Sunday, May 22, 2011

Brooklyn Half Marathon

At 6:57am Saturday morning, you could find me frantically jogging around the edge of Prospect Park searching for the Brooklyn Half registration tent. I literally ran about 2 miles from the subway and rushed straight up to the registration booth, right as the volunteers were packing everything - and within seconds I had my race number and tee-shirt in hand.  I dashed to the bag check area, and before I knew what was happening, another volunteer had tied up my things in a bag and tossed it on the truck.  My bag literally was the last one to make it on the very last truck - what a relief.  After taking care of all the necessary pre-race arrangements, I stopped for a minute to pin my number to my tank, attach my armband, and run the D-tag through my laces. Once all that was complete, I glanced at my phone: 7:11am. Oh my. The race started 11 minutes ago and I still wasn't even at the starting line.

How did I end up in this unfortunate scenario?  For once, I did everything right. I went to bed decently early (at 11pm) and woke up bright and early (at 4:30am) the second my first alarm went off! (I had set FOUR alarms to make sure I was up -- didn't want to miss out on this race) I got all my stuff together the night before. Bag was was packed and clothes were picked out, ready to go. I got up, showered, dressed, continuously drank water all morning, and ate 2 mini bagels with pb & honey before dashing out the door.  I grabbed a cab to make the most efficient use of my time, and got on an express subway at 96th street.  Then, the 3 train ended at Times Square... for whatever god-forsaken reason, that particular 3 train was not making any stops south of 42nd street... grrrrr.  Instead of waiting for the next 2 or 3 train, I dashed across the Times Square station and patiently waited for the Q... and waited... and waited. There were other runners, so I thought I'd be okay, but the darn Q train just wasn't coming. I dashed back across the station, back to the 1-2-3 platform, and jumped on the next 2 train headed for Brooklyn. By then all hope was lost of arriving on time.

Needless to say it was a very hectic way to start a race. As I approached the starting line, and saw throngs of runners moving along, I merged right in with the crowd, relieved to finally be on my way. However, the starting line was nowhere in sight; that's when I realized that I had accidentally hopped on the course a couple of yards in!  Despite how late I was, I really wanted an official chip time, so I did a quick about-face, jogging around spectators and making my way back to the start, all the way around the barricades, and finally through the corral.  There was just a spattering of runners left in the starting chute - in fact, just as I crossed the starting line, I overheard the announcer declare that he was about the pull of the mat!  Whew!  Just made it!

Amidst the mad dash to pick up my number,  I noticed the volunteer handed me a light blue bib number - I made it to the 5000 corral!  This is huge, people.  Sadly there was no time to celebrate properly, because I had a race to run.  

The 5000 number was a great confidence booster, especially because I was actually nervous!  It's been 8 months since my last half marathon, and with the exception of my 14-mile leisurely excursion through upper Manhattan 2 weeks ago, I haven't ran more than 10 miles at once since last November. Heck, I haven't even raced at all since December!  Glancing at my running log the night before the race was a very bad idea. It just made me realize how pathetic my running efforts have been lately.  My regular mileage fluctuates anywhere from .8 miles to 3.5 miles, and I haven't ran more than 9 times a month since November. That is a really scary "training" plan for someone about to run their first half marathon in 3/4 of a year. But I digress.

From the beginning, the race was smooth sailing. The weather was perfect, and I felt great, cruising right along, passing tons of people. (Obviously, I entered the race so far back that I was surrounded by all the 10+ min/mile runners. They clogged up the roadway and really got on my nerves, until I figured out I could pass everyone by staying to the far right... as long as I didn't get trampled by the elite runners who were already lapping us before we even completed the first mile.)  At one point I actually got elbowed hard in the forearm as I attempted to pass a throng of slow-moving runners taking up the entire roadway. At another point I noticed one of the JackRabbit employees passing amongst the front runners. I shouted hello and received a peace sign in response. That was pretty cool.

A few observations about showing up late: -- Benefits: there are absolutely ZERO lines to wait in to pick up your number and drop off your bag, and you don't have to wait in the starting corral forever before the start --  Drawbacks: you get stuck behind slow runners, and it is very difficult to gauge your pace by the mile time clocks.

In all honesty, I really had no idea how to prepare for this race. It's been so long since I've raced - I'm out of practice!  I had no idea what to wear or how to dress for 70-deg weather and threat of rainstorms. I ended up wearing UnderArmour leggings, shorts, arm warmers, a tank and tee-shirt.  It was so muggy and hot, that I quickly realized I was overdressed.  The arm warmers and tee shirt came off & were deposited in the bag check. Since the leggings were under my shorts, I was kind of stuck wearing them. There was no time to change, so I prayed that it would be okay.  However, about halfway through the race, I was drenched in sweat; it became painfully clear that I would soon get overheated and very uncomfortable.  So, I made a spur-of-the moment decision at mile 6, and waited in line at the portapotties to change. It felt like an eternity; I must have wasted at least 5 minutes by stopping to change.  Despite that huge setback in time, it was the best decision I've made all day.  After I removed the leggings I felt free!

