March 29, 2014

Race Report: NYC Half Marathon

So I already wrote about my first weekend in Denver… but I didn’t yet write about my last weekend in New York. Technically, I moved out of New York in January, and was just living up in the air for the 2.5 months until I finally moved into Denver. But the weekend before I moved into Denver, I went back to New York for a weekend of catching up with my friends, and running the New York City Half Marathon.

Friday night (the all-important two nights before the race), I was out having cocktails with Theodora and Daria till 2:30am… oops! And although I overslept my alarm on Saturday morning, I didn’t sleep late enough to really make up for it. Instead, I went for manicures with Theodora, and then headed up to Jacob’s Pickles for a really big brunch with my friend Mat and his girlfriend. A few ultimate bloody Marys and a big plate of fried chicken and biscuits may not exactly be carb loading, but it was honestly the most delicious brunch I have ever had. I love / miss that place so much!

Jacob's Pickles Ultimate Bloody Mary
The ultimate bloody Mary is perfectly spicy, and also comes with astick of bacon and a pickled egg. YUM!

After brunch, I headed way downtown to the Financial District – which also happened to be where the race the next morning would finish. It was really nostalgic being down there, since my very first job out of college was at 25 Broadway, right across from the famed Wall Street bull. Walking down Stone Street (in full St. Patrick’s Day swing) reminded me of so many summer happy hours in the time before the economy really started tanking and we all lost our jobs. It was weird to think how innocent I’d been back then (“I’m going to stay at this very same company all the way until I make partner!”), and how much my life had changed in the time since. But, one thing that was really cool to think about was how the important things stick. My best friend at that job moved to Denver a few years ago, and she’s part of the reason I had the courage to come out here now! 

2008 Emerald Nuts Midnight Run
All dressed up in costume with Kel for the 2008 Emerald Nuts Midnight Run! Wow, it’s been a while.

Okay, enough reminiscing. I spent Saturday night going to dinner at Citrus followed by drinks at Stone Rose Lounge… and when I looked at the time, I saw it was 2:30am again. Yikes! I had to be up in 4 hours to run… time to get home and get to bed.

Despite all that carousing and not enough sleeping, I woke up on race morning feeling surprisingly good. I hopped out of bed pretty quickly and got dressed for the race, deciding to skip breakfast since I had eaten and drank so much the night before. I wasn’t too worried about that, since I wasn’t running for time, but I was rather concerned about the weather. I hadn’t realized when I packed for the trip just how cold it was going to be on Sunday, and I had brought capris and a tank top to wear… for a feels-like 22. Uh oh! I did have a very thin jacket, so I used that, and I pleased to discover a thin ear warmer wrapped around my Garmin… actually, the ear warmer that had been swag at the 2008 Emerald Nuts Midnight Run pictured above! I hoped that between that and a pair of gloves, I’d be okay.

The walk to the start was very cold, but I was lucky that I was staying at the Sheraton Midtown, which was at 57th and 6th and only six blocks from the south entrance to the park. I was able to sleep so much later than most of my friends who had to build in subway time! I listened to some Jillian Michaels podcasts as I walked, thinking that this race would be a good time for me to catch up on some of the backlog I’ve built up in PocketCasts. I’ve started listening to a lot of new great podcasts – will need to do a post on those at some point!

The security at the start was really tight – we had to go through multiple metal detectors and walk in a single file line. Maybe this is the norm for NYRR races now, but it took me a little bit by surprise. Finally, I got to my corral on the 72nd Street transverse, and noted on my watch that I luckily didn’t have that much longer to wait. In the meantime, I tried to stand in the densest part of the crowd that I could, for some extra body heat. Aside from two or three intrepid guys in shorts, I was the only one who hadn’t worn full-length tights. I didn’t regret the capris that much, but I really wished I had a fleece instead of just my thin jacket that I usually wear when temps are in the 40s. (It’s the same material as a wicking long sleeve.)

But when our corral started moving forward, I quickly forgot the cold, and was just so excited to finally be running again. And in Central Park, no less, where I ran my very first half marathon six years earlier! The Manhattan Half Marathon was two loops of Central Park, and it was on a similarly freezing day.

