Well hello there, blog readers! Thanks for joining me for another edition of I’m Doing It! I’m Not Sucking! Today I would like tell you about my latest running escapade, the New York City Half Marathon! Cozy on up to your laptop or the mobile device of your choice and join me for a tale of 13.1 miles of glory through the streets of Manhattan if you are so inclined. Here we go!
But First, Let’s Set the Stage…
In case you missed my last big race report, this past summer I trained my butt off for the Chicago Marathon. Long story short, it was hot, I was sad, training was hard, I crushed it anyway. And in the end I ran a pretty dang good for a not so great day, but still slower than I had hoped for time in the windy city. Sigh. As I reflected on the race, I decided that the most sensible next move for me was to focus on the half marathon distance for the spring season in hopes of gaining some speed and confidence in my ability to run fast. I figured I could take this new-found speed and confidence and roll it over into a really baller marathon come fall of 2017. And so I threw my name into the hat for the New York City Half Marathon lottery. Although I believe myself to lead a charmed life in many ways, winning things is not one of them. And yet among all of my running friends and acquaintances (both of which I have many) I, and only I won the lottery.
Christmas came and I asked Santa to bring me a half marathon training program from Ryan Warrenburg of ZAP Fitness, the same lovely fellow who wrote my Chicago training program. At this time, I feel that it is important to mention that my purpose in choosing the half marathon distance as my primary focus for spring was twofold. The first fold being all that jazz I mentioned previously about getting faster and more confident, blah, blah, blah. The second being that I was really effing over 20 + mile long runs, having done approximately 1 billion of them in preparation for Chicago. I figured focusing on the 13.1 distance would be a welcome reprieve from those big miles. Boy, was I wrong. My Christmas training plan arrived and (forgive me, all of you who have been listening to me bitch about this for the ENTIRE DAMN TRAINING CYCLE) but I was absolutely incensed and mortified to learn that it featured MULTIPLE 20 MILERS!
Publicly, my goal for the race was to run something close to my ancient, long-lost half marathon PR of ~90 min. Secretly, in the deep recesses of my heart and mind, the goal was to find some redemption for the fall’s mediocre marathon performance by making the NYC Half my f@&king bitch, as demonstrated in the GIF below.
These goals, both secret and touted publicly, seemed lofty based on what I knew about my recent racing experiences and current fitness and confidence levels, but I was up for it. So when the calendar switched from 2016 to 2017, I jumped right in started doing it. (No sucking allowed!) The long runs, the uphill strides, the mile repeats, the (occasional) foam rolling & core work, and ESPECIALLY the exotic pick ups. (Because obviously, those are my favorite!) Twelve weeks, many miles, almost as many emergency ATT bathroom stops, one mostly satisfying tune-up race, and only a small amount of vomit later, race weekend snuck right up on me. I departed for New York on Friday feeling fit, rested, and prepared enough, I suppose. But was I ready to EFFING DOMINATE THAT RACE LIKE BOSS? Meh, maybe.
The Pre-Race Rundown
Laura graciously put me up for the weekend, and I was VERY IMPRESSED with myself for navigating my way all the way from JFK to her upper west side apartment via New York City Public transit. (And I spied the authentic NYC trifecta of public urination, discarded hypodermic needles, and a rat in the process!) My pre-race time in the city was filled with multiple delicious brunches, a tiny baby shake-out run, more fancy cocktails than is probably ideal before running one’s A race, A LOT of subway riding, delicious and authentic sushi, a fabulous NYC haircut, and copious amounts of prosciutto pizza. I went to bed Saturday night feeling appreciative of Laura’s delivery of excellent, largely culinary tour of the city, but also a teensy bit worried that I had indulged in absolutely none of my usual compulsive, yet comforting pre-race rituals. As I fell asleep, I tried to comfort myself with the notion that maybe letting go of usual pre-race routine was just the change of pace I needed to by-pass my also usual feelings of race day stress and anxiety.
The Actual Race Report Portion of this Blog Post
And just like that, the alarm was going off on Sunday morning. To quote the great Kevin McAllister from the cinematic masterpiece Home Alone, “This is it. Don’t get scared now.” I checked the weather, layered up accordingly, and Laura and I headed out to start my lengthy warm up. Laura navigated us from her apartment to the Central Park start line toting my warm stand-around-before-the-start throw-away clothes. As it turned out, the route she chose got us there in precisely 2.5 miles, my exact prescribed warm up. The old legs felt pretty fresh on our trip, and I warmed up enough to question my decision to opt for a long sleeve under my singlet. That’s when I realized that I had completed my warm up and still had over an hour remaining until the gun went off. Oopsie bears.
