Race Report: United Airlines NYC Half-Marathon

In over 30 years of running and racing, I have never had any interest in running the New York City marathon.  The thought of toeing the line in a ginormous big city marathon has always been overwhelming.   Yet I have always had huge admiration for those who head down to race, recognizing that it is just not for me….until this year.

I’m not sure exactly when my thinking changed.  Maybe it was a result of seeing different friends go to NYC for the United Airlines Half Marathon in March; maybe it is my own FOMO after seeing pictures and reading stories of the NYC marathon year after year after year; perhaps it is my own growth and confidence as a runner, as someone who has become more willing to race in unfamiliar settings.  Whatever the reason, my views on racing in the Big Apple have evolved and, this year, I registered, not for the full marathon in November but for the United Airlines Half-Marathon in March.

Panic set in January, though, when I ended up with Covid.  I was sick for a week and it took another 5 ot 6 to fully recover.  “Just run it,” Dave told me.  “Don’t worry about your time.”  So that is what my training focussed on – rebuilding to the 21.1km distance with the only goal of finishing.  This was the first time in a long time that i approached my training as a participant.  My only goal was to run in NYC; time didn’t matter.

Race Morning: We stayed in downtown New York, about 3 km from the finish line.   Dave decided to take the subway with me to the start line – about a 30 minute trip to my 7:20 start.  After showering at 4:30, I checked the train schedule for the umpteenth time only to discover there was a delay – enough of one that I worried about making it to the start by 6:30 – just enough time to warm up and go through my pre-race rituals.  Then I reminded myself that I was there for the experience.  “If I am late, I’ll just go with the second wave.”  What I didn’t want to happen was to be stuck waiting in the cold for the next wave’s start.

The First Corral:  Being ready to start at 7:20 became more of a challenge than running the 21.1 kilometres.  Due to the delay, the train we were on was packed with runners.  This snowballed into longer lines going through security and even longer lines for the porta-potties.  It was so crowded that after arriving in my corral, the first thing I did was join one of many long lines to empty my gut.  “Ten, eleven, twelve…  There are at least 12 people ahead of me,” I thought.  “It’s 6:50 and it’s going to take about 40 minutes to get to the front.  I’m going to miss the start.”  At 7:10, I was 4 or 5 back as I listened to the American anthem and the elites start.  I didn’t want to wait in the cold for the next wave, which started 30 minutes after mine.  “Hurry up!” I wanted to scream.  Then, at 7:20, I heard the start of my wave as I closed the door.  That’s when I decided I would hit the first set of toilets at 5K instead.

Start to 5K:  It was cold and it was windy.  I was glad that I had my hoodie.  With the unexpected drop in temperature to -7C, I decided to start the race wearing my old, well-worn and warm pink tech hoodie and would leave it at a water station once I felt warmed up.  As it turned out, my race gear was perfect for the day; not once did i feel overheated, nor did I ever feel cold.  I dropped my hoodie at the second water station, which resulted in a curious look from one of the volunteers and left me wondering if they took it home or added it to the donations that were collected at the start.  Either way, my throw-away did the job that it needed to do – keep my muscles warm.

Midrace 6K-15K: By 6K, I found my rhythm; my feet were dancing along the streets of New York and the rest of me tagged along.  There wasn’t a lot of spectator support, which surprised me, but around 9 miles (or 15K),  some dude was blasting “Journey” from mega-speakers on the back of his pick-up.  “Shawn” I thought.  Years ago, Shawn and a friend spontaneously broke into “Small Town Girl” as the three of us waited to toe the line of a local 5K.  The instant I heard it now, I felt my old running partner’s presence again; he was running the half with me.  My legs started turning over a bit faster and I found myself singing Don’t Stop Believin’ long after the song was out of earshot.  I was moving and everything felt right.

42nd Street: When i saw the 10 mile marker, I still felt great.  “Wait!  We’re already here?” I thought.  “I’m not even tired.  I feel good.  I feel really good.”  I looked at my watch and was surprised by the time that I was running.  As I got closer to Times Square, I felt my face relax and my head exploded with random thoughts.  “I feel awesome.  I’m not even tired. i feel like I could run a marathon.  I feel strong.  I think I do have another marathon left in me.  I want to run the New York marathon!”  After years of doubting that I would ever be able to run another marathon, I was bitten by the bug – hard.  I started to smile and curved onto Seventh Avenue, never feeling the pace drop, the last stretch before turning into Central Park.

Seventh Avenue to the Finish: Thanks to my teen who wanted to walk and shop through downtown New York the day before, I now knew exactly where I was on the course.  I felt ready to pick up the pace for the last few kilometres and did – cautiously. Meanwhile, the kids’ race was happening on Seventh Avenue at the same time and, as a child/youth coach and teacher, I was immediately pumped. Runners around me must have wondered about my loud cheers and fist pumps for the kids who were racing next to us, but I didn’t care. I was having a blast and I felt great.  I turned up the steam another notch as we turned into Central Park, which was exciting but not as exciting as cheering on the kids, and finished comfortably fast.  With a setback in winter training and a rough start, I was happy with my time (e.g. 1:50).  When I was leaving Central Park, feeling a little bewildered and wondering how I would ever find my husband among thousands of runners and spectators, Dave found me.  We left the park together, equally happy with how the race went.

The United Airlines New York City Half Marathon made me realize how much I truly love running: the training and prep work, the friends I have met through running, the kids I have coached, the challenges of goals and reaching them…..It relit my spark for long distance and, maybe, just maybe, I will run a full marathon again (I’ll see how summer training goes).  Most importantly, though, it reminded me of the love and support that I have from my family while I keep setting goals and chasing dreams.  Dave and my youngest drove with me to the big city where we designed a mini-get-away (3 day) around the race.  New York made me realize that, while I might be almost 60, I will never stop setting goals and chasing them down.

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