Is This Hell?: 2019 Popular Brooklyn Half Race Recap

The 2019 Popular Brooklyn Half was my fourth race in four weeks. As I get to the end of this recap, you will see that this is a lot of races to run in four weeks, and perhaps too many races to run in four weeks.

This fourth race was a good learning experience. I was tired in ways I had never felt. It was by far the hardest race I’ve ever run, including both of my marathons (one of which, by the way, was one of the four races I ran in this four week period).

The day after the Brooklyn Half was slow going but thankfully free of severe aches and pains. Monday morning I woke up feeling borderline sick. Not sick sick, but you know that scratchy, lethargic feeling that creeps up an hour or two before you realize you’re sick for real? I’ve had that for three days. This is actually not a terrible thing: it’s not so bad that I’m confined to bed or anything, but just bad enough for my body to be like “We’re NOT running, bitch” even though I wasn’t planning on running this week anyway. Dumb body.

But let’s back up to last week.

I was excited to run Brooklyn again for a few reasons:

  • It’s a mostly flat course
  • It’s a club points race (go Harriers!)
  • My friend Scott was planning on running it again and would help pace me again
  • Last year’s Brooklyn Half was so fast for me (8:08 pace), it subsequently bumped me up two NYRR corrals: from F to D. I was hoping the results of this year’s race might bump me up to C. (The lower down the alphabet, the faster the runners surrounding you at the start; a 7:58 pace half marathon would get me into C.)

Last year I had a full time job and it was annoying as hell to get to the race expo on the Brooklyn waterfront during the day. This year, I don’t have a full time job so it was a breeze! The expo was open Wednesday through Friday from noon to 10 pm. I arrived Wednesday at 1:30. There were no lines so everything went smoothly.

The only part of the expo worth mentioning is that I went there hungry, thinking that I would do something I rarely do and eat lunch out. I’m super frugal so I don’t normally do this. I never even get takeout. But I thought “What the heck, it’s a special occasion. Indulge!” There were a couple of food trucks inside the expo. The one that interested me the most (Japanese-inspired Mexican food) was selling tacos for $5 each. SMALL tacos. For FIVE dollars EACH. And their small nacho platter was $12. So I thought… no. I considered stopping for a slice of pizza at one of the popular spots between the expo and the train, but they all had lines out the door. So I just went home hungry, making my own tacos at home for a fraction of the cost. Frugality, you’ve won again!

Here are some pics from the expo. This is how empty it is when you show up 90 minutes after they open the doors.

 

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I had taken three days off after the Run for the Health of It 5K because my right shin had been a little sore – probably because I raced that thing like my life depended on it. On Wednesday, I ran 6 miles with 2 miles at half marathon pace in the middle. I was only able to stay between an 8:00 and 8:10 pace for my HMP which worried me as I really wanted to hit a sub 8:00 for the race.

Thursday and Friday, I kept my runs short and easy. Friday was only 2.5 miles with some strides, as has been my pre-race-day custom.

I got everything ready the night before so I’d have little to do race morning. I even pinned my bib to my shirt. I wasn’t planning on bringing a bag to check, so everything I wanted for the race had to fit in my waist belt. I would bring a small plastic bag for my snacks en route (pita chips and a Nuun water). Temps would be in the upper 50s, so I decided that in addition to my race tank and shorts I’d cut up some old long socks and wear those on my arms for the subway ride there and then just throw them away. I set my alarm for 3:15 and went to bed about 9, falling asleep not long after that.

And then I woke up at 1:30 am.

It’s normal for me to wake up in the middle of the night to pee. I always fall back asleep, something that would not be happening tonight. After tossing and turning for an hour, at about 2:30 I thought I might as well get up. So I did.

This turned out to be good, because between eating my oat bran + egg breakfast and walking my dog and making sure he pooped and getting all my shit together, 2+ hours was the perfect amount of time to get ready. I left at 4:50 and headed for the train.

By the way, here’s a race hack: if you think you’ll need sunscreen before and/or after the race and don’t want to carry a gross plastic bag of the stuff, take one of those hotel shampoo bottles that’s been sitting in your medicine cabinet for the past four years, empty it out into your regular shampoo bottle, clean it out, and fill it with sunscreen!

 

The subways were predictably bad that morning – it took forever for them to arrive and then the 3 train stopped running at 42nd and we all had to get out and wait for the next 2/3 to Brooklyn. What should have been a 55-60 minute ride wound up taking about an hour and 20 minutes.

I was worried about time because last year the lines for security took forever. I also remember getting out at the wrong stop last year and having to walk what felt like a mile to get there along with hundreds of other runners who also all got out at the wrong stop (we’re all such sheep). I was determined to get out at the right stop this year.

