Before Race Day
I think I’ve become addicted to races. I really missed having races between April (Cherry Blossom) and the end of May (BK HM) although I did that on purpose to allow myself to rest and train. July, when I once again will be sans race, is probably going to be hard for me.
A couple weeks after the Cherry Blossom race I reached out to my coach to give them my goals for the NYC Marathon this fall. The coach adjusted my training schedule and told me they wanted me to run the race as 10 miles followed by the fastest 5K I would run this year. I was aiming for a time of 1 hour 30 minutes for this race. That would require me to run the ten miles as fast as I had run in DC for the Cherry Blossoms and then do another 5K on top of that, and do it quickly. I set my Garmin to try and do that.
As the race day arrived, I started studying the course. This would be the first race I ran that wasn’t a loop. I would be starting in Prospect Park and ending at Coney Island. During the NYRR session about the course, they mentioned it would be a bit packed in the park as well as some hilly sections. They said not to overexert ourselves in there and we could make it up on Ocean Parkway, which made up about half of the race and was at a slight down grade.
Unfortunately, I started off race week with horrible allergies that kept me from sleeping well. So I spent Wednesday and Thursday indoors as much as possible to get that back under control. By Wednesday night I’d cleared nearly all of the pain in my throat and most of the sniffles and sneezing were gone. I already had to do a no show for the Fred Lebow HM In January due to a cold the family members had passed around ever since our Christmas trip. This was not going to happen again! (Don’t worry, I didn’t have COVID-19 according to some home tests)
Finally, Friday arrived and it was time to head to Brooklyn’s Pier 2 to get my bib at the pre-party. The pre-party was well put together with a DJ, some games, lots of backgrounds to take photos in front of, and lots of race information. Additionally, the tent where we got our bibs and race participant shirts had a New Balance store (they are the official partner for NYRR race apparel) as we as some booths for the race sponsors. Basically a mini-”health expo” as the these little capitalism sections of pre-races are called. I didn’t stay too long because COVID-19 is once again on the rise and I was also by myself. I did get a good selection of photos before leaving, though.
Dinner the night before was relatively simple – griddled, thinly cut pork shoulder, rice, and some bok choy.
I woke up about 2 minutes before my 0425 alarm. I had approximately 30 minutes before I was supposed to leave the house to catch the train and arrive at the Prospect Park station at 5:40 (as the organizers had requested). Breakfast was 1.5 cups of Wegnmans granola cereal with skim milk. With one final check to ensure I wasn’t forgetting anything, I headed out the door.
During the walk to the train there was a thick fog as if I was in a Dickens novel. It turns out that we were to have fog during the entire race (at least while I was running – it may have cleared before the race was over). It was slightly cool, but for once this year I wasn’t freezing as I headed to the train. Once the train arrived I experienced something that had never happened in previous races in Central Park: when I entered the train, everyone in the car was a runner in the race. If it wouldn’t have been rude, i would have taken a photo of the car full of runners. Even more entered as we approached Prospect Park. It was magical to get out of the train and see runners coming from every direction and filling the station. We walked in a seemingly never-ending like for about a mile or so to the finish line, friends and family chatting. I just listened idly to the conversations around me and thought about my race strategy. Would I be able to pull it off? What would this first, in-person half marathon be like?
I finally arrived at the corrals and the enormity of the race began to dawn on me. Full comprehension would not truly arrive until I started taking photos of the corrals just before the race started. I made a urine stop at the porta potties and then started my 10 minute warm-up. Then another visit to the jon before getting into my corral. (Luckily, unlike the DC Cherry Blossom, I didn’t start the race feeling like I had to pee)
With about 10 minutes until the gun, I had about a handful of raisins at the starting line. I hadn’t made time to test out SIS gels, so I wouldn’t be consuming any during this race. (Nothing new on race day!) I’d already been part of quite a few corrals where I wasn’t in the first one so I had to march with the others to the start line after the race started. But in this case, the race was so massive that they had the two waves of corrals each facing each other. After the wheelchair athletes started, we began our march to the starting line. With nearly somewhere around 10 thousand runners surrounding me, it was an incredible walk and the race hadn’t even started. And then it was the national anthem and we were off.
