Race: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon
Place: New York, New York
Date: March 20, 2016
When I go into a race without any expectations or goals…I seem to do better than anticipated. While I had a semi-goal of being able to do my first half marathon distance after injury (for a year) in sub-2 hours, I wasn’t going to be too hard on myself if it didn’t happen.
Especially since the weather changed drastically the week of the race.
The weekend before the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon…the weather was gorgeous. Not just in Louisville (where I ran my first official race back…the Rodes City Run 10K), but up in New York too. I was hoping it would hold. I do better in nicer temperatures. But as the week went on…the gorgeous weather started to go away.
For much of the week, the forecast was calling for rain…cold…wind. Then snow…cold…wind. And then, on Friday night, it changed to just really flippin cold and really flippin’ windy.
UGH!! Now I was in a crisis. I had my outfit planned out for weeks…but the 30 degree temps and the strong winds (and the wind chill it would bring), meant I needed to reevaluate my wardrobe. With much reluctance, the running skirt went back into the closet and a pair of my (albeit bright) compression tights came out. Any of you who regularly read my running blog know…I…HATE…PANTS. So this frustrated me. I also packed a big turtleneck lined top and a windbreaker…and at the last minute, just before walking out the door early Saturday…I tossed in a long sleeve shirt…just in case, because I never ran in a windbreaker and I was nervous it would annoy me or just not work out…in which case, I’d rather brace against the cold in layers than anything.
So, Saturday morning was an early morning for me. I was up at 2 am to do all my physical therapy exercises. The stretches, the dynamic stuff outside, the plyometrics. I knew once I touched down in NYC…I was on the move…and these stretches were more important than anything else.
I admit, a little voice in my head said, “Go on…go do an easy mile or two for a shakeout before getting on the plane.” But, as tempting as it was, I quieted that voice. I knew I’d be on the go both at the airports and once I touched down in the city, the shakeout wasn’t important, and I didn’t need to do it. I’d be doing ample time on my feet just moving about NYC.
See what I have learned??!!
So, we (my roommate and I) walked out the door right at 5 am (giving us time to get a light breakfast in our stomachs and (SO VERY MUCH NEEDED) coffee into our system. We got to the Louisville airport in record time…parked…had to take a roundabout way to the Southwest Airlines counter due to renovations that are going on, and which I hope they finish up before Derby, or that airport is going to be a mess. Security was quick, although I ended up being randomly chosen for the hand swab, and my laptop (as always) had to be examined more closely…but it was quick, painless, and we were off and heading to our gate (which was behind a bunch of renovation boards). Like I said, the airport was sort of a mess.
Deciding that we weren’t ready to settle in yet, we took a little walk, as usual, through the airport crowds, and Cathy and I grabbed a Cool Lime Refresher at Starbucks (and she got a breakfast sammie as well) and we went back to the gate. I downed one of the new LUNA Bars (the Dark Chocolate Mocha Almond, which has only 5 grams of sugar and tasted like an amazing caffe mocha) and then…it was time to board. We were at the end of the A group…so it worked out perfectly.
Our flight had a small layover at Chicago Midway before we went on to NYC. So, we took the time to stretch our legs and walk the terminal. I was really craving something sweet, so we went on the “Great Fruit Cup Hunt of Midway,” finding that everywhere that normally had fruit cups were sold out. With 5 minutes to boarding, we finally found something at one of the food court restaurants. It was a large fruit cup with honeydew melon, pineapple, grapes and strawberries in it. I carried it onto our flight into Laguardia Airport and ate it while still sitting on the runway.
The flight into Laguardia was uneventful, save for the funny flight crew. The lead flight
attendant was in her 50s and just…SO funny. Love that. It also helps calm my nerves when the flight crew is loosey-goosey like that. I was drinking my water to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate and we landed in Laguardia early. Taxied to the jetway…disembarked…and went to baggage claim. My bag was the 2nd one off the belt. Cathy’s wasn’t too far behind. With bags in hand, we called the hired car company and they had a car out to fetch us in about 5 or so minutes. Luggage went into the trunk and we were now on our way into Manhattan…staying at a different hotel this time (which was totally our fault because we originally had the race pegged for the weekend before this one and it wasn’t until about a month before that I realized the date of the race was for the week after…in my defense, it ran a week earlier last year!)…but the traffic situation wasn’t bad and our driver was really aggressive once he got into the city blocks, LOL! We were dropped off at the door of The Distrikt Hotel on W 40th Street and went to check in.
