Sun 18th March
Sometimes we are unable to see a seemingly obvious thing for us to do for one reason or another. Our minds can have a built in blind spot as a bit of a defence mechanism. I enjoy running. Short, long, competitive, casual, in a group or on my own. I enjoy a bit of writing. The way you have to tunnel into your mind to get words on a page. I enjoy reading about running. Books, magazines, websites and most of all, peoples personal running blogs. I love reading about their experiences of training and events and the way you can get carried along with them and learn things by looking at the world of running through their eyes.
I never considered writing a blog though. Sure why would I? I would have nothing interesting to say and sure who would read it?! Sarah my wife said recently I would enjoy writing about some of my running events and should give it a go. I half thought about it but put it on the back burner. This week though after completing the New York half marathon I thought maybe I should write a few words about it as I’ll probably never be there for that race again. It will be a way for me to record it for myself when it’s fresh in my mind and I will no doubt enjoy putting some of my memories of it and maybe even other events down in words.
So on Sunday morning the 18th of March at 7:30 I lined up at the start of my first running event outside Ireland, the 2018 New York Half Marathon. We had booked a holiday for myself, Sarah and our two young boys Aaron & Caolan in Philadelphia to visit my aunts, uncles and cousins there and had also decided to spend the last 2 days in New York to take in the St Patricks day celebrations on the 17th. I saw online that this race was taking place the very next morning and thought I would try to get an entry as it would be great to take part in a race like that and being in New York while it was taking place was a good start. Now all I needed was a race entry but I had no luck in the lottery drawing for places or in the other few avenues that I tried. Thanks to Sports Travel International in Dublin though I was able to take my place among the 22,000 runners lined up in Brooklyn that morning.
After a week of being treated like a king in Philadelphia at my aunts house and having a couple of beers every night, it wasn’t the most typical of race preparations. I also only managed to get out for one 6 mile run while we were there, on the Monday evening, and that was it until a pre-race warm up jog.
We travelled to New York by train on the Friday which took only an hour and 30 minutes. We stayed on West 46th street which was convenient for the St Patricks day parade which travelled up 5th Avenue close by, starting off on 44th street. It was also an easy place for Sarah to walk from with the boys to watch me run as the race went along 42nd street passing the corner of 5th Avenue which was only 2 minutes from our hotel.
After having breakfast with Sarah and the boys on Saturday morning I headed to the Half Marathon Expo to pick up my race number. It was taking place at the Metropolitan Pavilion at 125 West 18th street in Manhattan which is between 6th and 7th Avenues. I had been told at the hotel to enter the subway at 47th street, take an ‘F’ train downtown, get off at 14th street and walk the 4 blocks back to 18th street. At the ticket machine you have to buy a Metro card for $1 and put money onto it for single or multiple trips. I would use the subway the next day to go to the race as well and not really being sure of the prices I put $10 into the machine. About $2.50 was taken from the card each time I swiped it at the entry turnstiles so this was enough for the three journeys that I would make. As the train moved downtown I could see that for some reason it was not stopping at 14th street today and the next stop would be 4th street. Not seeing any alternative I stayed on until then and walked the 14 blocks back to the Expo! It was still only about a ten minute walk so it wasn’t too bad.
The Expo was busy but comfortable to move around while I was there. Picking up the number only took a few minutes, I just needed my confirmation e-mail and photo I.D. Runners received a race pack with snacks and drinks and a long sleeve race t-shirt as well as a handy pocket guide containing anything you needed to know about before, during and after the race. There was a good selection of New Balance gear on sale as they are one of the main sponsors. United Airlines also had some different stands set up for photo opportunities. There was a large wall with the names of all 22,000 competitors on it which was quite impressive. I didn’t spend too long here as I wanted to get back to Sarah and the boys to get out and about for the St Patricks day atmosphere. I stopped by the sports shop near the Expo and bought a hoody for $15 that I would wear to the race and then put in 1 of the charity clothing bins before the start. This would prove a good buy. Thankfully uptown trains were stopping at 14th street so I was back in the hotel in 15 minutes.
