Hi everyone! Hope everyone is having a fantastic start to the spring! Even though the calendar says its spring, it hasn’t felt too warm in New York City. At the time of the writing of this post, New York City is in the midst of yet another Nor’easter!
Thankfully, sub 30 degree temperatures did not stop the almost 22,000 participants that ran the United NYC Half Marathon this past Sunday! For those who have followed my blog, you know that I am a huge fan of this race and I was very skeptical of the new course lay out. I did a trial run of the course about a month ago (read about that here) and thought that the course was a lot more challenging than the previous one. However now that I have actually run the race here’s what I actually thought of the course, along with my personal feelings during that day!
The course aimed to be more inclusive of other parts of New York City, so they decided to start the race in Brooklyn, Grand Army Plaza in Central Park to be exact. Let’s stop right there.
In the past, the start of the race was in Central Park with the finish being near downtown, Wall Street. This year’s course required more planning ahead. For those coming in from out of town, the big question became ‘Do I stay close to the start or close to the finish’? To make life easier for some of the followers of this blog as well as my United NYC Half Marathon Facebook group, we actually hired two coach buses to meet us in midtown Manhattan and take us to the start line. While that was a quick fix for about 110 people, there were several others who had to navigate the subway system enroute to the start line, very early on a Sunday morning. For the most part it seems that folks that left early, got to the start line on time. There seemed to be a crowding problem on the train for those that boarded trains close to the start line in Brooklyn. You would think the MTA would put more trains on the lines given 22,000 extra people heading to Brooklyn at this time!
Once you arrived at the course, the race organizer, New York Road Runners, was on the ball in terms of getting everyone lined up for the race. Prior to the race, they instructed everyone to specifically go to the start of the corrals which was on the opposite side of the park from the actual start line. I think the entry point was perfect. It was convenient from subway stations and close to a major intersection which made it easy for taxi and Uber/Lyft dropoffs to allow passengers to get off quickly and be close to the corral entries. Once there, an abundance of security awaited runners as they would pass a full set of security measures such as metal detectors, clear bags only and the restriction of liquids greater than 1 liter. This year, NYRR put portable bathrooms right in the corrals to make it easy for someone “to go” right before the start of the race. As a matter of fact, with the staggered starts, there were people going to the bathroom even though the race had started because they knew they had time before the stagger reached them! Good move on the part of NYRR to do this!
One the race stated, racing down Flatbush Avenue was chilly but exhilarating, mostly due to the fact that the first two miles were down hill. The crowds weren’t what I expected but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that it was 7:30am when we were flying down Flatbush Avenue and it was under 30 degrees. Downtown Brooklyn gets a pass for the thin crowds on this one. For the most part, all you could see were the thousands of runners that were taking off with you! I told myself going into this race to take these first two miles easily. Clearly I didn’t listen as I clocked a 7:23 and a 7:27 respectively for the first two miles – so much for that game plan!
As expected, once on the Manhattan Bridge there were no spectators in sight due to security reasons. Going over the bridge was actually very peaceful. After getting over the adrenalin of the start and the first two miles being mostly downhill, this is where the race really started for me. With the rising sun hitting runners from the east, it was a chance to take in the views of the east river and settle in for another 10 miles. For me it was a time to make a decision on how I would run the remainder of race. I wanted to PR, which meant go under 1:50. 1:45 would have been a great day. As I crossed the Manhattan Bridge, the pace group for the 1:40 goal time passed me. I saw them and thought to myself, ‘maybe I could keep up with them?’. To do so would require a pace much faster than than what I was shooting for. As we approached the end of the Manhattan Bridge, they settled in 10 yards in front of me. Keeping them in sight, I was distracted for some time by what I saw as I was coming off the Manhattan Bridge. The bridge left us in the heart of Chinatown. The crowds coming off of the bridge were terrific. I have to be honest, before the race, I didn’t think there would be many spectators in Chinatown but boy was I wrong. The crowds there along with the first Huma gel of the day that I popped provided a nice boost for the next mile as we headed towards the FDR Drive!
One of the stretches of the race that I was looking forward to was the stretch along the FDR Drive. When I ran a trial run of the course a few weeks back, I was obviously not allowed to go on the FDR drive as there was no way onto it with moving traffic. During my trial run, I noticed that there was some significant elevations on the FDR drive and I wondered how that would feel on race day considering we would be 5 miles into the race by the time we reached the elevations of the FDR Drive. In looking back at the race, the FDR drive was just the beginning of several climbs that we would have to endure from that point on until the end of the race. Also looking back on the race, I enjoyed the scenery of running on the FDR Drive and actually being in the middle of it. It felt almost surreal as you knew that no one actually ever walks or runs on the FDR drive itself.
