Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Queens Half Marathon: Around the World & Through the Maze

This past Saturday, I ran the Queens Half Marathon in Flushing Meadow Park, and I had a completely different experience than I had for the Brooklyn Half. If you look at finish times alone, you would think that Brooklyn went better for me since I got a 2:05 in Queens and a 2:02 in Brooklyn. However, the times don't tell the whole story.

I went to number pick-up Thursday, and ran into Amy as I was coming down the stairs, and we talked about our goals for Queens. In my head, I still had the unrealistic goal of doing a sub-2 half, even knowing that it would be an impossibility in the heat, but I figured that a girl could dream. My thought was that if I found myself doing 9mm at the beginning, and felt ok, that I would hold on to that as long as possible.

I had Rachel over Friday night and we grabbed Italian, along with bagels for the next morning. The bagel place had some amazing looking frozen hot chocolates, and we decided then and there that those would be our reward for finishing tomorrow. After getting to sleep by 9:30pm or so, I woke up before 5am to shower. I had never tried that before, but I figured it would wake me up. It wasn't completely successful but it was a start. We made sure to pack our waters, fuel, etc, and then we picked up our friend Wallis in a cab. Of course, out of all the cab drivers in NYC, we got the one driver who didn't know his way around Queens.

Nevertheless, we arrived at the start at around 6:20, dropped off the baggage and used the porta-potty before splitting up into our corrals. To my pleasant surprise, I saw someone I had paced with in Van Cortlandt park, so we decided to run together at least in the beginning. After the national anthem, there was a 15 minute delay, but then we finally got to start the HM.

The course looked very confusing on paper, but on the ground, it was very easy to know where you were going. Besides, not being in the front of the pack certainly helped, but the course marshals were very good at directing everyone. I wasn't necessarily sure where I was, and there were a few points early on when we were teased with the higher mile markers, but overall, I enjoyed the course. It was flat for the most part, and had this race been held in April, then it would have been a great opportunity for most people to PR.

According to NYRR, the temperature was 77 degrees with 60 percent humidity. I decided to try and not look at my watch for the first mile to see where my pace naturally fell. Of course, I still looked at the watch anyway, but I didn't let it affect my pace. When it beeped (as usual, ahead of the actual mile marker), I noticed it said 9:40 (the first mile would actually take 9:50. It was at that moment I realized that a sub-2 half was NOT happening. I was finally able to let that delusion go.

Unfortunately, I lost my friend to the porta-potty, so I continued on alone. I remember passing the zoo at some point, and I heard an elephant roaring in the background. Sometime during mile 5, I looked up to see faster runners going towards me - we hit an out and back loop and the runners coming back were wearing red and yellow bibs for the most part. I kind of glanced over to see whether I knew any of the faster crowd, and I didn't, but I still cheered them on. I didn't realize it at the time, but my friend from Wind Ensemble saw me running, and she was about 15 minutes ahead of me overall. As I was running back, I saw my friend again, and she waved to me, but that was the last time I saw her. Apparently Lady Gaga was watching her friend somewhere around the mile 9 mark, but even if I had known in advance, I might have not seen her. Knowing that she was watching us run is still pretty cool.

After an hour of running, I took three shot bloks. Two of them were the margarita flavored ones with extra sodium - they all would have been that flavor, but I ran out and they didn't have any more at the Jack Rabbit store. I had a 22 ounce handheld with me, and the misting stations on the course were very effective in keeping my body temperature down. I had not planned to stop at any water stations to save time, but sometime in between the mile 7 and 8 marker, I realized that I was running low. I decided to keep a little in the tank in case I really needed it between water stations. I ended up walking through the water stations for about 10 seconds - just long enough to pick up a water, drink most of it, then dump the rest on my head. I barely lost any time on it, and I think it was a good strategy.

As I got closer to the finish, I realized that a sub-2:05 finish was a possibility, so I gunned the last mile or so as fast as possible. Alas, I missed it only by a few seconds and got an official time of 2:05:02. Although this time was slower than my Brooklyn time, there were several things that I did this time around that I didn't do during Brooklyn that probably cost me my sub-2 finish a couple of months ago
1) Handheld water bottle - did not have one for Brooklyn
2) Race nutrition - I didn't have any nutrition during the Brooklyn half other than water. The shot bloks definitely made a difference in terms of energy levels
3) Good pacing - if you compare the Garmin Splits between Queens and Brooklyn, it is obvious that the Queens splits were far more even. I clearly went out too fast for Brooklyn (something I wouldn't admit back then), and then lack of nutrition ensured that I bonked around mile 10.
4) Better training - I followed a Smart Coach plan, and although I didn't do the amount of speedwork that I should have done due to the extreme heat, I felt that this plan played a role in my improvement.

So that's why I felt I did a better job in Queens even though my time was ultimately not as good. After the race, I took a couple of more shot bloks, had a piece of fruit, and waited for my friends to come along. I had been worried about Rachel since she had been under the weather, but she and Wallis finished, and Amy finished around the same time as they did. The four of us navigated the subway system - which is always SO fun during the weekend, and once we got back, Rachel and I rewarded ourselves with our promised frozen hot chocolates.

There is still plenty of room for improvement
1) Better eating habits - now that I have a roommate who cooks, I might be able to pool in with her for healthier foods and groceries. It's hard to eat healthy when I don't have time to gocery shop, especially during the school year.
2) Body glide - I managed to notice that my thighs were red during the race and prevented further damage by pulling down my shorts, but I should start incorporating that.
3) More speedwork /tempo runs

Since I'm on vacation in Cape Cod, I have a light week of running, and am focusing more on biking, but next week, I will start a 12-week training program for the Cape Cod Half Marathon on October 29th. I'm gunning for sub-2 again. Although I know it will eventually happen, I hope that it happens in 2011. Only time will tell!

Wallis, Rachel and I at the finish


  1. Nice work in the heat! We intentionally slowed down this time around because of the heat and having to jump into marathon training this week. We still didn't go slow enough but oh well, what can ya do? At least I feel just fine and plan on kicking off marathon training tomorrow morning after 3 days of post-HM rest.

    One thing I'd mention is that I actually walk through the water stations anyway and it hasn't adversely affected my time. If Hal Higdon could walk through every water station and still get a sub-2:30 marathon time, it can't have all that big of an effect on your time, right? I walked through the stations in Brooklyn and still got a solid sub-2 (1:56) despite being ill for the last 6 miles. My strategy has been to incorporate the gel shots with my water stops where I'll take the gel shot in the steps leading up to the water station, grab the water, and walk through while I make sure to drink all of the water in the cup (with those gel shots it's important to wash them down with water otherwise you risk a stomach ache!). I feel like this takes out two birds with one stone.

    Just food for thought!

  2. Thanks! You have a very good point about the water stations. I mainly started using the handheld because I wanted to have extra water on me during the summer races but during the fall/winter/spring races I did use the water tables without losing a significant amount of time.

    Good luck with marathon training! Which plan are you using?

  3. I'm using Hal Higdon's marathon training program. I've used him for my HM training and I've really liked it, so I'm sticking with him for the marathon.