Ryan Vail and Kara Goucher lead the crop of runners looking to earn a podium spot in the Big Apple.
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NEW YORK — Ryan Vail looks at Sunday’s New York City Marathon with intense excitement. The 28-year-old was the top American finisher a year ago, and is looking for more come Sunday morning. Training in the vicinity of 150 miles a week, including a stint at high altitude in Flagstaff, Ariz., Vail has tailored his body into peak physical condition.
The Oklahoma State graduate, who lowered his personal best to 2:10:57 at the London Marathon last April, knows fitness is key to performing well in the marathon. But here in New York, he feels experience may just be his biggest asset.
“I’ve definitely taken another step forward,” Vail said. “I’m just better prepared overall with the experience, and my training has taken a step forward.”
The key word that many Americans spoke of Thursday was experience. Deena Kastor, Kara Goucher, and Nick Arciniaga all agreed with Vail in the sense that being familiar with the undulating course through the city’s five boroughs will come in handy, and could play a factor in Sunday’s outcome.
For Vail, the 2013 New York City Marathon proved invaluable. Running 2:13:23 for 13th place, Vail came away with a few lessons learned. Biggest of all was the notion that aggressiveness is key.
“I’d like to be a little bit more aggressive than last year and really stick with the front pack. When it’s windy like this, if you get too far behind it’s impossible to reel the guys back in. So just keep myself in the mix for as long as possible,” he said, remembering back to 2013 when he couldn’t quite make up ground on the leaders. “Since the conditions will be so similar as well, I think that’s going to help a lot and it’s going to be basically a replay of last year. A lot of the same guys are here as well, so it’s going to allow me to keep in mind that I don’t care what my half marathon time is as long as I’m in the mix. It might be too fast, it might be too slow, I just want to be in that group. But like I said, you can’t come from behind on a day like Sunday is going to be.”
In his buildup, Vail decided to do more training on pavement in anticipation of this year’s contest, while also focusing on the hills.
“It’s a challenging course. Whether it’s the weather conditions or just the tough hills or the surface, it’s just a tough course,” he said.
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Also referencing the many bridges and hills was Goucher, who is the fastest American woman ever to complete the race. In her marathon debut at the 2008 contest, Goucher finished third in 2:25:53. The final miles in Central Park cast a lasting image in her mind.
“The thing I remember the most is just the sufferfest the last 10 miles, and that’s why I was determined to come back and run the 10 miles and prove to myself that it wasn’t that scary,” said Goucher, 36.
To replicate the hills and challenge, Goucher ran a very tough route in Boulder, Colo., before flying to New York City for fashion week in September. After arriving in New York City, she ran the final 10 miles to gain confidence and get a better image of the route.
“I was like, ‘It’s not that bad. You got this.’ I remember the sufferfest and thinking everything was so hilly and so tough. It was important for me to come back six years later as an experienced marathoner to show my old scared little self that it’s not that bad.”
For Kastor, 41, experience is important, but fitness matters most. Finishing sixth in 2006 (2:27:54) and seventh in 2001 (2:26:58), Kastor remembers the course well.
“I think with any race, experience comes into play, but it’s fitness,” she said. “To be able to bundle fitness and experience together is a good package. In saying that, every marathon does offer a different lesson, so I’m looking forward to the lessons to unfold on Sunday.”
Kastor’s Mammoth Lakes Track Club teammate Lauren Kleppin is racing her first New York City Marathon. To prepare her for the race’s profile and bridges, Kastor gave Kleppin a videotape of the 2006 race.
A number of Americans are in the same boat as Kleppin, making their New York City debuts. Olympian Desiree Linden and Nike Oregon Project’s Luke Puskedra each have run the NYC Half, but not the city’s 42.195 kilometer contest.
Linden at first was daunted by the course and the stigma for being a challenging race. Incorporating marathon simulation routes in training has helped the 2012 Olympian cope with any nerves regarding the journey from Staten Island to Manhattan.
“I think it’s been daunting for a long time but I wanted to get past that before I raced here and feel comfortable running in the city,” said Linden. “With all the press, there’s a lot of hype around the event. I feel like I’ve taken a long time to get comfortable with it, and now I’m like ‘Alright I’m ready for it.’ It’s OK, it’s all sort of expected at this point. I find it exciting now.”
Puskedra talked to coach Alberto Salazar—a three-time champion here—seeking tips Thursday evening. Any and all advice seems to be taken into consideration by the elites.
A veteran of the 2009 New York City Marathon, Nick Arciniaga summed it up best by giving two pieces of advice for those racing Sunday.
“First off in training you have to train like it’s a 28-mile race,” he said. “That’s what I tell everybody. It’s a tough course so you want to be able to make it to Central Park and be able to roll the last three miles.”
“It’s one of those races that you can’t win that first mile. You got to be confident knowing that the Africans are going out in 5:30 to 5:50 that first mile. If you want to run sub-five up that bridge [laughs] then you’re probably not going to make it to the finish line. It’s basically going to be a patience type of race.”