The Brooklyn Half is one of my favorite races, not least because it takes place in my back yard. The start area is less than half an hour from my apartment and the finish is close to the F subway, which makes getting home pretty easy. In terms of course layout, the first half takes place in and around Prospect Park, where I run and bike on a daily basis. I know the roads, know my optimal pace, and can read my bodies reaction to the roads. About half way through, the course exits the park and runs along Ocean Parkway all the way Coney Island. Ocean Parkway is a pretty straight run, making it a bit of a toil. After about four miles of straight, flat concrete the course turns onto Surf Avenue and then the boardwalk in Coney Island. The last corner, going from Surf Ave to the boardwalk is a but tricky in a crowd of people because the runners have to take the ramp, there’s only enough room for two people to run side by side, so make sure to get ahead of the group before the last bend.
Unfortunately for me, both times I have attempted this race I have been recovering from or dealing with knee pain. It seems like I just can’t catch a break at this time of year! A couple of months of relative inactivity following the NYC Half meant that my knee was not giving me as much grief as it had earlier in the year. That’s not to say I had recovered, I just wasn’t pushing myself that hard and putting as much strain on it.
My preparations went as smoothly as can be expected. In the lead up to the race I only had a couple of short training runs to keep my legs ticking over. The night before I got to bed early and the morning of I ate a bowl of oatmeal. On the walk up to the start I took onboard plenty of fluids. After dropping off my bag I got in a good stretch and mentally prepared for the next two hours.
Starting in the first wave, I took off at a moderate nine minute mile pace. Almost immediately, my knee started to ache. I couldn’t believe it! Perhaps, stupidly but certainly stubbornly, I was determined to push through. I had already dropped out of one half-marathon this year and had no intention of putting up another DNF. My original plan had been to aim for a negative split by starting slowly and picking up speed later in the race. With my knee acting up, that plan went out the window. I resigned myself to maintaining a consistent pace and trying to come in under two hours.
Each mile was as painful as the previous one, and on a couple of occasions I came close to stopping. The first time was pretty early on as we wound our way through Prospect Park. I struggled up the hill and at the top, the point on the course closest to my apartment, I seriously considered stopping. I didn’t, mainly thanks to Jess who had come out to cheer me on. She ran next to me for a couple of hundred yards and that definitely helped to lift my spirits. For the rest of the race I alternated between jogging at my default pace and taking walk breaks fill up on fluids and rest my aching joint.
As we closed in one the finish, I was running on adrenaline more than anything else. I knew I had a good shot at breaking two hours, so I kept pushing myself and even skipped the last walk break. Once on the boardwalk, the finish line acted like a magnet, drawing me in with the promise of rest and relaxation. I crossed the line in a time of 1:58, over twelve minutes slower than my personal best but still respectable. Just like the previous year, my thoughts turned to “what if,” what if I could run this race without any pain or knee issues. I felt sure that, were I in decent physical shape and injury free, I could probably turn in a pretty fast time. The course is ideal for it, it’s just a case of getting myself in the right condition. Maybe next year …