New York City Marathon (NYCM) is one of the six World Marathon Majors. It has the highest number of full marathon-participants. There were over 53,000 runners in the 2019 edition. The NYCM course passes through the five boroughs of New York city. It starts near the approach to the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Staten Island. The route then goes along four other bridges – Pulaski Bridge, Queensboro Bridge, Willis Avenue Bridge and Madison Avenue Bridge – before finishing at Central Park. Kenyan runner Geoffrey Kamworor was the winner of 2019 NYCM, covering the distance in 2:08:13. Among women Joyciline Jepkosgei of Kenya won the race, finishing in 2:22:38. We spoke to a few of the runners from India who participated in the marathon.
Anubhav Karmakar was the fastest among runners from India at New York City Marathon this time. He finished the run in 2:41:07, a new personal record. It was however tad short of his target; 2:39-2:40.
“ My training was much better than the race,’’ he said. Anubhav’s training is focussed on improving in every race. He trained 15 weeks for NYCM.
At the start of the race, there was some confusion about where the start line mat was. “ There was no space to move because of the huge number of runners. Then I found my rhythm. But around the 15th kilometer, I had to take a loo break. That once again broke my rhythm,’’ he said.
NYCM, according to Anubhav, cannot be tackled with an eye on the clock because it is a challenging course. “ The bridges are fairly long, sometimes not so steep; sometimes steep. The second half of the race can be run only through feel,’’ he said.
Anubhav pushed hard in the last leg of the marathon. “ I did not feel strong through the race. But when I entered Central Park, I found my pace and went for a very strong finish,’’ he said. Anubhav believes he may have fallen short on nutrition during the race. “ I feel, I had a stronger finish at Boston Marathon earlier this year, although I have a new personal record at NYCM,’’ he said.
In the weeks ahead, he will be racing at Tata Steel Kolkata and Tata Mumbai Marathon. He has an entry to Boston again but his decision will depend on securing a berth at the London Marathon. “ I have also been accepted for Comrades but I have yet to freeze my decision to do the race. I thoroughly enjoy the marathon format and I don’t know if I want to break the momentum and go in for an ultra-marathon at this point,’’ he said.
Vijayaraghavan Venugopal, 44, started running well before he became the CEO of Fast & Up, a sports nutrition company. He is known to follow a stringent training plan primarily aimed at sub-three-hour finish in the full marathon.
With Fast & Up on a trajectory of growth, the CEO’s schedule has been getting tighter with work and work related travel. “ My preparation for New York City Marathon went off fairly well, though work and travel took up a lot of my time,’’ he said.
At the 2019 edition of New York City Marathon, Vijayaraghavan finished the race in 3:16:07, outside his target of a sub-three-hour finish. “ Up until 30 to 32k I was on track for a sub-three-hour finish but lost the momentum thereafter. I did not have the energy to push for my targeted finish,’’ he said.
Had he maintained momentum till 35-36k, it would have been possible to push for said finish. When he realized that he wasn’t going to get his targeted finish, he took it easy. “ I started walking, though walking a distance of 500 meters felt like 5 kilometers,’’ he said.
Among the six World Marathon Majors, the New York City Marathon’s course is relatively tough. “ It is a technical course with five bridges. Each bridge has a different level of difficulty,’’ Vijay said.
According to him, a couple of factors at NYCM can be testing for runners. The wait before the start of the race can be tiring. Runners are required to arrive at the holding area three hours before the commencement of the race. Also, NYCM has the highest number of full marathon runners. Because of the sheer number of participants at NYCM, you are constantly running with a crowd of runners from start to finish. “ During the first two to three kilometers you are running with a huge crowd of runners, something you see in the half marathon segment of Mumbai Marathon. As the miles go by you run with new groups of runners,’’ Vijayaraghavan said.
At the same time, several other factors make NYCM one of the most coveted marathons. What truly stands out at the event is the massive spectator support with loud cheering. Further in 2019, the weather was quite good with temperatures in the range of 9-11 degrees Celsius. “ It was cold and windy but manageable. There was no rain either,’’ he said.
Analyzing his performance, Vijayaraghavan said his training probably fell short of what was required for NYCM. “ The last eight marathons went as per my plan. I trained well for NYCM but probably my training fell short of requirement,’’ he said. According to him, the key is to train specifically for a marathon.
Tad disappointed with his performance, Vijayaraghavan now wants to enroll for NYCM again to ensure a sub-three-hour finish. With his schedules getting busier, training and racing for a sub-three-hour marathon is a challenge that keeps him going.
During her school days in Lucknow, Shailja Sridhar never lost an opportunity to participate in sports. She kept her contact with sports alive in the years that followed too. Her foray into running happened seven years ago while she was residing at Gurgaon.
