually you will have some space to freely move by 3km (1.8mi).

Crossing the start line // Image by Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin CC2.0

Crossing the start line // Image by Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin CC2.0

I lost around 2 minutes of my time, due to the fact that I couldn’t get through the crowd to run faster. My aim was to finish in 3 hours and 50 minutes, but by 3km (1.8mi) I was already 2 minutes back from my schedule. I thought that I would work a bit harder and make it up during the course.

But while you are on the Verrazano Bridge, try to focus on your breathing, enjoy views of Manhattan and try to keep calm. Just remember, you are running New York Marathon. You have been practicing; you have been waiting for this moment. And this is your reward. You are doing it! Enjoy every minute of it. And of course, the bridge is still an uphill, so keep it easy.

Right after the start

Right after the start


Once you set foot in Brooklyn, the cheering up starts (and will never end except for the Queensboro bridge). Put your name on your T-shirt and you will hear it at least 2-3 times a minute :) I promise.

It’s not uncommon to see signs and posters in the spectator hands. My personal favorites are: “Run like you stole something”, “Last damn bridge”, “Hey, mum, You almost done? I’m hungry”. Don’t forget to high five the kids, they love it! And it actually gives you some boost too.

Running Brooklyn is relatively easy. It’s the beginning of the race; you should go slow even if you feel that you have the strength to go faster. Conserve the energy for the later stage. There is no steep uphill in Brooklyn, so enjoy and check out the sights that would not regularly see in New York as a tourist.
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Water and Gatorade stations are at every mile starting from mile 3. I tried to drink a little at every station. Just a couple of sips. Sometimes water, sometimes Gatorade, sometimes both. Do whatever works for you. Know your body by trying different things during your training runs.

Volunteer handing on Gatorade at water stations // Image by Hsing Wei CC2.0

Volunteer handing on Gatorade at water stations // Image by Hsing Wei CC2.0

When you enter Queens, you are already almost halfway there :) It was the place, where the race started for me. I usually ran half-marathons and had no trouble of getting to 21km (13 mi) mark. By that time I still felt great and continued in my regular tempo. I was around 1:30 minutes down from my schedule, but I thought that I will conserve my energy and try to speed up later. Before entering the Queensboro Bridge, which is at around 25th km (15.5 mi), I ate half of gel pack to get a little boost. The bridge is closed for spectators and there is a very long uphill, so you have to concentrate on your tempo and breathing. Don’t try to run at the same tempo as you ran before. Just keep the same effort and slow down a little bit.

Running down the Queensboro bridge was the best part. You finally get into Manhattan. People all along the 1st avenue are cheering and shouting. But the 1st avenue itself is a long long way to go. I ate another half of my gel at 28th km (17.3 mi) and did a mistake of running 28-29th km (17.3-18mi) too fast. When entering Bronx you have to run over a bridge and by that time I was actually short by almost 3 minutes. At that time I realized, that I will never finish in 3:50 and stopped worrying about time. I was trying to concentrate on pushing forward as it started to be difficult.

Bridge leading to Bronx // Image by Edwin Martinez CC2.0

Bridge leading to Bronx // Image by Edwin Martinez CC2.0

Before leaving Bronx into Manhattan again you have the last damn bridge that sucks all the rest of your energy at around 33-34km (20.5 – 21.2 mi). You are almost there, yet there is still so much to cover. 5th avenue is an uphill almost all the time. You can feel it with every step you make.

People were shouting my name. “You got it Alex”, “Looking good Alex” and so forth. It was a bit in a blur, I could not concentrate on those people but rather I was looking deep inside my body to find strength to carry on. I knew that stopping is not the option. It is the reason I’m here – running the marathon and getting to the finish.

By 37km (23mi) I decided that it’s time to dedicate each of the rest of the kilometres to my friends and family. When it was getting tough, I was thinking about close people, how they supported me throughout my life and throughout my preparation for the marathon. And next thing I know, I was running out of the Central Park into 59th street, just before I hit the finish line.

By that time you already know that you will finish. 59th street is also going uphill, but that didn’t matter to me. It was tough, but not that much. I knew that one more kilometer and it’s going to be over. I just enjoyed my way to the finish and was so happy to cross the New York Marathon finish line. Running a marathon was on my “to do in my life” list. And I accomplished it. I was happy!

Right after the finish

Right after the finish

My tempo in minutes per km. Measured by Garmin Forerunner 410 GPS watch

My tempo in minutes per km


After you finish, you get a medal and a package with some food and drinks, which I advise to start consuming right away. And you have a long way to walk out of the park. If you are like me, then you did not check in your baggage, but rather got out of the park and got your marathon poncho (which is great, by the way). It took me around 25-30 minutes to get to the meeting point with my dad and 15 minutes to get to our hotel. First 15 minutes after the finish are the most difficult. You have to move or do something, just don’t sit down. Your body is in a huge stress and needs a gradual cool down.
30 minutes after the finish. Fresh and happy!

30 minutes after the finish. Fresh and happy!

I did some stretching, took an ice cold shower for my legs, which is a great way to reduce muscle pain and went celebrating. We went to Virgil’s Real Barbeque and got huge portion of spare ribs and a couple of beers! A well deserved dinner :)

Post-Race and Next Steps

We had an early flight to Las Vegas next day. I picked a special copy of New York Times in the airport and found my name and my result. 3:53:56 and the 10071th place out of 38089 finishers. Not a bad result for the first time, I guess :)

New York Times Marathon Results

New York Times Marathon Results

Next week we’ve spent driving around Vegas. We went to Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Page and Zion National Park. I actually didn’t feel tired and even managed to do a couple of medium hikes in the National Parks.

Hiking to the top of that rock. Angels Landing train in Zion National Park

Hiking to the top of that rock. Angels Landing train in Zion National Park

Looking back at the marathon experience I decided to apply next year as well. Maybe you and me can compete on the spot in the drawing process or run side by side next year in New York. Who knows? :)

I found that the marathon experience is a long process. Starting with registration, preparation, traveling and finally making it to the finish line. Every step of this process was amazing and totally worth every effort I made. Today I’m back on the running track and will definitely continue running. I’m not sure about my next event, but one thing I know for sure, I will apply for New York Marathon 2016!

I will be glad to answer any of your questions and help you out with your trainings, just leave you question in the comments, and I will get back to you shortly.

You can also check out my post New York – The Ultimate Guide to Your First Visit and other blog posts on Trip.center Blogs.