I ran a half marathon Saturday morning. It took me an hour to get there. Four hours and 13 minutes of sleep. Up at 4 am. Rained the entire time. Chilly. Damp. Wet shoes, wet socks. No headphones, no music.
The Brooklyn Half is the largest half marathon in the country. This year’s race had 25,386 finishers. This is… very a lot. The size of the race made for a few inconveniences – mostly in terms of waiting times – but once it began, it never felt too crowded or unmanageable. I had a blast. I’m so glad I did it.
Let’s back up to last Thursday afternoon. Runners had to go to Brooklyn Bridge Park to pick up our bibs – Wednesday through Friday from noon to 10pm only, somewhat of a minor annoyance for me, as I live and work in the city (aka Manhattan) and had to do this during the work day. Pickup was at the end of Pier 2, one of the furthest points east from any subway.
Generally, I don’t mind walking for 20 minutes, but man, they didn’t make it easy. I mean, I get it. There are a lot of runners and it’s easier to hold this where there’s space (aka not Manhattan). At least the trip made for a few nice pics.
I was happy to see a mural with all the runners’ names on it. Mine was in a spot least flattering for a selfie. But that didn’t stop me.
Race day: I didn’t get much sleep. I’ve been spending every free moment unpacking in my new place (yes, I moved a week and a half ago and I’m still unpacking) and wound up with just a little over 4 hours of sleep the night before. Surprisingly, I had a good amount of energy when I woke up at 4am. Adrenaline FTW!
For breakfast, I had my usual pre-race meal: half bagel, nut butter, banana, coffee. I don’t know if any of you have tried coconut butter, but this unopened jar was at my mom’s house forever and I never opened it until recently. It’s legitimately addictive.
And it’s surprisingly good on a toasted cinnamon raisin bagel!
Initially, I’d been a little nervous about taking the subway so early in the morning on a weekend, but it turned out to be packed with other runners. This was the platform at Times Square at about 5:30 am.
It only got more crowded as we waited for the downtown Q train to arrive. On the train, it was standing room only.
Everyone on the subway was headed to the race. It was fun seeing what other people were eating. One guy with a “B” on his bib (aka a Very Good Runner) was eating what looked like a turkey sandwich while his lap held a muffin and bottle of Gatorade. Others were eating energy bars or bananas. I brought along a baggie of dry cereal to munch on.
I thought we were all supposed to transfer to the 4/5 at the Atlantic stop, but nobody got off, so I didn’t either because I’m a sheep. I just followed everyone off at the Prospect Park stop… which turned out to be what felt like a mile walk to the entrance. I’m still not sure if this was a mistake or not.
It was raining lightly as we all made our way to the entrance. There was about a 30-second period after getting out of the subway where I noticed my shoes start to get wet. I hate wet shoes. HATE THEM. I’d rather be soaked EVERYWHERE on my body and have dry feet. But once they were wet, they were wet. That was the point when I just had to shrug and realize that I might as well accept that my shoes were going to be wet. I think once I accepted that, it was easy to move on with my life. Sometimes you just have to acknowledge that things are going to suck for a while.
I brought as little as possible because I didn’t want to deal with a bag check. I carried my headphones in a ziploc in case it stopped raining and I felt like wearing them. I put some Clif Bloks in my pocket and wore a thin hoodie, pinning my bib to my crop top because I knew at some point I was going to take off my outer layer.
When we finally arrived, there was a long line to get past the metal detectors. Yep, metal detectors. A big change from all the cute little 150-runner races I’ve done on Long Island where you just show up and fall into place at the starting line.
I’m really glad I didn’t check a bag, because the bag check for Wave 1 closed while I was in this heinous line.
The most stressful part of the morning was honestly the damn metal detector. I wasn’t sure what to put in the little plastic bin they gave us, and like three officials barked at me what to do and I can’t even remember what went in and what didn’t and they probably all hated that they had to be there at 6 am on a rainy Saturday so I’ll give them a pass.
I made my way to Corral H to meet my buddy Scott. He’d already made a friend because he’s very outgoing. The guy took a pic of us getting rained on.
