Running on Tilt

The Bronx Half

The Bronx Half-Marathon, my kind of church, entering phase 2

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The scene at the Bronx High School of Science on Sunday morning before the half marathon reminded me of being at church with my in-laws. Over the holidays I joined my wife and her parents for a service. The churchgoers seemed in synch, chit-chatting. Though some pray far more than others, they form a community with a shared set of general values. I am not religious, and though I appreciated the friendliness of the service and the value of its rituals, it was in a way completely inaccessible to me.

As I sat alone at a round table, pinning my bib to my singlet, a running acquaintance arrived. Then another, named George. George told us that she is running the Arctic Marathon in April. Several years ago she ran the Antarctic Marathon, and she has run the New York City Marathon twice. An interesting set of races. The conversation we had, and the rituals of pinning the bibs to our racing tops and tying the chips to the shoes—even the pre-race jockeying for the Porty Potties—these all made sense, profoundly so. It was like the church service, except this time I was a member of that church.

At the starting line I was approached by a Central Park Track runner named David Putterman. I don’t really know David, but I recognized him from a few track workouts. He was looking for someone to run with and asked what my pace would be. I told him about 6:50 per mile. He told me that he was looking to do 6:20s, as he wanted to a finish in an hour and twenty-three minutes to qualify for the New York City Marathon. We wished each other luck.

My plan was to run 6:50s for the first eight miles, then see what I could do for the last five. The course was slightly hilly, with wide, winding boulevards flanked by expansive buildings. There are interesting sight-lines, including on several out-and-back sections where you can see the other competitors. The stragglers, as always, were more boisterous than the frontrunners. The weather was great for running, 50 degrees or so, and the wind was strong enough to make drafting a legitimate strategy.

I recovered from a minor stitch and heavy legs early in the race to run a succession of miles in the 6:40 to 6:50 range, steadily working my way through the pack. At the 9-mile mark, I reminded myself that it was now a four-mile race. All was well and good until mile 11 on the Mosholu Parkway when the type of physiological breakdown that seems inevitable on these long races took place, and my cadence slowed considerably. I was able to recover over the last three quarters of a mile to the finish, working off and outkicking a runner who had passed me. I finished in 1:29:30, which is a few minutes faster than the only other half-marathon I had ever run, the Rochester Half in 2006.

I’ll take it. It was humbling, though—the same thought crossed my mind as it had at the end of the Rochester Half, that I don’t know how on earth I’m going to add another 13 miles on top of that first 13. I now enter phase 2 of the training, which will include ramping the mileage from 40-50 miles a week, to 50-60 miles per week. I also need to start incorporation some runs of 15 miles or more.

After the race I saw David, who finished in one hour, twenty-three minutes, and two seconds, just two seconds off the time required for automatic entrance to the New York City Marathon. Maybe the powers-that-be will take pity and let him in.