Monday, October 8, 2012

Week #12: The Staten Island Half Marathon, and what it means for NYCM (aka the power of orange!)

Short & Sweet Version
Previous PR: 1:52:28 
New PR: 1:48:16 @ 8:16 pace
Overall Placement: 1778/5798 
Gender Placement: 334/2559 
Adjusted Gender Placement: 277/2559 
Age Place: 102/657 
Age Graded Percentage: 60.81% 

Long & Detailed Version
(If you only look at the pictures, I'll understand)

The Best Laid Plans...
After the events of last year's Staten Island HM, I had no desire to do this race again. I remember being completely miserable for most of the race, and didn't have any intention of returning this year. In fact, I originally planned on doing the Boston Half Marathon, which took place the same day. 

However, plans changed when the Boston half sold out within an hour. I was in a meeting for work, and had I anticipated it selling out so quickly, I would have asked someone to sign up for me, but alas, it was not meant to be. So, after reviewing my options, I reluctantly signed up for Staten Island. 

The Mini-Taper
Originally, I had a 45 mile week planned. I figured that if I did most of the mileage early on, and gave myself a couple of days of rest, that would be fine. Then Rachel explained to me why that was a really stupid idea, and after a long discussion, I realized that I was afraid that I would lose fitness if I had one lower mileage week. I knew that she was absolutely right - if I didn't do my indicator half with fresh legs, then I wouldn't know where my fitness truly was.

So I did three shorter runs this week. In the interest of not making this longer than it needs to be, you can find the Garmin links here, here and here. I never took my watch off of auto-lap from the previous weekend, plus not all of the mileage was recorded, but you'll get the gist of it. 

This is the first time that I have done a half marathon in the middle of a marathon training cycle. Although this was not my ultimate goal race, and I didn't specifically train for it, my mileage was much higher, and I had two twenty milers under my belt at this point. I had done the Yonkers Half at 1:55, which felt easy to me, so I thought that I had a decent chance of at least getting a PR.

However, none of my short distance PRs even remotely indicated that I had a shot at a sub-1:50 half, so I knew that I was taking a risk when setting this goal. 

New Pre-Race Ritual
Some of my running friends wear bright colors to races, and paint their nails flashy colors, and this time, I wanted to join in. Since I had some unexpected free time on Saturday, I tried to shop for a bright orange sports tank, but alas, there wasn't one to be found. Instead, I re-laced my sneakers with orange laces, and painted my nails bright orange thanks to an impulse purchase at Duane Reade. I didn't do a half bad job considering my fine motor skills aren't always the greatest. My selected outfit was finalized. Oddly enough, I almost always PR when wearing this blue tank top. 

Getting to the Race
After ordering in some Italian, I went to sleep early. Last year, I caught the 7:30 Staten Island Ferry, but it ran late, some people got crowded out, and after using the restroom and checking baggage, I barely got to my corral in time. This year, they were offering both a 6:30 and a 7am ferry, but I decided to be overly cautious and catch the 6:30 ferry. This meant that I had to wake up at 5:15 and get to the subway by 5:45 to be on the safe side since the express train runs local that early in the morning. Thankfully, I caught the ferry without a hitch, and managed to get some nice views on the way. I have way too many pictures to post, but here are the best few. All of them will eventually be on Facebook.

We then arrived in Staten Island just before 7am, and I had plenty of time to do my business several times before checking my bag. I tried to avoid taking my sweater off as long as possible since it was freezing, but eventually, I checked my bag and gave it up so that I could do a warm-up. Before I did, I got a few more pictures in, including one of the Staten Island September 11th memorial. 

After finally taking off my sweater, I still had an hour left, so I decided to do a brief warm-up. I did my first half mile very slowly, the second half mile close to marathon pace, and then did a quarter of a mile at goal HM pace to see how the effort would feel so that I could get used to it. It felt alright, so I spent some more time stretching by my corral. 

The Bet
My friend and former co-worker walked by, and I was relieved to see him there. He is also in the process of training for his first marathon, but I was growing concerned about his training, or lack of. I wanted him to have a race experience that was longer than the distance of the Corporate Challenge, which is 3.5 miles, so I made a bet: whoever had the best time would be treated to a meal. Under normal circumstances, I would have been incredibly stupid to make that bet, as he ran the corporate challenge at a 7mm pace and I ran my best four mile race at a 7:52mm pace. However, since he hadn't been taking marathon training seriously, I figured that I at least had a shot. More importantly, I got him to agree to get this essential race experience under his belt, so already, it was a victory for both of us. 

He was assigned to a faster corral, so he would be starting before me. Since he used his corporate challenge pace when he signed up, he was in the red corral, which was two ahead of mine, while I was in my usual green corral. That way, both of us would not really know who won the bet until both of us crossed the finish line. 

Pre-Race Nutrition
I ate a luna bar on the ferry. I had brought another one along, but I didn't end up eating it. I planned on taking two shot bloks every 4-5 miles during the race, and hitting the water station approximately every two miles or so. 

The Race
After the usual National Anthem, and final race instructions, a water cannon went off, which was pretty cool, and we were off! Well, actually, the front of the pack was off. As usually, it took a couple of minutes for my corral to get moving, but soon enough we were on our way. 

