With all the knee problems I had been having in advance of this race, I had not set myself a target time. Instead, I preferred to focus on getting to the finish in one piece. Surprisingly, I completed the half-marathon in a time of 1:56:26, just over two minutes slower than my first half-marathon in March. What was remarkable about this particular effort was that I stopped at almost every water station to hydrate (it was wickedly hot) and walked for 30-60 seconds to take some pressure off my knee. I’m not saying I could have gone faster without the walking, merely speculating that at full health I might have a sub 1:50 half-marathon in my old legs.
The day started early, with a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of coffee in an attempt to start my internal system and get the all important bathroom visit in ahead of the long run. Shortly thereafter Jess dropped off Sarah (a good friend of hers) and I close to the start. Sarah is a much better runner than I and is also part of Team in Training, a great organization who work to support fellow runners while raising money for good causes all year round. Anyway, we made our way to the museum and then went our separate ways as we began our pre-race warm ups. I inhaled a banana and hydrated with some free bottles of water than were being handed out behind the museum. From there I headed over to the corrals and started stretching out my legs. So far, my knee was holding up just fine.
I bumped into a colleague and runner, and we chatted for a while which helped to take my mind off how to manage my knee over the next couple of hours. As the start time quickly approach, we turned our attention to the PA system and began to get psyched up for what promised to be a fast course.
The roads were well marshaled and even though there was a big crowd (15,000+) there were minimal delays in getting the runners going and very few bumps through the opening miles or two. We wound our way down and around the east side of Prospect Park, entering after 3 miles at Park Circle. I felt good at that point. I was holding a nine minute mile pace and my knee was giving off no signs that it wouldn’t hold up. Jess came out to cheer and I caught sight of her on the park’s West Drive. Many people have said it, but it’s so true – seeing a friendly face and getting a shout out provides a great boost to a runner.
We exited at Park Circle and proceeded onto Ocean Parkway, heading over the big ramp and down onto the flat, straight expanse of concrete. With the sun shining, there was little or no shade to provide relief. Prior to the race, I thought this would be a quick section, but the straight roads and hard concrete reminded me so much of the West Side Highway section of the NYC half. Both were long and difficult, more so for the mind than the body. However, it was around mile eight that my knee started to hurt. Just a little at first but enough to set off alarm bells in my head. Wanting to avoid a major injury, I began to take walk breaks to give the knee a break. At each water station I slowed down and re-hydrated while ambulating along for thirty seconds to a minute. After the quick respite, it was back up to jogging speed until the next station.
By this time I was still pulling a relatively fast pace. As we turned right off Ocean Parkway onto Surf Avenue, the crowds got larger and louder. I checked my time and I was headed for something under two hours! Immediately I got a lift and pushed on, passing Jess (who had a big smile and kiss for me) as I hit the boardwalk and upped my speed through the last quarter mile. As I crossed the finish line I couldn’t help but smile; I had done it and in a decent time too. The next 24/48 hours were going to be telling though – just how would my knee feel tomorrow morning and had I pushed myself too far? Only time will tell.