Wednesday, March 18, 2015

United Airlines NYC Half Recap

By Mark | Sunday's United Airlines NYC Half was my 22nd half-marathon and 111th overall race since I traded a box of KOOLS for a box of ASICS on Dec. 1, 2006. I finished this one with a net time of 2:40:10, compared to 2:26:01 in 2007, 2:46:51 in 2009 and 2:27:45 in 2012. It was perfect running weather in the 40s and a great event. Here's my recap of the weekend, and really it all comes down to that unmatched thrill of taking over Times Square:

#UnitedNYCHalf Expo

This race's expo is on par with that of many top marathons. It was held right next to Madison Square Garden, so you come out of the subway and see the Empire State Building in all its glory, and then enter a world that had the unmistakable air of flying aboard United.

I'm sorry I don't have these two volunteers' names below, but they handed me my bib package and I asked if they'd mind if I take a pic of them. They then proceeded to tell me their story. They came here from Australia just for this event, not to run it but to volunteer. It seems that they ran the event in a recent year for a sister, who was battling a disease. That sister sadly has passed away. Running this race as a dedication to her had meant so much to the three of them, that these two were here in her spirit. It was so heartwarming and gave me chills. I love them for this. If you happen to see this blog post, then I'm saying hello and feel free to reach out!

There was a terrific assortment of official and unofficial race gear.

There were a few tables for runners and their friends/family to fill out large cheer cards that they could bring to the race. I had to fill out this one and tweet it.

It was time to buy a couple of things. First of all, I needed another pair of running socks. I have a drawer filled with Balega and ASICS for the past seven years. I wanted something cushiony and warm for this half, and I'd never worn Wigwam. These would do just fine. Indeed, they were great during the race. The salesperson said that if you turn them inside-out before washing, they will "pop right back into place." Will have to give that a try.

One of the Expo areas featured a display of running log books. I thought this would be perfect for Rachel, as she is starting her training plan for the Airbnb Brooklyn Half in mid-May. I have not used a running log book since I started in 2006-07, and sometimes I wish I still did. I treated it like a diary then, putting Central Park leaves in the pages as well as my mileage and notes. The woman who designed these books was very helpful and said she used online logs for a while but found it more enjoyable doing it this way. I can't say I disagree with her. I tried to keep up with it for a while but don't have time to log miles online.

Thanks to Nuun for the sample shots of watermelon! Feel free to sponsor @marathoner anytime you want to reach more runners!  :)

Oh hey, it's Coaches Stuart and John going over the United NYC Half course below. These guys are great, as is Coach Gordon. NYRR runners are pretty lucky to have the virtual coaches and the talent and input from this crew. I asked John what the weather and expected attire were looking like for Sunday morning, and he told me he was going to wear shorts and said the wind would be at our backs going down West Side Highway. That advice wound up being very helpful. It is really typical of the advantage you get in utilizing their expertise.

...this was an amazing touch...a long wall with the grid of Manhattan and the course...

There was a long line, and I asked what it was for. You could have your picture taken. OK, not something I really need. But guess what, you also get one of those awesome United NYC Half super-warm head wraps for free by doing so. OK, I'm in.

Went back to the office and did a mini-flatme. Oh, that beef jerky came from the "Team Beef" crew that had an Expo kiosk. We were able to scoop our own ingredients for a chili packet that went along with a recipe. I'll enjoy that later. King Bingley naturally got this beef jerky.


I was in Wave 3, meaning a 7:45 corral open and an 8:10 race start. So we got up at 6, had some coffee and out the door around 6:45. Lisa and Rachel dropped me off at Fifth Ave and 72nd Street. I took the NYRR advice to not check a bag, and I thought that meant I could enter Central Park easily at 72nd Street and have plenty of time. Unfortunately I still had to walk all the way to the bottom of the park and enter through security with everyone else, bag or no bag. Memo to NYRR for next year: That was unclear to me ahead of time! I thus had to walk 13 blocks south to enter the park, and then of course make my way back up inside the park, so I walked at least 20 blocks -- that's a mile!!! -- to get from the car dropoff to my corral. I am glad we left me plenty of time, under the circumstances, but still . . . not a good way to start the day! The good news is, NYRR is awesome and that was my only issue on this day. My goal here is never to complain but to give runner feedback when we experience issues, so that was mine.

The first thing I saw as I entered the park was the beautiful and legendary Park Plaza Hotel. Shoulda stayed there. Could you imagine? Fall out of a luxurious bed. . . .

Happiness is being welcomed to a big race. Lots of security, as usual. Even though I brought no bag, I was stopped and frisked just to be sure.

Can I please say a final word about this white Adidas sweatshirt? It has been a fixture in my checked bags at NYRR races going back to at least 2007. It just gets the job done. Well, I had to make a decision to wear some warm gear that I could leave behind at the start, and it came down to this one. Sweeting is such sweet sorrow. Like the NBA, I'm saying goodbye to Adidas here.

And we're in the corral. Oh hi. Does everyone feel stupid taking a selfie when it feels like a thousand runners behind you are watching you do it? I see others taking them so I just say hell with it and take the pic. Then it's a bad pic and I take another, and that's when I feel dumbest. I'm one of over 20,000 runners, and this is Corral 23 in Wave 3. I'm wearing my Paris Marathon buff around my neck, came in handy when the wind kicked up later. BTW, elites are nearly done.

