It had been almost 8 weeks since my last race, the Manhattan Half Marathon so I was looking forward to the NYC Half Marathon on March 17. My Race-iversary was this month too. Two years since running my very first race, the NYRR Colon Cancer 15k Challenge. I have since run a total of 27 NYRR races plus two marathons (The Philadelphia and Disney Marathons) that equals 311.5 Total Race Miles.
It all started with one step. Every single mile has been a precious blessing. Some of those miles have been magical, where I feel as though I’m floating just above the ground for miles upon miles. And of recent, the miles have been tough, sloppy and hard on the ground.
Many months ago when I first signed up for the NYC Half Marathon I had hoped to PR under two hours. Being stuck in a runner’s rut, I realized that goal was just out of my reach. So I changed my expectations. Just because I’m having a tough time with running doesn’t mean I have to give up all my joy and enthusiasm! I switched my focus on the goal that is at the heart of every race, even every run, that I tackle one step at a time: to smile across the finish.
I went into the NYC Half Marathon with excitement and weariness from winter running. The morning of the NYC Half it was 28 degrees with a bone-numbing wind. Wake-up was for 4:00am in order to start prepping. My father, husband and I were all running the race. We drove into the city from Staten Island at 5:00am. Parked uptown on the east side of Central Park. We walked with herds of runners in the frigid cold to baggage check and then walked across the park to the west side for the race corrals. I couldn’t stop shaking from the cold air. The corrals closed at 6:30am and I waited another 45 minutes before I actually crossed the start line. The cold was torture. I knew once we started running I would warm-up. The start could not come fast enough.
The course was one full loop of Central Park, down Seventh Avenue, through midtown and across 42nd street, and then down the West Side Highway, past the World Trade Center, into a tunnel that was completely flooded during Hurricane Sandy, and then to the finish line at Wall and Water Streets.
The loop in Central Park was smooth sailing. I kept a steady pace and tried not to go too hard as I wanted to tackle the Harlem Hills with an energy reserve. As I hit the steepest hill on the north west corner of the park I pushed myself to pass runners. At one point I was so determined to get the hills over with that I even shouted, “Oh how I LOVE hills!” which gave me a good boost up the final climb.
There were two funny moments I encountered along those hills. As I past a fluid station a friendly volunteer was shouting, “Get your Gatorade on the rocks here!” The Gatorade was more like a slushy and the water cups had to be squeezed a few times to crack the top layer of ice. I also had a runner’s celebrity moment. I ran past the infamous NY weatherman Mr. G who is also a lifetime marathoner.
From then on it was time to relax and enjoy the fun. I came out of the the park, down Seventh Avenue, where there were crowds of cheerers. The feeling of racing in the streets of NYC are like nothing I have ever experienced on any other race course. There is a natural energy that comes up from the street and bounces off the buildings. I felt it in my legs and easily picked up my pace. There was even a moment where I was on pace to come in just under 2 hours. I was working very hard to keep consistent.
Around mile 8 my sister met me along the sidelines and helped pace me to mile 13. Running across 42nd street towards the West Side Highway the winds were relentless. Whereas at the start of the race I was freezing, now I was freezing and sweating. If this had been January, I would have been enjoying the challenge of the new season. But after months of this cold weather I just could not take it any more. I had decided that after the NYC Half Marathon I would take a two week break from running. I had never taken a proper break from running since running the Philadelphia Marathon in November and then the Disney Marathon in January. Like it or not, it was time to rest.
Passing the World Trade Center site I started to slow down. I used each water station as a chance for a brisk walk in an attempt to recharge my batteries. We headed down into the tunnel to loop around towards the finish line. That tunnel seemed to never end. And then I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I had to push up a final short and steep hill. That was where I felt as though I was running through mud, dragging bricks behind me. My sister was pushing me to move. She would say, “You only have a two miles to go!” “Just one more mile!”. The problem for me was that because of my struggles with running, two miles felt like an eternity to run.
As I came out of the tunnel downtown and approached mile 13 I became very emotional and tears swelled up in my eyes. I was pushing my legs to move but they just didn’t want to go any faster. My breathing was staggered and my chest was burning from the cold air. Although the Half Marathon (13.1 miles) was a distance I had raced countless times and run on countless Sunday runs, the NYC Half was a true challenge for me. I reminded myself to pull it together and finish strong because after this race it was rest time.
So I took a huge gulp of cold air into my lungs, pushed it quickly out of my mouth and charged for that finish line as though I was in a fight for first place. I crossed the finish line (2:08) with complete relief that it was finally over, exhaustion from the challenge and a total joy that I accomplished yet another race. Now it’s time for a two week vacation. I can’t wait to see how I feel on the other side of it.