by Kristen Hislop
An email pops up in my inbox – “Apply Now to the 2023 United Airlines NYC Half.” I read down, knowing there is guaranteed entry. "Runners who met qualifying time standards on any certified half-marathon or marathon course between January 1, 2022 and October 18, 2022 are eligible for guaranteed non-complimentary entry. Entries for runners who achieve a qualifying time at a non-NYRR race will be available on a first come, first served basis during the application window. Once we reach capacity for entries, runners will be automatically entered into the drawing."
The last time I did the NYC 1/2 Marathon my boys and Reid came along. We picked up my bib and then went on a tour of where I had lived in Manhattan. We stayed downtown just a few blocks from the fortress of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY. I had entered that building daily for almost 5 years out of college. They all headed to the new Barclays Center for a hockey game while I hit Century 21 for some pre race shopping. The draw of the race had been running through Times Square on the way from Central Park to the finish near the Seaport. It was awesome running on streets normally teeming with people dodging cars.
On October 23, when I opened the email, I thought that this would be the year to do it again. The course had changed. It now begins in Brooklyn and finishes in Central Park. I’ve run the bridges at the NYC Marathon and the views are awesome. So, the running over the Manhattan Bridge and then through Times Square was a pretty good pull. Now I just had to convince someone to come! That turned out not to be too hard. My run partners Nanette Hatch and Nouara Bouzidi quickly agreed to enter the lottery. On November 10 I got the email saying I was in. Now we waited to see about Nanette and Nouara. Nouara hit the jackpot. Nanette didn’t get in but signed up for local Helderberg to Hudson Half Marathon, as did I (we stick together).
With hotel secured, I figured I would really train for this, but somehow life got in the way and while I got plenty of runs in, I wasn’t ready to hammer the course. Nouara worked through some hip pain, which resolved itself when she was laid up in bed for over a week with the flu!
Nanette was iffy about heading down as race support, but the week before said she was in. We headed down on the train with a lot of Rangers fans. Upon arrival we hit the "expo" or what I would call packet pickup with 20 photo opportunities. There was some New Balance gear, but no vendors. The Freihofer’s Run for Women expo is far superior!
After checking in at the hotel, we decided to take a walk before meeting Nouara’s son for dinner. Our hotel, in the plant district (who knew), provided a springtime feel each time we left. From 28th Street on the west side we headed down to Union Square. I got to show the girls my first apartment in the Big Apple on East 15th. We commented on individual city experiences, architecture and of course the people.
We arrived at Bocca di Bacco at 169 9th Avenue a bit before Nouara’s son Mas, who is at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. He is currently working on a full length film
(check out the trailer from the short version here). He kept the conversation moving on film, his generation, and life in NYC. The meal was fantastic and reasonable, consisting of calamari and octopus followed by squid ink pasta with lump crab meat. I’ll take that pre-race meal any day.
After a quick stop at Trader Joe’s for chocolate coconut covered almonds, we headed back to the hotel. Morning came quickly. Soft beds and plenty of sirens meant no one slept well. At 5 a.m. the alarm went off. Nouara and I packed up, gathered up our garbage bags and headed to the subway. The 2 train, running local, was packed. At one point a guy got on and his face just said “what the h***?’”
Quite a few people were hanging out in the subway station. We headed up onto the dark streets. As we got our bearings, we headed back the gear drop-off. The air was cold, so we donned our heavy duty garbage bags. Nanette had said she was getting up to cheer on Des and would meet us at the finish. So we marched by gear drop-off and on a crazy long line. 25,000 athletes descending on the streets around Prospect Park meant high energy at 6 a.m. We found the porta pottys, along with a mini Statue of Liberty!
As with all the big races, bib assignments were in waves. You can always go back a wave, so I joined Nouara in Wave 2 (out of 5). We tried to get down to see wave 1 head out but would have had to hike around a few blocks with road closures. We worked on staying warm before the start and taped a video on what to wear for the Freihofer’s Training Challenge which started March 20.
We were at the front of the group when wave 2 opened, so we headed quickly to C and right to the porta potty (always a theme before longer races). A short wait there and we were off. Some people think the Freihofer’s Run for Women is big, but what bigger races do well is get people started and keep a flow. Everyone starts at the gun and holds a similar pace. It really is just a nice flow out onto the roads.
I typically neglect to really study elevation maps. No different here. You start on a slight downhill then make a right and climb into Prospect Park. A turn around a cone takes you back down. This was our pattern for 13.1 miles. There were really no flat stretches on this course. There was a stiff breeze so pylons splitting the road had fallen over, and surprisingly very few people were hurdling them! I think they were still warming up.
We headed through Brooklyn past the Barclays Center and towards the Manhattan Bridge. I might carry a phone with me at bigger races, but never stop for photos. I had said I was going to take pictures during the run at the Rock ’n Roll Half in San Francisco. The views were incredible climbing the hills as well as running across the Golden Gate Bridge. Once I got racing, I had a decent pace and decided to steal friends’ photos instead of stopping myself. It turned out to be a wise decision, as I placed 3rd in my age group and got a super cool guitar plaque award.
Back to Brooklyn. I told Nouara we would do it together, so I decided to get in on the photo action. I took pictures and video on the Manhattan Bridge and when running through Times Square. After the bridge we jumped on Canal Street, with great cheering crowds, running over to the FDR with more rollers. By then the sun was warm and the wind not as bad as expected. We knew the wind would be swirling when we hit 42nd Street. There was a lovely false flat over to Times Square with a stiff cold headwind, but the warm sun and a closed street made for fun. It got colder as we turned north through Times Square. There were all the lights without the normal din of traffic, just cheering and an awesome band! Next was a quick right along Central Park South and into the park. Nouara and I both know the park, so the rollers were no surprise. Signs read 800m, 400m, 200m, and we were at the finish. I grabbed her hand and we crossed (2 girls ran in front of our amazing photo op). Right after we finished, a videographer captured our embrace. I really need to find that footage. Then as with all NYC races, the walk began. A medal, a sheet, a bag of food and more walking down to Columbus Circle. Nanette and her sister Gigi were there, so there was another photo opportunity.
We traded stories of our morning as we walked 2 miles back to the hotel. By then we were quite chilled, so the hot shower felt amazing. Nanette picked out an amazing spot near Penn Station for brunch. We arrived at Friedman's on West 31st and were told 20 minutes of waiting (standing outside), but Nanette worked her magic and we waited only 5. After filling up on eggs, hash browns and toast we headed over to Penn. During our wait for the train a mouse entertained us. Pretty funny how all the comments on my video were about how small he was in comparison to the rats that used to run around Penn!
A relaxing train ride home allowed me to load photos up on Facebook. Another adventure in the books made possible by endurance sports and the amazing friends I’ve found.
Kristen Hislop is the Director of the Freihofer's Run for Women and the Clifton Park Freedom Mile. She currently serves as Vice President of USATF Adirondack. In the triathlon world she serves as Secretary on the USAT Triathlon Women's Committee and as a Women for Tri Ambassador. Hislop Coaching offers run, swim, cycling and triathlon coaching to athletes of all abilities and ages. She can be found at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and www.hislopcoaching.com