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New York City Half Marathon - RunHalf Marathon

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New York, New York
United States
New York Road Runner's Club
49F / 9C
Total Time = 1h 23m 25s
Overall Rank = 335/15324
Age Group = M40-44
Age Group Rank = 44/1210
Pre-race routine:

This race was a bit of a mixed bag. I should be delighted with my 65-second PR. Those don't happen very often these days. But I was bummed to have missed my target, and to have struggled from fairly early in the race. And at the same time I'm pleased that I was able to hold things together reasonably without fading worse or stopping with injury a few miles out. In any case, that was a hard race, and as I write this I'm feeling more sore than I have in over 15 years.

I signed up for the race when I realized that it was happening right after I'd be in New York for a conference. We decided to make a fun family weekend, so Andrea and Zoe (aged 10) came up to join me for the weekend, so that we could all see the city together. My race prep wasn't entirely ideal, as my talk at the conference was paired up with Noam Chomsky (no, it wasn't about politics; my day job is as a linguist), and I got precious little sleep while preparing for it. Then I perhaps celebrated a little too hard with my students after that was all over. And not much more rest over the weekend, as it was time to be a tourist with the family. So in that respect I wasn't terribly rested. But in terms of training I was very rested indeed. I had only 1 week of full run training in the past month, as I was trying to nurse my way through to this A-race by keeping injuries at elbow's length. I knew that I had to treat my calves and achilles with respect if I was going to make it to the start-line in shape.

An aside: to get a race bib, I had to book a hotel via the NYRR's travel partner. We ended up with a room that directly overlooks the 9/11 Memorial and the Freedom Tower. Both a very neat view, and also quite eerie.
Event warmup:

Up at 4, bus to the start at 5:30. A little jogging around the park in between porta-potty visits. Achilles still feeling a bit sore, but I was moderately confident that it would hold up. I was wearing a pair of lighter weight shoes that I don't typically wear for running, as they seem to irritate the achilles less. That might not have been the best decision. NYRR has the event very well organized, but they take a more draconian approach than I expected. They said that corrals would close 30 minutes before the race start, but I didn't expect them to actually enforce the rule. I had a scare when trying to get into my corral about 29 minutes before the start and folks were being told that they had to go from the first all the way to the last one. Fortunately I was able to hop a barrier when the over-zealous volunteer wasn't looking.
  • 1h 23m 25s
  • 13.1 miles
  • 06m 22s  min/mile

The route does a 10k counter-clockwise loop around Central Park before doing a couple of miles along canyon-like New York streets and then taking a straight shot down the West Side Highway for the last 5 miles. The miles in the park are a bit hilly, then the second half of the race is almost entirely flat. Miles 3-12 are almost all heading due south, so it was unfortunate that there was a wind coming from the south. My goal was to try to average 6:15s all the way, which would get me home in just under 1:22. I wanted to avoid going out too hard in the loop through the park, as I knew that I'd need to have plenty in reserve for the second half. But due to the hills in the park, I wasn't sure how to gauge the pace.

It only took around 15s to get across the start line (back in the hotel, the family saw a great shot of me starting on the TV coverage). Things were pretty crowded for the first 1k or so, but then they thinned out enough that I had free road for the remainder of the race. I tried to hold back at the start, but worried (as usual) that I might be going too slow. I picked it up a little, but it felt fairly comfortable. 6:15 for mile 1, then 6:10 for mile 2, which was mostly uphill. 5:51 for mile 3, which was mostly downhill (I was confused by the fluctuations, since there were many shorter ups and downs, and only afterwards did I understand why my pace was changing so much. By the 5k point (18:56) I was feeling the familiar calf tightening. Uh oh. I wasn't expecting that so early.

Miles 4 and 5 were mostly uphill, so it's no surprise that they were slower (6:24, 6:30), but that put me right on my target pace. And then the flatter mile 6 put me right back on pace (6:13). As we exited the park I was surprised to see that there were still a few thousand runners who had yet to cross the start line. 10k was reached in 38:45 (19:51 split), and things seemed more or less ok we emerged into the city.

The headwind was much more evident as I headed down 7th Ave towards Times Square. It was really a cool sight to behold -- but the fact that I wasn't really enjoying it is an indication that I was already suffering more than I should have been at that point. The next couple of miles were covered at around 6:23 pace. They needed to be faster, as they were a net downhill, and should have been much easier. Around this part of the race I started to feel an entirely unexpected soreness in both of my quads, which made my legs feel a whole lot heavier. I haven't felt that in a long, long while. Once that started, I knew that it was going to be hard work over the next few miles, and although I was not clear enough in my head to do the math, I think this is where my thoughts shifted from hitting my goal time to salvaging a PR (I ran 1:24:30 last fall).

