My name is Evan Wood, and I am running to fight against Crohn's disease, a condition that I have suffered from since the age of 13. This will be my fifth time fundraising for Team IBDKids and running the NYC Marathon. My mission is to inspire millions of people with Crohn's or another limiting condition that they too can achieve greatness.
Age is inevitable. Aging isn't. And while age is just a number, it is also a number that is used to determine which division you're competing in!
So, just two weeks after a wonderful run at the NYC Marathon, I decided to throw my 24-year-old hat into the ring once more for a shot at a fancy piece of glass– a 1st Place Age Division award at the Race to Deliver 4-Mile. With my birthday looming on February 1st, this would be my second to last chance, and perhaps my best chance, of finally grabbing the elusive prize before aging out of the M20-24 age group into the far more competitive M25-29 age group. Upon graduating, my chances of nabbing a top prize would become effectively null.
I'm not going to lie– the entire reason I ran this race was super vain and I'm totally aware of how silly it is for me to waste energy even thinking about age group awards. First of all, at my level, winning an age group award is more about who DOESN'T show up rather than how fast I run. I can run the race of my life, set a crazy PR and still come in fourth in my age division if three super fast guys that I can't compete with decide to show up that day. Also, even if I did win my age division, it might only be by technicality, since the top 3 finishers are not included in age group awards– meaning it is entirely possible for me to win even if someone my age finished eons ahead of me, which kind of puts a huge asterisk on the whole thing. On the other hand, it's possible to win just by showing up if literally nobody else in my age group is close to my level. So winning an age group award is SUPER dependent on luck.
That ALL being said, the faster you are, the better chance you have of getting lucky, so you do have to be at least a little fast to be able to win your age division in a NYRR race, where thousands of people participate on average. I had won a few 2nd place awards over the last couple of years and since continued to improve, so I felt I finally had a good enough chance of getting lucky at one of the less competitive races in the NYRR calendar.
Here's a tip for anyone on a similar quest: avoid all of the club points races since all of the fastest runners will show up to score for their teams, avoid the 5-borough series races since those are the most popular, and make sure the race you're running is even giving out age group awards! Back in July I took 1st place in my age group at the NYRR R-U-N 5K, but I later found out that there were no age group awards for that particular race. And typically, the 'cross country' races held in Van Cortlandt Park offer age group medals on site, but they are not the same nice glass plaques that you win in a normal 9+1 eligible NYRR race.
So, will ALL of that taken into account, there are a few races on the calendar that are viable: the Joe Kleinerman 10k, the Al Gordon 4-Mile, the Run to Breathe 4-Mile, the Run as One 4-Mile, the Japan Run 4-Mile, the Italy Run 5-Mile, the Front Runners NY LGBT Pride Run 5-Mile, the Manhattan 7-Mile (though this will probably become more competitive since it was just upgraded to a Five Borough Series race), the France Run 8k, the NYC Marathon Training Series 18-Mile, the Grete's Great Gallop 10k, the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff 5-Mile, the Race to Deliver 4-Mile, the Jingle Bell Jog 5k, and last but not least, the Midnight Run 4-Mile. WHEW! That's actually a surprisingly long list!
Despite how long that list is, there were really only one or two races that made sense for me to enter, since almost all of them fall just before or just after a major race such as the NYC Half or Brooklyn Half, or they take place over the summer when I would rather be doing long training runs for the marathon. Therefore, the best time of year for me to add a race was after the NYC Marathon, when I usually take two months to recover and train for the Manhattan Half. Thus, I decided to enter the Race to Deliver 4-Mile!
Gee, I didn't expect the beginning of this post to be so long winded! It took longer to write that than it took to run the damned race!
To make an already too long blog post short, I did not win my age division in this race after all. The winner finished over 30 seconds ahead of me, which means there was little I could have done about it, even if I knew who I was chasing.
However, I did run a new PR of 22:42 and came in 13th place out of 5,283 finishers. Not too shabby!
So yeah, it was a bit of a bummer that I wasn't able to finally win my age group, but coming in at such a great time and in such a high place among the field was a really sweet silver lining to close out a great year of racing.
Hallelujah! A new PR!
Plus, I got to be cheerleading Hawaiian Spiderman for a hot minute, which was cool.
The early part of 2018 may have been full of trials and tribulations, but it was also chock-full of blogging time. The end of last year and 2019, on the other hand, have been absolutely fantastic on all fronts (career, running, relationship) and unfortunately for all 6 of my adoring blog followers, that means I spend less time blogging and more time soaking up life!
