Alternative title: the time I walked an entire half marathon
The NYC Half Marathon was held on March 15th through the streets of Manhattan. It started in stunning Central Park, winded directly through glitzy Times Square, and rerouted along the Hudson River via the Westside Highway before ending in Wall Street.
I battled knee pain the entire week leading up to the half marathon and was about 75% sure I would drop out of the race. Saturday, 12 hours before the race, I went to the race expo to pick up my swag bag. It was truly a low point for me. The excitement was palpable and all the happy people made me feel much worse about my injury. And then it only got worse! My knee suddenly started hurting even more and I hobbled around the expo with tears in my eyes, mainly from devastation and the belief that race day simply wasn’t going to happen.
In pure desperation, I actually ended up getting my knee taped up with KT Tape by a professional. And then I hobbled back home, plopped myself down on my bed, iced the heck out of my knee, and waited patiently for my mom to arrive and ease my sorrows.
(Ignore all that “dirt” on my leg, that’s from the KT Tape spray glue!)
The discussions began once mom arrived. We chatted over dinner featuring our beloved freshly baked bread from Maison Kayser (I told you I’m obsessed with this place, check out all their breads here but be prepared to drool). Hey, I was carbo-loading just in case!
Eventually, we decided that it was worth at least attempting the race, the caveat being that I would strictly walk the entire thing. Yup, I was planning on walking 13.1 miles. This terrified me more than running the distance. How do I pace myself? Will the runners hate me because I’ll be in their way? Will I make the cutoff time? What if I’ll be in pain? The answer to the last question was simple – I wouldn’t push through the pain and would simply step off the course, hop into a cab or subway, and go straight home.
The race start was in Central Park close to my apartment, so I slept like a log (pressure was off!) and woke up at a reasonable hour on Sunday. And then I checked Facebook and saw that runners were supposed to show up at least 40 minutes before race start! I shot out of bed in panic and started a condensed version of my pre-race routine – coffee, toast + peanut butter + banana, stretch, get dressed, head out. We hopped into a cab to avoid aggravating my knee from excessive walking and quickly made it to the southern edge of Central Park.
There were mobs of people running left and right trying to figure out which entrance to go through, and I was one of them just minus the running. It took about 20 minutes to get through security and another 15 minutes + 0.5 miles to actually get to the start corrals. I decided to stay with Wave 2 despite knowing I wasn’t doing any running, but I went into a much slower corral. The race cutoff time was 3 hours from when the last runner crossed the start line, and Wave 3 started 20 minutes after Wave 2. This meant I had about 3.5 hours to make it to the finish line without getting booted from the course. Make sense?
We crossed the start line around 7:50AM and I attempted to jog for ~20 seconds before settling into a brisk walk. I’ll be honest – it was mentally so tough seeing all the runners slowly distance themselves and jog away happily. I wanted nothing more at that moment than to run through my beloved Central Park, hills and all, but I didn’t want to risk hurting my knee so early in the race. Speaking of my knee, the pain stayed away. Interestingly enough, walking at a certain brisk speed (between 13:30 – 14:00 min/mile) didn’t bother my knee at all, so that’s what I stuck to the majority of the time.
I came armed with an audio book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mind Kaling, which helped the first few miles pass by quickly. Walking along the path I’ve only ever run on was such a unique experience…a total change of perspective. A great analogy for life, huh.
5K Split: 40:49
I actually jogged a few times during the first hour, but only for ~30 seconds at a time per mile and only on uphill portions (downhill = knee pain). A few brief moments of panic occasionally hit me whenever I thought about how far I still had to go. Self doubts plagued my mind on and off…until I hit 6 miles and the course steered out of Central Park in the direction of Times Square.
Wow. With the streets clear of all cars and pedestrians, the normally annoying flashing lights of Times Square seemed like a stunning sparkling oasis in the distance. It was a sight to see!
The streets were filled with people screaming words of encouragement as we neared the great lights. And then I couldn’t resist any longer, I had to run!
I ran for almost a minute among the bright lights before having to give up and walk again. My knee was officially slightly aggravated so I set into my speedwalking pace of ~13:30 min/mile.
10K Split: 1:22:09
The remainder of the route took us on the highway along the Hudson River. My Garmin was consistently off by about 0.2 miles, most likely due to the fact that I walked strictly along the outer edges of the route. My knee actually started bothering me more often and I would occasionally stop to stretch. My hamstrings were also super tight. Every mile felt like a mental barrier broken though, and I knew the end was in sight! I would still sometimes get anxious about finishing in time, but turning around and seeing all the people behind me provided so much comfort.
I also got hungry at this point and snacked on some dried figs I brought along. I never get hungry during races, so this was an interesting sensation!
15K Split: 2:05:21
Hitting the 10 mile marker was a huge mental milestone! Double digits still make me giddy, even to this day, but walking 10 miles was a brand new sort of accomplishment. I immediately knew I was going to finish, and a sense of relief washed over me. I started wondering if I could finish in under 3 hours and spent much of the time doing mental calculations for fun.
My knee was officially hurting at this point but I wasn’t about to drop out after the 2+ hours I already dedicated to the race. I definitely would’ve dropped out if my knee felt this way from the start, but the end was near and I was determined to cross the finish line. I wasn’t limping or wincing, but my knee was not happy.
20K Split: 2:49:47
The end was near! I heard a familiar voice screaming my name as we turned the corner towards the finish line. My mom was there to see me to the end! She had been tracking me via the Glympse I sent her, so she was able to show up right in time for my finish. I told her there was no need to spectate along the course since I was walking, but having her at the finish line was everything I needed in those final moments. Did you know my mom is the greatest?? I tried so hard to jog the final 0.1 mile but it was physically impossible. This sucked. So much. But somehow I found the strength in me to actually jog the final 5 seconds across the finish line!
And then I was done…under 3 hours!!!
I put on my sunglasses and cried. This was the first time I ever cried after a race. I felt all sorts of emotions (happiness, excitement, fear of injury) which, combined with knee pain, completely overwhelmed me. I actually stumbled into the medical tent and had my knee checked out before heading out to find my mom.
Final Time: 2:59:03 (13:40 min/mile pace)
Place: 18888 / 19436
Age Division (25-29): 2272 / 2324
Lower Manhattan is notoriously cold because it’s surrounded by water, and the skyscrapers create freezing wind tunnels. Needless to say, I was so so so cold while searching for my mom in the mob of people. We received awesome post-race swag bags filled with water, Gatorade, pretzels, and an apple, so I snacked happily.
• Race course – The route is phenomenal! You get to see some of Manhattan’s prime spots including Central Park, Times Square, the Hudson River, and Wall Street. The busy streets are cleared and all yours to conquer!
• Post-race swag bag – It was filled with a water bottle, Gatorade, pretzels, an apple, and other small goodies.
• The medal – I love the simplicity and elegance of it! Flashy race medals are nice but this one is stunning.
• Aid stations – There were plenty of water + Gatorade stations (every 2 miles or so) and one fueling station that handed out GUs.
• Pre-start security checkpoint – Even though the line went fairly quickly, the entrance to Central Park was a bit of a mess. I got redirected to the farther entrance because of my start corral when in reality I honestly could’ve just gone into the nearest one with no problem.
• Finish line – It stretched on forever! The long chute out onto the streets felt endless, and the windchill didn’t help.
(Celebratory flowers from mom!)
Would I do this race again? Abso-f*cking-lutely! Assuming all goes well and I’ll run all races in the Five Borough Series this year, I’ll have guaranteed entry into the 2016 NYC Half Marathon. And I WILL run it next year!