Friday, October 25, 2019

Race Report: United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

The 2019 course
Old vs. new courses (changes in 2018)
The New York City Half Marathon has a special place in my heart, because the 2014 edition was my very first half marathon.  I ran the race again the following year, and hadn't run it since.  In 2018, they overhauled the course that used to start in Central Park with a full loop of its main road, through Times Square, then following the West Side Highway all the way to Wall Street in Lower Manhattan - instead, they started the race at Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza, crossing the Manhattan Bridge into Manhattan, then following FDR Drive through to Times Square, before running a loop of Central Park and finishing at Tavern on the Green, the same spot where the NYC Marathon finishes every year. The 2019 edition was tweaked slightly to start within Prospect Park. So my five year anniversary of running half marathons would be celebrated with the race that started it all for me... with the United Airlines New York City Half Marathon - my 94th half.

Pre-race dinner on the UWS!
Friends from out of town started coming in on Friday, and I got to start off the weekend, which happened to be St. Patrick's Day weekend, fittingly at an Irish pub on the Upper West Side.  My friend Donna was hosting our mutual friend Pam, visiting from Mississippi, so I met them there after work on Friday for dinner and drinks. We ended up getting caught in a serious downpour when we left the pub, as I traversed an avenue to get to the downtown train. Luckily, the skies cleared up on Saturday morning, and I woke up early enough to make a trip back into Manhattan to run an easy 3.5 miles with Front Runners in Central Park, then join in on the weekly Saturday breakfast at Rutgers Church. That evening, I joined a bunch of friends at an Upper West Side Italian restaurant for dinner, many from out of town coming to race the NYC Half.

Oh, what a beautiful morning...
It was a super early morning, waking at 4:45am to get myself dressed and out the door to walk over to 75th and Roosevelt.  I found the Queens Distance Runners shuttle, and joined them on this early morning ride to Prospect Park.  We got there a little after 6, with still two hours left before my start, so I bided my time trying to stay warm in this cold air.  The sun eventually rose, and I made it past the security checkpoint and into the Nethermead, where runners congregated before heading into their corrals.  The area was totally ready for 25,000 runners to descend - there were a good 1,000 portapotties spread out in this open area.  Around 7:15, I would find Heather, and hand over the handmade "#ShiftyCanadian" back bib I made her, and take a few photos. After she headed to her corrals for her 7:50 start with Wave 2.  I was in Wave 3, and had an 8:10 start.
My Canadian buddy Heather
Heather is a "Shifty Canadian"
FRNY all bundled up before the race!
About to start!
Nick found me about 15 minutes later, and was my saving grace with some handwarmers - despite wearing gloves, my fingers were starting to get NUMB.  We then made our way over to the corrals, where we'd find Kat bundled up and ready to run. The corrals began to move shortly after 8:10, and we were quickly on our way to the start mat.

First mile thru Prospect Park
We crossed the start mat at 8:16am, with the first mile of the race fully in the park, a change from last year's race. Starting on Center Drive, we headed east, then hooked up onto the main loop of the park, to summit Battle Pass Hill on the north end, signaling the first mile of the race.  We took a conservative pace making it up the hill, reaching it in just around 10 minute pace, before bearing right onto the road heading out onto the street through Grand Army Plaza. We bore right to continue onto Flatbush Avenue, taking us on a nice steady descent. I broke away from Kat and Nick, telling them I planned to continue my normal interval at the 19 minute mark, so in order to stay in close proximity with each other, I needed to take advantage of the downhill. We would continue to the turnaround point just before Empire Boulevard, naturally slowing down as we made our way up Flatbush. My second mile would end up being the fastest of the race, taking a whole minute off of the first mile.

Running past Grand Army Plaza
We passed Grand Army Plaza once again, and made a nice long downhill along Flatbush, as it made its way toward Downtown Brooklyn. I saw both Kat and Nick on the run back uphill on the other side of the road.  We would hit the mile 3 mark near the Barclays Center (a 29:50 5K, per official splits), as I continued along on a steady sub 10-minute mile pace. We reached mile 4 just as the course began to flatten out a bit; there were a few people out cheering for us, but it was markedly not like the experience of running along 4th Avenue during the marathon in November. My speed definitely got me feeling a bit warmer, so eventually I would discard my handwarmers before getting to the bridge.
Hello Downtown Brooklyn!
The Manhattan Bridge!
Eventually, we were staring at the ascent to the Manhattan Bridge.  I held on past my watch beeping at the 39 minute mark, as we crossed Myrtle Avenue, since the road was still flat. I made it past Tillary Street, and picked one of the gantries along the roadway as a landmark to stop at and do my customary one minute walk.  I was surprised how narrow the roadway was - we were running on the two lanes on the "northern" roadway of the bridge, seeing traffic going in both directions on the southern roadway. I did stop for a quick selfie along the bridge, as we had some magnificent views of the downtown skyline, with One World Trade Center positioned prominently behind me.  Nick was not far behind me, and we ran together across the span over the water.