The rest of the race was effortless and enjoyable along the straight downhill 7-mi stretch to Coney Island. Running on the highway was probably the highlight of the race for me. Since I don't drive anymore, being able to go down an entrance ramp and quickly merge all the way over to the left lane was an amazing feeling... even if it was on foot going about 7mph instead of 70mph... We finished on the boardwalk, which was very cool! It was an incredible feeling, feeling the loose boards give beneath my feet, surrounded by crowds and sunshine overhead. Definitely a great way to mark the beginning of summer.

Immediately after finishing, I ran into Cipriana from the RFR JackRabbit campaign - it was like meeting a celebrity. I was actually a little star-struck! I was also on the verge of tears due to my standard fresh-from-the-finish-line overly emotional state. An incredible rush of emotion always overcomes me whenever I complete a particularly challenging race capped off by a stellar finish.  I also felt light-headed and my brain would not function properly for a while after finishing, I kept dropping things left and right.

I was supposed to meet up with my friend from CT before the race. Obviously that didn't happen. It would have been awesome if he could have paced me (like we planned), but thankfully I felt great enough to push myself throughout the race. After congratulating Cipriana, I made my way to the "late baggage claim" to retrieve my bag and finally met up with my friend.  His legs were trashed after running a PR 5K just 2 days earlier, so we didn't stick around Coney Island for the post-race festivities.  It was okay because I had brunch plans in Park Slope anyways.

I'm really curious how I did. I forgot to glance at the clock when I first crossed the starting line, so for the entire race, I really had no idea how I was progressing.  I was far too preoccupied with keeping pace and not stopping, maintaining proper form, and passing people, that I couldn't stay focused on the clocks anyway. There weren't any expectations going into this race. No time or pace goals. No racing strategy. It's been so long that I literally had no clue what my pace would be. I'm fairly certain I broke 2 hours though.  I dug deep in the last half mile and had an awesome, strong finish.  All things considered I am very happy.

This race totally re-affirmed my love for running. I love racing. I love the energy and the excitement. I love half marathons. I love the feeling I get during a race when pushing myself beyond my perceived personal limits. The incredible feeling once I've recovered from a race and realize what I've just accomplished is unmatched. It almost makes you feel invincible.  I am already looking forward to the next one.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

To the tip of Manhattan - and Beyond

Before I even departed for today's run, I sat with my laptop and mapped out an approximate 12-mi route. So, I had a vague idea of where I was going, and didn't anticipate getting hopelessly lost. However, once I exited Inwood Hill Park, I didn't recognize anything and wasn't sure where to go. Noticing a sign for 207th St, I decided to improvise and ran east, following 207th St.  I ended up going over the W Fordham Rd Bridge into the Bronx.

Right at the end of the bridge, I heard a loud screeching noise, looked up in surprise and witnessed a car accident.  While I waited at the intersection for the light to change, there was a shirtless guy covered in tattoos doing dips on the side of the road; he took a break, walked up to me and asked if I ran very far.  I mumbled a yes as I dashed across the street, running away from the tattooed guy, partially out of fear, but mostly from a desire to keep my heart rate up. I had no idea where I was going and proceeded to get temporarily lost in the Bronx. Thank god for the iphone and Google Maps - it saved me! If it weren't for Google Maps, I swear I would spend 95% of my life being lost somewhere.  Thanks to the iphone, I found my way back into Manhattan via the Washington Bridge, which dumped me onto 181st Street.

It was time to head back home. My friend from CT was driving to the city and would be arriving in about an hour - I still had to run home, shower and change! But, he was stuck in traffic, so I had an unexpected extra hour or so to run.  I briefly considered adding the GW bridge to my route, then decided against it.  Then I changed my mind. Literally at a standstill on a street corner, I stood there trying to make up my mind where to go. After at good couple of minutes, and changing my mind about another 20 times, I finally talked myself into running the bridge - after all it only added 3 miles onto my route. Just another 4.5 miles and I'd be home free. 

Earlier into the run, my toes started jamming up against front of shoes - HARD. My feet were in so much pain after just a few miles. Every single time I stopped running, my toes started throbbing and I literally cried out in pain.... The pain subsided while I ran, so the only thing to do was keep running.  Only once I got home and checked my old sneakers, I realized that I bought my brand new running sneakers 2 sizes too small.  Two sizes! No wonder my toes hurt so much. Guess it's been so long since I bought New Balance sneakers, that I completely forgot what size I am!!!  This is such a bummer.  Not even sure if I can return them at this point... there aren't ANY NB stores left in NYC, and the sneakers have already been used anyway... and running shoes are not cheap! 

