I ran the Shape Women’s Half-Marathon as a member of the media, so I was given a complimentary bib. No one told me I had to say good stuff about the race — or even write about it, actually — but I loved it, so here we are.
Things that don’t typically motivate me to race:
- Women’s-only races. (Not for any particular reason. I like ladies a whole lot. I was just never an OMG yay, an all-female race, must. sign. up.)
- Races that involve running multiple loops of Central Park. (I used to run the park every single day — for free. The hills aren’t bad when you’re running the loop once. Go for a second lap, though, and they start to hurt a little more.)
But I’ll tell ya, for the second year in a row, I loved the MORE/SHAPE Women’s Half-Marathon which, you guessed it, is a female-only half-marathon, with a two-loops-of-the-park course. (Here’s last year’s recap.)
When I was offered a bib for this year’s race many months ago, I thought it would be — just like last year — a nice tune-up for the Brooklyn Half Marathon in May. The race kind of snuck up on me, though, and [to be elaborated upon in a forthcoming post] I haven’t been able to prioritize running and training lately, which is totally OK. But considering I didn’t think I’d be able to even finish the Scotland 10K and I ran a PR, maybe I’m short-changing myself a bit.
My plan for this race was to just kinda jog it and see what would happen. I am still running without a watch and still loving it. (I’m on Strava, and I use the app to track distance estimates, and the paces on the app are a bit, uh, generous, I think.)
Recap time. Here we go…
First, let me tell you that my go-to pre-race meal for any distance is a 6 oz. Victoria’s Filet (medium rare), a baked potato (with butter), and asparagus. From Outback Steakhouse. I freaking love Outback Steakhouse. And whaddaya know, there’s one within two miles of our new apartment. So we drove there last night to get a perfect meal, and there was an hour-long wait. Outback Steakhouse is the local hot spot, I guess. So I had to settle for a BLT. And potato skins. And a brownie sundae.
Foreshadowing: I don’t know if it was the dinner, but my stomach was not happy to be running this race.
I left our apartment early and I tried to give my Uber driver directions because I thought he was lost, but turns out, he knew a shorter way to the race than I did, and I arrived at the start an hour early. Cool. I hung out in the Time Warner Center [bathroom] for a while, and eventually made my way to the start for a November Project team photo.
Many of our team members are in Boston for the marathon (!!!), so we had a small-but-mighty contingent of runners. I made my way to my corral around 7:45 and LOL, the corrals were so empty. There were probably no more than 100 people in my corral, which is basically unheard of at a New York Road Runners race.
I saw Padma from Top Chef and I yelled, “I love the way you taste food on television! You always make it look so delicious!” She didn’t respond. I also saw my old friends Natalie and Erica. They didn’t seem to remember me. Weird.
Soon the horn sounded, and we were off! Or at least everyone else was. I knew right away that my stomach was not in a happy place. I probably should’ve gone to the bathroom one more time. What a risk-taker I am!
I let everyone pass me in the first few miles of the race. My only concern with this watch-less running plan is that I worry about going out too fast. So I was pretty reserved and let all the other women blaze by.
The course runs counterclockwise which is, IMO, the more challenging direction. You go up Cat Hill twice (around miles 1.5 and seven, I think) and Harlem Hill twice (miles 3 and nine or so — I could look it up, but I’m very tired).
I spent most of the first lap pretty focused on my stomach and making sure nothing tragic happened. I told myself it was totally OK if I had to stop to use a bathroom, but it was not OK to stop and “use the bathroom,” AKA tell myself I needed a bathroom when really I was just tired and wanted a break.
The first Cat Hill ascent was NBD, and I was happy to run past Bernie’s Bench and Engineers’ Gate. The long downhill before Harlem Hill felt great, and I took it nice and easy on the flat before the climb. I don’t remember running up Harlem Hill the first time, but I do remember seeing my friend and November Project teammate John Massey at the top (he was volunteering).
From there, you hit the “three sisters,” a series of three rolling hills on the west side. I started to feel a bit tired, and was definitely feeling like I’d need a bathroom stop, so I was keeping my eyes peeled for bathrooms. (There were plenty, but I kept telling myself I’d use “the next one” in hopes of never actually needing to stop.)
I forgot how awesome the crowd support is at this race. The sidelines are fairly packed throughout the entire route, mainly with men (and their puppies!!!). My mind wandered a lot during the first lap, so soon we were looping back through where we started. It’s not quite halfway, since the park loop is 6.1 miles, but I told myself I was basically halfway there.
The second time up Cat Hill was fine, and I felt like I could push harder, but I would probably poop my pants. So when I got to Engineers’ Gate (mile 8), I knew it was time to call it. Bathroom break!
I saw another friend and NP-er, Laura Ann, cheering and taking photos, and when she saw me run off the course, she was probably like WTF? But then she probably realized, “It’s Ali. Of course she’s going to the bathroom.”
I lost a minute or so in the bathroom, and didn’t feel, uh, fully relieved when I left.
But when I started running again and settled into a groove, I noticed a woman in front of me with a bib on her back that had the number 1 on it. And I knew immediately that it was Deena Kastor. She usually wins this race, but she’s been injured, so she was just out for a casual jog.
I ran alongside her for the next few miles. I ran a half-marathon with Deena Kastor! She’s so teeny!
Harlem Hill hurt more the second time, but I powered through, knowing my friend would be at the top. He gave me a high five and I set out to hit the three sisters a final time. I remember seeing lots of spectators around 72nd Street, and then passing through the start line again.
As I rounded the bottom part of the park, I realized I probably could’ve kicked it quite a bit harder, so I picked it up a little and picked off lots of women in the final stretch.
I approached the finish and was legitimately shocked to see 1:50:xx on the clock. I hadn’t been checking the clocks along the way and was just hoping to come in somewhere under two hours, so considering the bathroom stop, I was pretty thrilled with this time! The no-stress, no-watch, just-run thing seems to be working for me, even if I do have a decent amount of self-doubt I should probably work on getting over.
My official finish time was 1:50:21, which is an 8:26/mile pace.
I ate an apple, saw lots of friends, and eventually made my way to the ferry, telling myself, “I don’t even feel like I ran a race! I feel great!”
Then I got home, showered, and proceeded to pass out in my towel for the next two hours. Running makes me very sleepy. Then I ate a box of Annie’s mac and cheese and didn’t share any with Brian. Or Ellie.
I really do enjoy the SHAPE Women’s Half-Marathon and recommend giving this race a shot even if you don’t think it’s your jam. It was a very lovely morning! Thank you to all of the NYRR staff members and volunteers for a great time.
(And thanks, Deena Kastor, for unknowingly pacing me for a few miles.)