November 8, 2011

Race Report: Halloween Half Marathon

I’ve done it. I’ve figured out the elusive secret that no other running blog will tell you: how to win a half marathon (even if you’re not that fast). Yup, that’s right. YOU GUYS! I actually WON a half marathon! (Sorry, I’m pretty excited).

You may remember last weekend, when New York got hit with a freak snowstorm, and as usual, people panicked. Not because this storm was supposed to be of especially great magnitude, but because usually we don’t get snow in October (as it turned out, this is the most snow New York has gotten in October in the entire recorded history of weather). Was it awful? Was it terrible? Well, it put a bit of a damper my Halloween bar crawl scavenger hunt, so that kind of sucked. Luckily, my down coat protected my awesome German beer girl costume, my maroon Wellies only added to the stylishness of the ensemble.

The day after this lovely blizzard, though, was supposed to be the date of the Halloween Marathon/Half Marathon/10K. Slated to start at 9am, I woke up at 7am feeling fairly sick to my stomach thanks to eating half a bowl of raw cookie dough when I came home the night before (but it was Halloweeeeeeeeen… I’m supposed to be allowed to get a sugar high!). When I checked my email, though, I rejoiced: the race had been pushed back to noon to give volunteers time to clean up the trails for the race.

After some coffee and a bagel to fuel what I hoped would be an epic 13.1 miles, I hopped on the 1 train uptown. Due to some delays with train traffic and my own poor planning, I got to Van Cortlandt Park about 5 minutes after the race was supposed to start. Expecting to see hordes of people already running, I saw basically no one. When I got to the starting line, an organizer confirmed that the race had actually been canceled – the Parks department had pulled the permit because conditions were too dangerous to allow runners on the trails, and the race would be rescheduled for the following weekend.

Since I had trekked all the way up there and brought my Supergirl costume to boot, I joined the dozen or so people who were bravely doing a few 1.5 mile loops around the sports fields.

I thought optimistically I’d do four loops (6 miles), but my sneakers were soaked through halfway through the first lap due to the slush and snow. (Note that that pic was taken in the few hundred feet where the trail was cleared, but the rest was ALL snow and slush). I bailed after just 5k. Whatever, I was still more “super” than all those wusses who hadn’t even shown up! Before I left, the race director said he loved my costume, and that I probably would have won the costume contest if the whole event hadn’t been canceled. As a consolation prize, he encouraged me to take a few candy apples that were supposed to be half marathon prizes… don’t mind if I do!

All week I excitedly planned for the rescheduled race. My track record with the Van Cortlandt Park races has been poor – historically, I’ve always done half the distance I originally set out to run. But this Saturday, it was on – I was going to run the half marathon distance in preparation for the Richmond Half Marathon the following weekend. Plus, it was New York City Marathon weekend – what better way to kick off the festivities than by running?

Well, if you’re one of the lucky 45,000 who are running the New York City Marathon, there are actually a lot better ways to kick off the festivities. Like going to the expo and eating as much free food as you can handle. Or, you know, resting. In hindsight, it was obvious, but it wasn’t until I arrived at the start of the makeup race that I realized that none of the good runners were there and the numbers were in my favor. Anyone who was anyone was running the New York City Marathon, and not this super-fun-but-maybe-not-such-a-big-sponsored-deal race in the Bronx. Instead of being insanely jealous (okay, or maybe in addition to being insanely jealous), I was going to use these missing runners to my advantage.

It was a perfect day for running, and I was quite comfortable in my leggings, royal blue Humpy’s Marathon long sleeved tech tee (where I PRed!), and Supergirl costume over the top. I wore my gloves for the first lap, but ditched them after that – it was just perfect weather. The only thing marring the day was the fact that some of the trails were still not cleaned up – so we were only doing the second (and more difficult/hilly) half of the typical 6.55 mile loop, and to run a half marathon, I’d now have to run it four times instead of the usual two. But hey – while wearing a Supergirl costume, I could just fly through, right?

