1. I ran the ING New York City Marathon on November 1, 2009, my first marathon, age 39.
2. My time was 3:58:05
3. My goals were (1) get to the start line healthy (which sounds easy but actually was the hardest part) and (2) to come in under 4 hours.
3. I decided to run the marathon in July 2009 and got into the Marathon by running for a charity called Team For Kids (TFK), which encourages kids to exercise and stay in shape.
4. I raised over $5,000 for TFK (thank you to everybody that sponsored me!)
5. Running the marathon was an amazing experience, one of the many highlights of my life.
6. I got hurt about 6 weeks into my training with a swollen knee and a torn right quad muscle. This resulted in 6 weeks of physical therapy to get better. My quad muscle was so painful that every morning before my run I had to (1) run it under the hot shower for 5 minutes to warm it up and (2) put tiger balm on it to heat it up before each run.
7. My weight went from 220+ to 196 pounds during my training. My waist shrank by 3 belt loop holes, bringing my waist to the same size it was in college. My energy level increased exponentially, my blood pressure went down materially, my body temperature dropped, and the fatigue and inflammation that I regularly experience from my Crohn's disease was greatly reduced.
8. I trained for 18 weeks, running an average of 40 miles per week for a total of 721 miles during my training. My peak weekly mileage week was 56 and my lowest weekly mileage total was 12. My training pace for long runs was usually at 9:00-9:45 per mile (my best 20 mile long training run pace was 8:54 per mile). My average pace for my 6 mile training runs was between 8:30 - 9:15 per mile.
9. During the marathon, my pace was 9:05 per mile for 26.2 miles, I burned 4,149 calories, and my average heart rate was 164.
10. Most of my training runs were done very early in the morning (6am) in Central Park. To warm up, I always walked to Central Park (0.60 miles). Walking served to warm up my muscles. I did not stretch. Most of my running was done before my wife and kids were even awake (i.e. when I returned from my runs, they were all still asleep. Only exception, long runs on the weekend, which I usually started at 7am to get an extra hour of sleep)
11. To stay healthy, I purchased a foam roller and "rolled it out" every day (often multiple times a day). I rolled out my IT bands, my quad muscles, and my hamstrings, even if I didn't need to. I strongly believe that rolling it out everyday is what kept me healthy.
12. During the marathon, I ate a "Powergel" every 5 miles. I also had 1 Powergel 45 minutes before the race and second Powergel 15 minutes before the race. Overall, I ate 7 Powergels during the race. I also drank 1-2 sips of water or Gatorade at nearly every station.
13. I did not stop running once the entire race (thank goodness for the volunteers that hand you water/Gatorade on the course)
14. "Pain is temporary, pride is forever" is the phrase I saw on many signs during the last 10 miles of my race. This really helped keep me going. Without them, I would have stopped to walk, even for a few seconds, and that walking may have caused me to miss my goal.
15. When I decided to run the Marathon in July 2009, I had never run a race greater than 3.5 miles.
My Marathon Summary
In June, I ran in the 3.5 mile JP Morgan challenge race in Central Park, the first race that I had run in since running high school hurdles in 1988. I was a sprinter and HATED distance running. It was a totally packed race, but I enjoyed it. While running, I remember thinking "man, this is much harder than doing the Stair Master", which I had been doing at the gym for 30 minutes 4-5 days per week for 15 years. To stay healthy and to avert flare ups of my Crohn's Disease, I have to exercise regularly When I don't, I get sick. My time was 28:47, or an 8:05 per mile pace, but that was going all out, with a full out sprint at the end (with my heart rate averaging 177 for the entire run and ending at 189). Earlier that year, I bought a GarminNYRR") to motivate me to run in some races (an therefore have something to train for, a goal to keep motivated). I also signed up for and participated in a speed class for a month. My knees hurt a little after my California runs, so my friend, NYRR coach, and amazing runner Rich Campbell told me to go to the SuperRunners store on 78th and Amsterdam to get new shoes. He explained that the wrong shoes can often cause knee problems. So, I went to superrunners and they watched me run, said that I don't pronate at all, and recommended some "neutral" shoes with cushioning (later during my training I would need physical therapy on my knee and they also confirmed that I don't pronate an therefore need neutral shoes). I highly recommend superrunners. They even let me return a pair of shoes that I did a 6 mile run in that didn't feel good to me for a full refund.
