July 27, 2008

The Good. The Bad. The Ugly. - NYC Half Marathon

I ran my third NYC Half Marathon this morning. I've done this event each year since it started three years ago and have had a relatively good time. I finished last year in 2:04:54, establishing a PR for the half marathon distance.

As shared this past week, I wasn't sure what my legs would be capable of in this race, but they turned out to be fine. They didn't hurt until Mile 11 or so where we were running on the hard concrete of the West Side Highway. This surface kills my knees every year so it was no surprise. The surprise was how poorly everything else felt throughout the race. I'll break it down for you.

The Good

After another scorching hot week, the temperature was much more tolerable this morning at 74 degrees, although humidity was 90%. There were little bursts of rain that made it overcast, sparing us from the sun. The race was incredibly well-supported with aid stations almost too often, all with Gatorade Endurance - a blessing in this heat - and one with gels. And you can't beat the middle of the course where it passes through Times Square. I love this part of the race and there is really nothing like it in another running race. Lastly, if you're up for it, there is an incredible finish area festival that seems to be getting better and better each year.

The Bad

This race is incredibly popular with entry by lottery only. Because it's so popular, it is also incredibly crowded and this year seemed worse than ever. While my finish time last year wasn't super fast by any means, it was respectable and should have earned me a good start corral position. However, I was placed in the 13000s, which just as the number implies, was really far back from the starting line. I had to walk about a half mile to get to my corral and then discovered the runners around me were aiming for 10-11 minute miles and some were walking. How could this happen? The pace New York Road Runners has on record for me as "average" this year is 8:26 per mile.

Next, there were very few porta johns within the start corrals so the lines were a few hundred people deep. I really had to go so I waited 30 minutes and then finally had to bail. This wait cost me even more positioning in the corral so I had to snake through the crowd (and surely made a lot of people angry) to try to get at least back to where I started.

Finally, my number one complaint about this race goes back to the crowding. The course in Central Park is fairly narrow making it impossible to establish and stay on pace. I had to run off to the side of the road on grass, rocks and cobblestones to pass and just hoped I didn't roll an ankle. I also took more elbows to the arms and sides than an Ironman mass swim start. There was no way to avoid getting hit and hitting people if you were attempting to pass. So you either had to push ahead and try to navigate or resign yourself to an 11-minute mile pace. I pushed ahead.

The Ugly

You can't have a great day for every race and I experienced that full force today. Ironically, my big worry was my legs and they ended up being fine. I never thought about all the other things that could go wrong. My alarm went off at 5 a.m. and I had a hard time getting up. On a normal day, this would be no big deal, but I'm usually up immediately on race days. On my way to the park, I noticed I wasn't feeling well. My stomach was upset and didn't seem to be getting better. During my 30 minute wait for the porta john it only got worse. I forced down a gel and a salt packet with a little bit of water and headed to the start line. Luckily as I got closer, I was able to hop off the course and hit the bathrooms with no line before starting the race.

As anyone who runs long distances knows, your stomach sometimes disagrees with the activity. It usually hits you mid-run but I had to start the race already feeling under the weather. I thought I could run through it and it would get better, but that was not the case. I was in misery by mile 3 and feeling really weak by mile 7 as we exited the park. I had a hard time taking in fluids so I was skipping every other water station. When I stopped I only had sips of Gatorade and even had a 3-mile stretch with no fluids, yet my stomach felt sloshy the entire race, as if nothing was absorbing. I started to feel dehydrated and worried about muscle cramps. I was able to get down a Gu around mile 10 as we neared the West Side Highway. I kicked it into high gear for this final stretch just to get the race over with.

I was sick immediately following the race and for hours after. I ended up napping for two hours before resting most of the day. It was quite some time before I could tolerate eating and drinking even though I was incredibly hungry.

I don't want to be perceived as complaining about the race because that's not the case at all. In fact, I couldn't be more thrilled with my finish time - a new PR of 1:52:33. This is far better than I thought was possible given my training and how I felt. It's just that I don't race only to set PRs and reach goals. I race because I enjoy the experience. Sure I set goals and it feels great to reach and exceed them, but it is secondary to enjoying the sport. I really wanted to enjoy this race and I simply couldn't. At times I wasn't sure if I'd be able to keep going, but it didn't diminish the experience entirely. After all, you have to have unpleasant challenges mixed in with the good challenges to fully appreciate what you're capable of. My next half-marathon will feel like a walk in the park now.

After a full day of resting and re-hydrating, I had one more task at hand. I had to ride my final 18.04 miles for the Tour de France Challenge. My plan was to finish the race, eat and immediately do the ride, but my stomach didn't allow it. It was almost 6 p.m. before I was finally able to get started. I rode on the trainer due to the weather and my physical state. My legs were feeling tired and slow and my body was even slower so it was the longest ride I've ever had on the trainer. I had to bribe myself with a break every 6 miles in order to keep going. I wanted to quit, but I didn't want to let my team down. I promised them I would find a way to get the miles in despite my race schedule. And so I did. After I finished, I had my second shower and second soak in the tub for the day. I'm always amazed at how many times a day I have to shower due to triathlon training, but today certainly takes the record. I showered after the race this morning, then soaked for a bit in the tub when I wasn't feeling well, then showered after the ride and soaked once again. I'm either squeaky clean or my skin will fall off at any moment. I put an entire 4-pound carton of Epsom salt in the second soak. Anything is worth a try to avoid what I fear will be some pretty sore and tired legs tomorrow. I think tomorrow will be a nice, easy day.

Running (NYC Half Marathon)
Distance - 13.1 miles
Time - 1:52:33

Biking (on trainer)
Distance - 18.04 miles
Time - 1:32:54

1 comment:

  1. Oh goodness...well, congrats on the PR but sorry for your tummy! 13.1 is not a fun distance in heat and with cramping issues in your gut. Way to tough it out.

    I'm impressed that you've kept up a tri-lifestyle in spite of NYC's space and time limitations, and not only kept it up, but made it thrive! Pretty impressive. I was just in Bklyn on Park Slope for a few days and can't imagine training with that traffic and only a small park loop for riding.

    Catch you back on Bt.com or maybe more here on your blog. My blog is a bit out of date, and not very tri-specific, but I'm working on it...



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