We were much earlier than anticipated, so our room wasn’t ready yet. We did go ahead and leave our bags and went to go buy a Metrocard and take the subway to get to the United Airlines NYC Half Experience (the expo), which was taking place at the Metropolitan Pavilion. We headed into the Expo, which was a madhouse! Seriously…at some points, I felt like salmon swimming upstream. I had the registration sheet with me so I went over to where my numbers were to pick up my bib. From there, it was through the store and over to get my official bag with my t-shirt and stuff in it. I haven’t really looked through what else was in there. I made one circuit of the expo before returning to the official store. There was a great t-shirt in there, pink and purple, that I had my eye on. But, to no surprise, my size was gone. Disappointing for sure. Ah well. Except, Cathy and I realized almost all official merchandise for women had nothing left in small. Now I remember why I order things online ahead of this. She did manage to find me an official finisher’s t-shirt and I grabbed a Sparkly Soul headband that had the event name on it. Purchases made. Back into the expo.
I actually thought there would be more vendors there and more to see and lots more places to shop. But, for the best, there wasn’t. I walked through the line of charities…I got in line to have my picture taken in front of the logo…Cathy made a couple signs (which never got used due to the 21 mph gusts of wind on race morning)…and we settled in for a moment at a table where I could charge my phone and we could catch our breath.
My friend, Ellen, who got in on lottery this year (I deferred last year so had automatic entry…except I had to repay the $127 registration fee), turned up to meet up with me, and brought me a nice salad to boot. YAY for friends. YAY for food! We discussed what we were planning on wearing, food, and…all the crazy shit (hehehe…get it Ellen?) that runners rely on and need to have happen prior to a run. It was fun. I even did a Snapchat video for her giving a running tip. She calls me her inspiration…but I think she’s mine. She needed to get back to the charity event she was attending, and I needed to get back to the hotel to get into the room. The travel capris I was wearing weren’t very warm against the already chilly wind of NYC. So, we returned to the hotel, got our room, gathered our bags, and went upstairs. We flopped for a moment before changing into jeans and heading back out…this time just to explore. We didn’t want to stop in for dinner until at least 5 p.m. So, we had a couple of hours to just explore. That’s what we did, too.
With no plan, we just wandered through some of the area, stopping into shops that drew our attention. We went and got our chocolate from Teuscher (I got a mini champagne, dark mocha, and dark salted caramel…and Cathy got a limoncello, almond, and chocolate orange truffle), which is a requirement, and ducked into the Hard Rock Café for a shotglass and a pin. Back out and seeing the city until we decided to hike over to our pre-race dinner spot of choice, Don Antonio by Starita on W 50th Street. They have a fantastic gluten-free pizza menu, and while they have a couple of GF and Vegan options, I stuck with the one I knew I loved and wouldn’t give me too much. The Marinara Pizza Senza Glutine. OMG…this is my 2nd favorite gluten-free pizza crust in the world (the first being Annie May’s Sweet Café). I love when there is a real and actual crust on a gluten-free pizza, and not just a cracker crust. We devoured dinner and then hiked back to the hotel to cycle through showers, giving me time to foam roll, and to eat some chocolate. HA! It was an early to bed night…and by 9 pm…we were turning out the lights.
I set the alarm on my phone for the first one to wake me up at 4 a.m. It went off and I got up to use the bathroom, take my medicine, and then crawled back into bed for another 50 minutes. The second alarm was the 5 a.m. one, and I got up and started to get changed into my running gear for the race. Cathy was up at 5:15 to get dressed and ready. And while I felt good all day prior to this morning, I felt tired, but in good shape for the actual race. I was not happy that I had to wear pants to run a half marathon, but the windchill was a factor and I under-dressed once before for a full and have been nervous about doing that again ever since (hypothermia is NOT fun, my friends). I decided to wear a long sleeve tech shirt under my warmer top with the big turtleneck top, figuring it would be good against the wind, without me trying to get used to running in a windbreaker on the fly. I got my number pinned on, threw on the hoodie I was going to leave behind, filled up my water bottles and we were off.