On this icky Spring day, however, I find myself with a little bit of time off and a hankering for carpal tunnel syndrome, so here I am, returning to the blog and beginning a new quest– to catch things up in time for the Brooklyn Half in a couple of weeks!
The first order of business is to write my race report for the 2019 NYC Marathon, which was such a memorable and special experience that it deserves its own dedicated post. So, here it goes!
THE LEADUP: JUST ANOTHER RUNNER
The official Just Another Runner logo, designed by the one and only Samantha Z Schaffer!
In September of last year, in the midst of marathon training, I sat down with my girlfriend over breakfast and told her about this idea for a documentary series that I had. The idea had been stewing in my mind since late 2016, when I participated in the Foot Locker Five Borough Challenge and had the opportunity to tell my story to an international audience on on the official NYC Marathon broadcast.
Through my years of running, I have met many, many interesting and inspiring people who are not professional runners or celebrities– they are 'just' your average person, one of many thousand runners who are the lifeblood of the running community. They have overcome all kinds of challenges, can relate to one another as parents, students, hardworking people, and they are all achieving extraordinary feats in running that serve to inspire and empower the people around them. The sum of all these individual people is the phenomenon that is the running community itself, which is so powerful and so unified in its support of its members that it is one of the only sub-cultures in civilized society that brings people of all backgrounds and beliefs together with little conflict.
I figured: well, I'm a filmmaker, I know how to do this. It doesn't take much to give someone the opportunity to tell their story on camera. And for some, hearing that story could be life changing.
Her response to my idea was straightforward: what are you waiting for? Do it!
So, Just Another Runner was born! During the month of October, I put out a call for participants in the NYC Marathon Runners facebook group and to my surprise, with no proof of concept to appeal to them, I received more submissions than I could handle. I immediately connected with a few and got to filming. I was a crew of one, directing, interviewing, shooting and editing the videos by myself, with my brother composing the music for each video. It had been two years since I directed my last film and it felt fantastic to be directing work of my own once again.
Here is where I will shamelessly plug my own series:
One of those runners, Alan Cory Kaufman (whose video you can watch here but read the rest of this post first if you want to avoid spoilers!) would be attempting to complete his 25th NYC Marathon as an athlete with Achilles International, who he ran with as a guide for 13 years before becoming an athlete himself. He was (and still is) fighting stage four cancer, and after life-saving brain surgeries, he was attempting to make the ultimate comeback by walking the entire marathon with the use of trekking poles (to help him keep balance). The video we filmed together will always be one of my most proud and treasured memories as a filmmaker.
THE LEADUP: TRAINING
Of course, during all of this, I was training harder than ever for my 6th NYC Marathon!
A few years ago, I set two major running goals which I dubbed The Quest™:
-Break 1:20 in the Half Marathon
-Break 3:00 in the Marathon
At the Brooklyn Half in May I had achieved the first goal, finishing in 1:19:14. Now, there was one thing left to do: run my first sub-3 hour marathon. If it weren't for a major breakthrough last year this would have been a much more daunting task (I brought my PR down from 3:38 to 3:03 in 2017), but with just three minutes left to shave, and the belief that I was capable of doing it, I trained seriously for a sub-3 for the first time.
My September training log
My October training log... and my cheeky attempt at hiding my marathon result ;)
Overall, my training was pretty solid! In total, I spent over 65 hours of running from July to October, more than the previous year's 57 hours. Despite the added mileage, I was feeling good throughout the summer and I was mostly able to stick to my plan. With my time goal in mind, I decided to spend a lot of time running at goal pace (6:52/mile) or slightly faster in order to get used to it. There's not much else to say other than I decided to focus on running often and saving the harder efforts for my long runs and the occasional tempo. I only got one 20-miler in, but I did have a couple of good 18-milers and 16-milers. I tried to maintain the sleeping habits that proved to be of vital importance during my Brooklyn Half training, and I was still feeling healthy and symptom-free, which is always helpful.
At the same time, my brother was training for his first marathon– that's right! After earning his 9+1 through NYRR, Josh earned his guaranteed entry to the NYC Marathon and was preparing to run. While he didn't get nearly as much training in as me (or really much training at all... to nobody's surprise!)