Laura doled out my throw-away clothes and we slowly wound our way through a porta-potty line (where I experienced mild pooping success) and then the metal detectors. To our surprise, no one questioned Laura passing through the security check point with me so she continued to keep me company for an additional non-porta potty pee and a little more jogging around plus strides, mostly just to stay warm. And that took us to 7:10 am, the time when everyone is required to be in their corrals before the 7:30 start. Laura kindly entertained me from the other side of the corral fencing until the National Anthem was sung, and the elites were announced. She also saved me from having to part with the SWEET Target super-clearance $7.00 fleece leggings I had purchased for the very purpose of keeping warm on race day. (Good thing I opted not to wear them on my United Airlines flight home.) And finally, the gun went off.
The First Two Miles
Guys. I kid you not, the first mile of this race was Wal-Mart at Midnight on Black Friday level crowded! Not cool!
I was a bit surprised, derailed, and stressed out by this, but what’s a girl to do. My heart sank a bit when the watch chirpped off a 7:26 for the inaugural mile split. Slow, to say the least when you need an average pace of ~6:55 in order hit your goal time, let alone make this race your f@$king bitch, but I tried to remain optimistic. I’m a text-book conservative starter/ negative splitter, after all. #everythingisfinenothingisf@#ked On to the mile two!
Despite at least two pre-race bathroom forays, one overwhelming thought monopolized my every step of mile two: “OMG, I HAVE to pee!” “Don’t be ridiculous, Ellen!” “You peed twice before the race started!” “You’re better than this!” “Stay strong!” “Don’t give in to the pee demons! They’re trying to sabotage you!” argued my running inner monologue. But in the end I rationalized that it was better to stop and take care of business now, while there were trees which I could squat behind, than to remain uncomfortable and obsessive for the remainder of the race. I dove for the next adequate-looking tree I came upon, relieved my self, nearly fell in an icy pool of my own urine as I struggle to right myself from the squatting position, and was back on the road in matter of seconds. I congratulated myself for achieving a 7:15 pee split (or a 6:59 spilt, if you choose to believe Strava! Either way, it’s a pee PR,) but also acknowledged that I had run yet another mile significantly slower than the pace I needed to pull off the goal time. (Christ, Ellen! Get it together!)
My feelings from mile 2 of New York City Half Marathon are best expressed by this cat GIF.
Miles 3 through 6
These early miles of the race mostly wound through hilly Central Park. Despite the up and down, I was able to settle into a rhythm of low-7s, slowing only a little on the hilliest of the hills at ~ mile 4, which I had previewed on my shake-out run with Laura and her friend Maddie the day before. I chugged along pretty comfortably, clicking off the following splits, respectively: 7:02, 7:08 (hilliest hill), 7:05, and 6:56. All this while periodically passing, and then being passed by a guy wearing a banana costume. I imagined that all the spectators cheering “Go, Banana!” as we ran by were actually cheering for me. Then I ran by Laura, who really WAS cheering for me! In your face, Banana Man! That boost I got from a little personalized encouragement helped me find the energy to PEEL away from the banana once and for all (Banana pun courtesy of Patrick Costello) as we left Central Park and headed down 7th Avenue (?) towards Times Square.
Miles 7 through 9
It’s hard to say if it was just the thrill of big city excitement or the fond and hilarious memories of a lip sync video I once made with a few of you certain someones out there (y’all know who you are) that were conjured up by the sound of Iggy Azalea’s Fancy blaring throughout the race course, but I felt really frickin’ great as we hauled through Times Square. I recalled from Ryan’s notes on my training plan that this was where things start to get fast, and thus, where I should drop the pace from ~7:05 to 7:00 to something more like 7:00 to 6:50. I felt pretty good about the 6:44 that my watch flashed for the 7th mile split. I also resolved to settle down a bit going forward and keep things closer to the prescribed 6:50 – 7:00 range. No need to work harder than I had to. Instead of taking my own advice, I clocked a 6:42 for number 8, and finally settled down into a more appropriate 6:49 for mile 9. The title of this blog resounded in my head. Maybe there is hope for totally crushing this race after all!
Miles 10 through 13.1
My assignment for this portion of the race, according to the training plan, was to take it one mile at time and to try to make each mile a little faster than the last. I decided to tweak this goal a bit on the fly, both to make it better fit within the parameters of the SMART principle and to align it with what I felt that I was capable of for the miles I had left to run. My mission was to cut down by 10 seconds with every mile. I was still feeling strong and riding the Times Square/ Fancy high, and I knew the course downhill to flat from this point forward. The odds were in my favor! With a tiny twinge of disappointment, I clocked a 10th mile split that matched the 9th one with a 6:48. Eleven and twelve were 6:42 and 6:36, respectively. (Certainly headed in the right direction, but not necessarily acing my minus 10 secs per mile goal.) The final mile was through a weird, seemingly never-ending tunnel that gave me flashbacks of Chicago’s GPS malfunction debacle and the feelings of panic that came with it. I’m not sure how accurate this information is, but Garmin Connect and Strava concur that I ran the 13th mile in 6:20. (I didn’t do the math, but I suspect this helps me average out towards cutting off 10 seconds per mile after all.)
