Race: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon
Place: New York, NY
Date: March 18, 2018
I love running NYC. I loved running the full marathon in 2014 and then the half in 2016. And, by some luck of the NYRR lottery draw, I got the chance to run the United Airlines NYC Half Marathon again this year.
Two things though:
- New course…starting in Brooklyn and finishing in Central Park (which meant a whole LOT of hills on your tired legs for the last 4 miles)
- I had two friends (Paul & Melissa) coming along for the run as well…which was exciting because Melissa had barely spent sufficient time in NYC and Paul never had been there before!
I was so excited. Friends…fun…and NYC!
We had plenty of time to plan this trip as the lottery draw happens early. So over many bowls of pho and lots of text messages and dinner/game night evenings at each other’s homes…we purchased airplane tickets and Cathy had her mom take care of the room…because she has a time share vacation club thing there. Unfortunately…the race was on St. Patrick’s Day weekend this year which meant…EVENT WEEKEND…on top of everyone coming in for the half marathon itself. So, instead of staying at the nice Manhattan Club that we had come to love in NYC…we were booted over to the Shoreham through the travel agency that is used. Cathy called numerous times to ensure that we would have two beds because we were a party of 4, not 2…and was told when the reservation transferred over…it would be taken care of.
Guess what. The room transferred…and Cathy checked and it was listed with one bed. One bed. Four people. She called the travel agency and they were very unhelpful and it was a task and a half to even get the agent on the phone or to call back.
Cathy then tried calling the hotel directly. They were sold out of rooms and fully booked and couldn’t change the reservation either. In fact, the travel agent never changed the request to four people. So…we were kinda stuck. Through e-mails, Cathy asked if we could bring an airbed and was told no extra bedding could be brought in…BUT…if they had any, they could provide a roll-away.
Insert me being overly stressed out about this turn of events. I hate being stressed out over shit that shouldn’t be an issue in the first place but now it is. These are the things I focus on and, when it happens prior to the trip, it’s all I focus on.
That and the shift in weather that went from lows in the 40s and highs in the high 50s…to COLD AS SHIT! Seriously. The weather shifted with some nor’easters that decided that New York needed some snow and ice and cold wind and all that. MEH. I don’t like running in the cold at all. And now…I would be. This also meant running a half marathon in layers, which is something else that I despise doing. Cathy had to pack my luggage because I needed to stretch and roll and try to be in a better place with all of this.
Friday afternoon, Cathy and I left work early and were picked up at our apartment by Paul. We were chauffeured over to his and Melissa’s house where Melissa’s mom was waiting with her van to take us all to the airport. We packed our luggage and carry-on into the vehicle and got ready to get underway. After (briefly) getting locked into the van, we set out to the airport, where Cathy and I were checking our baggage (Melissa and Paul were carrying on) and got our seating assignments taken care of. This was perfect because we were all clumped together. Cathy and I were behind them on our flights out of Louisville and then out of Atlanta.
Let’s pause for a moment to talk about Atlanta. We were delayed going out of Louisville and now our connection was going to be very tight. VERY TIGHT. In fact, when we landed, supposedly passengers were supposed to let those with a tight connection off first (which would have benefited us since we were seated pretty much in the back of the plane. I literally could look out my window and see only the engine. No joke. I had no view.
Of course, everyone had a tight flight to catch so everyone (tight connection or not) disembarked as usual. We decided to have Paul run ahead and see if he could catch the gate agent for our flight and have them hold the plane for us as we all made our way that way. He is very good at sprinting with a suitcase. I am not good at running with a backpack on. And Melissa was in winter boots and Cathy is not a runner. One train ride and an elevator climb later, and we managed to be near the back of the line for boarding. But we got on the plane and were NYC bound.
Baggage claim was easy at La Guardia and Cathy put in the call to the car service we always use in NYC to take us to the hotel. The van arrived to pick us up and we loaded in, somewhere near midnight or 1 am…and made our way to Manhattan and the Shoreham.
