The announcements. The anthem. The gun. The Great Shuffle. 20 minutes later I reached the start line.
I felt great the first mile, targeting a nice slow (for me) 9:45. I ran what I felt to be that pace, and was really pleased that the course opened up about twice as wide as the corral, meaning I didn’t have to climb over people for the first stretch, as is usually the custom at NYRR races. Just as I was marveling how easy it was to weave through the pack, BAM! I hit the one mile mark, clocking 8:24.
“Whoa,” I thought, “I’d better slow down.” But I felt great. The pace felt easy, my feet felt light and I was really happy! I slowed down nonetheless, thinking maybe 9:15 for my second mile, but it was 8:42.
“F*** it!” I muttered happily, slapping my arm where I’d Sharpied my target splits. I adjusted a little more to come in at 9:01 for mile three. But the pace felt so easy. Central Park was gorgeous in the morning fog, daffodils popping out of little nooks and trees pregnant with pink and white buds. The air was cool and damp and fresh, and despite hitting Cat Hill mile 4 was 8:53.
As I crested the hill and hit the down slope I threw my head back and shouted, “YEAHHHH!” not caring if the other runners thought I was crazy. But they didn’t. A girl I recognized from my Subway stop yelled back, “I know, right?” and someone else laughed. And someone else shouted. And someone else cheered. That little group of us, at least, coasted down the West side of the park grinning.
Soon I was rounding the bend toward the start again and I knew the 6 mile mark wasn’t far ahead. I didn’t catch that split, but as I crossed the 10K mark I saw 54:19 on my watch and hooted at the fans, so dense and thick it seemed like the Park had disappeared and become a wall of skyward buildings. Then it hit me that I was running toward Times Square, the beating heart of New York City, and for once the tourists would not be in my damn way.
I heard bands playing at the sides, I cheerily waved at the NYPD, I dashed to the sidelines to high-five little kids sticking their hands out over the fence. I felt so good, like a pro athlete with a million fans on every street corner! And as I approached Times Square, where Broadway stars had come to sing to me (embarrassingly the song was ‘Mama Mia’), I burst into tears, so glad to be here in my home, in this great metropolis that can make you feel so small and so big at the very same time.
Then the West Side Highway. River. More river. Sparse fans. I had a twinge in my knee. More river. It felt like desolation. I checked my time at the 15K mark-1:21:48-and decided I could slow down dramatically and still crush my 2:04:00 goal, but that I’d try to maintain pace until the 10 mile mark.
Then suddenly I heard someone say “Hey guys, it’s [Cinnamon]! GO CINNAMON!!!” My team was volunteering at a drink stop and I knew I’d see them along the highway but I had no idea how excited I would feel when I saw them! I waved and dashed over to grab a cup of water, cheering right back to them. My first fans in a NYC race! My first team! I was so filled with giddy appreciation and warm fuzzy happy feelings that I smoked right by the 10 mile mark and sped up.
Not long after I saw my friend C. up ahead of me. We’re usually pretty close, but she’d been training really hard for the half, where I’ve been taking it easy until three weeks ago so she should have been way ahead of me. I ran up to her and said she looked great. She grimaced and said her leg was cramping pretty bad. “We’re almost there! Guaranteed sub-2!” I chirped, hoping to cheer her. “Come on!” But she smiled wanly and waved me ahead so off I bolted toward the 11 mile mark.
Mile 11 was long, it was straight, lots of river, sparse fans, but in the last 5k and still feeling great I wasn’t about to let a little boredom keep me away from a killer time. I cursorily calculated in my head it was possible for me to come in close to 1:54:00 and I visualized that, seeing the time and hearing the crowd and imagining my friends congratulating me. I passed the 12 mile marker feeling another twinge of pain in my left calf along the outer side of my shin-something related to my meniscus going on there, a tendon or something. I checked my pace for a tiny moment, but it wasn’t so bad so I pushed on, adjusting my pace to give the last mile everything I had.
Suddenly we hit a downhill slope and I could see a quarter mile of runners ahead of me disappearing into the dark tunnel where the West Side Highway crosses beneath Battery Park. I could hear them shouting into the echo as I bounded down into the tunnel, me and the crowd around me shouting too. One at a time we took up the cheer, loud and louder, hooting and screaming and yelling. I shrieked with joy, leading the pack into a last series of cheers and shouts just as we emerged into daylight. It became a roar as our eyes adjusted and we saw a huge sign reading “800m to finish.”
I lost track of the time, not caring anymore, thinking only of pacing for an 800m run, visualizing a double loop around the track. I checked in with my calves and knees-not great but not bad-and lengthened my stride. I tried to push into the next gear but discovered I was already topped out. People started passing me left and right. It was fine, I told myself, it just meant I had done my best the whole race.
Then I turned a corner and there was the 400. I forced my legs into a faster stride. I beamed at the cheering fans and pushed hard, fighting the urge to drop back every time someone dashed easily ahead of me. I wasn’t going slow; I knew I was giving it everything I had. I told myself it was okay since I accidentally went out too fast, but I refused to give myself permission to slow down at all. Then I saw it. The finish! I pushed and pushed, but I had nothing left to give. I didn’t care. I knew I was doing great.
Happy tears welled in my eyes as I dashed over the line. I switched my watch off and the tears turned to sobbing which turned to gasping for air. I winced, really feeling the pain in my calf. It seemed so silly to care about the numbers after I had so much fun but I hesitantly stole a glance at my watch. My final time was 1:54:29, almost 10 minutes faster than my goal and my personal best for a half marathon!