Sunday morning was a beautiful day for running. Starting about 6am more than 11,000 runners filed into Central Park from the Upper East Side in anticipation of the 2010 NYC Half Marathon. First up was about eight miles in Central Park, followed by jaunt through Times Square, west on 42nd St, and finally down the west side highway to the finish down in Battery Park City. I try not to set many goals for races because I usually disappoint myself – today was different. My goal was 1:45:59, enough to get me into the C corral for the Chicago Marathon. My previous best was 1:48:26.
This was my first time running the NYC Half and I was more than slightly disappointed with my bib number, 15164. In the Marathon that would be a great bib number, but for this it meant that I was in the back of the corrals. Literally, the very last group to cross the starting line. They didn’t even have anything corral like set up for us in the back, just a line in the road we were told to stand behind. A little chatting with other people revealed that it looked like number assignment for these lottery winners was done alphabetically. Yet another part of the agony of having a last name near the end of the alphabet.
We had no idea when the race actually started. We couldn’t hear any of the announcements because no speakers were run that far back. Looking at a map we were around a half a mile from the start of the race. Finally, the race started and we began the slow march to the start. At around 17:35 I finally crossed the starting line, ready to run…right into groups of walkers three and four abreast. Running around Central Park was much more like going rock climbing than running. I was constantly looking around to try and find gaps in runners so I could pass people. Often times I’d try to dart ahead only to have a gap close. I try not to be a dick when I run, but sometimes you just need to cut through a group of six runners doing 12 minute miles in a wall across the course.
My first mile was about 10 minutes. I began to get disheartened. If the race stayed like this I would have little chance of making the C corral in Chicago. My time slowly picked up, but it was mentally exhausting. The entire time I was looking around for holes and trying to dart into them. Periodically I risked my ankles by jumping up on the curb and taking a few steps to go around people. I’m certain people perceived me as being a jerk, but hey, it’s not my fault my last name starts with W.
As we continued around the first loop I heard them clearing runners out of the way for the lead runners who were finishing the eight miles in the park at their blistering paces. I must have been just ahead of this group because they never lapped me, but they came really close. To be fair, I’d imagine that a 17 minute head start gave them an edge on me.
My 5k time was around 27 minutes. Ouch. I can’t be entirely certain of the exact time because I didn’t get a split for it as they had already deactivated the sensor for the lead runners on my tail. Looking at the overall stats it looks like a lot of people missed that split. Luckily, by this point the roads were opening up some. I took advantage of my hill training and was able to blast up and down the hills as we approached Harlem and had my first 10k at 50:14 (I had no idea of the exact time during the race, however). My goal seemed doable, but still a stretch. The park roads get narrow and crowded, especially as we climbed the hill around the Lasker Rink. I was still passing people left and right and almost never getting passed, partially because if you start out in the back it means all the faster people are already ahead of you.
The turn out of the park was tight and narrow, but it was nice to see fans there. Then everything changed, out of the serene park and down 7th avenue into Times Square. The entire road was closed for runners, this gave us a huge amount of space to run and provided a great opportunity to pass lots of people as I cruised down the east side of the road. By the time I reached the core of Times Square many of the fans had already left. The singalong was a little disappointing, they were playing a song I hardly knew and not many fans were singing. Where’s “Sweet Caroline” or “American Pie” when you need them? New Yorkers act all hard core, but they couldn’t have stuck around singing songs for another 20 minutes? Sheesh.
Rounding the corner to 42nd St were were packed in the north half of the street. The road was pretty pitted to which made running a bit more interesting. Down to the West Side Highway and then north for a little bit to 44th St. Here we hit a headwind. It was actually a relief because it meant a tailwind for the end of the race and blew off some of the sweat from my brow. Runkeeper told me my times were also doing quite well. I was running what I thought to be about a 1:46 pace. Rather than thinking about how to pass runners I was now obsessed with mentally calculating my pace and given scenarios.
The West Side Highway is actually a pretty boring run. Who really wants to look at New Jersey? Fans lined most of the road, which made the race easier for me. As we approached 20k my legs began to ache. I managed to summon the strength to cross the finish line strong just as the official time was crossing 2 hours 1 minute. I began to second guess myself about what time I crossed the starting line. What if I didn’t make it under 1:45:59? Would I blame my poor starting position? Would I sign up for another half in an attempt to break the 1:45:59 barrier? I was tired, but not completely exhausted. I think I could have done better, but I felt satisfied knowing that at worst I PR’d on the race. Lots of smiles at the finish from hundred of other people who achieved PR’s too.
I got my finishers medal, the little thermal blanket, which was very welcome in the shade of Battery Park City, and my finishers bag. I tried to find the celebration and raffles, but couldn’t. Finally, I wandered back over to the east side of Manhattan to catch the train to Grand Central and another train back home. Waiting on the train at Grand Central I hit up NYRR’s results website. 1:43:44. 2308 out of 11439 — close to the top 20% of runners in the race. I was feeling pretty good. It was a great day for a race.