United Airlines NYC Half Marathon

United Airlines NYC Half Marathon medal

On March 18th some 21,965 runners completed the NYC Half Marathon in the cold and the wind on a brand new course. I enjoyed a first by starting from the back of the pack and running for fun rather than a PB. (More on that later).

The NYC Half is a headline Spring race from the New York Road Runners, (NYRR), and a real favourite. NYRR put on excellent events; well organised, well communicated, well staffed, well marketed. They’ve got the whole shutting down the streets thing completely down, along with the setup and tear down of race day infrastructure. The whole organisation is impressive.

Guaranteed (non-complimentary) entry is through regular NYRR channels, which is to say – win a lottery place, pay for a charity spot, qualify through the 4+1 race program, or run a qualifying time.

United Airlines NYC Half Marathon manhattan bridgeThe race ran a new route this year, expanding its reach beyond Manhattan and venturing into Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for the start. From there it runs across the Manhattan Bridge and north through iconic Times Square and into Central Park for a finish that conjures up the feeling of the NYC marathon. (Times Square is generally only closed off twice a year – at New Year’s Eve, and for this classic half marathon).

I ran last year on the old course and achieved my first sub-2 hour half so I’m fond of this race. This year was a difficult race for me on a number of levels. It was also rewarding and fun. So before I make it personal let me talk you around the route.

NYC Half Marathon : Route map

Let’s talk about this new course. I thought it was truly brilliant and I love it. It’s certainly an improvement. 

United Airlines NYC Half Marathon elevation profile data
[Approximate elevation profile data]

Miles 1 – 2 : Brooklyn

United Airlines NYC Half Marathon route mapGood downhills that seem to go on forever get you started and warmed up. I suspect everyone appreciated this on the day as it really was pretty cold (-1 Celsius)

The Manhattan Bridge

The metal bridge is itself pretty cool and gives fantastic views over both the Brooklyn Bridge to the south and the iconic Manhattan skyline. (From south to north the three bridges across the East River are the Brooklyn Bridger [Blocks of stone], Manhattan Bridge [Metal] and the Williamsburg bridge – their initials, BMW, should help with recall).

Miles 5 – 6 : FDR Drive

Once on Manhattan there’s a tight turn, and eventually a ramp up onto the FDR followed by a slog along the highway to 42nd street. This middle section was a bit of a battle into a head wind. I certainly felt the cold and the wind here. This is where my still-injured calf decided it had done enough, frustratingly less than half way through the route.

Mile 7 : 42nd street

West along 42nd street heading for the Times Square turn.The crowds start to appear and you sense that Times Square is close. It’s a gentle but consistent uphill here as you contemplate the halfway point of the route.

Mile 8 : Time Squares

Having lived in Manhattan over four years I feel I belong and thus avoid Times Square like the plague. It’s just so over the top touristy. But being able to race down the closed streets with cheering crowds is a different thing altogether. It’s amazing and a real race highlight. Running south to north means you’re on a small incline up to Central Park. (The best and only time to be in Times Square is crazy early in a chill November morning as you board the NYC marathon busses headed for the Staten Island start line! ?)

Mile 9 – 13.1 : Central Park

I’m completely biased and in love with the park. I know it well and it’s a wonderful resource. Cat Hill is the main steep section, though it’s short and out of the way early. What follows is lots of flat and downhill. Pleasingly the route takes the 102nd street transverse, cutting out what would be a hellish climb up Harlem Hill in the north west of the park. There’s 3 short rolling inclines as you head back south toward the finish and you end with a stonking half mile of descent to the finish at 75th street.

So there you have it – an improved course with an even bigger sense of occasion.

Running from the back

support team poster for the United Airlines NYC Half MarathonI was conflicted about this race long before the start or finish. That conflict became manifest when my calf muscle broke down at mile six. Whilst I brooded over that for some time I do carry great memories of the day. It was a big focal point for several reasons.

First, we’d already committed to leaving NYC and moving back to the UK just a couple of weeks after the race. With everything that entailed and not expecting to have as much time I’d deliberately committed to a lower mileage training plan. I started that plan a couple of weeks late due to indecision. Psychologically I felt behind. Add to this that I was carrying an injury, having pulled a calf muscle 2 weeks prior, then tweaked it again at the start of the week leading up to the race. Clearly I wasn’t looking to PB.

With our time in NYC counting down and a good friend also running, it seemed a better plan to run for fun and appreciate some time together, at least for the start of the race. So we travelled together and dropped back in the pack for the start. We spent the rest of the race shoulder to shoulder talking all the way and that makes me feel extremely happy.

Room for improvement

This is how I ended up running my first race, not for a PB, but for fun. It’s how I started my first  race from the back of the pack. That was a new experience and one I should like to have been better prepared for.

I assumed with Wave-2 starting at 0815 that all the Wave-2 corals would start as one, albeit with us at the back of coral L taking a while to walk to the line. But instead each coral was started separately at roughly two-minute intervals in a bid to reduce congestion on the route. So as Wave-2 started out and I realised we’d grow increasingly cold for another 24 minutes I started to get grumpy. That’s what happens when you assume!

Counter to this I was fully prepared for the finish line and the exit funnel from the park. Security is rightly a big concern and they insist on channelling finishers the full half mile to a single exit point at Columbus Circle whilst policing all the possible exit points along the way. This is the cost of security at headline events. I’m bitter only because my apartment was 2 blocks from finish line and I could be home in 6 minutes if they’d just let me hop the barrier!

waiting at the start line of the NYRR United NYC Half MarathonI learned very directly that its possible to run through pain, and that one invariably ends up paying it back with interest when it comes to recovery.

My own fragility and poor planning aside I heartily recommend the NYRR NYC Half. The newly redesigned course is a beauty. It’s truly iconic.

What has been you favourite race and why?


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