Surpises can happen. And they are alway welcomed!
NYC Half was a dream race for me since 2013. It was a magic moment already in 2012 when I volunteered by the tunnel entrance at mile 11 or so, but spectating at mile 1 and by the final stretch the 2013 event gave me an electric feeling of overwhelming joy.
Just after a few of the elites pounded the final stretch of asphalt, my friend Brendan popped out from the barriers running towards an incredible 1:17:52 for a 120th place overall and second of his age group.
He ran a sub 1:18 at 45 years of age, and he proved me that improvements can be made, despite of age, and injuries. I ran the last 100 meters behind the course barriers and fence along with him so I could scream at him after the finish line. The incredible part was that he ran that time including the first 10k in Central Park, which is not the easiest going at all.
Brendan told me he got a little push from the wind along the Westside Hwy, still it was a great endeavour for me and the NYC half started to appear as a nice race to tackle in 2014, despite the highest entry fees of any other race of that distance probably in the world. As soon as it opened up for registration I put down my name in the entry list, feeling confident the winter training would have brough me to a great time, close to 1:17.
For several reasons – explained in other posts – training has been just average at best; race results instead have been surpisingly positive this year. The little problems in my left hip became quite critical two weeks before the race during the saturday WS long run, when a sharp pain hit me on the butt after 12-13 miles. This really kicked my confidence down, knowing that fitness was at an unknown level and that the body was not even staying together too well.
I attempted some speed work a couple of times, with terrible results and even deadlier aftermaths. What worked out was the fact that fellow runner and teammate Gary let me try his portable laser to heal the hip. And it worked: I felt better, even if only for a couple of days.
Discouraged and a bit disappointed I went to the expo to pick up my bib and see if I could see any famous runner near the stands, but I ended up running away from the overcrowded place, full of loud and a bit rude people.
I also made plans with Sebastien who was going to participate as an official “pacer” for the 1:19 group. I knew my goal was to better my 1:18:00 from Rudgers ’13, but in these conditions, I felt it was going to be a miracle to hang in there with Seb for 13 miles, and maybe finish just a couple of seconds ahead, to guarantee a sub 1:19 and the qualifying time for NYC Marathon in 2015.
Michelle had the great idea of running her first half after the injury on Saturday before the race, so I spent the morning with her in Long Island spectating and also running a little bit along with other runners. The hip felt pretty heavy after 5-6 miles, so I stopped the run and waited by the finish line for Michelle to complete her race finishing 4th woman.
We drove into the city where Gary let me use the laser one final time before the race and then we went home relaxing.
The morning of the race Michelle drove me to the Park early and then she took off to cheer people by the finish line. We met Seb by the Apple store and then headed to the bag drop off area. The chilly (frrrreezing) atmosphere was a friendly ally for me, since I am a lover of colder conditions. I hit the portable potty as soon as I entered the park and then warmed up with Seb for 10 minutes. short and sweet, it was probably the most effective warm up I have ever done. No waste of time. by 7:30 we were all lined up in the corral already.
I was standing by Sebastien, laughing at all the surprised people that were asking him if he was really pacing the 1:19. People were so impressed of his talent that they could not believe it. Running for an hour and 20 minutes, with a pole and a flag and covering 13 miles…pretty impressive…
Brendan was there with me by the start and we made some small talk. He predicted a good race for me, but I told him the result was a mistery. In my mind I wanted to do well.
I started to change my mind as far as following Sebastien and I wanted to just stay a little ahead of him, so that in case of a problem he could have picked me up and distracted me from the pain. A pace of just around 6:00 would have made the trick.
The race started by the Boathouse and had us face Cathill right away. Good test to kill some of those runners that lined up in the wrong spot of the corral. I could not set into a steady pace until EG because of the amount of people passing me, then dropping back, or just dropping back. A total chaos. But a nice chaos.
Mile 1 was cleared in 5:55, not too far from pace, but I was questioning if I started too quickly. While thinking about it I ran down towards 110th st and got off the park towards the runabout where I saw the pros coming back charging the course.
Near me was Bobby Asher from the VCTC and a couple of other unknown guys who were pretty impressed by the pros. I told them that with some more training we would be there next year. Ahahah…yeah, right…we laughed for a sec, then we re-focused on what we were doing.
I felt I was not in the right place since Bobby is usually too far ahead of me, and mile 2 was in 5:43.
We re-entered Central Park and attacked the hilly sections on the north and west side. I picked up some of the elite women (including a feloow ultrarunner, Kate Pallardy) starting here and continued to feel nervous about my pace. Could I just collapse after this stupid start? Was I doing a mistake?
