NYC Half Marathon 2018: Race Report

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[Warning: some of this will be boring if you’re not a runner!] On Sunday I ran the United NYC Half Marathon, my first 13.1 miler since I broke my arm last summer. The course is new, starting at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, crossing the East River on the Manhattan Bridge, looping around lower Manhattan (Canal to Houston to FDR drive), then west on 42nd Street to Times Square, north on Seventh Avenue to Central Park, up the Park’s east side hills (yes!), then across the park at 102nd Street, and south with the finish at 75th and Central Park West. The “old” course circled the park before heading south through Times Square and along the Westside Highway—runners raved about the fast downhill to the bottom of the island.

The new course gave us the opportunity to run in two boroughs, BUT for me, it was more difficult than I’d anticipated, having hills over the bridge, on FDR ramp, up Seventh Avenue and in the park. You may say, but you must run hills all the time in Colorado. I do, but somehow, during races they are not as much fun.

The weather was sunny and clear, with bright morning light reflecting off the East River, the play of shadows from the skyscrapers, the brilliant clarity in the park, all perfect. But the temperatures and wind were almost unbearable. My iPhone weather app said it “feels like 19 degrees”, we encountered at least 10 mph headwinds most of the way with gusts up to 15-20 mph at times (and in the canyons of the city, it was cold). My feet didn’t unthaw until about mile five, my toes barely feeling the road for a good distance. I rarely buy race logo gear but needed a windbreaker, hence the yellow jacket you see in the picture. I was so anxious about the weather, even thinking hand and feet warmers would be a good idea (maybe a little uncomfortable for running). I’d vowed to race no matter what, since last year we did bail due to ice/snow, low temperatures and high wind.

Because this was my first significant race in over a year, I ran conservatively. I wasn’t certain my training would fully support an all-out effort and I wanted to finish even if that meant a slower time than last year’s Phoenix Pride Half Marathon in late March 2017. Although truth-be-told, I am so competitive with myself that I really wanted to run as well as last year, but that wasn’t to be.

Early Sunday morning, we took the A and Q trains to Prospect Park. I was easily reminded of commuting to work during the late 1980s from the Upper East Side to Wall Street where every inch of our bodies was squeezed against other travelers. But we were warm!

The crowd gathering at the lower end of Prospect Park (ultimately more than 22,000 runners) was positive and friendly as we waited as early morning dark turned to dawn. The singing of “America the Beautiful” and the national anthem tugged my heart. Then the wheelchair racers, the elite women, then Corral A of Wave 1 were off.

My corral started about 12 minutes after the official beginning of the race. I felt comfortable at my chosen (sort of) pace. I didn’t focus on scenery until we started the climb over the East River and I remembered to check the river view; I then turned my eyes to the West, to the seaport and the financial district where I worked at a securities law firm for two years. Soon we were in Manhattan, the steady beat of thousands of feet on pavement, being careful not to trip in potholes when the rising sun glared too brightly in our eyes, almost blinding us. Again another first, being able to run on FDR drive as it curved slightly east from its northern path, cars on the south bound lines wheezing by in the early morning.

I was very focused, feeling good but never quite warming up, until we entered Central Park. Sometimes during longer runs my mind wanders and I struggle with continuing, convincing myself that there are only three miles left, then two, then hey, it’s all downhill to the finish (which it wasn’t). I didn’t have that urge on Sunday but somehow lost track of the last four miles, thinking I was closer to the finish than I was. My hamstrings started biting and the wind picked up, especially near the backside of the Metropolitan Museum as we climbed the hill near the Reservoir.

I’d dreamed of doing a final “kick” the last mile or two, thinking if I was off-pace I’d be able to make up for it. Well, that was magical thinking! I remained steady, up and down the hills (although the photos show me struggling during the last several hills), but clearly had no big push to make up lost time. By then, the 800 meter and then 400 meter signs to the finish came into view. I was relieved and excited! I’d done it. In hindsight, I think about how I might have planned differently, trained harder, focused more on nutrition, but in the end, I’d finished and almost a smile on my face! In the photo, you see the torso (on my right) of Tiki Barber, a fun fact.

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The statistics are interesting: my time was seven minutes off last year’s half marathon time (maybe the course, maybe the weather, maybe my training, but I noted that the elites’ times were off from the old course by about five minutes so I’m giving myself the benefit of the doubt); I placed 4th out of 56 women in my age group (my unspoken goal of placing in top five met, although I really had hoped for top three!), and in the top 20% of all women in the event. NYRR includes more statistics, including an “age-graded” calculation, i.e., based on your results, what you would have run in your “prime” (in my case, 1:20, so maybe I’d had a shot at being a decent runner if I hadn’t been an attorney, and I might have realized I was athletic and not just one of the nerdy kids when I was young). It’s only a number but it gives me food for thought as I recover and think about what I might be able to do in the future.

The lessons learned: I probably needed more speed work and longer practice runs before race day. Pick a race where the weather might be a bit warmer. Most of all, enjoy the event, meet new people, and be challenged in mind and body. Doug said he was proud of me, for all my self-doubt and anxiety, so I’ll take that as a complement! Some good rest and recovery, time next week with our grandson, and then maybe spring!