Last Tuesday, I had heard rumors amongst the group of going to Yonkers Marathon to do our 22 mile easy run (training for the Chicago Marathon on October 7th). I dismissed this as a crazy idea. Why would we want to train on one of the toughest marathon courses and tack on an extra 4.2 miles? I slept on it and by Wednesday I had signed up, completely sold on the idea!
Yonkers is one of the last qualifying races to gain entry into the following year’s Boston Marathon. I entered Boston last week and immediately shared the news with my good friend, Gary Berard. We trained together for Boston in 2011; four months of solid work that resulted in a PR for both us. I hit 2:56, Gary an amazing 2:45.
He was keen to sign up. The only problem was his last competitive marathon was that race. It fell outside of the qualifying window. He has not been training for a while now due to his coaching business, GB Running. Somehow, I sold him on running Yonkers in three days time, saying I would run alongside him. I did however forget to mention it was a hilly course. He would need a 3:10 to get into Boston. We calculated the pace at 7:11’s/per mile. My easy 22 miler had quickly become a little longer and faster! It didn’t matter, he wanted a BQ and I wanted him to train with so it was on.
On Saturday Gary still hadn’t actually signed up and l kept receiving texts that his neck was hurting him. This wasn’t going to plan. So I texted him back “See you at Grand Central at 6am.”
Sunday 6am. Gary was there. He had time to recalculate the pace. It was actually 7:14 per mile. “Every second counts!” he said. A group of about eight of us boarded the train and ate breakfast during the thirty minute commute. My glucose was 200 so I was right on my pre-race goal.
By mile three, me and Gary got a thud in our backs. Pesky half-marathon kid trying to squeeze through the middle of us. In fact, it wasn’t, it was Rui. He was adamant on running his own pace of 7:25 so we didn’t expect to see him. He liked our pace so made the group into a three. The more the merrier.
We cruised north on rolling terrain into Hastings-on-Hudson. This was where the big hill started. We turned right and as expected begun to climb. I knew from the elevation chart that the climb was about a mile and a half long. Our pace here was off but it really didn’t matter. What goes up must come down meaning we would get the time back. It was also early days in the race.
At the bottom of the hill, there was a 10K checkpoint followed by a long straightaway with lots of young volunteers manning the upcoming water station. They were going wild and really enjoying helping out. If you took their cup of water or Gatorade they would be ecstatic! Maybe the excitement got to us too. I checked the Garmin and saw 6:40 lap pace. I pulled the reins in on that real quick. Gary said thank you (for noticing) but I should have said sorry for not noticing.
The pace remained steady after that small burst as we ran south back towards Yonkers. I felt good with my glucose. I had taken a handful of small cups of Gatorade up to this point and decided at mile ten to take a Honey Stinger gel. By mile 11 and 12, we had lots of high school and military half-marathoners blazing past us. We had to remain focused and not get sucked into a different pace. One asked us if we were doing the half marathon. I’m pretty sure he was disappointed we weren’t as he thought he had just jumped three places!
We ran downhill into the town centre and did a u-turn to go on loop number two. We clocked 13.1 on the timing mat at 01:34:40, goal pace was 01:35:00. We were in good shape. We also now knew exactly what to expect for the rest of the course. We were basically Yonkers runners from now on!
The one aspect of the course we couldn’t control however was the heat. It was nearing 10am and it was getting hot. A high of 73 was the forecast but this felt hotter already. I made a conscious effort to say “do not underestimate the heat and drink at every aid station from now on”. I was now grabbing two or three drinks at each aid station. I would give at least one of these to Gary. We didn’t want dehydration to be the reason he didn’t BQ.
The road ahead was now clear. All of the half-marathoners were out of sight and it felt like a training run. We had done this countless times together. Just a small group running side by side at X pace over X miles. In our current situation, we had 12 miles to go at 7:14 pace. I felt fine and I know Rui did too. As we should, we have both been training hard for Chicago but Gary was the concern. This was important to him. His training had been limited to training his clients at their pace for months. He looked OK but I didn’t dare ask him. I mean, what would I have done if he said no!
