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2014 New York City Marathon training: A long tune-up

A runner passes the author in Mile 9

A runner passes the author in Mile 9 of 18 during the NYC Marathon Tune-Up race Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014. Credit: Edward B. Colby

On Sunday, with seven weeks to go before the NYC Marathon, I was one of nearly 5,000 runners who gathered in Central Park for a “tune-up” and test -- an 18-mile race that would show just where we stand in our training. If you can make it 18 miles, 26.2 start to seem doable.

MILE 1: We’re off, and the first mile is the toughest -- through the Harlem hills. The long and winding downhill is easy, of course (though too many descents can be rough on your legs). But that is followed, starting near Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, with the longest climb in the park, one that takes several minutes to complete. Everyone is energetic, though, as the race just began. Plus, as I tell myself, “I know this hill.” I lived on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard (also known as 7th Avenue) for three years, so every time I went running in the park, I’d begin by making this steep climb.

MILES 2-3: It’s a chilly but gorgeous morning as we make our way down West Park Drive. And it’s great to have the support of the many volunteers who urge us on along our route. Running is often a solitary pursuit, so one of the benefits of race days is hearing other people tell you yes, you can do this.

Mile 3 turns out to be my fastest of the day, at 8:22. My slowest, at 9:49, is Mile 17.

MILE 5: Back on East Park Drive, we climb up another hill, the Cat. It’s named for the cat statue on the left side of the road, I learned in a New York Road Runners class last week, as we did a workout of six intervals on the hill. But when we get to the top, my legs feel heavy for the first time. Uh-oh.

END OF MILE 6: As we finish the first loop, the announcer offers enthusiastic encouragement. “One lap down, two to go. You got this!”

MILE 9: Running, for me, involves frequent lessons in humility. It’s really about doing the best that you can -- but the fact is there’s always someone better, someone faster. That is made apparent yet again on West Park Drive when we’re told to get to the left because the leader’s coming through. That’s right: I’ve gone nearly 9 miles, and this guy has gone nearly 15 miles already. We then pass a volunteer who tells us we’re “Looking strong!” “Even though we were just lapped by that guy?” I say. “Yeah, don’t think about that!” she replies.

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END OF MILE 12: As we approach the end of the second loop, I’m looking forward to more encouragement from the announcer. But she’s not there, right when we need her most.

MILE 13: After telling myself “I know this hill” as I struggle to get up it a third time, I’ve nearly made it to the top when I scuff my shoes on the pavement and almost trip. Remember what I said about humility?

MILE 14: Another runner spits twice in proximity. Ugh. It’s fine with me when he pulls ahead.

MILE 16: I’m now going farther than I have in the past year and a half, and I’m hurting. But I hear a woman behind me say that we’re doing awesome and that we only have two and a half miles to go. She passes and I realize that it’s Mary Wittenberg, NYRR’s president and CEO.

MILE 18: It’s all about finishing at this point. I break up the remaining distance into little chunks in my head: Get to 90th Street. Get through the long bend in the road north of that. Before too long, I’ve turned the corner to the finish line and I’m done. My running app tells me I actually covered 18.4 miles, at a pace of exactly 9 minutes per mile, which was my goal.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, but I’m feeling good.

Total mileage in training so far: 187

Edward B. Colby, an Internet news manager for Newsday, is blogging about his preparations for the 2014 NYC Marathon on Nov. 2. Send feedback and blog post ideas to edward.colby@newsday.com.

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