So what is the NYC Half like? I know 21.1 km of running and the word fun shouldn’t always go together but in this race they certainly do. The race was fun from beginning to end (with the exception of standing in a corral for an hour in a freezing and dark Central Park) and it is honestly hard to pick a favourite part of the race. Here’s a recap:
I headed out from the hotel at 6:20 and admit was a little unsure about hitting the streets on my own while it was still dark. Again, I’ve seen too many NY crime shows. By the time I hit the first intersection I started to see other runners heading to the park. By the time I reached the park hundreds of runners were making their way up Fifth Ave. Just before I turned up Fifth, I was able to look at Central Park from the south end. Now, anybody who knows me knows I have no interest in seeing anything before sunrise, but if you ever have the chance to see C.P. on a quiet early morning you will be struck by the beauty of the park before the city really comes alive. It is an image that will stay with me for a long time.
I didn’t use the baggage check, but walking past the trucks that would carry people’s bags to the finish line it looked as though it was running smoothly and easily. I entered the park at 72 street and headed to my start corral. Now here’s the organizational detail that I liked the best. It may not seem like a big deal to anyone who hasn’t run a race but for those who have you’ll see the importance. The all important porta potties were located in each corral section. You did not have to leave your corral and line up somewhere else, and the lines weren’t ridiculously long. It completely relieved the stress of wondering if you were going to make it back to your corral in time. Mind you, the line I ended up in led to a porta potty that was more like those little weeble wobble characters kids play with. Every time a person entered or exited the whole thing rocked precariously forwards and backwards and we all wondered if we would be victim to a nasty porta potty accident. Imagine if you couldn’t run your race due to a porta potty injury!
The hardest part of the race was the waiting, not because of nerves or excitement but because of the sub zero temperatures. Everyone, men and women, was quite literally vibrating, even with lots of extra layers on. NYRR had set up clothing donation bins and once people were ready to shed layers they could toss them and volunteers collected them to throw into the bins. Love that idea.
About 20 minutes after the official start I made it to the start line, not quite as long as I thought it would take. While the first mile was crowded, and therefore slow it really didn’t take as long as I thought it would for everyone to spread out. I have to say, if I compare it to the 10k I did at last Ottawa Race Weekend, the crowd was much less overwhelming, despite having more runners, and I was not elbowed or run into once. There were still plenty of times I had to weave may way through runners (hence the final distance on my Garmin showing more than 21.1k) but it was never claustrophobic.
The 10k loop around Central Park was not as difficult as I thought it would be. Cat Hill really wasn’t much of a hill and the dreaded Harlem Hill, while long, was not as steep as I would have expected. Basically, if you have done hill training you can run Central Park. I have done a lot of running on the Terry Fox extension in Ottawa’s west end and I think the grade changes there, along with specific hill training on Young Rd. in Kanata, set me up perfectly for the race.
Next came the run down 7th Ave. It started with me being able to say hi to my cheering kids and husband at 7th and 57th, then I headed on to Times Square. There were so many cheering spectators, bands, d.j’s and kareokee (I have no idea how to spell that but it was there) that I honestly forgot I was running and just felt like I was at one giant street party. The only time I felt slightly incapable was when I realized there was a man running at my pace who was probably 15 years older than me and was juggling while he ran. Seriously, the man was running and juggling at the same time. I don’t even try to chew gum when I run.
There were more bands to greet us when we turned west on 42nd St and then we headed south towards lower Manhattan and the Seaport. I had been told that this was a quieter part of the race so was surprised to find plenty of people cheering us on, including a man with a sign saying “If it was easy I would be doing it!” Around this stage I also realized how much I like having mile markers, with km only being marked every 5km. Going back to that running and juggling thing, I don’t do math and run. So I am only good at doing mileage conversions until about, oh… the one mile marker. After that the miles are another language to me so I just don’t pay attention to them. I loved being surprised when I realized I had finished another 5k rather than watching each km be counted down.
Then came the next part that is up there as one of my favourite parts of the race; running through the Battery Park Tunnel. You couldn’t have spectators in the tunnel, but the runners made up for it with lots of echoing shouts and cheers. Who knew that a long, dark tunnel, probably still full of exhaust fumes, could be such a fun place to run. Mind you, to get into a tunnel means going down, and what goes down must come up and when you are at the 20k mark that last hill can be a little tough. But once you are up you have an amazing view of the Brooklyn Bridge and you know there is only a few hundred meters to go.
And finally the finish. This is perhaps the weak point of this race since I don’t think there was much room for spectators to see (I know my crew couldn’t see the finish) and the runners who have finished are sort of trapped on the street for quite a distance before being able to get off the road and relax. I will say this part made me appreciate the finish area for Ottawa Race Weekend with the spacious park area to sit and enjoy a post race recovery treat. But this is a minor complaint for an otherwise well organized race. I’ve been following the comments on the NYRR facebook page and I know there are lots of mixed feelings about this running organization at the moment. But I will say from my view they put together an excellent race in a city that must have its challenges when planning something on this scale. Their information prior to the race was a little slow in coming: the course was published late and the confirmation that you supposedly needed to print to get your race kit was sent out only days before the race. That said, I had no problem picking up my kit with just my ID. As for the late course information, I have to assume that some of this was due to Hurricane Sandy. Between the organizational disaster of sorting out last fall’s marathon cancellation and trying to plan a race through an area of the city that has not yet recovered from the storm (I was amazed at how many buildings still are closed as a result of Sandy) I think the NYRR has its hands full. All that said, this is a race I would definitely do again!