Tim Rossi's New York Marathon was a hell of a ride
Editor's Note: NYC native Tim Rossi lives and breathes running. You'll catch him logging huge miles week on week and racing anything he can on the east coast, always repping his crew, Lostboys.
When he's not running, he's writing about running for TEMPO as our first regular columnist.
Entering the NYC Marathon my goal to was break 2:30. I ran 2:31:19.
2:31:19 is not faster than 2:30. I failed to reach my goal.
You can’t finesse cold hard numerals to stroke an ego.
But, at the same time, I PR'd by 14 minutes and 53 seconds. I only fell short by 1:19, around 3 seconds per mile. Is that a failure? Do I consider that failure?
Let’s rewind a bit though: a Marathon PR of 2:46:12 from NYC 2015, 3 bone related injuries, 18 months of inconsistent training and shitty racing. Then, a step back. A slow build, an acceptance of where I was rather than forcing where I wanted to be. I found my way back onto my path, and started making progress.
This was July of 2017. It was slow, but steadily progress was made. A 1:12:29 half in May of 2018 indicated potential, but I knew there was work to be done.
And then we kicked off my 20-week training plan, written by yours truly. This isn’t to pretend that I am the most knowledgeable running coach in the world (far from it) instead, it’s to reinforce that I was the one accountable for how the training turned out.
If I failed, it would be 100% my fault. If I got hurt, if the training was inadequate, if I blew up. I’d thrown out some very aggressive goals in a very public way, and I’d also shaped things so that I was solely responsible for how it turned out.
I craved that pressure, but I underestimated the strain it would put on my mind as the race got closer. And as the excitement of the Chicago Marathon faded and the spotlight shifted to NYC, the nerves really started to get to me.
"Entering the NYC Marathon my goal to was break 2:30. I ran 2:31:19.
2:31:19 is not faster than 2:30. I failed to reach my goal."
3 weeks out, people started asking me what my goal for NYC was (people that clearly hadn’t read my TEMPO articles!). People who hadn’t seen the last 17 weeks of training and weren’t privy to the grind scoffed at me when I told them my goal was to break 2:30.
Someone was telling me to try and break 2:40 instead, to make a smaller jump first. I hadn’t asked for their advice, they just decided to offer that amazing slice of wisdom unprovoked.
It got into my head.
The doubts that I had worked to callous my mind against started creeping back in. And once they were in, those demons ran wild.
Every waking moment they raged.
The worst-case scenarios, possibility of cramps, walking, DNFs — the reconsidering of questions I had tried to close the book on all came back.
Thankfully, I had another one of those rare ‘bring me back’ moments during an easy run. As I shared the above story (i.e. complained about the above person) and talked about doubt generally, a friend offered up a story of a breakthrough race they had in college. After a series of disappointing performances, this person decided to, “worry about myself and simply put myself in a position to do something big rather than selling myself short.”
I’d been worrying about the possibility of blowing up in pursuit of my big goal, but this focus shift, from the big goal itself to the idea of simply giving myself a chance to achieve the big goal, unlocked my mind.
It became my mantra: Believe in yourself enough to put yourself in position to achieve that goal.
Give yourself a chance.
So instead of focusing on crossing that finish line in 2:29:XX, I spent 2-weeks visualizing myself going through the half in 1:14:XX. I knew if balked at 2:30, if I went out in 1:17 or 1:16, I’d be throwing away my chance at doing something big.
I wanted to give myself a shot.
“‘You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take’ - Wayne Gretzky’ - Michael Scott”
All of a sudden, those demons in my head shut up. The doubt faded, and a sense of calm descended on me. There was stress, don’t doubt that, but I was in the driver’s seat. I was going to give myself the chance to achieve my crazy goal. To PR by 16 minutes, to reach for the stars.
“The demons were now in control; it no longer made him afraid.” – John Parker, Once a Runner.
On race day, that calm remained.
