Guest Author: Connor McMillan, @connormcmilly Racing can be intimidating. Often there is money, status, and personal pride and achievement on the line. Racing a marathon can be extra intimidating because along with things previously mentioned, the distance itself is another challenge. I experienced many of these feelings the days and weeks heading into the race, but overall I felt confident that I could get the job done.
Upon finishing my senior track season at Brigham Young University (BYU) in July with a 4th place finish in the USA's 10,000, I took a break and planned out my fall racing season. Coach Eyestone and I decided on moving to the roads and training for the TCS New York City Marathon. This was, in part, a decision based on the unfortunate fact that I was unable to pick up a sponsorship coming out of college. Since I wanted to focus solely on my training and racing, running on the roads looked like a possible avenue where I could sustain myself financially by winning prize money as I continued to live the running dream.
My buildup began early August with low weekly mileage and no workouts, but quickly increasing the load over the next few weeks until I was in condition to be hitting mileage of up to 115 miles a week with workouts on Tuesdays and Thursdays, a 25 mile long run on Saturdays, and a day off on Sunday. And that was, basically, a week in my life during this NYC buildup. Of course, I did throw in a couple of road races like the US 20K championships and the US 10 mile championships, and those race weeks were different, but it was mostly just a three month training grind!
I had a lot of really good workouts during the block, and I knew heading in that I was really fit. I had a good tune up a month out from NYC at the US 10 mile champs where I placed 3rd and narrowly missed the win. I felt confident that I could run well, but for some reason sleep was difficult the two or three nights before. I think the nerves got to me a little bit along with the excitement at the prospect of finishing high. To combat this, I tried focusing on how I was planning to execute the race rather than the outcome.
The race begins with a climb up the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge. And at the start of a marathon, you should be feeling pretty good. I did feel good, so I ran with the lead pack up the bridge and down the other side into Brooklyn. I took splits on my watch at each mile mark, and I saw that the first two miles were 5:10 and 4:34 respectively. My race plan was to run 5:00 per mile, and once we got off the bridge into relatively flat terrain it became time to lock into my goal pace.
The pack, however, was running faster than I wanted to go. I dropped to the tail end of the pack and looked for racers going my speed. There were none to be found! I made the decision to let the pack go and before I knew it, I was all alone in no man's land. From about three miles on, it was a long lonely race. I could see the lead pack of about 20 runners gradually pulling away over the next 15 or 16 miles before lost sight of them completely.
I was a little worried that on my own I would not be able to run my pace, I had no one to help with the headwind, and I was afraid I might could lose focus. I just told myself to relax and that I would pick off most of the runners in that pack late in the race. I focused on running efficiently, took my bottles and drank as much as I could, worked out a few side cramps, sang some songs in my head, looked at the crowd, daydreamed, and kept my eyes up looking ahead for runners that might fall of the lead pack.
I did a pretty good job of staying on pace, and there were a couple of stragglers in the first half that I caught up to and passed, but mostly it was just me and the road. I came through half in 1:05:41, which was solid, close to 5:00 pace. I had gotten into a good rhythm from since mile three, but by the time mile fifteen rolled around, I found myself in a bit of a rough patch on the Queensboro Bridge. Luckily I was able to regain my momentum coming off the bridge on to 1st Avenue where the crowds were AWESOME! I clocked that mile in 4:53.
I thought that around mile sixteen-ish I should start catching some of the runners that were in the front pack. This was not at all the case, I was still alone, so I decided to be patient and tell myself "I'm not allowed to start hurting yet," which became my cue until about mile twenty three. Mile twenty is where I started to catch up to the guys that had fallen off,the lead pack, I made authoritative moves to get around them, making sure they wouldn't try latching on to me. Keeping my eyes up and focusing on the runner in front of me, I was able to pass two or three more in central park.
Unknown to me, I had been slowly moving up from 20th place over the last ten miles. I didn't know if I was in 5th place or 15th, but I retained my focus and pulled with the arms to catch the next guy ahead of me. Central park was tough: a lot of rolling hills and turns, I think it zapped some of the guys I was able to catch late in the race.
The crowds were amazing in the park, and coming down the finishing stretch, I realized I could still had another gear, so I got on my toes and went to the arms best I could. 400m to go, 200m to go. I glanced up at the clock, 2:12:07. SOLID!
Read more about Connor's 10th place finish at the NYC Marathon in this Runner's World feature here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor McMillan is a RRCA Roads Scholar and a former collegiate cross country athlete who is certain to give a willing sponsor a solid ROI. He placed third at the 2019 US 10-Mile Championships. While competing for Brigham Young University, Connor was part of the 2nd place finishing team at the 2019 NCAA National Championships and one of four runners from the BYU men's cross country team named All-American. During his high school career, he was the Utah 5A State Champion in 3200m, the Utah 5A State Champion and record holder in the cross country championship and a two time All-American at the Nike Cross Nationals.