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Race Recap - New York City Marathon COVID Style

Decided to run a marathon. Here's a look at my training before and thoughts during the race.

Keegan Leary
Keegan Leary

I'm proud because I did a thing this week:

I've always felt like running is the purest test of physical fitness.  Like the answer to "How fit are you?" should be "Well I can get from point A to point B in X time under my own locomotion."

As a gym rat since my submarining days from 2014 to now, I was never that good at running despite my personal ideas on how important it is.  This year, COVID along with a few other events conspired to get me to buy some running shoes and start running around the neighborhood.  With winter drawing near, I wanted something to show for all that pavement I had been beating up.  

I saw that the NYC Marathon was offering a Strava digital finisher badge at no cost to complete a virtual Marathon at the location of your choosing.  All you had to do was register and track it on Strava.  The date window Oct 17 to Nov 1, coincided well with a long vacation from work, so I hopped on.

I've run one marathon before, The 2013 Honolulu Marathon (rank 1087!), which was a rough outing for me.  Pretty sure this race solidified my transition from cardio guy to gym enthusiast.  It was my own fault really.  I didn't put in any time training.  Luckily I had boat rage (submariner term for being super pissed off all the time because we work very long hours and spend a lot of time at sea) to give me the mental toughness needed to complete all 26.2 miles.

But the NYC Marathon would be different I hoped.  I had logged a healthy chunk of miles already and recently felt good after a 13 mile weekend run.  Here's my Strava training calendar.  It covers the period from Aug 10 to Nov 1, and includes cycling (orange) and running (green).

Here are some things I'd like to highlight for my ~2 months of dedicated training.

  1. Removing cycling miles, weekly running miles were roughly 25 miles/week.
  2. Speed for my casual morning runs reduced from ~8:20/mile average to ~7:35/mil average.
  3. A select few "Big Mile" days kept me mentally engaged in running. See Aug 18 Donner to Squaw 17.8 mile run/hike, Aug 19 bike ride around Lake Tahoe, Oct 12 Half Marathon, and Oct 18 Mt. Diablo ride.
  4. I preferred weekend bike rides over long runs because that's jsut what I was into at the time.  Almost every "big mile training plan" that I looked over recommends logging your big mile runs on the weekends.

Anyways, let's break to the actual marathon.  I chose Donner Lake because the loop is a predictable 7 miles with minimal elevation change.  It's close to the cabin and I could park my truck on the side of the road and easily utilize it as an aid station.  I tested the loop on Oct 26 and felt confident it would be a good location.  Oh, it's also beautiful to look at.

Here's what I can recall of my thoughts from each lap.

LAP 1

It's fucking cold.  I better not fuck this up.  Just try to enjoy it.  Shit forgot my headphones.  Oh well, just listen to nature.  Or whatever.  How fast should I be running right now?"  Shoutout to my buddy Nick who met me at the start line at 0800 to provide some moral support and run the first little bit of trail.  Having somebody know what I was endeavoring to do definitely gave me less room to back out.

LAP 2

I feel pretty strong!  Still a long ways to go though.  Apple watch battery is at 67% and I'm only 1/4 done!  What if it doesn't last and I can't claim my Strava clout?  I'm a bit pissed about that.  Found the headphones in the car but want to preserve battery.  Somehow was able to convince myself that I'm actually here to test my mental toughness and fitness, not just as a means to put something on Strava.  I'm so gullible.  I continue on.  Ryan shows up in the last 2 miles of lap 2 and takes some pictures and runs along with me for a bit.  This was super motivating and made those miles breeze by.

LAP 3

OK my legs feel it now.  The hamstrings in particular.  Ryan and Nick are off doing work things so I'm back to my own devices.  That's OK.  My pace is 8:11/mile and has been since lap 1.  I'm hopeful that I can keep a good pace and beat my Honolulu Marathon time of 3:54:43 but my legs haven't felt like this since that day in 2013 so who knows what will happen.

LAP 4

Last lap.  Nick finds me on the short climb on the south side of the lake and pops out of his car with his fists in the air.  "I'm hurting big Nick," I say and plod along.  "You want food?" he asks.  "No thanks."  My stride has definitely changed and my pace is ticking up from 8:11 to 8:14 then to 8:20 and settles at 8:23 or so.  The rest of my legs are sore now (not just the hammies) which is actually kind of nice.  The general pain is easier to push through than the localized pain in my opinion.

When I get halfway through the last lap, something starts welling up inside of me.  Unbridled optimism.  "I'm definitely going to make it."  I said "fuck it" to the watch battery and brought the headphone for this lap.  I think I'll be alright since it's hovering at 30% or so.  I keep moving my legs to the beat of Rittz and Nipsey Hussle.  Grinding all my life!

I have an issue to contemplate.  Since the lake loop is 7 miles, I'll be done with 26.2 miles before I actually reach the truck.  Do I stop at 26.2 and walk it out or push on and complete a flush 4 laps of the lake?  I opt for the hardo route and count the extra time as all bonus.  It's empowering to hit 26.2 and just keep going.  I'm hurting for sure but the euphoria of actually making it is strong enough to keep me going.

There's no big finish line.  No vendors giving out free samples.  No Leonard's donuts.  Even Nick and Ryan are still consumed by work stuff.  It's a true COVID race finish alone and devoid of celebration.  Still, I feel amazing and highly accomplished.  I can still reward myself, and I do so with the plumpest cinnamon roll I've ever seen at the nearby coffee shop, Cofferbar.

Fitness

Keegan Leary

10 years in the Navy as a Nuclear Submarine Officer. Soon to be be Naval Reservist. Fitness, Books, Cooking, and Coding.