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March 19, 2017

Personal bests feel better when you’re with friends: NYC Half race report

I hadn’t been this excited for a race in a while. On Sunday, I ran my second New York City Half Marathon and notched a personal best for a second consecutive year. While it felt great to drop that PR from 1:40:31 to 1:37.07, one of my biggest goals for running in 2017 was to get some friends more involved and have fun while chasing fast times.

We all know that running can be a pretty lonely sport at times and that can be the result of a variety of factors: work schedules, not being good enough to be on a college team, living far from friends, constant travel, schoolwork, etc. Part of me really missed the team aspect that came along with running track in high school. I was a sprinter so I never had the luxury of long runs with other people that shared a common goal of getting better. When I got to college, I wanted to stave off the “freshman 15” and started focusing on the 5K and one day the marathon. At 19, I ran my first 26.2 in Chicago and it went OK. I was content with 4:17 for someone who was an average high school sprinter just two years earlier. Most of my training was done alone and it’s been that way for the past six-ish years.

nyc half dormer distance projectLast summer, my friend Pete Cashin and I were slated to run the New York City Marathon together. Training was going very well and we felt especially proud of one particular long run in Central Park, where we closed in on our half marathon personal bests 13 miles into a 15-mile training session. Maybe not the best idea at the time but we felt great. Pete got a stress fracture just a few weeks later and the idea of running the five boroughs together was shelved for another year. He was still there to cheer me on but the 26.2 miles were not the same alone.

It was supposed to be his first marathon and he took a bit of a break from running after high school as a lot of people tend to do. When you watch the faces of relief and accomplishment that flash on people near the finish line area of a marathon, it’s a bug that bites. We plan on running the marathon together in November but we decided that we’d ease back into racing with a spring half.

Shooters shoot and so I texted a few other friends to come out of retirement and join me and Pete for 13.1 miles in March. Fellow Xavier High School graduates Kolbein Netland and John Maiocco ran with me and Pete on Sunday. Three of the four of us notched personal bests. Our high school coach, Pat Dormer, has graciously devoted a few extra minutes of his week to still write out our training plans since November and it worked. The man has now led to me personal bests from 200 meters to 26.2.

The running exploits of four has-beens from a Catholic high school in Manhattan are nothing special. But there’s a little bit more enjoyment that someone can get from running with friends and I’m looking forward to that more than any time on the clock in any race for this year. Sometimes you’ll have to overcome the initial questions of “How far is a half marathon?” or “What do I get at the end” to convince your friend to get out the door. Once that’s cleared, the process is fun.

There are times when I do prefer running alone but the training for this race and the constant texts regarding workouts, who ran faster, who is a baby (usually it was me) and what’s next have hooked me back in and it’s a refreshing look at training. I’ll gladly cast aside the loneliness of the long distance runner for a bit.

For those of you interested in how I did, which I don’t expect that to be anyone, here’s my Strava log:

Race report

Race: NYC Half Marathon

Date: March 19, 2017

Where: New York City, NY

Goal: Sub-1:40.31

Training

This year’s winter in New York was a little tougher than last year while I prepping for Boston. Due to the cold, I wasn’t able to get out as much and so I hammered on the treadmill at the gym constantly. The low point in training was mentally toughing out a 12-miler, which I hopped on four different treadmills to break up the monotony. There were some warmer days before some brutal cold fronts and I made sure to get more mileage in on those warm days. About a month to go before the race, I did a 12-miler from Queens to Manhattan that surprised me and had me on pace for a personal best. That was a major confidence booster before I ran the Rock ‘N’ Roll D.C. Half Marathon as a tune-up. (That’s a nice way of putting the fact that I mentally checked out after a terrible hill on Calvert Street after six miles that just killed my legs.) 1:44 on a bad day was an OK sign. I knew I’d fare better on a flatter and more familiar course.

Pre-race

Stood around, stretched and waited for John and Pete on the steps of the Plaza Hotel – where Kevin McAllister once stayed and received a cheese pizza before hopping in a limo. It was cold but I stayed warm in a winter jacket that I discarded and a nice pair of Zubaz pants.

Race

The first few miles were crowded as expected but John led me and Pete for the first five miles. At this point, I’m used to the bobbing and weaving that comes with big crowds in major marathons and races. We were still clicking off some 7:20s I believe and felt totally comfortable. We were flying faster than that memorable 15-miler last fall and we absolutely crushed Harlem Hill. Once that was done, we knew we were in good shape for the rest of the race. The first 5K was just what we wanted. Xavier High School doesn’t have a track in Manhattan and so much of the distance work is done in Central Park. Pete, Kolbein and John knew this like the back of their hand from those days and I’ve come to know the Three Sister Hills and Central Park from my own post-high school training.

The only issue that we had in these early parts of the race was starting to notice that our watches were recording mile splits a little earlier than the mile markers. I guess it could’ve been signal problems or just bag tangent running with the crowds.

The sixth mile felt great and so we knew we’d be cooking in Times Square. The roaring of the crowd was awesome and in a race where we discussed splitting 7:40’s or 7:30’s, it was a little shocking to dip into the 6:20 range while running through Times Square. As we previously shared on the site, we knew it would be the fastest we’d ever get through there. (Even by car) I tossed my winter cap and took in one of the most annoying places in the world.

Times Square can only last so long. (Kolbein tossed his headphones away before Times Square and then regretted it with the somewhat desolate Westside Highway). The pace was still faster than our initial target but we all felt great. The only bad wind came one a sharp turn out of 42nd and into the highway but that’s short-lived.

Pete and I  let John go ahead of us at Mile 6. (He was always better than us in high school and has run 1:31 before) We stuck together until I decided to put in a little bit of a surge at the Mile 9 water station. There was a high school kid who asked me what grade I was in…I needed to beat him. (Spoiler alert: I did.) I was alone for some of the closing miles. I spotted Citius Mag photo editor Jason Suarez just before my workplace on Liberty Street and gave him a nice “Wooooo!” to his camera. My good friend Fred Goris was also on hand to snap a photo there as well. Thank you to those guys for saving me money on buying one of the official photos.

I headed into the tunnel under Battery Park and started doing some math in my head. I was going to PR and I knew Pete and Kolbein probably would as well. I passed as many people as I could in the tunnel. That 20K marker then felt like a whole other mile followed but I was fine knowing that it was going to be a good day. I passed Pete’s parents and then made the turn onto Water on Wall Street.

I was all smiles coming into the finish line. About 30 seconds later, Pete rolled in as well. Kolbein followed later on. Personal bests all around. What a day.

Medals, space blankets, Guinness and burgers followed. The process was all worth it.

What’s to come? Brooklyn Half Marathon and the Soldier Field 10 Miler in May.

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