New York City Marathon 2013 Recap: Sub-4 and I Did Not Bust!

I’m reposting this today because it was one of the best days of my life and I want to re-live it. 

Sunday, I broke four hours and ran my fourth marathon.

Spoiler alert 1: it was not easy.
Spoiler alert 2: it was worth it.

I began the morning in a slightly dazed panic, attempting to gather everything I’d need to sit out in the cold in Staten Island and then run 26.2 miles back to Manhattan.

I woke just before 6, made my mom watch the Alec Baldwin video with me and jumped out of bed. Other marathons, I’ve tried to extend the warm time under the covers, but this time, I was ready.

I was on a 7:15 ferry and took a cab at 6:50 down to the terminal, making it there in an impressive 8 minutes from Chelsea. I walked in alone and completely overwhelmed. I walked upstairs and hoped I’d run into someone I knew. Sure enough, I found Carla and Emilia! We boarded the ferry and Fiona, Steph and their friend Russell found us. I was so happy to see my RBs, as we’d discussed maybe starting together
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The 7:15 ferry got us into Staten Island around 7:45 and we lined up for the buses. It felt as though it had gotten significantly colder already. Awesome.

The bus line took much longer than it had last time, as the cops were checking each bus one by one. Annoying, sure, but I’m glad they were taking every precaution after Boston. By the time we boarded and took a little trip around Staten Island, it was 8:30 when we got off.
I’d decided to eat my breakfast in shifts so that I never felt too hungry or too full. I had a banana on the ferry, a Picky Bar on the bus and half a Luna bar in the start village. I also had a water bottle of Nuun that I probably had about 8-10 ounces of. Jess and I had discussed fueling and my concern was that I didn’t want to have to stop to pee during the race.

We got off the bus and walked to the village with a million other runners. Steph wins Throwaway Clothes of the Year award for her Christmas flannel jammies. She was always easy to spot if the group got separated. We grabbed fleece Dunkin’ hats and hot water and sat down to finish breakfasts. I tried not to drink all of the hot water, because I really didn’t want to have too much water pre-race, but I wanted to warm up. The time went by really quickly as we nervously chatted. We hit the bathrooms, and while we were inside, we heard that our corrals were now open. WHOA, OKAY.

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We went to line up. We were all in different corrals, but we decided to jump back to Russ’s corral, orange 34, so that we could all start together…on top of the bridge, not underneath it (like a troll, as my mom said the night before.) I remember in 2011, that they actually checked your corral number; this year, they just checked your color. We said we were jumping back to go with Russ and they let us go ahead. We hit the port-a-pottys in the corrals and joined a huge mass of people. If you’re trying to visualize this: you don’t really line up by corral. You join a mass of people in bib numbers from, say, 30,000 – 39,000. It was here that we began shedding layers to prepare. I took off the pajama pants I was wearing, and left on a sweatshirt.

We lined up in view of the bridge..and it was real. We were going to run over that thing, and then run for a few more hours after that. The starting gun went off, and it was REALLY LOUD. And scary, given all the coverage we’d all watched of Boston. They started playing New York, New York, and I started crying, and we all started singing along…and we were off!

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Mile 1: The bridge was harder than I remembered from last time, and more crowded. As we started, Fiona said “you need to go do your own thing.” Or something like that. I’d been planning on doing that, but then I thought maybe I could run the first 10 with them and then take off. We all hit the first mile at 9:24, and I decided I definitely had to do my own thing. The pacing plan Jess gave me was: run the first 10 at 8:56-9:16, the second 10 at 8:36-8:56, 20-23 with whatever I had, and turning it up from 23 to the finish. I love my friend, but 9:24 was not part of my plan, and I was going to stick to that plan like white on rice.

