The New York City Marathon is one of the most prestigious foot races in the world and is typically the largest running event in the calendar. Close to 20,000 people pound the streets of New York on race day.
To get a bib, you either need to get lucky in the lottery or meet the strict time qualification standards. If you’re aged 45 and below, you need to clock a sub-three-hour marathon. To put that into perspective, our team’s fitness enthusiasts, editor Farhan (31 going on 60) and writer Terence (a sprightly 28), only managed to run 4:48 and 5:10 respectively.
Actor Allan Wu managed to snag a spot in the New York City Marathon, which was also his first time running 42.195 kilometres. We chatted with Wu about the experience and how he trained for it despite having a partially torn right calf muscle.
How did you train for the New York City Marathon?
This was my first marathon so I had no experience on how to prepare for it. I only had about a month and a half to get myself in shape to run and hopefully complete it. Furthermore, I was travelling a lot for various projects so I knew that maintaining a consistent training schedule would be difficult. And to top it off, I was only recently recovering from a partially torn right calf.
Still, I have always believed in finishing what I start so I started running a few times a week to test my right calf. And if it didn’t hurt, then I would slowly increase my distance from around five kilometres up to twenty kilometres. About a week before the actual race, I tapered my workouts and ran shorter distances to rest for the challenge ahead in New York.
Did you have a timing you were hoping to hit?
Honestly, my primary goal was to simply finish the largest marathon in the world. I heard many stories from my friends and acquaintances who quit prematurely due to dehydration, muscle cramps, and other ailments. However, I was still hoping to run a sub-four-hour marathon so I had been training to do that with my timings.
One thing I learned quickly during the race was that being able to run that pace for HALF a marathon isn’t the same as doing it for the second half, which turned out to be utter Hell!
For the first 20 kilometres, I was cruising along slightly below my target race pace. However, between the 20- and 30-kilometre mark, I could feel my body, joints, and muscles starting to strain. By the time I hit the 30-kilometre mark with still over 12 kilometres to go, it became an excruciatingly painful test to simply run a few metres without my muscles cramping up.
I had not subjected myself to so much pain and stress in a long time, and it was the ultimate challenge to mentally and physically exert myself to reach the finish line. Fortunately, I was able to complete the race, but the final quarter of the marathon was absolutely dreadful.
How did the Apple Watch help you with your training?
The Apple Watch was instrumental in helping me prepare for this endeavour. It tracked my training data such as the distance I ran and the correct pace I needed to run at. Also, I was able to directly listen to my music with just the Apple Watch without needing to lug my iPhone 8 Plus around. I really don’t think I would have been able to train as effectively without using the Apple Watch in the shortened amount of time I had to get in shape for this marathon.
Using it would give any athlete the added motivation to work out better and harder because you know you are now being held accountable for what you are doing. Having all the data on hand in the Apple Watch for me to review definitely made it easier to plan for my workout routine.
What is your most memorable moment in the marathon?
I would have to say it’s simply being present as one of the participants in the world’s largest marathon. Even though the day turned out to be dreary and wet, the crowds were out in force and truly made the entire event a spectacle for everyone present. I think one needs to be present to truly appreciate what an experience it is for all the runners.
And when you finally do cross that finish line and receive your medal for completing the marathon, it is truly a memory that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Any interesting stories to share from the race itself?
I had an unforgettable experience running my first marathon. While I wouldn’t recommend flying in two nights before your first marathon where you are still jet-lagged, I am so happy to have finally said I did complete a marathon.
I was initially in awe with how many people were present to run this race. You could feel the insane energy in the air all day long.
I planned to listen to music on my Apple Watch at some point during the race with my AirPods, but that would’ve been pointless because there were so many spectators lined up along the entire race course cheering us all on. It’s truly a spectacle to be a participant in an event of this size and magnitude where over 50,000 runners are cheered on the entire way with tens of thousands of spectators lining up from start to finish.
If you could do it all over again, what would you have done differently?
I would have hoped that my torn right calf muscle could heal sooner so I could start preparing earlier for it. I would have also joined a running club or hired a running coach.
But even if I did train myself, I now know my training distances should have extended beyond half a marathon so I could experience how difficult and challenging the latter half would feel like.