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- May 13, 2020 by AliAli on the Run Show Episode 238: Sasha Wolff, Founder of Still I Run
United Airlines NYC Half 2019 Recap
I ran a race! A half marathon! And I loved it! And I’m a little sore today! And I love it!
That runner’s high, baby. Two days later, and I’m still feeling happy and yeah…sore. My quads and hamstrings, mostly. Ouch!
I ran the United Airlines NYC Half this weekend, on a bit of a whim. I had an entry (guaranteed, but non-comped — so New York Road Runners got me a bib for the race, but I paid for it), but wasn’t sure whether I wanted it.
Pre-Annie, it would’ve been a no brainer, as long as I was healthy. I generally know what my body is capable of in terms of running and distance, so after doing two 10-mile runs within the past few weeks, I knew my body could handle 13.1. Not to race, but to run.
But did I want to run?
I have this whole new perspective now. Doing the race would mean being away from Annie for hours. Did I want to do that? Was I ready to do that?
By Thursday before the race, I decided I wanted to do it. Brian would be home, and he’s been traveling a lot, so he was excited to get some quality Dad and Annie time. And it was going to be a nice day, so if they felt like coming out to spectate, they could!
I was unprepared and made it all uncomplicated, which is why I think I had such a great day. I didn’t do any of my usual superficial things — finding a perfect race-day outfit, painting my nails, curating a pump-up playlist. I just wanted to be a part of race day and, honestly, have a little me-time!
After Saturday’s live show, I popped by the expo to get my bib. I haven’t run the NYC Half since 2010, when the course was totally different and the whole thing was still pretty low-key. So I swung by the expo the afternoon before the race, not thinking much of it, and it was PACKED! The line to get in wrapped around an entire city block! It moved fast, and since I had a VIP / Media bib, I was able to get my stuff quickly. I was in and out fast, but just a heads up that it does get crowded and the lines get long, so if you run this race next year, expo early!
THE NIGHT BEFORE
Outback Steakhouse, obviously. The usual: bread, two pieces of coconut shrimp, 6 oz. Victoria’s Filet (medium rare), carrots, and a sweet potato. (I usually do baked potato, but felt like mixing it up.) The perfect meal.
THE MORNING OF
I spent a lot of time trying to figure out when, exactly, to leave my apartment. The trek from Weehawken, NJ, to Prospect Park in Brooklyn would probably take 40 to 50 minutes. I knew there wouldn’t be traffic out here, but wasn’t sure what it would get like closer to the race start with the road closures and congestion. NYRR said Wave 1 runners (me!) should plan to arrive at the start by 6:15 AM. By my calculations, that meant a 4:15 AM wakeup, and ordering an Uber around 5:15. WHY AM I HORRIBLE AT MATH? This was really unnecessary, and I got to the start nearly two hours before the race start. Cool!
But since I had to factor in time to pump (hey that’s new!), and since sometimes Ubers in this area can be scarce, I didn’t want to risk it.
And I won’t complain: My VIP bib meant I had access to a heated tent at the start. So once I got past security (which wasn’t even open when I got to Prospect Park!), grabbed a pre-race heat sheet, and found the tent, I was plenty comfortable.
ON THE RUN
So there I was in Prospect Park. I eventually made my way to my corral — the last one in the first wave. I squeaked in! And I realized I didn’t really know much about the early miles of the course. YOLO!
We started shuffling toward the start, then running, and then I hit START on my Strava app on my phone and stuck it in my pocket. We were off!
Once we crossed the start, I learned that the race is only in Prospect Park for a bit. The bit that goes up that big, stupid hill!
From there, we exited the park, and I was just so happy! The 1:50 pace group was slightly in front of me, and I knew an 8:23 pace was too fast, but like I always say: positive splits for positive people. Just outside the park, there’s an out-and-back, just like in the Brooklyn Half, and I love an out-and-back! I had tears streaming down my face from the cold and the wind, so that probably looked cute, and once we navigated our way around a hairpin turn (chaos), we started the slight climb back to where we started.
Then it was onto Flatbush Avenue, which I think is so fun! There weren’t many spectators out that early, but I appreciated the slight downhill.
Until we got to the bridge, that is.
That damn Manhattan Bridge. The climb toward the bridge seemed to go on for.e.ver, and the bridge itself felt so long. (Says the girl who was untrained and hasn’t run a hill in about a year. So there’s that.) But the views! Oh my god, 12 years in this city and that skyline still makes me a little breathless. The running, too, made me breathless, and the 1:50 group dropped me hard here. It was like a wave came and took everyone but me, and there I was, on my little boogie board, alone.
The descent off the bridge was delightful, and after a few loop-dee-loop turns, we were onto FDR Drive. The crowds between the bridge and the highway were awesome! Shout-out to Brooklyn Track Club for the confetti cannons! So fun! Celebrate good times, come on!
As I approached mile seven, I realized I was tired. Hahahahahaha halfway in. Already tired. Good job, Feller! We were running into a bit of a headwind, and I just started feeling slow and heavy. (Reminder: untrained! This is what I deserved!)
