Race Report | 2014 NYC Half

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.40 PMIf I learned anything from the NYC Half this year, it’s BRING THROWAWAY PANTS.

Also, I think I’m in love with half-marathons… Yep, I definitely love ’em.

Like last year, I went into this race with the goal of running by feel. If I felt good, I’d go with the flow and race it. If not, no biggie. It’s only a training run for Boston to Big Sur.

Well, it’s hard not to get jazzed up when you’re surrounded by over 20,000 other runners in Central Park on a chilly March morning, especially when you get a surpise boost of encouragement from twitter friends! (Thank you Jocelyn, Corey, and Mary!) And God knows I’m not able to relax during the first few miles of a race. Gotta go guns blazing, right?

After freezing my buns off for half an hour before the race (re: throwaway pants are essential), off we went, heading north up the east side of the park. The gradual inclines warmed me up pretty quick (thank goodness), so I settled into a comfortable but quick pace. At the top of the park, we ran a hairpin turn before heading into the Harlem hills. Personally, I love hairpin turns. Marine Corps had one, too. I get SO pumped up being able to “watch” the race for a bit and keep an eye out for familiar faces. I spotted elite runner Desi Davila Linden and Corey again, which was so happy on so many levels. The energy among the runners and spectators was electric.

Screen shot 2014-03-18 at 9.45.19 PMAfter the biggest hill at the top of the park, the next two to three miles brought more rolling hills before we exited onto 7th Avenue. I’ll admit, I started to regret pushing it so hard in the park. The hills wore me out. But like last year, the epic, towering view down 7th Avenue was just incredible. It’s literally so breathtaking and awe-inspiring that you can’t really wrap your brain around the fact that you’re running down the center of one of the most famous streets in the world. And you don’t even have to dodge tourists.

It goes without saying my pace quickened quite a bit at this point of the race.

Halfway down 7th, a band started playing YMCA. If you read my blog, you’ll know that the same song played during the Boston Marathon last year. It’s one of my favorite happy memories from that otherwise awful day, so hearing it again at this race left me brimming with emotions, some good and some bad. April 21 is going to be full of moments like this one, I know it.

A brief turn toward the Hudson River brought us to the Westside Highway. At this point, there’s just over five miles to go, and they’re all flat as a pancake. Still high off my jaunt through Times Square, I found a rhythm running around 6:45ish pace. I still, surprisingly, felt comfortable and in control. This is why I love half-marathons.

I felt like I was actually racing rather than surviving. And since 13.1 miles seems short now compared to a marathon, I wasn’t afraid to push the gas pedal a little more. I kept ticking off the miles, soaking in views of the Statue of Liberty, then running in the shadow of the now-complete Freedom Tower before deciding to gun it the last two miles.

At this point, I knew a sub-1:30 was just out of reach, but I was primed to run a PR. A final push through the finish clocked me in at 1:31:05, an almost 2 minute, 30 second PR. Talk about the runner’s high. The whole race was one long hit of the runner’s high.

To top it all off, I ran into an old teammate of mine from Lehigh AND Jenny from Hood to Coast, who had also just crushed her race with a sparkly new PR. So much happiness!

Sunday reaffirmed how awesome this race is and left me feeling much more confident going into Boston and Big Sur next month. Michele summed up my feelings perfectly:

Yes. Exactly. All of those miserable, slushy miles were worth it.

QUOTE OF THE POST: “You’re off to great places, today is your day. Your mountain is waiting so get on your way.” – Dr. Suess

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Race Report | 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival

Unlike my usual Race Reports, I’m dedicating this post to my dad and brother who raced at the 2013 Runner’s World Half & Festival. I’ve always been “the runner” in my family, but this weekend proved that that’s so not true anymore. Here’s why:

A few weeks after the Boston Marathon this year, my dad texted me this: photo 1

Honestly, this text nearly brought me to tears. For years now, my dad has hopped on the running wagon only to fall off of it (no) thanks to roadblocks life decided to put in his way. There was no doubt in my mind that my dad could do it (back in January, I wrote about how I secretly wished he’d run the RW Half), but I knew all too well how god-awful it is to train through the summer in Texas. Not to mention a lot can go wrong in six months. Getting to the start line of a race healthy for anyone is a miracle. He had a long road ahead of him.

photo-2But sure enough, weekend after weekend all summer long, my dad reported successful early-morning long runs that started before the sun crested the top of the mountain and weekly 3.1-mile afternoon runs that got progressively faster despite the rising afternoon temps. He challenged himself with hills, pushed through the sweltering heat, learned the importance of hydration on long runs, and didn’t get bogged down or discouraged by the not-so-great runs. I might not have witnessed it in person, but his commitment and focus on his goal of completing a half-marathon was apparent and incredibly inspiring.