My goal for this race was simply to beat my last (and only) half marathon time of 1:53 (8:39 pace). That’s it. Just run faster than that. I had a feeling I’d be able to accomplish this, due to two things: 1) I’m a bit faster now than I was back in January, and 2) from what I’d heard, this course is relatively flat, especially the second half which is a straight shot from Prospect Park down to Coney Island.
But let’s talk about Scott, because he turned out to be another important factor in my pace! In addition to being a singer, songwriter, guitarist, husband, father, finance whiz of some sort, and overall good dude, Scott is also a hardcore Tough Mudderer. Tough Mudders are challenging obstacle course races where athletes who don’t mind getting dirty climb over walls and crawl through mud pools and swing from ropes (?) and reach the finish line utterly filthy and exhausted and thrilled. (And yes, I want to do one.)
Scott is a good runner, typically doing 13 miles at a 7:40 pace on his own. He suggested running the race together, and, to my luck, he didn’t care about his time. He’s chill like that (unlike me). He was actually supposed to start in Corral G but moved back to H to start with me. I’d never run a race alongside someone before, but figured it’d be a nice change of pace – possibly, you know, literally.
I’d told him most likely I wouldn’t be able to talk. I figured I’d try going at about an 8:30 pace, which I assumed would be too fast for conversation. We agreed: he’d do all the talking and I’d say “uh huh” and “mm hmm” and try my best to keep up.
I wanted to pee, but the lines for the toilets snaked around the corrals and I gave up waiting. I didn’t desperately have to go, but wanted to as a precaution.
Finally, the gun went off. It took us about 15 minutes to actually reach the starting line, and at one point before the start I saw a short line for a porta-potty, so I managed to pee after all. Hooray!
So here’s how the race went.
I won’t break it down mile by mile, because I honestly can’t remember exactly what happened in each one. All I know is, once we started running, I didn’t care about the rain anymore. It had been a minor irritation while we’d been standing around in the corral, but once we were off, I just didn’t care anymore. I had more important things to think about.
The map of the first few miles along Flatbush Avenue look like they’re inside Prospect Park, a 585-acre piece of greenery in the middle of Brooklyn, although they are actually just outside of it. This part was fairly flat and included a turnaround where we came back along the same route.
According to my Garmin (which I mistakenly started a few seconds too early, so these paces may be slightly off), we went out at an 8:24 pace, about a minute faster than my easy pace but nothing difficult. My last 5K race was about a 7:45, so this was manageable.
Scott did most of the talking (one story he told was about how Prince once smashed a guitar belonging to a member of The Roots) but I was surprised at how easy it was for me to talk as well. I didn’t do any long monologues, but I was able to interject here and there and joke around and sing a few lines of Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” out loud and it didn’t kill me – even with our third mile’s pace of 7:52. Maybe it’s my imagination, but it felt like we were passing a good number of runners. I really think it helped having the distraction of someone to talk to.
Scott also reminded me of a mantra he learned while doing Tough Mudders: Embrace the Suck. It was like how I felt about my wet shoes: the weather sucked, but what was I going to do? Think about it the whole time? Complain? Bitch and moan? It’s easier to just accept it and free up your mind for more important things – like in this case, the hot dogs we were going to eat at Nathan’s afterwards.
These four miles put us solidly inside the park, our mile paces 8:16, 8:24, 8:29, and 7:39, respectively. Mile 6 (8:29) was our slowest mile of the race, as that was the one with the uphill – the only real hill in the race. It wasn’t bad; I’d actually been picturing something far worse. It was a little long, but not steep. As I’ve written before, the hills of Northport have trained me well.
I knew Mile 7 was the last one in the park before we were to head down Ocean Parkway to Coney Island. And I knew I wanted to take off my hoodie before the exit. I tried my best to do everything without stopping: have Scott hold my bag o’ headphones and Clif Bloks (which I’d been holding in each hand – my shorts pockets didn’t feel secure enough for either), remove my armband and phone, take off my hoodie, tie it around my waist, and put back my armband. I managed to do everything while running except put the armband back on – we stopped for about 5 seconds so I could do this. This whole ordeal probably slowed me down a bit, but not by much.