Miles 2-4: I remember a small incline at mile 2 that seemed kind of hard, and I got really nervous about all of the upcoming hills. Every time I looked down at my watch, I saw numbers that were faster than they should have been, and I began a fierce internal dialogue. “I feel great! I can keep this up!” “Um, of course you feel great. You’ve run 3 miles. Slow your roll.” Splits from this section: 8:24, 8:46, 8:41. Oops. I knew I’d be seeing my book club around mile 3.5, and I focused my gaze to the left to look for them. I saw them and smiled and waved happily.

Miles 5-8: That fierce inner dialogue continued, and I wanted to keep my pace between 8:58-9:09 in that range. An average 8:58 pace would be 3:55 (my secret goal, to give me a buffer to hit 4), and a 9:09 pace would be 3:59 and change. Any time I looked at my watch and saw 9:0x, I think I actually gave my watch a thumbs-up. I knew I’d see my mom and maybe my boss at mile 8, so that was what I next focused on getting to. I’d decided to fuel around every five miles, so I took a few Shot Bloks at mile 5, and then I saw my high school buddy Sara and her sister Ali just after mile 5. At some point in this stretch, Russ caught up to me, and we ran together for a bit. My efforts to slow down a bit here actually worked pretty well: 8:54, 9:00, 9:03, 9:13. I saw my mom and friends at mile 8 and high-fived them.

Miles 9-13: I didn’t think I would see anyone I knew in this section, so I focused on just enjoying it, since I’d really liked this part of the course last time. I focused on keeping within my pace range until getting to 10. 9:13, 9:17…and then it was time to turn it up. I, honestly, was really nervous about this. 16 was still a long way to go. I remember at mile 10 last year, Ericka saying “it’s just like a 16-mile training run from here!”…and wanting to kill her. 16 miles is still really far. I knew anything could happen from 20-26.2, and I was really nervous about turning up my pace in this section even a bit, but since my goal was to leave it all out there, I embraced it. Uh, or tried to: 9:05, 8:51, 8:53. I was internally motivated to meet my goal, so I hadn’t thought until the half point what people tracking me at home might be seeing, but just before the half point, I decided I wanted to log a solid first half, so people at home would know I was doing well. Although, again, anything could still happen. I hit the half at 1:56:55, and smiled a smile that must have been a mile wide. Two years ago, I struggled to break 2:00 in a half; I’d just broken 2:00 in the first half of a marathon. We ran over the Pulaski, and memories came flooding back: running over this with Tina two years ago in the marathon with some knee pain after a bathroom stop, running over it a few weeks ago with my friends.

Miles 14-16: Probably the most boring part of the course, running through Long Island City. All I remember about this part is smelling McDonald’s french fries and them smelling REALLY GOOD. I focused on staying strong and mentally preparing myself for the Queensboro. A long bridge with no spectators, it can be a difficult part of the course. I prepared myself for that possibility, and ran strong over it. I took more ShotBloks at just before mile 15 in preparation for the bridge. I channeled the strength I’d had running over it in 2011 with Tina and a few weeks ago with my friends. I’d told them stories running over the bridge those times, and while I couldn’t do that this time, or talk to myself, I channeled that strong feeling and powered over the bridge. It’s here that my watch got messed up. I knew I might have slowed down a bit, but I was certainly not running a 16:00 mile. When we hit 16, my watch said we were at mile 15.5. Awesome. From here on out, I relied on my watch for my overall time and for my current pace and ignored the mileage. I’ll stop sharing splits here because they don’t match up to the actual mileage.

Miles 16-20: Good god, I love this part of the course. I’m pretty sure I saw everyone I’ve ever met on First Ave. I saw my mom and Lacey, Lauren, a high school friend, the NYJL sponge station at mile 17. I’m pretty sure I smiled all the way up First Ave. I felt strong, and I was back in Manhattan. I was happy. It’s here where it hit me that I was really racing a marathon. (Against myself and the clock, not anyone else.) I tried to keep my pace between 8:40 – 8:50 here, and more importantly, I tried to not let that psyche me out. That is a big, fast scary number for a marathon for me. I thought of strong runners I admired like Michelle, Michele, Janae  and Jocelyn and thought about recent speed increases for all of them and how they just kept pushing, and used that to motivate me. WWM(orJ)D? I hit mile 18.9 (30K) at 2:46, and this is the first time when I had a strong feeling I’d sub-4. (Well, when I hit 19.) I’d wanted to hit 20 just under 3:00, to give myself a little cushion for those last 6.2

THIS IS WHEN THINGS GOT REAL. They say that it’s a 20-mile warmup with a 10K at the end, and, yup. Mentally, the last 6.2 was harder than the first 20 by leaps and bounds.

