Alternate title: All You Have to do is Run
I had set my alarm for 5:20, but woke at 5:19.
I shut my alarm before it went off, and set about getting ready. I checked the weather one last time to find that it was going to be pretty cold at the start. I settled on wearing run tights, though I had planned on crops and knew I would feel more badass wearing less. But what good would I be if my calves were frozen?
I tried to eat the breakfast I had planned: rice crip cereal with sliced banana and almond milk. But I was too tired to eat and felt I couldn’t keep that down, so I just picked out the banana slices and left everything else in the bowl, placing it in the sink.
I dressed and loaded my one pants pocket and SPIbelt with gels, my phone and keys. I set out in to the dark with a Larabar in each hand, knowing I would have to force-feed them to myself before the start. The streets were completely empty, which made me feel uneasy. I’ve been outside at 6 AM before, but the city felt eerily empty.
This changed once I turned on to Fifth Avenue and walked toward the UPS trucks that would be carting away runners’ baggage and bringing it to the finish. I was wearing thick fleece gloves – the kind I would never run with – planning to chuck them in my bag before checking it. But it was SO cold.
It was early still and there would be tons of time for just standing around. Runners had to be in their corrals by 7 AM, but the race wouldn’t start for another half hour after that. I decided to hold on to my gloves, figuring I would toss them off on the side of the road somewhere. I never did.
I tucked in to my corral after jogging and then running strides for ten minutes or so, and instantly stood on the bathroom line. It took a while to get to the front and then I found a spot toward the front of my corral where I could stretch out and bounce around until we moved toward the start.
As far back as I was, I did not cross the start until about 15 minutes in. I remember it being longer last year, but I was in a faster corral this year. Still, I was in the fastest corral of runners wearing purple bibs, but I had hoped to be among the orange bibs (as I have been for recent races) because keeping focused on the bib colors surrounding me as a way of measuring my pace (my usual strategy) would be somewhat confusing.
But I ended up not paying any mind to the bib colors of the other runners.
This was perhaps the most introspective race that I have ever run.
I didn’t follow a pink jacket or a blue hat to have someone to hold on to, or measure myself against.
I just barely looked at the clocks along the course.
I took in the course and its many sights and sounds, and smiled almost the whole way.
Yet, I was running my own race. And, admittedly, there were times when it felt a little lonely.
I had decided to run with my watch, and in retrospect – while I am certain it greatly supported my efforts toward PR – it was isolating.
This race wasn’t as “fun” as it was for me last year, but it was very productive.
At the start line of this race, a new race-day mantra was born:
All you have to do is run.
This training cycle was a mess. I dove in to a nine week training plan at week three, after coming back from debilitating lower back pain. The first week, I only ran the miles. Then, when I finally started doing speed training, I was unexpectedly hitting my paces like a rock star and wondering about whether to upgrade my race-day goals. I was traveling quite a bit – Vegas, Florida, Florida, Florida, Chicago – so my training took place on a variety of terrains. I was constantly shifting around my training schedule – always getting in my four quality runs each week, although rarely on the day for which they were prescribed.
For weeks I agonized over scheduling, making sure that I got all of my runs in. I tested gear and fueling strategies, and made sure that I got enough sleep and took enough vitamins. I wore flats all of the time for fear of being sidelined by a blister.
I stopped cross training on the elliptical and lifting weights because they irritated my back. I used a heating pad on my lower back for twenty minutes each night in bed. I practiced yoga and body-weight resistance strength training. I did side lunges to build up strength in my knees and help ward off runner’s knee.
I contemplated what to check in my baggage, how early to leave the house on race day and where I would meet my family at the end.
But in those few moments before I crossed the start line, I realized that – for the first time in months – I wouldn’t have to think about any of those things. Now, all you have to do is run.
I had planned to run the first few miles very conservatively. I wanted to keep my miles in the low 9:xx’s until passing the rolling hills down the west side of Central Park (around mile 5) and then I would run sub-9:xx’s for the rest of the race. I had to reign myself in a little at first, because I really just wanted to run fast.
