NYC Half-Marathon & Almost Quitting

nychalf_002Race day arrived and although it was a bit cold, the weather decided to cooperate for the many thousands of runners. I woke up around 5AM and went through my usual morning routine. Cold oatmeal, coffee, stretch, bathroom, and dress – I have it down by now and it varies so infrequently that I’ve noticed I need less and less time with each race.

The hardest part of the morning was traveling to the start, which meant catching a subway around 5:30AM. Surprisingly, there were quite a few people on the train at that time of the morning. Half the car was people heading off to work for the morning, looking on in bemusement at the other half – a bunch of jaded runners, mentally preparing for the morning ahead. I got chatting to a few people for whom it was their first time and shared my experiences of the run from last year. From my perspective, the hardest part of large races such as this is the lengthy wait to get going once the leaders set off. Last year I was back in the 19K range and the leaders actually lapped me before my group got to the start line.

This year I was placed much higher in the start corrals, so crossed the start line a mere 15 minutes after the leaders. Bearing in mind that I hadn’t trained or even run in about three weeks, I was not expecting a stellar performance of any kind. A true enough, the first couple of miles were quite tough on the legs. Without the preparation, my muscles were screaming for oxygen from an early point. Cat Hill, Harlem Hill and the three peaks down the west side all took their toll, but I was moving along at a modest 9:00 per mile. The next stage of the run gave me and I suspect all the other runners a boost, as we exited the park and cruised down 6th Ave to Times Square. It’s one of the biggest thrills of the NYRR racing calendar, as runners own the busiest street in the city for a few hours and crowds come out to cheer on the runners.

And that’s where the fun ended for me. By then I had a nice big blister going on the instep of my right foot. Unfortunately, the pain was so much that I was unconsciously over-correcting and ran the entire second half of the race favoring the outside of my right foot. The lack of preparation was really starting to show at this point, as all the way down the west side highway, the long stretches of concrete took their toll on my already tired muscles. I stopped to walk on a couple of occasions and at one point, when I stopped to say hi to Jess and plant a big kiss on her lips, I momentarily debated stopping. But given my recent failure at the Manhattan Half and the terrible feelings of shame I had afterward, I decided to suck it up and finish the last two miles.

There was a definite sense of relief crossing the finish line, pretty much the same feeling I had when I ran the Philadelphia Marathon. I completed the run in 2:01:06, just outside my two hour target time, which I think added to my disappointment. For a couple of days after I would ask myself why I kept doing this to myself without ever coming up with an answer. I had enjoyed running for so long, only now to be dealing with feelings of shame, doubt, and disappointment on a regular basis. I’m not sure if I was looking for excuses not to run anymore or if I was just processing what happened, but eventually I realized that I was looking at it all wrong. I had been through three bad race experiences in the space of four months, but the reality was that I set myself up for those bad experiences through poor preparation and failure to follow my race plans. Those are not excuses to not run … they’re lessons to learn for the future. It’s not like all of a sudden I didn’t enjoy running. I was still waking up at 5AM to run and still running through pain to finish races. I was just tired of bad experiences – I want to get back to enjoying my running.

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