20: That damn bridge going into the Bronx. In my pacing strategy, Jess had said to prepare myself for hitting the wall around 20-22, and I steeled myself for this. Mile 20 was okay, but slightly more difficult, and I just kept reminding myself to stay strong, that I’d come so far and was so close. I’d taken half a banana from someone on the course handing them out around mile 19 (my mom never said not to take bananas from strangers), and I think I took 1-2 Shot Bloks at this point. I knew I needed to fuel up for this last tough stretch.

21-23: This is easily the hardest part of the course. You’re past 20 but not into the park. You’re starting to question EVERYTHING (literally, all life decisions leading me to this point were questioned here), and it’s a long gradual uphill. I remember seeing Laura’s mom and the Lulu cheer station, and I remember wanting nothing more but to walk. But, I wanted sub-4 more than I wanted comfort here. I didn’t want to miss my goal again. I didn’t want to go out and try to do this again. I didn’t want to ever run another marathon again at this point. My watch kept saying 9:4x-9:5x at this point, and I told myself that was okay, so long as I didn’t walk. I told myself a little negotiating with myself was okay, but I would not shortchange my goals here. I was uncomfortable but not in pain, so I kept soldiering on. It’s supposed to hurt at this point. Jess had said to turn it up at mile 23, but I wasn’t yet in the park, and I didn’t have the strength to turn it up yet.

Then we hit the park, and it was a total different story.

I hit mile 24 just around 3:40, and I knew at this point that sub-4 was mine! I knew that I’d be able to turn it up in the park, so I would be just fine. I grinned entering the park, and I remember spectators cheering my name and telling me how strong and happy I looked in the park. I remember being so happy I’d trained more in the park this year, that I knew the ups and downs so well. I COULD NOT wait until the downhill that would take me out of the park and onto Central Park South, where I knew I’d see Anne and hopefully my mom and Lacey and hit mile 25.


And I saw Anne!!! She said when she first saw me, before I saw her, I was grimacing, but that my face lit up when I saw her and I had more pep in my step. I even managed to high-five her and Matt. However, all I could think at this point was “was this this hard last time?” And then I remembered I wasn’t trying to sub-4 last time. That I was running nearly a minute per mile faster than I was last time. I saw Shannon and her mom at the very end of Central Park South, and thought they had the best spectating spot ever, and it gave me a great last-minute boost.

I re-entered the park, and WAS SO HAPPY. I WAS ALMOST THERE. I was about to meet my goal. I’d run from Columbus Circle to the Tavern on the Green so many times, and I channeled that and the finish line intervals I’d done with Jess here and just turned it up. Things were so uncomfortable here, but I told myself I could certainly be uncomfortable for a few more minutes. When the finish line was close, I saw I was at 3:56:xx, and zeroed in on that. I would finish in 3:56-something. I would leave everything out there.


I thought I’d be so emotional at this point that I met my goal, but I had expended literally all of my energy.

I crossed the finish line, and I immediately felt woozy. I thought I was going to pass out, and I grabbed onto a barrier. The volunteers were wonderful, and came right over to see if I was okay. “I think so?” I told them. “I just feel kinda woozy.” A wonderful volunteer named Andrea grabbed my hand, elevated it, and made me keep walking to get my medal and heat blanket. As we got to the medical tent, she asked if I wanted to go in. “No, not really,” I told her. She told me it wouldn’t hurt, and I agreed and went in. I started seeing a bit of a halo around the tent as I walked in, and realized that going in was the right decision.

