For the past 3 winters that I’ve lived in New York, I’ve said February is the perfect time to go home and visit my parents. The weather is perfect in Texas right now and brutally cold in New York. This year I decided to go home for a nice relaxing and warm weekend. I lined up my trip with my hometown race as a fun way to get in a long run and do another big city race.
Training-wise, the last few weeks had been going really well but there wasn’t much training leading up to this race. Between recovering from Philly and then getting the flu I had about 6 weeks of speed work under my belt and one run over 12 miles. I had a peak week of 50 miles followed by 49 the week before race week. It was a very condensed “training cycle”.
Race week I was looking at this more of a rust buster than an all out, give it everything race. I got a late start to training so Brooklyn Half was my goal (still is!) race. I opted for a mini taper. I lowered my mileage race week and only did a Tuesday workout, leaving Thursday to just be a fun run. I also took an extra rest day. Tuesday I did 3×2 miles at my goal half pace-ish, these averaged around 7:10 and honestly it felt HARD. If I was going to hit 1:35 at Brooklyn, I had my work cut out for me. I followed this up with a legs-focused weights session at the gym (I aim to make my hard days really hard, easy-easy).
I was excited to head home for a nice, relaxing weekend and the race was sort of an after thought but something I was really excited for anyways – I really love races, I’m able to push myself so much better in this kind of setting than anywhere else and that’s feels good regardless of the result.
When I got on the plane Friday I was worried, my legs were STILL a bit sore from Tuesday. This was not a good sign. I spent the entire flight reading, forgot about my legs, and just relaxed. After an hour and a half delay and having not eaten much – I was more than ready for Tex Mex. My mom picked me up and we hopped around to a few restaurants, finally “settling” on a taco place for dinner – I had an entire bowl of queso and felt quite satisfied. We hung out for a bit, then got Joe from the airport around midnight.
Saturday we did a quick 4 mile shakeout run and I felt okay. I still didn’t have the usual calm and confidence that accompanies a good race for me. I felt flat, still. We headed to the expo to pick up our bibs and for me to register. If I can, I always register last minute for a race – you never know what may come up before the race; injury, illness and even just feeling crappy. I accidentally registered for the full marathon and for a split second I considered it but realized I’ve done ZERO distance training and that’d be a horrendous idea. I joked about it to Joe later who was not at all shocked when I came up and said, “so I registered for the full”.
We shopped around at the expo, got dinner with my parents then went back home to relax and prep for the race.
Joe and I talked about our race plans some but didn’t really study the course map or do too much planning. I was in the corral behind him and we weren’t planning to run similar paces at all so we decided to run separately. I figured I didn’t have much to lose here so I’d go out a bit faster than 7:15, then reign it in on the hills and just see how long I could hold on. I planned a pretty big positive split knowing that there were a couple downhills in the beginning and a boat load of massive uphills at the end (why?!).
Race morning I still felt eh but also pretty uptight and a little nervous. I had my usual clif bar and coffee (which did NOT help with the things it’s supposed to help with). I put on my lucky leggings and socks along with the rest of my gear, rolled out a bit, did my makeup, drank more coffee and then spent way too long in the bathroom trying to make things happen.
We all loaded up in the car, I had some water and munched on Pumpkin Spice cereal. Once we were near the start my mom dropped the three of us off and I dashed towards a porta potty with high hopes which were quickly dashed. This should be interesting, I thought. Time to just hope and pray because I don’t have the best track record here.
Joe and I finished our warm up and made our way to our respective corrals. I told him to just go for it. I quickly found the 3:10 marathon pacer and jumped in beside him. I felt eh the entire time I waited. None of the usual excitement or happy anxiety. I was mentally fatigued already.
At the start I flew past the 3:10 pacer as planned, downhills are an area I’m strong on and I needed to take advantage of this one. Mile one: 6:50. Faster than planned, but I felt fine. I reigned it in for the next mile. I still felt like I was struggling mentally but I faked a big smile and started genuinely enjoying myself until the first hill at mile 4. 7:19. Not bad, I thought. Let’s buckle up, run fast and hold on. I was on track for at least a 10k PR, I knew I needed that because then I could relax. As we approached the end of mile 5, we headed into the Stockyards. Admittedly a cool part of the race, but running on cobblestones for a mile was not something I was looking forward to. I first focused on flying to 6.2, I poured some more gas out of the tank. 6.2; 43:50 – I used the excitement from this to help me keep up the pace.
As we left the Stockyards, I welcomed the paved road again but was greeted with another big hill. I kept going, didn’t look at my watch and focused on making it up to the flat section. I could see the 8 mile marker ahead and at this point I was fading a lot mentally. I looked down once we hit that mile marker and saw that 1:32 was in reach if I could run 7 min miles the entire way home. It wasn’t realistic but I needed something to perk me up.
I could see *THE* hill in the distance. The mile 9 marker was a quarter of the way up that hill. At this point I was running mostly alone, save for a couple of guys here and there. I could see and feel the entirety of the hill. I found a good song and vowed to only look at my watch at the 9 mile mark, then not again until the hill was over. The climb was brutal, my glutes were exhausted already and by the end I wasn’t sure how much they had left.
At this point, I should have taken a gel but I didn’t trust my stomach. There weren’t quite enough port-a-potties for me to feel comfortable doing this.
We made the turn into downtown where there were a few spectators and it started to feel like the home stretch. I looked down at my watch and thought I could slow to 8 min miles and have a PR if I want to quit, and I really wanted to. I was mentally spent. I kept going strong knowing the spot my mom had picked out to look for us was coming up. I climbed up the last big hill and saw her there, I ran harder wanting to at least look like I was still doing okay. I had faded harder mentally and was counting down.
I let the energy from that carry me a little more. I had 2 miles left. My stomach grumbled at me. I had made the right choice not to take a gel. I pushed comfortably hard. Mile 12, it was time to kick it in. This mile was uphill but it didn’t matter, I was almost there.
My favorite part of any race is the finisher shoot. It’s the part where, no matter how tired or how exhausted I am, I find a second wind, a very fast second wind. With half a mile to go I started finding that wind. 1:33 is possible, you’ve got this – give it every last bit of energy. I thought of how I ran 6:50 pace for the last half mile of Philly – I sped up, glanced at my watch – sub-7, keep going, progressively speed up. I turned the last corner, saw the finish line and bolted.
1:33:34 isn’t a time I expected to see any time this year. I’d been training towards 1:35 in May. This was the first race, I’d really poured everything into. And it wasn’t an easy race. With almost 400 ft of elevation gain, most of which is in the back half, it’s the most challenging course I’ve raced.
With that said, it’s time to set goals for the year but at the same time I don’t want to hold myself to any number; I’ve found letting go of the numbers and just running works best for me. I went into 2019 not ready to set any goals but ready to work hard.
That said, this year I want to get into NYCM 2020 by time. I’ve run hundreds of miles through this city. It’s my new hometown race – I may not have grown up here, but I did grow up a lot here. The streets feel like home to me. I love the chaos of running through Chinatown, the solace of the Manhattan bridge, the energy during training season or a nice day on the West Side Highway, and the electricity of Central Park during Marathon week. What better way to embrace all the parts of this city than running 26.2 miles through it.