On Sunday, I ran my first race since November.
On Monday, I watched (obsessed over) the Boston Marathon.
Now, it’s Monday night, and I have hidden my debit card — which is new, so I have not yet memorized the number, thank goodness — to prevent me from registering for 26.2 marathons in the next 26.2 months.
Needless to say, I have a pretty severe case of Race Fever right now.
I haven’t written a whole lot about running lately in part because it hasn’t been going super well, in part because I just haven’t had time for much blogging, and in part because I decided to become obsessed with yoga for a while and I cared way more about handstanding and forearm standing than tempo-ing and long running.
But when the very kind people at HOKA ONE ONE reached out to me about running the MORE/FITNESS/SHAPE Half Marathon this past weekend and doing an Instagram takeover, I was game. (Here’s the disclosure part, letting you know I received a free bib for this race since HOKA was one of the sponsors, but no one told me I had to say nice things about it. I actually didn’t expect to love it, but I did. Funny how those things happen.)
I’m training for the Brooklyn Half Marathon, so that’s when I’d like to peak. I planned to run this race as a long training run. Not quite a “leisurely jog,” but more of a “let’s just see what I can do today” situation.
My goal for Brooklyn is to run sub-1:50 (which isn’t a PR, or even close to one — my very outdated PR is a 1:44:48 from a time when I was 20 pounds lighter and my running was fueled by post-breakup rage and Pinot Grigio), so for this race I wanted to be able to run sub-2:00 and check in with how that felt.
As I mentioned, it’s been a while since I’ve done a race. I did two fall marathons, plus a 10-miler, a Ragnar Relay, a hat trick, and a Turkey Trot. Then I was pretty burnt out and running wasn’t fun, so I took two weeks off running.
Then, I started running again with the goal of building base mileage before I would start training for the Brooklyn Half.
Running has generally felt crappy, honestly. I had a great long run with my November Project crew one Saturday morning, but I’ve just felt slow. Plus, my watch constantly jumps from telling me I’m running a 6:50 pace to an 11:45 pace. I can never trust it, but I still use it and get addicted to it, which I know I shouldn’t. (And six more “lessons I will never learn,” as documented over at SHAPE.)
It’s though to accept where my running is now versus where it used to be, especially when I feel like I’ve been back up and running healthily for a year now, and I don’t seem to be getting faster or fitter. I’m nowhere near where I used to be (like, I don’t think I will ever run close to a 1:44:48 again, considering I can barely hold that pace for one mile, let alone 13.1), which is discouraging.
For the past year, I’ve generally done one hard-ish workout a week, plus a long run on the weekend. The rest of the runs are “easy” 5–8 milers. So I reassessed: When I was my fittest, I was doing two workouts per week, plus a long run. Quality over quantity.
So I’ve started doing intervals with a group on Tuesday mornings, and solo tempo workouts on Thursdays. Then I do my long run on Saturday or Sunday. Monday is a blissful lazy rest day, Wednesday is November Project, and Friday is easy miles.
Aaaaaaaanyway. This was going to be a race recap.
I appreciated not having any concrete goals or pace plans for this race, and I was totally at ease while getting ready. Nothing to stress over, no worries, just hopes that I’d feel decent coming off a tough workout week and, of course, that I wouldn’t need any bathroom stops.
I made my way down to the start around 6:30 to pick up my press pass and to get a shot with the race’s co-hosts, the “Today” show’s Natalie Morales and Erica Hill.
So that was a success, and once I got my shots I was able to use the bathroom and mull around a bit before the start. Something to note: I forgot to take off my press pass. This will be a crucial detail later.
As I headed toward my corral, I saw Deena Kastor fly by doing her warmup (she went on to win the race…again) and I was like, “SUP GURL, HAVE A GOOD RACE!” She didn’t respond out loud. But probably in her head she was like, “THX, TEXT ME LATER FOR BRUNCH PLANZ. [EMOJI] [EMOJI] [EMOJI]”
We crossed the start line mere moments after the gun went off (and Deena was presumably already at mile five), and I was immediately passed by Natalie Morales (she’s so speedy and ran a 1:38!) and a girl in a Quinnipiac University T-shirt!
Quinnipiac University…Class of 2017.
That happened. I graduated in 2007, and it was then that I realized this was my last race in the 25–29 age group. May 6, coming right up…Yikes.
I let everyone pass me in the first mile. I knew not to look at my watch and not to weave and to just run easy and not get swept up in the excitement of people sprinting off the line (that actually happened).
I would admittedly not sign up to do this race on my own because as a New Yorker who runs in Central Park every day, I run the course daily for free. But if you’re not from the city or don’t run the park, I would absolutely recommend it, because it’s a well-supported race with great energy, and the “girl power” vibe was actually awesome. It wasn’t all tutus and selfies and giggles and whatever else you might picture when you hear “all-girl” race. It was all empowerment and overwhelmingly positive. (Don’t knock it ’til you try it, people!)