Running through the park was beautiful although, as usual, I had to split my attention between the scenery, the road (there were lots of puddles from rain the day before), and runners around me. I knew the park was about half the race (we did a 10K before even leading the park), but near the end it seemed to go on forever since I was waiting for the promised downgrade on Ocean Parkway.
Before getting on to how the pacing strategy I’d worked out with the coach went, I just want to go over a few moments from the park section of the race. I’ve used my bib holder with compartments (essentially what we used to call a fanny pack plus strings to hold a racing bib) before, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever had it this loaded. So even though it’s a “no bounce” model and hasn’t bothered me as much before, it was a bit bouncy. I’ll have to test it fully-loaded between now and the next race so I can adjust how tight the straps are. (In fact, that night I felt tender where it was bouncing. It was still slightly tender the next day)
Early on (somewhere inside the first 5K) someone was running holding their phone in their hands. It slipped and they ended up essentially throwing it to the ground. So they had to stop, turn around to run against “traffic” and pick up their phone.
Later on, somewhere around mile 5 there was a mother jogging while pushing a baby stroller (pram to our British English friends). (This was not a racer, no strollers allowed in this race) We were running faster than her, but not so fast that we immediately passed her. Instead we slowly caught up and slowly passed. It was definitely … well, demotivating would be too strong a word, but seeing her essentially keeping pace while pushing a kid. The only consolation was that she may have just started and/or certainly didn’t have to sustain it for 13.1 miles.
This was the first race I’ve been to where there seemed to be a few too many people who didn’t have good water station etiquette. The stopped or slowed to a complete walk while the rest of us were trying our best to get water (or gatorade) while slowing as little as possible. It ended up causing someone to swerve onto me and step on my toes. He apologized and I let him know that I knew it wasn’t his fault, but it was still annoying. It made me avoid a few more water stations than I might have done otherwise.
OK, it’s time to discuss pacing and how things went with respect to the plan the coach set up for me. As I told my coach the next day, the race was a mixed bag. I wanted to finish in 1:30:00. I finished in 1:34:34. I think, for my first time doing a half marathon at race pace, I did quite well. (And we’ll discuss some adverse weather stuff near the end of this post) But the idea of 10 miles followed by a 5K sprint, alas, did not work out. Here’s my watch-recorded pace (being aware that there is drift such that as the miles pile up it’s calling the end of the mile sooner and sooner compared to the race’s official mile markers):
As the organizers, and my coach, said, the park was very crowded and it was hard to maintain the pace I wanted. So the first mile is very low. I had set my watch with a pace for the 10 miles followed by goal paces for each mile in the 5K portion. So the Garmin shows an average pace during the 10 mile portion. To correct for the slow first mile, I apparently went into 6:48 territory for 2 miles. (I had no idea I was going that fast) Still, up to mile 10 I was very happy. I got to 10 miles (by my watch) in 1:11. That’s just one minute slower than my Cherry Blossom time. That was key to making my goal time! Then it was time to pick up the pace for the 5K portion. I did alright for mile 11, but then it all fell apart in mile 12. I don’t know if it was mental (people started dropping out – going to the medical tents, walking instead of running, etc), the weather (again, more on that later), the fact that I didn’t do the gels (I hadn’t trained with them and nothing new on race day!), or just that it was my first time doing that distance at race pace. I’ll be talking to my coach about how to do better next time if this is still the strategy he wants me to do for the next half marathon on my calendar.
I want to take this moment to send a shout out to my sister-in-law who surprised me in mile 12 when I was at my lowest point, disappointed that I couldn’t do the 5K sprint. She is pregnant and yet she got up early, tracked me via the NYRR site, and showed up to cheer me on and take a couple photos. I am not exaggerating that it gave me a boost of energy when I really needed it.