So, after a week of running I saw my fitness level improve, my energy level during the day significantly increase (despite the fact that I was running very early in the morning and only sleeping 6 hours per
night), and I felt much better. I decided to keep running, 6 miles per day during the week and a longer run on the weekend (10 miles) - running 6 days per week. At this point, 3 weeks into running, I started
thinking about running the marathon, something I always wanted to do but never thought was possible due to my Crohn's disease, which frequently causes inflammation and fatigue in my body. At one point in
March, I felt so tired in the afternoon that I could barely keep my eyes open. I saw a doctor, got a bunch of MRI tests, and got the standard response I always hear - "who knows why". I needed to make a change. Once I started running, these problems went away. In fact, on the days I didn't run, I felt some tiredness (once a week at this point) but nowhere near as bad as before I started running. To me this meant that running was immediately improving my fitness and my quality of life, as I would have the "runners high" all day after running. I decided at this point to try and run 13 miles, and if that went well, to sign up for the marathon (the only way to get in was to run for charity, and of course, I had called the charity about 5 times before my 13 mile run to make sure that if I did run 13 miles that I could actually get in the marathon). In my head, I thought to myself "if I can run 13 miles only a few weeks into running, I should be able to run 26.2 miles if I train for 4 months. If other people can do it, then I can do it too".
Race Summary - The Course
Getting to Staten Island where the race starts - This year, the marathon was on November 1, 2009, the morning after Halloween. We took our kids to the annual Halloween block party on the Upper West Side, which was great, and then I left the family to go home to get ready. I had already put out all of my clothes and bag to take with me (with bagels, bananas, Gatorade, power gel bars, and gus), so all I needed to do was eat a little more (pasta, which at that point I was so sick of because I ate it before every long run). I got to bed around 9:30 P.M. and got up at 4:45 A.M. I had a cold the week of the marathon, and that morning was no exception. My lungs hurt and I had a noticeable wheeze in my lungs, so I took an inhaler that morning. Frankly, I was lucky to be able to sleep in that morning, as the charity I ran for "Team for Kids" provided a shuttle bus to Staten Island, which was great because I didn't have to take the Staten Island ferry, which would have meant getting up even earlier and waiting in lines to catch the ferry. The shuttle bus ride was great to Staten Island. I was nervous, but felt good. It was around 55 degrees, with about 70% humidity. It rained the night before and was still raining a little bit when I got the shuttle, but I was happy that it was cool. Once in Staten Island, I went to a tent in the charity area, which was cool. They had tons of food and drinks. I could feel the excitement in the air. I could feel people thinking "finally, the day is here". The ground was muddy, and a friend of mine told me to expect this, so I brought some garbage bags to sit on. Next time, I will bring even more so I can spread out a little more. Of course, I talked to lots of people. There is an automatic bond and respect level for other marathon runners, and this was clear to me based on how everybody treated each other. I ran into my friend BG, a former Goldman Sachs colleague, and we hung out until we had to go in our corrals (we had met at a Team for Kids training run, which was cool, since I hadn't seen him since we worked together. We did a 17 mile long run together near the end of training. He ended up beating me by 11 seconds, even though we didn't see each other once during the entire race).
