I’m back, baby! On Saturday, May 17 I ran the NYRR Brooklyn Half Marathon back at a solid, strong (for me) half marathon pace (~11:00 min/miles, as opposed to my last two which were 11:30 m/m and 12:00 m/m respectively) and loved it! It is definitely going down as one of my favorite race experiences of all time, if not my most favorite.
I was nervous going into this race about whether I should even do it. I was worried, with how tough Frederick and Nike Women’s were on both my body and my mental game about running, that maybe it would be smarter to take a DNS and keep my mileage low until I begin Marine Corps Marathon training in late June. I was worried if I wasn’t fully healed, though I felt I was, that it would set me back.
But I had my bus ticket booked and plans with friends in New York made anyway, so I packed a backpack (running gear AND stuff for the rest of the weekend all in one backpack for traipsing around New York on foot! champion!) and boarded the bus early Friday morning. It was miserably rainy and drizzly here in the DC area and it followed our bus right up to New York that day.
As soon as my bus docked in Grand Central I bought a cheap umbrella from a street vendor and a subway card and headed down to Brooklyn Bridge Park, where NYRR was holding the “Pre-Party,” aka the expo. The weather was dreary and miserable but I rested assured that the forecast for the next day called for absolutely the opposite. The pre-party was subdued because of the weather – it looked like there was room set up for kind of a dance party and there were a ton of picnic tables set out for munching on the delicious food offered by local vendors, but everyone stayed huddled under the tents and inside the covered New Balance sponsored expo area.
One of my favorite things about the pre-party was that they had a Barber station where dudes were actually getting haircuts and shaves. Admittedly I loved this because I had an Uncle Joe on my mom’s side of the family, which is from Brooklyn, who was actually a Brooklyn barber back in the day (rest in peace, Uncle Joe), but even without that personal connection it added a really unique touch to the expo.
New Balance had a lot of cool Brooklyn Half merch for sale but in an effort to conserve funds I kept my usual Expo shopping spree to simply a t-shirt that said “Running Brooklyn – The Real New York.” Growing up I visited Brooklyn a number of times to see my mom’s relatives, but never went into Manhattan until I was in high school. So that t-shirt got me. 😉 I also had a delicious vegan taco from Calexico Taco and an equally delicious pumpkin whoopie pie from One Girl Cookies. But I was still starving so I left Brooklyn and met my friend Ali on the Upper West Side for some carbloading at a little Italian joint near 96th Street and Broadway. (I think.)
From there I took a long-ish subway ride down to the East Village where I met up with my friend Gabi, who I’ve known since the first grade. We became best buds in Mr. Tony’s 4th grade class and went to our first concert, *NSYNC, together, played soccer together for years — old friends are the most wonderful friends. I was blessed to be staying with her that night — not only was the subway ride from the East Village much friendlier to getting to the Brooklyn start line than traveling from uptown, but Gabs and I are pretty similar in that we prefer hanging out, ordering food in, and watching Netflix to going crazy partying. Obviously A-OK with me for a pre-race night.
The next morning I woke up at 4:30 and put all my shit on. Quietly, so as not to wake Gabi up, all I took with me to the race was my handheld water bottle, a visor, and a Flipbelt with my subway card and a little money. It was so refreshing to not check a bag. Definitely going to utilize my Flipbelt as often as I can from now on. I headed to a 24-hour deli on the corner that was right next to the subway stop and got a peanut butter bagel and a banana, and focused on getting mentally prepared for the race. It was pretty peaceful, considering it was New York City at 5 in the morning and the city was very much alive.
The subway got super packed within one stop or so, and I was sandwiched in among a ton of runners. Most seemed to be New Yorkers — so many people wearing NYRR race shirts and speaking with heavy New York accents. I happily followed the crowd to the start line for Wave 2. I had gotten down early, enough time to start with Wave 1 had I been assigned to it, so when I got to the Wave 2 corrals, there was zero line for porta-potties.
Sweet bib number right? Too bad I easily stepped over the corral tape to sneak up several corrals to Corral 30 or 29. A lot of people were doing the same and I have no regrets.
One thing I think really helped me with this race was a) giving myself time to hang out in my corral before the crush of runners joined, so I could stretch and envision the race ahead, and b) hearing beforehand that “once you get out of Prospect Park, it’s pretty much all downhill to Coney Island.” Knowing that gave me the strength to handle the very hilly first 5 miles, knowing as soon as it was over, it would get easier. In my last two races I got very in my head and anxious about how far I had to go and whether it would be harder ahead; from now on, no matter how many times I’ve run a certain city (*cough* DC), I want an elevation map so I know, regardless of what the streets look like, when the uphills and downhills are. I run such stronger races that way.
When the race did start, we started out pretty downhill on Washington Ave to make the right turn into Prospect Park. Once we were on Flatbush, though, and I passed the 1 mile marker, things got a bit tougher. Flatbush was a mile out and back around Grand Army Plaza and it started a little uphill. Getting into Prospect Park I mentally told myself “okay girl, you are ONLY focused on getting to that next mile marker. No thinking about anything further ahead than that.” I kept my head a little down so my visor brim blocked out any daunting uphills ahead — I don’t think that’s good form but mentally it kept me in the game.
I was so thrilled at how much better my knees, ankle and feet were feeling compared to my last couple of half marathons that I actually ran for 25 minutes without stopping for a walk break, when normally I only do 10:1 intervals. But this was a fast field of runners, and they kept me moving. My lungs felt good, my legs felt good, so I kept going. Even after that, I did another 15 minute interval, then another 15, then another 25! I was amazed at how much more running I was doing on this race than I normally do. I think I only took 6 one-minute walk breaks total for the whole race, when normally I end up taking about 14 or 15 1-minute breaks (if not walking a whole half mile in tears at the pain in my feet *cough* Frederick).
