Go on, we've all done it. Booked a race online while under the influence of alcohol / over enthusiasm. I blame the Eagles runners doing the 2015 NY Marathon, there I was innocently viewing their progress on my laptop, sipping tea and then wine, and hey! an ad pops up for the NY Half the following March....
I really didn't think I had any chance in the ballot, I was wasting the $5 ballot entry fee on a dream, like a lottery ticket. So imagine my surprise at getting a place! Fast forward to March 2017 and my deferred place is waiting for me (did I tell anyone about my 2016 broken finger/black eye/deferral...?)
With a mix of triumphant training and stomach-clenching nerves, I boarded the Virgin flight last Thursday, wow it's really difficult to work out what to pack in advance, isn't it! My answer was to pack everything.
Advice for an overseas race:
1. Check the weather, but not constantly, you just spook yourself needlessly.
2. Pack everything, all your running gear, who knows, your running bra might just combust during the journey...
3. Do a couple of practice runs to gauge the weather and that indefinable feel of the streets
4. Assume the worst, it WILL cost more than you budgeted for, especially if you fall for more running gear at the expo
5. Plan for after the race, not just before: where you will meet your friends/family
6. Don't go for a PB, go for an unforgettable experience, you can do the PB at a local race, but you might just be lucky on the day
7 Do the tourism bit too, float round the city on a cloud of pride for at least a day afterwards.
So should you go in for the NY Half ballot? Well, yes. Here are the reasons why: 1 it's in New York 2 it's in New York. Seriously, what can be better than running round Central Park, down 7th Avenue, through Times Square, along West Side Highway (OK that's a bit straight) round the tip of Manhattan, finish in Wall Street/Water Street? It's very well organised, with water and Gatorade stations plus portaloos every couple of miles. It has the feel of a major marathon in its organisation so for us poor mortals who might never do a marathon, this is the closest to the razzamatazz of a marathon we will get. Apart from the Central Park hill at 5k, it's flat especially at the end. The only downside for me anyway is the high chance of cold, cold weather. Storm Stella arrived in New York a couple of days before me, dumping two feet of snow and freezing temperatures. So I had to run in the cold, no choice about that.
How did I do? Well, good and bad, you know how races go. I had to be up very early, 5.30, to make my wave start. I seem to have bigged myself up and claimed a 2.05 predicted finish so I was in Wave 2. Call Uber, arrive 6.45 at Columbus Circle at sunrise, and through the extensive security. Walk to the corral and wait for ages while the delayed start gets organised. Keeping warm in my old EHM 2014 hoodie, I chuck it away at the start and really feel sad to say goodbye to it. But hey! we are off and running round Central Park! In the cold, and wind chill factor of minus 2.
Central Park is surprisingly hilly, and at 5k there is something similar to Mount Greenford, a seemingly never-ending incline. I get to the top and start to feel less freezing, lower the EE buff from my nose and ears. Remove my gloves, hey maybe one of my tops soon. We leave Central Park, and there is the never-ending horizon of 7th Avenue in front of us and a wall of cheering, a real high. Down towards Times Square and it feels like all of NY is out on the streets to cheer us on. Just off Times Square we can see a group of kids about to do a 1 mile race, we cheer each other on. Barriers manned by smiling NYPD cops, everyone is so happy. We run further on, past bands playing just for us, head West and then along the West Side Highway.
Somewhere Tony might be singing to Maria (look it up) but still NY is out to cheer us on. Wind chill factor from the Hudson River hits here, no thought anymore of removing a top. Past the Whitney Gallery, looking up at the Observatory Tower.
Middle age catches up with me: I defy any middle aged mum of four to run past a portaloo at Mile 10 and not stop for a wee. So a precious 3 minutes is wasted. Past the 9/11 Memorial somewhere on the left and into the bizarre Battery Park tunnel. As a tunnel it's not bizarre but I've never run in a tunnel before, it's weird. Two brief stops to alleviate a searing pain in my ankle which is my latest injury and suddenly the End Is Nigh! It's amazing how fast the end comes even after a long race. Wall Street - huge high skyscrapers and all the Sunday action is down on the street with 20,000 runners from 88 countries finishing the race of a lifetime, for me anyway. Wrap myself in the foil cloak, find a medal and my friends. Not before I have done the Eagles celebratory "wing salute" and literally hit the guy behind me in the face.
The only downside in this perfect race is the poor pacing, one pacer every 5 minutes with a flag so tiny that a leprechaun would think it too small. So I was pacing myself. I've got used to running with Eagles on the Sunday runs, and the lovey EHM and Osterley 10k pacers, so I really struggled to keep myself on track. My hopeful 2:08 turned to 2:13 and after the loo break 2:16. Never mind, I will never run in NY again, it's a victory at any pace. And the average female (any age) result is 2:14 so the stats say, so I was pretty much bang on.
Meanwhile...on the NY Half app, fun is being had. My kids back in England have downloaded the app and struggle to be awake at 11am to virtually cheer me on. Much cruel speculation as to whether the stops in my progress are the GPS malfunctioning or me "doing a Paula Radcliffe" accompanied by searching for runners with amusing names (mainly involving men called Dick or Willy).
Net net I would give this race 9 out of 10. I will never get closer to feeling the Real Thing than this. And I have even converted my bemused English friends I stayed with to participate in a Half marathon sometime. As long as that means following me running the race on an app, while they snuggle in bed with a good cup of Manhattan coffee.