Ahead by Half? Why Rush? Keep Fit at the Central Park Half Marathon

Kelly Laffey (RT) and friends are all smiles at the Central Park Half Marathon
Kelly Laffey (RT) and friends are all smiles at the Central Park Half Marathon, Photo: K. Laffey

On Sunday I ran the Central Park Half Marathon, and I was reminded why the half is the fastest-growing distance race in the sport of running.

I signed up for the race back in December so it would serve as a motivator for training through the winter. It was a good move, as Long Island’s pounding snowstorms provided ample options to stay indoors, instead of hitting the streets. Having a race on the horizon is something I can’t recommend enough for people who want to get in shape. Tangible goals hold you accountable.

So, before I even toed the line, I had accomplished what I had set out to do. I ran through bitter cold, woke up at the crack of dawn to beat a nor’easter, and hit the gym when black ice was a threat. I’ll admit that I started to lose steam around mid-February, when the area’s umpteenth polar vortex started to weigh on my mentality. I forced myself to pick it up again the last week, as I thought about the prospect of running with two former college track teammates. It would be the fist time we’d raced together in almost four years.

The lack of pressure at the start was compounded by the fact that a friend set her wedding for the night before. Not wanting to miss it, I danced at Giorgio’s in Baiting Hollow—substituting wedge boots for the more typical wedding footwear of high heels, in a sad attempt to save my feet—until 9:50 p.m. and then booked it to Ronkonkoma to catch the LIRR into the city.

The wedding-to-half plan’s execution has left me in a bit of a daze. Apparently the New York City Subway System does maintenance after midnight, and I found myself blowing past the 110th Street stop, trapped until the doors finally opened in the high 150s.

For those of you who, like me, had never taken the subway above 90th or so, it’s not so much scary as inconvenient. (In fact, I was far more intimidated by the infamous Harlem Hill, which snakes up the west side of Central Park for almost a half mile.) I made it back, crashing at my friend’s sometime around 1:30 a.m.

This would have been a bigger issue had I been doing a higher-profile race. My previous two halfs have been at Disney World, where protocol requires you to wake up around 3 a.m. to catch a shuttle to the start and to have time to walk amongst 15,000+ racers to your starting corral. This time, we woke up just after 7 a.m. for the 8 a.m. start, made some coffee, and jogged toward Central Park at about 7:40 a.m.

A note about coffee and racing—if you usually drink coffee in the morning, I’ve found that it helps to drink it on race day. Do it early, so you won’t find yourself cramping up during the run.

I quickly learned that the other difference between a high- and low-profile race is the amount of effort put into race execution. The Central Park Half was beautiful, but there were not a lot of people lining the course to cheer and motivate.

The race itself didn’t go as well as I had hoped. This was only my third half, and I finished within seconds of the 1:43 I notched when I ran my first, four years ago. But there was plenty to celebrate as my friend Erin took first overall for women with a time of 1:28. Speedy.

Regardless of the outcome, all halfs are best served with a post-race brunch. We headed to East Ender Sarabeth Levine’s namesake Sarabeth’s on 86th, where we indulged in Eggs Benedict, mimosas and girl talk.

This was my first half in two years, and I had forgotten why they’re my favorite distance. I’m definitely not waiting another two years to sign up for the next one—see you at the Bridgehampton Half on May 10. Get training!

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