When I finally emerged from the tunnel and the finish came into view, I couldn’t help but feel a little surprised and bummed out by the time on clock. Just a hair under 1:32 was slower than I had hoped. I also felt that this time was an inaccurate representation of how good I felt throughout and how well I had executed the race plan. And then I remember my sluggish first mile, and the pee break in the second mile, and 1:31:52 (my actual official finishing time, for what it’s worth) immediately made a lot more sense.
Conclusions and Reflections
As I reflect on the NYC training cycle and the race itself, despite coming a bit short on the goal time, I think that I was successful in gaining the fitness and confidence that I was looking for. I also think it’s safe to say that after the first to miles, I did, in fact, succeed in making this race my bitch! I’m very satisfied with how I applied my aforementioned fitness and confidence on race day, and I’m going to go ahead and high-five myself for meeting my secret private goal, and also for the running fastest half marathon time I’ve run in quite some while.
Now let’s talk room for improvement. The thing that I found to be my greatest struggle with in both the tune-up race and the main event was sluggish miles out of the gate. I imagine that part of this was merely circumstance. Both races I did this winter/ spring had fairly crowded and hilly starts. At one of them I hardly warmed up at all and at the other I warmed up an hour before the gun went off, and then stood still in the cold for the final half hour before the race began. I also believe that I still have plenty of work to do when it comes to getting comfortable with just settling into a specific pace and running fast for a sustained distance, such as a marathon or half marathon. Any helpful advice anyone out there might be able to offer with regard to these little racing hiccups of mine would be welcome! Don’t be shy, y’all!
And Speaking of Things I Need Your Help With…
My next big running endeavor is yet another NYC event! Barring national disaster and/ or personal crisis (both of which have deterred me in years past) I’ll be toeing the line in Staten Island on November 5th to run the New York City Marathon! To get there, I have committed to raising $3,500 as member of Team V, the official endurance fundraising program of The V Foundation for Cancer Research. (Because cancer research is important, and also because I love how Coach Jim Valvano’s inspiring words “Don’t give up… Don’t ever give up!” apply to both tirelessly working to cure this disease, and to my determination to really, actually run the New York City Marathon once and for all.) #thirdtimeisthecharm So whether you are donating in honor of a loved one, or just because you like supporting worthy causes, I would be very grateful for your contribution in any amount. If you are able, please consider clicking here to make your donation. Many thanks to all of you wonderful souls out who have donated already! I’m so stoked to (seriously, for real) run the 5 boroughs this fall in honor of your generosity and those near and dear to you who have been affected by cancer.
Final Words of Gratitude
First and foremost, a big, giant thank you to Laura for hosting me for race weekend, being a most-excellent New York City tour guide and race sherpa, treating me to the best haircut of my life, cheering for me when everyone else was cheering for the banana, and for just unconditionally remaining one of my nearest and dearest, no matter what. (See you on Story Corps one day, Laura. )
Secondly, as always, I am grateful to all of you kind friends who met me for weekly runs, tolerated my tardiness, listened to me whine throughout this training cycle, and sent me nice, encourage race day texts. An extra-special shout out goes out to Margaret and Torrie who mailed a fabulous post-race to care package all the way to New York City just for me! Y’all are the best!
Torrie, thanks for spending every single Wednesday workout, and almost every long run Sunday with me. Training is infinitely better and more fun with your company, and I am SO FREAKING EXCITED that the next time I run a big NYC race it will be with you! And you got me a yeti for my birthday. Nuf’ said. (Guys, Torrie is also running New York on behalf of The V Foundation this fall! If you’re feeling extra generous, you can donation to my fundraising campaign AND to her’s.)
Ryan Warrenburg of Zap Fitness, thanks for another excellent training program. I begrudgingly admit that the 20 mile long runs paid off. I’ll be in touch soon to talk fall marathon training.
Patrick, thanks again for seeing to it that this race report was not without a good banana pun. (The banana GIF was 100% my idea.)
And of course, thanks to all of you for reading!
Until next time, just remember that whatever it is that you’re doing, YOU’RE DOING IT! And YOU’RE NOT SUCKING!