A Friendly Guide to the NYC Half Marathon

Even though I won’t be running the NYC Half Marathon this year, I’m a three-time finisher, so It’s my obligation to share my race secrets with the special few that NYRR has allowed into this year’s race.  They include a) A collection of the worlds best professional runners, b) Thousands of international runners, and c) Ten New Yorkers who were selected through a Hunger Games style lottery.

Good luck to you.  Here are some last minute pointers:

Carb loading rules.

Sure, trained professionals like my run coach friends, Meghan and Jessica at Hot Bird Running, may scold you when you eat 20,000 calories of spaghetti and meatballs mere hours before a race.  But who are you going to listen to?  A couple of certified run coaches who dedicated their lives to making you healthier and happier or the guy who draws funny stick figure pictures?

Exactly.  Go nuts, kids!

A stick figure eating spaghetti to carbo load for a half marathon cartoon by rob pollakThe Starting Line.

It’s chaos.  Seriously.  If you are planning to meet people at your starting corral, you may want to rethink that plan.  Every year, the set up has been different.  With last year being the worst because each stable area had its own set of bathrooms.  In theory this sounds amazing, but in practice, it meant that people waited in line for an hour while people already in the corral could cut the line.

This is also where I do my pre-race nerve-vomiting.

Cartoon by Rob Pollak about the bathroom line at the NYC half marathon

The course.  If you run Central Park often, you know what you’re in for.  If you’re an out of towner running the race for the first time, here’s a quick breakdown of the course.

Course Map:

A course map cartoon for the NYC Half Marathon - Cartoon by Rob Pollak

Miles 1-6 are in Central Park.  They changed the course slightly from when I ran it.  From the looks of the new map, the start will be slightly down hill until about the Mile 1 marker.  Then you will embark on “cat hill,” the first of many grueling tortures you will endure.  This hill is particularly awful because it’s a huge hill, then you get to the top, the road briefly flattens and then starts climbing again.  You will vomit.  It’s also about where your nipples will start to bleed.  Welcome to NYC!

Mile 2 will be awesome.  Look to your left for a sort of view of the Central Park reservoir.  If you ever get the chance to run around the reservoir, take it.  It’s a fantastic opportunity to berate parents pushing strollers and people on bikes, neither of which are allowed on the path.  Actually, I’m not sure if strollers are allowed or not.  If they are, apologies to that nice family that I called the C word for pushing a double wide stroller when I was sweating past them.  Yeah, that’s right.  I called them communists.

Mile 3 will be the worst part of the race, at least since Mile 2 and until you get to mile 4-13.  Mile 3 will be a combination of a big sweeping downhill around the northeast corner of the park.  That will flatten out and you will climb straight up a mountain in the back northwest corner.  You may notice that many people start to walk at this point.  Don’t be one of those people.  Listen to the volunteer standing there telling you to “stay inside the cones” and encouraging you that you’re almost to the top of the hill.

Pro Tip:  All of the lampposts in the park are labeled with the street number.  If you look at the bottom of the post, there will be a number that starts with two digits, like 90-01.  That means you’re at 90th street.  I have no idea what the 01 means.  Let’s just agree it means you’re number 1 to me.  Every twenty blocks is approximately 1 mile.  If you really start to struggle, count left foot strikes between posts.  Usually there are 10-20 strikes between posts.  I struggle a lot.

The light posts have information about streets on them in central park running cartoon by rob pollak

Mile 4 is the rolling hills of the west side of the park.  It’s terrible.  Every time you get a little break with a down hill, you head right back up a little uphill.  Look for my sister around mile 4.  She is nice.

During mile 5 and 6, you’ll be thinking, “get me the hell out of the park.”  Try not to start running faster.  You may get out of the park faster, but then you’re going to hate yourself by mile 9.

Mile 6-7:  The best part of the race!  You finally will hit the mean streets of Manhattan.  The road opens up and you can spread out and get away from that sweaty beast (me) who has been breathing down your neck for the last hour.  Lots of people will line the streets.  You’ll see huge buildings.  Your GPS watch will freak out and lose its signal and suddenly you’ll think that you’re running a 4:11 pace.  Enjoy the ride here because things are about to get pretty bad.

