Brooklyn Half Race Report

Two weeks is a long time to go before getting my race report down on paper, but this one needed some extra time to sort itself out in my head — and my nose. (And then apparently another month to edit and post. Oops.)

Bib pickup, and an agonizing decision

I learned from last year and took Thursday and Friday off before the Saturday race. Bib pickup is out on Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park. It’s a great place for a pre-party, and they do a nice job of bringing in food trucks and outdoor seating to make it easy to enjoy the amazing views of lower Manhattan, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.

It’s also a hike to get to, especially coming from Jersey. Mr. Editor Runner dubbed the walk from the closest subway stop/parking “the Bataan Death March” last year, and he’s not wrong.

NYRR helpfully sent out a “5 ways to get to the pre-party” email at the beginning of race week, and I discovered the ferry option, which turned out to be perfect. It leaves from Wall Street/Pier 11, and stops at Pier 1. Still a bit of a hike, but shorter, flat and right along the water.

Since my birthday was the weekend after Brooklyn, I made the four-day weekend into my treat for my birthday. That started with an early train Thursday and breakfast at Sarabeth’s on the Upper West Side, which I’d heard good things about. (Eh. I was underwhelmed, especially at what I got for the price.)

Then it was time to head to the southern tip of Manhattan to catch my ferry. The easiest way (for me) to get to Pier 11 was to take the subway to the South Ferry/Whitehall/Bowling Green area and then walk along the East River greenway to the pier. It was misting out, but not bad with an umbrella.

I headed over thinking the pre-party opened at 10. Oops. It was noon. Still, it was a comfortable temperature and there were picnic tables and shelter (and real bathrooms) on Pier 2, so I settled in with my journal and chilled out for a while.

When the pre-party finally opened, I got my bib and the rest of my swag, then headed to the food trucks for lunch — carnitas tacos and a lobster roll. They even had the right kind of roll, which I wasn’t expecting from a bunch of New Yorkers. Then it was back inside the pre-party (out of the rain) to check out the pace bands, charge my phone and wait for the first race strategy session.

HS Teammate had been trying to figure out where the 2:00 pacers would be relative to the corral her brother was in. Her corral had a 2:00 pacer, but he was further back and they were running together, so that meant they were in with the 2:10 pacer. I shot her a message, then picked up pace bands for them after we made plans for a lunch handoff on Friday near her office.

The strategy session was probably superfluous — I’ve run the course before and I pretty much knew what they were going to say — but I always enjoy sitting in on one anyway just in case they mention something I didn’t think of.

After that, I headed out and decided to use the ferry to do something I’ve wanted to do since I first saw the White Collar Season 3 finale: take the Roosevelt  Island tram. So, ferry to 34th Street, ferry to Roosevelt Island, then I hopped a tram back to Midtown. From there, I walked to the subway and headed back to Jersey.

Real-life interlude

Right after the strategy session, I’d gotten a push alert from my paper’s app about a horrific bus crash — two dead, many others hurt and the bus was almost torn in two. You probably saw it on the news.

I knew the newsroom was scrambling. When something like that happens, it’s all hands on deck. And as the morning breaking news editor, I’d normally be in the thick of it.

This is the part of the weekend I’m still torn about.

I thought about calling in to see if they needed me to come in. But I also knew that at that point, it would take me a solid 3-4 hours to get back to my place and pick up my car to head into the office. Even if I worked from home, it was still going to be quite a while before I could be useful, and I wouldn’t be able to help until about the time I’m normally starting to get ready for bed. And I’d taken the days off for a reason.

I didn’t call. (And they didn’t call me.)

It was a little selfish, but this was my goal race, and I didn’t want to muck it up if I didn’t have to. I don’t usually sleep well the night before a race, so getting a good night’s sleep Thursday night was a big part of my race plan.

I still feel guilty about it.

Pre-race prep

Brooklyn is a great race, but it’s also the biggest half-marathon in the country. That means lots of standing around on race morning, especially if you’re in the last corral. So my biggest goal for Friday was to stay off my feet as much as possible, outside of a shakeout run in the morning.