We took the subway to Columbus Circle and disembarked, climbing the stairs and being
greeted with some of the coldest wind. I don’t know how the dude in front of us was handling being in short running shorts, because I would have been dying. I think he was. But…to each their own, right?! We walked over to the checkpoint at Central Park where Cathy had to go her own way and I had to show my bib number and enter. We took a picture of me with Times Square behind me and then I went in. I walked with a bunch of runners who were just talking about some of the most random stuff. One was talking about Scott Jurek on Instagram and it was kind of amusing to me. We went through the medal detectors and then continued on the path to the corrals. There was a line of port-o-potties without lines and many of the people I was walking with went to take advantage of them…and I kept on trekking. I made my way to the line of corrals, working my way up to the one for 10000-10999. I did a few of my dynamic warm-up moves from physical therapy, but the air temperature was enough to make me not want to do it anymore. I did one set of each, then hunkered down and shivered for a good half hour more. It was really, really cold. When the corrals opened for the start of the wheelchair race, I stepped inside and did a few static stretches just to loosen up. From the onslaught of the cold wind, my hip was already not loving me. It began to ache during the easy walk from security to the corals. Seriously, my body and cold weather never got along, but it really doesn’t get along with it these days.
The wheelchair racers, hand crank racers, and elite women were all sent off by 7:15 a.m. It was awesome standing in the corral and being able to see each group take off. When the elite women took up, I cheered loudly for Molly Huddle, who is from Elmira, NY…my hometown area. She’s amazing. She’s fast. She set a new course record that morning and it came down to an eighth of a second…it was THAT close. The elite men went off with Wave 1 at 7:30 a.m.. Then my wave…Wave 2…were shuffled forward for our 7:45 a.m. start. It was really exciting. When the airhorn blew to send us off, I began the walk toward the official start, and started my Garmin as I crossed. The first step already had my hip screaming at me. I struggled through the final mile of a 10K the weekend prior…and I just started a half marathon. I really just made a point go focus on my form and my breathing, and just finding a comfortable pace to run at. As I said, I had no goals or expectations…just to have fun and to finish what I start. Well…I started. I now had to finish.
The 6 miles through Central Park are beautiful and quiet. There were pockets of spectators out there, but mostly it was runners, our feet, and our breathing. Being the start of the race, I would catch snatches of conversations people were having as they ran the race with friends or running partners. It keeps me amused. Some people were tucked into their earbuds, their music propelling them forward. There was a couple running together, and on the back of his shirt was a sign that said “Baby on Board” and an arrow pointing to his wife who was running right next to him. The people inside the park were loud and awesome and the little loop we do outside the park to turn around and head back in…was packed, crowded and loud. I love a good crowd. The hills of Central Park are respectable, but my hill repeats have been more intense than those, so while they slowed me down slightly, they didn’t have me huffing and puffing. I’m learning to love to hate to love those hill repeat sessions more and more. I didn’t check my pace on my watch at any point, but I hit the 5K mark and felt like I was coming along well for someone who was fighting hip pain twinges since the start. With the hills now behind us, the runners exit Central Park onto 7th Avenue. Cathy said she’d be outside the park to see me there, so I got to the left per her instructions and headed up 7th Avenue. She was tucked into the pocket of the turn, but I heard her shouting and screaming and I gave a wave at her as I ran past. It lifted my spirits, for sure. And it was on to run down 7th Avenue and into Times Square.
I think Times Square was my favorite part of this race. The crowd was intense. There was so much noise. All the screens were lit up. The Kids Mile was running through there. There was so much energy there…that it just pulsed through you. I loved every stretch of this portion of the race. And it is the part I remember the most. I love a good crowd.
