What a Pro Runner Thinks About During a Race

Nick Arciniaga
by Nick Arciniaga
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What a Pro Runner Thinks About During a Race

Nick Arciniaga’s Mile by Mile Recap of the 2015 New York City Marathon

Before I toed the start line of the 2015 New York City Marathon, I was once again shooting for a top-five finish, figuring that it would take me running near a PR in order to obtain that. There was a lot of doubt in my mind leading into the race because my training was not as good as it usually is due to a hamstring strain that happened during a race in August.

I was able to heal pretty quickly, but my training was cut much shorter than I would have liked. I did everything I believed was right in order to get myself fit enough to race with the leaders in NYC. Part of me believed that I could, and part of me did not. Even during the race, I had a constant internal battle to stay myself motivated.

The morning of the race was similar this year to most years; I was up at 5 a.m. like normal, had my typical breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, and joined the other elite athletes at 6 a.m. to board our buses to the start area.

Mile 1
The race began as well as I could have hoped; the lead group was together and the pace was just a little on the aggressive side going up and over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. We came through the first mile in 5:24 in a very large group, with many of the second-tier runners setting the pace and the top African guys letting themselves be pulled along.

Mile 2
The second mile coming off the bridge, which is all downhill, was also a bit quicker than I anticipated (4:45), but I preferred to be pulled along than tackling this course alone.

Miles 3–10
After that the intensity settled down quite a bit, from mile 3 to mile 10, the pace stayed in the low 5:00 range, which was set by a rotating group of the second-tier marathoners. Every so often there would be a surge to get the pace going faster, but I made sure to hang back to conserve as much energy as I could; unless the surge was made by one of the top-tier African guys. I pretty much had my head on a swivel the first 10 miles; as I continuously checked where the top guys were in relation to the lead, and where I was in relation to the lead.

During this early stage of the race, my confidence grew and grew as each mile ticked by. We were not on PR pace for me, but it was exactly what I had hoped for—the sweet spot where it was comfortably hard for me, but I knew it would be wearing down a lot of the guys in our group.

There was even a point around mile 9, while covering a small surge by Tsegay and Kipsang, where I fantasized about out-kicking them for the win. I was feeling great.

Around 10 miles, a man who I didn’t know used a megaphone to cheer me on. He called out, “Here comes the leaders, folks! Is Nick up there with them?” I waved to him as I passed. “‘We got your back, bro,” I think I heard him say. That was hands down my favorite point in the race.

Mile 11
Then mile 11 came and our group slowed down to a 5:21 pace—I’m not sure why that was—but then it was followed by a huge surge by the top guys.

Mile 12
Mile 12 went by in 4:47 for the leaders, 4:49 for me. Right from the start of this surge I knew instinctively that it was going to be a serious one, and one that I had to respond if I wanted to be in the race. Unfortunately, the pace, my body and my mind were not able to handle the dramatic change in pace, and, as I saw myself slipping away from the group, I thought, ‘Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit! It’s happening! I’m losing it!’

That entire mile pretty much secured that the rest of the race was not going to go well. As I said originally, my training was not ideal leading into this race and I made the mistake of covering this move when my body might not be able to handle it. Even though it lasted only a mile, I had put myself in the red physically, and then mentally I defeated myself.

Here is a disclaimer: I did not give up, I did not throw in the towel, I was still tried to will my legs to move faster, to push off the ground harder. But the damage was done, and I was not able to get my mind to win over my body:

Mile 13: ‘I am not ready to quit. I am going to finish this race.’
Mile 14: ‘Came through half marathon in the same time as I did when I ran 2:13 and when I ran 2:15. I can still salvage this.’
Mile 15: ‘The leaders are creeping away from me, but I can catch them in Manhattan.’
Mile 16: ‘I’m only 30 seconds behind; they are still jogging. Get over this bridge and go all out on the downhill. You can catch them just like last year on First Ave.’
Mile 17: ‘Still in the hunt, the crowds will help you, quick steps, let’s go!’

nyc marathon photo 1

Photo courtesy of Rob Riccardo @runningonbliss

Miles 18–20:
As I ran up First Avenue and got to mile 18, things got worse. A lot of people talk about hitting their second wind late in a marathon—well I ended up hitting my second wall. My pace slowed from 5:10s to 5:30s, then to 5:40s as I ran into the Bronx and got passed by a few other runners who had also been left behind. Each time I was passed, I tried to latch on—the other runners encouraged me to latch on. They didn’t want to be alone either. But, with all my effort, I could not manage it. As much as I tried to fight, my strength was slipping away.

Miles 21–22:
As I left the Bronx and came back into Manhattan, running up 5th Avenue, I knew there would be more cheers for me. People who actually knew my name and had my back, who didn’t know how bad I was feeling or how much slower I was running than I was capable of running. I couldn’t acknowledge them. I tried to wave to show them I was thankful for their support, but all I could do was keep moving forward. Then, with 4 miles to go, with the hills of Central Park looming ahead of me, I hit another wall and my pace fell back to 6:00s. Sure, the hills could be to blame for this, but mentally it was just another hit while I was already down.

The cheers did help, and even though I slowed the last few miles, I was still able pass a couple men and elite women who were obviously hurting much more than I was. Still, with the finish drawing near, negative thoughts crept their way into my head.

Miles 24–26.2:
With 2 miles to go, I saw the clock was at 2:09:xx, and I knew that the leaders were finishing. That was not a good feeling at that point in the race. But, I was also uplifted running through Central Park on the part of the course that I’ve run so many times and know so well. I had no doubt about finishing. But I wanted to finish proud, with my head high.

I once again tried to push myself; I forced myself to smile and acknowledge the cheers. I saw my cousin, Caitlin, in the same spot that she always cheers for me, and I smiled at her. My pace didn’t end up changing, but my attitude did. I knew as I came to the finish line that this was just another bump in the road, one of many bumps that I have had in my career. I crossed the finish line as the top three men were getting their awards and I thought to myself, ‘Well, at least my finish will be on TV again this year.’

Walking to the recovery area, I wasn’t discouraged. I was glad to be done and ready to take a break—ready to get my mind off of this race and to start focusing on the next one.

I was interviewed by Letsrun almost immediately after the race; here is a video of the full race in case you missed it.

About the Author

Nick Arciniaga
Nick Arciniaga

Nick Arciniaga is a professional marathoner for Under Armour and Team Run Flagstaff. Nick trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., where he is also an assistant coach for Team Run Flagstaff, a community running club. He lives with his wife, Carolyn, and their dog, Luna. Keep up with Nick on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

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