The proverbial “hay” is in the barn. In these last few days leading up to the big dance, trust your training, regardless of whether it went according to plan, or you wish it had gone otherwise. You put in the work and you can only be where you’re at on race day. Trust and be proud of what you’ve done...it’s time to cash out on what you’ve put in! Now let’s talk about some ways to make the most of it:
ONE: Stay warm at the start. Right now, Sunday’s weather is looking absolutely perfect for a marathon, which means it’ll be great temperatures to run in, but it’ll be a bit chilly in the Start Villages. Layer up and keep important muscle groups nice and toasty; glutes, hamstrings, and core. A hack I’ve used in the past is using peel-and-stick foot warmers. I stick them inside my sweatpant and sweater layers so that while I’ll sitting down and waiting to line up in my corral, I’m not spending energy allowing those muscles to tighten and tense me up with shivers! Get some movement in and keep the blood flowing. It’s a common misconception that we need to save up everything we’ve got so that it’s spent within the bounds of the race course, but it will serve you well to do some light jogging or even some strides (short accelerations, 20-30 seconds each, starting easy, moving to a challenging pace, and finishing at top-end speed; think: Level 2, Mid Level 3, Level 4) to keep your body warm and prime your heartrate pre-race.
TWO: Your race, your pace. The collective nerves and excitement of the entire field of runners gathered at Ft. Wadsworth can easily whip you up into its winds and test your endurance before you even toe the line. Take a few minutes of quiet before go-time to charge up on what you need from the buzz, and make sure not to give too much away. Inevitably, the crowd will be amped up to push hard across the bridge when the gun goes off. Race-day adrenaline is powerful, and many people will be carried away by runners’ high, hitting unsustainable paces at the start on the Verrazzano Bridge. Hold your ground, let them pass you. That first bridge will take up nearly the entire first mile of your race. Use it as your warmup mile; take your time to get into the groove and take things nice and slow. All those endorphins will make your pace perception a little fuzzy, so I want you to take that first mile almost uncomfortably slow. No need to hit ‘em with the punchline from the get-go, speed demon...you’ve got plenty of miles ahead of you. Save it up and let it shine at the finish.
THREE: What goes up must come down. NYC is a hilly course, and if you’ve taken my class, you’ve heard me explain why those hills are your advantage. Downhills - and even flat roads - feel like a relief, right? I’ve got a secret for you: they only feel better because we have the challenge of uphills to compare them to! You’re in it for the long haul when you cross the start line of a marathon, and it can feel a little daunting to constantly remind yourself that there’s a finish line and a shiny medal waiting for you when they’re still twenty, fifteen, or even five miles away. So use all of the hills as points to look forward to, because every time you have a hill, there’s a reward of that fun, relieving downhill or flat road waiting for you on the other side. Work hard up the incline with short, quick, and light steps. Increase your cadence so that you’re giving yourself more opportunities to get your feet on the ground per minute (for just a fraction of a second!), which equals more opportunities to use your strength to push away from the ground, fighting the gravity of the incline, then open the stride back up and enjoy the freeing feeling of coming down the other side. Enjoy what the hills have to offer you and approach them as the gateway to bursts of relief and little wins throughout the entire race!
FOUR: Conquer Queens. Queens hosts a relatively quick turnaround time between the Pulaski Bridge and the Queensboro. While you’ll have that beautiful feeling of relief coming down from the climb up Pulaski, Queensboro will immediately come in to view. This can be a really challenging point in the race, your body having just been taxed by one hill, and now the vision of another just a few minutes later testing your mental fortitude. With a quick mindset check, that turnaround can be your asset. Anticipate the rewards waiting for you once you’ve overcome the challenges. You’ve got several wins that will come out of that short jaunt through Queens: you’ve made it over one bridge and earned that downhill. Now roll your shoulders back, get a little taller through your spine and kick your core back into gear. Take a bit of water if you need it and visualize those few blocks leading up to the Queensboro on-ramp as a charging station for your body and mind. It will be quiet on the bridge with no spectators allowed; use that quiet time for some reflection of how far you’ve already come, and remember the reward waiting on the other side. Not only do you get a solid downhill, but you’ll start to hear the roar of the 1st Avenue crowds waiting to welcome you to Manhattan.
FIVE: Teamwork makes the dream work. Ever heard the saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”? Well, in the marathon, you’ve got to go together even if you want to go fast while going far. On November 7th, every person you share the streets with is your teammate; the runners, the spectators, the volunteers, etc. The New York City Marathon wouldn’t be what it is without those literal millions of teammates, so take advantage of the fact that they’re there for you...and be there for them in return. Every couple of miles, take stock of where you’re at physically and emotionally (spoiler alert: there’s a connection between body and mind!) and take what you need from those who have something to give. If you’re running with music, pause it for a few minutes to take in the roaring crowds when you get into Brooklyn or when you turn onto 1st Avenue. Take that whole lineup of high fives from the insanely loud cheering sections of NYC running teams. Remember to give back when you can, too - give and you shall receive! Say thank you to the volunteer who hands you a cup of water; they chose to be there for you because you inspire them. Shout a quick “you got this!” to a runner who you notice is struggling; they need you on their team more than ever in that moment. Give a high five to a little kid who’s out there to cheer; it could be your high five that inspires them to follow 26.2 miles in your footsteps one day! This is all to say: let all of the positive energy exchange keep your mind in a good place, which will in turn keep your body going strong. Wins all around.
The last, and arguably most important, tip I’ll give is to revel in the moment you cross the finish line, no matter what happened on your way to it. Ultimately, the most important thing to remember on November 7th is that no matter what happens during your race, you’re a part of something huge. This is the 50th running of the New York City Marathon, and it’s even more special than ever because it’s our city’s first major public comeback event post-COVID. HAVE FUN.