I was holding out hope that our hotel mishap was being taken care of, but when Cathy checked us in, the guy behind the desk didn’t even bat an eyelash at the fact that they were giving us a 1 bed, 141 sq food room…to four people. Nope. He passed us the keys and played it off like it was nothing.
Guess what. It’s something. The room was SO small that after we rearranged it to hopefully fit a roll-away in, which Cathy had to call down to the desk to have brought up, and had the guy who brought it up look around and go, “I have NO idea where we can put this” (NO SHIT, SHERLOCK!), we ended up pushing the actual bed all the way across the room to rest against the window. The roll-away was set up right next to that, and then, we sort of put a bench and chair together and made an extra bit of bed.
Paul took the bench/chair and Melissa was on the cot. Paul was, actually, halfway onto the cot too. It was a mess. And it was crowded. And it was uncomfortable. But we made it work. And we were never really falling over each other when we were in the room. No waiting on the bathroom…we just sort of worked it out without even saying anything.
Welcome, friends…to the Suede Tomb. Thankfully, we packed our days and nights in NYC and the room would basically just be used for sleeping. It was close to 2 am and we were setting our phones for a morning wake-up to get up, get breakfast, and head to the race expo. It wasn’t going to be a night for lots of sleep, but at least we could get some.
The following morning meant showers (which we managed without ever hogging the bathroom too much or too long) and then we were off to breakfast at the local Fresh & Co after grabbing coffee at our favorite coffee shop in all of NYC…Tisserie. We all got the Nutella Mocha and snagged whatever sounded good for breakfast. I got a gluten-free bagel that had delicious avocado in it and some other stuff. It was delicious…and I wanted it again on our last day there…but that didn’t work out as we hit Fresh & Co as they switched to lunch that day. MEH.
But I digress…
It was race expo time. And I love me some race expo experiences. New York never disappoints. The United Airlines NYC Half Marathon Expo is held at the Metropolitan Pavilion, and is easy to spot with all the race flags standing outside. You feel so welcome and get all the excitement upon entering. For this race in particular, they assign bib numbers on demand, which means you don’t get assigned your bib number until you get there. And it’s random. You do know what wave you are in and what corral though…the rest of it just depends on where you stand in line to get a bib.
I was Wave 1 and Corral E and my bib number ended up being 1956. They stuck on the sticker to my Wave 1 yellow-green bib (Wave 2 was a blue) for my corral (E) and sent me on my way to get my t-shirts and get any photos taken that I wanted in front of the race backdrops. The race shirts were running smaller than I expected, but mine seemed to just fit, so I kept it. Melissa and Paul got their numbers and shirts as well and we went to get photos taken before hitting up the rest of the expo…which was basically shopping.
Thankfully…I bought my swag ahead of time because they always run out of my sizes. Cathy got me a finisher’s shirt. The only thing I really wanted was the best winter hat to ever exist, but they sold out of that quick. Probably because it was soul-crushingly cold that weekend and everyone wanted hats. Melissa had snagged one prior to the race online. As in…the last one. It wasn’t meant to be. I was bummed, but I have plenty of hats as it is. We took photos with our names on the wall…snagged some free United Airlines buffs that were being handed out…and got on our way to explore some of NYC before heading to dinner that night.
As with every pre-race meal in NYC…it was pizza night, and of course we went to Don Antonio’s is my go-to place for both gluten-free and vegan pizza. They have a regular menu and a gluten-free menu and take very good care to keep everything safe for you to eat. Melissa and I split the Senza Glutine Marinara Pizza. Melissa also snagged a couple of gluten-free appetizers to share. Cathy and Paul split a regular pizza and each got one of their signature dough puffs to eat. The food was plentiful and we were definitely full and ready to hike back to the hotel to get everything ready for the following morning. And, yes, we managed to do this and schedule alarms so that we could all function and get what we needed done in the morning.
