“No Sleep Til Brooklyn” was the rallying cry I heard all over Facebook and Twitter early Saturday morning as I made myself over to the start in Prospect Park. Because I had stayed over at my brother’s place the night before, I had rather good sleep myself. That wasn’t the problem. My issue was horrible stomach cramps that forced me to the bathroom the first instant I was awake. I patiently did my business as best as I could but it still didn’t feel right as I gathered myself and got dressed for the race. I opted to skip breakfast in favor of some premixed Gatorade for the mile-and-half jog over to the start from my brother’s place. I figured I’d be okay since I had eaten more than my share at the seafood buffet the night before and didn’t feel particularly hungry. By the time I got to my starting corral a half hour later though, I had to do my business again. Ugh! Two trips to the can on race morning was really not what I had prepped for. Still, as I watched the masses start scurrying toward their respective corrals, I couldn’t help but feel excited for the race to get underway.
It was my fifth consecutive year running this race, yet it never ceases to amaze me how much bigger the field size gets year after year. Last year there were 7000+ finishers and I remember feeling packed in and claustrophobic making the loop around Prospect Park. This year, with a field triple that size and an additional wave, I was fearing for the worse. In my mind, I knew I wanted to put in a good time at this race. Traditionally, perhaps because of timing or because of hot weather, I’ve always done my worst at this race. This year, I wanted to run to redeem myself. I wanted to beat my course PR of 1:25:42 set last year when I was reduced to walking bits of the last 2 miles. I also wanted to go sub-1:25 so I can legitimately claim sub3 as a possibility in SFM, my next marathon. And although I wasn’t in shape yet for an overall PR, I feel those goals are conservative and attainable if I just run my race.
I allowed myself to relax a bit as I sat down at the side of the corral and waited for the race to begin. My stomach was calmer now so I take in what’s left of the gatorade I came in to the race with. As the race start drew near, I stood up and situate myself closer to the front of my corral. It was gonna be crowded and I didn’t want to be stuck behind a slew of slower runners, especially when I saw people jumping the bannisters at whim and sneaking into the crowd in front of me. For the life of me, I cannot understand why people would want to start where they clearly didn’t belong. To be running in front of thousands who are clearly faster than you is like standing in front of a stampede of raging bulls. In either case, you are just asking for trouble.
My parents comes over to wish me luck as 7AM draws near. They are both running in the second wave today and had time to grab breakfast and watch me start my race. I hear the national anthem play in the background and I leave my parents and disappear further in my corral. I hear the familiar sound of Peter Ciaccia asking for “clearance on the roadway‘’ and my heart rate accelerates. A few seconds later, amidst a loud smattering of applause from the audience, the air horn sounds and we are off!
Right out of the gate I accelerate to a comfortable speed to match that of my neighbors and held it there. It was downhill for the first half mile or so so it was tempting to push it hard to get ahead of the crowd. But experience told me I’d pay for it later so I just ran within myself, took in the scenery and just used the first mile to stretch out my legs. I recognize some familiar faces in the runners next to me and I knew I was right where I belonged. I passed the first mile marker in 6:16 and remember feeling rather satisfied with life. The air was fresh, the weather unseasonably mild and I was running well in a half marathon with no pain or discomfort. What more could a guy want? I headed off to the familiar loop through Grand Army Plaza eager anticipating the friends and family waiting for me in Prospect Park. Mile 2 was 6:22 and Mile 3 was 6:06 and I entered the park ready for the hills coming my way.
As I entered the park, I see my brother cheering and yelling for me and I acknowldeged him with a fist pump. It was odd to see him not running this since he’s been looking so forward to this race. But I knew he’s dealing with a slight injury so it probably was the right decision for him not to run this race. I decided to dedicate the next 2.7 miles of Prospect Park to him so that afterwards I could tell him I did “his” park proud. And in a way, I did. My next 3 mile splits in the park were 6:26, 6:32 and 6:30. That was by far the fastest 3 miles I’ve ever run in Prospect Park. I was actually quite surprised that I wasn’t gobbled, chewed up, and spat out like I usually am when I run there. In fact, by the time I saw my brother again just before the mile 7 marker, I realized I was still on my half marathon PR pace! I’m sure my brother was rather surprised to see me running so fast.
I knew it wouldn’t last though. I reached the exit to Prospect Park mile 7 in 6:26 and mile 8 in Ocean Parkway at 6:28. At this point I began to tire and had doubts whether I could make it the whole way without walking. I struggled to mile 9 in 6:31 and then to mile 10 in 6:30 fighting some fatigue now in my legs. I took the only GU I had at this point hoping to stimulate a late kick. But my body was just too tired to cooperate anymore. So I coasted to mile 11 in 6:32 and then slower to 12 in 6:40, knowing Melly and Noel would be there somewhere waiting to cheer me on. I saw them both from 50 meters away, flashed a brief smile for the cameras and pushed on. It was so exciting see the both of them cheering for me but it was odd that they were at the exact same spot on opposite sides of the street! My gas was running on empty at this point and it was all I could do to hold on. I waited for 400m left before mustering a feeble last push for the finish line. I collapsed on the boardwalk within steps of crossing the line and had to dry heave for a good two or three minutes before I had the energy to get my medal and move on.
My last two mile splits were 6:35 and 6:40…and the penultimate mile point one was covered in 7:00 flat. It was not exactly the way I would have hoped to run the last 5K of a half marathon but given the long layoff I’ve had since I last raced a half, it was about as well as I could have done.
Official Time – 1:24:19 (average pace 6:26 min/mi)
Overall Place – 304
Age Group Place – 55
Flyers Place – 2nd Male
AG Percentage – 71.53%
So overall, the Brooklyn Half turned out to be a good race for me. Not only did I set a course PR and achieved sub 1:25, it was also my best half time in well over a year! That is surprising given that it’s my favorite distance to race and I usually do 4-5 of these a year. I attribute much of my relative success today to the mild temps and overcast skies and my consistent hill training for the past month and a half. I’ll be back next year to claim a sub124 on these same streets, but for now I’m going to bask in the glory of a well-fought fight, especially since it resulted in an appearance on the ‘Local Heroes’ section of the NYRR website by yours truly.
Not to be outdone, my parents both rocked the course and PR’d in their individual races as well. My mom ended up 9th in her AG and my dad broke 2 hours by 4 seconds! My parents have gone from nonrunners to superstars in less time than it took for me to write this post. Haha! I only hope I can be similarly inspiring to my kids when I am their age one day.