Signing up for the 2015 NYC Half this past winter after a lifetime of extremely amateur running made me feel like Cinderella with a dozen fairy godmothers. All of a sudden, every runner I knew (and even runners I didn’t know) had magical advice for me. “Train outside all the time, even when it’s snowing!” “Buy a bunch of Body Glide and rub it on everything!” “Get really angry and use that as fuel!” (Those pieces of advice came from three different people, but the idea of using it all at once is weirdly appealing.)
Lovely as it was to feel supported by my experienced friends, the biggest lessons awaited me in training and on race day in Central Park. What did I learn that they couldn’t teach me?
1. Your Foot Modeling Career Is Probably Over Once I started serious, five-days-a-week training runs, I developed a massive blister on my left instep (that eventually turned into a very useful callus). Two weeks later, my right foot had one to match, and by race day, my right pinkie toenail had split all the way down the middle. Turns out, there are some parts of the body that won’t like training no matter how cleverly you go about it. Fortunately, the rest of my body was more than fine with it. So long, fancy pedicures; hey there, best legs of my life.
2. The Treadmill Is Fine, But It’s Not the Road How about that miserable winter we just had, eh? Risking sickness and injury by training outside would have been bananas, right? I came up with lots of reasons why I had to run on the treadmill instead of the sidewalk, and some of them were awfully good. That said, even the steepest mechanical incline couldn’t teach me to power through gusts of icy wind and weave around other runners—and it certainly didn’t prepare me for X factors like getting stuck to the road when some fool poured Gatorade on my shoes.
3. You Should Practice Your Race-Day A.M. Getaway Learning to pull away from runners who could be slowing you down is one thing; learning to pull away from your own pokey morning routine is something else. I thought I’d planned my race day like the first day of kindergarten: My clothes were stacked on the dresser, my breakfast was pre-planned, my shower was quick and businesslike. Somehow I still fell so far behind schedule that I very nearly missed starting the race with my assigned group. Weird things happen before the sun comes up. Budget your time accordingly.
4. You Don’t Need a Playlist Blah blah beats per minute blah blah inspirational music blah. As my wave of runners prepared for our start, the loudspeakers encouraged us to “CUE UP THOSE PLAYLISTS!”—and almost no one reached for their ear buds. Why run a public race if you’re going to disappear into your own head for it?
5. You Do Need Pockets Even though I was the soul of minimalism at the starting line, I still found myself with a subway pass that needed to go…somewhere. I tucked it into the waistband of my shorts and hoped for the best—which was not what I got. Five miles later, as I ran through Times Square, the pass had migrated where the sun don’t shine. Singular as that experience was, I think I’ll make sure I have a zippered pocket next time.
6. Running Is a Team Sport At mile 12 of the race, the course dove underground and we entered the blackness of the Battery Tunnel. No cheering friends, no curious bystanders, just a pack of runners and excellent acoustics. I grinned as the encouragements of the runners themselves bounced off the concrete walls, and I added a few ululations of my own. Then the woman next to me turned and chanted, oh so quietly, “I believe that we will win.” That Tim Howard tweet—Team USA’s rallying cry in the World Cup—happens to be my weak spot. My eyes welled up, and I chanted to myself. I believe that we will win. Out of the tunnel, up through the finish line: I believe that we will win.
7. A Post-Run Drink Is Good; A Post-Run Disco Nap Is AMAZING My husband and I (and a few hundred fellow runners and spectators) raised a post-race glass at Fraunces Tavern, which happens to be the end of the pub crawl George Washington led after the British finally left New York at the end of the Revolutionary War. Calling it inspirational is an understatement. Calling me a zombie at that point is an even greater understatement, which is why I took a cab home, took a bubble bath, and experienced what was far and away the best nap of my life. I then had the energy to really celebrate my first half-marathon—and yeah, I put my medal back on. I suggest you do likewise.
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