So I did it! I got through the Staten Island Half Marathon with an enormous sense of gratitude and appreciation for my body.
Last Sunday, Oct. 8th, I got through my first half marathon and also the longest consecutive distance I’ve ever ran in my life. With countless days spent limping around, wearing knee braces, and worrying about not being properly trained for 13.1 miles of running, I definitely had fears about the race. However, to my pleasant surprise, I actually had possibly one of the best experiences of my life that morning.
The race began at 8am but as I was in Wave 2, I wasn’t scheduled to begin until 8:30am. My friend and coworker Chelsea and I planned to meet at 6:30am to Uber it to the Whitehall Terminal for the 7am Staten Island Ferry (we both live in Lower Manhattan so it would only take us 10 minutes to get there). On Saturday, I hadn’t “carb-loaded” noticeably more than I normally do for my meals, since I eat a large proportion of carbs daily anyway, but I did try to stray from meat and fatty foods that night. I had some Shepherd’s Pie with minced beef and mash potatoes, and a small serving of white rice, chili and black beans for dinner. I also made sure to stay thoroughly hydrated all throughout the day (I probably had at least 3L of water).
The next morning, my first alarm was set for 5am. I had tossed and turned and woken up a few times during the night, so by the time I got out of bed at 5:15am, I had gotten about 6 hours of slightly broken sleep. I took a nice warm shower and for breakfast, I had 2 slices of whole wheat bread with peanut butter, a cup of coffee, and 2-3 cups of water. By 6:35, I was in the car with Chels and we were on our nervously excited way to the ferry.
Although it was warm and humid, the forecast had included thunderstorms that morning, exactly for the entire duration of the race. Because it wasn’t raining that morning however, I decided to forego the windbreaker and instead, just opted for my long sleeve, polyester mesh tank, shorts and Adidas cap (it would be my first time running with a hat on). Chels and I also had matching running waistbags to hold our phone and I also had a few cough drops for my run.
6:50am – We arrive at the terminal and joined the hundreds of other runners in their racing gear, ready to board the ferry.
7am – We are on the ferry, got a seat, and still hydrating. I took off my shoes during the ride to massage out the arches of my feet since they had been tight from standing at work all week. Towards the end of the ride, I ate my now mushy banana and shuffled my way out of the PACKED ferry with all the other commuting runners. When we got off, we made sure to use the bathroom first at the terminal before heading to the race site.
8am – We followed the other runners to the race site which was only about a 5 minute walk from the terminal. After the security check, we chose a spot to begin stretching and doing last minute hair fix-ups and each popped one cough drop. I decided to use the bathroom once more to avoid nervous bladder issues later, since we were right by the Porter-Potties. By now, the sky had already turned gray and gloomy and started misting down right as the first wave of runners began.
8:15am – Finished using the nasty bathrooms, and by the time I got back to Chelsea, it had begun raining, the drizzle picking up in intensity as we made our way to the start line. Unfortunately, because it was both our first half, we didn’t know if we had to line up with our corrals or could all begin together so we followed the security’s instructions and separated accordingly (Chels was H and I was J). We parted ways after a last warm embrace and didn’t meet again until the finish. At this point I was jittering from nervousness and at the thought of pushing through the next 2 hours alone.
8:30am – As a mob, Wave 2 slowly made little steps towards the start line until 5-10 minutes later, I finally picked up a slow light jog and began!
Honestly, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect for a final finish time, nor did I know what my body would be capable of handling as a race pace. But rather than worry about all these technicalities, I focused instead on keeping my head up, spirits high, and mental game strong.
Miles 1-4:Heavy downpour, winds, and humidity. I used the first 3-4 miles as a nice, easy controlled warmup. Although I was tempted to speed ahead at the beginning from the adrenaline rush, I reminded myself that there was a ways to go, and to keep a steady pace to get my body warmed up on this new terrain. I had been stuck in the middle of the mob of runners when we just started out and ended up weaving in and out of different pairs or groups of runners for the first 2 miles. By mile 3 however, I was feeling myself get into the rhythm of my 9:20 pace (although I did make another sharp run towards the fluid station for my first Gatorade cup). The hat was also a lifesaver as it attempted to block my face from the downpour.
Chels and I had each purchased long sleeve shirts the day before at the Salvation Army so that we would have a disposable layer to wear during the commute and throughout the warmup of our race. Because it was a cotton shirt, it continued to collect a load of rainwater as the thunderstorm really hit. I knew that cotton clothing on a rainy day was a bad move, but I chose to keep the shirt on until mile 4 to retain as much body heat as I could. My family and friends were also waiting close to mile 5, so I decided to relieve myself of the drenched load after my “warmup”. The second I pulled off my shirt, I realized how very heavy the shirt actually was. I knew it would be a sponge for the rain but as I chucked it to the side of the road, it felt like a solid few pounds to me.
Miles 5-8: Since flinging off my shirt, I felt like a different person, literally as if a weight had been taken off my shoulders. My pace picked up not only because I was lighter, but also because this was the flat chunk of the course. At this point, some runners were wringing out their shirts, their hair, and trying to shake off the wetness.
