Friday, March 20, 2015

My 2015 NYC Half Race Report

After last Friday's post, I'm sure you've been waiting with bated breath to learn how the NYC Half went for me--that is, unless you already looked up my time on or, perhaps more likely, you just don't care.You're here, though, so I might as well tell you about it.

Last Sunday proved to be near perfect racing weather. Although it rained all day Saturday and I got soaked on my shakeout run, the weather gods saw fit to close the heavens sometime around midnight. The temperature also cooperated, hovering around 40 overnight and holding into the early morning hours.

Even though I live very close to the start, I still set my alarm for 4:45 a.m., almost three hours before gun time, to give myself plenty of time to eat and digest my typical pre-race bagel with peanut butter.

In addition to the bagel, I tried something new this time--and yes, I know you're not supposed to try new things on race day--I took a Red Ace concentrated beet juice shot. In the two weeks before my last several marathons I've had one to two glasses of beet juice a day, but stopped the day before the race. This was the first time I actually took one of these shots pre-race, as the bottle directs.1 I was a bit worried about possible GI issues, but I seemed to do fine. In other words, I did not see an increase in the half-dozen trips I already make to the port-o-potty pre-race.

I left my place at 6:30 a.m. to make it to Central Park South before baggage closed and bumped into a couple of Whippet friends who were also running. We chatted as we passed through security but split up when it was time to "do our business." I made it my corral several minutes before its 7:10 a.m. closing time and made my way to the front where I'd arranged to meet up with a few teammates--Steve, Jonathan, and Will--looking to run a similar pace. In the corral I also bumped into one of my good non-Whippet running friends, Helen, a member of Athena New York. Having folks to chat with definitely helped to pass the twenty minutes of idle time.

The Race

Despite being in the second corral ("corral 1" because there was actually a "corral 0"), it was super crowded at the start. It took around 20 to 30 seconds to cross the line and even then the course was packed. A slow start isn't a bad thing because the race starts by going up Central Park's infamous Cat Hill. I had hoped to stick with my teammates, but early on Steve and Jonathan began to pull ahead. I didn't have a real pacing plan for this race, but I knew I didn't want to start too fast so I tried not to worry about keeping up with them.

Photo Credit: Shawnessy Dusseau
As the course did a dog leg outside of the park onto Central Park North, I saw numerous other teammates and tried to catch up with Steve, Jonathan, and Will. I pushed it a little at this point and crossed the 5k in 20:30, a 6:36 pace. Of course, as soon as you pass the 5k, you begin an immediate climb of roughly 1/3 of a mile. I definitely slowed down here as I watched the guys drift ahead again.

The NYC Half course is actually almost perfectly divided into 5k segments. The first 5k gets you to the top of the park and the second 5k gets you back to the bottom and onto 7th Avenue. I knew that this second 5k would be the most difficult portion of the course--it's the hilliest section--and so I told myself not to worry if I slowed a little. I would make up time, and hopefully catch up with my teammates, during the second half of the race.

I hit the 10k in 40:51, meaning I'd run the second 5k at a 6:33 average. Steve and Jonathan were easy to spot and could see them only 10 to 15 seconds ahead which gave me some hope. Right after the 10k was a water stop that had a surprising number of Whippets manning it, including our coach Scott--I say surprising because our "official" team water station was supposed to be at 42nd and 10th, between miles 7 and 8. This early sighting gave me an extra boost and just as I made the turn onto 42nd St I caught up with Steve and Jonathan. Soon we passed the rest of the Whippet volunteers and got some great cheers. I felt a serious second wind but wasn't sure what to attribute it to--the cheers, the beet juice, Gatorade? 

Just before mile 8 the course turned onto the West Side Highway, going north for two blocks before abruptly u-turning south. I tried to run with the turn to avoid losing momentum. There didn't seem to be much wind coming from the Hudson, which was something I'd been worried about. At this point I knew I had a flat stretch of roughly four miles before the final set of turns. I settled into what felt like a comfortable pace--not to say it felt easy--and crossed the 15k in 1:00:38--I had improved to a 6:22 pace for that 5k.

With a little over 5k to go, I focused on the downtown skyline and the runners ahead of me. I could see Will, who had started to pull ahead shortly after the turn onto the West Side Highway, and I made it my goal to keep him in sight. Steve and Jonathan were behind me now though I wasn't sure by how much. I was also still worried about being overtaken by the 1:25 pace group, which had been on my tail since 7th Avenue.

Somewhere around mile 10 a few teammates were posted up along the bike path and they gave me a boost as my legs were starting to feel fatigued. At Chambers Street, just after mile 11, the last set of Whippet cheerers--including one of our phenomenal photographers, Atsede--were waiting and it was great to have another push.

Photo credit: Atsede Aemro-Selassie
At mile 12 the course took a slight left into the Batter Park Underpass. This section hadn't been a part of the half when I'd run it before and I'd only been in the tunnel in a car a handful of times. Although I had heard negative things about it, it wasn't so bad. I knew that once I emerged on the other side the finish line would be close at hand. I crossed the 20k--roughly halfway through the underpass--in 1:20:16, a 6:20 pace for that 5k. The climb back to street level was so gradual that I didn't feel any slowdown.

Shortly after we exited the tunnel I saw the sign for 800 meters to go. It seemed like it had to be longer at this point since we were still on South Street and I knew we had to continue north to Maiden Lane before making the final two turns, but I tried to pick things up. It must have worked because I ran mile 13 in 6:15.

There was a runner who had been just ahead of me since we exited the tunnel and I really wanted to catch him before the finish. As soon as we made the final turn on Water Street I gave it everything I had. I could see the official clock was nearing 1:25, the time hoped to beat--I beat the time, but not the other runner. Running the final .1 at roughly a 5:50 pace, I crossed in 1:24:29, making it my fasted half time in at least two years.  I was thrilled!


After finishing, I met back up with Steve and Jonathan. They weren't far behind me and we found other teammates, including Will who'd had a big PR, as well as Helen and her boyfriend, who runs for CPTC. It was a very celebratory atmosphere, though given the wind and cloud cover, I was anxious to get my checked bag and put on warm clothes.

I had a lot of fun and having the support of teammates was a big reason for that. I'm not sure if I'll run this race again next year, but I'm sure glad I got a chance to do it this time around.

1 If you're unfamiliar with the science behind beet juice's performance-boosting properties, check out one of these articles.

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