Nearly 48 hours ago, I crossed the finish line of the United NYC Half Marathon and finished the most physically challenging and rewarding race I’ve ever run. It was 13.1 miles of hills, high-fives, and amazing views (hello, running through Times Square with 19K other runners!!), and I’m still smiling from it. Get ready for a long recap!
I had my usual Kashi & chocolate almond milk, but skipped my coffee; I didn’t need any more caffeine irritating my tummy! The only last minute change I made was adding some arm warmers under my longsleeve Mermaid Club top, and adding my ear-warmers on top of my headband. Which turned out to be, 110%, two of the smartest decisions I ever made.
My cousin had to start her volunteer gig at the finish line at 6:30AM, so she graciously offered to alleviate my anxiety about getting in on time and drive me in with her at 5:30! So she picked me and hubby up, my uncle came with us as navigator, and we were in the city and at the runner drop off area by around 6:15 where we hopped out of the car and she and my uncle made their way to the finish. Once we got to the park entrance, I felt my stomach drop to my feet: it was really real!
But I wasn’t ready to go into the park alone yet. So we walked a quick block and stopped in a Starbucks for some stalling (me) and a cup of tea (Mike), and after 15 mins of my nervous chatting and his reassurance that I’d be fine, we walked back to the park entrance for some more stalling. For some reason I just felt really anxious and needy – not necessarily about my performance, just about being alone I suppose. I’m so used to Mike being there until the gun goes off, this was my first “runners only” start!
And my first time using a “throwaway” Goodwill sweatshirt – it worked perfectly!
So after a few more minutes of milling around, Mike finally gave me one last good luck kiss and sent me on my way into the crowd. Everyone was super friendly and very efficient; the cops at the metal detectors could tell I was anxious and even joked around with me! Once we cleared security after about 5 minutes (super easy), we all flowed into the park as the sun came up.
At about 7:15, I made my first and only pre-race bathroom stop. And right there I should have known something was up: usually I need to use the bathroom at least 2-3 times before a big race like this. I just shrugged it off and assumed that meant I had aced my race-prep, and traveled on to find my corral.
I found the corrals for 10K or so and after walking for what felt like forever to find my 29K corral, I realized I’d been walking in the wrong direction. Wave 3 was at the far end of the park where Wave 1 had just taken off from. But in my travels, I made 2 new friends: Eliza and Nicole, AKA the Goodwill Foragers.
As we searched for the entrance to Wave 3 together, we discovered that all of Wave 1’s discarded items were still scattered around, and they had left us a virtual mall’s worth of warm gear to pilfer while we waited! Eliza found a super warm brown hoodie and a spiffy North Face puffer coat (that she wanted to run in and keep!), and after she found one space blanket for her own legs, she snagged me and Nicole blankets of our own that you can see in the pic up there. It pays to have friends in high places (or friends who have no reservations about hopping over the corral gates to steal free gear). If you guys happen to stumble on my blog – hi and thank you for keeping me company!
After a few more minutes of chatting, we parted ways. It was easy enough to get into the corral, where I psyched myself up, took some nervous pre-race pictures, turned on my Garmin, set up my music, and chatted with my neighbors.
As I prepped, I shed my first Goodwill purchase – a thick red fleece – but quickly realized I was still cold! So once we started moving slowly towards the start line at 8:10, I grabbed a black zip-up sorority sweatshirt that someone had left on a gate and thanked the race day gods for placing it there. It was really a great atmosphere, even at the back of the pack, as finally we crossed the start and began our 13.1 mile journey, cheering and singing the whole way!
I motored along and soaked in the sights for the first mile or so, at which point I had warmed up enough to shed my hoodie. There were awesome, friendly volunteers about every quarter mile clapping and offering high-fives, which I found really encouraging. For a back of the packer like me, it really means a lot to see smiling faces and hear real enthusiasm! My stomach, however, had decided it couldn’t take it any longer, and I had to use a port-a-john at Mile 3. The line was ridiculous, but I had no choice: it was either wait and sacrifice my time, or suffer some unspeakable accident later on. So I went, jumped back into the race, and maintained a steady pace despite some rolling hills at a comfortable 11:30-ish pace.
