A year ago, I ran my first half marathon: the 2018 Fred Lebow Manhattan Half. Like the non-profit organization Fred’s Team, it is named for Fred Lebow, a man so legendary he is, to the best of my knowledge, the only runner to have a statue in his likeness standing in Central Park.
I was living on Long Island last year. I drove an hour into the city for the race, just as I did for the 2017 Ted Corbitt 15K. I wasn’t sure how fast I could run a half, but I tried to maintain a pace I could hold comfortably while still feeling like a solid effort. I finished that race in 1:53:14 and felt pretty good about being able to hold an 8:39 pace in my first attempt at the distance.
I hadn’t even considered not running the race again this year (for some reason renamed “Fred Lebow Half-Marathon” from “Fred Lebow Manhattan Half”). For some reason I have it in my head that once I run a race, I should run it every year. This is silly thinking and I’m sure it won’t always be the case (otherwise, by the time I’m 60 I’ll be running 12 races every weekend). But I wanted to run it again. I don’t do too many halfs (halves?) and was curious to see how much I could improve in a year on the course.
The weather forecast wasn’t great. Earlier in the week, it had called for wintry mixes and icy wind and torrential hail and every other worst case scenario condition one can imagine for a road race. By the night before, the forecast had calmed down to simply “rain” and mid 40s temps. I could handle that.
On race morning, I got up at 5:15. I didn’t have to leave until 7:30 for the 8 am start; this year, I live just over a mile from the race start. I love when races start on the upper west section of Central Park because I don’t even need to take a subway. I just run there and that’s my warm-up. And my car is long gone, thank goodness.
I wanted two hours between eating (my usual oat bran + fried egg) and leaving. On most mornings I run with the Harriers, I only give myself an hour and a half and I always wish I had another half hour to digest and – let’s be honest here – poop. Two hours seems to be the golden length to take care of all of that.
Thankfully, I took care of all of that. Hooray!
My next concern was what to wear, because the 44-46 degrees the forecast had promised the night before was now 40-41 degrees and “feeling like 36.” Hmm. I finally decided to just wear the Harriers tank and shorts I’d planned on (fitted shorts because the last thing I want in cold rain is loose fabric clinging to my upper thighs) and my arm sleeves. It was raining so I definitely wanted a baseball cap. I wore my 5th Avenue Mile hat because it has ventilation and I just like it.
I captured the last moments of me being dry for the next three hours, my dog sleeping cluelessly on the couch, no idea what kind of pummeling Mother Nature was going to give his human over the course of that morning.
I actually wasn’t too worried about the weather. I really don’t mind running in the rain. I think this is because I have run in the rain. Also, sometimes while running in the rain I like to picture myself as Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump atop the mast, screaming at the storm, daring it to rage even harder. I like to take on a similar attitude of “IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?” Only I can run better than Lieutenant Dan. Sorry, Lieutenant Dan.
I wore the same belt I wore for the NYC Marathon because I wanted to carry gels, salt tabs, and my phone without dealing with an arm band. I packed three salt tabs and three gels, figuring I’d have one gel right before the start. Maybe I’d alternate a salt tab and a Gu every two miles. I’m still experimenting with what works for longer races. For water, I’d just grab cups along the course.
I ran to the start and got to my corral in 10 minutes, with about 20 minutes to go until the start. What a difference from driving in to the city from Northport.
Most people were dressed in layers, some in the race hat, a few in ponchos or garbage bags. I get the feeling a lot of people don’t do this, but I dress differently for training runs than I do for races. I run faster in races, so naturally I want to wear less. Also, no way in hell would I survive a race running inside a plastic bag – I sweat like a pig as it is. But hey, whatever floats your boat.
Honestly, once I got there I didn’t feel cold anymore. Well, except for my hands. My hands were kind of cold. I had decided against gloves because they’d be wet anyway. Plus, I didn’t want to be fumbling with them when I wanted to open my gels.
