Holy shit. I ran a half marathon. (on 1/25/2015) That was amazing. Even going into it fully trained and prepared, it was probably the most physically demanding thing I've ever done. I'm racking my brain to think of something that even comes close. Even having put in all the requisite work, the long runs, the speedwork, the mental prep, nothing really prepared me for the hustle or the distance. A long flat run of 11 miles and a hilly, crowded, adrenalin fueled 13.1 don't seem like they would be too far apart, but they are.
My day started waking up at 6:30 and doing some light stretching and pushups to get the blood going. Nothing crazy, just moving around a bit. After eating a Clif Bar I strolled through a dead empty Times Square at 7am to catch the train up to Central Park. When I got to 59th street there were a bunch of other runners lingering underground... I wish I had a picture of that because it was really funny. Everyone was checking each other out, making playlists, checking their phone. I didn't hang too long because I was anxious to find a bathroom for one last pee and get to the park.
Holy crap. There were a LOT of people. I mean - I expected there to be a lot of people, but this was crazy. Other than the ridiculous corporate shitshow that was my first 5K back in June, this would be the biggest race I had run. I think the total count was 5000 runners. Which is a lot to deal with at 7:45 am on a Sunday morning in January. Mercifully, it was not too cold - downright pleasant considering it had snowed the day before and ended up snowing the day after. After walking up the line a bit I found my pen.
Here's where I got worried. I totally underestimated my pace - I wasn't sure if there was a penalty or something for going over pace so I think I put my pace at a very conservative 8:15 or so (which works out to approximately a 1:48 half). However, I'd been having a great month of workouts and had revised my goal down to 1:40. But because they grouped the pens by pace I was stuck with the 1:50 pace group. I was going to have to hustle my ass off and do extra work passing people to get up to the 1:40 pace group. I was just trying to do the math in my head when the final announcements started and before I knew it, we were off.
The first part of the loop was all downhill, so I started on the outside and just ran like hell, big strides, passing as many people as I could but being careful not to wind myself. My first three miles, which included Cat Hill, were 7:07, 7:10, and 6:43, which is insanely fast, but by the time we hit the reservoir straightaway I'd passed the 1:45 pace group and taken my first goo so I allowed myself to settle in. I didn't attack the big pre-Harlem Hill downslope too hard, hit the hill at a nice pace, and by the time the rolling hills came along I'd settled in to a nice 7:30 pace. The next few miles were pretty easy; I still hadn't found the 1:40 pace group yet but I figured I would find them soon. We were coming up on the start line - which meant the six mile mark. I was about to make the second loop of Central Park for the first time.
Right around the 6.5 mile mark is when things started to get sticky. I was really starting to get warm at this point (I'd worn a running jacket to be safe but probably didn't need it)... The album I was listening to at the start finished, and I was getting tired of music in my ear, so I took them off. I took my hat off. Running along the initial downhill at the south end of the park now - I took my gloves off. While transferring them into my pockets I dropped one - and panicked. In mid air I kicked it and it went maybe ten feet in front of me. I bent over and picked it up - seamlessly, somehow - a runner next to me said "nice move". Looking back, I probably should have just let the glove go, but I wasn't really thinking. I was breathing pretty heavily at this point and tried to calm myself down. Heading around the turn that starts the loop going north again, I looked ahead - and saw the 1:40 pace group. Somehow I picked up speed and caught them after a quarter mile or so. For the next mile I stood shoulder to shoulder with the pace sign just thinking - don't let him pass you. don't let him pass you. Just breathing and trying to relax.
At Cat Hill I made my move and separated from the pace group a bit. The Hill felt surprisingly good - this is at around mile 8. I'd been running for around 55 minutes now. Still hard - but I'd settled in a bit after the overheating stress and tried to slightly pick it up a bit at the reservoir straightaway. Here is where the toughest part of the race was. Holy shit. The experience of trying to choke down a chocolate goo at 8.5 miles was just traumatic and disgusting. The Gatorade one - Strawberry Banana - that I'd had six miles ago was tolerable - had the consistency of thick jello - but the Powerade one that the race supplied was chalky and slimy and just gross. Like protein powder and chocolate syrup. Just horrible. As I went into mile 9, my intestines started to rumble and growl. Please don't let me shit myself - I begged. Four miles to go. Just let me finish without sharting or outright shitting myself. Please.
Harlem Hill the second time around was slow - but not terrible. But the rolling hills that came after it were hard, and very slow. My pace dropped to around 8:30 here for 3/4 mile or so - but somehow I got out of it. By the time we passed the reservoir - which means no more major hills - I was ecstatic. I saw my pace. As long as I don't totally bonk, I will beat 1:40, I thought. I maintained. And maintained. The crowds were getting bigger now - when we hit the 72nd st transverse there were a bunch of people cheering. Not gonna lie - it did help. I didn't think it would, but it did. Mile 11. Mile 12. Going at 7:20 now. The last mile was fucking brutal. I was exhausted. My knees hurt. My form dipped. There was another guy running along side me panting like he was dying. At 12.5 there was a NYRR volunteer standing in the road, separating finishers from those who had one more lap. I was fading. "One more hill! Attack the last hill! Finish strong!!" he was saying. OK. I did.
With all the weaving in and out I ran (according to my GPS watch) an extra .13 miles but STILL beat my goal time of 1:40. Running for an hour and thirty seven minutes straight seems like lunacy, and it sort of is. If long distance running has convinced me of anything, it's that I probably am a little crazy. While taking a knee after crossing the finish line, I briefly wondered if I would ever run again, before I remembered that I had already signed up for a 5K in March and then another half marathon in May. All with the goal of qualifying for the NYC Marathon in 2016. So I guess the answer is, Yes. Yes I will.