Today, August 27th, 2006, was the first-ever running of the NYC Half-Marathon, which could be the little brother of the Grand Dame herself, the NYC Marathon. Not everyone realizes that NY is one of the few major cities that doesn't have a concurrent half-marathon on marathon day. This simplifies things tremendously, I'm sure, but it leaves a hell of a lot of people out in the cold. So NYRR teamed up with Nike and birthed this bastard of a race. Now, what you are about to read is my reactions to all of it: the pre-race, the race, the run, the post. But I want to be very clear about this: Some of my critique has to do with my run and some to do with the race. And the two have gotten very different reactions from me today. I have not, until now, been able to separate the run from the race with such decisiveness.
There were a few bloggers set to do this race. Moz writes briefly about the race and will add some more later (congrats on your PR, Moz). Chelle hasn't yet written up her report. I'd be curious about their reactions to the small expo, held at Nike Town, where we had to go to pick up our numbers. Personally, while I was wowed by Trump tower and the Nike Store, I was a little turned off my the commercialism. Why is it so goddamn hard to test out some of the Nike+ shoes? And the STORE...geezus H. Let's face it, running has become the "it" thing for the upper classes these days and the whole face of running shows it. It's not about sweating and grunting and pounding out miles, it's about looking prim and pretty (even the boys!) while jogging three or less. I know - I'm being unfair, especially seeing as how I came to running late enough to be considered part of this fad crowd. But I don't feel a part of them. I am not pretty when I run; few of my photos are worth ordering a copy of. I am uncoordinated, awkward, and sound like a steam engine in bad need of repair. Looking around at the store and the people and the race t's, I was more than a little turned off. I had to wonder when this sport became so elitist and so...so GAY. Judging from the (admittedly good quality) crap on sale at Nike Town, the effeminate runner is the model runner. And the tech t's... I mean, poweder blue?? They were the same ones as at Chicago's Nike RunHit Remix, but with different graphics.
Anway, packet pickup was fairly short and I saw Janet, the volunteer coordinator, but didn't speak to her...she was busy punching stuff into her laptop, as usual. (Janet controls race entries; it's a shitty job.) (Oh, and they didn't actually cap the race at 10,000 - there were well over 10,000 there.) The goodie bags were perhaps not worthy of the "official NYC half marathon" and the fact that we had to use the clear plastic bags instead of our regular own rucksacks or backpacks or whatnot was laughable. 10,000 entrants is not enough to worry about such security precautions!
At 4:45 this morning, I left the house to walk to the subway. As it happens, I ran into my neighbor, Mark Bernal, the one who ran Boston a while back. He was just coming home from the bars! Obviously, Mark wasn't running the half. On into town I went and got to the park while it was still dark. The start area was setup as best they could, considering they set it all up right there at Engineer's Gate. That was a mistake. It left no room to maneuver, walk around, warm up, etc. Baggage was over on the street and you couldn't hope the wall to get directly to the corrals. Port-a-johns were up on the bridal path - and boy were they pungent! - and it was damn difficult to navigate that area, too. Very unpleasant.
I'd brought my nike thing to tick off the miles with and got it started just before I crossed the start line. The Nike thing worked well for the first seven miles - until the rain started. After that, I couldn't get it to pick up my sensor's signal, or something, and so the distance meter started to fall behind. By the time I exited the park, I'd just shut the damn thing off. I also took off the pace band I was wearing as I wasn't really paying all that much attention to the mile splits. Fuck it. I was running this race like I would a long, steady run.
As far as THAT goes - the run itself - it was VERY GOOD. I am proud of the run I put in today. I finished the race in just under 2:13, coming in at just over ten-minute miles. Had the start not been so goddamn congested, I think I could have done this in precisely 2:10, which had been my goal. I came close enough and managed to turn in my second-fastest time out of my six halves. I am very pleased that the run was solid, evenly paced, that the hills in the park presented no challenges to me. In fact, at the end of the race, I even ran back up the West Side Highway, to see if I could find Crista (the mercury masters runner) or James Lou (bells guy) and run them in to the finish line. I got well past the 800-meter sign before I gave up finding them. They just weren't that far behind me. So I ran back to the finish line a second time. Total mileage today: a little over 14. Yippee.
