New York, New York

Concrete jungle it certainly is and that doesn’t really suit a girl who wants to be out on the trails or by the sea. But we crammed lots in and had a great time, thought perhaps a bit too much walking given I had the marathon to do on the last day.

After we arrived on Saturday the 27th of October, we had a nap before going out for a thai dinner and then a fancy dress monsters’ ball singles night. Fun to dress up but not really my thang and I was craving sleep!

Sunday I went for a lovely morning run and felt my legs running away with me, going comfortably fast but knew I needed to hold back a bit. I trotted along the Highline and found myself top 10 on the Strava segment leaderboard, and not far behind the top place in terms of time despite faffing about and taking photos. I was so tempted to go back and smash the segment for the crown and course record but I resisted. Viki and I met friends and their new baby for lunch at The Forager then walked the Highline together. Apparently there was an opera performed along there and recorded so you could download and walk it while listening ‘The mile long opera’ but we couldn’t get the download to work. Then we got in a quick dinner at Haymarket Grill before some comedy improv at Magnet Theatre which was novel and really cool. I think my phone recorded 10 miles of walking this day, not including my 7 mile run, so a tad too much!

Monday morning I did a speedy but short run to and from a walking meditation in Madison Square Park. I’d seen a sign the day before and thought it would be like a guided walking mindfulness meditation of the gardens/art installation. There were only 3 of us and we walked slower than I’d have imagined possible around the fountain area twice – an interesting grounding experience as the city woke up and the sun rose. Then we met the big boss man at Lloyds who gave us some complimentary tickers for the MOMA. After a stroll around the art and lunch, we went on a walking tour of Central Park. It was cool to go back to thr bandstand where I performed 13 years ago in my windband as part of our trip to play Carnegie Hall. Now there’s a transformation Tuesday – clarinet player to marathon runner (though I pretty much look the same in pictures at that bandstand!) We got a huge dinner at Red Lobster (oh man the cheese biscuits!), then went on a walking Ghost tour of Broadway. 12 miles walking today as well as my 3 mile run.

Tuesday morning, Viki had a meeting and I had a Skype call planned to mentor some medical students back in London. I started the day with a run which was supposed to be 3 miles easy, but adjusted expectations to be 3 miles at goal marathon pace, and ended up doing 4 miles comfortably hard. After our lunch/afternoon meetings, we were taken for a very decadent steak dinner by the bankers Viki had had her meeting with. Afterwards, the two of us went for a cocktail in the famous Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel with their resident cat.

Wednesday we went on a walking food tour of Greenwich then got ready for the Halloween Parade. I was a bit worried about the crowds and logistics of getting there in the throngs of people and it being underwhelming (like Notting Hill Carnival), but it was so worth it! Anyone who turns up in fancy dress, can walk in the parade and you’re filtered in with the floats so you can walk alongside or change up your pace and catch up to floats ahead too. Then we had an exhausted late Greek dinner.

Thursday I got in another run, which wasn’t quite as speedy as the others as I had to stop and walk to find a toilet but 3 miles easy in the bag before the expo. I made a couple of purchases – some nice gloves with the 5 boroughs written on each finger, and a new pint glass to go with my Ironman Wales one. Then probably my favourite meal of the trip in a diner – chicken and waffles with syrup. After lunch we moved from our hotel on West 36th and 10th near Hell’s Kitchen to our B&B in Harlem/Upper East Side. In the evening we went for drinks at the top of the Rockefeller Building and then to see Waitress on Broadway. A fabulous evening.

Friday morning, I ran the top section of the marathon course, crossing a bridge from Harlem to The Bronx, and back over another for an easy paced 4 miles. But my legs felt so heavy and my feet and ankles hurt. I think it came from all the walking in flat shoes with minimal support the last couple of days since trashing my ankle boots walking 22 miles the first two days. And it wasn’t just lack of support, but my ballet pumps were made of a soft wellington boot type material so my feet were slipping, and constantly straining my ankle ligaments, as well as probably causing me to subconsciously be constantly gripping on with my toes. I got an emergency sports massage massage then met Viki at Ellens Stardust Diner, which was just as good as I remembered it 13 years ago – it’s the place with singing waiters and waitresses on Broadway.