Hard to see here, but as usual about 7 of every 10 shoes are ASICS.

First 6 Miles: Central Park

The hardest part about the NYC Half, by far, is the beginning. You start with a big climb, so just get it over with and try not to leave it all right there on Cat Hill. Start this race by using those hill muscles, and then downshift along the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Make up some time in miles 2 and 3, which are flat-downhill-flat. Mile 3 featured a new wrinkle that I did not experience in 2012: We exited the top of the park in Harlem, ran for the Frederick Douglass Circle, did that loop and then returned on the same path and re-entered the park. Nearly a fourth of the race done. If you made good time in that first mile up Cat Hill, you should be looking great.

Mile 4 is the hardest mile in New York City and one of the hardest anywhere. But to the victor go the spoils. You run straight up the Harlem Hill, and then you run straight down it. In my case, I did minimal training and almost none on hills, so I was about 80% run and 20% walk up the hill. I wanted to make sure I would have legs left for the long West Side Highway later.

Mile 5, I love you and I hate you. It's the humps on West Drive. So many thoughts were going through my head at this point. That's when it hit me: Stop letting weird thoughts get in your head. Coach Andrew Kastor trained me last year to use mantras and be mentally strong. At that point, as I looked down at my ASICS Gel-Cumulus 16 shoes moving forward, I started a mantra:

It's all downhill now.
It's all downtown now.
Freedom just ahead.
Freedom to the left
Freedom to the right
Wind at your back

Mile 6 was all downhill, past the Shakespeare Garden and The Pond and Strawberry Fields and Sheep's Meadow and out the park on Seventh Avenue. Mantra working. Happiness ahead.

Mile 7: Times Square Takeover! This is what it's all about! This moment of bliss is the reason that I ran the Manhattan Half, the Brooklyn Half, the Queens 10K and the Staten Island Half in 2014 -- for automatic entry into the 2015 United NYC Half. The bright lights were up ahead. The Great White Way was ours. The wide road lined with barricades and then Broadway marquees and then the famous Times Square signs you see from outer space. It was all ours. Like the previous two times, I was giddy. I laughed. I whooped as loud as I could, and other runners did the same. Some runners ran backwards while taking selfie video of the bright lights behind them or above them. Some stopped to take pictures. It was the one time I had allowed myself to wrest my silly iPhone 6 Plus out of its snug Nathan waist holder. I took pics and videos. I expected to lose 3 to 5 minutes of gaga time in this mile, and I didn't care. There were photogs everywhere. I am pretty sure they captured me giving my true emotions of how I felt. This was heaven for runners.

Man, that was fun. Especially when you live here and are one of the teeming masses.

This was so much cooler than New Year's Eve. They're not even comparable.

The Mile 7 sign comes after you turn right on 42nd Street, and then it's over to West Side Highway. At that point, the cold wind kicked up, and I pulled my buff up over my ears for a little bit. We then proceeded south on that highway bordering the Hudson River. I drive on this road most weekdays during my commute. In fact, a few days earlier I had taken this picture just to remind myself what it would be like to run instead of drive this route:

I could run these next few miles blindfolded, as I work at Chelsea Market and do training runs along the Financial District to Battery Park. We proceeded in that direction, and I felt great. The wind was at our backs, so there was an urge to take advantage of it.

It's all downhill now.
It's all downtown now.
Freedom just ahead.
Freedom to the left
Freedom to the right
Wind at your back

The "Freedom to the left" was the Freedom Tower, aka World Trade Center. The "Freedom to the right" was the Statue of Liberty out in the harbor. We went down into the Battery Tunnel, did some hoot and hollers in the dark echo chamber, and it was daylight just ahead. As I got closer to the finish, I heard my name shouted. It was Lisa and Rachel! "Just 400 meters!" Rachel yelled.

Then I careened toward the finish. It was a bittersweet sensation, because just as the finish line was in sight, the full pathway in front of me was suddenly a scene of NYPD and police dogs. It was kind of pandemonium. I had no idea what was happening. Then I glanced to my left, and a man was on the ground, on his back, with paramedics over him. Why he collapsed, I have no idea, and perhaps someone reading this might be able to update me. The fact that so many cops and dogs were suddenly scurrying made me wonder if it was more than a late-race collapse.

Anyway, I had only one mission and that was to cross the finish line up ahead. My glee returned. My finish time was 2:40:10, and that was almost exactly what I was predicting given little training on this one. I'll take any finish, I don't care!

My 5K splits were 34:08, 38:52, 38:14 and 39:55. That's actually quite steady for me. Remember that the first 5K includes the fast miles 2 and 3, and even though the first mile was up Cat Hill, it's the excitement of a race start and I tend to flow excitedly with the crowd.

I love that medal! Remembering the large one I posed in front of at the expo, it was sweet to see the official version around my neck and to feel its weight.

My fourth NYC Half is in the books and the bib is on the ring!

Next race: Scotland Run, April 4 at Central Park. Rachel and I will both be running the Airbnb Brooklyn Half in May, so there will be a lot of details about that one coming up here.

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