They gave me some diluted Gatorade, salt under my tongue, and pretzels, and I felt better quickly. I’d guess I spent no more than 10-15 minutes in there, and they sent me on my way.

I’d done no baggage, but it still seemed like an interminable walk out of the park. We exited at 77th, and then they sent us walking back down Central Park West to 72nd.

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They gave us these orange fleece-lined ponchos, which were pretty awesome.

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I walked over to Cafe Tallulah, where I had the best burger and bubbly of my life (what? They totally go together) and did some celebrating with my NYJL ladies, Lacey, Shannon and my mom, before heading back to my apartment to see my dad, who couldn’t come watch because of a bad knee. He’d watched on TV and with Bailey and wanted to congratulate me.

I can’t believe I finally met this goal, and that I took off more than an hour from my first marathon! I am so, so, so happy and so thankful for all of the support from my friends, family, coworkers and YOU!

They print the finish times (I think up to 4:30?) in the New York Times, and I checked it obsessively yesterday to make sure my time was real.

It was.


I DID IT! I am a part of the sub-4 club. Meghann promised to teach me the handshake the next time I see her.

What’s next, you ask? I have no idea. Maybe some tris next year? I actually sort of miss swimming. For now, I definitely want to focus on some strength and lifting things heavier than a fork or a wine glass.


86 comments on “New York City Marathon 2013 Recap: Sub-4 and I Did Not Bust!

  1. kaprian

    Congratulations on a well-earned finish and going sub-4!!! It was great getting a glimpse of your thoughts on racing and hitting the paces you did. Really awesome accomplishment! Enjoy your recovery! 🙂

  2. Dori

    SO happy for you! And not a all surprised, I knew you’d do sub-4. And NYCM is such a hard course, so it’s that much more amazing. So impressed by how much you’ve improved since your first marathon.

  3. Liz @ ourbusybee(s)

    I LOVE THIS. I just ran my first (MCM) this month and it is so nice to read about how much you have progressed in the last few years. It makes me so optimistic and excited for what I can do with just a little bit more time under my belt. CONGRATS – this has to feel AMAZING.

  4. Meghan Loftus

    YAYAYAYAYAYAYAY! I am so happy for you. It sounds like you ran a really smart race. 100% agree that that stretch on Fifth Ave is THE WORST. I broke down and walked (and cried) there when I ran in 2010. So, way to not do that!

  5. olivia

    Such a great recap and I am so happy for you!!! Sub 4 was my goal at Philly, but I’m playing it by ear because of leg issues. Right now, I just want to run a strong race and finish proud, knowing I gave it all I had leaving it all on the road. I was in NYC Sunday at mile 22 and seeing everyone at that point REALLY made me realize that everyone struggles, everyone pushes through and reading your recap proves that even more. Congrats again and I hope to also be in the sub 4 club one day!

  6. Steph

    Absoluteley love this!!! I will be reading this post a hundred times next year before I attempt the same goal for NYCM ’14!

    Congratulations Theodora, you are amazing!!!

  7. Patty(

    Awesome recap!! I really felt it around 22-23 as well but only stopped once the whole time to stretch! Last time I ran in 2011 (and my first) I had to run/walk from mile 17-18 to the end. It was awful. Yesterday was truly amazing. Congrats on that PR!!! I hope to one day be as fast as you 🙂

    I can’t believe the “quick exit” was at west 77, while baggage check was at 81, so only afew blocks extra. I was meeting my family at 63 and there was no way I could walk that far so I ended up taking the subway haha.

    I can’t wait until the next NYCM!

  8. Coach Jess

    I don’t even know what to say here other than I am so very proud of you! You did everything right, but most importantly you learned how to conquer the mental side of racing a marathon and that’s what got you your goal!