With the first alarm early in the morning, I was up and at them first to put on my winter tights, an undershirt, my fleece lined tech-top I love wearing due to the collar…and then brushed my teeth and went to step out of the bathroom for the next person to do what they needed to do. While Melissa, Paul, and Cathy took their turns in the bathroom, I did up my hair, put on my socks and compression sleeves, put on my winged anklet, got my Dunkin Donuts winter hat (the one I got from the 2014 NYC Marathon) on my head, snagged my gloves, and opted to give the buff we got for free at the expo a chance. I had nothing really to eat in the room, but I brought a Larabar to the start line to eat in the corrals prior to the race. That went into my fuel belt to stay close to my body to keep it from getting rock hard in the cold. We headed out the door to get to the train station and take the subway to Brooklyn. We had to wait in the station for awhile, and when the train did arrive, it was already packed. We managed to squeak our way in…and with each additional stop…every car just kept getting fuller. And despite the driver announcing that the train was full and to wait for the train behind us…we kept having people push their way into our car. Now I was suffocating and dying, especially when the air conditioning would cut off.
But we made it to the Prospect Park stop and disembarked and began to make our way to the starting area, where we would have to go through security. This was where we had to split from Cathy. She was going to get back on a train and go to Mile 3 (just after the runners come over the Manhattan Bridge) to hopefully catch me there.
At the start line…we had very little time to hang around and talk. After getting through security, I needed to drink my pre-workout drink and eat my Larabar so I wasn’t running a half marathon on an empty tank. I ate my Larabar while Melissa and Paul fueled up as well…and then I needed to get into my corral in Wave 1. They were in Wave 2, and apparently had to hunker down in the cold shade and try not to freeze for over an hour. YUCK!
As for me…I started drinking my water and making my way up to Corral E. There were going to be quite a few starts, so I was NOT shedding my toss-away clothes (yep…I hit Goodwill the day before and picked up clothes to shed since it was going to be freezing at the start line) until I absolutely had to.
The National Anthem was sung…and the wheelchairs and elites were sent off. It took a long while for me to get up close enough to shed clothing, but I finally did. And soon, it was my corral’s turn to get ready to go. As we were standing in the cold wind, the woman behind me pointed to one of the free United Airlines buffs that was shed by runners before us and said, “Not going to lie…I’m tempted to pick that up.” I told her I wouldn’t judge. HA! But soon, we were sent off…and it was time to run through the streets of Brooklyn.
The first 2 miles are spent running the streets of Brooklyn. And then, the first climb happens as you start up the Manhattan Bridge. I know that the bridges in NYC are beasts, but this actually slowed me down more than I would have liked. But, as this was being treated as a training run, I wasn’t really focusing on my pace. This would turn out to be a very good thing as the race continued. Crossing the bridge was great. You could see the Statue of Liberty from there…and it was clear and beautiful and COLD that morning. I put my head down and came down the other side of the bridge, feeling like a rockstar for sure.
Cathy was near the turn before heading into the 5K and I waved and smiled as I ran through and began to take in the miles before Times Square. Times Square was such a highlight for me in 2016 when I ran the old course. This course was definitely tougher, as when we started in Central Park…we got the hills out of the way early. Now…now they were at the end. So these were the flat miles in between. Miles 3-7 are downhill to flat and I loved them. It just felt good to run, and have the spectators that were out braving the cold yell motivation to you. I was crossing a bridge near the 10K mark when I spotted Lottie (aka: runningonveggies) doing her thing. I wanted to shout-out to her, but I wasn’t sure she’d hear me and I am…nobody…and she’s like…super amazing. She looked strong.
Coming into Central Park, I knew there was a chance that Cathy wouldn’t make it to see me there. It all depends on the trains. Apparently she got out of the subway about 45 seconds before I was supposed to hit Times Square based on the tracker. She at first decided she wasn’t going to make it, but then changed her mind and did the “Sixth Avenue Sprint” to Times Square, where she did actually catch me and I could hear her shouting and waving at me from the other side of the barricades. Just the uplift I needed at that point, because we were heading up toward Central Park, which meant some minor rollers until hitting the park just before Mile 9. For a few moments in Times Squre, however, I was running next to former NYC Marathon race director Mary Wittenberg, which was super cool. She was getting a lot of shout-outs from volunteers and NYRR…but I turned my attention back to the entrance to Central Park. Here come the hills.