All in all, I was outside for nearly 3 hours. I ran through two states, two NYC boroughs, over 3 bridges. Ran to the tip of Manhattan and back.  Went down the Greenway, through Inwood Hill Park, got somewhat lost in the Bronx, and finished with a great tempo pace on the GW bridge, and along Riverside on the way home.  This run wasn't for time, distance, or pace. I was actually disappointed with my time... Sure, I wanted to get in a bare minimum of 8 miles as a "long" run before Brooklyn. I left the apt thinking, "I will do at least 8 miles. If I am feeling up to it - and if I have the time - I might go for 12 miles." Since I actually ended up doing 14 miles, the run was a huge success (if you base on mileage alone). However, it took me 2.5 hours to cover those 14 miles in perfectly clear conditions. Why? because I stopped constantly. I was enjoying myself so much that I pulled out my phone every chance I got and snapped pictures of the views. I paused to admire the scenery whenever I felt moved to appreciate the nature around me.  I stopped countless times to consult the map on my phone, figure out where I was, and determine how to get where I was going. Accounting for all the times I stopped along the way, I'm confident that my pace was pretty decent, so I'm not worried.  I love leisurely long runs. All in all, I had a blast. 

Unchartered Territory in Northern Manhattan

At the last possible minute this morning, I finally forced myself out the door for a long run. I guess today's excursion could count as a "training run" for the Brooklyn Half, but considering the fact that I'm not following any real training program, and today's run was anything but fast, I will just call it a leisurely long run.

It was a positively gorgeous day, starting out along the Hudson River Greenway. The sun was shining, the grass was green, trees were blooming, and the pedestrian paths were completely clear. ( After the horrific winter we just endured, images of frozen icy pathways have been permanently etched in my memory.  No matter how many times I go down to the greenway in the springtime weather, I am perpetually shocked to actually see grass!) Every single time I see a clear pathway, I rejoice a little inside - I'm still not used to it! The intense sun made me feel slightly overheated from the second I started... but other than that the run along the waterfront was fairly uneventful....

As I approached Inwood, I ran past the usual baseball and soccer fields, until the path ended, but instead of turning around and heading back home, I climbed the staircase at the end of the waterfront park, took the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks, and found myself in the woods of Inwood Hill Park! After running up and down a few glorious rolling hills, the next thing I knew, I ended up at the Henry Hudson bridge... I made it to the northern tip of Manhattan!!! I was so excited I literally jumped up and down, clapped, and let out a shriek of joy - I've reached a new milestone in my New York running career! This has been a long-standing goal of mine since moving to the city.  It was such an incredible feeling to finally be there!!!

It's such a thrill to consistently push the boundaries of what you know, venturing outside familiar territory, and discovering new running routes along the way. In my early days as a NYC resident, I was seriously afraid to go anywhere for fear of getting lost - or worse - raped, attacked, or mugged. Eventually, as I gained confidence in my new surroundings, I tentatively ventured down Broadway and Riverside.   I quickly discovered the Greenway entrance closest to my apt, and eventually discovered how to get over the GW bridge. I also found my way from the apartment to Ft Tryon (The Cloisters) and Inwood Hill Park.

It's amazing to think of all the places I've explored in the city through running. Within my first year here, I ran the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge. I've raced in Central Park and Prospect Park, ran around the Central Park Resevior, ran through Battery Park City and to the southern tip of Manhattan. I've been along parts of the Brooklyn waterfront and along the East Side of Manhattan. I led running tours in Williamburg, Park Slope, Chelsea, and Downtown Manhattan. I've explored The Cloisters and ran along Morningside drive in Harlem. I've ran down Broadway on a crowded Sunday afternoon and made my way along Houston St on a bustling weeknight. I've traced the perimeter of the west side waterfront piers, ran from 72nd St to Chambers along the Hudson River, and ran to Chelsea Piers from my office. All along, one of my lingering "wishes" was to run to the northern tip of Manhattan, and I finally did it! It's time to check yet another goal off my NYC running "wish list." 

Sadly, there isn't much unchartered territory left. I definitely want to follow all the waterfront pathways around the entire island of Manhattan (by running OR cycling). That's next on the list. One day I need to find the trails at the end of the GW bridge that trace the NJ cliffside along the Hudson. It would be neat to make my way to the Bronx Bontanical Gardens, or to run back to my old home in Port Chester. 

Northern Manhattan truly is a fabulous place to live if you are a runner - there are countless options for scenic routes, exploring, and adventures.  So, after taking in the view from the base of the Henry Hudson, relishing in my accomplishment, and snapping a few photos, I continued on through Inwood Park. Along the way I passed baseball fields, family picnics, fathers on park benches playing catch with their sons, and little girls with ice cream cones. The humanity was simply beautiful. I emerged from the park and found myself on 207th street, not quite sure where to go next.

((To be continued)) -- See "To the tip of Manhattan - and Beyond"