I was back in NY over the weekend to run the NYC Half Marathon. There were about 10 of us in total who were all either current members of the UTTC, or affiliated with the U of T Triathlon Club at one time or another. The whole weekend was a BLAST, and I really appreciated traveling to and racing in the presence of friends/teammates for a change, instead of all by my lonesome!
Before we get to the race itself, I just have to mention what a hilariously terrible (well, now in hindsight) 5 days of training that I had leading up to the race. As of Tuesday, I was missing pace times left and right in the swimming pool and downgrading my weights program. On Wednesday I had a bit of a physical and emotional breakdown that led to an argument with the "coach", when I couldn't even hold the usual wattage that I can hold for a 4 minute interval for 1 minute. I apologize Wendy, that you had to witness that:) Thursday, I stopped 400m in to a 1000m TT in the pool due to calf cramps, and believe me, it shouldn't have been the speed that I was swimming at that caused those cramps. Anyway, you get the idea of what kind of week it was! I feel I need to mention this just to share with you (and also to remind myself) that the days leading up to a race are not necessarily any indication of how you will actually perform on race day. Sometimes a terrible week of training equates to having a great race, so it's important not to get too down on yourself (or fly off the handle, in my case) when everything seems to be going wrong.
Race Report Time.
The alarm goes off at 5am, but I've been awake since 4:30. In fact, I seemed to be up every hour on the hour looking at my watch. I had a fitful and restless night of sleep, but so did Mike M. who was sleeping on a fold down couch that was 3 feet too short for his body, and Mike C. who was sleeping on the floor on an ab crunching mat. I didn't feel sleepy though, because my mind and body were anticipating the upcoming race. I managed to get a Powerbar and a banana down, before having my race morning coffee from Dunkin' Donuts. It was only on the cab ride over to the race start that I started to feel a little bit nervous. We were driving on the West Side highway, and I could see the Mile 12, 11, and 10 markers, and I just kept reminding myself that the distance between the markers always seem really far apart when you drive the race course! Other than that bit of nervousness, I really was a coccoon of calm the entire race.
Rob, Mike M, and I were all in the same corral, so we huddled together before the start of the race. I can't say that I particularly like feeling boxed in on all sides, standing in the cold, before the race start, but that's to be expected in big races like this with 10 000+ runners. My strategy for the race was to run even paced 4:15/km the whole way. I knew that it would probably be tougher in Central Park with the hills, but I thought if I could just get out of the park on pace, then I could probably hold it together for the rest of the race through Times Square, and then along the West Side Highway. I just wanted to come in under 1:30.
At 7:30 the gun went off, and Rob, Mike, and I probably crossed the start line 45s or so behind the gun. The first km was my slowest of the race, because of all the people that I had to dodge, but also because of the lack of warm-up after being corraled for 20-30 minutes. Usually, I go out too hard on the first km, so this was a first for me! I was so remarkably calm though, and brought the 2nd km down to 4:05/km. I felt really comfortable running through Central Park, and the 5km mark seemed to come up really fast. Mike and I were running side by side more or less, and we caught glimpses of Rob every now and again. I was still feeling really good at the 10km mark, and this is where we completed 1 loop of Central Park, and continue for another quarter loop before exiting and heading towards Times Square. My left knee was pain free, but I could feel some discomfort in the back of the right knee after 10km or so. Nothing too serious though, and I wasn't going to slow down anyway. At 10km, I knew that I was pretty much right on 4:15/km pace.
One of my favourite parts of the race was exiting Central Park, because there were so many spectators cheering, and loud music was blaring, that you just couldn't help feeling a little bit special! With the energy from the crowd, I was ready to take on the second half of the race! Because, really, in a half marathon or longer races such as these, so much can happen in the second half. I was surprised by how controlled my breathing still was and the rhythm that I had found in my stride by the 8 mile mark. Around mile 8 there was a band playing the song "YMCA", and again lots of spectators. There was one runner who started miming YMCA and singing along just loving every second of Mile 8, and the energy was just contagious. I felt the urge to sprint like the finish line was around the corner, but I had to reign myself in, stay calm, and remind myself that I had 5 miles to go.
Now that the hills were out of the way, I was somehow able to descend each 5km over the course of the race. From 10-15km, I was about 5s under 21 minutes. The last 5-6km were run on West Side Highway, and in the past, this is the point in the race where I would run into some trouble, ie hit the proverbial wall HARD. This time however, I felt like I still had some juice in the legs! Wow, I wasn't expecting to have that feeling and I was VERY pleasantly surprised! My Garmin watch wasn't functioning well after running through Times Squares, so I was estimating whether I was running sub 1:30 based on the time clocks that they had at the 15km and 20km marks. It is surprisingly difficult to do math though while racing. With 3 miles to go, I tried to pick up the pace at each mile remaining, and the last mile definitely felt like the longest. They even had signs with 800m to go, 400m to go, 200m to go, and those feel like they have the most distance between them! I just ran hard through to the finish, and ran 4:23 for the last 1.1km. I descended the 5km further from 15-20km, and ended up running a final time of 1:28:40...a PB by over 3.5 minutes!
I'm thrilled to have run that time at this point in the season, with relatively few 20km runs under my belt (3) so far this year. My quads are completely trashed still today, making it extremely difficult to descend any stairs without desperately grabbing onto the railing. Hopefully, I'll recover by Sunday, because it's the start of training camp week in North Carolina!