United NYC Half 2018 race report — aka the adventures of Corral L(ost)

Sunday was the first NYC Half on the new course. I had the best training cycle so far headed into it. No KT Tape needed, hit my workouts the way I wanted to, had a plan to run the new course smart so I has enough gas left for the hills at the end. I was ready.

You know what they say about the best-laid plans…

Buckle up, because this report is going to be a doozy.

United NYC Half Course

If you’ve run the NYC Half before, this was a completely different race. When they first released the new course map, I looked at the route and how most of the hills were in the second half and I was worried. All of my half-marathons before this past week have front-loaded the hills, and I’ve been pretty toasted by about mile 9 or 10 in all three of them. On this course, mile 9 is where the hills really start.

After running it, I’m a big fan of the new course. Running on top of the Manhattan Bridge was amazing, and running along the East River was much more visually interesting than the West Side Highway. Chinatown, Lower East Side, 42nd Street — all great places to run through. Times Square in the opposite direction actually ended up being better — instead of having to hold back so as not to go too fast through there with all the great energy, it was a nice boost up a the gentle incline. And, while this might not apply to non-locals, finishing in the park on a loop I’ve run many times was really helpful because I knew what was coming and could focus on running it well. That was especially helpful given how the middle of the race went. But more on that in a bit.

Race Preparation

I knew hills were going to be important here, and Coach B had me running several “hurts so good” hill workouts in the weeks leading up to the race. She also had me running marathon-effort miles for parts of my long runs. Even as the long runs hit double-digit distances, I was feeling good after them. Tired, but not wiped. I wasn’t 100 percent locked in on my strength training, but I was much more consistent that in past cycles, and I was even able to add baby box jumps about a month ago, which is a huge thing for me and my Gumby knees. When I looked back over my workout log compared to my last two half marathons, I could tell I was feeling better after those long runs because my training was more consistent and I was better prepared.

My Race Goals

My half PR is 3:27, and my training had me on pace for a 3:15-ish finish, so my C goal was a PR, my B goal was 3:15-3:20 and my A goal was sub-3:15. FHS Runner and I were talking about a week out and we were both a little nervous about the hills at the end, but were feeling good in general.

Pre-race fun, Part 1

I had Friday off, but zipped into the city Thursday after work to get my bib and shirt at the expo when the lines would be shorter. I was able to sit in on a nutrition session by Hospital for Special Services and made some notes, but it reassured me my plan for Sunday was on point. On Friday, I started the day with pancakes at a place in Jersey City that Train Runner recommended, but Amtrak snafus meant he wasn’t able to join me. We ended up meeting up in the city a couple of hours later and roamed around for a bit. He was all ready to medal all the Subbers (Well, fight with BOTP Delight over who got to medal them) at the finish line on Sunday as a volunteer. Then I headed to the expo again for course strategy sessions, another HSS seminar (on recovery) and to meet up with Big Dog Subber. He had mentioned he was worried about the time limit, so I asked some NYRR staff about it Thursday while I was there.

Time limit

NYRR has a 3:00 time limit for their half-marathons, which is 13:45 pace. My marathon effort miles in training were down to about 13:45 by the time I started tapering, but I also knew I couldn’t hold that pace for 13.1 miles. But my previous two NYRR half-marathons were 3:29 and 3:27 and there were no issues, so I wasn’t too concerned. Maybe I should have been. At any rate, when I asked at the expo, the staffer told me that I might have to move to the sidewalk if the sweep bus passed me, I didn’t have to worry about the sweep bus making me stop. Even if they had to re-open the FDR, they would just have us run the adjacent greenway.

