Every year in New York City, millions gather around Times Square to revel in memories of the previous year, celebrate the upcoming one, and see the ball drop. At midnight, the immense ball descends the tower, and confetti sprays across the whole city. Revelers cheer, toast, kiss, or possibly do all three.
Several blocks uptown, another group, a somewhat smaller and less warmly dressed one, watches fireworks in Central Park, and begins running a four mile loop of the park on the stroke of midnight. I decided to join this group this year.
Our last three years have varied greatly for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Three years ago, we went to a huge party in the city with champagne service and a huge crowd. We hated it due to the scene and fellow revelers there. The following year, we detoxed and celebrated at home, on the couch, falling asleep. Last year, we celebrated on a cruise ship in the Caribbean. While traveling is probably the best way to celebrate from what I’ve experienced, it’s not always possible, so this year I wanted to try something new with the run. It seemed like a good way to break in the new year and start a healthy year ahead.
Pre-race meal: Root & Bone
Every race needs a protein fill up before hand. Or at least that’s what I told myself rather than finding a different excuse to try Root and Bone, named the best Southern cooking in the city. The menu doesn’t go far beyond fried chicken, but whenever fried chicken comes in a basket, you know you don’t need anything else. The spoonbread side was the best dish, gooey and creamy and super filling. The wedge salad was nice as well, and a good way to break up the heavy dishes.
You have to get waffles any time they are offered with fried chicken. It’s an unwritten rule. Here, the waffles are sort of Eggo like with a crisp texture that would be boring if not for the excessive cheese and ample syrup provided. The texture is actually perfect for soaking up the excellent bourbon maple syrup. I doused mine in the hot sauce as well for a little kick and to cut through the heaviness of it.
The chicken was super well fried, locking in the moisture in the inner meat, and providing a tasty, crunchy skin with lots of flavor, while not becoming oily. Due to the cramped space inside, small plate, and huge chicken pieces, I found eating the chicken separate from the waffle a better idea. Plus, while I think chicken goes with waffles well, it doesn’t need to be eaten directly together. I mostly used the chicken to douse in syrup and hot sauce, then the waffles to soak it up. While the food was excellent and warm, the service was oddly cold and nearly hostile. Our waiter seemed to be way off and hardly spoke a word, including when he stepped on my foot without saying anything. It was most notable because the front desk staff was so friendly and warm. The cocktail menu looked interesting, but with a run a few hours away, I decided to try one of their craft beer pilsners which was pretty nice and held up well to the strong chicken and heavy dishes.
I ended up picking up my packet and items at the NYRR space a few days before because we were nearby. The new space (temporary until the new one is completed) was adequate for the demand (read: basically none) and I was able to get everything including a nice long sleeve (non-technical fabric) shirt with the race logo and even cooler, light up shoe laces. These were super cool for the midnight race theme, and turned out really cool when tons of people were running around in them.
The race was a four mile lap around Central Park, luckily excluding the big hill and the bottom part where traffic is often an issue. The start point wasn’t super well marked, and it took some time to find the corals because of confusing signage for the festival nearby. The festival did provide a nice atmosphere though, and the area was packed with people watching the race and the fireworks. It was also a nice distraction for those not running and waiting, though it did end pretty much right after midnight.
The corals were nice and long, though without any assignments, people shoved to the front, disregarding the posted pace signs. I’ll never get why people want to shove to the front just to run, but plenty did. It resulted in quite a slow start and lots of jostling for clear space for the first mile. There was some decent pre-race talk and announcing over speakers, though I did end up in a spot where coverage wasn’t as great, so I couldn’t actually hear the countdown.
The best part though was the front row seat we got for the fireworks. I was only about 100 feet from where they were launched from, the closest I’ve ever been to fireworks including neighbors’ backyard displays in Pennsylvania. It was a pretty grand display that went on for nearly 20 minutes, well into the first mile of the race. Many runners did stop to watch though which caused a slight bottle neck at the start.
Once I got some clear space, I decided to push ahead and see how fast I could go. I haven’t done much training since the Philadelphia marathon in November, and while I’ve been running pretty constantly four times a week, I reduced mileage quite a bit. I also decided that this counted as January 1st’s run, so I ran the morning of December 31, meaning my legs were a bit fatigued. Still, with the nice pre-run stretch I got from a brisk walk around the park, I was feeling pretty good. Luckily the route didn’t go over the big hills, so I managed a decent pace.
At mile two, the fireworks had ended, but I came to the midpoint station and found a great surprise. Here, rather than a water and first aid station, there was a DJ and a sparkling cider toast. Most runners went running past, but I decided as a shorter run for me, I wanted to enjoy the fun. The cider combined with the immense amount of fried chicken in my stomach to bad effects, but I knew I could gut it out for another two miles. With my new GPS watch with a light, I could tell I was going to hit about a 8:00 / mile pace, which wasn’t too bad. I don’t know how I managed this for an entire half marathon in October, but I’m hoping to get back there soon.
The course looped back downtown toward the 72nd street transverse of the park where it would finish back at the start line. A short rolling hill, just what the legs love when pushing hard, awaited toward the end.
At the finish line, volunteers in light up hats waited with water, bagels, and apples. For a race, NYRR races always have pretty good bagels and while I wasn’t at all hungry after the big meal, a bite of it did taste pretty good. Sadly the festival and concert were over, but the atmosphere was still pretty lively. Surprisingly, the whole course had people out and cheering, including tons of volunteers. You couldn’t go more than a few feet without being wished a happy new year. It was one of the better attended races I’ve done, surprising given the time.
Luckily, we had been able to park super close to the start line as the city was eerily empty and full of empty parking spaces. The adrenaline from the run got us safely home and wore off just in time to get to sleep and enjoy a great start to 2016.