Depending on your pace, most runners would exit the FDR Drive at 42nd street exit ramp just as a car would that was exiting the FDR. The FDR drive however was a topic of debate for runners who started at the back of wave 2. According to some runner’s accounts, some of the late starters were not even allowed on the FDR Drive because they had to re-open it to vehicular traffic. Instead they were asked to run along the promenade that runs parallel to the FDR Drive. For the most part this works as a good alternative however there weren’t race officials to tell runners were to get off of the promenade. The promenade comes to a dead end at some point north of 34th street and never makes it all the way to 42nd street. Runners were under the impression that they could go all the way up to 42nd street on the promenade and then continue east along the remainder of the race course. Unfortunately, this was not the case and frustrated runners encountered the dead end and had to reverse back to 34th street to exit the promenade and make their way to 42nd street to pick up the official race course. This was a major miscue on the part of NYRR! Hopefully something they will learn for future races that run this course!
Regardless of how you made it to 42nd street, the race continued west along the wide stretch which included an uphill until you ran past Fifth Avenue. Much to my dismay, there weren’t as many spectators on 42nd street. Most of them seemed to be tourists who were uninterested in the runners passing by them. One thing that I noticed on 42nd. street was the way that NYRR handled the power gel distribution. Just after mile 7, NYRR decided to distribute Power Bar gels to all of the runners. In my opinion the way they were distributed was horrible. They simply placed the gel packets on the table for runners to grab. Runners however seemed to have been grabbing one and knocking one off of the table as well because by the time I got to the table, there were several gel packets already on the floor, most of them which had been stepped on and exploded making the path to the gel table a dicey and treacherous one. If NYRR wants to give out gel packets, bravo! But how about you drop one in the bag along with the race shirt when you distribute them at the expo? The way it was done on Sunday was a mess and I am sure that several runners in the back of the pack may not have been able to get one. While I did grab one, I tossed it just after I got to Central Park. The packet weighed a ton compared to the Huma ones I had. I regret even grabbing it off of the table on 42nd street.
Speaking of 42nd street, the race turned north once we approached 7th avenue. The crowds were vibrant and loud when we got to this part of the race. As I was running along 42nd street, I could see the 1:40 pace group turning north on 7th avenue. Trying to keep them in sight, I was motivated and sped up when I myself reached 7th avenue despite the fact that the stretch on 7th avenue was another uphill until we reached Central Park. My mile split for this mile was the fastest of the race – 7:00 and that 1:40 pace group was still in sight! As we approached Central Park I spotted Tana, one of our We Run NYC Running Club members who didn’t get to run the race. She was holding up a cheer sign for us! God Bless her because 7th avenue was a wind tunnel and yet she remained out there supporting us! The motivation worked because I entered Central Park feeling strong and ready to conquer the hills that awaited.
Even though I have trained in Central Park, it still had its way with me. With 4 miles left to go as we entered Central Park, I went in strong and positive but that quickly wore off as we approached Cat Hill. This tells me that I was purely running off of adrenalin on 7th avenue. I’ve run Cat Hill hill before and never had issues with it but on this day, I think I might have expended too much energy in the parts leading up to here as I was chasing the 1:40 pace group. Approaching the end of mile 11 just before the 102nd street traverse, I finally lost the 1:40 pace group and never saw them the rest of the race. I was tired and I knew I still had 2 more miles to go. At this point I was just thinking to myself, ‘You ran 8 miles over your head with the 1:40 pace group at roughly 7:37 per mile, just hold it together and get thru these last two miles!’.
Making the turn onto the 102nd street traverse we came upon a water stop. I took one last shot of Gatorade at this water station in hopes that it would get me to the finish strong. Next came the turn off of the 102nd street traverse and onto Central Park west. We were met with a long uphill right away. I was familiar with this uphill and knew that it was a long one. Mentally I was shot. I felt my legs buckle as I tried to push forward. Other than early on in the 3rd mile where we climbed the Manhattan Bridge, mile 12 would be my slowest mile at 8:13. I thought to myself, you ran too fast this whole race to give it all back now. Knowing the worst was behind me hill wise, except for maybe one more small hill, the 13th mile was all guts and glory. If I could personally thank all of the spectators that lined that last mile I would because they got me thru that last mile. From running an 8:13 mile in mile 12 to finishing with a 7:21 mile in mile 13, it’s been a while since I was so happy to see a finish line! I saw the 800m marker and forgot about the fatigue and just went for it. Final time 1:41:41. That’s a full 10 minutes knocked off of my previous personal record. Finishing in Central Park was tough, but I liked it. Actually in looking back, the whole race from the FDR drive til the end was tough , but it was a good scenic and challenging course and I can’t wait to do it again.
Overall, I enjoyed this course more than the previous version. I came across a lot of people that ran personal records on this course and all of them thought it would be a harder course. Is it actually an easier course? I can tell you there are a lot of hills. Did the scenery make tit all go by faster? Was it the cold?
If you ran the race, what do you think? How was your United NYC Half experience – share in the comments below!