As I stretched in the Ocean Breeze Track and Field facility, one of the perks of getting into the sub-elite field (thanks NYRR), I watched Shalane Flanagan, Bernard Lagat, Lelisa Desisa, Geoffrey Kamworor go through their warm-up routines. The giants of the sport, all of us about to embark on that same 26.2 journey. It didn’t faze me.
I took a few warm-up laps, laughing at the irony that I was running on the same track where I’d first broken my foot on February 4th, 2016.
The dark, irrational days of wondering if I’d ever be able to run again (I mean, it was a foot fracture). The doubt, the self-pity, the all-consuming disappointment in myself, it had all started right here on this track.
“There was an unmistakable feeling of something large having passed and something large coming: eye of the hurricane.” – John Parker, Once a Runner
My journey was coming full circle. I let myself embrace it, and then refocused on the task.
Get through the half under 1:15. Into the storm.
And as I stood on the starting line on the Verrazano bridge, 26.2 miles of raw asphalt ahead of me, I didn’t fear the race: I was excited, ready to rip.
“We gonna see how hard they ride.” – Drake.
"Believe in yourself enough to put yourself in a position to achieve that goal.
Give yourself a chance".
The cannon (yes, a cannon) went off, and I exploded off the line. 5:43 for the first uphill mile. I was amped.
I followed that with 5:12 downhill mile. Definitely a little overly amped.
In 2015 I’d ran a fast mile (5:35 that year) and panicked. That year, I literally said, “Well, let’s see how long I can hold on,” and waited for the wall: 1:18:50 for the first half, 1:27:22 for the second half. Ouch.
This year, the mind dug in. I let the group I was running with get away, and settled into a lonely rhythm of 5:40ish miles.
I passed the 5k and 10k mats and thought of the look on the faces of people tracking me, thinking about how I’d gone out hard.
Show them this isn’t suicidal.
7 miles alone, then a fellow Lostboy on my shoulder. David Kilgore and I shared some words, flew the L, and fist bumped. He took off, and I continued on alone.
Through Brooklyn, I soaked it in. I flew the L (a lot), I engaged with the crowd, inhaling the energy. At 12 I caught a pack of 8, and we rolled together.
Half way: 1:14:14.
I’d set myself up to take my shot.
No fear. I believed.
I stuck with the pack through Queens. My 5:40s had become our 5:50s. I felt ok.
At this point, the focus turned to not letting the wall feel inevitable. “Don’t wait to hit the wall. If you’re waiting for it, it will happen. It’s not inevitable.” I still believed.
Up the Queensboro I felt the pace lag so I hit the front and drove us forward. I rolled off the bridge, onto 1st Ave, still pressing.
The pack of 8 dwindled to 3.
Alex Hutchinson talks about the reframing of pain in his book Endure: How rather than focusing on how bad you’re feeling, you can reframe it by thinking ‘this is how I’m supposed to feel.’
The legs were tired, but of course they were, I’d run 18 miles already.
Into the Bronx the final 3 splintered; it was about competing now. Ride or die.
I was digging, entering the pain cave. You cannot know how you are going to feel at mile 20 of the marathon until you are there. This is where you learn things about yourself. You cannot replicate that moment.
“You can remember it, he told himself, but you cannot experience it again like this. You have to be satisfied with the shadows.” John Parker, Once a Runner
Further into the cave I went.
Mile 21. The We Run Uptown cheer section. All the crews in NYC, and the friends that had supported me throughout my journey, my people.
The crowd gave me life. It brought me back.
I rode the wave, and let it carry me to mile 23.
Here, I let me mind float to the friends that had gotten me here. To the shared miles, the jokes, the faces, the bonds. This was for more than me; it was for all of them. In these lonely moments in my own head, they kept me going. My invisible path had led me here, and now I saw it: I was not alone. I wanted to keep going for them.
Be the tortoise, soak in the journey to get here and these moments. Don’t wish them away. Embrace it.