I knew that my running buddy would be cheering me on at Mile 2, so I moved over to the spectator’s side of the road to give her a High 5 and thank her. It was so sweet of her to come out in the freezing cold to support me! I felt happy. I smiled and ran.
I ran the next mile faster than planned, flushed with positive energy, but I knew that I would likely lose some time on the hills so I was okay with picking up the extra speed for a few moments. At one point, a blister on my baby toe threatened me, but I told myself you can feel the pain later. Now, all you have to do is run.
I checked my pace instinctively every few minutes to confirm that I was still where I needed to be.
At mile five, I stopped off to use a restroom, knowing they would be hard to find or non-existent after exiting the park. I tried to lose as little time as possible, and headed back out to the course (backtracking a tiny bit, I think). I remember Mile 7 flying by last year, but everyone has been talking about the crazy wind tunnel that was Seventh Avenue this year, so that must explain why it took a little bit out of me.
I made myself smile. I told myself to smile. I earned this race. I trained like crazy for it, and now I was finally running it, and that deserved a smile. Smiling made my breathing easier, and it made it all feel less serious. All you have to do is run.
My fueling strategy ended up being more like what I had planned during my time trial. I took a gel at Mile 4 and tried to take another around Mile 7, but dropped it. I didn’t want to take my spare third gel out of my SPIbelt for fear that I would knock out my keys or phone, so I hung in until the gel table at Mile 8. Sadly, though, I think I took a gel that was not caffeinated. So while I had no desire to take a third gel, my energy level really began to wane by Mile 10. I started drinking Gatorade at the aid stations at this point, but felt it made little difference.
I looked up and saw the Freedom Tower straight ahead of me, and in an instant, my run mantra changed to You get to run. I thought of 9/11 and how many lives were lost, how it changed this city and all of our lives. I’m lucky. I get to run.
I said it over and over in my head so that I would keep pushing. Nothing ached, but I felt lethargic. I just kept checking my time and pushing on.
In the last mile of the race, runners go through a tunnel. I lost satellite signal there on my watch and lost track of my pace. I thought I was maintaining my pace, but I fell off a bit and ran that mile in 9:11. Oh, the irony. It cost me my sub 9:00 pace goal. I was training to run this race in 1:57.
I finished in 1:58:02
That is an 18+ minute PR off of my time on this same course last year — my first race ever that I ran in 2:16:06.
I should be leaping for joy and be super proud of myself.
But the truth is that I knew I could do this. I knew that I could finish sub-2:00.
I fell off a time goal by a few seconds, but it was an arbitrary goal anyway. I think I just liked the ring of the number, and the idea of a pace below 9:00 in a half marathon. 9:01 isn’t all that different. I am not an elite. I didn’t lose anything here.
I ran a good race.
I didn’t run a great race, and I definitely could have run this one better. I could have skipped the bathroom stop, been more vigilant about fueling, and forced myself to find a kick in the last mile of the race. I could have rocked this even more than I did.
I am proud of my achievement, but even though I am a better (stronger, faster, more focused) runner than I was a year ago, this race was comparatively anti-climactic.
I didn’t feel any better about coming to my shitty job on Monday morning. I didn’t feel that I should reward myself with new gear or be indulgent in any way.
I feel okay.
I feel like I was maybe a little bit robbed of being full-on elated at the finish because a few moments later I got some news that really annoyed the hell out of me.
But all of that aside, really — as much emphasis as I placed on this race, I think that as soon as I crossed the finish I realized that this was a warm-up.
This was a training run.
This was a way of showing myself that I can run a sub-2:00 half eight months before I’ll run a sub-4:00 marathon.
This was my training ground for the 2013 NYC Marathon.
I had a chance to test out strategy, gear, fueling, pacing…and now when I line up at the start on November 3rd, all I’ll have to do is run.