The time was a mere 37 seconds faster than my last record half (Brooklyn Half Marathon 2013) but for me it is a WHOPPING 37 seconds. And it all started off so badly!
First of all, as you are all aware, this winter has been quite drastic to say the least. With the weather being so…wintery…it was hard to get out the door and run. It was dark, icy, dangerous and bitter, bitter cold. And of course, riding off the high of achieving my first Full Marathon (blog post to come!) last November, I wasn’t super motivated to go out and kill myself in the park in 6 degree Fahrenheit weather over black ice with frozen toes and nose and burning red legs (even with the running tights) so I did a little relaxin’ and allowed myself to skip runs (which was probably a good and safe idea most of the time, but probably not all of the time…)….
Anyway what I’m trying to say is that from January to mid February, I wasn’t really on a regular running schedule and my mileage took a dip. And I realized I needed something to train for to motivate myself again. I had various races but I hadn’t really cared about them other than I wanted to just do them. I had toyed with the idea of the NYC Half as being the next target race around Thanksgiving 2013, but I hadn’t done much about it. So, seeing I needed something to grasp onto to get back on track (I prefer to average 30 miles per week as ‘maintenance’), I decided to whip myself back into a shape that might get me a PR. Although it wasn’t the easiest course to choose with the hills of Central Park – including Harlem Hill…ugh) I thought at least the weather would be PR-able since I definitely suffer less in 30 degree weather (as it was supposed to be that day) than in 70 degree weather when it comes to running. Plus next Brooklyn Half, I’ll be just back that week from an awesome trip to Zambia!!!
Back to running, I managed to make a schedule and stick to it. I upped my mileage every week and scheduled a proper taper. Although the pre-work runs still sucked, I had a reason to force myself out to do them and I’d enjoy my long Sunday runs even more because of it (I could wait until 11am to run and it would be Light out!). I rested three days before the race rather than my usual 2 to factor in the day before the race when I had taiko practice which makes my arms and legs sore. Fernando made Papi’s fresh tomato sauce for my pasta. I was ready!!!
The morning of the race came and I had my tea and headed out. We unfortunately didn’t read the whole race book because we got off the subway to cut across the park to the Start Line only to find out that they blocked the whole thing off (except for pedestrians which Fernando could have been!). No big deal, I’d warm up by going around. Around we went, and what did I find at the point of entry? A HUGE bottleneck. I could not get in the park! Finally I snuck in elsewhere and ran along the corrals. Where were the bathrooms? I needed to go one last time…so I asked and was directed way far off. I hadn’t seen Fernando either since we left so I could get ahead to the bathroom and corral. I finally gave up and turned back to my corral. And what was I told? “This wave is closed, you’ll have to wait for WAVE 3.” WTF!?!
I was furious. I mean, I paid a lot of money to run this thing and they’re not letting me run when I am supposed to! It’s not like they even really started! I called Fernando and found him, he wisely stayed helpful and empathized…anyway, there goes my PR, I thought. There is no way to PR with 15 thousand people in front of you even if you aren’t in the back of the LAST wave when you should have been 3 corrals from the front of the FIRST wave. I was going to punch someone.
And then there was a volunteer, standing on the rails as a beacon of hope. I saw he was actually listening to what the runners were saying. So we approached and I begged him to let me in. He looked at my bib number and said “You’re supposed to be way up there!” I said “I know, they wouldn’t let me in!!” So he looks around and says the magic word: GO.
I frantically ripped off my jacket and said my goodbye to Fernando and got his good luck wish. I ran through the now empty corrals to the back of the first wave. I shuffled forward as best I could, but I was still behind thousands and I hadn’t been able to go to the port-a-potty. Oh well, this was the best it was going to get.
Crossing the Start Line, I took off at a comfortable yet quick speed. Let me tell you though, I was pretty pissed for the first four miles, especially where we cut out of the park in Harlem for two avenue blocks, around the circle and back again. Because this was really shitty. I was constantly getting stuck behind people and not able to pass, and in the street section it was even worse, I wanted to punch someone yet again. I lost time getting stuck and I lost energy trying to get around. How would I make up for this later??? I tell you, I have never hated NYRR so much.