Pre-Race - The New York City Marathon starts in waves (1, 2, and 3) and corrals. The waves are separated by the estimated time it will take you to finish the marathon. When we submit our marathon application, we write in our expected marathon finishing time. The faster runners are in the earlier waves, slower runners in the later waves. On my marathon application that I completed in July 2009 when I first started running, I submitted a time of 3:59:59 (I ended up running at 3:58:05). This put me in wave 2, the orange corral with the letter "B". My bib number was 30033, was the color orange, and had a "B" on it. This would tell me where to go (there are signs directing runners to their corrals) and would also tell the workers where I was allowed to go. Wave 1 started at 9:40am, wave 2 at 10:00am, and wave 3 at 10:20am. With over 43,000 runners that finished the race, the start area/corrals were complete mayhem. Prior to the marathon, I had run a fair number of New York Road Runners races so I expected some mayhem. However, nothing could have prepared me for the complete chaos prior to the race. The corrals were completely packed when I tried to get into my corral. There were hundreds of people trying to get into their corrals, but there was only 1 way to get there (which wasn't moving) and took us through a muddy area (because of the rain the night before and early the morning of the race). I finally made it into my corral, but it was so packed that people are pushing up against you the entire time. No question in my mind, too many people. We were in our corrals about 45 minutes before our scheduled start time. Once wave 1 took off, our corral started to move forward toward the start line. I took off my windbreaker and old running pants, threw them to the side of the road (they get donated to charity), and walked toward the start line. The inhaler I took for the wheeze in my lungs due to my cold seemed to work - I felt pretty good and was excited to start running after standing still without moving for 45 minutes. The atmosphere was awesome - people were talking and laughing and were excited to get going. Surprisingly, things opened up a lot and when I hit the start line there were a lot of people but it wasn't too crowded. I had room to run whatever pace I wanted. People were clapping, yelling, and screaming. It was really cool. I remember thinking "this is awesome".
Mile 1 - The first mile is straight up hill on the Verrazano Bridge. My gameplan was to go out slow for the first few miles, at around 9 - 9:30 minutes per mile. Watching everybody else run was simply awesome. People were having a great time. What amazed me the most was how relaxed everybody was. Many people were carrying cameras with them (particularly runners from outside of the US) and stopped on the side of the bridge to take pictures with NYC in the background. It amazed me that people were so relaxed that they could stop running to take pictures. It relaxed me. If these people could stop and take pictures (and probably still finish way ahead of me), I thought to myself "just take your time".
Mile 1 split: 9:05 per mile. Felt great and relaxed.
Mile 2 - straight downhill on the Verrazano bridge into Brooklyn. Since this is downhill, I had the urge to run faster, but I forced myself to take it easy. Going downhill, I was able to see the tens of thousands of runners ahead of me, an amazing site. It wasn't until that point that I realized how big this event really is.
Mile 2 split: 8:30 per mile.
Miles 3 - 8 - Now in Brooklyn primarily on 4th avenue, it was amazing to run through the different areas in Brooklyn. For the first 8 miles of the marathon, each runner runs on 1 of 3 routes. I was on the orange route. Others run on the blue or green route. The great thing about having 3 distinct routes is that the course isn't that crowded. I could run whatever pace I wanted (either faster or slower). There were bands on the side of the road and lots of people cheering. The crowd definitely pumped me up and kept me going. On 4th Avenue and about 2nd street I saw my friend KK, which was really cool. During these miles I felt great and really started to get into my groove. I felt strong. My gameplan was to run 8:30-8:45 per mile during this stretch, which I was able to do. 8 miles into the race, I was executing my gameplan perfectly.
Mile 3 - Mile 8 splits (in order from mile 3 to mile 8)- 8:49, 8:42, 8:35, 8:27, 8:28, 8:37)
Mile 9 - at this point in the race, all 3 routes merged into 1 route (a very skinny street). This meant that the road went from "not that crowded" to "unbelievably packed - wall to wall people". I was unable to run the pace I had run for the first 8 miles, as (1) the pace of the crowd slowed down to about 9:05 per mile due to the shear number of people and (2) it was simply too crowded to pass people without going to war. Initially, this frustrated me very much as I had to slow down when I didn't want to. I thought about my goal of sub 4 hours. I knew that I had to average 9:09 per mile for the entire race and also knew that I was ahead of this pace so far (thanks to my Garmin 405 watch). I also knew that I would probably tire around 20 miles (I never ran more than 20 miles in any training run), so I wanted to have some cushion to account for slowing down at the end. About 100 feet ahead of me, I saw a large balloon that the 4 hour pacing group was carrying. "Great" I thought. sub 4 hours in probably the most popular goal time, so there were a TON of people running with this group. I thought "OK, there is no way that I am going to run faster for a while, just sit back and conserve your energy and enjoy the ride. It isn't worth going to "war" by fighting to run a little faster (which would mean many elbows and may result in me getting hurt)". Little did I know at this point that it would be this crowded until I got into Manhattan at mile 17.