Prospect Park was really beautiful, and I especially enjoyed the stretch around mile 4 where we had a view of about a dozen different dogs with their owners playing in the park. But once out of the Park it was business time. I had thought that Prospect Park was only about 5 miles of the race but it turned out to be more like 7.3 miles of the race. Knowing it got easier getting out of PP made it thrilling that so much of the race was in PP — I was in such confidence that once we got out of PP it would be a breeze that I also had the confidence to keep going strong, instead of walking more to conserve energy for later in the race. I thought of it as “just get [this gorgeous beautiful] Prospect Park over with!”
Around mile 7 I got a text from my friend Jordan, a dear friend from college who now lives in Queens and was subwaying down to Coney Island to meet me at the finish. He is a wonderful friend to have on your team — he is so excited about success for everyone that his excitement for you is contagious. If Jordan is excited and confident in you, you’re confident and excited for yourself. I was excited to shoot a quick text back to him that I was already more than halfway done with the race and still feeling good!
This was easily my favorite moment of the race. Not only was this glorious downhill moment, well, glorious, but it was so cool to literally see all 27,000 or so of us running the race spilling out onto Ocean Parkway, all to ourselves that Saturday morning. As you can see, total turnaround from the day before’s weather! Unfortunately, this also meant that the sun was strong. I had seen a forecast that said the high for the day was 69 so I didn’t think by the time I’d even finish the race it’d get even that high, but the sun was making it feel warmer than 69 while I wore long sleeves. The best decision I’d made about my outfit was definitely to wear that visor. Sunglasses wouldn’t have been enough — the shade from my visor saved me.
Once on Ocean Parkway it was pretty much flat to downhill the rest of the way, as promised. I think I ran another 20 minute interval and then did a 10. One thing that really helped me keep moving even though my body was starting to feel tired were the frequent street signs for each block. I’d say to myself “okay, just keep running until Avenue L” then “okay, NOW just run until Avenue M,” and so on. I stayed on the lookout for the blocks and streets I knew my family used to lived on, but the route was just too east of Bensonhurst that we never touched them.
At mile 10 a little kid in a yarmulke gave me a high five while his family, appearing to be coming or going from an Orthodox synagogue, waited on the median. Thanks, little spirit friend.
By mile 11, though, the sun was really getting to me. I tried rolling up my sleeves, which helped a bit, but eventually I decided that aiming to PR was not worth getting heat sick, so I took advantage of an aid station and walked through it, filled up on Gatorade, and focused on staying grounded and not getting dizzy. It worked, and the Gatorade worked magic. Normally I pack an extra Nuun tablet to pop in when I run out of water, but it usually gets sticky in my water bottle so I hadn’t this time. The electrolytes from the Gatorade were clutch and I was on my way again.
And I didn’t stop until the finish line! Those last 800 meters were so rough, I have to admit. It was probably the mental exhaustion of letting my focus go and just getting excited and impatient to finish and see my friends, but it definitely felt like more than 800 meters. But finally, FINALLY, I climbed the ramp to the boardwalk, turned down for the final stretch, and made a dash for the finish line. I knew I wasn’t PRing, but what I wanted was to come in under the time I got for my first half marathon, so I needed to beat 2:25. After two painful half marathons at 2:30 and 2:37, I wanted to be able to say to myself I was back to having progressed since my first 13.1.
And I got my goal. My official finish time for the Brooklyn Half Marathon was 2:24:23. Like I said, this was a fast field of runners, and honestly my time probably should have been even better had I not lost training time due to injury, because of so much of the last 6 miles being downhill. So overall I was definitely toward the back of the pack.
But I was absolutely, totally, fully, beyond thrilled to have just run my third-fastest half marathon ever. And my lucky number seventh overall!
I scarfed a banana, texted my friends on my dying phone, and eventually, eventually, we all found each other in the middle of Surf Avenue. I asked them if they would be okay with going to frolic on the beach. Because I’m telling you, ever since reading a few California runner’s blogs about races that end by the beach, I have been dreaming of finishing a race on the beach. Coney Island may not be Key West, but it was still a beach with an ocean, and I could not have been happier.
I was deliriously happy. My feet rejoiced in the water. I kept hugging my friends. Jordan even declared I had to run the race again next year and we would plan for it, he’d bring a cooler full of Coronas and beach towels and we’d make a day of it. I shot back at least somebody had to actually do the work of running the race with me. 😉
I definitely mooched as much time actually on the beach as I could before we had to leave so Gabi could get back to Manhattan in time for her parents arriving for her NYU graduation. (Both Gabi and David – one of the two guys in the picture above – graduated this weekend! Grad school and law school respectively! Celebrations all around!)
But finally it was time to accept that our time on the beach at Coney Island had come to an end and Brooklyn Half was over. I was on such a high about having run a strong race again that I barely noticed where we walked, how we got to the subway, and how long it took to get all the way back up through Brooklyn and back onto Manhattan. We had burgers for lunch back on 14th Street and finally got back to Gabi’s where I freshened up and soaked my sore calves in a hot shower.
I definitely wore my medal for the rest of the day, too.
I am really not sure how future races will beat running a strong comeback and finishing on the beach with my buddies, but not having another half marathon until Disney’s Dumbo Double Dare in Disneyland after I have my own grad school graduation certainly gives running and training some time to build up to another magical experience!
Net time: 2:24:23