Turning onto the West Side Highway at 8 miles things got worse. We turned back into the headwind, and the road turned to concrete. And just as had happened in a 10k 4 weeks ago, my calves immediately tightened further, and I felt that they were about to cramp. (I asked about this in a thread a couple of weeks ago, and the BT consensus was that it was a coincidence, nothing to do with the road surface; now it's looking a bit less coincidental to me). I tried to shorten my stride to reduce the cramping risk, and just aimed to hang in there over the next 3 miles. By now I was stopping at drink stations for a brief gulp -- I really should learn how to drink on the run, as these always cost me a few seconds. 15k was reached in 58:41 (19:56 for that 5k), and 10 miles in a shade over 63 minutes. The next 2 miles down to the Battery Park tunnel were getting harder and harder, though I was managing to keep to slightly below 6:30/mile (I actually had little idea of my pace - I was quite unable to do the math at that point). The sore quads were really making me struggle.

Right after mile 12 the race enters a long tunnel under Battery Park. I actually liked that part, as the headwind was now gone and it was suddenly peaceful, leaving me able to simply focus on holding it together to the end. 20k came in 1:18:56, and by that time I could tell that the PR was safe. But the ramp that we climbed to exit the tunnel almost finished me off, and although there was only 800m to go, I was still not confident of making it to the end. The final stretch seemed to go on for a long while, and there was no thought of putting on a sprint finish. I simply didn't care. When I passed the finish at 1:23:25 I was actually pleasantly surprised to be over a minute inside the old PR (... an it turned out that there was again a nice shot of me finishing on the TV coverage). But also immediately bummed to have missed an opportunity to go faster, not to mention that I missed the PR of my #1 rival (little bro') by just 55 seconds, and the new-and-harsh NYCM auto-qualifier by 25 seconds.
What would you do differently?:

-- Wear the same shoes that I've been doing my long runs in.
-- Get more sleep ahead of the race
-- Take action on the recurrent calf/achilles tightness issues; time to take a running break to heal
-- Don't go to one of NYC's best beer joints 2 nights before the race
-- Watch the weight
Post race
Warm down:

As soon as I stopped, it was hard to get going again. I felt like multiple parts of my legs were about to cramp immediately. Quickly met up with A & Z, who helped me put myself back together again, and nursed me through the walk back to the hotel. I don't think I've been this sore after an event since the 1996 Boston Marathon.

What limited your ability to perform faster:

Injuries, rest, headwind. It's possible that I went out too fast, but I don't think so - I think the pace was appropriate to my recent fitness.

Event comments:

It's a good race. Well organized, iconic route (... though NYC's downtown was shrouded in fog during the race, so there wasn't so much to see). With the early hills and the risk of running 9 miles into a headwind, like today, it's perhaps not the fastest course. Everything was very orderly, and I guess I can forgive NYRR's hard-nosed approach to achieving that, e.g., very early bag drop-off, and no bags other than the clear plastic bag that they provide. The porta-potty supply at the start was not good. Each 1000-runner corral had a bank of johns, and they were just far too few for the number of runners. And the situation was exacerbated by having the loos on the west side of Central Park, and the bag drop on the East Side of the park, forcing runners to criss-cross the park. I was fortunate to be in the first corral, so the start was a breeze, but it must have been less fun for those towards the back who had to wait for 40+ minutes to cross the start line. The new finish line venue at South Street Seaport seems to be an improvement over previous years. But the post-race food was lame. Everybody got a goodie bag with a couple of bottles plus an apple and a bag of pretzels (this is a pricey half marathon, not a low-cost airline). I would do this race again if I was in NYC, but I'm not sure that I'd make the trip specially for this, given the total cost.

I should add that this race attracts a very deep field, which can be very useful for running a faster time. The NYC HM had the same size field as my hometown RnR HM in DC on the same weekend, which had similar conditions and a slightly easier course. My time that put me 44th in my AG would have put me 3rd in the AG in DC. Clearly NYC is far more competitive.

Last updated: 2012-02-02 12:00 AM
01:23:25 | 13.1 miles | 06m 22s  min/mile
Age Group: 44/1210
Overall: 335/15324
Course: 10k through Central Park (hilly), then 2 miles through wide city streets (incl. Times Square), then 5 miles on West Side Highway.
Keeping cool Good Drinking Just right
Post race
Weight change: %
Overall: Average
Mental exertion [1-5] 3
Physical exertion [1-5] 4
Good race? No
Course challenge Just right
Organized? Yes
Events on-time? Yes
Lots of volunteers? Yes
Plenty of drinks? Yes
Post race activities: Average
Race evaluation [1-5] 4

2012-03-18 7:05 PM

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University Park, MD
Subject: New York City Half Marathon

2012-03-18 8:06 PM
in reply to: #4101952

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Bedford, MA
Subject: RE: New York City Half Marathon


Nice way to push through and set a PR! That's a fast time on a demanding course. I've never run Cental Park, but know it's deceptively hilly. Hope you can heal up and get back to running soon.

2012-03-19 2:08 PM
in reply to: #4101952

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Columbia, South Carolina
Subject: RE: New York City Half Marathon
Great race, and nice job pushing through the difficulties.  Heal up soon!
2012-03-20 10:07 AM
in reply to: #4101952

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Crab Cake City
Subject: RE: New York City Half Marathon
great job colin!
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