Pre-race fun, Part 2

Big Dog Subber and I met up Friday before I had to head home. Then Saturday, I began my multi-step journey: Train to Hoboken, light rail to my hotel to check in, walk to PATH, take PATH into the city, then take the subway. As complicated as that sounds, it would make both race morning and post-race much easier. Anyway, I picked up lunch on the way to the expo and found a spot in the stage area. Then Mass Ex-Pat messages “Look up!” We got to hang out for a while and sit through (another) course strategy session before she had to leave to meet Speedy Brooklynite. And, of course, we were all going to the Subber dinner that night. The Partners in Crazy were volunteering and NYRR Subber was leading a course strategy session and working at the pacing booth. Oh, and also I asked another staffer about the time limit and what would happen if we were over. I got the same answer as the first time. Another course strategy session (I sat through five, with eight or nine different coaches), some time hanging out with the Partners in Crazy and an HSS session on injury prevention and then it was time to head to dinner. We headed out early to stop for hand warmers because the temperature at start time was going to be a balmy 29 degrees. Then it was off to dinner where I met up with all the earlier Subbers, plus a few others.

Race prep

Coach B texted me earlier in the day to let her know when I was back in Jersey so we talk about the race. I got all my stuff squared away at the hotel and we messaged back and forth with her signing off on my race strategy: Easy in the first few miles, settle into pace once I was off the bridge, hold there until I got to the top of Cat Hill at Mile 10 and then, if I was feeling good, put the hammer down for the final 5K. I had my fuel ready, I had breakfast all set. I was ready to go. 

Start

Sub-30 before NYC Half 2018

Man, Sunday was cold! NYC Half is a big race, so they tell you to be there 90 minutes before your wave’s start if you’re checking a bag and 60 minutes before if you’re not. My wave was scheduled for 8:15, so that was 6:45 for me. We planned to meet at 6:30 for a Sub-30 photo so Mark and any other Wave 1 runners could be in it, so I was there by 6:15. I stole Bathrobe Girl’s idea from last year and wore a bathrobe over everything. The pockets on it turned out to be the best part of that choice. That and the length. And the hand warmers. It was REALLY cold. I was in Wave 2, Corral L, which I always joke is because it’s the L(ast) corral. We finally started at about 8:45 a.m., so I’d been outside for 2 1/2 hours at that point.

Race

Yes, finally the race part of this race report. Downhill start, and I was worried because I have tended to go out too fast in my last few races, so I kept a close eye on my Garmin to make sure I was keeping it easy. The one good part about the cold might be that it helped avoid a fast start because I needed to warm up. I’m chugging along when one of the cyclist volunteers starts telling us that when the sweep bus catches us, we need to move to the sidewalks. Mind you, this is in Mile 1. Every course strategy session started with “Don’t go out too fast!!” So that was annoying. Another cyclist pulled up alongside me and asked me if I heard the announcement. Seriously? I told him I heard, and he said something else. At that point I was like “I know I’m slow. I know the drill. Are you guys going to close the bridge and the FDR?” “Oh, no,” he said. “You don’t need to worry about that.”

Famous last words.

The first part of the bridge was a half-mile slog, but I had planned to take it at a fast walk. In hindsight, next year, I’d be more apt to do intervals like I did in last year’s Brooklyn Half on the Prospect Park hill (40 strides run, 20 strides walk). Coming down and passing the 5K mark felt great, and the view made even the uphill part better. As I turned onto Canal Street, I was debating if I needed to make a pit stop, but decided I’d wait. I caught a zigzag section perfectly, cutting a diagonal straight across the two corners. I’ve never spent much time in either Chinatown or that section of the Lower East Side, so it was great to see the neighborhoods. Coming up on a water stop, I thought about it and decided there was no line, so I should just take the opportunity for the pit stop. In hindsight, I could have waited and definitely should have.

As we came up on the FDR, I realized they were starting to direct us onto the greenway between the highway and the East River. OK. No big deal. The sweep bus hadn’t passed, but it was probably right behind me. Somewhere around here, Coach B texted me that I was in good shape for 3:15, though I didn’t see that until much later.

The greenway was nice and wide for most of it, and there were few enough runners that even with non-racers, it was a good stretch. Flat, nice view, and sunny — after the chilly start, it was feeling good. I could see the last runner allowed on the FDR and he wasn’t that far ahead of me, so I figured the sweep bus was further back than I had thought. There were some runners I was zig-zagging with, and I hit a good groove. 10K and feeling good. The FDR still wasn’t open to traffic, so I was wondering just why they had sent us to the greenway, but whatever. It was fine.