There were a good number of people on the sidelines cheering us on. Scott and I joked at how easy it is for people standing still and holding coffee to say things like “Keep going!” Like… we are… keeping going? Thanks? Look, I appreciate them, but I can also make fun of them. It helps pass the time.
I’m just going to lump these all together, because this section actually felt like a different race. The entire thing really felt like one 7-mile race and one 6-mile race. The 7 miles in the park were good, mildly challenging, filled with conversation and jokes, surrounded by trees and nature. It wasn’t crazy hard, but just hard enough. I credit Scott with knowing exactly how fast to run in order to challenge me but not wipe me out.
The 6 miles down Ocean Parkway were something else entirely. First of all, despite it being 50 degrees and rainy (although it was more of a drizzle at this point), it felt AMAZING to take off my outer layer and run in a crop top. There’s something about running while not wearing a shirt that makes me not only feel better, but run faster.
I honestly don’t know how some people were running in rain ponchos. I get that they wanted to stay dry, but this seemed insane to me, almost as crazy as if they were smoking cigarettes the whole time. I’d think it would make you so hot and clammy. I mean, if you’re going to be wet, at least get a nice breeze on your bod.
Last fall, I ran the Cow Harbor 10K with an 8:48 average pace. That course is fairly hilly. Still, compared to that 6 mile race, I was really pleased with the paces for the last 6 miles I ran here:
MILE 8: 8:00
MILE 9: 7:51
MILE 10: 7:55
MILE 11: 7:57
MILE 12: 7:56
MILE 13: 7:43
Maybe because it was all straight down a pretty flat road, this part of the race felt very consistent. I stopped looking at my watch at some point. I knew I was running between 7:50 and 8:00, which was just fast enough for me to sustain.
Our paces for the second half of the race were faster than the first, which of course is the idea. I was happy about this. Scott actually ran a few feet in front of me for a few miles to try and push me, which was just as well because I couldn’t really talk at this point. I guess I found where the line for my “conversational pace” is.
One thing that surprised me: I didn’t miss my usual music. I always listen to music while I run. ALWAYS. Obviously, having someone to talk to helped, but even toward the end when we stopped chatting, I didn’t mind not having music. It was honestly fine.
Eventually, we could see the end. Or at least the place where we were to turn into Coney Island and head toward the boardwalk where the finish line was. I really wanted to just blast through this last mile. But I couldn’t go any faster. I mean, 7:43 isn’t a bad pace – it was my second-fastest of the entire race. But it was all I could do. I actually think it’s good that I couldn’t surge ahead at this point, as that would have meant that I’d had more in me that I’d been holding back. But I didn’t. I had run as hard as I could.
And I was so happy to stop.
I asked a random man to take our pic after the finish. Thanks, random man. And thanks, Scott! I don’t think I would have run as fast if it hadn’t been for you.
They gave us heat blankets, something I’ve never taken before but I’m SO glad I did, because I think it legit saved my life on the subway ride home, which took forever.
Then we made our way to Nathan’s, which was criminally understaffed for what they were experiencing. We made the mistake of waiting on the longest line in Nathan’s history when we should have just done the shitty thing and cut. But we got some good pics out of it.
And we eventually got our hot dogs. Delicious, wonderful, terrible-for-you hot dogs.
It was 10am and we downed those things like we hadn’t eaten in days.
The subway ride home took a long time. Thank the lord for that heat blanket. I was honest-to-god shivering by the time I was waiting for the uptown 1 at Columbus Circle.
I was so, so happy with my pace. I honestly couldn’t believe it. I ran an average 8:08 pace for a half marathon. I thought I’d be lucky to sustain an 8:30 the whole time. It seems as though I had, once again, massively underestimated myself.
And my feet were wet, smelly, and filthy. And I didn’t care.
We embraced the suck. And it was glorious.
- Time: 1:46:34
- Pace: 8:08/m
- Age Group: 95/1452
- Women: 1175/12367
- Overall: 5414/25386