2008 Manhattan Half Marathon
Except that day, I was dressed in a much warmer (albeit bulkier and less technical) outfit.

The Manhattan Half started by Engineer’s Gate, but since we were starting on the 72nd St transverse, we hit Cat Hill right in the first quarter mile. Didn’t matter to me – I was grinning like a banshee thinking about all the other times I had run this way. The start of the race was the turnaround point for the first meeting of the Athleta half marathon training group (the time we did only 1.5 miles), the Boathouse was Theodora’s meeting point for her very first time leading Juicepress run club, that corner was where my family was cheering me on at last year’s NYC Marathon… all the way back to 2007, when I first ventured into the park for a Saturday morning run, back when I didn’t know all the loops and their mileage by heart. I ran my very first half marathon there, and I’ve run my longest distance ever (39 miles) there. It definitely felt like being home.

I picked up the pace a bit when we got to the flat part of the loop that passes the Met and Engineer’s Gate, and when the road curved and dipped around the edge of the reservoir, I picked it up a little bit more, thinking about how this little stretch was the first 1/2 mile of the long 60K journey I had done there in November. And then when we headed down the east side of the Harlem Hills, I tried to pick it up further, knowing that I ought to be pushing it a bit on this downhill in order to bank some time for the steep uphill on the other side.

At the bottom of the hill, though, instead of the usual course of just continuing on the main Central Park loop, we turned out of the park and onto 110th Street – seeing runners coming back the other way into the park as we did so. I had forgotten that this year’s race included an out-and-back on 110th in order to fit more runners in the corrals at the start! A lot of my friends were pissed about this, but I was actually really excited. I love out-and-backs for the chance to get to see the other runners out there, who are either far enough ahead or behind that you wouldn’t otherwise get to see their faces and smile. I didn’t see anyone I knew on this jaunt, though, so I don’t know if the out-and-back was really worth all the crappy potholes we had to try to avoid on 110th Street 🙂 (Come on, NYRR, with all the money you rake in charging a $130 entry fee for a measly half marathon, you couldn’t spend some of it filling in the potholes?)

Very soon we were back on the main park loop, having just crossed the 5K, and I was doing pretty well with pacing – clocking in at 27:12 (8:45 per mile). But coming up I had the uphill of the Harlem Hills, and I knew that I’d lose a lot of time here. At only three miles into the race, though, I knew that I shouldn’t be too tired yet, and I decided that I didn’t want to walk a step. To motivate me to keep running strong, I thought about when I did the More Half Marathon with my mom, and how strong she had been pushing up this very same hill with me. I ended up reaching the top without losing much time at all off my pace, and grinning. The toughest hill of the race was over; now I just had to keep going for nine more miles. (Sin-gle dig-its! Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap.)

The next few miles coming down the west side were easy. As a former upper west sider, this area was where I did the bulk of my running in Central Park, and so the whole thing just felt like I was already home. As I neared the bottom of the park, I also sent a quick text to my friend Beth, who was spectating with a whole group of people just after mile 7. I did spot them when I ran by, and Kim even snapped a photo of me!

Mile 7 of NYC Half
That stupid face/gesture is me being half excited, half blowing a kiss to them since I didn’t want to stop 🙂

Seeing my friends and my old city put me completely over the edge in terms of a runner’s high, so right after I was blowing them kisses, I started crying with happiness. To be honest, I had already teared up a lot in this race… so many memories, and so weird that I wasn’t living in NYC anymore and now think of them as “nostalgic spots” instead of “places I still go all the time.” As I continued down 7th Ave, I started to wonder if this would perhaps be the race I marked by tearing up at least once per mile.

On that front, Times Square did not disappoint. Everyone makes a very big deal about this course going right through Times Square, and since I’ve never been a fan of the touristy mess that is Times Square, I didn’t understand what all the hype was about. So they close down Times Square and we run through it… so what? But when I ran through with the jumbotrons lit up all around me, I kind of got it. It reminded me of Times Square when I’ve traversed through at 6am, or the day after New Year’s Eve, when everyone is out of the way and you can just enjoy the spectacle. Pretty cool!

Times Square

At the base of Times Square, we turned west onto 42nd Street, and I found that there were still plenty of spectators along this stretch. (Especially compared to Central Park, where the spectators were few and far between.) However, we had a big headwind in our faces as we ran toward the river, and it got more and more intense the closer we got. Hooray for a Gu stop that gave me a legit reason to slow to a walk and catch my breath! (Double hooray since I hadn’t brought any Gu of my own to eat, and was starting to feel like I needed some fuel.)