And with the extreme winds we were getting, it was a great way to start off the last stretch of the race. This portion is pretty flat, save for just after the 20K mark. So, it was nice to easily pick up the pace a little here. Miles 8-12 really just have you fighting the windtunnels that are 42nd Street. Here you make a U-Turn and head down the West Side Highway. Wind. Lots of wind. Thankfully there was music blasting at various stages throughout this stretch of the run. The crowds were sparse, but there were some spectators out there to cheer. But without the bands, this might have been a tough slog through these 4 miles. However, as the miles tick down, One World Trade Center/Freedom Tower keep getting closer and closer. It’s gorgeous. I can’t tell you how long I just kept my eyes on that building, minding each time I drew up my right leg, making sure I wasn’t overcompensating due to the hip pain. This was…uplifting.
Mile 12 takes runners through the Battery Park Underpass. This…was fun. Seriously. You are underground for a long while. Runners scream and shout and let out whoops as they run through the dark, spooky tunnel. I loved it. I even left my sunglasses on. Just powered on through. Running through tunnels is fun. For some reason, I always smile more in them. The 20K mark was just as we were let out to run up a hill.
This is where Cathy was situated to see me before I hit the finish line. LOVED this little uplift right at the end. I waived and smiled as she shouted, “YOU REALLY ARE ALMOST THERE!” And so, I burst up the hill and got hit by one hell of a headwind. NYC has this way of always being super windy when I run there. So…I battled the headwind and just ran…ran…ran…rounding a corner…passing up a pace group….rounding another turn and seeing that finish line. As I ran this race rather conservatively, I still had some go in the tank and so…I powered up, powered through, and crossed that finish line.
I stopped my Garmin…and the tears just started going. I didn’t know my official time. I didn’t check the Garmin. I competed and finished my first half marathon since my hip labrum tear over a year ago. And I could still move. No limping. Just a small ache. I had done what I thought I wouldn’t be able to do…and it turns out I did it well.
We were filtered through the finisher’s area where we had medals hung around our necks and mylar sheets wrapped around us to keep us warm. We were given these nice bags filled with snacks, Gatorade and water, and then shuttled out toward Battery Park. At the exit, Cathy was waiting. I hurried over and got a hug and she said, “YOU KILLED IT!! Do you want to know your time?” Of course I did. She told me…and I started crying. Not only was it better than I anticipated, it was better than I could have dreamed of doing, given the circumstances.
Our bodies find ways of surprising us. And I think not having a specific goal or pace I wanted to hit helped.
So, the official results of the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon are that I finished in 1:43:53. I was 3318/20,149 finishers overall. I was 786/10,556 female finishers. And I was 132/1706 finishers in my division. I, honestly, couldn’t have run this any better. Since the cold weather made me sore from just shivering at the start, I just took this race one step at a time…one mile at a time. And I LOVED it. I loved this race. It was…probably….one of my favorite half marathons I have ever run. Even in the cold…and the wind…and the suck…it was just…fun. And I had fun running it. It was a struggle at times…but I finished it and I felt good at the end.
Afterwards, we hopped the subway back to the hotel where I showered and changed.
Cathy and I went to Empire Coffee & Tea House where I got a Pumpkin Spice Latte (dairy free…made with almond milk…and YUMMY!). Then we ended up hiking around NYC the rest of the day with Cathy and my friend Marisa, who I have known since high school. We stopped in at bakeries (I bought 3 cookies from By The Way (BTW) Bakery) and a tea shop (where I had the Energitea…an amazing green blend). We settled in for a bit at the hotel before getting ready to head to dinner at Red Rooster Harlem. You might recall, Red Rooster is where I celebrated my NYC Marathon finish…so I wanted to go back for this. And it was amazing. Once again, the chef created a dish to fit my dietary needs…and I was SO impressed. I even had dessert. And fun. We sat and talked over mint tea and listened to the live jazz music in the bar before calling it a night and making the trek back from Harlem to Midtown. We said goodbye to Marisa and settled in for the night.
Overall…I’m already ready to come back to NYC…even if I don’t have a race. There is always so much to see and do. But…this time…for me…the highlight was getting through the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon…after having to defer it last year. It was just the boost I needed.