Thankfully, it all went much better this year. I got out at the correct stop, which was right in front of the security line. Which, by the way, was nowhere near as bad as it was last year. It wasn’t raining, no security staff were yelling at us, and I was through in under 10 minutes.

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I texted my friend Scott that I’d be in Corral F waiting in a porta potty line. (I know I said I’m normally in D but the Brooklyn Half is so big it starts in two waves; hence the corral lettering system is slightly different.) Scott was assigned to F too, which makes sense since we finished last year’s Brooklyn Half at the same time. It was the only NYRR race he’d done so NYRR had no idea he’s actually capable of much more. Scott runs for fun, is fast, and unlike me he’s so cool he doesn’t care about his race times. Just like last year, he agreed to run with me to help get me to my goal finish time. What a friend!

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This is the largest half marathon in the U.S., by the way. Which meant one thing: a very good, high quality rendition of the national anthem. Good job singer, whoever you are! And before 7:00 am too!

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Boy, I was going to crush this thing! I’m absolutely in better shape this year. I could easily take off ten seconds a mile from last year’s pace to run this at a 7:58! First sub 8:00 pace half marathon, here I come! C corral, here I come! One last selfie before we do this! Woo-hoo!

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The first mile in Prospect Park was a little slow-going due to course crowding, but that was to be expected. I thought it’d be a good idea to keep my pace in the low 8’s for the first few miles and then work my way up from there. Scott wasn’t wearing a watch but I was tracking it all on mine – he would run as fast as I wanted and maybe even run up ahead like he did last year, giving me a target to follow.

I felt good in this first mile. We talked a little but I knew that with the pace this year I might not be up for much conversation this time; we had both brought headphones which was just as well. At the end of mile 1 and the start of mile 2, it felt a little hard. I asked “Are we going up a hill?” because it was so subtle, but yes, we were. Funny, I hadn’t remembered this hill last year.

The race can be thought of as being divided into two main parts: the shaded, rolling hills of Prospect Park and the long, unshaded flat/downhill stretch down Ocean Parkway that ends at Coney Island. Last year we had kept our pace on the conservative side until we exited the park and then sped up going down Ocean Parkway for our fastest miles of the race. I was hoping to repeat that this year with slightly faster paces.

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I took the second mile a little faster. Still feeling strong, especially once the hill flattened out. It was fun seeing the other runners coming the other way. Mile 3 was even faster, although I was trying to be careful not to drift into 10K pace territory, which at times I was. It was a fine balance of pushing and holding back.

MILE 1: 8:11
MILE 2: 7:58
MILE 3: 7:46

Mile 4 has us entering the main loop of Prospect Park. There were a lot of spectators around here which was nice. I searched the crowds for Harriers but didn’t see any. I talked to Scott less this year. Every so often Scott would say something and I’d grunt a few words in response. I know I was going faster this year, but I wondered if I was also more tired. I still managed a smile for the cameras.

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I was wearing the same water bottle I’d worn in the NJ Marathon, again with a Nuun tablet. As in the marathon, I planned on having a sip or two every third mile or whenever I felt like it. I really didn’t want to be slowing down for any water stops.

Mile 5 is where the wheels started coming off. I don’t run in Prospect Park so the only other time I’d run here was last year’s race; I remembered knowing there was a hill in this mile but upon reaching it last year, I didn’t think much of it. This year was another story.

Damn, this stretch was hard. Also, for some godforsaken reason the hill(s) seemed about four times steeper and longer this year. Did they make this Prospect Park hill bigger for this year’s race? Is that even possible? Probably not, right?

I struggled to keep up with Scott, who ran 20-50 feet in front of me for a lot of this portion, a decision I was thankful for because it gave me a target. In fact, the back of his red shirt had what kind of looked like a bulls eye. I kept my focus on it, trying desperately to keep up. But it was really hard staying below 8:00.

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My bulls eye, taken after the end of the race (spoiler: I didn’t die!)

I’d brought two Gu gels with me and ate one of them around here, which slowed me down even more. I never ate the other one.

Thankfully the road flattened out in mile 7 and I finally caught up to Scott. “Rough patch,” I said, not wanting to waste any more breath. I sped up to try and make up for my slow miles, hoping I would be able to push the pace even more once on Ocean Parkway. Like a good friend, Scott pulled ahead again, encouraging me to come with him. I tried.

MILE 4: 7:51
MILE 5: 8:10
(hills)
MILE 6: 8:11 (Jesus, more hills?)
MILE 7: 7:39

Phew, here we were on a nice, flat stretch that would lead all the way to the beach. Last year we’d had light rain and overcast skies the whole race and it was freezing at the end. Up until this point, I’d been happy it wasn’t raining this year.

