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Fred Lebow Manhattan Half Recap

The NYRR Fred Lebow Manhattan Half was not only my first race in 2018, it was also the first race I have trained seriously for since my debut marathon in NYC last year. Since I will be leaving the US in a couple of months, I plan to run as many NYRR races as possible, and to enjoy each one as best (and as fast) as I can.

Virtual Trainer

In preparation for the FLMH, I signed up for the NYRR Virtual Trainer and followed the 10-week training programme, logging 51 entries and averaging 31 miles per week. I even managed to complete a 12-mile run on a treadmill in Sri Lanka. I admit it wasn’t fun or pretty running for nearly two hours on ancient treadmill in an abandoned room but I am glad I did it. I know this is a fact of life with marathon training, some runs are amazing and a few are just horrible. Maybe the terrible ones help to build character and makes one a stronger runner. I am not sure, but at least I can brag about my stupidity.

The Race

With ten weeks of training in the bag, I felt pretty strong and ready for the half marathon. Only three days before race day, I accidentally learned from a NYRR runner that the FLHM race course wasn’t the usual two loops around Central Park but consisted of three smaller, more challenging loops with the full joys and pleasures of Cat Hill (elevation gain of 60 feet) x3 and Harlem Hill (elevation gain of 110 feet) x2. I knew it was such a rookie mistake not to study the course early in the game but at this point there wasn’t much I could do. As our running coaches would say, “the hay is already in the barn”, I just needed to execute my race strategy and put the PR goal in the back burner.

Race Morning – first world problems

Race day pretty much kicked off in a series of petty first world problems. My alarm didn’t go off (or more correctly I didn’t set it right), my headphones were broken, and my husband’s headphones wouldn’t pair with my iPhone. I had no choice but to run 13.1 miles without music. The worst bit was I couldn’t listen to Dua Lipa for more than two hours! Well, her music wasn’t made for running but lately I just got super addicted to her.

Ok, back to race morning story telling. It turned out I did wake up with enough time for a quick breakfast, a good drink of water, a poop session and a warm-up jog to the start line on 94th Street. The weather was cool and crisp, or rather it was unexpectedly warm given some ass-freezing record low temperatures only two weeks ago. The sky was beautiful sea of blue-purple tint with an orange glow. In other words it was perfect race condition.

Start line

By the time I got to my start corral, they were already singing the national anthem. The race would start in a couple of minutes, so I quickly slipped into my corral. It was time to come to terms with my headphone issues, I tucked them away and focused on the start. I sipped some water and took a couple of deep breathes to calm my mind.

Running the race

Now that my headphones wouldn’t work, I might as well try to make the most of it and engage with the race experience. Without music to distract me, I felt greater awareness of my surroundings, I could focus on my breathing, running form and cadence. More importantly I was better at avoiding collisions, sharp elbows, and even paying attention to some interesting running outfits on the course.

My Race Strategy

Central Park was my home base and I knew all the rolling hills pretty much by heart. But it was always good to have a strategy, mine was divided roughly into three sections: Mile 1-5 settling into a pace, Mile 6-10 keeping up with the pace, Mile 11-13 pushing harder, and final 0.1 mile emptying the tank (which never happened). Cat Hill at Miles 2, 7 and 12 and Harlem Hills at Miles 5 and 10. My vague plan was to go medium effort level on the hills and up another notch for the subsequent downhill.

Mile 1-5. I started out conservatively, focused on my breathing and felt the oxygen lifting me up. Coaches Daphne and Ann were cheering us right at the start line and you could hear them on their loudspeakers a mile away. The race would be so different and much less fun without these super coaches. The first loop and Cat Hill #1 went pretty well, and I felt a good rhythm going.

Mile 6-10. My next goal was to get 7 miles down within one hour, just so that I could run in line with my predicted finish time. I reminded myself that it was ok not to PR on this tough course. I took some energy gel around mile 6, and for the next few miles I picked a few different runners to follow. At Mile 10, NYRR coaches Ben, Daphne and Ann were high-fiving runners at the top of Harlem Hill. Seeing them gave me a much needed push to get over the last of the 110 feet incline.

Mile 11-12. I was beginning to run out of steam. My original plan was to go harder but now I wasn’t sure if I had much left in me. My legs were feeling a little wobbly and my mind was going. What's up now? How much time do I need to run the remaining 3 miles? 25-27 minutes? Can I do this? Oh yes, it's just my training pace, I can do this. So I kept going. Then at Mile 12 Cat Hill #3, I saw a handful of runners slowing to a walk. I was so tempted to join them but I reminded myself: Running is better than jogging, jogging is better than walking, walking is way better than stopping. So I shuffled on and got over the hill.

Mile 13 was a blur. The last 0.1 mile felt like a lifetime as my watch was already showing 13.3 miles! Somehow I made it to the end. I wasn’t sure about my time. Was it a PR? It doesn't matter, I've had a great race and a lot of fun!

I couldn't wait to share my result and pictures with my family in Hong Kong over WhatsApp. My mum isn't much into running but she would always send me a thumbs-up emoji. It's cute. Now it's time to get a celebratory beer with hubby!

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