Yesterday, I ran the NYC Half Marathon in 1:40:17. I just barely missed my sub-1:40 goal, but I am still very pleased with my effort. My primary goal was to prove to myself that I still had it in me to perform well in a major road race, to give myself confidence for my Chicago Marathon training – and that I certainly did!

While living in London, I used to run so many races – both in the UK and internationally – that these events practically became second nature to me. Each unique training cycle and race experience helped me learn how to better prepare for the next (I’m still learning!) and eventually, racing became a natural part of my life: the training programs; expos; specific pre-race meals; nutrition and pacing strategies; early wake up calls; the logistics of getting to the start line; summoning that fighting spirit to make it to the finish; and of course, the post-race celebrations! Before each event, I would stare at my growing race wall and find comfort – and confidence – in all those bibs and medals that I had earned. Some races went extremely well (NYC marathon), others not so much (Fleet half marathon – but I’m still smiling), and many were somewhere in the middle (Portland marathon).

   

Things have changed since I moved to NYC to begin grad school. I simply don’t have the time, money or energy to race as frequently as I used to do. In fact, yesterday’s NYC Half Marathon was my first race since I ran TNF’s Endurance Challenge half marathon, which I did for fun back in early December. The last race I actually RACED was the Portland Marathon last October, and I hadn’t raced a half marathon since I ran Fleet last March – a year ago! Crazy.

With so much time having passed since my last road race, I expected to be really excited and hungry to get out there and FIGHT for my goal time! I knew I wasn’t at my best, with my hamstring feeling a bit sore and my training lacking a few key components, but as I said a couple days ago, I really wanted to prove to myself that I still had it in me. Plus, I was back on the streets of NYC – how could I not be excited to run down 7th avenue and 42nd street with more than 10,000 other runners behind me, and an impressive field of elites leading the race?!

However, I couldn’t quite get myself into the racing spirit when I woke up on race day. Granted, it was 4:30am and I had hardly slept, but it concerned me slightly. I’m guessing I was just a bit tired, nervous and out of practice – not only had I not raced in ages, but I also hadn’t once practiced things like getting up early to eat my usual pre-race breakfast of oatmeal with water, cinnamon, honey and banana. I hadn’t worn the shorts I planned to race in since the summer, because I hadn’t anticipated such warm race day weather. Most of all, I wasn’t sure how my hamstring would hold up, and I really had no idea what race pace I would be able to maintain given my spotty tempo and hill work. All those variables made me feel pretty uneasy – I definitely called upon all my race memories to reassure myself that everything would be just fine.

E and I made the mistake of getting to Central Park a bit too early – we arrived at 6am for a 7:30 start – but I guess it’s better that we allowed plenty of time than be late. It was my first race starting in Central Park and involving a complete loop of the park. I’m never in the park at night or in the early morning, so that was interesting too – definitely looked a bit eery in the fog, and with so few people out and about! The weather was perfect – slightly chilly, but great once you got going. We decided not to check bags (we brought garbage bags to keep warm), as I had assumed that the baggage drop would be a huge pain, but it actually seemed to be very well-organized, so next time I will bring a bag.

Waiting for the race to start wasn’t too fun – my stomach wasn’t feeling great and I just really wanted the race to be over with. That really isn’t how a runner should feel waiting for the gun to go off at the start line at a major city event…but alas that’s how I felt. Not excited, just wanting to knock out a sub-1:40 and get on with my day.

Runners eventually started to arrive and line up in the corrals. The sky brightened, but not into the sunny warm morning I had expected – I probably could’ve gotten away with wearing my 2XU tights and leaving my sunglasses at home – but that’s okay. I was just grateful to have E with me – we hadn’t done a race together since August – and his presence was very comforting. E was back in the 9,000s and I was in the 5,000s, so we said our goodbyes around 7am.

I still felt a bit blah as the race gun went off – a bit more revved up but not quite as much as I had hoped. My stomach had been acting up until the very last second but thankfully I was able to sneak into the bathroom just in time before my corral set off – I was rock solid after that, which was a relief. I was actually pretty surprised that I was so far back – based on my previous times, I should’ve been more towards the 3,000s, but so it goes with these large races! As a result, the first mile was a bit crowded and I lost some crucial seconds in the early part of the race, but it forced me to start out slow and ease into my race pace.

The park loop was fine – there seemed to be more hills than I remembered, despite having run that loop countless times in the last two months, but they weren’t that difficult. Some runners got in my way as I tried to open up during the downhills to make up time, but it wasn’t as bad as I had feared. Still, those 6M went by pretty slowly. I was just following everyone in front of me – trying to gauge how hard I should push myself and how much I should hold back. Trying to keep myself engaged and interested – that was a slight challenge.

Finally, we made it out of the park and onto 7th avenue, which is where things started to pick up a bit for me, both in pace and in morale. I was grateful to be out of the park and done with the rolling hills – and it was pretty awesome to run down this wide, slightly downhill avenue through Times Square. I love this aspect of the new course – getting the harder half out of the way and knowing that the rest of the course is nice and flat. You can really start to build your pace from there on out!