Saturday I tried to have a really easy day. We went to a restaurant called Bao and were given ginormous portions I had no hope of finishing, and couldn’t really carry home or think when I had be eating this crab/tofu dish or black bean aubergine again even if I did keep the leftovers. Shame as it was unique food and delicious. I did find space for dessert in a chocolaterie though. I’d booked for braids so went to get race ready while Viki went to the cinema, then aimed for an early night but slept so badly.

Sunday I was up super early to walk to the Subway and travel all the way to the Staten Island Ferry terminal at the southernmost tip of Manhattan. I was booked on the 2nd ferry, but was there in time for the 1st and it wasn’t being checked so I got on and I’m so glad I did, because the other side had a long queue for the buses. Then the buses took ages. Partly because the buses were all queued at the destination where each runner was being frisked and searched before entering the start area. I was absolutely desperate for the toilet but had nowhere to go and just had to sit tight, jiggle, and not touch the bottle of water I’d brought to drink on my way. I think it took me about 3.5-4 hours to get to the start rather than the expected 2 and I arrived with no time to spare. Some men shoved me to the front of the portaloo queue as I was in the first wave and they weren’t and then I rushed straight into my corral (where it turned out there were loads more toilets and shorter queues!) Luckily I didn’t have a drop bag, and instead had opted for a post-race poncho so didnt have to worry about that. Instead, I had worn my pyjamas over the top of my race gear to donate to goodwill just before the race start.

I queued up in my corral and then they dropped the divides and we all walked a fair distance to the start, which actually allowed lots of people from slower corral further back to get in front of me. I spotted a woman with glitter and stars on her face and very neat braids and a rather stars and stripes theme to her kit. I was surprised when I heard her talk to someone as she had a really strong Welsh accent! She was chatting to a woman she’d just bumped into who she had also met at the Tokyo and Chicago marathons this year. She was dressed in this attire as today was the day she’d be collecting her six star medal, and was from Llanelli in South Wales, though apologised for her pronunciation of Llanelli as she’s not actually Welsh! As I said, very strong Welsh accent!

The race started well. I felt great which was a relief after that last heavy-legged training run and minimal sleep. The sun was out and the weather was spot on. My pace kept dropping down, like it had at Abingdon, towards my marathon PB pace. I knew I wasn’t at PB fitness, but then threw caution to the wind and decided to just try. Afterall, when I have got my PBs, they’ve been unexpected. I remember thinking in the races “I’m going too fast, I’m going to fade, I should slow down a bit”, and yet I’ve just managed to keep going at the same pace and smashed it. So I was gutsy, and readjusted my goal from 3:25-3:30 to a 3:20 (PB is 3:14). The crowds in Brooklyn and Queens were fantastic and I was being carried along. I got to about half way on target, then developed a pain in the outer edge of my left foot. I’ve had pain here before when doing yoga and suspected at the time I had a stress fracture, but it had been ok for around a year or so. But was aware it’s probably weaker and liable to breaking again. Also, with the weather heating up more than expected, and having not drunk my water on the bus due to it moving so slowly and being desperate to pee, I was drinking more than planned on the course. The water was sloshing in my stomach and I started to feel sick. At this point, I spotted a marathon carrying his Nike 4%s and running barefoot- let this be a lesson to all of us that just because a shoe has big claims or is good for some, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone, and don’t wear brand new shoes on race day!

The rest of the race was a struggle. I was slowing significantly but kept the pressure on myself for that sub 3:30 goal for the year. But the pain! But the crowds! But the nausea! But the cheers! Oh but it’s just one marathon! Oh but you don’t want a crazy outlier result on your six star certificate do you Laura? Why did you overcook it at Abingdon? Why is this so hard compared to Abingdon?

