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New York City Marathon

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Hello SEE Science Center Community,

The staff at SEE asked me to share my NYC marathon experience. I’m Craig and have been on the SEE Science Center Board of Directors for a decade. There is a lot of science surrounding marathon running, but rather than diving into that, I’ll focus on the events of the day.

My day started at 4:00am on Sunday morning in a hotel near Central Park. I had my usual oatmeal (carbs), banana (potassium) and tea (caffeine) and was out the door at 5:00am to catch a cab. There was a group of 5 of us that had completed a 20 week training program to prepare. Our cabby went to their hotel to pick them up and then off to Battery Park to catch a ferry to Staten Island. From there, we boarded buses to the staging area for the start. If you recall, Super Storm Sandy forced the marathon to be canceled last year. Because of that, and the events at the Boston Marathon this year – there was a record number of runners – 50,700 in all. The theme of Boston Strong was everywhere. From blue ribbons given to us by race organizers, to signs, to Boston gear (lots of Red Sox caps). We had time to relax and stretch before heading to our starting corral. The weather was ideal except for a 15-20mph head wind that we would experience for most of the run.

I was able to run for a bit with one of my training partners and in the first mile we noticed our first unusual runner – a man dribbling two basketballs – yes – he was attempting to run 26.2 miles while bouncing two basketballs – yikes.

The NYC marathon is known for its cheering crowds and our day was no different: literally millions of spectators cheering us on at every stage of the race. Running the bridges was cold because we were exposed to the wind. One thing I noticed is the truly international flavor of the race. I’ve run the Boston marathon many times and there are always lots of foreigners in that race, but nothing like NYC. During my run, I talked to runners from France, Italy, Mexico, and New Zealand. It seemed like every country on the planet was represented. Even at the finish line, the race provides assistants and each of them was wearing tags indicating the languages they spoke. Need to speak in Cantonese – no problem. Another thing that was different from my other marathons (this was my 13th) was the level of security. After the horrible day at the Boston marathon this year, the folks in NYC were determined to prevent anything similar. At times it felt like we were in a war zone. Armed police everywhere, helicopters flying low (at a couple points the helicopters were so low, you could feel the whoosh of their blades).

As for my race – I had a good day. I had prepared well so I was hoping to run a good time. I was able to keep a very steady pace of 7:31 minutes per mile. My plan was to start easy, run within myself and hope that in the later stages I could turn it up a bit. At various points (mile 8, 16, 19) I was feeling strong and considered picking up the pace. But I stuck to my plan and stayed consistent. I’m glad I did because at Mile 22 I needed to call upon my reserves to carry on. You may have heard of ‘hitting the wall’ or ‘bonking’ – that’s what hit me in the last few miles. If marathons were only 22 miles long – more people would run them. The race begins at Mile 22. I slowed to an 8:00 minute per mile pace for the last few miles, but managed to run a ‘clean’ 26.2 miles (no stopping, walking, etc).

My time was 3 hours, 21 minutes and 37 seconds. It was a personal best for me by two minutes. I finished 2983 overall, which put me in the 91st percentile. I finished 2671 in my gender, which put me in the 96th percentile. And I finished 50th in my age bracket (55-59) out of 1858, which put me in the 97th percentile. All results I’m very pleased with. And keep in mind, about 80 percent of the runners are younger than me, so finishing in the 90th percentiles means I passed a lot people younger than me.

What’s next – Boston 2015 (2014 is already sold out). In order to get into Boston you need to run another marathon with a designated qualifying time based on your age (or fundraise your way in). For my age bracket (55-59) I need a qualifying time of 3:40 or faster. My time of 3:21 puts me well under that and allows me early acceptance.

Today I can finally walk up and down stairs without hobbling (lactic acid build up makes your muscles very sore for several days after the race). Our group plans to run a few miles on Saturday. Many of them will be running Boston this year, so they will take a few weeks off and then begin training again. This winter I plan to do some snowshoeing with my dogs and run a few days a week to keep in shape.

If you or anyone you know wants to try and run a marathon – let me know. We have a large group of runners in the Manchester area – male and female, all ages and abilities. Our policy is to leave no man behind. On a typical Saturday morning long run (15+ miles) we have 15-20 people running. We have spirited conversation and all have the same goal of running a ‘clean’ marathon.

One final story – my own personal comedic moment of the day. Once you have finished they give you a bag filled with water, Gatorade and various salty snacks. I was craving salt (if you look at a runner after they have finished a marathon, their face is covered with salt from the sweat evaporating off their face) – so I opened a bag pretzels. I don’t recall exactly what I did next, but I think I turned my wrist so I could look at my watch. When I went to get a pretzel the bag was empty. Yes – I had dumped the pretzels out of my bag. I was like a little kid who had his Halloween bag of candy taken – very sad. I looked at the person who was walking right behind me and they were laughing and confirmed what I had done. All I could do was laugh. By the way – that runner offered me their pretzels. Before, during and after – all marathon runners are comrades.

Enjoy your day and get out there and run. :)

Craig Ahlquist

Chair, SEE Science Center Board of Directors

 

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