Last night, I had two dreams. The first was that in the middle of the New York City Half-Marathon, I decided to take a different route to the finish line, one that was less crowded, since I am so familiar with the city streets and I was tired of the crowds. It was a beautiful run unimpeded by cars and pedestrians. Except, when I crossed the finish line, I was disqualified for going off course. The second dream was stranger, and more disturbing. I dreamed my dog’s paw broke off! There wasn’t a lot of blood and she didn’t really complain about it but nevertheless it was heartbreaking and we put the paw on ice. This morning, while going through my pre-race ablutions and rituals, I got a bloody nose that lasted a few minutes. Add these foreboding signs to the ominous projected race times McMillan’s calculator spit out at me (based on my 15k PR, 1:50:21 & based on 4M PR, 2:03:27), and the best I hoped for was an average pace of 8:40’s. I set Little G’s Virtual Partner to 8:40, then, as I waited for the port-a-potty.
Dear Readers, I may never learn. When it comes to racing, sometimes I am the last person to believe in myself. I require convincing, with hard evidence. That makes me a bit of a pain in the ass before big races.
Miles 1 through 4 were the toughest, as I was scrounging around for an even pace. It takes me about four miles to warm up these days. That must have something to do with the way my engine burns–so that I can run fastest at the end of longer races (that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it). The splits for Miles 1 through 4 were: 8:26-8:12-8:19-8:28 (this was my slowest mile). At this point I was thinking grimly, you’re gonna blow up, you can’t maintain this pace for 13.1 miles, TK. I tried to slow down, I swear I did, but my body was having none of it. I did stay true to my rudimentary race strategy, which was: be conservative in Central Park, except for the downhills (where you will push). I also struck upon a mantra that I would return to throughout the race: The further the distance, the stronger the woman. Oh Miles 5 & 6? 8:14 and 8:19, and that would be the last time my pace saw 8 minutes for the remainder of the race.
By Mile 7 I started to get excited about exiting the park. The sun was shining, I had on my fierce running sunglasses (they don’t look superhot on me but they are so light and cut glare extremely well), and even though I feared I was going to bonk (I took an espresso-flavored Hammer gel around Mile 6) I had basically surrendered to the pace and decided to just see how far I could ride it out. Oh and also–I reset my VP to 8:15. Just, you know, in case. Mile 7: 7:59
At Mile 8 we were out of the park, and this is my favorite part of the race, running down wide Seventh Avenue, taking up a whole lane of the street all for myself, and pounding out that slight downhill that basically carries us to the finish. The second half of my race strategy was to run as fast as I thought I could sustain once I exited the park, given the terrain. The music on this part of the route perked me up, and along with the cheering spectators was enough to put a smile on my face all the way to Mile 10. The smile also helped me play my little mental game which was: don’t calculate your new potential finishing time until you get to Mile 10. I was taking in about five sips of Gatorade at nearly every hydration station now, since the heat (relative to my training thus far) combined with my serious effort was making me quite sweaty. Miles 8 thru 10 shook out at 7:54, 7:48 and 7:45.
At Mile 10, I did quick math. If I ran the next three miles at an 8-minute pace, I would PR by more than a minute. What the? Quick systems check: um, yeah, I think I can hold this pace for another three miles. Let’s go for it! The sweet familiarity of nearly every step of this race surely contributed to what happened next. I have run around Central Park, and down the West Side Highway, more times that I can remember. I know every slope of the big loop, and I have memorized the Greenway’s progression from Midtown to Chelsea to the West Village to Soho to the Financial District. Another home team advantage I have is recognizing people on the sidelines and on the course. TNT coaches and teammates, Twitter buddies, Team Fox officers–they all decorated my great sweep through Manhattan with their brand of greeting.
The last time I ran this race in 2008, it was in the 90’s with something like 90% humidity. I was running as a bandit, as a long training run for the New York City Marathon. I ran the last half with SA (from Team in Training), and crossed the finish line with MZ (from my Green Mountain Relay team). This time, I deliberately chose to race it by myself (EN had offered to run it with me)–I knew this performance had to be mine and mine alone in order for me to confidently race the Virgin London Marathon in a month. The further the distance, the stronger the woman. I wasn’t bonking but I was definitely tiring a little. I kept pushing, and honestly the last three miles went by quicker than I thought they would. I was working as hard as I could but I wasn’t feeling that burn, that depletion like I felt at the end of the Baltimore Half last October. Perhaps the last three miles went by quickly because (for me) I was MOVING. Miles 11, 12, 13 and the last 0.21 split as 7:54, 7:52, 7:49 and 1:33 (7:33 pace). Yes, the last seven miles were all under 8 minutes each. (This just blows my mind. I will repeat that to myself as I drift off to sleep tonight, with a smile on my face.)
I crossed that finish line with my arms up, whooping loud & clear Amen Sister! I clicked off Little G, spotted Mary Wittenberg greeting the finishers (how awesome), and did a little jumpy dance and applauded myself. I am not being disingenuous nor self-deprecating when I tell you that I would not have bet money on this horse to PR today, that’s for sure, but Sweet Jesus I am a believer now. My official NYRR net time is 1:46:36, a full 2 minutes and 14 seconds faster than my previous half-marathon PR. My average pace of 8:09 was 9 seconds per mile faster, too.
What a great start to my birthday week. Indeed! Please excuse me as I am now going to have some ice cream.