And then the greenway ended. About 40 of us were just kind of dumbfounded until one runner (who I didn’t know was a Subber then) herded us to the pedestrian underpass. The underpass that was quite a bit behind us, and not really visible if you didn’t know it was there.

Seriously?

We came out on 37th Street and had to zigzag our way over a block and up to 42nd Street. That also wasn’t open to traffic, but they weren’t letting us onto the (empty) street — we had to dodge pedestrians on the sidewalk. After a block or two, I moved to the other side of the street because I knew we had a right turn onto 7th Avenue coming up. It was about then that I noticed that last FDR runner on the other side as I passed him. I kept going past Grand Central, where people were cutting across in front of me or just stopping dead. An NYRR staffer coming the other direction shooed me over toward the people who were stopped in front of me because in trying to pass them, I was apparently in his way.

As the pack of runners approached Bryant Park, I noticed they had moved back out in the street, so I cut one and joined them. Once we made the turn onto 7th Avenue into Times Square, we were herded to the sidewalk again for about a block before we went back to the mostly-empty street. Some of the runners in the pack I was in were wondering where they had to turn to get into the park, so I explained it was straight ahead. Once we were far enough up 7th that you could see the park entrance and the climb leveled off, I just focused on hitting a good rhythm and seeing where that would take me. I knew even a PR was off the table because of the extra distance (best guess — I ran about .6 extra because of the detour/snafu), but I figured I’d see where I was coming off Cat Hill.

Finally, headed up Cat Hill, the sweep bus passed me. That was about mile 10. We got on the FDR (or rather didn’t get on it) at mile 4 and change. When I hit the timing clock there, I was at 2:48 with 5K still to go, which meant I’d need a 5K PR by more than a minute over the hilliest section of the course to get a PR. That’s when I switched gears. Broad Street is in about six weeks, Brooklyn Half is in eight weeks. I was going to keep focus and run steady, and hammer the downhill finish, but I wasn’t going to kill myself so I would recover faster and be able to get back to training for the other two races.

Good call, as it turned out, since the convoy of cleanup vehicles was making its way around the park and kept switching which side of the road they were pulling over to, which meant I had to zig-zag more than I wanted. At one point, in the final half mile as I was pushing the pace on the downhill stretch, a car in the convoy cut over right in front of me when I was less than five feet away. I was able to put on the brakes, but that did not help my cranky mood.

What did, however, was coming through the finish line and seeing Train Runner and BOTP Delight’s smiling faces and the medals they had. Train Runner medaled me (there was apparently a fight over who got to do that before I finished) and then hugged me so hard I think my feet came off the ground. A hug from Delight, a selfie with Train Runner and I was headed down the “14th mile” to get my heat sheet, food and gear bag.

At some point along there I pulled out my phone and found both the earlier message from Coach B and the “I just got home and saw your time — is everything OK?” text. That made me laugh.

I sent a long email to NYRR about the issues, and got a reply (and also heard from NYRR Subber) that they’re aware of the issues and are looking into them. So that’s good.

Takeaways:

  • My time was lousy, but when I adjust for the extra distance, I finished in about the same time as last year, so not as bad as it looks.
  • I felt much stronger running the rolling hills on the course than in earlier races.
  • My fueling strategy before and during the race worked well, so I have a good plan for Brooklyn.
  • My mental game, which fell apart in mile 9 of both NYC and Brooklyn last year, was on point, even with all the curveballs, and I kept going in the last four miles of the race.
  • I felt WAY better after the race, and was moving better yesterday than I normally do the day after a race. I had to stand for 90 minutes to teach a class at the local community college and my feet were fine. Today I probably could have tried easy running if I hadn’t been scrambling to get ready for the incoming nor’easter.
  • I have some work to do before Brooklyn to get a time I’ll really want to celebrate, but this was a good tune-up for that race on a lot of fronts. After Sunday, Brooklyn’s my redemption run.