“ My friends asked me to enroll for Airtel Delhi Half Marathon in 2012. Prior to the race, I had done just two runs,’’ Shailja said. In 2013, she enrolled for the half marathon segment at Mumbai Marathon. That year, she also did the Amsterdam marathon. But training was negligible. “ Then I applied for Berlin Marathon through the lottery method. I got through. At this point I realized I must train. I contacted lifestyle coach Purnendu Nath for advice on training,’’ she said. She was able to finish Berlin in 3:52 hours.
Subsequently, she heard about Boston qualifier timings and that engaged her mind. “ One thing about running is that new goals keep emerging all the time. I started training for Boston qualifier levels. I read a lot about various training methods. I also traveled to Kenya to find out how elite runners train,’’ Shailja said.
New York City Marathon went off fairly well, according to Shailja. “ I went with zero expectation. I had no plan,’’ she said. Prior to NYCM, Shailja ran the full marathon at Bengaluru Marathon and Airtel Delhi Half Marathon. At the latter race, she finished in 1:35 and that gave her confidence for NYCM.
She finished New York City Marathon in 3:20, a new personal record for her. She was also the fastest among women runners from India at NYCM. This was her fifth World Marathon Major with London Marathon being the only one left for her, to complete.
New York City Marathon was his third marathon in three weeks. On October 20, 2019, Kochi-based runner, Ramesh Kanjilimadhom, ran the Niagara Falls Marathon finishing it in 3:28:46. The marathon starts at Buffalo, runs along Niagara River and ends on the top of the falls. “ This one is truly an international marathon. It starts in the US and ends in Canada,’’ Ramesh said. He was completing this marathon for the fourth time.
A week later, he ran the Marine Corps Marathon finishing in 3:30:38. “ Marine Corps Marathon is my favorite. I was running it for the seventh time this year,’’ he said.
The following week he was at the start line of New York City Marathon. “ I had no time target for New York City Marathon. This was the third of my three marathons in three weeks. My training was not adequate,’’ he said. But the run went off quite well for him. He finished the marathon in 3:21:41 and his splits were evenly paced.
“ It was cold at the start of the race but it did not bother me. Later it was quite sunny,’’ Ramesh said.
New York City Marathon is a huge race with over 50,000 runners, all of them running the full marathon distance. Every participant ends up running with a large group of runners all through the 42 kilometers.
There are several hydration points along the route but because of the huge crowd of runners you may miss them. The fact that the next hydration point is not far off keeps you going, Ramesh said. Also, there are crowds of spectators all along the route except at the bridges. “ As you get off the bridges you can see the crowds along the route ahead,’’ he said.
Bengaluru-based Ranjini Gupta went through a perfect training plan of 18 weeks in the run-up to New York City Marathon. The training plan was executed to perfection with intervals, tempo runs, fartlek and long runs including hill runs along with strength training. Hill runs were critical for NYCM, according to her.
“ I wanted to train well because the distance should not be a challenge. I initially did most of the runs at base pace and then ran at race pace closer to the event,’’ she said.
But she suffered hamstring tendonitis barely six weeks ahead of the race. “ I had to do away from hill runs as they were aggravating my injury. I had to rework my training plan,’’ Ranjini said.
New York City Marathon starts on a bridge. “ As soon as I started running uphill, I felt the pain but I was mentally prepared to manage it well. I held my pace and when the pain got worse I would slightly ease my pace but not drop it drastically,’’ she said. She ended the race in 3:39:32 managing a negative split in the process. This was her fourth World Marathon Major with Boston and London Marathon next on the cards.
A member of the Ultra Running Committee of Athletics Federation of India, Sunil Chainani, had travelled to Albi, France, along with a nine-member Indian team for the 2019 IAU 24-hour World Championships, held on October 26 and 27. Sunil was part of the support team.
Once done with his work at the championships, Sunil travelled to New York to participate in New York City Marathon.
A former national level squash player, Sunil’s training for the marathon was not adequate because of his tight schedule. “ I came to New York with no expectations whatsoever. I haven’t had a good marathon run in a while because of my Achilles injury,’’ he said.
Though his training was inadequate, Sunil put in a lot of time in strength training. New York City Marathon was his third World Marathon Major. He has run Berlin Marathon twice and Chicago once.
“ At New York, the weather was great and the atmosphere was fabulous. It was a perfect running day. My approach was to run easy. I did not want to put any stress in terms of timing,’’ Sunil said. He cruised along fairly well for much of the distance but started to get cramps in the last 7-8 kilometer-stretch. He then opted to walk and run the remaining distance. Sunil surprised himself with a personal record of 4:12:53 hours. He had improved his timing by 90 seconds.
“ I am pleased with my run. My confidence is back,’’ he said.
(The author, Latha Venkatraman, is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.)