Unfortunately, this also meant it was sunny.

I’d forgotten about the advice I’d received (from where I forget) that the left side of Ocean Parkway was in the shade for a few miles. So I ran down the middle of the road in the direct sun, which made the upper 50s/low 60s temps feel about 20 degrees warmer. I actually missed last year’s rain.

This was an incredibly hard part of the race. I had to do everything in my mental power to keep moving. My playlist helped a bit but the songs also felt… far away. I kept my eyes on Scott’s bulls eye back.

I’ve been reading Matt Fitzgerald’s How Bad Do You Want It? and one of the things I’ve taken away from it so far is the idea of taking your mind off of your body and placing it somewhere external in order to get through the pain of a race. So I tried this. Anytime I thought about how bad I felt I looked around, up ahead, anywhere but inside my head. But my mind kept returning to me. I wondered what was the worst that could happen, outside of dying (which I had not fully ruled out). I’ve never thrown up on a run before, and I imagined what it would be like to do it today. Would I just pull over, puke, and keep going with a vomit-soaked shirt the rest of the way? It wasn’t out of the question.

At times I wondered if this was actual hell. If not, I thought it would make a good hell. I wondered if the devil had ever run a half marathon in the sun before.

I think I was borderline delirious. At one point, while looking at all of the bobbing heads stretched out in front of me, I thought, “Is this real life?” I thought about the idea of spirits on the other side. If the other side exists (I’ve no solid proof, although that does not make it any less likely), is that the real reality? Are we the ghosts? What is real? Why do we do this? Why do we choose to come to Earth, enter a human body, and punish it with pain? Why do we suffer? Is this really happening? Why I am here? And why, why am I doing this?

Every time my watched beeped with the start of a new mile, I felt that much closer to relief. Four miles to go. Three miles to go. This hell would soon be over.

MILE 8: 7:54
MILE 9: 7:54
MILE 10: 8:00
MILE 11: 8:03

Toward the end of the race, my right arm stopped working. Not sure why, but I was suddenly too tired to bend my elbow and my wrist started just… flapping. I had a normally functioning left arm and a floppy right arm. I saw my shadow. It was lopsided. What the hell.

My eyes crossed and everything in front of me doubled. It felt good to cross my eyes. Easier. I wondered if I could just run the rest of the race like that. Or maybe even asleep. Maybe I could finish the race asleep. Has anyone ever done that? Maybe I could be the first.

I suddenly found myself approaching Coney Island, Scott was now running beside me. I hadn’t even seen him backtrack. “I feel like I’m going to faint,” I said. I still couldn’t bend my right arm. Flop, flop, flop.

“You’re not going to faint,” he assured me. “Use your breath. Always go back to your breath. Your breath is your friend.” I tried doing what he said and used my breath. My friend, Breath. Okay, this was working. I felt about 5% stronger. But not strong enough – my pace here was the slowest of the entire race, almost where it was during the exhausting final miles of the NJ Marathon. I could not move any faster. My body had had enough.

We were almost at the boardwalk. As a photographer myself, I’m quick to notice them on the course and saw a couple right around here. I forced a smile and tried making my body look like it wasn’t dying. I found these pics where I’m honestly not sure if I’m aware of the camera and smiling, or unaware of the camera and grimacing. Chances are good it’s the latter.

 

Finally, we ran up the ramp leading to the boardwalk. Well, the other runners ran. I hobbled.

Once on the boardwalk, I saw a sign: 200 METERS. Sweet relief. The finish was right up ahead. I found I could push a little. So close, so close. Almost done, and then I wouldn’t have to run anymore. Scott gallantly ran beside me across the finish. I tried looking strong for all of the strangers watching what I assume was me, and only me.

MILE 12: 8:11
MILE 13: 8:22
(slowest mile of the race, just like the pros!)
MILE 0.24: 8:08 pace

Garmin Total Distance: 13.24 miles
Garmin Total Time: 1:46:05
Garmin Average Pace: 8:01

I was done. Bliss. I immediately noticed some very nice, empty boardwalk to my right, next to the barrier separating the runners from the spectators. I thought it would feel nice to kneel down on it, so I did. I held my thumb up so Scott knew I was okay, just resting. I just needed to do something different with my legs for a moment. It felt so good to stretch my thighs out. I was probably there 30 seconds.

After that, I felt better. The best part was I was no longer running. How nice that was, not to be running anymore.

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We got our medals and I grabbed a couple of water cups. Damn, I was thirsty. I noticed I hadn’t finished my Nuun bottle. I wondered if I’d been dehydrated.

