No, not in terms of time - that would be the miserable Manhattan Half from mid-last-winter, 'member? No, this longest-ever was in perceived distance. Something about my internal odometer was seriously out-of-whack today because, I swear, this half-marathon felt longer than the 18 miles last weekend. Same route as last year, same weather even, but shit, it felt longer. (The big scary hill, however, was a lot shorter than I remembered.)
So. Today was the Staten Island Half Marathon, which wraps up this year's grand-prix. Only a couple of months of downtime before the next grand prix begins, presumably, in January with the next Manhattan Half. For some of us, that half-marathon will end up as a training run for another race entirely.
I managed to extract my bike from my front stoop area yesterday to go cover a veterans parade & party in Bay Ridge. So I was able to drive out to Staten Island this morning for the race. I left a little later than last year, as waiting 2 1/2 hours for the race to start wasn't something I wanted to repeat. Things have gotten chilly the last couple of days and my ride to the parking area was cold. Damn cold. Didn't havy my electrics, didn't have pants liners, was wearing summerweight perforated leather gloves, no windhsield, no handshields...yah, it was a cold ride. On the upside, I discovered how well my heated grips work. Nice and toasty.
Oh, yeah, back to the race. Well, I got smart this year and brought a disposable poncho so I could keep warm after I changed out of my riding clothes and into running clothes. Worked well and I got a lot of envious looks. I managed a one-mile warmup jog whilst searching for coffee. Had PLENTY of time to drink the coffee, chat with people, stretch a bit, get jazzed for the race...lose my jazz...9:30 is too late for a half-marathon race.
Surprisingly, the first three miles DIDN'T suck, as they normally do. My lungs were what they were and stayed in one mode the entire race - so coughing and whatnot was predictable and manageable. My legs came to the party ready to roll and even though they didn't appreciate actually starting to work, they worked well from the start and really got into it about mile 5. (It was that mile marker, though, that told me how off my internal distance counter was, as I thought we were coming up on six miles.) I didn't have a terrible lot of energy, but that might have been because I missed my regular yogurt breakfast and instead had a Hammer nutrition bar - which isn't meant to BE a powerbar thing.
Energy or not, the race went reasonably well and I ran it quite solidly. There were only three moments of walking: one due to a hellacious coughing fit I couldn't run through, one due to the one giant hill on the route, and one - at mile three or so - where I simply had to discard my outer shirt. (It was the race shirt, but that and the long-sleeve tech-t I was wearing were too much together at that point. I literally ripped my bib off my chest, stuffed it in my pocket, and skinned the shirt off over my head. Shortly thereafter, when passing a stretch of road I knew I'd be driving after the race, I tossed my shirt off to the side. If it disappeared, too bad. If not, maybe I could retrieve it.)
For a couple of miles, the route does a flat out-and-back, during which one gets to pass all the runners who are before you and all the runners who are after you. I saw not one person I recognized, though I'd chatted with some friends before the race. I wondered where they went. And it was a real wake-up call concerning long, flat races (and make no mistake - Staten Island IS a fairly flat race.) Flat is boring. I may not be able to tackle giant hills right now, but bunny hills and some curves generally liven things up, you know? I think training for Phoenix** is going to be as much about mental prep against boredom as anything else.
So the race went. Had a few moments of real slowdown due to coughing, but not energy-depletion. My Gel-Bot watter bottle did a fine job, though once again I wish it held more gel. I did another smart thing and brought Enduralytes with me this time. I got a warning twinge in the left calf at mile 5 and within a mile had fished out my Enduralytes and downed one. No more problems with THAT the rest of the race.
I didn't set a PR with this one, nor did I imagine I would. It wasn't even remotely possible. But I ran a respectable race. I believe I ran negative splits - I KNOW the last mile was my fastest. There was one girl who, after about mile six, just kept passing me. It became my challenge, coughing or not, to keep her in sight. And I also wanted to beat her to the finish line. I didn't know what that would take. In miles ten and eleven she put some distance between us and I wondered if I could catch her. From marker 12 onward, I really pushed my pace as best my lungs would allow. I eventually caught and passed the girl and kept the lead. In fact, I passed a lot of people in that last 1.1 miles! I feel really good about the whole end of the race.
Later, as I was going to get Recoverite, I recognized the girl by her t-shirt. I stopped her and said, "I don't mean to intrude, but I want you to know that YOU were the person I had to beat today. I've got a bit of a lung infection and every time I coughed, I'd see you go blazing by me, so I had to make you the rabbit." She grinned and exploded with a "Son of a bitch! You kept passing me out of nowhere and I was so determined to put you behind me!" I had been the person she was trying to beat. I didn't beat her by much, I assure you. I suspect the Brightroom photos will show her on my heels. Somehow, I think we spurred each other to a better race than otherwise.
Net time: 2:15:20. This is my third-best half-marathon time, and marks the third weekend of this distance or greater in a row - with decreasing times each weekend! Sweet. This also marks my 30th road race, in somewhat less than two years. (Going back to look up my first run, it was mid-November 2004. And the blog entries discussing it make it clear that I am, despite my perceived running problems, still in far better shape and ability than I was back then.)
Chatted with Mercury Master Christa before the race. She finished the marathon in her hometown in Germany in 3rd place for her age division and this was her first race back in the States. I lost track of her during the race and was convinced she'd outpaced me to the end, but saw her coming it just a few minutes behind me. I cheered as she passed, of course. Her time was a very respectable 2:21. I also had a chance to chat with James Lu, the bells guy. I pointed out that I beat him in the last race (the 18-miler) and he acknowledged that, but promised THIS race he would PR. He was thinking maybe a 2:05, which knocks my socks off, since I regularly come in just ahead of him in races - but then he's in better training than I am right now. And you know, he came in just seconds over a 2:04! Holy Shit! I am deeply impressed. Not bad for a 68 year old man, huh?
So. Good race, not great. As much as I just wanted it to be over, I am already looking forward to re-routing my long runs along the bay here in Brooklyn and putting in a 20-miler. I have a flat route from my house to the Verrazano Bridge and back that is almost exactly 10 miles. I'm going to obtain an extra gel-bot and a waist pouch to hold it and see if I can push my training into ready-for-marathon state. I MIGHT race once or twice more this year if something is convenient and fun, but I'm not planning anything right now.
**By the way, after talking with my sports doc and a few other people, I have decided that my goal race now is definitely Phoenix, the flat-and-fast music marathon. I'm told the American marathon record was set on that course. I am a teeny bit concerned about going from a new york winter to Phoenix winter racing, but perhaps some treadmill runs in a gym during the taper will take care of heat-conditioning.