Over the years I’ve either run most of the local spring half marathons or decided they just weren’t for me. This year I was looking for something a bit different. A friend of mine had run Brooklyn last year and spoke highly of it, so I decided early on that this was going to be my target spring half.
I purchased my train tickets months ago, but had to alter them a few weeks ago when the unrest in Baltimore led to a curfew being implemented. Not knowing how long the unrest and/or the curfew would last, I rearranged my travel so I’d be coming in and out of the city during daylight hours. Well, three days before I was to head to New York, a Northeast Regional Amtrak train derailed, killing 8 people. With Amtrak out of commission, and the alternatives being far too complicated (Amtrak > SEPTA > local bus > NJ Transit), I decided at the last minute just to drive. This was the first time I had driven in the city – driving in NYC isn’t nearly as awful as most people make it out to be. If you know your car, and aren’t a total wuss, you’re set. The drive up was surprisingly enjoyable, albeit a bit long (nearly 5 hours).
I stayed with a good friend of mine in Manhattan, who was kind enough to pick up my bib for me when my travel plans changed. Unfortunately, staying in Manhattan meant an obscenely early wake up call on race day; she was in wave 1 and had to be there by 6:00am, which meant that we had to leave by 5:00am, which meant we had to be up by 4:00am. ugh. so early.
Earlier in the week they had been calling for rain on Saturday, so I was super excited when we walked outside and it was dry (as in not raining, not as in not humid – it was definitely humid) and comfortable out. Despite the insanely early arrival, the organization of the race was spot-on – not that I would expect any less of the country’s largest half marathon! Bag drop was organized by corral, after which we went through security screening, which wasn’t a hassle at all, and then we had the run of the wave without being forced into corrals. The best part? They had giant vats of water in each wave where you could refill your bottles or just grab a cup of water; no guilt about wasted water bottles. And in each wave, there were literally porta pots for days. It was a wall of porta pots from one end of the wave to the other. It really is the simple things in life, isn’t it?
The race started at the Brooklyn Museum and started off with the usual fanfare, including a farewell to Mary Wittenberg, the outgoing president and CEO of the New York Road Runners. Unbeknownst to me, my friend was sitting next to the guy singing the national anthem at the start of the race while we were on the subway.
Wave 1 set off at 7:00am (to what else? The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn”), with my wave following at 7:45am. There wasn’t a ton of crowd support at the beginning of the race, but it picked up just after the first mile or so. The course was mostly flat with some rolling hills, which made for a nice, easy warm-up mile.
Since the fall, I’ve developed this annoying habit of getting side stitches early in races. I had to stop to do some breathing exercises around mile 1.5 which helped briefly, but not for long. They came and went for at least the first 6 miles.
After about 3 miles we made our way into Prospect Park, which I loved – I would totally run here again on my own. There was plenty of shade and the road had curves and turns and some rolling hills to keep things interesting. I had heard some people lamenting “the hill” in Prospect Park, but I never actually saw a proper hill.
Just around mile 4, I was thinking to myself that it would be amazing if we could get a little spritz to help cool us down a bit. Not even minutes later, the clouds opened up; it started as a light rain at first, but quickly became a steady rain, which lasted through about mile 6.5. I hadn’t brought a hat with me, so I just had to put my head down and keep wiping the rain and sweat (and sunscreen) out of my eyes for nearly half an hour. I found a nice, big tree to hide under so I could grab a Gu around mile 5.5 without getting my phone soaking wet. Despite the rain (or maybe because of the rain?), I felt fantastic through the Prospect Park section of the race – my legs felt good, my lungs felt good, and my mind felt good.
As much as I loved Prospect Park, I hated Ocean Parkway twice as much. From mile 7.5 to 12.75, we were on Ocean Parkway, a straight-and-flat-as-a-pancake highway through Brooklyn. There is nothing I hate more with regard to running than straight, flat courses, where all you can see up ahead are teeny, tiny specks of runners off in the distance. To make matters worse, the cross-streets are Avenue A, Avenue B, Avenue C, all the way down through the alphabet…. omgggggggggg. Somewhere around mile 8.5, the mental toughness went out the window; around mile 9.5, I started getting physically exhausted. I briefly considered just curling up in the fetal position, but realized that doing so wouldn’t alleviate the discomfort nor would it make my dry clothes appear. I gave myself a quick SIUP and plodded on.
For the first time ever, I took gatorade and water at every station from mile 7 – 11. By the time I got to mile 12’s water station, I just flat out refused to stop, for fear that I might not be able to start back up. Normally I’m pretty okay for the last 5k of a half, but this seemed like the longest 3.1 miles of my life.
One of the great things about NYRR races is that they have an “800m to go” sign and a “400m to go” sign, but I swear those bastard signs were lying. The crowd in the last mile or so, but especially that last half mile, was just amazing. So many people cheering and so much energy coming from them, but I was just so drained it couldn’t energize me for that last segment. I honestly don’t even remember seeing Coney Island as I came in for the finish – I vaguely even remember seeing the Cyclone, but only because it was standing between me and the finish line.
Typically I can pull on one last surge to power through the last .1 mile, but I had nothing left in the tank as I came towards the finish line. I saw the finish line, but it felt like it wasn’t coming any closer, no matter how hard I pushed – but finally, I was there.
Unofficial finish time: 2:15:52.
I’m not sure this is technically a time PR (my last half’s course was short, so I’m putting a big ole asterisk next to that PR), but I beat my Baltimore Half PR by about 2.5 minutes. I had nothing else in me when I crossed the finish line – I left everything on the course.
The after party was at the minor league ballpark next to Coney Island. Aside from having to wait 45 minutes to get a damn hotdog (a damn good hot dog, admittedly), it was a great place to have the after party – there was plenty of space for everyone to spread out and there were real bathrooms (!!!) which made changing into dry clothes a whole lot more enjoyable.
I truly enjoyed this race. I don’t know that I would necessarily run it again because of that awful flat section, but I would definitely recommend it to someone who does like flatter courses. The pre-race logistics were well-organized, and the race-day organization was top-notch. Based on this experience alone, I wish I lived closer to New York so I could run more NYRR races, but it’s just too much of a hassle (and too expensive) to get to NYC for a race.
After the race and after-party, Lauren and I headed back to her place to shower and nap before heading out to see an old friend of mine staring in Don Giovanni down in the East Village. It was a really great performance, but both of us got kind of antsy in the second act – my legs and butt just got uncomfortable from all the running and the chilly air conditioning. Afterwards we met Dan for wine and cheese, fully expecting to pass out at the first sip of wine, but luckily we both got our second wind right about then and had a really great night. It was the first time I’ve been out until 1:00am in a long time 😉
All in all it was an awesome weekend 🙂