Mile 9 split: 9:07
Miles 10-13.1 (half marathon point) - running through the different neighborhoods in Brooklyn was awesome. The pace continued to per much slower and I couldn't run faster because it was so crowded. I ran into a friend of mine from the New York Road Runners speed class that I took, which was cool. As I approached the half marathon point (which comes on a bridge going uphill), I began to tire a little bit so I was working just a little bit harder to maintain the same pace, but overall I felt great. Most of this area was pretty flat until reaching the bridge to go from Brooklyn into Queens, which is uphill. I found all of the bridges tough uphills. The half marathon split is uphill on this bridge.
Mile 10 - 13 splits (in order from mile 10 - the half marathon point) - 8:43, 9:01, 9:04, 9:07 (half marathon split 1:56:02, an 8:51 pace).
Miles 14 - 15 - the course continued to be packed and I continued to run slow, but I knew at this point that I was getting close to the 59th street bridge and then Manhattan, so I was excited about that. We entered Queens and quickly left it.
Mile 14-15 splits - 8:45, 9:38
Mile 16 - finally we made it to the 59th street bridge. The road is straight up hill when you make it to the bridge, and the already slow running mob slowed down significantly, to over 11 minutes per mile. It was still too crowded to pass anybody, so I just went with it. The uphill was tough, and as people told me before the race, it was very quiet. I was definitely starting to get tired at this point but was also excited to get to 1st avenue and that kept me going.
Mile 16 split: 11:25
Miles 17 - 19 - Manhattan, 1st avenue! People tell you to take it easy when you get to first avenue, because the crowds will pump you up. It was an awesome feeling to see all those people cheering - there are people everywhere. At this point, I saw a sign that said "pain is temporary, pride is forever". At this point, I was definitely tired, but I continued to push. 1st avenue is net uphill, so that makes things more challenging too. I made the decision to push harder over these 3 miles, but I was so tired that it took me a lot more effort to maintain my splits.
Miles 17 - 19 splits - 8:51, 8:53, 9:02
Mile 20 - the Willis Avenue Bridge. As I hit the Wills Avenue Bridge, I was exhausted. The bridge is uphill, but to me it felt like climbing a mountain. I hadn't stopped running the entire race (not even to get water, as the volunteers hand you cups of water or Gatorade or gu as you continue to run), and for the first time, I felt like walking. During marathon training, everybody talks about "the wall", which usually happens to people around mile 20. I've read that there is some science to why this happens (something about how much sugar your body can store), but I never believed in "the wall". After his first marathon, Lance Armstrong said "the first 20 miles of a marathon are only half of the race". My friend BJM told me that no matter how hard he tried, that he couldn't break 10 minutes per mile for the last 6 miles. I decided to keep my legs moving - I'd heard that while your body wants to stop, your mind can will your legs to keep going, so that's what I tried to do. Right before and right after the bridge, I saw the sign again that said "pain is temporary, pride is forever". With less than 6 miles to go, this kept me pushing on. I knew at this point that I had a shot at a sub 4 hours marathon. My overall time for the first 20 miles was around 8:58 per mile. Doing the calculations in my head, I knew that if I could run around 9:30 pace for the rest of the way I would do it. For the next 6 miles, I said to myself time to "live within the mile", basically saying to myself "don't worry about anything else but the current mile you are in". From this point on, I managed my pace to try achieve a 9:30 per mile. I also knew that the last 6 miles are very, very hilly, particularly mile 24 on 5th avenue right before entering Central Park (which is also extremely hilly). A good friend of mine ran a 2:48 marathon years ago, and when he told me about it (long before I even thought about running a marathon), he said that he was extremely surprised by how hilly central park was.
