Mind over matter...Never give up

Monday, August 17, 2009

NYC Half Marathon, Aug 16, 2009

Leading up to this big race, I was getting really nervous and thinking maybe I shouldn't run. I'd been having knee issues for the last few weeks...first just stiffness/range of motion issues but more recently soreness that seemed to slow me down a bit, though I could still run. But how could I pass on running this race? We'd been planning this trip to NY since April. Got cheap tix on Southwest for the whole family. Our friends and family kindly agreed to put us up for the long weekend and we had plans for a kids day out in the city on Thurs, a parent's nite out on Friday and some more fun with family and friends on Sat and Sun. So I figured I really should at least try to run the race even though I had only run 3 miles on Tues and 3 on Friday and both days my knee was a bit sore.

So I went into this race with expectations a bit lowered (though secretly of course I would have loved to have had a miracle happen and run a PR but guess that is true for every race). I was put into the second corral (actually corral 1, since 0 is the first corral), for bib numbers 1000 to 1999. This placement was based on my predicted time for this race on my application and perhaps my recent half marathon race time (1:40 and 1:36:07 respectively). I was concerned about getting trampled when I heard this but in the end once I saw the crowd in the corral and how varied the field in there appeared I was glad I was in that group. Any farther back and I would have gotten stuck behind the crowds.

The day first began at 3:30 am in Raritan NJ. Yikes...certainly the earliest I've EVER gotten up for a race so far. I was worried about getting there on time since the PATH train from Hoboken NJ into NYC runs only every 30 minutes that early in the AM on a Sunday. And I had almost a 1 hr drive to get to Hoboken...in the dark, alone, while trying to use my iPhone to navigate and I've never driven there before, despite being a passenger driving into Hoboken a number of times. So I got up early, got ready, ate some oatmeal which I usually don't eat...I know, big no-no to eat something you don't usually. I drank some water and gatorade and packed up my stuff and got on the road. I drove pretty fast since I was so worried about getting there on time. I didn't get lost until I got to Hoboken and then got a bit confused on where the parking garage was but found it in time.

I was still nervous about making the train since it was almost 10 after 5am and I heard the train leaves every half hour a few minutes before the half or full hour. So I tried to quickly decide which things to bring. I was not comfortable checking a bag at the race and with no one else there to hold my stuff and no car in the city near the finish to keep it, I was in the unusual position of needing to determine what I should bring and would have to run with and what I would need to wait until I returned to Hoboken to get. While I had been thinking for days on what to bring, it really came down to a last minute decision. I decided I would bring my iphone for emergencies and of course needed some Gu, money for cab fare, ID and a credit card. So all that fit into my fuel belt pocket. Normally I wouldn't bring my fuel belt for a race since I am ok w. stopping at water stops and they had plenty of them on this course. But since I was needing to bring all this other stuff I figured I may as well wear the belt too and bring some Gatorade. I left the water in the car, since I knew there would be plenty of that. I figured bringing my blue Gatorade would be useful since I am not a fan of the lemon lime served at most races.

So with that, I headed to the PATH station, along with other runners heading in from NJ. So at least I knew I hadn't missed the train! I spoke to a few other runners to figure out how they planned to get to the race start. It's not a very convenient place to reach since it's on the East side of Central Park. So once I got off the PATH I just followed those folks who seemed like they probably knew where they were going. Turned out there were plenty of cabs, so rather than navigate the public transportation underground I figured it would be better to take a cab. I got there in plenty of time (1 hr ahead) so was glad for that. I could tell immediately the race was well organized. Plenty of volunteers, port a pottys (the ultimate sign of a good race!) and it was very clear where the corrals were and where to go. I walked to my corral and heard my name being called. Jeff, the only other RTR member running the race, was there with his wife Allison and we were able to chat for a bit and then we headed to our respective corrals. How surprising that in a sea of 10,000+ runners we'd be able to find each other. But I suppose that is because most runners weren't there that early, it got much more crowded after 6:30 am.

I ate my second breakfast that I brought along (Sugar Corn Pops and a banana) while stretching a bit and making a few trips to the porta pottys. The corrals allegedly closed at 6:35 am but I am not sure that actually occurred. Around 10 min before the race we were allowed to move forward towards the start. Several of the professional runners took the podium (which I couldn't see from where I was but could hear) to say a few words as did the deputy mayor and some NYRRC folks. It was a little after 7am now and I really just wanted to start running so I could see how my knee would feel and so I could be done faster!

While I was in the middle of talking to another runner about her prior races the horn sounded (didn't hear the ready, set...). But of course it took a while to get moving and to cross the start line anyway. By the time I got to the start and my official time started, I was at least jogging fairly quickly. Still I was surprised at the bit of congestion given how far up in the corral system I was. I highly suspect there are still folks who overestimate their predicted time to start farther up than they should! But I was able to move up fairly quickly with a little dodging in and out.