Mile 7-9.  At mile 7, you’ll turn right onto 42nd street.  The Big Apple, baby!  Riding high from seventh avenue, you are literally on top of the world at this moment.  You may think to yourself, “I can do anything!  This is so easy!  I’m a machine.”  Enjoy that feeling because as you turn right onto 42nd, you’re about to get blasted with a gale force wind coming off the Hudson River.

And as you amble over towards the West Side Highway, notice that they haven’t cut off traffic coming in the opposite direction.  So you’ll be inches away from angry New Yorkers smogging their cars in your face.  They will stare at you and berate you for making their drive take twice as long.  I know because before I ever ran the race, I once missed a tee time in NJ because I got redirected by those stupid runners.

Once you’re all the way west, they make you head back uptown for one block, which feels like you have to backtrack.  Also, the people disappear for this stretch of the race and it starts to become hard.  The Highway is exactly as it sounds:  Flat, boring, and trafficy.  Prepare for long stretches that are exactly the same.  Bring your ipod so you can suffer through this stretch with the musical stylings of Justin Bieber.  That’s how I managed.

Literally nothing changes for miles 8-12.  Except if I wake up in time, I’ll be on Murray street around Mile 11.5/12.  That’s where I live.  If you see me, say hi.

After Mile 12, the race goes underground into the Battery Park Underpass.  It’s dark and it echoes.  Someone will yell something stupid when you’re under there.  Don’t be that guy.

When you come out of the tunnel, you’re basically done.  Except you’re at the furthest point from everything else in New York.  So figure out a way to get home.  Last year, I ended up having to walk about 2.5 miles back to my apartment because I was a bad planner.  Don’t be a bad planner.

I guess, congratulations.  You’re a half marathoner.

Celebrate by eating enough calories of ice cream and bagels to negate any positive benefits of months of training.

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A Reflection on my 2012 Goals that I’m Retroactively Setting for Myself Right Now

Around Thanksgiving of last year, I set out to write a blog post reviewing my accomplishments from 2011 and setting my goals for 2012.  I never got around to it though, because just the thought of embarking on such a task sent me into a tailspin of creative blocks and self-loating that lasted for the rest of my life.  Or at least until my mom sent me on a yogic retreat intended for women experiencing midlife crises.

But now that a year has passed, my creative blocks have disappeared, and my outlook on life has shifted from severe cynicism to just mildly severe cynicism, it seems like a perfect time to reflect on 2012 and retroactively set the goals that I might have imagined for myself a year ago.  Then, I can reflect on how successful I was at achieving those goals.

Goals

Goal 1:  Set attainable goals for myself and then periodically measure my progress.

Damnit!  How can I fail at retroactive goals, you moron?  All I have to do is list out all of my achievements for the year and pretend that they were my goals and then I’ll feel really great about myself.  But nooooo, instead the first one I list is an utter failure.  Damn you mildly severe cynicism!

Okay.  Start over.  Goal number two can be to use the rest of this blog post to imagine what 2011 me might have written on New Year’s Eve 2011 for present me to reflect upon in a hilarious blog post that present me would write while wearing jeans that he had not washed for the entirety of the year.

–A brief aside:  Disregarding for a second that what I am about to say addresses a topic that most certainly has a correct answer, and that I am not sure whether I fall on the good side or bad side of that answer, or that I don’t care about which side I am, here’s something that’s bothering me:  

      I hate people that use the word “an” instead of the word “a” before a word that starts with H and has a hard H sound.  That’s why I said “a hilarious” not “an hilarious.”  I would also say “an hour” because I don’t say “an how-er,” I say “an ow-er.”  Ow starts with a vowel.  How doesn’t.  Did I make this more confusing because hour and how both start with Hs?  How would one spell the sound a hard H makes?  Eight-ch?  Speaking of eight-ch, who decided that g and h should go together?  Ghod?  Probably not, right?  Any way, this whole thought process is giving me an headache.  It’s a probably as ghood a time as any to return to the list of failures goals I set for 2012. 

