Date: March 18, 2018
Location: Brooklyn and Manhattan
Weather: 30 Degrees and Sunny
Distance: Half Marathon
Finish Time: 1:24:12 Place: 400 out of 21,956
The United Airlines NYC Half Marathon was one of my favorite races of all time. I enjoyed the race because it was incredibly diverse, epitomizing NYC in every way imaginable - beauty and grit, noise and silence, simple and diverse, urban and rural, new and old. It offered a little bit of everything in one small package, with a powerful punch.
While this was my first time running this race, the course was completely redesigned in 2018, after its 12th year in existence. Previously, it started in Central Park and finished in Lower Manhattan, but this year it started in Brooklyn and finished in Central Park. Also, this year marked the most runners ever at 21,956. The general consensus leading up to the race was that the new course was more challenging because of increased elevation gain, with hills loaded in the back half instead of the front half.
My primary goal this year is the Ironman. Every other race is important, but my focus is centered on that one in July, so I’ve been following a triathlon-specific training regimen since January. As a result, I wasn’t sure how well I was going to perform in this race because my attention is not 100% on running. I averaged about 25 miles per week leading up to the half marathon. In order to run fast, you need to run more. Cross-training in other endurance sports does not provide much benefit. Still, my goal was to beat 1:25, even though my previous personal record was 1:26 in the Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon last year.
The trip from my apartment to the race start in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, was pretty quick and easy. I spent the previous day drinking beet juice, while everyone else was drinking beer in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day. Beet juice contains nitrates that deliver more oxygen in the blood to the muscles, which increases endurance.
My breakfast on race morning was a small protein shake, Lara Bar, more beet juice, a Waffle Zinger and 200mg shot of caffeine. Caffeine is another ergonomic aid that is proven to increase performance because it lowers the rating of perceived exertion. I did a caffeine fast for the two weeks leading up to the race so that my body’s tolerance was reduced to amplify the effect.
I was in corral AA, which is the fastest corral and located in the very front, so after going through security (metal detectors – huge NYPD presence), I made my way to the starting line, which was quite a walk. We were grouped into small pens like wild animals, but fortunately there were plenty of porta potties in each area. It was freezing, but I brought some old clothes to wear before the race started. Right before the gun went off, I stripped down to my race outfit, which was a t-shirt, shorts, headband, gloves and compression socks.
Believe it or not, running is actually quite complex and it requires a strategy like any other sport. Going into the race, I knew that I’d need to maintain a 6:29 pace in order to beat my goal of 1:25. My lactate threshold (the maximum heart rate at which you can sustain performance for 60 minutes) is around 163 bpm (beats per minute), so my plan was to monitor my heart rate to ensure it didn’t cross over this threshold for extended durations of time. As far as executing a strategy, you need to know when to dial it back and when to turn it up – you also need to monitor how you feel during the race and adjust accordingly. Not to mention nutrition (before/during), which can make or break a performance. I am still learning a lot about my body with each race.
No matter how confident you are with your training leading up to a race, it’s always incredibly nerve-wracking and there is a lot of doubt floating in your mind. This is due to the fact that you never actually train anywhere near the pace and distance that you expect to run the race. If you did, your body would get burn out. For example, in preparation for this race, I never ran faster than 6:30 for more than 5 miles. Of course I ran distances much further – my longest run was about 14 miles, but that was at a pace of 7:30 – a minute slower and much, much easier. So in the back of my mind, I am wondering if I can really run 13.1 miles at a sustained pace of 6:29. You have to be confident in your training and ability, but there is a lot of uncertainty.
The starting gun sounded at 7:30 am and we were off. The first two miles down Flatbush Avenue were fast because there was a slight decline. My plan was to attack these miles at a greater speed than my goal pace because I wanted to make up time early on due to impending hills later in the race. I averaged 6:10 through the first two miles. Then, we hit the Manhattan Bridge, which included a pretty substantial ½ mile incline and naturally my pace slowed to 6:45 per mile. The view on top of the bridge was magnificent - a perfect view of Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge.
We were rewarded with a decline coming off the bridge and into Chinatown and my pace dropped back down to 6:10. I held 6:15 to 6:25 for the next few miles, which took us onto the FDR Drive. My heart rate fluctuated between 158 – 162 bpm. Even during cold weather (my fingers were numb – I couldn’t move them during the first half of the race), it’s still very important to hydrate. I grabbed my first water from one of the aid stations and it was practically frozen. Needless to say, difficult to get down.
I was feeling pretty good until we turned left onto 42st. As I was planning for the race, I didn’t realize there was a slight incline here all the way to Broadway. They warned us before the race that our GPS watches might cut out here due to the building density and sure enough, mine did. As a result, I ran blind for about 3 miles. My watch pace fluctuated between 8:00 – 10:00, which I knew was wrong, but it was nerve-wracking and frustrating. Luckily, I still had my heart rate to guide me and I made sure it stayed in the high 150s. I took an energy gel with 75mg caffeine at mile 8 and it gave me a much needed boost.
After turning right on Broadway, we entered Time’s Square, which was definitely the highlight of the race and it was a moment I’ll never forget. There were a lot of cameras and spectators as you can imagine. I received a lot of motivating comments from people who recognized my Team RWB shirt, like “Go Eagle!”
Anyone familiar with the course knew that the fun was over once we entered Central Park. That’s because we had to climb the infamous “Cat Hill” and “Three Sister Hills” in the last few miles before crossing the finish line. Gauging by my average pace over the last 10 miles, I knew that I had a real shot of beating 1:25 if I didn’t fall apart on the hills, but the lactic acid was really starting to build up in my muscles and the pain was getting very intense.
Still, I felt at ease because this was my training ground. I’ve probably completed hundreds of runs in Central Park over the last several years. I knew it well, both mentally and physically and I think this gave me a real advantage. With only 2 miles left to go, I saw my friend who is a musician (there were several scattered about the course) performing on the side of the road and this gave me a great boost.
I knew that all I had to do was finish under 7:00/mile for the last 2 miles and I’d cross the finish line in (personal) victory. The last few hundred meters were all downhill and I felt like I was soaring like an eagle, as I crossed the finish line in 1:24:12 – surpassing my goal of 1:25 and shaving 2 minutes off my previous half marathon personal record of 1:26:18! I was elated to learn that I finished 400 out of 21,956 runners (top 1.8%). I think this is my best result of all time. I am incredibly happy and proud of this result because I only started running competitively a few years ago at the age of 30.
With the first race of the season under my belt and successful, I have great confidence and excitement for what lies ahead. Next race is the North Face Endurance Challenge in Bear Mountain, NY on May 6th, which is a 10K trail race – my first ever!