But, things got better. Harlem Hill separated a lot of people, making some space. I had to be conscious the whole park route to maneuver between people. Exiting the park was the best feeling ever, as we ran out to the large open space that is 7th Avenue and I had a chance to see Fernando waiting by Times Square. He was there!!! I cheered up big time. NOW I could concentrate on getting a PR.
Being familiar with the rest of the course was helpful in pacing myself – I knew the West Side Highway would 1. flat (yay), 2. concrete (boo), and LONG (meh…it’s a half marathon after all!) Last year I remember being surprised about how long it seemed to take and checking the street signs a lot. This year I forgot to even look at the street signs (missed my cheering friend Melissa!) and I got really focused on keeping my pace. I started my calculations all the way back in the park because I felt so slow and wasn’t sure I had a chance to PR anymore – I’d have to run less than 7’21” per mile. I started gaining back the time lost on the flat stretch and lo and behold, the PR was back on the table / concrete! The plan was to do 8 miles in one hour and try to do the last 5.1 in less than 36 minutes and I was on target. I was really concentrating (really! I didn’t even look or smile at cameras, at least I don’t remember). All my attention was to my pace and breathing, monitoring any leg fatigue, and maneuvering (yes, unfortunately still) around the slower people ahead of me. I was on track to PR despite it all!!! Mwahahahahaha!
And then the tunnel came. Once again, it was a bit farther and a bit longer than I had thought or remembered. Maybe it’s because by the time you hit it (Mile 12ish) you’re already pretty freakin’ tired. The tunnel was definitely darker than I remembered. At some points I felt I couldn’t really see the ground. And I sorta missed the breeze. Anyway, my GPS a that point became completely useless as did the chip in my sneaker apparently (kinda gave me some wacko stats when I plugged it in later) and I was only relying on the time.
Out of the tunnel I emerged, up that unforgiving ramp. I didn’t like it last year, and I didn’t like it this year. It tired me out when I was already tired and never feel recovered until it’s over. I hauled myself up thinking how it was almost over and saw a sign saying 800 meters to go. I glanced at my watch. Oh. My. Lord. What I saw was not happy. I was only 2 minutes away from my goal time and I had half a mile to go. I cannot run half a mile in 2 minutes, no way. I had a mental panic. I didn’t make it! What happened? Did I slow down in the tunnel because it was dark but I couldn’t tell I was slowing? Did I leave half of my muscles on the ramp? WHAAAAT!!!?
Instead of letting myself get too depressed, I pressed on, even freakin’ ran faster (or what I perceived as faster, lord knows at that point). What the hell. I had been on track. I had tried so hard. I even got over that shit in the beginning when I forfeited the potty for sneaking in at the end of my wave, a wave I deserved to be near the front(ish). If I wasn’t going to PR, I’d get damn well close to it.
Running, running running…..so many turns at the end of this half marathon. It’s inspiring to see the FINISH ahead and yet with the twists and turns of the finish at Wall Street, you’re never really sure where the heck it is. I saw the 400 meters sign and after that just gave it all that was left. I saw the Finish Line and muscled it out. No cheery smile, no hands in the air. Just concentration to get there as quickly as possible.
And then I turned off my watch. But…wait, what was that showing in Time Elapsed? I could not believe my eyes. I freakin’ did it!!!! I finished under 1:36:00!!! What the heck? I swear, I was talking to myself at that point. Just saying to myself over and over again “I did it. I did it.” I was all smiles then. I was so excited. I’m still excited. New Personal Record – 1:35:39!
So I am the proud runner who gets to say I’m officially 37 seconds faster than before. It may not seem like a lot to be celebrating over, but the fact that I did it with all those troubles and apparent delirious watch reading (I truly don’t know if I miss read my watch or why I thought I had 2 min to PR or bust, but I am not going to question it) and with a slack start to training and a cold and icy winter and EVERY other obstacle that every runner faces every now and then, I am proud to be 37 seconds faster. I know it’s a whole lot more meaningful that being 1 second slower.
I didn’t have my phone on me, but I knew if I exited, Fernando would find me (but he had to wait a BIT more since there were port-a-potties on the way and I had a long over due bladder to relieve), and there he was standing on top of some pedestal thing shouting my name. He was deathly frozen by that point and I was getting really cold too, so I added the layers he brought for me and we headed to a deli so I could eat soup and watch the finishers go by. We waited for my friend Tiffany who was accomplishing her very first half marathon. She deserved a big hug for doing as well as she did. It was a great day for all!