Well, I figured it was not a big deal to gain 10 secs now and run a couple of 6+ towards the end. So I kept going clearing mile 3 in 5:43 again. First 5k in 18:10. The legs were fresh, I was not pushing them hard, but the turnaround was pretty quick: smaller steps to protect the hip and fast. All of a sudden my mate Bobby abandoned me, probably for a little physical problem, so I remained alone. The west side run counterclockwise is familiar territory, so I stayed alone for a bit, trying to catch up with other folks in font of me.
Paul Thompson could not have missed the race, and of course snapped a picture of me:
I felt silly at this point, cause I envisioned Paul making fun of me for poor pacing, but I figured it was not a big deal, if I stepped off the gas pedal a little. Mile 4 was in 5:50 and 5:48, including the hills. I recognized in front of me one of the runners that got me at the Gridiron, so I used the good pacing of #518 to get closer to him and pass him by the 72nd street transverse.
Here he is in the back of the pack with the red shirt:
I think I recognized Aaron from Warren Street around the south west part of the park, but my vision was a little blurry at this point.
When we approached the exit of the park to head to Times Square I could not believe the clock at the 10k mark: 36 and change. Second 5k in 18:03. I tried again to remain quiet, but the presence of a runner in front of me continued being the excuse to pick up others.
#518 was coming along well with me, and he proved to be a good buddy in this section towards Times Square, since he was leading our small pack shielding us from the random headwind we were getting.
We aimed at Vongvorachoti, aka Jane, one of the local elite from CPTC patiently paced by a male CPTC runner. Little by little we picked her up along 7th ave, and passed. 7th ave is really a pothole festival. I never drive there (thankfully) but the reality is that even running on it was not comfortable.
The crowd was fenomenal and you need to stay focused on your effort to avoid the risk of going too fast. My pictures here do not look so great, and maybe some sign of tiredness was coming out.
The 90 degree turn into 42nd street going west was an experience: it made me change gears, moving them, lifting them fluidly and naturally, and I started to feel confident that the rest of the race was going to be under control: from now on it was constantly under 5:40. Except for three quarters of a mile along 42nd street: a vigorous headwind pushed us back to a 5:49 pace for the mile. A different story from the little help Brendan got the year before…Another right turn going north on the Westside Hwy and a full 180 degree turn two blocks after (not a great way to keep a fast pace), and I was now on a straight path towards the finish line.
Struggling a little bit with tired legs I made it to improve the third 5k at 17:43.
I could not figure out too well if I was too inconsistent with my pace or if other runners were totally messed up: we kept exchanging positions, passing each other, then repassing. Very weird, and energy consuming.
The only runner that pretty much sticked with me the whole time was this misterious #518, and the two of us worked well together, even if he worked more than me as a rabbit. He faded towards the end just before the entrance of the tunnel.
As we approached that spot I remembered the hard work I was doing two years prior as a volunteer and the unbelievable happiness I received from those runners that acknowledge our support when they were running by.
I saw a few supporters cheering us and I waved at a little kid with his father to make him happy. It gave me a smile and distracted me from the math exercise I was doing in my head trying to predict the finish time.
I was all over the places with my math skills right now: at one point I thought I was around 1:17, then maybe 1:13, then I thought I was just under 1:19 (yet no sign of Seb near me)…now I entered the tunnel and the only thing I knew was that I had no idea how much more ground I had to cover. I lost some ground from other 3 runners, maybe 40-50ft.
The little incline to come out of the tunnel made me complain a little bit, and I could not wait to hit the finish line now. I was hearing the crowd, yet no sight of it. A little sign indicating 400mt to go gave me some encouragement and I was now close to 90secs or to the end.
After a quick turn to the left I checked my watch and I was just around 1:15. With less than 200 meters to go, I knew I was going to hit something I had only dreamt of before. Energy returned quickly, as I heard and saw Michelle screaming my name from the crowd.
I was feeling I made myself and her proud of my achievement.
After the finish I was waiting for Seb to complete his pacing duty (not too far behind me) and in the meantime I was approached by another runner with whom I ran a portion of the NYC Marathon months before and we small talked for a minute. Then Brendan came in, improving his time from the previous attempt, and we complimented each other.
Stephen England popped out at the finish line a few minutes later, after I saw him along the course in Times Square. He probably paced someone for a little portion of the course (at least little and short for his standard).
Then Seb finished and I shared with him, his wife, Adrien and Michelle the rest of the morning getting some well deserved breakfast.