I was moving along at a pretty fast pace and was surprised that my knee wasn't hurting. I had taken some acetaminophen when I woke up and then again about 3o min before the start as well as used aspercreme before leaving the car, all as preventive measures. The most annoying thing in the early miles was realizing that my phone caused my fuel belt to bounce significantly. So I had to remove the pouch that had my phone and Gu in it from the belt and carry it. That was the whole reason I took the belt to begin with, to hold the phone and Gu. So now I was destined to wear the belt AND carry the phone for the rest of the race. Grrr! The first 2 miles were fast (7:10 and 7:12) but it was mile 3 that the hills I remembered came along. I had run the Manhattan Half Marathon in NYC back in 1999 and again in 2001. That race was 2 laps around the park, a very tough course. I had hoped that I was exaggerating how hard that was, or that running in hilly Umstead in Raleigh would make it seem easier. Not so much! I felt pretty tired after mile 3 and wondered if I was in over my head running that fast (mile 3 pace was 7:30, so definitely slower). But I was committed to continuing of course since my knee was still fine which had been my biggest concern originally. So I focused on taking in some Gatorade early on and also my first Gu at the next water station (mile 4.5 or so). Mile 4 was faster but mile 5 was hilly again so was slower. Mile 6 was even a few second slower than 5. I was just really tired of being in the park and wanted to be done with that.

I can't describe how happy I was to round the corner out of the park and onto 7th Avenue. The thought of continuing for another lap around the park like the Manhattan half, was unbearable so I was thankful that this race was only one lap with the rest on the streets. The crowds were amazing, lots of people, bands playing, and the sight of Times Square from about 20 blocks away was motivating enough to speed me up. I switched my watch to check the current pace instead of the average and caught myself at times running a crazy fast pace. The average time for mile 8 was 6:52 so obviously I was motivated! It was great to approach Times Square and see and hear the large karoke screen and band playing "Walking on the Sunshine" by Katrina and the Waves. I always like that song and found myself smiling and sort of singing the words. As I rounded the corner onto 42nd Street, I felt pretty good.

Miles 9, 10 and 11 were definitely slower despite being much flatter than Central Park. I was getting pretty tired by then and around mile 10 or so my quads were feeling sore. I kept taking as much Gatorade as I could hoping that would help. But I was really just plain tired and thought that a 15K would be a perfect distance for me, but unfortunately this was not a 15K! Running along the West Side highway was definitely tough. The sun was shining by that time and so I tried my best to avoid it using shadows of buildings and trees. I also found myself running along the middle of the white line down the road which was annoying but I couldn't stop myself from doing it, just kept gravitating towards it. It's definitely harder to run there than the exciting parts along 7th Ave and Times Square. There are spectators but fewer, and there were DJs playing music around miles 11 and 12. I recall hearing "Welcome to the Jungle" by GNR which was pretty motivating (they were pretty popular as I was entering college).

I decided I would just try my best to keep a decent pace but really felt I couldn't go much faster. I knew that I was close to, but wouldn't achieve, my prior PR of 1:36:07 by the time I reached mile 10 or so. So I thought I'd set a new goal of under 1:37. This is the time needed to qualify for the NYC Marathon next year. I really didn't need to meet this time though since I already met that time in the ZOOMA Annapolis race (and didn't even realize it at the time). And I probably won't run the NYC Marathon next year anyway since I am running it this year. But after mile 12 I figured that meeting 1:37 wasn't highly likely either and just tried my best to get under 1:38. I did run the last mile faster at 7:15. In the end my time was reported via the Athlete Tracker emails as 1:38:50 which seemed a bit slower than I thought. My splits also seemed slower. Of course that was because the Athlete Tracker (which is a great tool for spectators to get splits emailed to them real time to more easily locate their runners) uses gun time, not chip time, duh! So in the end my official results: 13.1 = 1:38:06, avg pace = 7:29, splits: 5K = 22:59, 10K = 46:34, 15K = 1:09:47, 20K = 1:33:12. Some other fun facts: overall place = 730 of 10,179, gender place = 127 of 5140, age place = 23 of 744.

Finishing felt great since I was really tired and my quads were pretty sore. My stomach was feeling a bit upset too, maybe from the heat or more Gatorade than I am used to. I looked for Jeff from RTR and was able to spot him easily since I knew his goal time and he was wearing a bright green shirt. After getting some really great cold wet towels (best idea ever!) and our medals, we got to take our official race photos and took some of each other too. I was glad to have my iPhone at that point though carrying it was annoying.

I walked around Battery Park for a few minutes since I'd never been there and then caught a taxi to the PATH station at WTC. I got to peek through the fence to get a quick glimpse of ground zero which was strange to see. I had never seen it even though I lived in NJ post 9/11. I did think about the WTC victims during the last few miles a bit to keep me going. I saw they are starting construction on the new WTC which is awesome...a real showing of how resilient America is. I didn't spend much time near the WTC site but was glad I got to see it for a few minutes.

I was soaking wet with sweat and I needed to get back to shower and either have lunch or nap (wasn't sure which yet). I met the two women from Hoboken that I had originally spoken with on the train on the way to the race which was cool. They are part of a running club in Hoboken. Once off the train in Hoboken I walked w. them to Starbucks and then walked w. them until I reached my parking garage. Then I drove the almost hour back to Raritan where we were staying with friends, but it seemed faster on the way back. I decided in the end I was more hungry than tired so I showered and went to a great brunch in Warren, NJ. Later we drove to my sister's house near Trenton and I got to take a much needed nap before an awesome post race dinner of ribs, potato salad, creme brulee, and red wine.

I really had just gotten back to running seriously this year after running a few 5Ks at the end of 2008. This race was the first one this year that I didn't set a PR. Of course it had to happen eventually, not every race can be a PR. I had a feeling that with such a fast, flat race in Annapolis in May, combined with my knee issues (which turned out to not be an issue for this race), that this would be the race that I would not get a PR in so I was sort of prepared for that. It was a great race overall, great practice for the NYC Marathon and a great weekend with friends and family so I was glad to have run it.