The start had about 100 runners, and I bumped into Frank at the start. He snapped a great pic of me, Emmy, and Lucimar all dressed up. Festive race!

After the first loop, I was not too happy. It was fun and all, but now I had to do that long, winding, hilly trail three more times? I have always believed that the mental aspects of running a marathon are a much bigger obstacle to overcome than the physical, and four loops of the same tree-filled course (whose beauty I couldn’t even really admire since I had to focus on the ground in front of me and not tripping and breaking something) did not appeal. But I was not going to give up today. I had done that too many times in the past with this course, and today was my day to make it happen. I felt good (albeit a bit full from too many potatoes at the diner I went to for breakfast with New Guy), the weather was perfect, and I even had a working playlist of great music to pick me up along the way. (I may have taken the lyrics “The best thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain” a bit too literally on lap 2).

As a reward for my troubles, I promised myself that after the second lap, I could have a little Gu pick me up. Unfortunately, I got so distracted by watching the middle school and high school kids arriving for their cross country championships on the playfields that I eagerly drank my water, but forgot to take my Gu. Halfway through this third loop, though, I started feeling tired. Man, these hills were tough! And I wanted my darn Gu! Another 3.3 miles till I could get back to it – totally my own fault for not wanting to wear my dorky fuel belt on top of my costume.

When I got back to my bag after lap #3, I made sure to go for my Gu stash first, even before I had water. Ha ha, I thought, I am not being tricked again! But the joke was on me when I reached into my fuel belt and found two packs of Roctane – a type of Gu that’s made with double caffeine for an extra energy boost. Yikes! Having noticed an increase in my coffee intake over the last month or so, I had gone cold turkey on coffee on Thursday, and didn’t want to ruin my “rehab” with caffeine-laced Gu. Pondering my options, though, it was either that or do the last lap running on fumes, so I downed the Roctane and headed back out to complete the final 3.3.

Knowing that it was the final lap made it that much easier to get through, and checking my watch, I set the goal for myself of finishing in 2:10. That might sound like a pretty easy/relaxed pace, but on this technical trail, the conventional wisdom for the course was that you should subtract 10 minutes for each loop to get what you’d run in another marathon. I didn’t know quite how this translated to the revised course where we ran the second (and more difficult) half twice, though – should I subtract 10 minutes per loop? Five? I’d guess somewhere in between – so a 2:10 would put me around a 1:40 regular half marathon. Insane! I was definitely sweating and working hard, but that would still be a huge accomplishment if I could swing it.

I turned out of the woods and onto the track around the parade grounds, knowing that I was going to be cutting it pretty darn close. Lucky for me, a great end-of-the-race song came on: “Four Minutes” by Madonna/Justin Timberlake. As a matter of fact, I only had about four minutes to go in the race – perfect! I love using the lyrics to remind me how close I am – “only got 4 minutes to save the world!” – and give my final burst of energy. I tried to crank up the pace a bit, but waited until the last few hundred feet to really sprint. 2:10 finish, here I come!

Flying across the finish line (thank you, Supergirl cape!), I actually finished in 2:09:50. Woo hoo! When I told the organizers of the race, they even seemed a bit impressed – pointing out that 2:10 on this course was the equivalent of at least 1:50 somewhere else. And better still, when I went to log my time, I discovered that I had the fastest women’s time of anyone in the race! I WON THE HALF MARATHON!!!

Now, I could go enjoy spectating the NYC Marathon without having to be jealous of everyone running 🙂 Time to celebrate all the runners – happy marathon weekend and congratulations to all!


9 thoughts on “Race Report: Halloween Half Marathon”

  1. Congrats, Laura!!!! That’s awesome 🙂

    Also, I wished I had known about what you were wearing and who you were with – I would have totally tried to find you during the race.

    P.S. Isn’t Four Minutes a Madonna/JT song? (not Britney?)

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