My shakeout was shorter than Coach B planned, mostly because I was trying to catch a specific train. But after two weeks of sluggish long runs that made me wonder if I’d toasted my muscles too much at Broad Street, this was amazing. Legs felt fresh, everything was clicking, and I ran just over a mile in 15 minutes I had time for, which is about 2 minutes/mile faster than I normally can do for an easy run.

OK, now I’m feeling really good about Saturday.

Before I headed out, I opened my copy of Deena Kastor’s book to the title page where she’d autographed it and written “Believe and Achieve!” Keep that in mind: I got this.

I had lunch plans with HS Teammate, and dinner plans with Mrs. Editor Runner. Beyond that, I didn’t want to do a lot of walking, but I also had a free day in New York. So I headed back to the ferry. I started by taking one out to Rockaway, then hopping it back for the return journey.

This was my one glitch in the day. I got off in South Brooklyn, not realizing that A) The next ferry I wanted on a different route wouldn’t arrive for 45 minutes away and B) That wouldn’t get me back to Manhattan in time to meet HS Teammate for lunch. I messaged her to push it back, then realized there was a subway stop a few blocks away. So I headed for it.

The few blocks was closer to three-quarters of a mile. Oh, well. Meanwhile, I got another push alert. Two NJ Transit buses had collided near the Lincoln Tunnel on the New York side of the Hudson.

This time I did call in, or rather text in.

Of course, I was now on a local train in South Brooklyn — it would take me probably an hour to get to the Lincoln Tunnel. I got off at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn to change trains, but had to wait to figure out if I was taking the one that would get me to the crash location or to lunch with HS Teammate.

Verdict finally came in — it wasn’t a bad crash and would be cleaned up before I could get there, so I was off the hook. Off to lunch it was.

The best part of eating with running friends the day before a race is they pick good places when you can get pre-race food. Both the lunch and dinner places were excellent, and I will definitely be going back sometime when I’m not about to race so I can try some of the other dishes.

HS Teammate and I had a great time talking race strategy and just catching up. This was the first time we’d seen each other not just in a mad scramble or in passing at a race.

She was chasing sub-2, and with a PR at NYC Half of 2:00:21, I was pretty sure she’d get it, even though she couldn’t run with the 2:00 pace team. We talked about some strategies for that, and about how to push hard enough. I mentioned the two mantras I’d been using: Don’t take the deal (from Another Mother Runner) and Race the course, not the clock.

After that, it was back to the hotel where I’d dropped my bags earlier to check in and chill until dinner. I did legs up the wall, continued to hydrate, and just generally relaxed.

Dinner was also a great time, at an Italian place Mrs. Editor Runner had suggested. I had to detour a bit on the way back to find a banana and bagel to bring with me to eat in the corral, but I was back at the hotel and ready for bed at a pretty reasonable hour.

Falling asleep the night before a race is always tough, and this was no different. As I lay there, I noticed a bit of a tickle in my throat, and a little bit of gunk in my nose. But it had to be allergies. I felt fine. They’ve been weirdly annoying this year and I’ve been sleeping with the AC on instead of an open window many nights because of it. That’s probably all it is, right?

Race day

Ugh. Rain. I knew it was going to rain, although there were points where it looked like the rain would be pre-race, with just showers during the race. Still, I was prepared. I had a poncho on, with my sleeveless spring rain vest on underneath in case it did turn to showers and I wanted to ditch the poncho.

After looking at my heart rate stats for Broad Street, Coach B had told me no coffee before the race, so I skipped that step. Just as well — I’m not sure there was a Starbucks open that was easy to get to.

I met up with Team Sizzles and Massachusetts Ex-Pat near the Brooklyn Library, for a photo and hugs, and managed to find a dry patch right by the library doors where I could sit for pretty much as long as possible before I had to get into the security line.

Brooklyn is the rare NYRR race where they don’t seem to worry much about corrals, and I was up near the 2:30 pacer by the time I got to the start line. The race clock read 1:11:30, so 4:11:30 would be 3:00.

