It has been almost two months since I ran the United NYC Half Marathon and I have been avoiding writing this post. I think I was sitting around waiting for the perfect words to come to me to describe this race. I’ve decided that that will never happen so I better just write my thoughts– eloquent or not! Prepare yourself– this is a long one!
I entered the lottery for this race two years in a row and got a place last December. It turned into a road trip with a few friends and a couple of strangers (who turned into friends!). I began my training on a high note in January before attempting to fight off some shin splints in February, going on vacation in March and forgetting to exercise at all, and then just kind of not caring about running after returning home from said vacation.
I was still so excited to run this race regardless of the outcome because I truly love New York City. I’ve been there many times and the city holds so many unforgettable memories including so many of my dad. I never actually went to NYC with him, but I remember texting him a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge on my old flip phone when I was there with my mom. He loved the hustle and bustle of people everywhere and every time I visit NYC I think of him.
Before the race, I started to get a little panicky as I thought about how slow I might be, but thanks to my friends reminding me that I needed to look around and enjoy it and stop stressing, I was able to change my mindset.
Saturday morning we headed to the race expo where they had volunteers ready to take your pictures. How awesome is that right?! It would’ve been more awesome if any of the pictures had been in focus but then what kind of memory would that be? There are probably 20 blurry group shots… 0 clear ones!
Race pickup was mostly a breeze as we got our bibs and shirts. Somehow my bib scanned that I already picked up my shirt and I got a little annoyed as I told the guy, “I literally just came from there 10 seconds ago. How could I have gotten a shirt?!” I love that Cathy captured this exact moment.
The night before the race ended up as a slight disaster as I realized that it was going to be really cold and I only brought shorts and a tank to wear. Don’t worry though, I brought a backup outfit of a second tank and another pair of shorts–lol! Saturday night at 8PM had me trying on everyone’s clothes– and I mean everyone’s! I ended up wearing one of the guy’s long sleeve shirts over my tank top and Cathy’s headband because I didn’t even pack one of those. I am usually an excellent packer and this was the first time in as long as I can remember that I didn’t make a list. That will never, ever happen again. I was a hot mess, I tell you!
Race morning began with some instant oatmeal, coffee and a banana at the literal crack of dawn. Maria, Michael & I were running and needed to check our bags by 6:50 and get into our corrals by 7. Taking off my sweatpants and passing in my bag was a really sad moment because I couldn’t believe how cold it was! (My face is just ridiculous in this pic…I have no words)
I’ve run some decent size races, but nothing like this one. Only the runners were allowed near bag check and then we had to go through security including metal detectors surrounded by police officers. There were helicopters circling above and honestly, I was really impressed with how seriously they took the runners safety.
I lost Michael and Maria and headed to my corral where I stood shaking like a leaf for an entire hour. I waited in line for the porta potty and wanted to hide from the wind until the start, but thought the rest of the line wouldn’t approve of that choice. I stood as close to the strangers around me as I could without seeming like a creep as I tried to warm up. Time inched by slower than I knew possible as every part of me went numb. I was pretty sure I shook all my energy out before the race even started!
In true form, I was in a porta potty when the gun went off for my corral which made me laugh. I took my time and headed out across the line down the streets of Brooklyn. (I’m to the left centre with the shorts and bright knee socks!)
It didn’t take me even one kilometre to realize that I changed all my settings on my watch to something really weird. I had turned off the elapsed time apparently and instead had it beeping every 1.4kms and then beeping again after 3 minutes but never showing how long I had been running. The buildings instantly interfered with my pace so my hot mess standing was still going strong!
I knew my pace wasn’t going to be awesome anyhow, so I laughed and stuck to my plan to enjoy the race.
And boy, did I enjoy it.
As we ran over the Manhattan Bridge, I looked to my right at the Queensboro Bridge and to my left at the Brooklyn Bridge with the Statue of Liberty off in the distance. In the centre of the bridge there were police officers high fiving runners and cheering us on while keeping their eyes moving as they watched everything around us. It was such a beautiful picture to me that my eyes welled up with tears for the first time that day.
As we ran down the other side of the bridge and into Manhattan I couldn’t believe I was running here. It felt like such a privilege and I found myself saying aloud, “This is the best thing I’ve ever decided to do!” (I realize it’s probably actually not, but in that moment it really felt like it!)
