Before Sunday’s half marathon, I spent Saturday evening focusing on getting everything prepared and organized for the race. I put post-race gear such as comfortable shoes, sweatpants and a hoodie in the clear bag provided for bag check, I checked the weather no less than 20 times and consulted other running buddies to figure out the next morning’s layering tactics, I ate a simple pasta dinner, laid out all my gear and relaxed on the couch before going to sleep around 9 pm. Regardless of Sunday’s results, there is nothing I’d change with my Saturday night ritual.
At 5:30 I woke up to quickly have a cup of coffee, make a pre-race breakfast of two pieces of toast with almond butter, honey and banana before heading to the subway. While it typically only takes 25 minutes to get from our apartment to Central Park, I didn’t want to risk missing the 6:45 bag check closure ahead of my corral’s 7:45 AM start time. Due to the cold temperatures, I decided to start the race wearing a cold weather running jacket that has rarely been worn due to it’s large size. But, on Saturday morning, I decided the fleece lining and warmth was more important than bulky fit and appearance.
I wasn’t the only one who had this idea as my subway car was packed with fellow runners and the area around 57th street was packed with runners, supporters and volunteers. I dropped my gear off at bag check and then headed to Starbucks where I hoped to use the bathroom and stay warm since it was a brisk and windy 34 degrees. Unfortunately, Starbucks decided to shut down their restroom so after getting warm for a few minutes, I decided to head through security and head towards the porta-potties.
The security line moved far faster than I expected, even though I was surrounded by both Wave 1 and Wave 2 runners due to my early arrival. The police, staff and volunteers were all very friendly and did their best to expedite the security lines while also answering questions. I followed the other runners in through the park enjoying the beautiful sunrise. The porta-potty line I thought I’d have to wait in was non-existent as there was a line of at least thirty lined up for runners.
Suddenly I found myself ready to run even though it was only 7 AM. I heard a woman near me mention that the bathrooms near the Bathesda Terrace were open and heated. Within minutes, I joined a crowd of over 50 women who were laughing, encouraging and supporting each other. Experienced runners were answering questions of first time runners, strategies were shared, we commiserated over cold weather and laughed at the fact that we were choosing to hang out in a bathroom.
At 7:35 I exited the bathroom and joined the corral for some last minute dynamic stretching before the race. I was a bundle of nerves but excited and thankful for the cool weather since my body tends to perform better in cool weather versus the Summer heat. At 7:47, just two minutes after Wave 2 started, I crossed the starting line.
The first two miles were a complete blur. I felt strong, was running by feel and was telling myself what a great day it would be. The first hill of the course, Cat Hill, felt like a breeze and I smiled as I watched spectators cheer from atop the cat and greeting people at the top. I sipped water at the end of the second mile and saw that we were about to exit the park, a change in the course since I ran it back in 2013. The exit took us down a half mile out and back during which time I saw both Gia and Meggie, who looked strong and happy. As we turned back towards the park, passing the 5k marker (28:21/9:08 pace) I mentally prepared myself for Harlem Hill. I told myself to just put one foot in front of the other, focus on breathing and remember all the hills I’d run over the past few months.
I zoned out so much during these miles that I didn’t even see the four or five mile marker. As I was cruising past the theater, I decided it was time to lose the jacket. Trying not to lose any time, I quickly unzipped it and flung it out towards the grass. Unfortunately, I forgot that my iPhone armband was on my OUTER layer so as I flung the jacket I saw my iPhone fling through the air. As I pivoted back I collided with another runner and over into the grass. Startled and embarrassed, it took me a few minutes to find my iPhone which had conveniently shattered as the iPhone case was one fit for an iPhone 4. Once I put it back on I realized that Spotify and my phone refused to cooperate. I spent four minutes trying to get my iPhone, getting it to restart and then after it restarted, trying to get Spotify to cooperate. As I look back on this I have no idea what I was thinking. Why didn’t I just put it away and run? I’m not perfect and we all make mistakes. But as soon as I saw the four minutes, I knew I had to sprint if I was going to still hit a PR. I decided to sprint towards the park exit knowing that I’d soon reach the flat stretch of Times Square and the West Side Highway. Between the lack of music, my mile sprint to make up time and some muscle soreness, I just couldn’t find my groove. I crossed the 10k marker in 58:24/9:24 pace, a time that I knew was off target from the 9:09 average pace need to PR.
By the time I hit mile 7 in Times Square, where I saw Beth, Leticia and the rest of the amazing cheer squad, I was in tears. There was no way that today was going to be my day for a sub-2 hour race. If we’re going to be honest, which I always am on this blog, I yelled at myself internally for a good few minutes.
Why did you share your PR attempt on the blog or social media?
Why didn’t you invest in a running arm band for an iPhone 6?
Why didn’t you put the armband inside the jacket instead of outside the jacket?
Why’d you try to make up the time in one mile versus slowly across all the miles?
By the time I hit mile 8 I knew that there was no way I could survive beating myself up for five more miles. I saw a Team Achilles runner near me and realized that I needed to focus on the important aspects of the day. I needed to freaking RUN HAPPY. Here I was, lucky enough to have a bib for the NYC Half marathon and run through my city with 20,000 other runners. The weather was perfect, the spectators were amazing and the excitement was contagious. As soon as I made this mental change, the next five miles improved drastically. My pace didn’t improve but I enjoyed the miles. I gave just about child spectating a high five, I hugged friends who I saw along the course, I shared my fuel with runners who needed it more and even let a woman who was crying on the sidelines use my phone.
After running through the downtown tunnel and up the small incline, I finally crossed the finish line in 2:11:23. This time is a far cry from my half marathon PR and recent races. My legs are stronger but yesterday proved that I still have a lot to learn when it comes to racing. In hindsight, the only two things I’d change are having a few long training runs beyond the 10 mile distance to build stamina and invest either an iPod shuffle or use a waistband or armband intended for an iPhone 6.
Yesterday reminded me that running is something I love. Ten years ago when I started running, I did it solely for weight loss and now I’ve come to realize that it is so much more than that. I am not a professional runner nor am I an accomplished runner. I am someone who runs for the camaraderie and friendships it has allowed me to developed over the years. I run for my health and for the sanity those solo runs bring on the worst of days. Any day that my body is able to run 13.1 miles is a good day.
There are people out there that will say this was just another failed sub-2 hour attempt by me and you know what, they are right. But guess what? I’ll never stop trying and I’ll never stop learning. The haters are going to hate but yesterday, the supporters far outweighed the haters. If my failed attempts can help inspire or teach just one person a lesson, then I’ve succeeded. Thank you to each and every person who commented, supported, tracked and messaged me yesterday! Your vibes mean the world and inspire me to keep going and keep sharing!
Huge congratulations to EVERYONE who ran whether you completed your first half marathon, set a PR or ran for fun. Keep on moving and hopefully you guys will stick around for the running adventures because they aren’t going to stop anytime soon. But, what I can promise you, is that running will remain fun for me. It isn’t my career and therefore I can’t put too much pressure on myself. I have four races in the next few months – Cherry Blossom 10 Miler, Flying Pig Half Marathon, Japan Run 4 Miler and Brooklyn Half Marathon. While I will train for each of those, my primary goal is to run happy and run strong. What happens along the way will be up to my body and mind.
Your turn: Why do you keep running?