Sunday, October 14, 2012

Race Report: Grete's Great Gallop (Half Marathon)

Hold on Meb Keflezighi, I'm gonna let you finnish, but Grete Waitz is the best NYC marathon runner of all time. 

Today I ran in Grete's Great Gallop, a half marathon named after the greatest NYC marathon runner of all time, Grete Waitz. She was a Norwegian long distance runner who won the NYC marathon nine times. And by all accounts she was an amazing human being with incredible sportsmanship and an advocate for women and sports. She was a very close friend of Fred Lebow (the founder of the NYC marathon) and can be seen in the documentary Run For Your Life, running her final NYC marathon in 1992 with him after he was diagnosed with brain cancer. It took them over 5 hours. In 2011 she lost her own battle with cancer. I know several people who have been touched by her legacy.

I wasn't sure how today would go. I knew I was going to finish the race, but I didn't know how I was going to feel. It was the longest distance I've run since finishing the race in Cape Town in April.

Waitz's husband and long-time partner opened up the ceremonies, someone sang the national anthem and we were off! I made myself hold back a bit during the first few miles, which I think was the right thing to do. What kinds of things do I think about during a long race? Holding back for one thing. Today I thought about how four years ago (November will be four years since I ran my first marathon, NYC 2008) I thought of myself as a solid ten-minute miler. The NYC marathon was not only my first marathon but it was also my first race ever. Even though I've been a runner since my middle school years I never hung out with serious runners before and I didn't have a real frame of reference for what ten-minute miles means. I thought that was pretty good, I guess. I still do! I guess I just hadn't experienced what it was like to feel competitive, both competitive with others and with oneself. Today I thought about this, and I thought about how it is somehow miraculous that now it's hard to run as slow as a ten minute mile. I looked down at my watch: 8:30s on the uphills and 8:00s on the downhills. I'm in better shape than I was in my 20s.

At some point my shoe became untied and I had to stop and tie it. It happened again. This time I double knotted it but it was too tight. I had to stop and retie it a third time. I don't know how much time I lost. After stopping for the third time, I looked down at my watch and saw a 12-something minute mile and cursed outloud. I looked up and saw one of my coworkers in the crowd. Oh shit, I thought. I hope he didn't see me say "Goddamnit. Fuck."

By mile 8 I had slowed down to about 9 minute miles, give or take. At mile 10 I hit a wall. I don't remember ever hitting a wall in a half before but my legs felt really heavy and I felt like I was running against air made of oatmeal. At this point, on an uphill (is Central Park made completely of hills?) when I was really feeling defeated, a cool breeze seemed to come out of nowhere and I swear I felt like it was Grete's spirit uplifting me, encouraging us all to keep going. These are the things I think about when I'm running a long distance, to keep me going. Thank you, Grete.

Earlier, around mile 8 I think, I ended up near a woman who was making really loud and dramatic sex noises on an uphill. I mean she was one "oh god" away from being Sally in the restaurant scene in When Harry Met Sally. I kind of laughed a little because I'm juvenile (between blowing snot rockets: I'm not saying I'm not responsible for doing weird things when I run). I bring this up because I could not get away from this woman. For the rest of the race, every time I thought that I'd lost her, there she was, still making Sally sex noises. Uphill, downhill, it didn't matter.

At mile 11 I realized that I was in real danger of not getting under 2 hours in this race. How is this possible, I thought. I was in a real panic. I kept looking at my watch and doing the math and really did not know how I had run this race so slowly. This is when I ran my hardest. My legs were tired and I felt disoriented but just like the Grateful Dead, I kept on truckin'. Because of this I felt pretty strong finishing even though I was probably running a full minute slower than my pace at the beginning.

Final time was...wait for it...1:59:57! Not my best half marathon time ever, but I got under two hours.

They passed out bagels and smoked salmon at the end of the race. 

Me and Shamala. Her husband, Paul, got 7th place overall! 

I enjoyed a veggie burger topped with a fried egg at Maggie Browns, with my friend Jon (who also ran today) and his girlfriend and kids. 


  1. Nice job staying strong at the end! I love the image of "Sally" on the race course. Some people sure make some weird@$$ sounds when running.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. I looked to see if you posted a race report, but maybe you didn't run yesterday...

  3. I have a "Sally" in one of my yoga classes, too. And it seems like she always squeezes in right beside me.
    Your running is impressive and inspirational.

  4. Thanks Karin. Your yoga is equally as impressive!