We stayed on FDR Drive headed north for three miles, and I made the mistake of looking at the exit signs on the highway. Those are deceiving! I remember seeing a sign for the 34th Street exit and getting excited because hey, almost to the turning point! But no. I think I missed the part of the sign that said “34th Street, 2 miles” or something. We were nowhere near it.
But time passed and I rallied mentally, and soon enough we were exiting the highway and hooking that turn onto 42nd Street. From there, it got SO FUN! The crowds thickened up, and I saw this runner and his guide dogs and I cried a little because OMG! I was definitely tired by now, 10 miles in, but I loved running past Grand Central (where I saw Susan!), the New York Public Library, and Bryant Park. We made that iconic-ish turn right onto 7th Avenue, and running through Times Square is pretty dang cool, even for a local.
With Central Park up ahead, I kept trying to move, but I was ready to stop running at this point. It’s a bit of a mind-F, though. Central Park is right there, and the finish is so close, but just like the marathon (only in reverse), you take a detour to get to it. We turned right onto Central Park South, and then that left turn into the park was brutal. That gradual uphill (which is a downhill on marathon day!) felt endless and torturous. My November Project teammate, Guarav, was sweet and saw me and jumped in to run a few meters with me. He was so motivating and I was just grumbling because I had nothing left to give. He kept me moving forward, and gave some kind of bat signal to the NP cheer squad up ahead, because when I got to them, they went wild (despite the fact that I haven’t been to an NP workout in like three years). It was a great boost, and from there, the finish was close!
That’s when I started to think about Annie. Annie! I didn’t know what Brian’s plans were, but he’s a solid spectator. I had a hunch they’d be near the finish, and I hoped I’d spot them. I loved the tiny downhill just before the 72nd Street Transverse, and I saw my friends Laura and Myles. Then it was a left turn onto the transverse, a tiny uphill and a little downhill, and then another little uphill to get to the finish. (So basically, other than the FDR, not much on this course is just flat!)
I didn’t notice the uphill, because that’s when I saw Brian’s big smile and wave to my right. And I saw Annie in her pink suit and OH MY GOD IT WAS THE BEST FEELING. I was sad Ellie wasn’t there. BUT STILL OH MY GOD SO COOL. I swear Annie and I made eye contact. I didn’t sprint to the finish. I was toast. But I did it! My first postpartum race! And it was perfect.
AFTER THE FACT
I exited the park, got my medal and heat sheet, and was able to find Brian and Annie pretty immediately. I asked Brian what my time was, knowing he’d been tracking me, and he showed me the 1:52.44 on his phone. I guess I’m really bad at math, because in those final miles, I tried to do some on-the-run calculations, and was pretty sure I’d finish around 1:58.
I’m telling ya, I do my best running undertrained, without goals, and without a watch or any stress. (I did use the Strava app on my phone, but never took it out during the race. Whenever I saw a clock on the course, I subtracted 10 minutes, because I think it took around 10 minutes to cross the start. But who knows. Not my strong suit, apparently.)
I pretty immediately started shivering, so I changed my clothes and then we spent a while trying to find somewhere to get breakfast that had room for a stroller or car seat and didn’t have a two-hour wait. We went to PJ Clarke’s, and the food was bad and I had to change Annie’s diaper on the bathroom floor, but the mimosa was great and the wait was minimal.
Brian took Annie home while I stayed in the city to grab a quick drink with my friends Des and Josh, and then it was back to mom-ing. Annie took a long afternoon nap, I snoozed for an hour, and then we played until bathtime and bedtime. Once she was down, I recorded the intros and sponsor stuff for this week’s podcast episodes and eventually crawled into bed around 10. Recovery of the elites, right there.
This course is tough, but I loved it. I don’t think I’d ever be able to run a PR on it, but the scenery is unbeatable. I was skeptical when NYRR announced the course change last year (to include Brooklyn), but it’s a pretty great route. You pass so many iconic sights and landmarks, and while the FDR dragged on a bit, the course is never boring. (Check out these photos!)
That being said, it’s a big race. With 25,000 runners and five wave starts, it got crowded out there. The first few miles were very congested, but then the crowds spread out. Still, that’s a lot of people on the run together. And with the logistics required to support 25,000 runners, it’s undoubtedly a to-do. Getting to the start so early, the long trek to Prospect Park (if you don’t live close by, of course), and the long wait to cross the start line — none of those things bothered me, because I like a big race, but if giant crowds aren’t your jam, this race may not be, either.
NYRR does a great job supporting its runners. There were SO many porta potties at the start, and plenty along the course route (and you know I’m a tough critic there!). The volunteers were smiling, even at 5 AM, and the woman who gave me my medal did a little dance. I loved her.
My experience was a bit different because I had VIP access. So I was able to wait at the start in a heated-ish tent, and I was able to exit the park a few blocks early. I am very grateful for that!
Was this recap longer than the race? Always is!
Congratulations to all the NYC Half runners. I think you’re amazing!