We saw a police bike in the distance and soon realized it was escorting the leader. I was confused though as I saw Mike Arnstein at the start line and he is a 2:28 marathoner. How on earth were we gaining on the leader at mile 16? Well, if we were all women, we were! It was the lead woman and she was well clear of her competitors. We passed her up the Hastings-on-Hudson climb and wished her well.
Rui went for a pit stop before the steep descent at mile 19 so we went to a two. I popped my second gel here knowing the downhill motion would help me digest it easily. As we had done on the last loop, we let our bodies fly down this hill at a much faster pace than necessary with the theory that braking to stay ‘on pace’ actually wasted more energy. We were also taking the most direct route through S-bends, and tight turns using all the marathon tricks in the book to not do more work than was necessary.
We were heading south again passed an industrial area with no trees, leaving little asphalt unshaded. Their was nothing we could do but stay on pace and blank that out. We were finding we had a headwind so I took the lead and let Gary run a few yards back. Tour de France moves on two feet! We passed a handful of marathoners who were now in trouble but for the most part, it was just us and the road clocking off miles.
By mile 22 I had expected to see Rui come back to us. I had to assume he had shut it done and would ease in for the last 4.2 miles conserving his effort for Chicago as was always the plan. I never let my head think I was going to stop at 22 and wish Gary the best. I had convinced him this was a good idea and our pace was good but too close for any mistakes to happen.
Gary had earlier in the race said with three miles to go, he wanted to blaze home. I said sure, why not? But we realized two things at mile 23; 1) He didn’t need too. Our pace was steady and on for a 3:08. 2) Gary’s lack of training, should I say zero training for this was now taking its toll on him.
For the first time, he asked “Where’s the turn?” referring to a right turn at the most southern part of the course. I heard this as “I’m tired now”. I checked lap pace on the watch; 7:10….7:14….7:20. For the first time I changed my tone and demanded he stayed on my shoulder. He dug deep, really deep to not have a space between us. That mile ended up being 7:20 but I knew we could afford to give back a few seconds so I didn’t sweat it (too much).
The turn came as did some partial shade. Before we knew it, their was a cop car at the end of the road which meant the next turn back north. This turn would be the most positive one yet, a long straight downhill where we again let the weight of our bodies do the work for us. I called out 1.5 to go. Then 1 to go. Gary said “Is that 1 mile or 1.2?” He had called me out!! I confessed I wasn’t really worried about the 0.2 part. Funny how he was though! We switched to shouting out actual mileage to go using my GPS as the guide.
I called out half a mile. Some small crowds started to emerge in the town, it was a rare but welcome site. You may be surprised to hear that no one really watches the second oldest marathon in the world! They don’t even close down the traffic for it!
After three obsessed hours staring at my lap pace on the watch, I had completely neglected the actual clock time! I did some quick math and told Gary he had to run a half mile in 5 minutes. It was in the bag. Then we got to a large coned section. My watch already said 26.2 miles was up so to see the 26 mile marker ahead was slightly alarming.
I literally sprinted ahead of Gary and left a big gap between us. What was I doing? How was this helping Gary get his BQ!! I let him come back to me but tried to maintain the pace around the last few turns. “You’ve got 100 seconds left”….”You’ve got 80 seconds left” and then “This is the last turn”.
And thank God it was. We turned left on the boardwalk and straight away, there was the finish line. I relaxed, let Gary bomb past and he finished in 3:09:00. I tucked in right behind. He did it. We did it. Great teamwork.
Rui came in right behind us at 3:10. He had been trying to catch up since we left him on the top hill. He was instrumental to Gary achieving his BQ to, running alongside for 17 miles or so.
We all enjoyed the moment. A great achievement on that course with zero training. A good day’s work, I was proud of Gary. We walked to a shaded area of the course to cheer home the rest of our teammates. After a few minutes had passed, Gary asked me “How are your levels?” I was so caught up in the race, I had forgotten to do a post-run blood test asap. Gary was already repaying me for my effort by thinking like a diabetic! I went to bag check, pulled out my blood tester and pricked my finger to draw the small sample of blood. Five second countdown on the meter and 179. More good news! All of this before midday on a Sunday. Now time for a well-earned lunch with my great running friends.