Wow! What an adventure I had in Brooklyn yesterday! It’s rare that I can perform so poorly in a race (by my standards) and yet feel like the day was a total success! It just proves to me one thing: I need to travel outside of Central Park for races more.
The Brooklyn Half Marathon is the third in a series of five NYRR Half Marathon Grand Prix races that takes place throughout the year in each borough of New York City. Although I have been a member of the NYRR since 2005, I’ve never run this particular race before. I’ve heard that compared to the other Grand Prix half marathons, Brooklyn is held on one of the milder courses with minimal changes of elevation other than what you will find in Prospect Park. The little wrinkle that was added to this year’s edition is that the race will actually start inside Prospect Park and end on the boardwalk of Coney Island instead of the other way around like in years past. This was welcome news for us runners because it not only promises a faster finish but more fun, food, and entertainment after the race as well.
At the Start
I arrived at the start of the race this morning anxious and excited, not knowing what to expect. On the one hand, I felt fully recovered from Boston and was returning to the place where I found so much running success two months back (in the Cherry Tree 10 miler). But on the other, I knew I didn’t prepare well for this race – having done two speed workouts (one unexpected) this week after running 50 miles the previous week. My sleeping has also been subpar in recent days and my fuel/hydration plans got tossed out the window when hospital work reached crisis level the previous day. Combining these factors with the fact that although the temps were in the mid sixties, it was sunny and a bit humid on race morning and they were expecting 10,000+ runners to circle the park twice while sharing the same two-lane road, I stood at the starting corral looking down at my shoes, wondering what this race was going to hold for me.
After a few minute delay waiting for the roads to clear, the final instructions were given, the national anthem was sung, and the starting horn sounded, signaling the start of the race.
I situated myself a few rows behind a group of four faster Flyers in the blue corral when the race started deep in the recesses of Prospect Park. My game plan going in was to run conservatively through the park in the first six miles, hold on steady to ten miles, than sprint the last three miles to the finish. So as I jostled with my neighbors for running room in the first half mile, I told myself not to get carried away and run my own race.
I found my comfort zone by mile one and breezed by the first loop without too much difficulty. I was tickled by the fact that even though I was consciously holding back and climbing the hills with a comfortable effort, I was recording each mile time at or slightly below my PR pace (6:30 min) through the first four miles. The only thing that annoyed me in the early going was the paucity of water stations that were set up along the course. For all the drama and hype NYRR created this week by posting a heat advisory on their website for this race, you’d think there would be more Gatorade and water available than every 2.5 miles! Although I took care to slow down at every water station to take in as much as possible, I’m sure it wasn’t enough as I could already tell I was getting a bit dehydrated entering the second loop.
Mile 1 – 6:19
Mile 2 – 6:30
Mile 3 – 6:25
Mile 4 – 6:18
The second time through the park was interesting, annoying and at times downright chaotic. As we made our way around the course sticking to the right side of the road, starting at mile 4.25, we were joined by the masses who were just now coming off the corrals on their first pass through the park. Although there were cones set up every few feet to delineate the running lanes, it wasn’t enough to keep the first loopers from meandering over to our side of the road. What made it worse was that some of the runners had no clue which loop they were on or which side of the street they were supposed to run on! If I weren’t running myself, I would’ve considered the entire scene quite comical. The kicker was that because there were no stations set up on our side, everyone who wanted water had to swerve back over to the left side of the road and dodge the onslaught of slower runners in order to get their fluids at the mile six water station. Trying to negotiate the swarming crowds in between the hills, the meandering course, and my ever decreasing hydration state took much more effort than I planned and threw me into a wild frenzy. By the end of mile six, I was mentally done with the people and the park and wanted like hell to just get out of there and have some running room to myself.
Since I anticipated to be leaving the premises right after mile six or thereabouts, I was frustrated that the park was not through torturing me until a little before mile seven. Although I was still averaging a PR pace when I exited the park, I could tell that my physical battles in the last few miles took a heavy toll on my body. I trampled through Mile 8 finally out on the open parkway holding back fatigue and the psychological demons as best I could.
Mile 5 – 6:43
Mile 6 – 6:39
Mile 7 – 6:28
Mile 8 – 6:29
It was apparent to me by this point that I was fading fast and fading quickly. I took a gel and shortened my stride in order to conserve energy. Yet, even as I was struggling to maintain my sanity and my pace, I couldn’t help but appreciate the beautiful sunshine, the lush trees, the cool breeze and the peaceful atmosphere on our side of Ocean Parkway that was closed off to traffic. The situation felt a bit surreal to me, as if I was running the race in a dream. The road to Coney Island stretched out for miles in front without an end in sight.
As I began to slow, others began to pass me, which made the struggling that much more discouraging. With each step, I bargained with my legs to keep running despite the exhaustion and heavy fatigue. Just make it to the next half mile…then to the tree…then to the lamppost. With each landmark, the next one down seemed miles away. Eventually, I took a walk break at the mile 10 water station and drank 2 cups of Gatorade and 2 cups of water before I started battling and running again. I focused on staying in the pack that I was in and thought about the fun day I would have at the beach after as I counted down the tenths of a mile until the next marker.
Mile 9 – 6:43
Mile 10 – 7:13
Mile 11 – 6:55
Although the 11th mile remained a struggle, I caught a second wind of energy once I passed the mile flag and realized there was two miles or about thirteen minutes of running to the finish. I began picking up the pace and slowly passed by the same people who had pass me by a little while earlier. Even though I was exhausted and hungry and my heart seemed like it was about to explode out of my chest, I ran faster and faster, with thoughts of only getting to the finish line as fast as I could occupying my mind. The last mile was a complete blur to me as I closed my eyes intermittently and sprinted down the boardwalk as fast as my tired legs could carry me. Eventually, I reached and crossed the finish line with my arms raised triumphantly toward the sky. This was certainly not the performance I was hoping for, but given the course, the conditions and my lack of preparedness for this race, to finish a little less than a minute off my PR isn’t so shabby!
Mile 12 – 6:32
Mile 13.1 – 7:03 (for 1.1 mile)
Official Time – 1:26:27
Average Pace – 6:35 min/mile
Overall Place – 202/9413 (2.1%)
Gender Place – 190/5074 (3.8%)
Age Place – 57/2106 (2.7%)
Age Graded % - 68.6
Flyer Men – 3rd Place
After the race, I cleaned up a bit and met a bunch of my Flyer friends for a self-guided tour of Coney Island. The weather was sunny and perfect and the atmosphere very festive as runners took hostage of the town on this Saturday morning. We walked along the boardwalk, rode the Cyclone, ate hot dogs and fries at the original Nathan’s and imagined how life must have been back in the old days when this Brooklyn neighborhood used to be the happening place for our parents growing up. It's a shame that a wooden roller coaster and a cranky ferris wheel are all that remains from a historic amusement park that was once considered the summertime entertainment capital of the city.
Eventually, after we had filled our bodies with endorphins and replenished our bellies with food, we took the subway and left Brooklyn. As we traveled back along the same route that we took that same morning, we wondered aloud why NYRR would ever even consider ending this race in Prospect Park rather than out in the boardwalk at Coney Island. I for one would love to repeat this same adventure next year!