In 2017, my strategy was very simple: run as relaxed as possible, as fast as possible, within reason. My PR at that point was 3:38 which, when compared to my Half Marathon of 1:20, was very beatable. Still, aiming for sub-3 was a little too much of a leap to fathom, and I didn't have a lot of confidence in my ability to race the full marathon distance, so I decided not to set a specific time goal.
To make a long story short, I had a fast start, on pace for a 2:55 finish and feeling great for most of it... until the last 5 miles when I crashed and burned pretty hard, ecstatic as I limped away with a 3:03 and my first BQ time.
This year would be different. This time, my approach would be more systematic– I had to shave a little more than 200 seconds from my time, spread out among 26.2 miles on a course I was very familiar with. So, for the first time at the marathon, I did what I do for every other race: create a mile-by-mile strategy.
A blog-friendly course map!
As you can see from the elevation chart, the NYC Marathon course is tricky in that the second half is hillier than the first half. Ignoring the first bridge, which is over before you know it, the entire first half is benign at worst, only dangerous if you're the type to go out too fast. The second half features the Queensboro Bridge, the Willis Ave Bridge, the dreaded 5th Avenue mile, the rolling hills of Central Park... and, oh yeah, the fact that it's the second half of a marathon!
If there's one thing I learned as a five-time veteran of the race: going out too fast is a recipe for disaster! Yet, this particular course is difficult to negative split. So my strategy was to go just fast enough to take advantage of the flat first half, but not so fast as to blow out the engines.
This year, I was granted the bib # 641... strangely close to last year's number, 648. This gets me into the 'Local Competitive' corral at the front of the Green Wave 1 start. That meant I would be running the green route for the first few miles, same as last year. Upon further inspection, it appears that numbers 550-949 are actually ranked based on predicted finish (for your age group?). So I moved up a few spots!
The brothers finally take on the big one!
THE RACE REPORT
The race began without a hitch– I was well rested, thankfully the morning was not freezing, and nature called when it was supposed to. When you're in the green corral, it truly is impossible to know what your first split actually is, since an accurate GPS signal is nigh impossible on the lower deck of the bridge. Out of curiosity, I went back to check my first mile split from every NYCM going back to 2013, and with incredible consistency, my first split was almost always a minute slower than the next dozen splits. I ran an 8:06 first mile to start the 2017 race, and yet again, my watch gave me an 8:06 first mile to start this year's race. My second mile split (still under the bridge) rang up as a 5:45, just as unlikely considering that's over a minute faster than my goal pace.
Once we entered in Brooklyn,and my watch settled, I breathed a sigh of relief. My true pace was right where I wanted it to be: a touch faster than 6:52/mile, AKA goal pace for a 2:59 finish. Brooklyn started with a comfortable 6:37, and I rode the wave of energy from those awesome Brooklyn crowds to a string of comfortably fast splits: 6:42, 6:43, 6:40, 6:39, 6:46, 6:43, 6:40, 6:46, 6:45, and 6:47, all at or under goal pace. At this point, I was well on my way to a sub-3, and I was feeling even better than I did at this stage last year.
The 10k mark from BlurryCam™ (aka MarathonFoto)
Our next stop was Queens, the calm before the storm that is the Queensboro Bridge and 1st Avenue. In my effort to rack up as much time in the bank as comfortably possible, I clocked a 6:40 Mile 14 and made my way up the bridge. As always, it's a long, arduous slog up the bridge, but this year it was just a little bit better than years' past. I made it up Mile 15 in 7:00 flat.
Still wary of crushing my quads by going TOO hard down the bridge, a mistake I've made many times before, I took great caution and ran Mile 16 in 6:57. Not nearly as fast as I could have gone, but the marathon is a long race and I decided to play it safe.
I've still only run the New York City Marathon, but I just know that 1st Avenue is the greatest stretch of spectators in road running. It's definitely my favorite part of the course. The feeling of coming off the uneasy silence of the Queensboro Bridge to the sheer explosivity of the Manhattan crowds is so often described, but I can almost guarantee that the reality is even greater than what you might imagine. It's incredibly easy to fall victim to the energy of the crowds and speed up beyond a sustainable effort. In the previous year, I was already going at a fast clip, and by the time I reached Harlem I was starting to feel pretty beat. This time, I was still going strong, logging the next three miles in 6:46, 6:41, 6:48.