I cruised by until I reached my cheerleaders but spotted them before they noticed. I started flailing my arms the second I saw my dad and started doing crazy side shuffling and jumps as I ran up to them with smiles and high fives. My sister, mom, and Sandra began running with me on the sidewalk with their huge signs and posters as they screamed with what seemed like all their lung capacity. All the runners around me were laughing and as I took out my phone to take a video of my crazy family, multiple runners smiled and told me, “You have the best group of supporters out there!” or “They rock!” as we continued running.
All the sideways running and jumping winded me out a bit, but within a few minutes, I had resumed my breathing. Not too long after, I stopped briefly to retie my shoes and also grabbed my second cup of Gatorade. I only took a sip before I threw it off to the side.
Miles 9-10:Holy hell, the interactive course map that graphed the course’s elevation gains did not do the hills during these 2 miles justice. It’s truly an understatement to say there this part was “hilly”.
I had anticipated a large hill at mile 9 as described by all the blogs about this race that I read from past runners, so at around 8.75 miles in, when I saw what seemed like a never ending slope ahead of me, I thought, oh I knew you were coming, I got this. I pumped my arms and picked up my pace to push past this hill, and although I slowed as I got to the top, I managed to pass a good amount of runners who had slowed down or started walking on this hill.
Once I passed this hill and enjoyed about a mile of flatness however, I was presented with BAM another huge sloping hill. I was thoroughly confused; I guess I had misunderstood the interactive map to see only 1 big hill at mile 9, not multiple steep inclines. Again, I pushed myself to not slow down, and to use my arms when my legs were starting to die out. I got through this one once again, and now realized, okay, it’s time to take a gel I had picked up from the fluid/gel station right before mile 9. I had never used gels before, but heard from friends that they normally take it around miles 4-5. Regardless, because my right arch had begun aching after the most recent big hill, and my hips were now starting to have sharp pains, I decided heck, why not, hopefully it’ll give me a boost of mental, if not physical energy. I took half the gel and continued on…
Miles 11-13:The last bit…
My hip pains got progressively worse throughout these last 2 miles. It felt as though someone was hammering a nail into both hips, right at my gluteus minimus. I was digging my nails into my palms at this point, and reminding myself that I was almost there. I was happy about the fact that my knee still, after 11 miles, had not bothered me. Compared to the past couple months of training, this was a big deal to me. As I mentioned in my last post, Chels had advised that if there were 2 things to think about during the race, it was to 1) widen my gait and 2) FOREFOOT RUNNING! So…. the excruciating hip pains after all those hills were at least a light indication of better running form and progression in the right direction of recovery!
While I’m thinking about all of this, I was whipped back into reality when I again, after some exhilarating downhills, I spotted another hill…. this was now right before mile 12, and although it seemed insignificant compared to the 2 previous monstrous hills, it was enough to scream internally. Took the last half of the gel, pumped my arms again, and finally saw the 20k mark. I wanted to pick up my pace, but my body was physically unable to, I was still keeping a steady pace of 9:20-9:30 as I had been throughout the race, but I had really wanted to finish strong.
Right around the bend of the mark, I saw an EMT kneeling over a middle-aged man who was paled out and lain down on a little hill of rocks. I’m not quite sure what happened to him thereon after, but my prayers are with him, and I hope he recovered soon after that day.
Final stretch…. SURPRISE! ANOTHER HILL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I’m mentally throwing curses now at the course maker of this race at this point… less than half a mile left and we’re still expected to conjure enough energy up for another hill?? Fine! My pace had slowed to a mere jog now, but I was determined to make it up this damn incline. A random dude was at the top of the hill screaming at us that we were almost there and to “PICK UP THE PACE!” I appreciated him for coming out to support, but boy oh boy, did I wish he knew how difficult it was to “pick up the pace” at this point in time…
Anyway, we FINALLY get to the straightaway towards the finish, I don’t know how or where this random surge of adrenaline came from, but I sprinted for my dear life for the next 200m to the finish. Yes, it definitely meant I conserved too much energy throughout the race, and that I could’ve ran a bit faster throughout the whole race if I had that much energy left, but you live and you learn right?
All I’m saying is that when I was handed the medal at the finish line, and limped my way over to find Chels, I could’ve thought about the mistakes I made during the race: running in/out of the crowd to frequently, not sleeping enough, walked around too much the day before the race etc…. but I only thought of one thing, I DID IT! Years after I was told to “just stop running if it hurts you”, I defied that advice and pushed through to something I’d never imagine myself to accomplish.
Although the race was difficult, I wouldn’t have chosen any other race for my first half. The race had the perfect amount of challenges paired with breathtaking views of the Verrazano Bridge, along the Staten Island promenade and a strong crowd of supportive runners.
That day, I experienced an overwhelming realization that running is and probably will continue to be an essential part of my life. Of the vast array of activities and opportunities we are given in life, running is a sport that makes me genuinely happy.
Running is really such a magical thing.
The Staten Island Half was beyond a learning experience, it was a reminder that there are people out there who share the same passions as you do. For me, that’s running and living through special moments with my close ones, or with motivated strangers running next to you. My sweetest family and friend kept me smiling through all 13.1 miles with their screaming, continuous excitement, and incredible handmade signs, I swear to you, even on the long dragging uphills and the downpour that soaked us all. I am beyond grateful for everyone that came out to support the runners today. Congrats to all the Staten Island Half Marathon Finishers!! 👏🏼 And CHEERS to my first half marathon! ✅ 🏃🏻♀️ Check out my IG (winnatlife) to check out photos and videos from the race! #WinnatLife
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