(Finish line a few days before race day).

Crossing that bridge out of The Bronx and back into Manhattan with only about 5k to go felt good. Only a parkrun to go – you’ve got this! Easy, you can do this in xx mins and get that 3:30. But it was a struggle. I’d been warned of an uphill drag in Central Park to the finish. And while it wasn’t anything steep like hills I’ve run in other races, it certainly wasn’t a fast finish. I had also realised a few miles back that the mile markers weren’t matching my watch. I crossed the line clocking a time of 3:36:40 with a total distance of 26.7 miles.

Given my distance was half a mile long, my average pace was actually 5 seconds per mile quicker than at Abingdon where I’d obviously more successfully kept to the racing line and avoided so much crowd dodging. But I ended up being 2.5 mins slower for my marathon time despite putting in much greater effort for this A race compared to Abingdon’s training run. I was gutted with my time but it really was a fab race with awesome crowd. And 3/6 of the Abbott Marathon Majors ticked off.

After exiting the finish area, I went down the poncho line and started chatting to a guy from Cwmbran. I often chat to people in marathons but hadn’t spoken to anyone really in this race and just happened to speak to someone from South Wales right before and right after (and a Texan girl on the ferry and bus – Hi Crystal!). Chatting made me feel a bit better though I did get a bit wobbly. He was doing his 2nd ever marathon, having gone sub 3 in his first, but is actually more of a middle distance track runner. So he was way off his best and quite disappointed too. It hadn’t been our day but it was nice to feel I wasn’t the only one (of course not, thousands of participants will have missed their goals), but also to meet a friendly face and fellow Welshman. Then I found Viki and we made our way out of the crowds to find somewhere for lunch. The first place we chanced upon was a Mexican restaurant (Rosa Mexicano on Columbus Avenue) and what luck – it was brilliant! Delicious food, guacamole made in front of you at your table, and a thirst quenching salt-rimmed margarita. No post race tummy troubles and no aches and pains (yet).

An uber back to the AirBnb for an Epsom salt bath and quick change, (and an embarrassing introduction to a very cool crowd assembled there for a party while I hobbled around in sweaty gear and then my towel after a bath), and then we ventured out for the evening as it was our last in New York. One cocktail in Lion Lion bar and we were ready for bed (and some nibbles leftover from our BnB host’s party), before a very early morning for our Monday flight home.

What went wrong with my race? Could I have pushed harder? Did I try hard enough? Was Abingdon too much too close? As an indicator of effort, I went to running club the day after Abingdon hoping for an easy loop run and it turned out to be a 5k time trial, which I ran steady in around 22:48. Then did a tempo run the next day and a track session two days later and felt good. I did no running for 5 days after New York, just yoga, then on day 6 went as hard as I could at parkrun on a fast, flat course and only just managed a 22:20. I took the executive decision to go to yoga then home for a bath after this rather than onto cross country in the afternoon as planned and realised New York had really taken it’s toll on my body and a proper off season recovery was required.

What a trip! Writing this blog has reminded me just how much we squeezed in. 9 days, 9 nights, 47 miles running, 54 miles walking, comedy, 3 walking tours, a walking meditation, a Broadway show, cocktails with a view, cocktails with a cat, food, the highline, the halloween parade, a halloween party, and the MOMA. Time for a rest I think! And good timing for an off season from training to tie in with preparing for my final ever compulsory exam. At the time of writing this, my exam is tomorrow and I’m procrastinating on the sofa with the cat on my lap (can’t move now can I?), but can’t wait to get back to it. I’ve just received my confirmation of entry to Berlin Marathon via the ballot, and I’m already into Chicago via guaranteed entry so that will be 5/6 Marathon Majors by the end of 2019 and just Tokyo to go.

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