I decided to manually split my laps since I knew that I would be terrible in running the tangents. My strategy would be to run by feel, and make sure that I wasn't going slower than 8:22, or much faster than 8:15, and for the most part, I either stuck to that or erred slightly on the fast side. 

As I ran the course, this thought came to my head: "where were the nightmarish hills that I remembered from last year?" For the most part, I thought the course was very easy, and the first 10K passed by really quickly. I took my bloks as planned around mile four, and the water tables weren't too difficult to navigate. I am still very ungraceful when it comes to drinking on the run, and my clothes probably drank as much as I did, but cie la vie! 

Since this was an out and back course, I got to see both the front of the pack, as well as the back of the pack. Being an MOP (middle of packer) is a good thing sometimes. At some point, I saw the winner come running by me going in the opposite direction. There was a 10K timing mat, and I hit it at 51:22. This was not a 10K PR for me, but it was just under 40 seconds slower. 

At this point, I was slowly growing more confident that I would meet my goal, but I knew that the hardest hill was still to come. Not too long before I reached the turn-around point, I saw Robert coming back, shouted out to him, and we waved to each other. It was then that I knew that I was probably going to lose the bet, as he was more than two minutes ahead of me by that point. I was upset for a moment, but decided to focus on my own race, as he still had plenty of opportunity to bonk after that major hill.

...and now, time for a quick chuckle
I'm pausing this race report for a funny moment, sponsored by another race participant. I remember approaching someone and saying to them that I liked what their shirt said (which I don't even remember at this point). We were chatting for a few moments when he asked me how much caffeine I had. Apparently I was way too perky for a half marathon this early in the morning. I doubt any of my running buddies are surprised in the least. 

...back to the action
I decided that I would fuel after the major hill to give myself a boost for the final few miles. The hill was just as brutal as I remembered. In reality, it was no more difficult than the hills of Central Park, but at race effort, it was certainly not easy. I ended up with an 8:30 mile, which was the one time I had a split above my goal pace. I wasn't happy about it, but I resolved to make it up over the next couple of miles. 

After I fueled, I remember thinking the following "now, you only have a 4 mile race left, and the elevation is even easier than the usual Central Park races. Now go finish it!". As I got faster, I started to be more certain that I hit my goal, but a small part of me remained paranoid throughout the race. 

At the ten mile marker, I knew that there was only a 5k left, and I put in every effort to finish strong. Other than one last hill towards the end, the rest of the course leading back to the start felt mostly easy, and I felt amazing. As I got closer to the finish, I looked at my watch, and realized that while I would miss getting sub-1:48, sub-1:49 was definitely mine for the taking. So I looked up, sprinted to the finish, and made sure to hold up my arms and smile as I ran through the finish line. In other words, this will look like every other finish line photo. 

Here are my Garmin splits. Keep in mind that the time column represents my real splits, not the average pace column since I used manual splits this time. 

My Garmin said 1:48:18, and the official time was 1:48:16. After getting my bag, I found Robert, who was easy to spot because he was wearing a bright green shirt. Although I reached my goal, Robert easily defeated me with a 1:38:26. However, his splits weren't as consistent, and he realized that he would have a really hard time at the marathon. Still, he did a great job, and I owe the guy a meal. We decided on all you can eat sushi at some point in the near future

We caught the 11am ferry back to Manhattan, and by that point, the rain was coming in very quickly. I didn't get pictures on the way back because it was too gloomy out. Thankfully, I caught the train quickly, and got myself a yummy, delicious, caloric Starbucks drink and relaxed for a long time before heading to my parents for dinner. 

My sister's Facebook status yesterday: "After I finished my 6 mile fast walk, Dahlia let me know that she just ran a half marathon in 1 hour and 48 minutes. Remember when I was the more athletic sister? The times have changed." I was very flattered, but for some reason, I still don't consider myself an athlete. I guess after going through periods of being overweight, my self image has yet to catch up with reality. 

Post Race Analysis
In hindsight, I was happy that I didn't travel all the way to Boston for a half. This was my first real race effort in four months, and I was thrilled that I was able to put the pedal to the metal when it counted. 

Staten Island redeemed itself as a course in my opinion. I think that the timing of Yom Kippur and the unusually high temperatures clouded my opinion, and everything seemed much harder than it really was. It's not the most scenic course, but I still enjoyed the overall experience, especially when I got some waterfront views. 

I was especially thrilled when I looked at my official results and saw that for only the second time ever, I broke the 60% barrier in terms of age graded percentage. The only other time I have done so was in a four mile race. When I plugged in my HM PR in McMillan, I realized that none of my shorter distance PRs were current. I have a lot to accomplish over the next year. 

Although I got my sub-1:50, and McMillan now predicts a sub-3:50 marathon,I know that it is no guarantee that I will get a sub-4 marathon, especially since my mileage is not extremely high. However, it gives me confidence that I at least have a fighting chance, but even as I type this, I know that it will be an uphill battle, especially since NYCM is a tough course, especially for a first time marathoner. 

Lastly, I would like to congratulate all of my friends who conquered their races this weekend, notably those who did Chicago. Also, I would like to thank Rachel once more for knocking some sense into me, and to congratulate her for breaking sub-2 in a half marathon!!! I knew that she could do it, and I am so proud of her! 

Thanks everyone for reading! There will be more pictures once they are posted online. 

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