By now, with the exception of one year (2016 when I ran the first half in 2 hours as part of the Foot Locker Five Borough Challenge), I would always be hitting the wall around Mile 20 in the Bronx, when most people hit the wall. Certainly, there were a few minutes where the goal still felt very far away, and some ailments were beginning to surface– my big toe on my right foot was really starting to hurt, like it was swollen up against the front of my shoe, and my right ankle began to stiffen and drag, like I couldn't flex my foot all the way upright. Add that to the usual stiffness and weakness in the legs, and the knowledge of another 10km and the hardest mile still ahead of you, and it's not the most pleasant feeling.
After doing a little math on the fly (when running for multiple hours you tend to have time to obsess over arithmetic) I decided I could afford to ease off the gas for a 7:04 mile and save whatever reserves I had left for a little later, when I would need it most. It paid off– I felt a lot better and the next couple of miles were surprisingly quick, 6:43 and 6:36 respectively.
Then, the make or break moment: Mile 23, the brutal 5th Avenue mile. It's a steady uphill battle for the better part of a mile, and thus it is the burial ground for many a time goal. Fortunately for me, it is also the location of the greatest cheer squad in the world! And this year, it was bigger and better than ever: full of family and friends, including my girlfriend and her parents who traveled from New Jersey to see me run by for a whole 7 seconds! If that isn't dedication, I don't know what is!
The best cheer squad in the five boroughs!
Seeing my loved ones gave me a huge morale boost and even though I still got whipped pretty hard by the hill, coming in at 7:14 for Mile 23 and 6:57 for Mile 24– I was still on pace to break 3 hours. All I needed to do was hang on a bit longer, and with each passing minute, I became more and more confident that I might actually pull it off.
Mile 25 came and went in 7:01, not my fastest mile but still good enough to keep me in the running. In reality, all I needed to do was run the last mile and change in about 9 and a half minutes, but my brain was definitely too fried and paranoid about missing my goal to realize that, so I just started kicking as hard as I could.
Smile or grimace? You decide!
Kicking harder didn't get me there any faster! I completed Mile 26 in another 7:01, losing another 9 seconds. But by the time I had re-entered the park, I only had to look down at my watch and up ahead of me once to come to the great, long-awaited realization:
TFW you realize you didn't have to run for more than 3 hours today
After thousands of miles and 6 years of running through the five boroughs, the day was mine. In a few short moments, I would finally be a sub-3 hour marathoner!
At long last, The Quest™ was complete!
New Facebook profile picture courtesy of MarathonFoto :)
I received my medal from friend and fellow running nerd Frances!
Official Time: 2:59:03 (6:50/mile) Official Place: 1,083rd out of 52,706 finishers
...But the race wasn't over! At least, not for my brother, who was coming in surprisingly strong for not having trained much. You see, when training for a marathon, its usually a good idea to run more than once a week, even if you've done the required 16, 18 and 20 mile long runs. Unless of course, you're Josh, who seems to always get away with the bare minimum! Something I've come to believe is that it's okay to be underprepared– as long as you have the heart and competitive spirit to make up for the physical hurt you'll have to endure. In this case, Josh proved that he has the heart and the fighting spirit to overcome some very long odds.
Fun fact: Josh is wearing the shirt I ran my first marathon in! Maybe that's his secret...
While I was getting my legs rolled into oblivion at the local Jackrabbit store, Josh had completed his first marathon in an incredible time of under four hours! Knowing how much I trained for my first marathon and how difficult it is to break the four hour barrier, especially on a first attempt, this is a pretty mind-blowing accomplishment– and the most impressive part is that he stopped to take a leak along the way!!! What?!?
Official Time: 3:55:43 (9:00/mile) Official Place: 12,615th out of 52,706 finishers When we finally reunited, we literally fell into each other's arms, congratulated each other on a fantastic day of running, and limped our way to a diner for a victory brunch with our mom, our girlfriends and my girlfriend's parents.
The weather has turned in the northeast and just like that– summer has rode off into the sunset!
And what a whirlwind it was, with great advances in my personal life, career, and yep, you guessed it... running! I haven't updated the blog since early July but quite a lot has happened.
First, a Crohn's update: for the first time since I attended the Island School (over 7 years ago now), I am on a lower dosage of mercaptopurine, AKA 6mp, which was the game-changing medication for me. After last year's NYC Marathon (literally two days after) I underwent a scheduled colonoscopy and endoscopy and the results were so promising that we decided to take a step toward what will ideally be a healthy life without the need for medication. I have been on a half dosage for over 3 months now, and so far, so good. If I make it through the next 3 months symptom-free that'll be a very good sign... fingers crossed!
