Monday, May 20, 2013

Race Report: Brooklyn Half Marathon

In my last post, I outlined my general training strategy for the Brooklyn Half and provided a rough idea of how I expected to race.  In short, I expected to PR, but knew my training wasn't as good as I would have liked it to be.  Regardless of how anyone trains for a race, there will always be areas where you think you could have done more.  In this case, I knew I could have done more longer tempos, but I simply didn't have the time given other obligations.  I made the most of my training with the time that I did have and I knew that the result on race day would reflect my consistent training over the better part of a year, rather than these past six weeks of build up.  I used these six weeks as specific half marathon training, but the foundation of my fitness was laid a long time ago, so I knew I'd have an opportunity to run well, it simply came down to race day execution.

Since the Brooklyn Half was a Saturday race, I wanted to make sure I made the trip with plenty of time to relax on Friday and not have to add extra stress the day before the race.  And with a soon-to-be 1 year old (today!), we had to plan around his schedule.  So that meant leaving in the dark of the night to ensure he continued to sleep and we didn't run into any traffic issues.  We left at about 3:30 am and despite hitting some traffic in Staten Island during morning rush hour, we still made good time and were parked in Brooklyn by 8 am with a full day ahead of us...after we picked up some coffee first!

Main Pre-Party Area
I went for a short 20 minute run along the constantly updated piers that essentially went from my sister's place in Cobble Hill to the Brooklyn Bridge and back.  The run was a simple easy jog, including 2 x 2:00 at goal race pace, as a reminder to my body of the pace I should be running on Saturday. 

Bib Check at the Expo
After the run, I cleaned up and we made our way over to the Pre-Party Expo, which was essentially in the same place I ran to in DUMBO.  It was a cool vibe that was more party than expo, with only a New Balance and Jack Rabbit Running vendor shop for any gear.  I picked up a non-technical Brooklyn Half shirt, because I liked it a lot better than the actual race shirt, which was boring and minimal (supposedly in line with Brooklyn/hipster fashion).  There was also a couple cool features - a nice photo opp in front of a Brooklyn Half logo, a sweet beer garden with live music and some local vendors.  New Balance was also providing a really cool feature where they will print out any photo you post on Instagram and tag it #NBBrooklyn, so I posted and got a print out of my photo standing in front of the race logo with my bib.

Picnic with a view
After getting the basics, we set out for lunch, which was a gluten free pizza place just down the street from the expo.  Since it was such a nice day, we decided to eat outside with a killer view.  After eating, we just hung out, while Z endlessly chase pigeons all over the grass.  It was pretty hilarious to watch. 
Sweet Carousel
He also took a ride on the carousel, which we weren't sure if he loved or not, but he didn't cry and held on REALLY tight, so we think he was ok with it.  Either way, made for some cool photos with a scenic backdrop.  It was starting to get close to Z's nap time, so we walked back.  Walking both to the expo and back might not have been the smartest idea (since I had also already run), but it was too nice to take the subway and we were having such a nice time.  Sometimes you just have to do what's best for the group and remember that walking a little bit extra isn't going to derail my race.  Once we got back, we pretty much just rested, which was all I wanted to do, so I had a light dinner and hit the sack by 9:30 or so.

Race Day

Race morning came early, with a 1:30 am crying session for about 5 minutes, before Z went back to sleep.  I tossed and turned quite a bit to get back to sleep, which lasted until 4:30 when he woke up again.  Since my alarm was set to go off at 4:45, I was up for good.  Typically when Z gets up at 4:30 or so, he'll fall back asleep till 6-6:30, so while Rebecca was trying to get him back to sleep, I was eating my pre-race breakfast in the dark with only my iphone flashlight to guide me.  A few short moments later, I saw the shadow of a little head moving toward me.  Z was up for good too, which sure made things interesting, as he tried to play with a make noises with all his toys.  I just felt bad for the people who live under my sister! 