The course and the finish are both sucked balls.
First off, if I'm a New York resident - and most of the runners were - why in the hell would I pay five times the normal entry fee just so the first seven miles of the race can be along the exact same Central Park loop I run every weekend anyway?? While familiarity definitely helped with the calmness and the strong, steady run, it was also boring. Second: water stations were oddly placed, not evenly spaced out. I had my beef with that, as well as putting them right next to the 5K and 10K mats. Geezus, it's hard enough navigating walking/sipping fools without adding in rain-slippery mats to the mix! And third: don't even get me started on the stupid fucking string quartets! WTF? I want electric guitar, sax, trumpet, drum kit, sounds with energy, not fucking string quartets!
The course got better - more interesting - once we left the park. We ran down seventh ave to Times Square - which was really pretty awesome - and then cut over to the West Side Highway on 42nd street. Once on the West Side highway, things got boring again - and rough. The entire length of that last four or five miles is concrete! Talk about your training for the Marathon's run uptown after 59th street bridge... Due to the rain, there weren't a whole lot of people out cheering, but I'm not sure massive crowds could have been accommodated anyway.
The finish chute was fine, but it really pissed me off to have to fight my way through another fucking gauntlet to go find the baggage area, which was really quite far away, hard to find, not labeled. Listen, I LIVE here. I don't WANT water, nasty-tasting Gatorade, green apples, frozen popsicles, or even the oddly-shaped finisher's medal. I want a shortcut out of this madhouse so I can pick up my bags and get home! It was just completely badly laid out, bad signage, and an inadequate number of volunteers at the end. (Well, actually, an inadequate number of volunteers to run the race. I am also under the impression [though I could be wrong] that there weren't a lot of med stations, either.)
This is a half-marathon that could've used a lot more time in the planning stages - like another year. It is a poor route, poorly staffed. Other people will have different impressions, I'm sure. Hell, it might all have been peaches and cream for our out-of-town visitors, but for a NY runner, I was expecting a lot more quality. A better route would have been to start in Washington Square Park, run straight up Fifth Ave, hang a left at the Apple Store and enter the park, run the loop and exit the park at Columbus Circle, then run down Broadway to finish at the Battery. While the run still has to incorporate the park for distance, it's two miles less of the park, and the other eight miles of the run are really in the middle of the city, with a lot more landmarks to see - Flatiron Building, Macy's, Washing Square Park, Union Square, Times square, the landmark stores along Fifth Ave, Columbus Circle, Astor Place, Canal Street, City Hall, etc.
A couple last thoughts about the run itself: while the day was nicely cool and cloudy - no danger of sunburn - the rain sucked. It's been worse before, but mesh shoes mean wet feet real fast - and that happened about mile five for me. The foot damage is a riot: blisters on every single toe and the bottoms of both my heels. The other thing about this run is that right in the middle of the rain, I quit. I was absolutely done with the running, the training, the bullshit, all of it. No more running for me. I decided to withdraw my entry from the NY Marathon and hang up the running shoes; it's simply far too much trouble and sometimes too much misery to be worth it. Obviously, I didn't stop running this race right then - I'd never quit in the middle of something - but this I vowed would be my last race and possibly even my last run.
What a freeing thought that was. No more worries about training; no more doubts about my sanity. But of course, things turned around. It stopped raining and I eventually dried out mostly. While the run didn't get a whole lot better, it didn't get any worse either. And by the end of the race, I guessed I had a few more half-marathons left in me. But I tell you this: whoever's job it is to contact the National Weather Control Service had better goddamn be dialing up a sunny day for November 5!