Sunday, January 25, 2009

NYRR Grand Prix half marathon series 2009 race rev...

I decided to set a goal of running a half marathon.  I had run a few short NYRR races in 2008 and decided 2009 would be the year I start training for a serious race.  The saw that they had a 5 boro series with a half marathon in each of the 5 boros at the time.  I decided why run 1 half marathon, why not do the whole series.  I later decided to try run all the half marathons in NYC that year, which included the 5 boro series, NYC half marathon, More/Fitness half marathon, and Grete's Great Gallop half marathon.  I ended up running 7 of the 8 of them.  These races ended up being a part my 9 + 1 qualifiers for the 2010 New York City Marathon.

Manhattan Half Marathon:

So I started by signing up for the Manhattan Half.  Having never run anything over 3 miles I started training in November.  I did a basic training schedule to work myself up to more mileage.  I managed to get up to 10 miles with my training runs, figuring the adrenaline of the race would get me through the last 3 miles. 

The Manhattan Half is 2 loops of Central Park.  It always run the 3rd weekend in January.  That year it was freezing cold.  I think it was about 14 degrees.   That morning I got up and, of course, sleep in a little late.  I had to take a cab to the start.  I was walking into the park when I heard them starting the race.  Fortunately, a few thousand people ran the race so it took a few minutes for everyone to cross the start line and I made it to the start line before they pick up the mat.  The race starts on the lower west side and runs counterclockwise.  Or at least it did that year, I think they have change the course in the past few years.  I was feeling ok for first mile. 

But after running up cat hill my stomach was starting to bother me.  Typical runners stomach, but this being my first race I did not know what to do.  I tried to ignore the cramps and run through them.  Big mistake.  The pain got worse.  Luckily at 86th st there were port-a-potties.  I decided to stop and make a pit stop.  I was thinking that this was just not my day.  My stomach was still cramping and I was ready to just go home.  I lived on 86th st at the time so it was tempting to head home.  As I was walking out of the park, I thought about the fact I had told everyone that I was running this race.  Of course, everyone would ask how the race went and what would I say?  Stopping to walk for a few minutes allowed my stomach to calm down a bit.  I was starting to feel better.  So I decided to turn around and finish the race. 

Within a mile I felt fine.  It was a bit chilly.  I had hand warmers in my pockets to help warm up my fingers.  At the time, I had not invested in proper running clothes.  I was wearing yoga pants with thermal underwear underneath.  I had probably 2-3 layers of cotton long sleeve shirts with a baggy hoodie over top.  Not the best ensemble for running in the cold.  I did have a hat, running gloves, and a neck gaiter.

I can remember my legs starting to hurt around mile 11.  But I just keep telling myself that would only be about 20 minutes to the finish line.  I can do anything for 20 minutes, right?  I ended up finishing in 2:26:26.  That was a 11:10 min/mile pace.

When I finished the race I remember thinking I am spent.  I can't run anymore.  I could not imagine getting to that point and thinking halfway there, only 13.1 more miles to go.  No way could I ever run a full marathon.  Little did I know how quickly that would change;)

Bronx Half Marathon:

2 weeks later on Feb 8th, was the Bronx half marathon.  One would think that run a second half two weeks after running my first half marathon ever would sound a little crazy.  But not to me.  Why not? 

Fortunately, it warmed up a bit in the 2 weeks from the Manhattan half.  The temperature was in the mid 50s, great running weather.  I decided to drive to the start because I was unsure about timing the subway to get there.  I figured I would park in a lot if I could not find a space on the street.  I drove around for probably a hour.  I could not find a spot anywhere.  The only lot I saw was already full.  It was a nightmare.  I finally managed to find a parking space.  The problem was that the spot was about 2 miles away from the start and by the time I parked there was only a few minutes until the start of the race.  I decided to run in the direction of the start.  I had run past the 2nd mile marker on my way to the start when I saw the crowd running towards me.  Somewhere between the 1st and 2nd mile I decided to just jump in and get started with the race. 

I really liked this course and I think it is a shame NYRR no longer does a Bronx half.  I like courses that I can mentally break into smaller chunks.  The first half of the race is a 2 mile loop around a small park.  Then a short out and back run down the Moshulo parkway.  Around mile 6, the course turned onto the Grand Concourse.  3 mile to the turn around then 3 miles back.  The last mile or so back to the park for the finish.

I did not get an official time for this race because I did not make it to the start.  But with the distance I ran from the car I think I more than covered the 13.1 miles.  Based on the time I passed the first mile marker and the time on the clock at the finish I think my time was about 2:25. 

Brooklyn Half:

Up next in the series was the Brooklyn half marathon in May.  This is a really popular race. The course is a loop and a half around prospect park then a few miles down the BQE to finish on the boardwalk at Coney Island.  