Race goals

My first goal was to PR, beating my 3:27 from last year’s Brooklyn. My second goal was 3:13, which was my Broad Street pace carried through another 5K. That felt pretty doable with how strong I’d felt during Broad Street. My stars-align goal was 3:00, or pretty close, so part of that was having a sense of where the 3:00 pacer was in the first half of the race — where I expected them to get ahead of me — so I could try and reel the pace group back in during the second half.

The first half

Brooklyn’s pretty easy to divide in half. It starts with lots of hills, fairly long ones that aren’t real steep, but you’re pretty much either going uphill or downhill for the first 7 miles.

I had run a couple of my Saturday 60-minute easy runs on parts of the course, and I had a strategy: intervals of 40 steps running/20 walking on all the uphills, and rolling through the downhills until I got out of the park and onto Ocean Parkway.

Yes, I counted steps. Between marching band and group fitness, it’s pretty easy for me to do, and it means I can do intervals for part of a race and then go back to my usual running for the rest.

I started a little fast, but not as bad as last year, so I was pretty happy with that. My run/walk strategy worked well, even though the rain meant I had to be extra careful to avoid standing water near the sidewalk in some places.

The third mile is pretty much all downhill, and I’d had fun cruising it on my training run. It was pretty fun today, too, and when I hit mile 4 I was exactly on my 3:13 goal pace and the 3:00 pace group passed me pretty much right at the mile marker. That meant if I caught them, I’d probably be at about 3:04 for a finishing time, so I filed that away.

Then it was time for the hill. In Brooklyn, there’s really only one, but it’s a doozy. Not steep, but it just keeps going. Honestly, I like that better than Harlem Hill in Central Park, which is shorter, but steeper.

Somewhere in here I’d realized I probably wasn’t going to make it to the end of the race without needing a pit stop and figured the best bet was to stop at the portapotties at Mile 5 or whenever the next set was after that. I could give myself a little break after the hill, and then not need to stop later when I was in my groove.

I chugged along with my intervals and was feeling good when I hit the top of the hill. Unlike last year, I knew roughly where the top was from my training run. There are a couple of smaller rollers in mile 6, but nothing major. I was feeling good all the way down, but I also made a mistake.

I’d made a mental note at Mile 5 of how much time I’d given up off my pace on the hill. And then again at Mile 6.

Race the course, not the clock

After Mile 6, it was down a final hill and out of the park for the second half of the course, which is essentially a straight shot down Ocean Parkway to the boardwalk.

I’d thought I’d get back to my 3:13 goal pace on Mile 7, and I didn’t.

Uh-oh.

Second half

There’s a nice downhill on the ramp to Ocean Parkway, and my plan was to start picking up the pace at this point. The back half of Brooklyn is pretty much a repeat of Broad Street — straight, net downhill and pretty flat.

At this point, I had a sense of who was around me and who I might be able to start reeling in as the race went on. I was also glad for the poncho because it was still raining steadily. My first Broad Street was rain like that, but this was about 10 degrees colder. Not as bad as Boston this year, but not fun either.

I chugged along, with my music shifting into the middle section of my playlist, but noticed my heart rate was lower than it needed to be. I tried to pick it up a bit. I also realized I had forgotten that pit stop plan I had made. Make that two mistakes on Mile 5. And at Mile 8 I realized I was still not back up to my 3:13 pace.

I kept pushing. Tried to use the beat of the music to keep going. Felt good about my fueling, which was on track.

Mile 9, and I was feeling strong, not like last year when I bonked and slowed down two full minutes/mile starting at mile 9. But I had slowed a few seconds from my previous mile, even though my plan called for me to pick up the pace in this stretch.

This was also where I realized I definitely needed a pit stop. I coughed at one point and yeah, definitely wasn’t going to make it another hour. I knew all my splits though, and did the math. I wasn’t going to get my 3:13, but I definitely was going to PR, even if I stopped.

So at Mile 10, I stopped. I was manually lapping the race at the mile markers, so I used the lap button to create one for the pit stop so Coach B could back that out if she wanted to since my time in this race was going to give her a good gauge on my fitness heading into marathon training.

I’m no Shalane Flanagan, but I was in and out in 90 seconds, which I was pretty happy with. I ended up a bit further back, near people I had passed near the start of Ocean Parkway, but some people I’d been trying to reel in before my pit stop were still within sight, so that felt good.