Things in film are going better than ever– I'm working on a couple of projects I'm really excited to share with you, that I can't say much about just yet. But stay tuned and you'll find out (hopefully soon)!
I also made a new special friend :) More on that in a bit... let's get back to running!
On my last blog post I ended by saying that my training had dipped quite a bit since the Queens 10K. My body was pretty beat up after a tough Spring training season and I chose to take a couple of weeks off from running to allow my body and mind to heal. Long story short, I came back and ran more miles in the month of July (140 miles) than any previous month, and then I ran even more in September (147 miles)!
Replace "cycling" with flailing on a stationary bike. I barely know how to ride one!
My training philosophy this summer was to focus on getting my average 'easy' run to 10k, and take as few rest days as possible (replacing 'recovery' runs with easy 4 or 5 milers). I hardly did any tempo runs, and the East River Park track was under construction until just recently, so speedwork was minimal. Instead, I saved my energy for my long runs and races, which were my important workouts. I registered for a 5k and a 10-miler, but my focus was primarily on the NYC Marathon.
Last year, I didn't have a specific time goal for NYCM (just to run it a heck of a lot faster than before) so I didn't train at a precise pace during my long runs, but this year, with a sub-3 hour goal in mind, I've spent a lot of my long runs at 6:52/mile pace or faster. How that will pay off in a week from now is anybody's guess, but what I do know is how the first two races went!
NYRR R-U-N- 5K RACE REPORT
Last year's R-U-N 5k was my first 3.1 mile race, and I had a load of fun giving it a try. I remember hurrying to the start in my work clothes that evening because I had just come from a film shoot, and I ended up running 17:48 (5:44/mile). I wasn't training for the 5k specifically this year, so my goal was just to try and beat last year's time, even if it were by just a second or two.
And, this year, I had a certain special someone in my cheer squad waiting at the finish line– so I was extra motivated to see her and make her proud :)
Better than I could have ever hoped, not only did I run a personal best 17:37 (5:41/mile), but I placed 7th overall (out of over 4700 runners) and finally took 1st in my age group! I had never placed top 10 in a large race– I hadn't even come close to it before, and I'm happy I can say I won my age group at least once before I graduate to the far more competitive M25-29 bracket, where I will probably never even make the podium. I know the competition here wasn't the toughest due to the strongest runners saving themselves for the NYRR Team Championships (which took place a few days later), but still, I'm proud of the race I ran and will always remember this night as one of my favorite running memories.
Official Time: 17:37 (5:41/mile) Official Place: 7th out of 4729
NYRR BRONX 10-MILE RACE REPORT
My next race would be the Bronx 10-Mile, my yearly tune-up to gauge my progress just about a month away the NYC Marathon. I first ran the race in 2014, and every year I've inched my way closer and closer to one of my major running goals: to run 10 miles in under one hour!
I almost wish I had gotten around to updating the blog sooner because I LOVE this race, and would have really liked to write-up a course strategy post for those who find my strategy posts useful. The weather is always gorgeous, the course is a smooth and easy out-and-back, and there are these freaking amazing empanadas in the neighborhood.
To break one hour, I would need to pretty much run sub-6 minute miles the whole way. Which is kind of as hard as it sounds. I had done that for a 5k, a 4-Mile, and a 10k, but never for 10 miles in a row. However, I did come pretty close last year with a 1:00:34, and I showed improvement at every other distance since then. This year it was time!
My post-finish empanada may have been dry and tasteless, on any other day, but that day, it was the best darn tasting empanada ever, because I met my long-term goal and finally broke 1 hour with a time of 59:19 (5:56/mile)! I made a point of starting out slow, trusting that I would feel a second wind after a couple of miles, and my patience paid off. I feel like I paced this one perfectly and I even wonder what I would have run that day if it were a half-marathon (sub-1:19?). My last mile was a 5:34... the fastest I've ever finished a race.
Official Time: 59:19 (5:56/mile) Official Place: 113th out of 12597
UP NEXT: NYC MARATHON 2018
Now we're in late October and NYC Marathon fever is in full force!
After setting personal bests in the 5k, 4-mile, 10k, 10-mile and Half Marathon, only one challenge remains this year... a shiny new (ideally) sub-3 hour marathon record! I have been training harder than ever and I feel like this is the year. Stay tuned for the result, and wish me luck!