I have this little rule when it comes to races: Never commute to a race.
That is the reason I never ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon, which everyone seems to love. It is the reason I did run the Queens Half, because it just meant staying at my mom’s house the night before. It is also the reason I generally only run races that are in Central Park.
I did commute to my very first race, the WTC Run to Remember 5K. But that’s been it. The morning before races are stressful and dealing with public transportation or cabs before the race seems annoying in itself, though not nearly as bad as trying to get back home after. The thought of that traveling and waiting around ignites all my anxiety. So I’ve stayed away.
Until I decided to run the Staten Island Half Marathon.
I had a few reasons for deciding to run this race:
- I’ve heard great things about this race from multiple people
- I had a step-back week in my training plan
- I desperately wanted a new route to break up the monotony*
- I love racing
*Really the only reason
I decided the morning of the race to take a cab with Ben and we got to the NYRR recommended 7:30 ferry before 7 am. I love being early.
The ferry terminal was packed with runners. I knew it would be, and I started having some anxiety about this the night before. But I know this race takes place every year and no one has ever complained to me about the commuting aspect, so I figured I would be OK.
When 7:30 arrived, my friend Melissa Z and I were in place to get on the ferry, but they closed the doors about a minute after opening them to let runners on. We barely moved in our spots and Z, a Staten Island Ferry frequenter, said this is extremely abnormal. The ferries, she explained, are huge and fit tons of people. She had no doubt that everyone in that terminal would be able to get on the ferry, and our situation made no sense.
We later found out that they sent the smallest ferry they have, one that is rarely used, because they did not expect many people early on a Sunday morning. This confused me because the Staten Island Half Marathon takes place every year. You’d think they would know to expect a large group. You’d also think NYRR would have let them know to expect lots of people on this day and they would send a normal-sized boat. Poor organization, which is unusual for NYRR.
I was squished between lots of runners, with the ferry announcer advising us to wait first at one door, then the other, and then back to the first. The entire crowd moved each time, pushing each other along the way. I suggested to Z that we get out of there, drop our stuff off at her apartment, and go for a nice 13 mile run up the west side.
We stuck it out. The stressful part would soon be over, we reasoned, and the race was said to be both scenic and flat. And when a second 7:30 ferry arrived at 8 am, everyone was able to get on. However, the race was set to begin at 8:30 . . . and time is my number 1 biggest cause of anxiety, with waiting a very close second. In other words, I wasn’t feeling so hot.
While we were on the ferry I checked Twitter as I was thinking about how the next time I would make this trip, exactly four weeks later, would be for the NYC Marathon. I hoped it would be more organized; I knew it would be. I saw a tweet from NYRR president Mary Wittenberg saying that they were aware of the ferry problem and would start the race a few minutes late to accommodate the late runners. I felt a little better.
I imagine the scene was a funny one to anyone watching the ferry let us all off thirty minutes later. Imagine (hundreds? a thousand? how many?) runners all, well, running out of the ferry terminal at the same time. That’s what we did. We ran. Z and I made a port-a-potty stop and then we were on our way to the Start . . . only to find that we missed it. The race started. NYRR did not wait for (what I think might have been) the majority of runners that were all late even though they followed NYRR directives.
I found this particularly interesting because while NYRR races are almost always on time, the Queens Half Marathon was held up for a good 15-20 minutes for what I heard was a similar reason. For the first time in my life, I ran into a race well after it already started.
Despite this, I felt good. The day was gorgeous and unseasonably warm for October. While other runners complained about these hot temps, I embraced them. Being cold is the worst. And my music selection was perfect. Instead of creating a race playlist for this one, I decided to listen to an entire Dave Matthews Band show from beginning to end (aside from the one song I am inexplicably missing). From the very beginning, my music made me feel happy and I smiled as I ran.
The timing was perfect too; once again I finished this race during the last song.
The race started by the water and the view of Manhattan was stunning.
Edited To Add: During the first few miles, I saw a spectator holding a sign that said “May the odds be EVER in your favor.” I got extremely excited and screamed to him “KATNISS!” He was happy. Hunger Games fans will understand. All others, go read The Hunger Games.
Not long after starting, however, we turned onto a normal street and ran past houses and stores. This lasted pretty much for the remainder of the race. As we ran under the Verrazano Bridge, the very bridge we would run across exactly four weeks later during the marathon, we couldn’t contain our excitement. We peered above and across the bridge, imagining ourselves running on it. And we stopped for a minute so Z could snap a photo of the street sign marking the approaching bridge to use as inspiration.
We pushed on the best we could. We stopped at every water station and stopped to stretch a couple of times. As we approached a huge hill — I wish I had a picture of this thing because it was long and steep and seemingly never-ending — I tried not to think about it as we powered up the incline.
A Dave Matthews Band song I was actually not familiar with was playing at this time. As I pushed through the most difficult part of the hill, the last minute of this song gave me the motivation and the push I needed to get through this hill without thinking much. The last minute of “Blackjack” was this fast, repetitive tune that I will forever consider hill music. Seriously — it made that hill bearable and I did not think a single negative thought even though my body was hurting. I tried to upload it here for you all but the file is too large. That song is already set to go on my marathon playlist, a list I will only turn to when there are no spectators and the race gets very tough.
Back to Staten Island, let us recap what we learned so far: the Staten Island Half course was neither scenic nor flat.
The race was an out-and-back, and starting after the race began meant that we did not have the adrenaline that comes from running with a large group on our sides. It was daunting to see the pack on their way back while we were on our way out. It was frustrating to run so far behind others at a similar pace.
The race became a challenge. Even though we weren’t racing it and were instead treating it as a long slow run, the 13.1 miles felt difficult. Perhaps the 20 miles I ran the week before caught up to me. I had a new pain at the very bottom back part of my left leg and I was more than ready to stop running.
But I wasn’t beaten down enough to not feel that surge of energy that comes when the finish line is in sight!
There it is! Z is right behind me. I gave it one final surge and then . . .
And I felt amazing. The pain of the 13.1 miles faded, although the pain of my foot stayed for awhile. It’s fine now . . . crisis averted (I hope). And so I completed my sixth half marathon, with an official time of 2:23:11.
My fully-charged-before-the-race Garmin didn’t make it to 13.1 before dying, so I sadly missed viewing the split of my final surge:
Like I said, we treated this as a long, slow run. No racing, no PR-ing. No coming close to my half marathon PR of 2:06:27 (shameless bragging; I still haven’t stopped feeling excited about that one!). The Staten Island Half Marathonwas exactly as I hoped it would be: an excellent long run on a new course to break up the monotony of training.
We had a long wait for the ferry after the race and I had an even harder time finding a cab home after that, further cementing my “never doing this again” attitude towards race commuting. After I arrived (at Andy’s) home and devoured some food, I was so beat from my day that this happened:
I can’t tell if I look extremely comfortable or extremely uncomfortable.
I’m not sure if I explained this before, but I post these recaps a week after the race because I like to wait for my photos from Brightroom – they always do such a great job and I often order photos. This means that since the Staten Island Half Marathon, I already had another long run — my last 20 miler. I can’t wait to share all the details of that amazing run next week.
The peak of my training is behind me and now I am in taper mode . . . which means the ING NYC Marathon, less than three weeks away, is becoming more real every day. It also feels completely attainable, and no longer like a “one day maybe” thing.
I just finished the book A Race Like No Other: 26.2 Miles Through the Streets of New York — a must-read for anyone interested in the NYC Marathon and if you are running this year, read it now before the race. Extremely inspiring!
[Photo: Tower Books]
And the last race I will ever commute to will be the NYC Marathon. Probably.