I was in wave 2 that started at 10:15am, so I had a few minutes to do some final preparation - ensuring my laces were down up properly, taping my knees, doing a few hip openers, applying some sunscreen and preparing my gels and snacks in my flip belt for easy access.
A few deep breaths and then we were called up to the start line.
This is the moment of truth and before every race I always feel a lot of gratitude, just to make it to the starting line. It's a nice chance to reflect on your journey, the many small battles won and the abundant learning experiences training for a marathon provides. And most importantly, very grateful to all of the people that helped me along the way.
The weather was close to perfect - about 14 degrees with heavy cloud cover and a few light showers in the forecast, although I would have liked it a little colder.
I decided to run with the 3:40 pacer and that allowed me to run on top of the Verrazano-Narrows bridge. After the gun went off to signal the start, we hear Frank Sinatra's song New York, New York playing out across the bridge.
My goal during the race was to stick with the 3:40 group as long as possible. Runners, like cyclists, can benefit from a drafting effect. The person running in front of you buffers you from the wind and you save precious energy. There were probably about 20 people in the group.
As I did most of my long training runs on my own, running in a big group is so much easier psychologically. It is almost like being carried through the streets in a big comfy lounge chair. You just have to be careful of potholes and obstacles on the course that come up quickly due to your lack of peripheral vision.
The best thing about running with a pacer is that they know the course inside out and know when to push and when to take it easy.
Mentally that frees you up big time so you can then pay attention to what's going on in your body. The main metric that I tracked on my GPS watch was cadence. I was trying to maintain 175-180 as much as possible.
When I started feeling a bit tired or sluggish, I noticed my cadence had dropped to 165-170 and by increasing by 5-10% it would immediately ease the pressure on my legs.
It's one of the ironic things about running that I'm still trying to get my head around.
Intuitively, you'd think to run faster you need to step out with a bigger stride. But the opposite is true - higher cadence, turning your legs over more quickly with a forwards lean actually makes you go faster, (with better efficiency).
Running with the pacing group was also beneficial because you didn't have to constantly check times and pace so you could enjoy the spectacle that is the NYC marathon!
For me, the NYC race is all about the people.
The way New Yorkers get behind the marathon is second to none. They 100% have your back on race day. If you are showing even the slightest bit of struggle they will go out of their way to yell your name and put a fire in your belly. The day after the marathon, again many people go out of their way to congratulate you on finishing.
Anyway, back to the race.
The first mile is up and down the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and after that, it's a pretty flat run through Brooklyn and up through Queens.
Things went well early on and I was enjoying the feeling of running and seeing the miles tick by quite quickly and reasonably enjoyably.
At the first 5km checkpoint, I ate a banana and then from there, every 5km a Winners gel (30g of carbohydrate) along with one Allens lolly snake and either a gulp full of water or Gatorade.
At around 12km, I felt the early inklings of some leg cramps, so I downed the salty pickle juice that my nutritionist had recommended. That seemed to help calm the legs over the next 10km.
By the 25km mark I was holding pretty strong as we ran up the Queensborough bridge - the second steepest part of the race. There were lots of people slowing down and feeling the burn...and I was one of them. Managed to lose contact with Paul, the 3:40 pacer.
At the top of the bridge, I was pushing close to my limit and was around 300m behind the pacer.
On the downhill I picked up the pace and latched back onto him as we were greeted with a massively cheering crowd on 1st avenue in Manhattan.
From there, it was a long, straight stretch up to the Bronx. This was a hard part of the race where the reality of running a marathon really kicks in. The race really goes up a notch as the intensity from the crowd ramps up. Trying to keep up with Paul the pacer was tough as I think he picked up the pace a bit too. Thankfully he did the difficult job of weaving around people and making a path and I was close on his heels.
Over the Willis Ave bridge (that connects Manhattan to the Bronx), at about 31km, my legs had enough and I could feel a full blown cramp not too far off. It was mainly in the back of legs in the hamstrings, but the quads weren't too far off either. My legs were pretty cooked after chasing the pacer down the bridge and the glycogen stores were running low. I slowed right down to a walk for about a minute and then once over the bridge and started shuffling again. Thank-fully the walk freshened up the legs and I started feeling better.
In 2015 I also suffered from cramps and so this time, I carried some salt packets, with me. The sodium helps replace the loss from your sweat. I went through the packets pretty quickly and thankfully, the first aid stations were also handing them out and I found these really gave me a few more kilometres of cramp-free running.
Made it through the Bronx and then back over into Harlem and finally made it up 5th Avenue which is long slow uphill. Getting over that and then a few nice downhills in Central Park, although I was slowing right down by then and doing a walk / run combo.
Finally, over to Colombus Circle and up to 67th street Central Park, crossing the finish line in a time of 3:46:50.
Really happy, relieved and actually quite shocked by the time...easily beating my goal of under four hours!