Mile 11 did not. Or rather, it felt fine, but I clocked a 17:00 mile, much slower than the 15:00-15:30 I’d been running before the pit stop. Wait, why am I thinking about times and splits?

Race the course, not the clock

I’d forgotten my key mantra and let myself get caught up in the time and pace and “dammit, I’m not on pace to make my goal” loop that had derailed me last year. Stop. Fix the mental game. Believe you got this.

Race the course, not the clock.

OK, who’s ahead of me? Who can I catch?

I started to focus in on the people. I knew I would PR. Time to focus on racing and see how much I could PR by.

I started catching people and passing them. My heart rate was still too low for where I should be at this point in the race, but I couldn’t get my legs to move any faster. It wasn’t a lack of fuel — I felt strong that way. I just couldn’t get them to hit the gear I wanted. But I was still chasing people down.

OK, now I could see the overpass that’s not far past Mile 12. Good. I’m still feeling strong, and once I get there, I can really pick it up. I can pick it up now even.

Picked off a couple more people, and have others in sight. But this seems early for Mile 12 to be coming up. Oh. There’s another overpass that’s not THE overpass. OK, that makes more sense. Keep pushing.

Passed Mile 12, and that split looked a whole lot better. Not my goal pace, but back where I was for most of the race. Under the overpass — nice break from the rain — and then the wind picked up. Really? I adjusted my ball cap so the wind didn’t catch the brim and send it flying and just focused on up ahead where I knew the turn was.

The 20K mark is right after the turn, and my watch buzzed with a text from Coach B. “Dig deep!” I picked up the pace — only about three-quarters of a mile left, and the worst that could happen would be I might go a little too fast and have to slow back down.

And then I felt a nasty side stitch. Really?

I backed off just enough to keep it from getting worse, but otherwise kept pushing. Half-mile to go. Just keep riding the edge of faster, but no so fast that the stitch gets worse.

After all that straight, it’s a zig-zag to the finish in the last half-mile, but I knew where I was going. Come on, just pass a few more people. OK, on the boardwalk. Just a tenth of a mile to go. Pick it up.

OK, I can see the clock. 4:38 is what I need to beat to get a PR. Looks like 4:35, maybe 4:36. I don’t need two minutes to finish this.

NYRR race director Peter Ciaccia always makes sure he’s out there as the last finishers come in, and he was about 100 feet before the finish line dancing to the music and high-fiving us.  I laughed, but even though I wanted to slow down and boogie, I wanted the PR more, so I kept pushing. Definitely 4:36. Come on, push.

Yay! Done. And definitely a PR!

Post-race

The end of this is another Bataan death march all the way down the boardwalk and past the stadium to get gear bags from the stadium parking lot. I ended up walking all the way across the parking lot only to be told “Wait, we’re moving the gear bags.” They moved them closer to the stadium (good call), but since I’d walked all the way over, I had to follow and then get my bag.

I was just going to grab mine and head to the subway and change in a real bathroom at Atlantic Terminal where I had to change trains anyway. Good thing, since the heavens opened while I was walking to the subway. There was a kiosk in the subway station with cheesy tourist Ts and sweatshirts, and I grabbed the first one I saw that wasn’t horribly tacky and bought it. I didn’t put it on though, since I was still wet.

It’s a haul to head back from Coney Island, but once I was out of the rain, I didn’t really notice the wet clothes — the poncho had kept me reasonably dry beyond the usual sweat and some damp — and I ended up deciding I’d rather just head back to the hotel and shower and change there, so I did.

Then it was off to the NYRR RunCenter near Columbus Circle to get my medal engraved. Usually I have to wait a couple of hours, but the wait was only 15 minutes, so I hung around. Deena Kastor was there to sign copies of her book, so I waited until she was free and then went up and told her I’d gotten her book in Boston, read it and taken it to heart. Then I mentioned how I’d opened the book before I’d headed out, and how that had helped me when I bogged down in the back and kept my race from falling off the rails like last year. She asked how I did, so I told her I’d PR’d by about 90 seconds.