That is, until The Hill. Those smaller, rolling hills the first 3 miles were a little annoying and had my calves working overtime pretty early in the game, so I tried to keep it easy. But around miles 4 and 5, we faced this absolutely ridiculous hill that went on forEVER. Seriously, even the volunteers along the way went from happy to genuinely concerned. A gentleman that tried to pass me on my right made the most horrendous belching sound and I swore I was going to be covered in vomit any second. It made me gag just hearing it, so I just ducked my head down and powered through. Finally, the volunteers started clapping and encouraging us once again (“You’re almost at the top, you can do it!”), and we had defeated the monster hill.
My stomach must have felt the relief as well, because I need to use the bathroom again at Mile 5! I had no choice and stepped off the course again, and took the opportunity to take a gel and grab some water while I waited. Once I was done, I jumped back in and started up again, renewed and refueled. After just one more mile through the park, we were ready to take on the second half of the race on the city streets!
At this point I took my phone out of my belt so that I could snap some photos, and once I exited the park, I heard a cheer go up – It really was a whole mess of people lining the streets on either side of me, cheering us on and taking pictures! I can’t lie – I cried a bit here.
This was the part of the race that made it all worth it: running through the crowded streets of NYC, stopping traffic in Times Square and taking over the pavement while crowds cheer you on… it was surreal. Seriously, in every one of my race photos from the Times Square part of the race, I look like a fresh off the boat immigrant, marveling at the wonders of this place they call New York City:
In reality, about 80% of me was looking around in wonder at the sights and the other 20% was looking for my husband! Mike had said he’d hang out in Times Square to cheer me on, so I scanned the sidewalks and crowds for him but couldn’t spot him.
As I made it through the main square, I turned my phone on to see if we could text and meet. I must have missed him, I thought. I started to get disappointed – he came all this way and I missed him? Just as I started to get down on myself, my phone pinged: it was him! “Did you get thru Times Square yet?” I excitedly tried to text, “Yes! Passing Madame Tussaud’s..” but before I could finish and send, I heard a voice shout my name. And there was Mike and my uncle, cheering me on not 8 feet away!! I ran to them and hugged them both, and Mike took the opportunity to snap a fun pic of me:
After the usual quick, “How are you feeling?” “Great!” exchange, I got another good luck kiss and took off once again, refreshed.
That is, until my stomach decided to make me take one last stop at around Mile 7. Defeated, I stopped at the port-a-john, did my thing, and just said “screw it”! My time would be shot from all the stops I had to make, so I should just go for it and enjoy the ride for the next 8 miles!
Before the West Side Highway, there were a few bands and DJ’s along the way that I danced to and sang with and high-fived – it was great! Having to take all of those stops put me pretty solidly at the back of the pack, and while I wasn’t completely alone like I have been in other races (hello, Runapalooza!), it was a pretty thin, quiet crowd. Everyone else seemed to be in their own personal hell while I run-danced and sang along to my tunes and chugged along at a pretty solid 12:00/mile pace.
Except for the wall of wind once we got to the highway, the course was totally smooth sailing from miles 8-12. Yes, it was a pretty straight, boring shot along the water, but the fuel/cheering station support was like no other race. Seriously, each stop was like its own little town, with coordinated costumes, signs, wigs, big cardboard hands for high fives, and music. One guy gave me the biggest fist bump of my life and screamed out “We have a BAAAAD ASSSS HERE!” which I laughed at for a good quarter mile!
But somewhere around Mile 9, the hills caught up with me and I started to feel a stabbing pain in the bottom of my left calf. It was then that I realized I hadn’t taken my usual stop-and-stretch breaks that I’d taken every 5 miles in my training. So I pulled over, massaged my calves, did a quick and thorough stretch of both hips, and set off again.