I could feel the pace slipping, but for those last 3 miles I tumbled further and further into my own head: I ignored the pain and instead clung to those positive memories. An occasional “Tim!” or “Lostboy!” momentarily snapped me back, but those calls felt infinitely distant: Like as if I was in the upside-down in Stranger Things (go watch this show).
Into Central Park, rolling over those hills, 59th street, Columbus Circle.
And then, the finish line.
With 400 to go, a guy came up on my shoulder and I thought ‘No fucking way.’ I took 5 hard strides up that final hill, enough to bury the orange-singleted (or was it red?) guy’s hopes of passing me but also enough to realize I had nothing in reserve.
My brain, incapable of doing math for those last 3 miles, looked up at the clock as I passed beneath it: 2:31:19.
14:53 faster than ever before, but 1:19 away from my goal.
It was too much to take in at the time.
"I could feel the pace slipping, but for those last 3 miles I tumbled further and further into my own head: I ignored the pain and instead clung to those positive memories.
An occasional “Tim!” or “Lostboy!” momentarily snapped me back, but those calls felt infinitely distant."
There was a medal around my neck now as I entered the tent for the sub-elites and elites. A brief conversation with Scott Fauble (7th overall and 2nd American, “hell yeah!”). A 5-minute massage for my cramping hamstrings on a table adjacent to Bernard Lagat. Out of the park and into a cab. Mile 21 to cheer for my mom as she came through (5:05 way to crush, Mom!). To the after party, where I had 2 beers before realizing how desperately dehydrated I still was. And hadn’t eaten in over 30 hours. Damn.
I floated through blurred moments.
Even now, as I type these words I have still not completely come back.
I do know this: I missed my goal, but this race was not a failure.
I committed to my training and believed that it would lead me somewhere. Missed happy hours, modified workouts, listened to my body, all things that in the moment made me question my path now feel vindicated.
Simultaneously, I know there are still stones left unturned.
An easy example is fluids: at mile 21 I took a Maurten bottle, took 2 sips, struggled the keep the bottle open, got frustrated, and chucked it. That was the only hydration I took during the race.
Another big, black-and-white change I can make is mileage. I committed to running lower miles, valuing health above everything, and it worked: I stayed healthy. My 60-70 miles per week were exactly what I needed at this point in my running journey. But what if I’m able to figure out how to run 70 or 80 miles a week while staying healthy?
What if I just trained at 80%? What if I can stay healthy while training at 90%?
But the biggest learning, and the least tangible one, is the power of the mind.
I am about the most talentless runner you will ever meet. I am simply too stubborn to believe that my lack of talent means that I cannot be great.
I still believe.
My goal of 2:30 seemed insane, but it got me out of bed every day. The pursuit of potential dragged me through miserable tempos, endless repeats on the track, and scorching long runs.
What once felt impossible became more and more tangible as the training built, and ultimately I only fell 1:19 short.
I shot for the stars; I took a leap of faith. And while I may have missed the star I shot for, I was still able to land in the clouds: I PRed by 14:52.
I just improved my marathon time by 8.6%. What if I did this again?
“2 + 2 is 4, minus 1 that’s 3, quick maths.” – Big Shaq (this is me doing math).
2:18:18, exactly 42 seconds under the Olympic Trials qualifying time (someone please go check my math). I’ve made that leap once, why not again? Why can’t lightning strike twice?
So for now, I’m going to go and put my head down: I’m going to live grind.
“Success isn’t permanent, failure isn’t fatal.” – Winston Churchill
Again, I want to thank everyone that got me here one more time. I wouldn’t be here without you all, and I want everyone right here with me again when I take my next leap.
NYC 2018 was a big step in the right direction, but that invisible path continues on into the distance.
And if my journey does anything, I simply hope it helps someone else believe.
There are more leaps left to take, because I still believe.
That I have yet to reach my full potential. That there is more there. That I can be more.
PS: See you in Berlin.