Train for as many months as you want but the New York Marathon is a mental game

Train for as many months as you want but the New York Marathon is a mental game

Sophie Tedmanson after completing the New York Marathon on November 4.

  • By Sophie Tedmanson
  • 11:00PM November 12, 2018

Crossing the finish line of the New York Marathon, I blew a kiss skywards, then started sobbing and collapsed into the arms of a stranger — a volunteer named Debbie.

Perhaps it was the experience of turning my exercise routine into a unique way to go sightseeing overseas — by running in New York’s five boroughs and through a Central Park bursting with exquisite autumnal colours.

Or perhaps it was the fact the road to the finish line on November 4 — with 51,812 runners from 140 countries, including 1147 Australians — was longer and more arduous than I’d expected.

A bout of severe pneumonia six weeks before the race last year forced me to withdraw, then I suffered shin splints and a calf tear early this year.

Six years earlier I took up running after finding myself in a dark place of depression and anxiety. I gave up alcohol and tried to live more positively. Training keeps me focused, better able to cope with stress and more efficient at work.

A big part of the reason I made it into Debbie’s arms was the coaching I received from the New York Road Runners, the community running organisation that organises the marathon to inspire people through running.

NYRR coaches provided a personalised training program. Since mid-July I have been sent daily instructions as part of a 16-week training regimen — from regular runs to intervals, hills and fartlek runs — all tailored to my abilities and based on the demands of the New York course.

Every Sunday was a long run, starting with 10km in July and building up to 34km two weeks before the marathon when I began tapering. According to the app, I spent about 150 hours running more than 600km across 112 days.

I ran all over my home in Sydney and wherever I have travelled for work during the past four months — Adelaide, Melbourne, Hamilton Island, Los Angeles and Sri Lanka.

A lot of it was on my own, sometimes with friends, but always under the watchful eye of Matty Abel, the head Nike run coach in Australia, who, along with his colleagues, helped me with advice, gear and even sometimes pacing me on training runs.

Three days before the marathon I finally met the NYRR coaches face-to-face in New York and took part in a “shake-out” run (a traditional pre-race short and slow jog to ease nerves) in Central Park.

We were joined by Shadrack Biwott, a Kenyan-born American long-distance runner who came third in the Boston Marathon this year and trains with world record holder Eliud Kipchoge.

Biwott ran alongside me during training. It was supposed to be an “easy” run — but to keep up with an elite runner I had to run faster than my regular pace of five minutes, 40 seconds a kilometre.

Yet Biwott warned me to stick to my normal pace in the race. Don’t go out too hard and take it easy in the first half, he suggested. And don’t get caught up trying to outrun someone who speeds past you.

“I let people pass me because I need to stick to my race plan and I know I can catch them at the end,” he grinned. “Then I crush them with a smile as I pass.

“Just relax and enjoy it. It’s the New York Marathon, just being here you’re a winner.”

NYRR race director Peter Ciaccia (who retired this year after 18 years) also gave me his key tip: Don’t get too excited after crossing the Queensboro Bridge on to 59th street at about the 26km mark. The roar of the crowds when you finally hit Manhattan was like nothing else and could make you burn out too quickly when you still had a long way to go, he warned.

In the race, as I ran over that bridge and heard that incredible roar, his words came back to me. Unfortunately, my legs didn’t listen to my head as I had started too fast.

Nerves, excitement and euphoria had already taken over as soon as the starter’s gun went off and Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York began blaring as we ran across the Verazzano Bridge from Staten Island into Brooklyn.

As we headed into Brooklyn the atmosphere and excitement was giving me perhaps too much of a buzz.

I spotted my friends, Australian expat Sarah Dowland and husband Jon Collins, at the 12km mark, grinning while holding up a big “Go, Sophie!” sign. After a quick hug and plenty of squeals I kept running, passing another friend, Naomi Toy.

Then suddenly I was on the Pulaski Bridge within view of the 21km marker — halfway. I began to flag. I had gone out too hard, was losing energy and becoming paranoid that this year’s leg injuries would flare up.

As we began the long haul up 1st Avenue I saw a sea of people, and remembered Ciacca’s tip on how to get through the toughest part of the race: “Lap it up and enjoy the crowds, it’s simply the best.”

For runners, you can train for as many months as you want, but ultimately the marathon is a mental game. Which is why spectators are so important.

A friendly smile from a cheering stranger gives you such a boost, and New Yorkers are known for being the world’s best.

Then there was the virtual “cheer cards”. The NYRR app allowed families and friends to not only track runners every second of the race, but also send virtual support cards from all over the globe.

I had no idea how it worked but as I rounded a bend just past the back of the Met in Central Park at 39km, I saw the enormous smiles of my mother, Deirdre, stepdad Hans and sister Claire beaming at me from a giant billboard, which must have been set off by the chip in my bib.

Teared up and smiling at the same time, I crossed the finish four hours and 28 minutes after I had begun, with the most amazing memories and a new dream — to complete the six World Abbott Major Marathons.