I've only run this particular half once before and that was back two years ago when it was held in the summer, but it was a great experience that time around. It's the only NYRR race that I've ever won my age group in and I was proud of how I ran a tough, smart race in very hot, humid conditions.
This time around I suspected that I was a little less prepared and I was coming off 57 miles already for the week. The half two weeks ago was a bit of a disappointment, so my only goal was to run conservatively for the first few miles and see if that tactic would pay off in the later miles. Several people had predicted scary cold, wintry conditions, so it was a nice relief to get out to the start to find almost sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 30's. Not a bad day for a race.
I wasn't particularly aggressive about pushing to the front of the corral since I really didn't want to get caught up in the adrenaline rush of the hardcore racers so it took about 15 seconds to get to the start line. Almost immediately I realized that in my rush to drop off my baggage, I'd forgotten my energy gels. I really rely on these for energy boosts after the halfway point, so I was kicking myself for the oversight. Nothing to be done for it at that point though, so I just resolved not to miss taking a few gulps of Gatorade every time it was offered. Luckily it was a loop course, so this turned out to be a decent back-up plan.
As usual, I felt like I wanted to be going a lot faster over that first mile. Almost supernaturally, there was a guy in a t-shirt with a big number 7 on the back and I decided it was a sign that he was running 7-minute pace and that I should stay near him. Superstitious or not, I passed by the mile marker right next to him in exactly seven minutes. This is much less extraordinary when you take into account the 15 seconds it took me to get to the start, so in reality I still hit the marker faster than I planned.
No matter though. I trucked through that hilly first loop in consistent 6:45's and still felt pretty good. Interestingly, I made it to the 5 mile marker with 33:55 on the clock...exactly what I'd run in the half two weeks ago. The difference this time around is that I was running even splits, but it was too early to tell if that was going to make a difference. The best thing about this race compared to the one two weeks ago though was that this time it was me consistently passing other runners all the way through, instead of the other way around.
Once we finished the second hilly loop through the residential area, it was on to the long out and back on the Cross Bronx Expressway. Oh. My. God. The wind was unbelievable. I'm not a large human being, so there were a couple blasts that pretty much stopped me completely in my tracks. I comforted myself with the knowledge that everyone was dealing with the same conditions, but I struggle to keep up pace through this section.
There was a small pack up ahead of me that seemed like it could provide some drafting potential, but it just seemed like too much effort to speed up enough to get there. I could see another woman up ahead in that pack, but it just seemed like an impossible distance to cover.
Finally a couple of guys caught up to me and mercenary that I am, I immediately tucked right in behind one of them. WHAT a difference. It was almost like stopping to take a walk break the contrast was so severe. I hope the fellow didn't mind, but he wasn't stuck with me too long anyway. As soon as a slightly larger, slightly faster man appeared, my allegiances switched immediately. After less than a mile, he'd caught us almost up to the little pack, so I gritted my teeth and headed out into the wind solo to tag along behind that.
The reward for all this bullheaded wind wrestling of course was the turnaround and it was delicious to make that 180 putting the gusts at my back. I'm not sure the benefit really equaled the obstacle in the other direction, but it was still a world of difference. Four miles to go and I felt pretty good.
It all gets a little foggy at this point, but I knew with two miles to go that I was going to pass that last woman. She put up a little fight when I pulled up alongside her, but I lingered there anyway, figuring that her pushing the pace for a bit could only help lower my finishing time. That was probably a little cocky on my part, since with one mile to go, the missing energy gels came back to bite me. It was just like I suddenly ran out of fuel. I think I maintained pace alright for that last mile, but if anyone had tried to pass me at that point, there would have been zero I could have done about it.
And then came the finishing stretch and the announcer and all the cheering people and it was over. Fourth woman, first in my age group again and an average pace of 6:44. I was quite, quite pleased and even more so a day later as I'm barely sore at all.
Definitely a good confidence builder for my spring marathon, especially since this is all on long, slow distance and no speed work. For now though, I'm just excited to have made it to another rest week. Ah, leisure....