 

Goal 2:  Run the New York City Marathon

In December of last year, I had hit the nadir of my running life.

graphUnless nadir means top, in which case I mean zenith.  So in an effort to get back in the game and enjoy running again, I came up with an elaborate plan:

Step 1: I forced myself to run the NYC half marathon (check)

Step 2:  I swore I would run my personal record time for that race (check)

Step 3:  Right now, I amended step two to clarify the the word “record” could mean either the fastest or slowest time I’d ever run.  Both would be records, right?  (nailed it!) (suck it mildly severe cynicism!)

Step 4:  While on the 45 minute walk home from the finish line, shivering from the cold, dehydrated, hating running and myself, thinking of nothing other than how I never wanted to ever run ever again in my life for any reason whatsoever, decide that I should definitely run the New York City marathon this year.   (check)

Step 5:  Cancel my entry for the marathon even though canceling does not benefit in me in any way.  It is a courtesy to the New York Road Runners so that they can plan their race accordingly and order one less water.

Step 6:  Have ING and NYRR cancel the marathon and allow all entrants to run the race in a future year!  Except for those who canceled their entry as a courtesy to ING and NYRR.

So, I’m doubly screwed.  Since even if I had spent the entire year training for the marathon my dreams would have been shattered, I am calling this one a win!  Mission accomplished, MF’ers!  I’m a marathoner!

runpic2

Goal 3:  Visit the gym 120 times.

120 visits has been a steady goal of mine since 2008, when I first joined fancy pants Equinox on a whim.  I remember it well because Anne and I had just moved to the Upper West Side, and we both agreed that me joining the fancier (but closer & eucalyptus towel sporting) gym would most likely turn out to be an enormous waste of money.  But I was really lazy, so I disregarded our collective common sense and signed up for Equinox with the promise that I would make sure to visit 120 times for the year.  An impossible goal to achieve, but one that would justify the cost.

Turns out that it worked!  Maybe it was the eucalyptus towels, maybe it was the angle of the mirrors that made me appear slightly less pudgy than I really was, or maybe it was the layout of the locker room in the Connecticut gyms that ensures every other guy will walk nude for an extremely inappropriate distance before grabbing a towel.  No one can be sure.

Whatever it was that got me 120 times in 2008 did not help me this year, when I only had 110 visits.  Why even bother?   I did some research on this, and for optimal results, you should be working out 2 hours a day.  At least according to science:

How many days should i work out    Yahoo  Answers

How many days should i work out    Yahoo  Answers

Goal 4:  Write a blog post that is published by an online media outlet that shares a name with an animal typically found in zoos:

Whoa!  Nailed this one.  Great job, 2012 Rob!:

http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/12/9-things-i-learned-from-my-first-year-of-yoga-rob-pollak/

Readers, I’ll need your help to achieve a related goal in 2013.  Even after a really great day, fewer people viewed my article than viewed an article titled, “Your ugly vagina is normal and gorgeous.”  So if you want to make me more popular than an ugly vagina, then share my link!  By the way, I’m not linking to the ugly VJJ article for obvious reasons.  (the obvious reason being that you will click and then it will continue to rack up more views than my article).

Goal 5:  Build up my blog a little bit and then lose all of my followers.

Wait, that doesn’t seem like something 2011 me would set out to do.  Oh, ok 2012 Rob.  Then why mention an article about ugly vaginas?  You’re going to drive everyone away.  Or will I?  Google Analytics says that in 2012 the search term that most often directed people to my blog was “Jamaican Penis?”  (This is the space where I am providing a link to the post about Jamaica so no one has to click on a link with the word penis [but if you like clicking on penises, then this is for you: 8======> ) (FYI if you’re reading this mom – that’s internet slang for a picture of a penis).  So if you’ve found me through either of these search terms, Welcome!  Bienvenue!  Bonvenon!  G’Day!  And if that offended you, I’m sorry to see you go.  But at least I won’t have to draw any more thank you pictures.  See ya suckers.

Goal 6:  Eat 200 pints of ice cream.

Finally!  I totally nailed this one.  And not only did I accomplish it, I completed the whole thing by February.

icecream

Up next – My goals for 2013…if I get around to it.