Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A tale of two races

This is the tale of two races. Two half marathons, in fact, run six weeks apart.

The first half marathon was part of the Melbourne Music Marathon Festival and was held on February 2 in Melbourne, Florida. The second half marathon was the NYC Half (in NYC!) on March 16.

They couldn't have been more different!

Melbourne Half Marathon
This race was recommended to me by a co-worker: a relatively flat race in Florida during winter, run along the water with some fabulous views. Add to that, the fact that the race was in Melbourne, and I'm from Melbourne, Australia, I just had to do it.

I headed down to Florida on the Friday, so got to spend the weekend enjoying warm temperatures. January was so miserable in Chicago that for the two weeks before the race I was ridiculously excited about any temperature that was above freezing. I was practically delirious about temperatures that would support wearing shorts!

The race expo, which I attended on Saturday, was small and easy to get through. I picked up my bib, shirt and cap then headed to the beach to enjoy the sun and warmth. My Chicago winter skin wasn't up to the adventure, so I only stayed out for a short while. It was glorious while it lasted though.

Beaching out

The rest of the day was spent doing a little exploring around the historic downtown area. I kept things low key, knowing I needed to give my legs a break before the race on Sunday.

On Sunday morning I awoke to warm temps (much warmer than I'm comfortable running in) and heavy fog. I ran the mile or so from my hotel to the start line as a warm up. The marathoners (as there was a marathon on at the same time) started 30 minutes before the half. There was a pretty good turn out for the half marathon and once the race got underway, the course was quite congested for the first couple of miles. My training leading up to the race had been relatively good, however, a chest cold a couple of weeks out together with an extraordinarily slow and difficult long run the week prior had me dubious about producing a solid race. I did my best to settle into a comfortable pace and focused finding the best path through the crowded early miles.

After about four or five miles of highway running, we hit the first of the two long bridges (aka hills) on the course. I had been promised beautiful water views when tackling this part of the course but the fog remained and I couldn't even see the crest of the bridge (which was somewhat of a blessing for my flatland legs). On the other side of the bridge we moved into a more residential area. The fog was denser here and at times I couldn't see more than a few houses ahead of me. I was in a good rhythm and feeling strong until around mile nine. A handful of gummy bears perked me up and I hit the second bridge feeling optimistic. Again, the fog dismissed any thoughts of taking in the view. I passed a lot of runners at this point of the course and a glance at my watch with under two miles to go had me thinking a PR was a possibility.

I crossed the finish line in 2:15:32. A PR by around 45 seconds!

There was a post-race party with beer and pizza. I visited briefly and then ran (slowly!) back to my hotel.

This was a great race and I would definitely recommend it. Although the fog prevented me from enjoying the views, it helped keep the warm temps manageable and contributed to my PR (no slowing down for sightseeing).

NYC Half
I love New York City and will use any excuse to visit. The NYC Half runs via a lottery system and I put my name in after seeing an email about it in late 2013. The draw was in December and I was disappointed when I wasn't selected. Then, a few weeks later they extended the field size and had a second drawing in January. This time I was lucky!

After Melbourne, my training was extremely patchy. I was running. But not very often and not very far.

I flew into New York (technically, I flew into New Jersey) on Saturday and headed straight from the airport to the expo. It was very crowded so I dashed in to pick up my bib and race shirt but didn't stay to browse the booths. There were just too many people! From the expo, I walked to my hotel, taking in the city as I went. I got a room upgrade when I checked in, giving me the largest NYC hotel room I've ever stayed in. It was a shame I was only staying one night and wouldn't really get to make the most of it. After I having a rest, I headed out to explore the city a little more. After wandering around for a few hours (not really the best plan the night before a half marathon!) I grabbed sushi for dinner and hit the sack early in the city than never sleeps.

Carb loading, sushi style!

On race morning it was cold and cloudy. I was only a few blocks from Central Park, where the race started, but left around 90 minutes before race time because of the large amount of security in place for the race. The cut off times to check bags and enter the corrals were pretty early compared to the actual race start time. I checked my bag (which ended up having only a back up t-shirt in it because it was too cold to take off any other layers) and headed to my start corral. We passed through two sets of metal detectors/police security checks before reaching the corral. And then I stood there for 30 minutes before the race started. Getting colder by the minute.

Security line

Essentially, the first two or three miles of this race were not great for me. It took over two miles for me to regain feeling in my hands and feet after waiting in the cold at the start. And it hurt once it started coming back too. On top of that, my tights just kept falling down. Following the 'nothing new on race day' rule, I had run in these tights countless times before without this being an issue. In fact, I had run in these tights days before the race without there being an issue. After pulling off to the side of the road a couple of times to readjust, I bit the bullet and joined a ridiculously long toilet line to try and sort things out once and for all. I knew this wasn't going to be a great race for me (see patchy training comment above) but lining up for 10 minutes was beyond frustrating! I executed a very thorough readjustment process once I got into a port-a-potty then hit course again. Thankfully, whatever it was that was causing the falling down was resolved and it was smooth sailing from that point forward.

The first six miles of the race were pretty much all in Central Park. The winding streets and hills did not make this my favorite part of the course. We exited the park onto Seventh Avenue where I started to enjoy myself. We continued down Seventh Avenue to and through Times Square and then turned toward west along 42nd Street. I paused to take some photos during this early street running and was looking around at the city as I went.

Heading down Seventh Avenue

Bright lights in Times Square

Once we hit 12th Avenue/West Side Highway, we also hit a freezing wind and the warmth I had just begun to enjoy was quickly taken away from me. There was some good entertainment on this part of the course, helping greatly with the fact that my lack of training was making itself feel very apparent at this point.

Once we made our way down to Battery Park, the course went underground and we had a stretch going through the tunnel. And then we emerged and the finish line was not far away.

I struggled my way to the finish line with my worst half marathon finish time to date. I am torn with this result. Excluding how I felt physically, I loved running in New York City. My finish time, if I exclude the time I lost dealing with my wardrobe issues, is less disappointing and given how under-trained I was, anything better would have been completely undeserved. But coming off a PR race, a PW race is blow to the ego.

Having done this race once, I can't say I'd want to do it again. The entry price was high and it's a little early in the year for good weather. But for anyone who wants to run through Manhattan, it's a well organized race and you get to see some great parts of the city.

So there you go. Two half marathons, with very different experiences and very different results. My next half marathon is in May, where I'm hoping for a combination of all the good points from each of the races here: Good weather, great sights and a shiny new PR!


  1. Congratulations on your PR at Melbourne and don't let the PW get you down... best of luck on our next half!