I tossed my gloves somewhere in Chinatown and regretted it not too long after as the momentary sun decided to hide again. We ran along the water for awhile before making a left turn toward Times Square.
When we made that turn in my head I could hear my friend, Lisa, reminding me to really look around and enjoy every moment so I did the opposite of what you’re supposed to do in a race: I stopped. I put my head up and did a full circle taking in the skyscrapers, the water, and the sky before looking straight ahead and starting to run again.
The crowds grew even larger the closer we got to Times Square and then we got to run through Times Square on our way to Central Park where a huge screen was displayed showing us running by.
Central Park was as hilly as I remembered but I love Central Park so I tried to enjoy the beauty of it since it was my only chance to see it this trip! The volunteers in the park were my favourite because they were ridiculously encouraging. They weren’t half-hearted in their cheers as they told you exactly how far you had and that they knew you could do it. (I hate those people who say “You’re almost there!” when you have like 8k to go! Liars, I tell ya!)
As we got close to the finish the sides were lined with flags and throngs of people! There was no arch for the finish so it felt a little strange as I wondered if it was really the end, but I spotted the President of the New York Road Runners across the line so I figured the race had to be over. I gave him a high five as I headed to collect my medal, mylar blanket and snack bag.
I dug out my phone which had been on airplane mode and facetimed Anson for a few minutes. I was on the phone for five minutes as I walked when it suddenly shut off. I knew I had a terrible battery but since it said I had 80% I thought it would be okay. I left it for a few minutes as I collected my bag from bag check and then turned it back on again. I needed to try to find everyone else and knew my phone was a necessity!
My phone turned back on and had a mere 10% battery left. I saw a ton of messages flowing in as I walked as fast as I could out of the park. It was at least a kilometre to get out of the exit chute from the race and I still couldn’t feel my legs from the cold, so it took a little while. I headed for the Starbucks across from Columbus Circle but as soon as I got there I knew there was no way any of my friends would bother trying to get in with the hoards of people crammed inside! I saw a text come in from Cathy saying they were in the mall so I went in the closest entrance to see if I saw them. I didn’t and decided to head back to Starbucks and stand outside. I sent a text to Cathy that said, “I am outside Starbucks,” but as soon as I hit send, my phone shut off for good. I had no idea if the text went through. I remembered seeing another text that said something about being near a statue so I headed back across the street to see if they were by those statues. My texts had been coming in fast and furiously in random order with some messages from days earlier appearing so I really wasn’t sure what was actually relevant!
I made my way over to the statues near the Park and stood on the curb to try and get a little taller so I could see. There were tons of people and it wasn’t long before I realized I was never going to find them even if they were there! I asked a couple near me if they had an iPhone I could borrow so I could text one of my friends. As soon as I asked, it dawned on me that I know about one phone number total and texting my husband in Canada wasn’t going to be super helpful. Then I realized that for the first time ever I had written an emergency contact on the back of my race bib and I had chosen Cathy’s number to write down. I unpinned my bib, turned it over and used the borrowed phone to text Cathy. She told me that my Starbucks text had gone through miraculously so I headed that way to meet her. I might have done everything wrong for that race, but writing someone’s (who was actually with me!) number on my race bib was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done!
I went to greet Cathy with a huge smile on my face and I’m pretty sure shocked her with how much I loved the race. We headed over to the mall to meet the rest of the group where we snapped some pics and I put on some warmer clothes.
Then we all headed out on the longest journey ever to find brunch. We mistakenly went into an extremely healthy restaurant for a few moments. I was not thrilled with what I was I was seeing as I looked around. Thankfully, we left and found a diner with what I consider to be real brunch food.
The NYC half marathon was my second slowest half time ever, but my favourite race by a huge margin. I appreciated each moment and the fact that I was able to be there! I looked around and truly took in my surroundings and for the first time in a race, I did not have one negative thought about myself while running. My only regret is that I neglected to bring warmer clothes but hey, it all worked out!
P.S. I would recommend this race to anyone. Everything was so well organized, the volunteers were amazing, the hydration stations were well marked and plentiful on course and while it was rather hilly–the course was fantastic! Huge thanks to the New York Road Runners for putting on a fantastic event. Thank you also to Cathy and Erik for all these pictures! I really do get by with a little help from my friends!