The Brooklyn Half

bkln_half_002The 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 …

The Brooklyn Half

05192012 Brooklyn Half 003With 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.


bklyn_001After spending the last year and a half based in Central Park, I’m moving my training runs to Prospect Park in a few weeks. Why so? On the personal side, things have been going extremely well with Jessica and we’ve decided to move in together. Our place in Boerum Hill is about a mile from Prospect Park, so most of my outdoor runs will be based there in the future. I’m sure I’ll miss the proximity to Central Park – especially on race days – but otherwise I’m looking forward to getting out of Manhattan.

A friend had mentioned the Brooklyn half-marathon a while ago and I was watching out for it on the New York Road Runners calendar. The race was listed as TBD for quite some time, leading to speculation among many in the running community about a change in date or course. Nevertheless, details of the race were published two weeks ago and the registration date set for March 26th. I was out of the country at the time, and arrived home that afternoon. Knowing the popularity of the race, one of the first things I did when I got home was to open the NYRR site and sign up for the race. Lucky I did, as the race sold out in a matter of hours.

Having completed my first half-marathon only a few weeks ago, I’m excited to do it all again. The course sounds very interesting and the finish, along the Coney Island boardwalk, is something worth looking forward to.