Mile 20 split - 9:21
Miles 21 - 23 - At this point, I was completely exhausted. I had never run this far. I just started running in July. The music I was listening to didn't help (I was so tired I don't even remember hearing it). The crowds helped a little. There was that sign again "pain is temporary, pride is forever". No kidding. I remember thinking to myself "this is the hardest athletic thing I have ever done, nothing even comes close". I wanted to stop running, badly, but I knew that if I stopped that I wouldn't break 4 hours. To come this close to my goal and miss it wasn't an option to me. My mind kept telling my legs to run. I felt numb, almost like I took a drug. My stride shortened and I could barely feel my legs at all. My friend MM said that she saw me around mile 22 and was screaming at me but I didn't see her. Another friend of mine, DL, ran right up to me on the course (he wasn't running the race), tapped me on the shoulder, and yelled "BALCOM, BALCOM!!!" He ran with me for 10 feet or so as we talked and that definitely kept me going.
Mile 21 - 23 splits - 9:14, 9:20, 9:27. Somehow, I was able to stay under 9:30 per mile. I was so numb that it felt like I was running 15 minute miles.
Mile 24 - this mile runs from 110th street to 90th street on 5th avenue and it is straight up hill. I knew that this mile was coming, but it was pure hell given how tired I was. I knew that I would enter Central Park at Engineer's Gate at 90th and 5th avenue and that this mile would be the toughest. I run in Central Park almost every day, so while it is extremely hilly, I know exactly where it goes up and down hill, which would allow me to keep my pace. I pushed during this mile as hard as I could, wanting so badly to walk. At this point, a lot of people were walking this hill, but I decided to push on. Nobody was talking or laughing anymore. Everybody else was tired too. People were just as focused as I was. I was definitely around a bunch of people also trying to break 4 hours, so that helped keep me motivated too.
Mile 24 split - 9:47
Miles 25, 26, and the last 385 yards - Central Park!! My home field. While I was exhausted, I knew at this point that had enough left to break 4 hours. My family would be at Tavern on the Green in the grandstands to see me finish (including my mom visiting from Wisconsin). This motivated me. I had calculated that I would break 4 hours so long as I could run below 10 minutes per mile. After the 25 mile sign, runners start to see the best signs ever - 1 mile to go, 800 meters to to, 400 meters to go, 200 meters to go, then the runners can see the finish (of course, the last 400 meters are straight uphill). I saw my family, yelled "HEY!!!" with a huge smile on my face, and sprinted to the finish (my last mile being around 7:46 per mile).
1. Goal - Get to the start line healthy. Result - done!
When I had to sit out for a week in August because my left knee swelled up and I could barely walk, I thought that I wouldn't be able to run the marathon. Luckily, it my knee swelling was caused by a tight IT band that I was able to get better via physical therapy and the daily use of the foam roller!
2. Goal - run the NYC Marathon in under 4 hours. Result - ran it in 3:58:06, never stopping once for the entire 26.2 miles. Thank goodness for the volunteers that hand out the water and Gatorade while we run! For me, once I stop running, it is hard for me to start back up again. From miles 19-24, I really, really wanted to walk (as I said in my head "just for a few seconds"). However, I knew that if I did, a few seconds would probably turn into a few minutes and then I wouldn't meet my goal of sub 4 hours.
3. Goal - have fun. Result - one of the best experiences of my life, I still can't believe that I ran 26.2 miles for almost 4 hours straight without stopping. The New York City crowds definitely helped me get through it. Starting at about mile 17 and continuing to the end, I saw 3 to 4 signs that said "pain is temporary, pride is forever". It was these signs that kept me going, even when I really wanted to stop.
My Splits from the NYRR:
Event: ING New York City Marathon 2009
Last Name: Balcom
First Name: James
Below are the latest runner's results:
Location: 5 Kilometers
Location: 10 Kilometers
Location: 15 Kilometers
Location: 20 Kilometers
Location: 25 Kilometers
Location: 30 Kilometers
Location: 35 Kilometers
Location: 40 Kilometers
All times are unofficial. Times may vary in post race official results.
Crossing the finish line - I was in wave 2, so the clock doesn't reflect my time of 3:58:05