  9. Victoria

    !!!!!!!!!!!! Such an awesome recap of an awesome race. I’m so happy that you met the goal you worked so hard for.

    I, of course, approve of the “more swimming” plan.

  10. Amanda

    Love the recap, so inspiring! Some day I would love to break a 2:00 half marathon. Maybe that means some day I can also run a sub-4:00 full like you?? 🙂 CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

  11. Bonnie

    So awesome! And I loved your race recap…what a huge accomplishment! Sounds like the best race to PR and sub-4 at…how fun. Relish in it and congrats again!

  12. Shawna

    This was such an inspiring post and a joy to read! I’d been hoping to run my first marathon (in October) sub-4 but got derailed by an injury…and your story and how much heart went into this motivates me to shave those 13 minutes off on my next one. 🙂 Great job.

  13. Becky

    CONGRATULATIONS!!! I am no where near the runner you are, but your post motivated me to set a goal for my next half. So happy for you!!

  14. Meghan

    Congrats! I was hoping I would run into you in the start corrals (amongst those thousands of people) and was so happy when I saw you reached your goal. I was super excited to PR and add a sub-4 to my bucket list now.

  15. Suzanne

    You are AWESOME!!!!! I was so happy to hear you reached your goal. I’ve enjoyed reading about your weight loss and training, because I can relate to you, your story and your struggles. You give me HOPE!!!!!!

  16. elizabeth e

    congrats theodora! i’ve just started running, and i have to say running 1 mile at the speed that you ran 26 is difficult! this is awesome.

  17. GB

    I don’t know if there are enough positive #’s out there to describe you so let’s go with #SuperDuperUberStarofInfiniteAmountsofInspirationToAll

  18. Shannon

    Congratulations! I was so happy I managed to see you (I missed a bunch of people somehow, despite our vantage spot). You looked AMAZING when I saw you and I’m so happy you went sub-4 (but even if you had somehow missed it, sounds like you ran an amazing race).

  19. Ashley

    And yes I have chills reading this. You are amazing Theodora, seriously!

    But for now, I’d stick with lifting the fork and glass of wine. Lord KNOWS you’ve earned it.

  20. Angela

    Congrats!!! Awesome achievement and even more awesome that you fought so hard for it. Love this recap – makes me itch to start running again!

  21. Molly Ever After

    Congratulations! I just finished my first marathon in 4:58, and I dream of going sub-4 someday and even qualifying for Boston. Reading your blog makes me feel like I can do it. I’m so excited for you and can’t wait to see what’s next!

  22. Jen

    This recap made me SO happy and I am SO SO SO inspired by you!!!!! So sad I missed you at the NYJL sponge station — there was an issue with getting checked in and after 20 minutes of running around I finally persuaded a police officer to let me hop over, but I missed you and Laura and my other speedy friends. Wish I could have seen you on your path to GREATNESS 🙂

  23. Mary

    YOU ARE AWESOME. I’m bookmarking this recap and reading it whenever I need running motivation. You are PROOF that hard work pays off!

  24. Sian

    Well done!! What a great account of a marathon, so honest and that’s what’s inspirational. I simply cannot fathom running so many miles at the moment, so definitely something to work towards! I hope to do the London marathon one day =).

  25. Michelle B

    I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a marathon and I think your account here has finally inspired me to do it 🙂
    Congrats on your awesome race!

  26. Jess

    I am sooooo happy for you!!!! You trained hard and you stayed so mentally strong in this race and rocked it hard core! Way to go lady!

    Also, your race report makes me want to run the NYC marathon at some point….perhaps I’ll throw my name in the lottery one of these years.

  27. Ashley

    I cried reading this. I am extremely overweight, and just started walking about 12 weeks ago. It drains me every time I do more than 3-4 miles WALKING. I am so so so inspired by you. Like crazy inspired. It is sad to me that I have the same emotional and internal feelings an conversations with myself walking 3 miles as you do KILLING 26.2 Thank you for being so open.