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Before we knew it, there he was at the expo, picking up his bib with my mom and brother in tow.

Later that night, we attended Dave McGillivray‘s keynote speech. Dave, the race director of the Boston Marathon, not only rocks a wicked Boston accent, but has notched countless running feats throughout his lifetime. (He runs his age in miles on his birthday, he has run across the country more than once, he has finished the Boston Marathon for 40+ years in a row, the list goes on…) The philanthropist had us laughing and crying, all the while teaching us life lessons he’s learned while pounding it out on the roads. I wish I could bottle up his talk and re-live it before ALL of my races. It certainly set the tone for the next day.

On race morning after we pinned on our bibs, my dad and I set off for the start line. The air was crisp, the clear-blue sky was bathed in sunlight – it was the PERFECT day to run. We lined up at the front so we could take it all in. The crowd’s energy was electric. A few minutes before the start, my dad and I snapped a couple pre-race photos and gave each other good-luck hugs. I can’t really put into words how much it meant to me to see my dad on the brink of accomplishing this goal he’d worked so hard for all summer long. It made my heart swell with happiness. Instead of crying nervous tears, I cried happy ones. (Click on the photos to enlarge!)

And with that emotional start, we were off!

The game plan was to finish my race, which doubled as my last long training run before Marine Corps, then run the course backwards until I found my dad. After I finished my run, I snuck back on the course, and it wasn’t long before I saw him cruising past a water stop just before Mile 12. He was crushing it.

With just over a mile to go, the two of us set off for the finish line. Then, with one last hill behind us, we made our way through the tunnel of cheering spectators, spotting Mom and my brother before crossing the finish line. He did it.

photo 3photo

My dad ran every step of the race at his 5K pace from January. He not only finished 13.1 miles, he demolished them.

Seeing my dad’s goal become a reality in the form of a hard-fought finisher’s medal was incredible. I’m literally in awe of the perseverance it took for him to get from “the starting line” he crossed on that day back in April when he texted me to the finish line of his first half-marathon. His accomplishment is the reason why running is awesome. My dad is my inspiration, always has been, and always will be.

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photo-1On Saturday morning, my youngest brother Kyle lined up for the start of the 5K at the Runner’s World Half & Festival. Had you told me that the kid who once quit soccer because he “didn’t like to sweat” would be voluntarily running a 5K, I wouldn’t have believed you. Unlike my other (older) younger brother and I who both dove headfirst into soccer (and eventually running for me) early on and obsessed over athletics more than pretty much anything else in life for years, Kyle tried different sports on and off, but nothing really stuck.

However now that he’s gotten a bit older, he started running for the track and cross country teams at his middle school. Just like I did when I was his age, he’s getting up at the butt-crack of dawn to log some miles at practice before going to school. What’s amazing about my brother is that he already knows how to run just for himself. He doesn’t get bogged down about what others think of his performance. He focuses only on improving from one race to the next, enjoying the camaraderie of his teammates along the way. He knows he’s not the best on the team, but that doesn’t matter to him. I think he just likes to run. Yup, he figured that out about 10 years before I did.

Smarty pants.

It makes me so happy to see my brother enjoy the sport I’ve been passionate about since I was his age. My hope is that it becomes something he enjoys doing for the rest of his life, in whatever way, shape, or form that may be.

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I have to take a second to do a quick shout-out to everyone in the “twitterverse” who I met in real life this weekend: Jocelyn, Ashley, the #RunChat dudes Scott and David, Jaime, Pam, Marcia and more! Y’all are so dang cool, and I seriously wish we all lived closer to one another so we could run together all the time. But hey, thank goodness for twitter, right? Thank you guys so much for coming to our event. I’m so thankful that we all got to connect in person, and I hope that our paths cross again many more times in the future!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “In running, it doesn’t matter whether you come in first, in the middle of the pack, or last. You can say, ‘I have finished.’ There is a lot of satisfaction in that.” – Fred Lebow 

Race Report | 2013 NYC Half

nychalfOn Tuesday, I made the last-minute decision to race Sunday’s NYC Half because heck, I’d be in the city anyway visiting friends, and I figured it would be a perfect pre-Boston training run. Plus, throughout this marathon build-up, my impatience for the big Beantown weekend has made me desperate to put my singlet and a bib on. (Side note: I’m seriously loving the fact that I’m beginning to want to race now. I used to dread race days because of the anxiety they would cause, but now all I want to do is cross every finish line I can get my feet on.)

