I checked off the bucket-list NYC Marathon. My results were underwhelming. I thought I’d share a few notes for others to learn from.

My training was solid and fitness strong coming into race weekend. I’m a decent runner, but not the fastest coach in the D3 stable. My last long run (10 days out) was 16 pretty comfortable miles, negative split in 2:15, at 272 watts (thanks Stryd) at the end of a training block (and at altitude). The Stryd race predictor suggested that I could race in the 3:20’s at 295 watts but that felt too fast for me so I set my goal for 3:35 at 280 watts. I got a solid taper and headed to New York with high hopes and a plan.

Key factors why it didn’t happen:

1. Travel

My wife and I had a mid-morning non-stop flight booked for Friday. The flight was delayed several hours and eventually canceled. It became a mad scramble to get to New York—our airline rebooked us on a Sunday flight, arriving the afternoon of race day. We managed to find a flight on another airline leaving late Friday, connecting through Chicago with under 30 minutes to make the connection on a different concourse thanks to a delayed first flight. There was running in the airport, but we made it. We arrived in Manhattan at 1:00am and didn’t get a full night’s sleep.

Takeaway: Travel can be stressful and disruptive. While a lot of travel day is outside of your control, remember that time is a buffer. If it’s possible to arrive an extra day or two early, when travel delays happen, the stress and logistics won’t have as great of an impact.

2. Fueling (know the rules…)

My fueling plan was to carry my own Infinit mix in my race vest that I have been using successfully in training and racing for years. Before bed on Saturday night, I learned that race vests are not allowed at NYC. There was no realistic way to carry my own nutrition and I really didn’t have a plan B that could get me through the whole race. I brought a handheld with me on the trip but I was pretty much at the mercy of aid stations on course. Gatorade endurance plus gels that I haven’t used in training (only available at miles 12 and 18). I took in as much as I could during the run but got fewer calories than I would have with plan A. Luckily, I didn’t have stomach issues with the unfamiliar products, but I just couldn’t get everything that I felt I needed out there.

Takeaway: I’m a triathlete, not a runner. I was unfamiliar with the rules of this race and didn’t review the details until it was too late. We’ve all ignored athlete guides—it can be worth giving them a thorough read even if you’re an experienced athlete.

3. Race plan

My training partner is better than me (in almost every way). Most importantly, she’s more marathon experienced and is a little faster than I am. Her plan was to go out aggressively and shoot for a time in the low 3:30 range. It was a bit of a stretch for me, but this wasn’t an important race for me in terms of results—this was a bucket-list race for the experience of it all. So my plan was to run together until the course brought us back to Manhattan (just past mile 16) then if she was on a good day, I’d dial back and run easier to the finish. If she was not on a good day, we’d just stay together. We ran to plan and I was stretching a little but nothing crazy. My heart rate was too high (note also there was unseasonable heat/humidity/dew point) but my watts were on target and my legs felt good. She was on a good day and once we split, I dialed it back for a few miles per plan, but the damage had been done and the wheels came off by mile 19. I was in a walk/shuffle pattern to the finish from there.

Takeaway: Your race plan can be aspirational and aggressive if you’re willing to suffer bad results. I would have preferred to finish strong, of course, but I also loved the experience of running with a partner and launching her to a strong day. Don’t pick a dumb plan if you’re not willing to live with the consequences. I’m fine with what went down because this was not a key performance race for me, but if I’d put my hopes on a PR, mine was a terrible plan.

A final thought. The NYC Marathon is much more than 26.2 miles of running. It’s a spectacle with a rich history. Aside from the few miles when you’re going over bridges, the entire course is lined with enthusiastic spectators (some in the neighborhoods already drunk and extra entertaining by late morning). I haven’t done a lot of stand-alone running races, but this one has to be among the most amazing experiences in the world—highly recommended!

Coach Dave Sheanin believes that becoming “triathlon literate” is key to meeting your goals. Triathlon is indeed a lifestyle and like the other important areas of your life, knowledge is power. I encourage you to explore the nuances of the sport, be open to new ideas and ask questions – of yourself, of fellow swimmers, cyclists and runners, and of your coach.

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