My plan was to take it relatively easy in the park and then start to push once I reached the West Side highway. I had about 45 seconds between me and my sub-1:40 goal (my Garmin was quite off from the tall buildings and the tunnel later on, so I ignored my average paces and just looked at time) – a bit more than I would’ve liked, due to the crowded start and the hills, but I knew if I paced wisely and really dug deep in the later miles, I could knock off those 45 seconds without a problem. The course was very conducive to getting a negative split!

I was feeling a bit tired from the park so I focused on maintaining a solid race pace of around 7:35 once I hit the West Side highway rather than start pushing. I figured, if I could just stay relatively steady until mile 10 or so, I would have it in the bag. But for whatever reason, I waited until mile 12 to shift gears. I don’t know if I just wasn’t in the mood or I was afraid of blowing up too soon or what – I knew I was right on the cusp (as I almost always am in races, lately) – and it would all come down to whether or not I really had it in me to fight for my goal in the last few miles. I pushed, but a little too late and not hard enough. The tunnel in after mile 12 threw me a bit – I hadn’t expected it and it was pretty long. I kept reminding myself that I had a mile to go and should keep gradually pushing the pace, but mentally, not really knowing when the tunnel would end, and what the course was like in that last mile made me hold back a touch.

We emerged from the tunnel with a short uphill and with 800m to go. Man, that little uphill felt tough! After that, the road was narrow and bumpy, with several sharp turns. I had to weave quite a bit around other runners, which once again forced me to pull back slightly in my pace. After one last turn, I finally made it to the last stretch – 200m with the finish straight ahead! I realized as I prepared to unleash that I had a bit too much left in the tank – I hadn’t dug deep enough and 1:39 was probably out of my grasp by now – but I would still give it my best shot. I started my sprint and out of NOWHERE this photographer jutted out into the course to try to get a runner in front and to the right of me to go to the side to take a finish photo – she slowed down and veered left. I practically ran right into her and almost fell over, finally got around her and then struggled to regain my pace and open back up into my final sprint. WTF?! Infuriating doesn’t even begin to explain how I felt! How NYRR can allow such a thing to happen in a major city race is beyond me. The fiasco only cost me about 5 seconds – but it was still pretty frustrating and completely interrupted my flow.

Now that I think about it, something similar happened in Portland – the photographers positioned at either side of the course have helpers who wait on the sidelines and try to get runners to run in front of the cameras for better photos. That may be fine for people who don’t care about their times, but it is NOT okay to get in the way of runners sprinting to the finish! I care about my TIME not my stupid finish photos!

I realize though that it was mainly other factors – tactical errors in my pacing, motivation issues and problems navigating the course towards the end – that led to my just barely missing my goal in the NYC Half. That’s all stuff that comes with practice, of course, and getting into that killer instinct on race day. I should’ve finished with nothing left – instead I paced too conservatively, pushed but not hard enough and too late and finished feeling tired but a little too energetic. Within a few minutes, my breathing was back to normal and I felt fine – well, my hamstring didn’t feel so great, but that was to be expected. Surprisingly, I crossed the finish line feeling really happy – because I finished feeling so strong. Later on, yes, I started to over-analyze my performance, got annoyed about the photographer, and felt slightly bummed with the time, but after the race I just felt good. It wasn’t the easiest course and I wasn’t having my best day, but I still ran a great time. I hadn’t been overjoyed to race, but once I got into it, I enjoyed the experience. It felt good to get back out there again and test myself. I didn’t fight hard enough, but I didn’t succumb to ambivalence either, as I did at Fleet last year.

Here are my Garmin details as well as my official results: I placed 2,312 of 15,331 overall, 510 of 7,876 women, 132 of 3,198 age place (30-34) with an average pace of 7:40.

Here are a few photos at the finish – me with my ridiculous space blanket cape (thank goodness though, as it was freezing and I had nothing with me to keep warm), with my running buddy (who also just barely missed her goal) and with E (who got a PR by about 15 seconds, but felt that he hadn’t pushed himself hard enough until it was too late). Next time for all of us, I suppose!

   

Clearly we were all pretty happy – it was a fun morning, and races are always more enjoyable when you have friends with you at the end.

After the finish, I didn’t feel that extreme runner’s high that I get after an exceptional race, but I felt positive and proud. I also knew that I had it in me to run much faster, which makes me confident for training this summer. That’s all I really wanted – to feel like I still have it in me to conquer those roads. The real challenge will be staying injury free – that has been a problem in recent training cycles – so I will just have to remain committed to strength training and resting when my body calls for it.

We all grabbed some coffee to warm up and then E and I headed home to take hot showers and get cleaned up for lunch. Sadly, I had NO hot water for some reason, which was very unpleasant, but I guess it forced us to give our sore muscles a bit of icing! After relaxing for a bit and watching the race highlights online, we headed to Five Napkins for my favorite post-race meal – a burger and sweet potato fries. They even had my favorite pear cider! I was very very happy.

  

E is on a plane back to London right now and Spring Break is officially over, so today is a bit of a sad day – back to reality!! The next two months are going to be extremely challenging, but I feel ready for it. The sun is shining all week long, my brain is feeling relatively refreshed after a nice study break and I am very happy that I got to spend some quality time with E.

As for racing…I feel like I need some redemption, as does my running buddy, so we are on the lookout for a nice flat half marathon in the coming months.

My race photos just came in – looking VERY focused, as usual!

   

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