At 5:45, I made my way toward the start line, which was approximately 2 miles from my sister's.  I jogged for 10 minutes until I made it to a hill and decided to walk the rest of the way there and not add any extra stress to my legs.  After eventually making it to my corral (though there were only 2 main corrals of 20,000 bibs each, they were broken up by barriers and security within each area, so mine was 1-1999).  Since the corrals were closing at 6:30 (30 minutes before start time), I set out for the final part of my warm up - 5 more minutes of running, with 2 x 30s race pace strides to remind myself what race pace effort feels like so I don't go out too fast.  Once I re-entered my corral and they locked them down, I sat down for the better part of 25 minutes to rest my legs and back, until closer to the start.  With 15 minutes to go, I popped a ClifShot with some water and prepared for battle.  In few seconds between the start and the actual gun, we shuffled along toward the start line.  Being in the front, I could actually see the lead pace car with the clock right in front of us.  I knew it wouldn't be in my view for long, but kinda cool to be right up close in such a big race.  And with the horn sounding, the race was underway.

Miles 1-3 6:39/6:38/6:38
Before racing, as I always do, I research the crap out of the course.  By that, I mean that I study the terrain, where turns are, and how my goal pacing should be adjusted for any or all of the factors involved.  So I felt like I had a pretty good handle on my expectations.  What I was not expecting was the whole 1st .5 mi being a steady drop downhill, followed by a 45 degree turn and up the equivalent of the downhill we just ran.  I knew it was downhill at the start, but this was pretty steep.  People were FLYING by me and I just told myself to run my race and I'd see them soon most likely.  At the bottom of the hill, my average pace was about 6:18/mi, but I knew my effort was really restrained and since I had to go back up a similar hill, my pace would slow and net out to where I wanted to be.  As we made the turn back up the hill, I really focused on running easy and let my current pace slip into the high 6:50s, so when I came across Mile 1in 6:39 I was happy.  My plan was to be at about 6:45/mi, but with the steeper downhill section, I felt like it was within reason to start out a bit faster.  Miles 2-3 involved a lap around Grand Army Plaza, followed by a return back down the hill we just ran and a stretch of flat along the perimeter of Prospect Park, so I knew my pace would be similar.  I knew the tough hills of the course were all in Prospect Park, so I wanted to get through the first 5k without any damage and ready to let the hills come to me.  I crossed the 5k mark in 20:49, slightly ahead of my goal of 21:00.

Miles 4-7 6:44/6:48/6:46/6:29
Upon entering into Prospect Park we were welcomed by a nice rowdy cheering section of fans, which helped lift my spirit.  I knew there wasn't anything flat in the park and the 1st half of the approximately 3.5 mi loop was largely uphill, so my pace was going to slip.  It was too soon into the race to use any extra gears, so I just ran steady through the hills.  The main feature of the park is the sweeping, curvy .5 mi climb between the end of Mile 4 and the middle of Mile 5.  I was prepared for it, so I just kept the effort steady and let my pace up the hill slip into the 7:15/mi range.  It was pretty steep and would have required using gas I was saving for the last 5k to run it harder and I knew the downhills to follow would get me back on pace.  I came through the 10k split in 42:05 with a 21:16 5k for Miles 4-6, which was just slightly slower than my 42:00/21:00 goal, but the downhills on the back side of the park would get me back on pace.  I spotted Rebecca, Z, and my sister right around Mile 6, which was a welcome sight, since I had just finished the uphills and was looking for some positive feelings to come back.  With the hills behind me, I let the downhills take me, covering the downs in the low 6:20s, but with some of the steeper sections I noticed a few periods of sub-6 work.  It would have been more work to slow down, so I just rolled with it.  We existed the park a bit after Mile 7, but I was not surprised to see a 6:29 split here given the downs.