A nice man behind me saw me taking pictures of the crowd and offered to take my pic. Thank you, nice man.
There was an 8:00 pacer in the D corral. I had decided to stick with him for as long as possible. My pace last year was 8:39 and my Brooklyn Half pace last spring was 8:08. Brooklyn is a flat course so I had doubts as to whether I could best an 8:08 in hilly Central Park in rain. But I thought I would at least give it a shot and then see where I landed.
We started on the west side drive, a nice change from the Ted Corbitt 15K where we cut across the 102nd Street transverse in the first mile and everyone gets bottlenecked.
It was weird to run with the belt again. It bounced around a bit at first before I got it settled below my hip bones. I should probably get one of those belts with the loops in it that hold gels so no unzippering is required.
I felt really good for the first two miles down the west side and around the southern part of the course, which was the 72nd Street transverse. I stuck with the 8:00 pacer with no problem. It actually felt on the slow side because so many of my races are shorter and I’m always aiming for paces in the 7s. So staying right around 8:00 felt great.
One fun thing about the course is the cutting across 72nd instead of going all the way down to the southern-most part of the loop. This actually helped me a lot, mentally. Most of my training runs are on the full Central Park loop. I only cut across 72nd every once in a while, and it always feels like a shortcut. Knowing we were going to cut across it three times this morning somehow made the entire route feel shorter. I mean, it was still 13.1 miles. I knew that. It just felt shorter, if that makes sense. This was all in my head, but I embraced the hell out of it.
I lost the 8:00 pacer going up Cat Hill. I have never done well keeping up with pacers going up hills. It was also around this point I fumbled with numb fingers to take out my salt tabs bag, so there was some slowing down there. My hands were so cold I decided to just keep holding the bag instead of putting it back. I ate two tabs and figured I’d eat the third soon, and then attempt a gel after that.
Cat Hill is only a quarter of a mile. I spent the remainder of mile 3 trying like hell to catch up to the 8:00 pacer. No way was I going to lose him this early. It wasn’t easy and I had to run mile 3 at more of a 5K pace, but I slowly gained on him.
MILE 1: 8:05
MILE 2: 8:11
MILE 3: 7:31
I know it rained for most of the race, but I was barely aware of it. I’m not sure if it ever stopped or when it got lighter or heavier. I don’t know. I don’t remember. I didn’t care. I just stayed focused on the run. For now, I kept my eyes focused on the 8:00 pacer. After my favorite section of the loop (the flattest and fastest part) on the east side, I caught up to him. I had done it. I ate another salt tab.
Here’s where it got a little frustrating. The first Harlem Hill was approaching, and I kept running right around 8:00. In fact, my watch was mostly saying I was running in the high 7s. But I still managed to lose the pacer going up the hill.
Heading down the west side of the park again, I was running well below an 8:00 pace and I still couldn’t catch him. I was due for a gel and didn’t even want it. I also didn’t think my hands could reliably open one. I slowed down for some water but kept going. The 8:00 guy was up ahead, leaving my sight little by little, despite my sub 8:00 paces.
MILE 4: 7:48
MILE 5: 7:59
MILE 6: 7:47
At some point, I gave up on the 8:00 guy. My overall pace was in the high 7s. Maybe my Garmin was off. Maybe he was going faster now because he knew he would slow down later. I don’t know what was happening, but once I made the executive decision to forget about him and just pace myself, I felt better.
Mile 7 had the second Cat Hill. I slowed down here again, but ran it just a hair slower than I had the first time around. I sped up again on the flat section and maintained an 8:00 pace for miles 8 and 9. I still felt okay at this pace, but not as strong as I had in the beginning.
There were more spectators along the course than I would have guessed considering the weather. I even got a couple “Go Harriers” from passersby; the first I could only grunt an “eh” in reply, lacking the energy to form any consonants; the second I could only muster a slight raise of my hand. I didn’t feel tired because of the pace, but because of the temperature. It was weird – I didn’t feel cold, but I could feel my muscles starting to stiffen due to, I assumed, the cold. Like my muscles felt cold although I didn’t feel cold. Maybe I was underdressed after all?