There was a sea of green along 7th Avenue as people made their way towards 5th for the parade. Irish blood runs that little bit thicker on this day of the year and everyone seems to have a bit of Irishness in them. There was no access to the parade below 50th street so I had to show my hotel card at the barrier to get back to the hotel. Once we came out of the hotel though we just had to turn right and we were in the middle of things. We enjoyed watching the parade go by for a while as the boys waved away and received plenty attention in return. We spent the rest of the day walking around before having dinner in the evening and heading back to the hotel. For the first time on this holiday it hit me that I had a half marathon to run!
I left the hotel at 5:15 the next morning. I had found out from reception that I should again get the subway at the Rockerfeller stop on 47th street and get any downtown train to 34th street before changing to a ‘Q’ train which would take me to the race stop at Prospect Park. It can be hard to judge how long to leave for an unknown journey so I left in good time. It was a 5 minute walk from the hotel where I waited at a quiet platform for about 10 minutes. I got on the first downtown train that came along which was an ‘F’ and travelled 2 stops to 34th street station. I followed the signs to the ‘Q’ platform were I was met by the sight of a large group of runners with many carrying NYC18 check-in bags so I knew I was on the right track. I had decided not to bother a check-in bag for handiness. I had just brought the Metro card and $20 incase I would need it after the race. I just wore my shorts, my long sleeve race top and my throw away hoody. I meant to wear gloves that I could throw away during the race but I forgot them. As I looked around the platform I didn’t see anyone else with shorts on. This began to worry me a little. There had been a directive to prepare for the cold on race morning but I had said to myself that I’d be grand. I got talking to a runner from Sweden who asked me what my course strategy was and what time was I hoping for? I told him I didn’t really have a plan, I usually just run as I feel. I said I obviously didn’t want to go too fast early on as there was a few hills in Central Park in the last few miles. I told him my best time was just under 1:26 but I wouldn’t run close to that today as I wasn’t in great shape yet and I mainly wanted to just enjoy the experience. I said I should still run just under 1:30. He outlined his course strategy and said he planned to run 1:35. He sat across from me on the train and I made a mental note to memorise his race number to check his result later out of interest. I entered his number in the race tracker that night and found out his name was Robin Wallen from Stockholm and his time was 1 hour 35 and 23 seconds. Maybe course strategy is something I should look into!
The train journey only took about 20 minutes. I looked around at some of the other runners with hats and scarves and gloves on and listened to them debate with each other about how many layers to keep on during the race. Maybe my Irish approach would see me struggle here. We arrived at the station which I knew was just across the road from the Prospect Park entrance. This was a brand new course for 2018 and was the first time for the race to start here which was on Flatbush Avenue just beside the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. It was so easy to travel here by subway and I would definitely recommend it as I heard stories later of runners getting stuck in traffic in taxi’s and having to sprint to the start!
A few runners had gathered in the hallway before the station exit so I thought maybe I would pick a spot here and avoid the cold for another while. I stood watching and listening to runners’ debates with interest for about half an hour before heading towards the start at about 6:40. The air outside was cool but bearable as I kept my hood up and sleeves over my hands. Everything about the start was so well organised and you couldn’t go wrong. I passed through a security scan then a race number check before being directed right for the wave 1 start. Wave 2 would go off at 8:15. There was a wide path up the right hand side of the starting area which you could jog on and then enter the start at your corresponding coral. The start was divided up into starting corals going from about N right up to AA at the front. The letter on your race bib signified which coral you could enter into. Sports Travel International had secured my place in AA and when I discovered it was right at the front I just hung towards the back of it and enjoyed watching some of the unbelievable athletes on show! There was a great buzz and the race organisers really got everybody going. Before we knew it the gun went off and we were away.
