The Staten Island course is an out-and-back jaunt along the waterfront that tours runners through the eastern side of the island, with lovely views of Manhattan to the north and past the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge—famous as the start of the ING New York City Marathon. We ran through busy neighborhood centers, industrial back roads and residential streets, past shops, jovial construction workers who cheered us on and locals watching from their porches.
To get to the start, NYRR encouraged runners coming from Manhattan to take the Staten Island Ferry. Come 7 a.m. on Oct. 7, I loaded onto the ferry from Manhattan’s southern most point for the 30-minute ride to the island across the harbor.
The ferry ride itself is remarkable for two reasons: 1) It’s free. In New York City, that alone is worth noting, and 2) It affords perfect views of the Statue of Liberty as your cruise by. The largest of the ferries is capable of carrying up to 5,200 passengers, just under the 5,798 people who finished this year’s race.
My husband and I met one of his friends who was also running and quickly bumped into two of my running teammates. We all stayed together until the start, plotting and scheming our individual racing plans, chatting about marathon training and fall running. I was glad to have people to commiserate and worry with.
They gave me a pep talk, and come 8:30 a.m. I was in my corral for the gun.
The Staten Island Half Marathon was my fifth half-marathon of 2012 and my 50th race ever. It was the big target half of my fall season for one big reason—to set my goal time for the Philadelphia Marathon on Nov. 18, 2012. I wanted to run it hard and I wanted to run it fast.
I set two simple goals for the race:
1) Set a PR
2) Run a sub-2 hour half-marathon
Okay, maybe not so simple.
With a half-marathon PR set just 8 months before, I was determined to lower the bar even further. Virtually all my training this year—save a sprint triathlon reprieve in May and June—was focused on the half-marathon distance, all with the goal of going sub-2.
I first made this resolution in January 2010. Two attempts that year—at the Brooklyn Half Marathon and Montreal Half Marathon—fell short by a long shot, but I at least set a new 2:07 half-marathon PR.
Come 2012, I made going sub-2 my main focus. I ran the Tinker Bell Half Marathon in California as a training run and warm-up for my first attempt on the sub-2 goal: Disney’s Princess Half Marathon in Florida. I ran hard and had fun too, pausing for a few photos along the way. I finished, completely out a gas, in 2:05:15. Even if I subtracted the photo stops, which totaled two minutes at most, I wouldn’t have hit sub-2. But I was happy with a PR.
I ran the NYC Half in March and the Yonkers Half Marathon in September as training runs to keep my legs familiar with the distance. And from August through September I drilled my half-marathon pace into my body clock with weekly speed and tempo runs.
When I lined up at the start in Staten Island, I was primed and ready.
It was a cloudy 50-degree day with low wind and 61 percent humidity. I took the first two miles intentionally slowly as a warm-up and then eased into my planned pace, right around a 9-minute mile.
The Staten Island course is mostly flat with a few small hills and one large climb at mile 9. Since it’s an out and back course, you can see the big hill coming, literally, from four miles away. As you crest a long, but small climb at mile 5, a gloriously steep downhill slope greets you. But the flip side of the coin is you know you’ll be climbing that hill at mile 9 when you’re on the other side of the street in the “back” portion of the course. I’d been warned about the hill from runners who raced Staten Island in the past. So I spent the next four miles mentally steeling myself for it.
In the meantime, I waved hello to my husband and a few teammates as we past each other in opposite directions; the fun part of out and back courses is seeing your friends as you run past each other on opposite sides of the street. It helped make up for the small amount of spectators along the course, who were mostly concentrated near the start and the finish.
By the time I hit the monster hill, I was feeling strong and 20 seconds ahead of pace for a sub-2 finish. I hoped that was enough time in the bank. I knew it would be close. So I chugged up the hill at a slow jog, trying to conserve energy and hoping not loose too much time. But I lost 40 seconds that mile. It was my slowest mile of the race.
At mile 10, I looked at my watch: I was now 30 seconds behind pace. So I gunned it. I managed to eke out an 8:50 mile 11 and a 9:05 mile 12, but I’d surged too soon. I couldn’t sustain it and a tiny hill in the final mile did me in; my quads were done. I finished in 2:00:30. My overall pace was 9:12 per mile. I needed to be at 9:09. I missed sub-2 by 30 seconds.
But I was surprised at myself. I wasn’t heartbroken. I wasn’t even upset. I was happy. I knew I gave it my all and ran a mostly smart race by going out slow and not trying to kill the hill—my second half was only 24 seconds slower than the first, largely because of that hill. There was nothing left in my legs or my lungs in that last mile. I had no final surge to give. I’d left it all out there on the streets on Staten Island. I couldn’t have asked myself for more than that.
And, heck, I’d still posted a personal best by a whopping 4 minutes and 45 seconds, in just under 8 months no less. I’ll take that feather in my cap.
And so, I succeeded in setting myself up nicely for the 2012 Philadelphia Marathon. I officially set my goal time after consulting no less than three pace calculators, which all agreed on one thing: I can run it in 4:15.
With three long runs and six weeks until the race, I know I can do it. Here goes!
Karla Bruning is host of On The Run, New York Road Runner’s weekly lifestyle web show about running. She has completed four marathons, two triathlons and trains with the New York Harriers. Follow Karla’s “Notes From a Running Nerd” at RunKarlaRun.com, Facebook and Twitter@KBruning.