I thought I had a plan for the NYC Half. I talked with my coach Wednesday night about how to approach the race and I sat down Saturday night to map out a rough strategy for how I would run a race that just happened to fall six weeks into a training plan built for a race I’m not currently planning to race.
Those plans were smashed to bits a quarter of a mile into the race.
When I was selected in the lottery for the NYC Half, I wanted to get into shape to run fast. I didn’t think I would be ready to chase my PR, but I thought I had plenty of time to get into decent shape and run sub 1:45. Then winter happened and I spent three or four weeks coughing constantly, and training suffered. I had a solid six or seven weeks leading up to NYC, including the Mid Winter Classic 10 miler, but I am not in shape to really throw it down in a race just yet.
So the plan Sunday morning was to start off easy and progressively get faster. I figured I’d start off at like 9:10-9:20ish pace and get faster every 3 to 4 miles. I wanted to end with 3-4 miles at 8:10-8:20ish pace. It would be a hard enough effort to be a solid workout, but not leave me feeling beat up and broken. My goal was to finish strong and be ready to get back to my regular training on Tuesday.
Spoiler alert: That’s not what happened. I’m already burying the lead, so let me write this before moving on, I finished the race in 1:49:23, with an average pace per mile of 8:21.
That plan was a good one, but I got caught up in the crowd. Starting the race in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, I was in Wave 1 corral F. I think when I signed up I predicted I would run 1:45, so I assume that is what everyone around me had planned as well. When the race actually started, it was a long walk (8:30) before I actually started running and crossed the start mat. I tried to go easy, but before I knew it I was running 8:30ish pace.
OK, no problem. Just fall in with the crowd, chill out and slow down a little bit.
Mile 1 ended just shy of leaving the park and just in front of Grand Army Plaza. I was a little nervous that I ran it in just over 8:40 but figured I could slow down at any point. Running along Flatbush Ave. during the second mile, there was a stream of runners to my left heading in the other direction after a quick lollipop turn to make their way to the Manhattan Bridge. I was in a huge pack of runners running 8:30-8:50 and there was a huge pack of runners going the other way running even faster. I wasn’t slowing down here.
And guess what? I never really did. I didn’t slow down when I passed the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets and, for the past two years, SummerSlam. I slowed down a little bit when we climbed up the Manhattan Bridge during Mile 5, but I picked up the pace when it finally leveled off because bridges scare the shit out of me and looking to my right and seeing the East River freaked me out a little bit. I picked it up even more as we started running down the bridge, toward the FDR and I could hear a wave of noise from the crowd of spectators we would encounter after taking the right off the bridge onto the highway (yeah, they closed the highway for a road race, it was fucking wild).
My GPS went a little wonky as we made our way down the FDR. At one point during mile 8 it was half a mile off, then by the time I reach mile 9 it matched up again. So I just tried to ignore it after that and run by feel. My goal at that point was to put in a sort of hard effort, but make sure I always felt in control.
As I ran under the Williamsburg Bridge, I heard someone shouting about an upcoming hydration stop and wondered what that was all about. I looked back and to my right and saw a runner holding a pace sign. I slowed a little bit so I could make my way to a cup of Gatorade, but my real motive was to see what pace group was behind me. I had no idea what time I was on pace for and was curious what neighborhood I was in. When I saw his sign said “1:50” I thought, “OK, cool. Run with this group or stay just in front of them for as long as I can. That would be rad.”
And that is exactly what I did. For the next mile or so, I heard that pace leader behind me. By the time we left the FDR and turned onto 42nd Street, passing the Chrysler Building and Grand Central Terminal, the crowds got a lot bigger and the noise was pretty much constant, I lost track of that pace group. So I was on my own. But with 5k left, I felt really good and just focused on finishing strong.
Then, just before finishing Mile 11 when we turned onto 7th Avenue and ran through Times Square, the race got really fun. It was surreal to run down this street, with all those flashing billboards and massive buildings, with not a single car on the road honking its horn and driving way too fast. I did my best to check everything out, while not slowing to a walk in awe of it all. I’m pretty sure I actually sped up running down 7th, but my GPS was way off at this point (once it said I was running 4:50 pace, then it said I was running 0:00 pace), so I have no idea what I ran for mile 12.
I do know that just before finishing the 12th mile and just before entering Central Park for the final 1.1 of the race I did start to run faster. I was feeling pretty good and in control, so I decided I wanted to finish strong and sort of hard. There was a party atmosphere in the park, with a DJ blasting Tone-Loc at one corner, and crowds of fans waving signs at another.
It was a blast and I felt great for 99 percent of the race. My left calf cramped for a split second in the last 400 meters, but otherwise my body held up tremendously well. My knees were never an issue, which is such a huge relief.
1:49:23 isn’t fast in the grand scheme of things. My PR is nearly 8 minutes faster. But I was a different person at a different time when I ran my PR. That was four years ago, my knees had yet to shit the bed, and I was at the end of probably my hardest, most productive training block ever. Today, I am still working my way back after hamstring and knee injuries put my on the shelf for a big chunk of time in 2017. I spent 2018 getting back into the habit of running and rediscovering my love for putting in miles and slowly starting to train.
1:49:23 was just what I needed, though. I put in a fairly hard effort, but felt completely in control the entire time. And I walked away feeling good about myself and my health. My legs felt heavy and stiff during my 4-miler this morning, but that is to be expected, especially after I spent a shit ton of time on my feet for four days in New York (I ran 18ish miles – the race and a shakeout run Saturday – and walked about another 15-16).
1:49:23 was a win. A huge step forward. It wasn’t the plan, but it worked out perfectly.