The stretch turned out to be just what I needed, and I only needed to walk a few short times through water stops and to take a gel after that. I had to laugh: at the Mile 10 aid station, my fingers had numbed up so badly that I couldn’t tear the top off my gel. I managed to hold it out to one of the volunteers there and said, “I’m so sorry, but my fingers are so cold – can you open this for me?” Well I must have looked more pathetic than I felt, because two other volunteers jumped to my immediate rescue and cooed, “Of course, we can absolutely do that for you!” with super-concerned looks on their faces. Way to be on point, NYRR volunteers!
In my race prep, I received lots of good advice from folks who ran this race before me, including this: the last stretch along the highway can get pretty boring if you let it, so tie a mental lasso around the Freedom Tower and pull yourself towards it for those 4 miles. It really worked! Soon the Mile 11 sign passed by and I felt absolutely fabulous – so great, in fact, that I didn’t even check my watch again until we passed Mile 12!
At this point, some of the folks who had finished the race before us were doubling and passing us with encouraging words: “It’s just another mile or so, finish strong!” I even ran into an Instagram friend who kept pace with me for a few yards and told me what to expect at the finish: “You’ve just got an underpass and 800 meters, you’ve got this!”
I started passing people left and right and shortened my stride to accommodate my sore calf – it started to stab again, but tweaking my stride really helped and I was even able to pick up the pace as we went down the last hill and into the tunnel. I continued to pick people off, determined to finish strong, and quickly realized this “little underpass” was really more like “the length of the Lincoln Tunnel, surprise!” But I kept on moving, not stopping for pics or water like other people around me were.
After what felt like forever, I could finally see daylight on the other end. The “steep hill” they’d promised earlier was actually nothing compared to the monster hills I’d conquered earlier, so I mentally started ticking off the meters after passing the “800 Meters”. At around 400 meters, I slowed down and stretched a tiny bit more for a strong finish. Once I was set I cranked up the music and hit the gas for a final push unlike any other.
In past races, I started my kick too early and end up burning out, shredded and out of breath by the finish line. But I had paced myself, hydrated well, and despite all of the insane hills, three bathroom pit stops (with waiting lines!), and stretch breaks, I STILL managed to cross the finish line in 2:53:13, just 3:14 shy of a new PR!
Once I passed through the finisher’s chute, I was given my gorgeous new medal, a shiny new superhero cape, and a bag with water, an apple, pretzels, and gatorade. The freezing wind gusts picked up almost instantly, but I lucked out and spotted my cousin relatively quickly at her volunteer post in the finisher’s chute.
Everyone had told me what a ridiculous distance they made runners walk to get out of the finisher’s chute and to their families, and I honestly expected a lot worse than what I found: just about a block and we were free to call up Mike and my uncle who met us a little while later right at the corner where we hung out next to some fancy old famous bar (where George Washington’s tooth evidently resides).
We made the slow walk back to the car about 1,396,284 blocks away (ok, maybe like 6 blocks, but my calves were ON FIRE), and after a quick drive home I was in a warm shower and passed out on the couch with my medal on the coffee table next to me!
While at first I was a bit disappointed at missing a PR, especially by such a tiny margin. But then I did the math and found myself getting re-energized: my nervous stomach added what probably totaled 10 extra minutes, and the hills slowed me down more than I anticipated too – so next month’s fast, flat, beach-side half marathon in Asbury Park is SURE to be where I set my next PR! I absolutely cannot wait to see just how much better I can do!
This race went from “wouldn’t it be nice” to “Holy crap this is really happening”, to “how did I get so lucky to be involved with this race”, to “get this whole thing over with” and finally to “oh my GOSH I can’t wait for next year!” – it truly was the most physically demanding half marathon I’ve ever run and finishing it so strong makes me feel like freaking Superwoman! Sure, I’m sore beyond all measure today, but I feel unstoppable now.
So thank you for a great race, NYRR! I can’t wait to see you guys again soon!