Monday, March 19, 2012

Race Report: The 2012 New York City Half Marathon - Part I

For better or worse, at this juncture in my life I am in love with two things: running and New York City. You can therefore imagine my delight when, yesterday, I had the opportunity to experience the best of both in the New York City Half Marathon.

After getting back from the Expo, Marilyn and I determined our plan for the morning. I spent the afternoon doing laundry, watching TV, and running. Maybe I shouldn’t have run, but I wanted to keep things as close to normal as possible. I get myself into trouble when I start doing pre-race things that I don’t normally do. They make me nervous, and rarely have a good effect on my race performance. So I did a six mile run the night before, trying to keep it slow (I could feel myself speeding up) so that I could preserve most of my energy for the race. Is it something I might have regretted? Perhaps. Ultimately, it came down to an understanding of my routine and current level of fitness to know that getting that six miles in would do more mental good than physical harm. I regret nothing!

Marilyn arrived at my apartment at about 6:15. In terms of attire, I decided to wear my Nike Tempo 2 in 1 shorts and a Nike sleeveless top. It looked like the temperature might reach the 70s during the day, so I thought I would prepare for that rather than dress warmly and be hot. I also wore the jacket I got at Multisport World to the start, where Marilyn and I walked from my place because the subways between those two points are a little inefficient.

I initially wasn’t sure whether or not to keep my jacket. It was cold for what I was wearing, but again, I was banking on the temperature rising significantly (it didn’t). So I took a risk, checked it, and then dealt with being cold for the hour or so between when we got into the corrals (~6:50) and when I crossed the start line (~7:50).

The Course
For the purpose of review and discussion, I’ll split the course into three parts: Central Park, 7th Avenue, West Side Highway. The race started out on the West Side just south of the 72nd street transverse. Predictably (15,000 participants!), it took a long time to start. I didn’t cross the line until a good 15-20 minutes after the gun went off.

The Central Park portion of the race consists of one full (6 mile) loop. While it’s certainly not mountainous, Central Park is also not flat. The first hill of note came around a mile in. It’s just past the Boathouse and is known as Cat Hill. Even worse than that, though, is Harlem Hill, which is at the very north end of the park. I knew the park loop would be more challenging than the rest of the race, so I did a good job of pacing, trying to make sure that I was doing just under 9 minute miles because I didn’t want to lose any ground early on. So I watched every mile marker, making sure the second digit of each time was at least one less than the last (27, 36, 45, 54, etc.). It required some math on the fly. But I like math, so it worked out.

Once we hit the final mile of the park, I was ready to break out onto 7th avenue. I knew it would be filled with cheering spectators, including my roommate Jeremy and his boyfriend, Giri, who were waiting for us outside our apartment building, which is conveniently right on the course. As we exited the park, I could feel myself speeding up. I couldn’t help it! The adrenaline was kicking in and my view of Times Square opened up. I was energized by the beautiful chaos that is my favorite city. We crossed 59th street, passed Carnegie Hall, my apartment (Jeremy took a nice picture of me coming in for a high-five), the Barclays (formerly Lehman) building, which is a point of interest since I used to work there. Then we entered the heart of Times Square and the crowds grew. People held signs and reached their hands out for high fives. Spectators read runners’ names off their shirts and cheered these total strangers on.

Before I knew it, we were turning onto 42nd street and beginning the journey over to the West Side Highway. From Central Park to the West Side Highway couldn’t have been more than a 2 mile stretch, but it was definitely my favorite part of the race. And by this point, I wasn’t even doing any math on the mile markers. I knew I was going fast and all I did was make sure I stayed at a pace I could maintain for the duration of the race.

Oh, also, as we ran along 42nd street between 7th Avenue and the West Side, I made my one and only Gatorade grab. It was a massive failure. I grabbed a cup that was only about a third full, drank 3 swallows, and promptly spilled the rest of it down my shirt. Remember, kids, it’s not a race until you slop water and/or Gatorade all over yourself.

I finally got to the West Side and was well into the second half of the race. This part is kind of a blur. I was still moving, but this section was more monotonous than the first two and certainly 7th Avenue. To its credit, though, the views of the waterside and Freedom Tower were nice and constant. We also passed the Javits Center, Chelsea Piers, and the Meatpacking District before moving toward Battery Park. The first half of the last mile went through the Battery Park Underpass, which was a surreal end to the race but also a source of much spirited hootin’ and hollerin’.

The last half mile or so was slightly east of the Seaport, in the Financial District. As we exited the underpass, there was a sign that read 800 meters. Even though I was enjoying myself and knew that I’d finish well, it was the longest 800 meters of my life. Crossing the finish line was exhilarating, and as I stopped the timer on my phone, I knew I’d killed it.

I’m working on an in-depth analysis of my time and splits. That’ll be in a separate post, coming soon!

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