The first mile was downhill and I settled in trying not to get carried away. There was a real surge of runners but I stayed relaxed although I probably knew I was travelling nicely. As we approached the Brooklyn Bridge after 2 and a half miles the 1:25 pace group which had started right in front of me had opened up a gap and was starting to pull away so I was happy enough with this and felt this pace should still be ok. Running across the bridge was amazing. It was so open and you felt so high up with the wind gushing up from your feet. Cold wise I was still doing ok with just my hands feeling a bit of a pinch.
From 5k there was some nice sections of running through various streets with plenty people out along the route to shout us on. A few times I thought to myself that it feels a bit surreal to be running through New York here. Quickly though I’d tell myself to keep breathing! Before we reached 5 miles we made our way onto FDR drive which ran right up alongside the water for 2 miles. It was all fairly flat as I just maintained a relaxed tempo but was working all the same. I passed 10k in 41:30. From here I was thinking about passing Sarah and the boys which would be between miles 7 and 8 and this kept me moving nicely. We turned onto 42nd street which is where they’d be standing about a mile later. I had told Sarah I would stay at the right hand side of the road across here so I would see them. There was a strong headwind meeting us right up this street which was quite hard work. I could see Sarah up ahead and saw Caolan waving away and Aaron laugh as I shouted at them going by. Its funny how things like that can keep you going during a race. There was large crowds all along this area and there was a brilliant atmosphere as we turned up 7th Avenue and ran through Times Square. I didn’t know if this was the same place that we’d walked trough the evening before filled with the blaring noise of the sound of car horns!
As we ran towards Central Park my left hand started to feel a little bit numb with cold. My watch seemed to tighten a little on my wrist so I loosened it and kept shaking my hand out and it wasn’t too bad. It was beginning to all feel a bit like hard work and my legs started to tighten up a little. I passed the 9 mile marker after we entered the park and passed 15k in 1:03:30. The park had some lovely running but as I began to struggle it was hard to appreciate it fully! As I passed 10 miles I knew it was going to be a tough finish as my legs were really starting to tighten. I stayed relaxed though and just kept working. I now really didn’t care what my time would be as I just wanted to get the miles in. I also knew I would get to the finish though should I be reduced to a walk.
The mile between 10 and 11 seemed unbearably long. I was working hard and hurting a fair bit and kept looking ahead for the 11 mile marker but it wasn’t coming. I glanced at my watch to see how far away it was and I read 11.3! I had missed the marker. This gave me a nice lift and I settled into a rhythm and kept going. I turned the corner and there I saw two number 1’s on a sign next to the word miles! I didn’t know how this had happened but it knocked me back for a bit. I found out later that Times Square gives a distorted satellite reading and a lot of peoples watches at the end said they ran 13.6 miles instead of the 13.1 that they actually did.
Eventually I passed the 12 mile mark and I could think towards the finish. It was still hard work and even passing 20k didn’t ease things too much. The 800m to go sign still felt a long way from home but when I passed 400 out I was able to lift it and cruise through the line exhausted but delighted. My finishing time was 1 hour 30 and 50 seconds so I was still happy enough with that and the fact I could always say I ran the New York half.
There was great encouragement from the officials in the finishing area as I quickly received my race medal and recovery bag and survival blanket to keep warm. This came in handy as its a bit of a walk from the finish to the exit at the south of the park on 57th street. I just decided to keep walking down Broadway as far as 46th street where I could then cross over to my hotel. I forgot about the race still being in progress up 7th Avenue though so I had to carry on as far as 42nd street and cross over through the subway station and back up to the hotel. I was cold, tired but happy to be back and have it done. After getting showered and warmed up I checked the results online and saw that I finished 929th overall out of 21,954 finishers so it wasn’t a bad days work. We spent a nice few hours in an Irish bar where we had lunch and I had a few beers before getting our taxi to the airport for our flight home later that night.