Eventually I got to the part where we turned into Coney Island. I was once again happy, I was close. I KNEW I would make it now! (see my face in the photos?) Although I think it’s very cruel after almost 13 miles to have to climb up the ramp to the boardwalk. I saw the sign for 200 meters. I found a reserve of energy. They were blasting Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” (one of their songs I really enjoy) I found the energy to yell out “BROOKLYN!” along with The Boys. The boardwalk crowd was cheering. I found another reserve of energy and was able to sprint the last 100 meters to cross the finish line. I was overjoyed! I’d done it!
My emotions cycled between elation and disappointment as I grabbed my ice-water-soaked rag and walked to get my medal. By the time I had my medal, all thoughts of disappointment had faded. I was just happy to have come in so close to my goal time. (Although I wasn’t sure how close it was to the time my watch had measured) As I walked back to my in-laws (first race where I didn’t have to take a train back), I cheered on the runners in corrals H and beyond that were coming in. Then I had second breakfast.
So, how did I do, here’s the results image:
An overall place of 1,400 of 18.770 finishers (Top 7%!!! My best ever for a big race!). Gender place (NYRR this year does male, female, and non-binary) of 1,200 of 10,015 (11% better than usual). Age group 259 of 1854 (13% – better than my usual top quartile) Also, some very awesome splits! FASTER than the 10K I did this February!!!
Let’s talk about physical feelings post-race. Immediately afterwards, I had pain going up and down stairs and some pain on the balls of my feet. They had started hurting around mile 11 when I picked up the pace. No pain in my tendonitis spot. After driving home that day I had a massive headache from the shoulders up. It could have been from slight dehydration – despite drinking 12 ounces of water on the way home (plus a cup of milk with my second breakfast), I didn’t have to pee during the whole 3.5 hour drive. After taking some ibuprofen for the headache, I just had some milk pain with the stairs. I decided that night to soak in Epsom salts and I iced my knees and tendonitis area. After sleeping for 9 hours (something I haven’t done in years without being sick) I was just mildly sore on the day after.
Late on the 21st I learned that someone had collapsed and died at the finish line. There were also 16 injuries. On the running subreddit there was discussion about the death and someone mentioned the 90% humidity that partially came from the fog we were running in the whole time (notice it in many of the photos throughout this post). The same person specifically mentioned how they are an experienced half marathon runner and the weather reduced them to walking. This made me feel a lot less upset about my ability to do the faster 5K at the end. We hadn’t had all summer to acclimate, so this was a huge weight on performance. I would still like to think I could have trained (or steeled my mind) to do better, but weather is no joke and I’d rather finish a little more slowly than end up with a DNF.
So now I’ve finally run an in-person half marathon. What was incredibly easy for me at an 8 minute mile pace was pushing my body to its current limits at an average pace of 7:13. It really put into perspective how much of a difference each additional mile affects the runner. 3.1 miles more after 10 is (or can be) quite a bit more taxing. This performance has put a healthy respect in me for the marathon. I have to do this weekend’s performance TWICE to get the time I want for the full marathon. There’s lot of training to do! But there’s also a bright side – my Garmin watch had been predicting (based on what it knows about my body – training and sleep) a 1:33 half marathon and I got 1:34. So when my watch now says I can do a 3:28 marathon, that tells me that it’s definitely in my grasp (based on what it knows about my body). Even though I need 3:10 for a Boston Qualifying time, I’d be overjoyed with a 3:28 marathon time. Additionally, with the time I achieved for my 10K in THIS race plus Garmin’s current prediction of 39:33, I’m excited for my upcoming 10K race. This week is recovery with a virtual 5K on Saturday and then it’s back to training.
This race was special for me for a number of reasons:
- First in-person half marathon
- Finished at Coney Island (where my wife and I shared many courtship and early marriage memories)
- The race turned 40 this year and so do I
I’m glad I ran it and am looking forward to the rest of this year’s races.
Also, check out this neat video that Marathon Photo made with some info about the race and then a video of me finishing (they’ve never had this on offer for the Cherry Blossom, so it’s the first time I’ve seen something like it):