I had planned to take the subway to the start.  Since I rarely go to Brooklyn I mapped out my route the night before.  I think I had planned to take the 6 train to the B to Grand Army Plaza.  But the B was not running and they suggested to take the D instead.  I did not realize that that was only to get into Brooklyn and that should have transferred to the Q because the D splits off and goes in the different direction after Atlantic Ave.  I noticed too late that I was on a train going away from Prospect Park.  I just decided to get off.  I asked someone on the street "which way to prospect park?"  They point me in the general direction.  I had to be at least 2 miles away for the start.  I was starting it wondering if I was ever going to make it to the start of a half marathon without adding on extra mileage.   

I made it to Prospect Park.  I jumped in around the first mile marker.  The first half was a loop and a half around the park.  There is one big hill in the park.  Then is it about a 6 mile straight run down the BQE.  The highway is flat, but it is a bit boring.  I like to have turns or hills to use as mini goals to achieve along the route.  I finally made it to the boardwalk.  It is a about 3/4 of a mile to finish.  Again I don't have an official time for this race.  But I emailed NYRR and they just gave me credit as a marathon qualifier.   I stopped at the famous Nathan's hotdogs at Coney Island for a hotdog before I found the subway and headed home.  Fortunately, the ride home was uneventful.

Queens Half:

Sept 20th was the Queen Half marathon.  That year they did the race out in College Point, Queens.  My friend Nichole has planned to do the race as well so we decided to travel there together.  Looking up how to get there, I noticed that the start was about 4 miles away from the nearest subway stop.  NYRR had planned to have shuttle buses to take everyone from the subway to the start.  We left ridiculous early in the morning because it was about an hour train ride then we still had to take the shuttle bus.  We wanted to get there early in case there was a wait for the bus.  I think the race started at 7 or 8.  I think we were up at 5 am.

We got off the subway and looked for the shuttle bus stop.  It was not hard to find because there were hundreds of people waiting for the shuttle.  We waited for a little bit.  In the 10 minutes, we waited only 1 or 2 buses came by.  I did the math of how many people were waiting in front of us and how many people each bus could hold.  It was about 30 minutes until the start of the race at this point and I realized there was no hope of making it to the start in time on a bus. 

Since it was a half marathon, we did not want to add another 4 mile on the 13.1 by running to the start.  We decided to walk down a few blocks and find a cab.  Luckily, we stumble upon a gas station where a few cab drivers were fueling up.  We found one who said he would take us.  Nichole had the foresight to write down the address and put it in her shoe but she did not have money on her.  I had put cash in my shoe so together we had made a great team.  I said thank goodness you thought to bring the address.  She thanked me for bring money and joked that if she had been by herself she would have had to perform some sort of sexual favor to pay off her cab ride.  The driver did not know how to get to the address we gave him, but he had a GPS.  I put the address in the GPS and we were set.  The traffic was starting to back up as we got closer to the start.  When we were about a mile from the start the driver decided that it was getting too close to sunrise.  It was Ramadan and he had to get home to eat before the sun came out.  He kicked us out of the cab, so we jogged to the start. 

We did make it on time.  Clearly, we were not the only people in that situation.  I saw scores of people running up and jumping in the course for the first few miles because they could get a bus and had to run over  from the subway.  The course was unremarkable.  It was just a run through a residential neighborhood.  NYRR wised up and changed the location of the course to Flushing Meadows park the following year.  Right off the subway and a much more scenic course. 

I finished in 2:11:17 my best time of the year.  Training with Nichole really did help improve my time for this race. 

Staten Island Half:

I had planned to run the Staten Island half as well.  But I joked after all the problems I had getting to start of the other 5 boros with my luck I will miss the ferry and have to swim to Staten Island.  Morning of the race I ended up over sleeping and missing the race.  To be honest, I was not to sure about taking the ferry.  I did not know how much time to allow for getting there.  It was an early start time and I just decided to skip it.  I was hoping to complete the set, but 4 out of 5 was not too bad.  That would have been my 8th half marathon of the year. 

Course Support:

Overall NYRR runs a great race.  Packet pick-up is very convenient for me because they usually do it for 2 -3 days before the race at their headquarters.  Their office is right by where I live so I can pop in on my way home and get my stuff.  They generally have plenty of  well staffed water stations.  They had mile markers and clocks every mile.  They put all their signs up high so you can see them over people's head at least a 1/2 mile away.  I especially like that for water stations so people can work their way over to the side if they want to stop.  It is much better than people darting over at the last second.  They always have bagels and bananas at the finish.  I remember them have French toast bagels at the Bronx half which was a nice surprise.  My only complaint is that they don't give out medals for the 5 boro races.  For a half marathon, I like to have a medal as a memento.  But oh well, want are you going to do?

The wrap-up:
Pre-race info- A
Expo- N/A
Packet pickup- A
Overall organization- A
Course- Manhattan B
              Bronx A
              Queen C
              Brooklyn B
Course support-A
Swag/post-race food- B+
Medal- F
Theme- N/A
Surrounding area- A