She congratulated me and held up her hand to high-five me.

OK, that was cool.

We talked for a couple more minutes. Turns out writing for her is like running for me — takes a lot longer and is way harder than it feels like it should be. She said if it wasn’t for her co-author, who quit her job to work on the book with Deena, she might have given up. But she felt responsible and made herself do all the hard work to finish the book.

Nobody’s quitting their job to help me run a marathon, but so many people have told me that they’re coming to cheer for me that I get it: You commit to something and people join your team to get you there, so there’s a sense of “I’m not just letting myself down if I decide this isn’t worth the work.”

Not that I’ve thought that — I’m definitely still committed to running NYC — but I have a feeling this reminder will be what I need to do everything I need to do during this next training cycle to make NYC a success.

Race aftermath

While I was reading in bed that night I started shivering and couldn’t stop for a couple of minutes. OK, long day. Time for bed.

Sunday, I got brunch at a different UWS place I’d heard was good and this one lived up to the reputation. Then I decided to hop one last ferry, this time to Astoria. On the way back, I started coughing. That’s weird.

Yeah. That tickle in my throat Friday night was apparently the harbinger of a full-blown cold. By the time I got home Sunday night, I was pretty sure Monday was going to be miserable. My team’s leader was off Monday and Tuesday, so a sick day wasn’t an option, but I went home after our morning meetings and finished the day at home, then worked at home Tuesday, finally took a sick day Wednesday, worked from home again on Thursday and finally returned to the office Friday.

I didn’t run at all. Although at least it coincided with when I needed recovery anyway.

It’s been two weeks since the race and I’ve run three times, although it would have been about double that if not for breaking news and then forgetting running crops (or running bottoms of any kind) on a trip to my hometown this weekend. Oops. I still have some residual gunk, but nothing major.

Time to buckle down to solid base-building before marathon training starts in a few weeks.

Lessons learned

Bunch of lessons out of this one.

What worked

  • Staying off my feet the day before and morning of the race as much as possible really made a difference. Since I often run races with large fields, this is something I really need to do more often.
  • My mantras worked, when I used them. The key is using them more and not getting caught up in times and paces and splits.
  • Knowing the course and training on parts of it really made a big difference in helping me set a solid race strategy and just in feeling comfortable while the race was going on. This was true at Broad Street, too, and definitely means running parts of the NYC course are on the running route agenda this summer.
  • Fueling and hydration was on point. I feel like at this point I know what works, at least at the half distance. Now I need to build on that for the marathon.
  • This race was much less traumatic than Broad Street 2016. I had better gear, plus I knew what to expect and what to watch out for (puddles). It was not-miserable, and I’m counting that as a win.
  • When things started to go bad, I reset both my expectations and my mindset and got back on track, which let me salvage my PR on a day that had a few things go wrong. That’s an experience I haven’t had before, and I’m glad I now know I can hit a rough patch and mentally reset.

What didn’t

  • The couple of weeks between my two races were a little crazy and I let my nutrition slip in quality. I also didn’t make a point of getting to bed on time several nights. Both of these, plus race stress, probably contributed to my cold. Running in cold rain for a few hours capped it off. Both nutrition and sleep need to be on point to keep me healthy through this next training cycle.
  • The poncho was great, but since I wore the hood down because of my hat, some rain got in and pooled in the sleeves between elbows and wrists. That was not fun. Hood up next time, or think about getting ponchos that don’t have sleeves.
  • My mental game still needs work. I let myself get too caught up in times and paces and splits, and the boost I got in the beginning came back to bite me later in the race. Race the course, not the clock. I have a couple 10Ks coming up and I need to practice this during them.
  • I skipped pre-race coffee, but I’m thinking that it would have helped some in the later stages of the race. I need to experiment and see if there’s a middle ground that will give me that boost to run harder without putting my heart rate up so much higher than my effort level.

I was a little cranky that I was so far off my 3:13 goal, but my cold put things in perspective a bit. After musing on it, I think my 3:25 was about as fast as I could have done that day given conditions. But I also know there are things I can do to get a better performance out of the same level of fitness, so I’ll be focusing on improving those things heading into the next training cycle.

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