  28. Liz H

    YES. This post makes me really happy. You worked your ass off for this race and you totally dominated it. Amazing. Big internet hugs and high fives to you! I hope you feel like a total boss right now.

    Also: will you be my running coach the next time the lottery gods grant me a spot in NYCM? 😉

  29. Sarah

    Ahhhhh! Congratulations! I am so inspired by you! Great recap. And this makes me want to move back to NYC more than ever.

  30. Ash

    Awesome recap! I just pinned it to the pinterest board! You haven’t necessarily inspired me to aim for sub 4 (let’s get sub 4:45 first) but you inspired me to train harder. I love you. End of story.

  31. Emily

    I’m so, so, so thrilled for you! I was thinking about you and I’m SO GLAD (but not surprised) that you did it.

  32. Holly @ Healthy Living Holly

    CONGRATULATIONS! you are amazing! i always think that i should run a marathon (i mean, i’ve only ran nine half marathons… derp), and reading this post has inspired and motivated me to take the next step.

    congratulations again! i am soo excited for you!

  33. Alexis

    Congrats!!! That recap made me so happy. I just did my first marathon the weekend before (MCM!!) and came in at 4:14. LOVED running this distance (are we sick in the head for doing it? haha) I’m excited to hopefully join the sub-4 club too :). Would you recommend coaching? How much did that help you increase your speed/decrease your time? Also, did you walk or run through water stops? I walked so I’m always curious to find out how others handle that. Thanks and congrats again, you rock!!

    1. Theodora Post author

      I would recommend coaching (and I’m not just saying that because I’m a coach now too ;))

      Working with a coach helped me to figure out how to shuffle workouts when I had to for either scheduling or fatigue reasons, as well as helping me figure out what speed workouts to do at what pace.

      As for water stops, I ran through all of them. Personally, if I stop to walk at a water stop, it’s my gateway to walking elsewhere, so I don’t, although I know that plenty of people can walk through water stops without it affecting their pace overall.

  34. Andrea Dean

    Hi!! Congrats! Can I ask what mileage you average per week? You may have posted this already so I apologize if it’s a question you’ve already answered. 🙂

  35. Elyse

    How did you decide on your coach? I have a very similiar goal to yours for the 2014 marathon – got injured a few weeks out of NY and had to cancel my entry. Want to come back with a strong marathon next year.

    1. Theodora

      @Elyse: honestly, I picked her because I knew her and knew she’d give tough love when needed. Having followed her training, I also knew she wouldn’t throw down anything too crazy for me. (i.e. Anything crazier than I could handle.)

  36. Beth

    This was the most inspiring post! I totally teared up reading it. CONGRATULATIONS ON SUB-4!!!! I’m beyond words proud of you and KNEW you could do it. You inspire me ALL the time! You’ve come so far. You are so strong. And you CRUSHED your goal on a tough, tough course. I hope you are so proud of yourself. I’m so so so happy for you! After a tough year, you deserve this and all the happiness in the world. AMAZING AMAZING JOB!!!!!

  37. chanikawras

    I love hearing the success of people that have earned it! I share y experience with others only to help supplement with their exercis and helth choices and I see you only deserve a CONGRATULATIONS for your actions!

  38. Chanika

    I love hearing the success of people that have earned it! I share y experience with others only to help supplement with their exercis and helth choices and I see you only deserve a CONGRATULATIONS for your actions!

  39. Sunny

    I know I am very late to the party but I just thought I’d drop you a short note to let you know that I found your recap incredibly inspiring. It almost convinced me to run a marathon.

  40. Alexia

    Thanks for posting this! Using it as a guideline for my strategy on Sunday. I did my first marathon (NYC) last year in 4:13 and am hoping to break 4. I also PRed a half this year in 1:48 so I think I can do it. My only worry is that I’ve been doing my long training runs at about a 9:15 pace, knowing that you’re supposed to go slower than your expected race pace. What pace were you going at during your training runs?


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