That's a long way down from up here.
I registered a 10:30 mile 5, expected with the ascent, but promptly returned to a faster mile as we made our descent down the bridge into Manhattan.  I took another quick photo as I saw runners making their way down Pike Street below, then barrelled down the bridge as best as I could.  Notably, the downhill to the East River is longer and greater than the climb to the top. We rounded the corner at Canal Street, then turned right onto Pike Street, continuing to take advantage of downhill momentum as the course headed to South Street.  My sixth mile came in at a 9:17, and registered a strong 1:00:18 as I crossed the 10K timing mat.  I made a quick stop alongside the bridge to empty out a small pebble that made its way to the sole of my shoe.
Just came off of the Manhattan Bridge, about to enter FDR Drive
Running near Stuy Town on FDR Dr.
We turned left onto South Street, and from then began a stretch of the course that was super flat.  We ran underneath FDR Drive for several blocks, until we crossed underneath the roadway and made our way onto the drive itself at Montgomery Street. It would be nice and flat over the next three miles (save for a slight incline near Stuyvesant Town) as we had the entire northbound roadway of FDR Drive overlooking the East River to ourselves. I ran a few sub-10 minute miles along the way, sticking to my 19:1 interval, and even hit the 15K mark at 1:30:47, continuing a pretty evenly split 5K since the beginning of the race. The roadway ended at the United Nations Secretariat building and veered left to turn into 42nd Street.
The Empire State Building in view as we run on FDR Drive
Running west on 42nd Street
I've run the Dash to the Finish 5K (the 5K run the day before the NYC Marathon) six times now - every year since 2013 - and its course is almost exactly like the last three miles of this NYC Half course, with the slight exception being our run north along 6th Avenue (in the 5K) instead of 7th, and taking the lower loop of the park (in the 5K) instead of crossing the 72nd Street transverse.  So in my mind, I felt I knew how to tackle 42nd Street.  But oh, how tough it ended up being!  Almost immediately as we made our way off of FDR and onto 42nd, I felt my legs feel like lead, running along the slightly ascending roadway.  My friend and fellow FRNY member Todd was there, cheering me on as I took a quick walk break, and lo and behold, Nick was right behind me, catching up to me for the last 5K of the race.  We both felt terrible as we tried our darnedest to make our way along 42nd, and I ended up having to take a walk break near the Park Avenue overpass before catching back up to him near 5th Avenue. As I monitored our time, I yelled out to him that his goal of 2:08 was within reach, if he maintained a 10 minute pace from here on out.

Times Square!
The spectators were out in full force as we made our way through the shut down Times Square, turning right onto 7th Avenue.  This was the centerpiece of the race - the only time other than New Year's Eve when Times Square is shut down to vehicular traffic. I struggle-bus'd my way up 7th Avenue alongside Nick as we found another troupe of Front Runners stationed just past the M&Ms Store after the 11 mile mark.  At 53rd Street, I had to take another walk break as Nick broke off again in front of me. At 60th Street, we turned right, and while I gained a bit of speed, it wasn't enough to catch up to him. I happened upon Heather and her unmistakable Canada jacket on the north end of 60th Street as I blasted past. We made our turn into Central Park at the 12 mile mark on its southeastern entrance, roughly where FRNY was in charge of a water station, and I got to see more friends who cheered me on to conquer this last mile.  I was spent, though -- I shuffled as we made our way through the rolling hills of this short part of the park.  Kat had quite a final kick, as I saw her distinctive shock of blonde hair run past me, and even past Nick as she hauled ass to the finish line on the other side of 72nd Street.  And that's how we would finish - Kat in front with a 2:08:41, Nick a little over thirty seconds behind her in 2:09:13; and me over thirty seconds behind him in 2:09:56.

NYC Half... complete!
Coming into this race, we all wanted to stay under a 10 minute pace, which is what we accomplished. While it was just short of Nick's goal, it was a 5 second PR for him; I was ultimately just looking for under 2:15 - if I could even get below my fastest half in NYC, a 2:12, I'd be even more happy.  I totally blasted past that goal by nearly 2 1/2 minutes!  So this race was a happy finish for me... it also meant that I was back to my ~2:10 half marathon time, right in the pocket for a successful marathon time similar to what I was accomplishing at the end of 2018.  We posed for several pictures before making the long slog down the park's West Drive to Columbus Circle, where we could finally exit.  Nick helped me take my headstand photo at Merchants Gate, featuring the Maine Monument (commemorating the 260 American sailors who perished in February 1898 when the USS Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba) behind me.  I then headed to the FRNY brunch, held at a member's apartment near to Columbus Circle, before changing into some dry clothes, and meeting up with a coworker to catch The Cher Show on Broadway later that afternoon.  It was so much fun getting to run this race again, especially with the new course... and hope to enjoy it in the years to come!
Victory Headstand at the Maine Monument

No comments:

Post a Comment