Race Review: 2014 NYRR NYC Half (Marathon)

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Where do I begin? The Expo? The weather? The new course? The fact that this is one of my two absolute favorite 13.1 races of the year? Or the fact that I took more than three minutes (3:02 to be exact) off my 13.1 PR? No matter where I start my review the end is the same, the 2014 NYC Half was one of my best days running. Ever.

This year I chose the first shift  on the first day of the Expo (Thursday 9AM – 3PM). Handing out the bibs was pretty uneventful until someone came over and asked if I wrote a running blog. My first time being recognized (thanks for making my day Lauren)!!

The Expo
I was at the Expo when the doors opened. If you want guaranteed entry to the TCS NYC Marathon for
the following year (in this case 2015), one needs to participate in (and I’m pretty sure, cross the finish line of) nine NYRR qualifying races as well as volunteer at one race. For the past three years, I’ve volunteered to hand out bibs at the NYC Half Expo. It’s a great way to get psyched up for the race, meet runners from around the country and act as an ambassador for our great city (and running organization).

I got to know the people around me doing the same job and we had a great time talking race strategy, past race PRs and just general Running Nerd type stuff (you know, things you can only talk to other runners about). Overall it was fun. So after my shift I picked up my number and shirt and walked the Expo floor for a bit, but I was so tired from not sleeping the night before and being on my feet all day, I just needed to go home and crash.

1920618_10152247535973329_946538045_nThe Start
After having been out to dinner with my regular running group the night before (and a guest star from my childhood), I got down to Central Park South and checked a bag. In the truck went my down jacket, a dry shirt and an extra hat. The day before the race was 50 degrees in NYC. But Sunday, it was closer to 20 at the start with a high of 32 predicted. Talk about bad timing.

But I was prepared. I had what i like to call my “throw-away clothes.” This race consisted of the poncho the NYRR handed out after the 2013 NYC Marathon, over the Heat Sheet I saved from the 2013 NYC Half and a hat I saved from the 2010 (?) Midnight Run – I joked to someone that I was a walking advertisement for the NYRR.

At any rate, I was ready for the race. I laid out my strategy for all the world to see but I was still a little nervous that I wouldn’t be able to stick to it.

But I did – more on that below.

Right before the start gun, I was super psyched to hear NYRR president/CEO Mary Wittenberg tell us all that there was a tailwind on the west side. I planned to use that to my advantage.

The Race
As is usually the case for me, I got out of the park as soon as I could. Since the course was new this year with runners heading out the north end of the park for a quick out and back, I think it was actually less hilly. At any rate, my 10K split (just after you get out of the park) was the fastest I’ve ever clocked for a 13.1 race. I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to sustain it, but I kept my cool and concentrated on not thinking bad thoughts.

G0036666Running down 7th Avenue was awesome as usual. There were lots of people cheering and it’s downhill. I got a little freaked when crossing a few streets and felt the cross wind blowing east. I knew in a few blocks we would turn into that wind and face it head on. But for the moment I was enjoying the downhill, cheering crowds and bands on the course.

When we turned onto 42nd Street and headed out to the West Side Highway, it’s always a surreal experience to see traffic on the south side of the street. Most drivers smile and wave or honk in what I assume is solidarity. But every once in a while you see someone seething behind the wheel and, I’m sure, cursing the runners.

Sorry man, westbound traffic on this fine day consists of almost 21,000 people motoring on thousands of pounds of pasta not fossil fuel.

The headwind wasn’t as bad as I thought and by the time I got to the West Side Highway, I was feeling pretty good – better than I thought based on how fast (for me) I was running. The course takes us north for a block and then a quick U Turn to head south.

This is where the Freedom Tower started mocking me.

8565791335_00807fd6e0_cIt’s hard to believe that the distance from 42nd Street to the bottom of the Island is only four miles. On the plus side it’s flat, but on the negative, if you’re a local (like me), unfortunately there’s not much to see. Don’t get me wrong, you pass by some pretty famous landmarks, The Intrepid Museum, Chelsea Piers and parts of the West Village but I kept looking at the Freedom Tower thinking that I was going to pass it sooner rather than later and at points it felt like it was getting further away.

Well, it wasn’t and eventually I did pass it.

From there, it’s a slight uphill with just about 800 meters left until you cross the finish line. When I finally passed the 400 meter mark I remember thinking I wouldn’t be able to hold my pace to the end. It amazes me how fast I can go from feeling great to wanting to stop dead in my tracks and quit. Entering the tunnel at the bottom of the Island is one of the toughest parts of the race. I never remember how long it is and since it curves to the left the entire time, you can’t see the end until you’re really close to it.

Progress, not perfection I guess.

G0107775When I finally did cross the finish line I was cooked. My quads were sore, I was soaked with sweat (despite the cold) but I was as elated as I was when I crossed the finish line at my marathon PR. I proudly wore the medal home where it hangs in a prominent place with my others.

Now to face New Jersey and the Brooklyn Half . . .

As a side note, I was a little surprised looking at my Garmin to see that I kept my pace between 7:20/mm and 7:40/mm. I was lucky enough to have Garmin send me a 620 to review. I was really happy with how the watch tracked my mileage and pace. None of the GPS watches I’ve worn are perfect and I really like the Garmin layout, design and features. I’ll be writing a full review before the end of this week.


    • Thanks Carly! My norm for the GoPro is to carry it in a SpiBelt and pull it out when I want to take pics (I keep it on 0.5 second time lapse). I have a bunch of mounts (head, chest, GoPole, etc.) and think I'm going to use the head mount for the next non-marathon race I document. Since I was trying to PR this race, it was difficult to concentrate on running and taking photos and I missed a lot of opportunities on Sunday.

  1. Enjoyed your race review–I was more than quite a bit slower than you but my race felt very similar to your review. Coming out of Central Park onto 7th Avenue was great! I tried to really look around and take it in. I felt kind of guilty about all those drivers sitting in traffic! And seeing The Freedom Tower was great but yes, it seemed to never get any closer! Coming out of the tunnel for me was not great–that uphill was daunting and at that point I wanted to stop running. My ankle buckled at the second to last turn, but fortunately was able to keep running and finish. Drank my gatorade as my legs started cramping after I stopped. All in all it was a fun race and I did get to PR by 20 seconds, despite the fact that I had not trained as well as I wanted to because of the weather.

    • Hopefully it was helpful, I wrote a strategy post as well and created a video last year (just search NYC Half on the blog). My watch used to lose time in the tunnel but I’ve since started using the Garmin 620 which uses a cadence monitor in the HRM strap and it helps keep pace when the GPS isn’t connected).

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