This is also where my watch got WAY off on the mileage and pace due to the buildings in Manhattan…and the rest of the race was just guess work at this point.
My friend Michael told me he would be at Mile 10 near Cat Hill in Central Park with his friends cheering on runners. So I had that to look forward to. And, sure enough, as I was making the ugly climb up Cat Hill…I heard him shout my name, I turned and managed to wave before continuing to die a little on that hill. Somewhere around Mile 11, a woman decided she would cross the road with her dog while texting on her phone right in front of me and a few other runners. She got yelled at by quite a few people who she disrupted. I mean…come on!
There seemed like more uphills than downhills for that last 5K…and my watch was beeping with the distance about .9 miles off of what it was supposed to be. I’m not lying. I was pretty much a mile ahead of myself via my GPS…which was not making me happy, despite not being one who glances at my watch during the race. I don’t like to put any pressure on myself, but now I was questioning if my GPS was off or the course was long. There was no way to really know. The GPS was off (thanks Times Square and Manhattan)…so when I took that downhill toward the finish line…I crossed with 14.02 miles on my watch and crazy fast splits showing me running a mile in under 6 minutes. HA!! I wish!! So, that was the disappointing part if I had to pick one. Because I love reviewing my actual splits to see what I need to work on after a race. It was fun though…and, despite never being warm during the entire run…I was elated to be done. And super surprised with my time.
After finishing and getting my race medal and a mylar blanket, we were loaded down with snacks and sent hiking out of the park. This walk takes a good 30 minutes to accomplish. I made friends with a nice lady named Wendy and we talked until she had to veer off to bag check to get her stuff. I finally could see the statue marking Columbus Circle, which was where runners were exiting and were spectators were told would be the best spot to reunite with their runners. I spotted Cathy immediately and she came over to give me a hug. I desperately needed coffee, and she had suffered through McDonald’s coffee and wanted good coffee…so we made our way to Tisserie (which was on the race course) and each got a drink. I got a Café Au Lait with Almond Milk and it was one of the best things I had ever drank. I needed that to start to warm myself up. But after checking the app to check in on Melissa and Paul (they were Wave 2 and started about an hour after me) we saw they were coming up to the area we were drinking our coffee. So, we stepped outside and found a spot on the rail to watch for them.
At one point, a guy from Norway ran over to me and took a picture with me. Random. But amusing. And then…we saw them coming. Cathy and I shouted to them about how they were killing it, and while Melissa didn’t believe me…she was running NYC. How cool is that?!
As they headed toward the park, Cathy and I hightailed it back to the hotel so I could shower and change and head back out to meet up with them after the race. We got to Columbus Circle as they were nearing the finish line. And when they crossed, I let them know, via text, that we were waiting for them there. Their phone was almost dead, but Melissa was able to fire a response back. We waited until we spotted them and flagged them down. The hills had definitely taken their toll on Melissa’s Achilles, so we got her settled for a moment to rest and rant all she needed. Paul dug food out of the snack pack for the two of them. Once they had rested, we took them back to the hotel to shower and chill before we went out to our celebratory dinner at Red Rooster that night.
THAT. WAS. FUN. And the food was amazing.
The new NYC course is definitely much harder than the old one…but I ended up running this one 2 minutes faster. So…I count that as a win. A course PR and a race PR. WOOT!
So…the official results of the 2018 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon was that I finished with an official time of 1:41:29…and that was closer to the 13.1 than the 14.02 my watch showed. I swear. I was 2773/21,995 finishers this year. I was 557/11,075 female finishers. And I was 86/1847 finishers in my age division. I couldn’t be happier with these results considering how much stress I went into NYC with and how cold weather affects my body. I had a blast and would love to do this again.
Or at least get a cute winter hat.
The remaining days in NYC were spent exploring and eating. And the best of the best was going up to the top of the Empire State Building at night, freezing, and taking pictures and just living life.
And that’s what this was all about. Fun, friends…and finish lines.