MILE 7: 8:13
MILE 8: 7:56
MILE 9: 8:04
With four miles to go, I felt a wave of relief. Four miles is nothing. I barely ever do 4 mile runs in training, right? I can blast through this no problem? Right? RIGHT?
No. I did not. I slowed significantly in miles 10-12. The beginning of mile 10 was the start of the second Harlem Hill. I had so little left. Holy hell, I need more hill work. Mile 11 I picked it up a bit, even seeing a guy not too far ahead who’d been running with the 8:00 pacer in the first few miles. I had noticed him initially because he was very tall and very blond. I felt better knowing that he, too, had failed to keep up with Mr. 8:00. But soon, tall blond guy got away from me as well.
I considered attempting a Gu, but I figured that any time I would gain from the energy of the gel I would lose trying to open one with my dumb, numb fingers. So I didn’t bother.
We began to lap walkers, but there weren’t too many of them so the course still felt spaced out and manageable. Mile 12 was up Cat Hill for the third and last time. Just one more, I thought. Then I could let loose in mile 13. I hoped.
MILE 10: 8:41
MILE 11: 8:11
MILE 12: 8:40
I did speed up in mile 13. Knowing there’s only one mile left is all it takes sometimes. At this point, my Garmin said my overall pace was 8:06. But I knew I can’t always rely on Garmin to be exact about the distance I’m running, so I wasn’t sure what the final outcome would be. I thought there might be a chance I’d PR and beat an 8:08 pace, which I had not been expecting to do at all.
MILE 13: 8:02
LAST 0.3: 7:33
I wound up running 13.3 miles, so I had a feeling I hadn’t run the 8:05 pace my Garmin said I did. I’d find out soon enough. After I crossed the finish, I just wanted to stop and have some water.
I was fumbling with my phone to take the obligatory medal selfie when I heard someone call my name. It was two members of the Harriers who I’d seen on the course but passed them without even seeing who they were. I was so in my head. But I was happy to say hi to them now. A nice race volunteer took our pic and then took mine, as my hands were so numb I couldn’t even press the button on my phone.
Ah, my favorite part of any race. Free food!!!
Thank you, volunteers!
I put my bagel and apple inside the plastic bag I had folded up and put inside my belt (always thinking ahead!) and jogged home. Hobbled, really. I wasn’t all that sore, just cold. I wanted to get inside. I love outside, but by this point, I wanted inside. I started jogging right outside Central Park and got to my building in six and a half minutes. I love you, Northport, but sometimes it’s nice to live here now.
So, here’s the crazy thing that happened with my hands. Apparently they were so cold, they swelled up. I noticed this right after I got home. Years ago, my feet got sunburned and swelled up for a day, but swelling due to cold had never happened to me. I took a picture of my left hand after I got home and noticed my hands looked fat; I was also unable to straighten out my index finger. Luckily, an hour and a half later after a hot shower, toasted bagel, and some coffee, they were back to normal.
I love the medal we received and it looks very nice in my little collection, don’t you think?
All in all, I’m happy with how I did. I think I played it smart in the days leading up to the race: I ran fewer miles that week (and only 2 the day before), I ate more carbs than usual the day before without overdoing it, I drank more water the day before, and I’ve been getting enough sleep. I put in a stronger effort than I had at the Ted Corbitt 15K and, as result, ran a faster pace. (Although I think TC was actually harder to run because of the extreme cold temps.)
I did not PR over my Brooklyn Half time, but I came closer than I thought I would, running the 2019 Fred Lebow Half just 44 seconds slower overall than Brooklyn. Given the hillier course and cooler temps today, I think I did better in this race. I’m really excited to see what I might be able to do at the NJ Marathon three months from now.
– Time: 1:47:18
– Pace: 8:12/m
– Age Group: 14/176
– Women: 122/1368
– Overall: 764/3720