So the course is two counter-clockwise loops of Central Park. That means two Cat Hills and two Harlem Hills. You get a decent amount of downhill in there, too, but those two main park hills come at you twice.
The first time up Cat Hill I didn’t even realize it was happening because it was so early in the race. Plus, once you crest the hill, you’re at my favorite stretch in the park. It’s flat and slightly downhill from the top of Cat Hill past Engineers’ Gate and all the way up into Harlem.
When I left the apartment that morning, Brian had just barely gotten home from a work event in Philadelphia and was snoozing hard. I didn’t think he even realized I was up and headed to the race.
But when I reached the bottom of Harlem Hill, there was my favorite fan, waving at me like crazy!
First thought: “Awwwww, Brian! This is awesome! What a great surprise! He’s amazing. I’m gonna marry him!”
Second thought: “Oh! I should throw him my press pass because it’s bouncing around and driving me nuts.”
So I tried to take off the press pass to throw at him, but it got completely tangled with my headphones.
Enjoy this series of photos, thanks to Photographer Brian, who was snapping away while I was choking myself with various cords…
This was terrible and frustrating, but since I spent the entire length of the hill trying to fix my tangled mess, I wasn’t focused on the fact that I was running uphill.
After seeing me at the bottom, Brian rode his bike to the top of the hill to meet me, at which point I yelped something like, “Help! I’m tangled!” and he laughed and took more photos and then went for his bike ride.
AND DID NOT UNTANGLE ME.
I spent the next mile continuing to struggle with my headphone/press pass mess, and even reluctantly stopped for a few seconds to try and fix what I had created. But it was a fruitless effort and not worth wasting time, so I ran the rest of the race with tangled headphones and a press pass dangling off my shoulder. Good job, Feller.
The first loop of the park passed fairly quickly, and I felt good, like my pace was sustainable and calm but not too easy. At the south end of the park, there were tons of spectators, and it’s fun because the spectators are almost all men out supporting their wives, fiancés, girlfriends, girlbosses, one-night-stands, or BFFs.
It was a perfect day to be running. The park had blossomed overnight. Spring sprung! That made it less “ugh, we have to run this loop again,” and more, “oh, fun, I get to see all the pretty trees and flowers another time!”
The second time up Cat Hill I probably slowed down — I slowed down in general for much of the second loop — but it wasn’t tragic, and at Engineers’ Gate my friend Abbe was waiting to run with me. “How’s it going?!” she asked. I mumbled, to which she perfectly responded, “Don’t talk, just run.” She ran with me until Harlem Hill, Part II, and sent me off with good wishes and a promise that she was going to make me lunch later.
I had fallen into a groove with many of the same women, so I was just pacing off them instead of looking at my watch. And I made sure not to even glance at it on the uphills.
I rounded the bottom of the park a final time, knowing the finish was close, and I started picking up my pace slightly and picking people off when I could.
At this point, the race got a tricky: We were lapping the walkers who were completing their first lap as we were finishing our second. Add in the public, non-race runners, cyclists, and horse and carriages (ban them ban them ban them!), and it was crowded. It would have been helpful for race volunteers or officials to have been fielding runners to one side and walkers to the other sooner than in the very final stretch to the finish. I wasted quite a bit of effort weaving around walkers moving four or five across. I wanted to sprint, but I had to be tactical. If I had been gunning for a specific time, I would have been more annoyed, but since I was running happy, I rolled with it and avoided collisions.
As I approached the final turn toward the finish line on the 72nd Transverse, I got a kick. I could see the finish, and I looked at my watch to discover that if I really kicked it, I could run a 1:52:xx instead of a 1:53:xx. I commanded my husky little legs to turn over, and they obliged.
Official time: 1:52:43 (an 8:36/mile pace).
Part of me feels like I could have pushed harder, because it didn’t feel like an all-out race effort until the very end.
Another part of me feels like shaving 3–4 minutes off that time in just a few weeks is going to be impossible.
Time — and more training — will tell.
After the race, I stood at the finish crying as women sprinted to the line. I truly believe a race finish line — be it a 5K or a marathon — is one of the most inspiring, emotional places in the world. It’s a recipe for endless tears. Gets me every time.
Then I walked home — which meant I climbed Cat Hill a third time — got a Nutella crepe (#sheddingforthewedding), and did, in fact, let Abbe make me lunch.
I’m happy I raced positively even with two Cat and Harlem Hills, and never obsessed over my pace or got discouraged or frustrated. It was an overwhelmingly positive experience running in my favorite place on one of its most beautiful days of the year.
Thank you, HOKA ONE ONE, for the bib, and thank you MORE/FITNESS/SHAPE/GQ/Maxim/Cosmopolitan/Glamour/Field & Stream/Highlights for Kids for putting on a great race.