Friends, I’ve done it again. If I weren’t so happy, and proud, I’d be embarrassed at my streak of PR’s, but fuck that. I ran today’s half-marathon in 1 hour, 53 minutes and 34 seconds: now is the time to revel.
All week I was waiting for my right leg to feel strong again, for that warm, tender spot in my hamstring to go back to a painless normal. Alas, I woke up this morning still not feeling 100%, so I reset my goals for the race. Instead of breaking 2 hours, I just wanted to beat my last PR (set in Brooklyn) of 2:06:02, which would have required a 9:30 pace. I knew I could do that, and after all, I thought, there’s still Staten Island next month to go for the sub-two. Another part of the original plan that got scrapped was my cheering section. Husband and Matilda were going to be there, but he’s been sick with some back to school bug and sorely needed the rest.
I arrived at the race with just the right amount of time to drop my bag, empty my bladder, and stretch in my corral, all without rushing or stressing. The staging area seemed much less crowded than when I ran Brooklyn, or even The Bronx. I suppose the out-of-the way location, and the tougher, hilly course kept away the less-serious runners. (There were 3,054 finishers today, as opposed to the 5,832 who finished at Brooklyn.) Because of this, once they pushed aside the barriers from within the pens, I was able to move up closer to the start, and hopefully align myself with some faster runners out of the gate.
Nevertheless, I knew the first couple of miles were going to be slow simply because the course was narrow. I’d heard it was picturesque, through the neighborhoods of College Point, but I hardly remember a bit of the scenery. Mile 1 took about 9:45, and Mile 2 9:15, but once I hit my stride somewhere in the middle of Mile 3, I was so focused on what I was there to do that almost everything else dropped away. It was a humid morning (87%), my clothes were drenched halfway through, but again: by Mile 3 I was only vaguely aware of the conditions, and I never once thought they were slowing me down. I watched my splits at each marker, expecting to run 9:15′s, then realizing I was running 9′s and they felt fine. Soon after that (Mile 5? Mile 6?) I was going faster than 9′s. I can only assume each mile got progressively faster (by seconds), since I finished the last 1.1 miles in at most 8 minutes.
Scattered impressions: running through an aroma cloud I can only assume had wafted from a nearby bakery, which made me dream of Linzer tarts, croissants, and jelly donuts. Giving up somewhere around Mile 6 at checking my pace and instead just letting my body go with the sub-9′s it wanted. Realizing at Mile 9 that I was beating the clock, since the net time on my watch had officially dipped lower than the time on the NYRR’s digital clocks. (I have no recollection of running the tenth mile at all, since I was so pumped by this.) Looking up, always (normally I watch the ground when I run). Running the tangents. Being completely contained within myself, but also feeling like I was watching the race from ten feet above the ground. Doing the math over and over in my head to reassure myself that I was not only going to break 2 hours but I was going to break 1:55. Hills–I know they were there, and I’m sure I adjusted my form for them, but none of them were a struggle. Maintaining my form was where I pinpointed my focus, repeating to myself over and over Abs down. Collarbone up. Going for it at Mile 12, gently picking up the pace, cued in to my breathing and right hamstring, until I saw that finish line and told myself (one word for each step until I crossed) Strong, Beautiful.
I crossed the finish line with my arms up over my head, and I gave myself a huge cheer. I couldn’t stop running I was so excited so I zigzagged through the chute for a few seconds, then dashed over to some guy with a spray hose and let him mist me. I was soaked before anyway! Then it all sunk in and of course I cried for a second or two, no tears but just that emotional release that comes when I allow myself to believe what I just accomplished. And finally, the mechanics: Gatorade, bagel, bag watch, chip return, finding friends (I saw a fellow polar bear; TW from my Green Mountain Relay van–who was running on literally three hours of sleep as he raced Reach the Beach this weekend; a ton of TNTer’s, and my speed training partner, DT–who also PRed Yeah D!)
A shout out to Romy and Jimmy, two people I just met today. Romy (from Chicago) ran nearly the whole race at my shoulder, we were on pace together perfectly. She reminded me of Deena Kastor with her little blonde haricut, her trim physique and long strides. We acknowledged each other, and after the race I found her in the finish area and she told me how even my form and pace were. That was great to hear; even better to hear once I realized she’d qualified for Boston at my first marathon (Phoenix 2007). Jimmy was my seat-mate on the bus coming back from the race, an ultrarunner who ran his first ultra on a bet. Um, yeah. He also lives in Woodside (the neighborhood right next to Sunnyside), runs over the 59th Street Bridge as often as I do (I guess I’ll share it with him), and is going to hook me up with some long run routes over other bridges. Once again, my faith in the essential goodness of runners is affirmed.
[To EN: I missed you and lamented that you wouldn't be there next to me talking up a storm, but when I finished I could imagine you saying, "You're in the best shape of your life." Thanks for that, friend. See you at Staten Island, yes?]