After getting maybe three hours of sleep on Saturday night–thank you St. Patrick’s day for that brilliant decision!–I pulled myself out of bed, nibbled on a Picky Bar and tried to rehydrate a bit. My friends (who by the way are SO sweet because they got up early to take me to the start) and I hopped on the subway at 6:30 a.m. and arrived at the Central Park starting line just in time for the 7:30 gun. (I literally shed my layers, ran to my corral, hit up a porta-potty, and started the race, all within maybe ten minutes. Definitely NOT my usual pre-race routine, that’s for sure!)

The game plan for this race was to feel out the first few miles and go from there–if I felt good, I’d try to race it; if not, I’d settle in and enjoy the ride. Deep down I wanted to shoot for a PR. My fastest half is my first one I ran in Philadelphia in 2011. It was just after my cross country season ended, and my fitness from that got me a 1:35:01 finish time. I remember running a few sub-7:00 miles, and I wasn’t sure if I was at that level now. Regardless, nabbing a PR was on my radar. Why not go for it if the opportunity presented itself, right?

Sure enough, I actually felt pretty good. Despite having to weave through crowds for the first three miles, I easily hit 7:10ish pace, running through the 5K in 21:59. Central Park was absolutely stunning that early in the morning, which kept me happy and distracted. At this point, I decided to see if I could hold that pace for as long as I could.

ts2Once we finished a full six-mile loop through the park, we turned onto 7th Avenue. And holy wow was it breathtaking. The entire road was closed off for almost a mile, and I got chills taking in the view while I ran in the middle of the street between the towering buildings toward Times Square. For me, Times Square means insane chaos in the form of distracted masses of tourists and speeding taxi cabs. But this morning, the road was ours and the usual blaring NYC soundtrack was replaced with screaming spectators. I even got an unexpected shout-out from a friend on the sidelines! Needless to say, my pace picked up a bit, and I ran the fastest mile of the race.

The course then turned toward the Hudson River for a miles-worth of freezing headwinds before we started miles eight through 13 on the Westside Highway. This was my least favorite part of the course, but I was excited to still be (somewhat comfortably) hitting around 7:10 pace. The PR was becoming more and more of a possibility, so I turned my focus toward maintaining my pace for as long as I could. Around mile nine, I gave myself a recovery mile and eased up a bit because that speedy 7th Avenue mile was coming back to bite me in the a**. Thankfully, the slower mile paid off, and I was able to drop it back down to the low 7s at mile 10. Along the way, I caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty in the distance–how cool?!?–and we ran right beside the new Trade Center, which was a humbling experience to say the least.

When we reached mile 11, I did the math and figured out that I would be right at my PR if I ran 8-minute pace for the final 2.1 miles. I was still miraculously cruising along at 7:10 pace. A PR was definitely within reach. Talk about an awesome feeling.

I pushed the pace a much as I could for the final meters of the race and crossed the line in 1:33:31. I PR’d by exactly a minute and a half.

Post-race with the ever-incredible Kyle who graciously lugged my gear from the start to the finish. Thank you!

Post-race with the ever-incredible Kyle who graciously lugged my gear from the start to the finish. Thank you!

After the race, I spoke with my mom, and she pointed out that I was still able to have a great race despite not doing my usual, super-OCD pre-race routine. She reminded me of how in high school and college I used to get so anxious literally days before a race. I’d waste far too much energy on my nerves, and I’d freak out if I didn’t get in the proper warmup or eat the right thing. But today, all of that went out the window. I went into it with a “just get out, have fun and race if it feels right” attitude.  I ended up snagging my first PR in over a year.

Though I certainly don’t intend to repeat what I did yesterday, it’s nice to know that I can still race well even if some curveball gets thrown my way. Once again, I learned that having the right atitude about a race–especially in the final few days beforehand–plays SUCH a big role in its outcome. (This should be obvious, but as we all know, it’s an incredibly frustrating and hard lesson to learn.) Once the race starts, just focus on running. Go with how you feel at that moment, not how you think you should feel. (So what if I only got three hours of sleep? I actually felt smooth and fast!) Don’t sweat the small hiccups that you’ll inevitably experience because they’ll just weigh you down.

Overall, I’m SO happy I decided to run. The NYC Half is definitely in my top three road races I’ve ever done, and I’d highly recommend running it someday. Yesterday I realized that I’m in as good as, if not better, shape than I was in college. Now I’m even more pumped for Boston! Just 27 more days people! 27 DAYS!

QUOTE OF THE POST: “Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.” – Paulo Coelho