We made our way to the swag bag section where I chose a bag with the Glacier Cherry Gatorade because that’s the only flavor I really like. Scott met up with his brother-in-law who took a couple post-race pics for us.

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I found a group of Harriers! We commiserated about the heat and someone took our pic.

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Scott’s sister Sabrina also ran the race. She’s super fast (I guess it runs in the family, pun totally intended) so she’d already finished and was in the “after party” stadium, so we headed there next.

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In the stadium, I took my shoes and socks off, refreshed the sunblock layer on my face and arms, and ate everything I had in front of me.

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Here’s the good news: I PR’d. I can’t believe this. I felt like HELL. I’d run a 4 miler a month earlier, a marathon three weeks earlier, a 5K a week earlier, was absolutely not rested enough for this race, yet I still PR’d. Granted, I only PR’d by 31 seconds. But still. I finished in 1:46:03 – an 8:06 average pace. It wasn’t the 7:58 I’d hoped for. Corral C would have to wait.

Scott reminded me that a PR was a PR – no sense it being disappointed that it wasn’t a PR by a certain amount. He was right. I was happy with my time. Hell, I was happy I didn’t throw up, stop, walk, or die. There would be other half marathons, other races, and more opportunities to advance up the NYRR corral system.

We wanted Nathan’s hot dogs again this year and instead of going to the crowded one on the boardwalk, we found a Nathan’s right there in the stadium. There was a line and it took a while, but it was nowhere as long as last year.

Unfortunately the Nathan’s condiments were inexplicably halfway around the damn stadium, so instead of using our legs even more than we already had that morning, we just ate the hot dogs plain. I was still excited for this meal.

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Scott headed back to the train but I wanted to walk around a bit more. I’d gotten a dog walker for my pup so I felt like I might as well take advantage and take it all in. I decided I wanted ice cream. Apparently, pretzels, an apple, a chocolate Honey Stinger bar, a Nathan’s hot dog, and fries were not enough food for me before 10:30 am.

I walked down to the boardwalk and found exactly what I wanted: Coney’s Cones!

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I cheered on some wave 2 finishers as I ate my ice cream. As I like to do, I also took some pics.

 

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I realized that my friend Kiki was going to finish soon so I waited for her, watched her finish, and then met up with her back in the stadium. She met her friend and the three of us hung out for a while. In the meantime, I was getting a nice li’l sunburn on my back.

We eventually decided to head to the subways. Kiki and I got on a train at noon. By 1:30, I was home.

And exhausted.

I decided to make myself a special dinner that night so I bought salmon and asparagus. And a large peanut butter cup cookie for dessert. Take that, frugality!

As of this writing, I haven’t run since the race. I plan on taking the rest of the week off. Maybe even the weekend. For the first time maybe ever, I feel like I need a hard reset. And while it was kind of fun spending this last month seeing what my body was capable of and challenging it in ways I never before have, I don’t think I will be repeating this schedule next year. I’ve already decided that if I run the Run for the Health of It 5K next year, I’m not going to race it. I’ll jog it with my nephews instead. Someone else can have the second place age group award. I’ll save my energy in May for the 2020 Brooklyn Half.

Sub 8:00 half marathon pace, you will be mine.

OFFICIAL RESULTS:

– Time: 1:46:03
– Pace: 8:06/m
– Age Group: 109/1610
– Women: 1162/13137
– Overall: 5364/26829

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5 thoughts on “Is This Hell?: 2019 Popular Brooklyn Half Race Recap

  1. You ran a great race. Several of teammates suffered from heatstroke, esp those who were in Wave 2.

    Yes, Zoo Hill (the big hill in Prospect Park) got bigger. Somehow it knows how to grow for runners doing the BK Half the second time. It’ll shrink next year. I don’t know how it knows, but it just does.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s crazy how hot it felt! I felt bad for wave 2 runners having to start so much later. I’m starting to think that maybe shady races on the hills of Central Park beats sunny races on the flat straightaway of Ocean Parkway.

      That’s great news – I’m looking forward to next year when they shrink Zoo Hill for me!!!

      Like

  2. Congrats, it was unseasonably hot for this year’s Half. I can imagine running 4+ miles on Ocean Parkway in the direct sun was not fun.

    Honestly, I would like to run this Half again (I ran it back in 2012 as my first half-marathon), but I do not find the course that inspiring. Hopefully, in the future, the Brooklyn Half will incorporate more of Coney Island.

    Although it was hot as heck, hotdogs, ice cream, and beer is a great way to celebrate.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Hard Reset: My Convenient Cold, Global Running Day, and Meeting Deena Kastor – My Body Is A Machine

  4. Pingback: Thirst Trap: 2019 New York Mini 10K Race Recap – My Body Is A Machine

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