When we hit the West Side Highway, I was expecting us to turn south and just head straight for the finish, but instead we had a little out-and-back heading north… which also happened to be heading right for my old apartment. Oh, West End, I miss you! But I didn’t end up making it back to the area of my old apartment this trip… maybe next time.

The entire highway was pretty windy, and most of the miles in this section blended together. The wind was pretty strong though, and even beyond that, I was getting tired – the three nights of staying out late and drinking were catching up to me, and it probably would have behooved me to eat a carb-heavy meal or two the day before the race instead of subsisting on fried chicken, chips, and salsa! (An energy bar before I started the race wouldn’t have hurt, either.) But these miles of the race had a decent amount of spectators and also a few musical groups performing, so I picked up some energy from them every time my own energy started to dip.

Finally, though, we reached Battery Park City – an area I knew well, since I worked on a client there for several months. There were a lot of spectators in this area, presumably local residents, and I was psyched for their support. Plus, there was the twelve mile mark – just one mile to go! The marker was placed right before the entrance to the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, and we headed down into the (relative) darkness for the final mile.

Yuck – this was my least favorite part of the race! It was dark enough down there that I couldn’t see all that well, and there were more than a few potholes, so I was a bit concerned about tripping. Plus, my Garmin didn’t have service in the tunnel, so I wasn’t entirely sure how much further it was to the finish. (Although I could figure it out by doing the math of approximately nine minutes for the mile, and knowing how much time till I’d hit mile 13.) While the out-and-back in Harlem had been a course change this year, the tunnel has been a feature of the race every year, and I was surprised more people don’t complain about this part. It is just no fun! I suppose that NYRR wants us to get to run by the World Trade Center, but I wish it were possible for us to cross to the east side at Chambers Street or even head all the way down to South Ferry rather than going through the tunnel.

But the literal light at the end of the tunnel was the “400 meters to go!” sign, which appeared shortly after we exited the tunnel. Woo hoo! That put a smile back on my face and encouraged me to push a little harder. It’s been a while since I’ve done a half marathon, but I noticed that most of the other runners also started picking up the pace to get to the finish faster too, which surprised me. That doesn’t happen nearly as much in full marathons! I liked it, though, because it encouraged me to go a few seconds faster to keep up with the crowd. (And it was still pretty crowded, since this was a 21,000 person race.)

Finally, after a few turns, the finish line was in front of me, and I gave just a slight extra kick to bring it in strong. I hadn’t really had a time goal, but I was happy to be able to finish sub-2 without having done any training. (Aside from the Rock N Roll Nice 10 miler, I hadn’t run over 3 miles in months.) I definitely need to start training if I hope to run a spring marathon this year, but I was glad that my legs had some muscle memory to do at least 13 miles at a pretty solid pace.

And more importantly, I was so grateful for the opportunity to run in my old hometown, past all the places that meant so much to me. I may complain about the Battery Tunnel, but this course was actually pretty perfectly designed in terms of taking me past so many familiar landmarks – there wasn’t a single step on it that I hadn’t run already on my own. I was grinning like crazy when I finished, even despite the cold and how completely inadequately I was dressed when I stopped running and started to cool down and shiver.

NYC Half Finish
All smiles 🙂

But the perfect fix for the freezing subway ride back to my hotel? A hot shower and one final brunch before I flew back to Texas… at Katz’s Deli.

Katz's Deli Matzo Ball Soup
Because what’s more New York than half a pastrami sandwich and bowl of matzoh ball soup?

Race stats:
Distance: 13.1 miles
Time: 1:58:11
Pace: 9:09/mile
Overall place: 8,924/20,790
Gender place: 3,264/11,009


2 thoughts on “Race Report: NYC Half Marathon”

  1. Yay Laura! You look (and sound) so happy when talking about this race. Congrats! I can only imagine what it would be like to go back and run in a place I used to live. I’ve always wanted to go back to my college town for a race 🙂 I’m such a nostalgic person in general…so that’s gotta be the best feeling! Also, I am always so amazed by your ability to crush a race on so little sleep. You’re amazing!

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