On Sunday, March 19, 2017, I took a bite out of the Big Apple. Exactly 365 days ago, I broke my half marathon PR when I ran through the streets of New York City on March 20, 2016, finishing with a then PR of 1:38:44. After Sunday though, the new time stands at 1:37:43.
So how did I get that PR? A lot of factors contributed to it: November Project NYC, NYRR Group Training, developing mental toughness. Oh, and Cheer Squads! Especially the last one.
Allow me to explain. The first two, November Project NYC and NYRR Group Training, I've already explained the benefits of both and how they've supercharged my training. Group Training speed classes, led by the running guru that is Stuart Calderwood have pushed me to the absolute limit - for instance one day I did a 6:12 mile in the class - and feel I could do a sub 6 mile if required.
NP NYC has pushed my fitness to different levels, improved my core, and has taught me to race absolutely everything, no matter the weather conditions or scenario. Not feeling 100%? Feck it, race it. Too cold? Feck it, race it. Not had the best training for a certain race and feeling apprehensive? Feck it, race it. Sometimes, when your back is against the wall, you come out fighting and gain the best results.
As a result of both NP NYC and Group Training, I've developed greater mental toughness, which is key to achieving greater PRs. When all three are combined, it creates a powerful elixir, capable of producing incredible results when it comes to race day. I went into the NYC Half feeling somewhat good - there was a part of me that was shattered after a tough work week and several early morning starts and late nights. I wasn't 100%, but are you ever for a race?
So how did I PR by a minute and one second? The secret ingredient. Cheer Squads! That's right. For those of us running the NYC Half, cheer squads (along with volunteers and staffers) were the real heroes on the day. Sometimes, real heroes don't wear capes. After navigating Central Park, a course I know like the back of my hand, I made my way through Times Square for the Tom Cruise Vanilla Sky experience. This is what you pay NYRR more than $100 for.
Times Square on race day is a sight like no other. Its gives runners the chance to enjoy and experience the full visual splendor of one of New York's most iconic landmarks - without being bothered for a picture by a homeless looking Elmo or Mickey Mouse, or without some obnoxious person invading your private space with the truly hideous line "Hey guy, you like stand-up comedy?"
But it's when you take the turn off from Times Square when the race really begins. And on the West Side Highway, things got tough. With five miles remaining, my legs started to ask questions. And when your legs ask questions, you need a strong mental attitude to say "fuck you legs, we got this."
I felt I had this attitude. But by mile 9, my mind was starting to agree with my legs. Perhaps I didn't have it in me. Despite the speed classes and NYRR Group Training, maybe I didn't have it in me after all. And just as doubt crept in like a dark cloud, a burst of energy and sunshine shone through and chased all the clouds away: That burst of energy was the cheer station just after mile 9 and right before mile 10, specifically the November Project NYC squad.
Packed with more members than this runner could count, the noise levels as I ran toward a screaming mass of bouncing bodies were remarkable. So much so, that my body only came down from the high by mile 11. At that point, I'd only two miles left. Feet don't fail me now.
Spectating ain't easy. Your standing, mostly solitary in one space, trying to withstand the wind, the cold, the rain, the damp. You've gotten out of bed at silly o'clock - not to run a race, but to spectate. You don't get the great in-race pictures. You don't get the T-shirt. You don't get the full race day experience. You don't get the glory of a medal, despite putting in a solid early morning effort. Sometimes you also get that feeling of regret - regret that you didn't run the said race and decided instead to cheer on fellow friends.
That's what make cheer squads even more incredible. They don't get any of this, but for those at the November Project cheer station - and some other stations that followed on the course- they encapsulated everything about New York in this race. They brought energy in abundance. A volcanic eruption of noise greeted those of us in grassroots gear. Undaunted by the weather or windswept conditions of the Westside Highway, they never shriveled when called upon. By the end, their voices were as ragged as the legs of runners, but they still pushed the pace, all the way to the end.
They lifted me for more than a mile. All the way to mile 11 and beyond. (Disclosure: I tried to take a video of the squad, but I got so giddy, it came out crap). Yes, I raced through the streets of New York on March 19. I PR'ed, and received a nice shiny medal at the end. But the real winners that day were the cheer stations along the Westside Highway - and there were many, but one in particular. The NP Cheer Squad just showed up. And sometimes that makes all the difference for us towing the line that day.
Also - this race, my finish, and the finish of thousands of others would not have been possible without the staff of NYRR and volunteer heroes who were up at ridiculous o'clock to enable us to run a flawless race. Thank you for being here! (some of my favorites below)