Miles 8-12 6:35/6:39/6:41/6:42/6:43
Cyclone Rollercoaster
Mentally and physically at this point, I was doing great.  I knew the hills were in the rearview and I had a straight shot of 5 miles on Ocean Ave and then the final mile, so the end was near.  I think I used a little bit of the excitement of knowing that I only had a 10k to go to push a little harder here, even though Miles 8 and 9 had some uphill to them.  When I mapped this 5 mile section out, it all seemed like a false flat downhill and it largely does in my Garmin file, but for some strange reason it felt like I was mostly running a false flat uphill.  When I'd glance ahead of me, runners appeared higher and I couldn't ever see too far into the distance.  I was hoping to see Coney Island coming closer into view, but never saw it until I was right there.  So this section was tough mentally.  Pushing through a bit harder in Miles 8-9 made 10-12 some tough miles with a whole lot of self talk.  I kept reminding myself over and over that I worked hard for this, and my goal for this race was to run a half time that is representative of my fitness.  While I was happy with my marathon time, I know it was not representative of my fitness at the time, so this was kind of a redemption to me, to build back some of the confidence I had going into Shamrock.  These reminders helped A LOT.  But what did not help much at all was something I'm sure most parents can relate to - a random annoying baby song getting stuck in my head for the better part of the last 3 miles.  Next time you go run a tempo, sing a few baby songs and see how your splits are...probably not very good, huh?  Well, it was stuck and not leaving, so I kept up with the self talk.  My 3rd 5k split was my fastest on the day in 20:39 and I hit the 10 mile mark in 66:40, which was enough for a new 10 mile PR.  This also reminded me that I should probably race a 10 miler so I can have a real (faster) PR at the distance.  Those last 2 miles were tough, but I just kept putting one foot in front of the other until I got to Mile 12 and I knew I could start picking up the effort a little bit more.

800m to go!
Mile 13 - Finish: 6:39/1:25 (6:17/mi pace)
After passing Mile 12, Coney Island was finally in sight and we were FINALLY getting off Ocean Ave for a change of scenery.  I crossed the last 5k split in 20:56, knowing that I was going to PR, but the question was by how much?  I knew the clock was ticking closer to a finish time around 1:28 and that it would be close, so I pushed where I could, but I started to get the sense that if I put any more effort in, I was going to cramp.  With the higher humidity (officially 72%), I continued to cool myself with water at each aid station, in addition to accounting for the extra sodium losses, by taking in some unplanned Gatorade to keep things balanced.  I just tried to relax and let the finish line come to me.  Whenever I force my pace, I tighten up, so I knew the fastest way to the finish line was to keep slowly upping the effort without going too hard.  At the end of the day, a few seconds won't change my result, but a cramp in the last mile of the race could.  By the time I exited Prospect Park, I knew that I had run a fair bit extra, since my watch was showing miles a good deal before I crossed the markers. 
400m to go!

With a large race like this, and one with lots of curves, it made it difficult to keep on the tangents, so I knew I'd cover more extra distance than I would in a smaller race.  Turns out, I ran an extra .13 mi, which is about how much extra I ran in my whole marathon.  But to me it didn't matter, because I was able to start picking up the pace with the 800m to go sign as we passed by the Cyclone rollercoaster, then hit the 400m to go sign and took a left toward the boardwalk.  A painful steep ramp uphill to get onto the boardwalk with about 200m to go, and I got my money's worth of a cool finish line.  The finish area was starting to resemble something epic - we were on the Coney Island boardwalk, and I was racing toward Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs.  As I came through the finish line, I knew I wasn't under 1:28, but I was pretty darn close!

 Final Stats
Time: 1:28:09 (1:25 PR!)
Avg Pace: 6:44/mi
Overall: 613/21,378
Age Group: 141/2,697

Post Race Thoughts
- I'm happy with my finish time, but I can't help but wish I could have eeked out another 10 seconds to go under 1:28!  Oh well - on a smaller race with less extra running and hitting the tangents, I would have made it.  My "good day" goal was 1:28, so I pretty much nailed that, even without optimal training.  Just goes to show me that I have a fair bit more to take off this time, which is in line with where I feel my fitness is.

- The course was not easy, but it is a fast course.  It offers a number of early opportunities to blow your legs out too soon, so patience wins on this course.  Don't hit the 1st mile too hard and don't push too much on any of the hills.  I was running next to people gasping for air on the uphill section of Mile 1 after flying on the downhill.  You can get a really false sense of your fitness in that first .5 mile.  You have to make it out of the park ready to put in a harder effort in the back half of the race.  If you feel beat by Mile 7, you're in for a tough last 10k.  Those 5 miles on Ocean Ave require focus and mental determination to keep pushing, even though the scenery never really changes.  It is monotonous, so you need your legs and your head till the end.

- I didn't spend much time hanging around after the race.  Given the length of the train ride (about 50 min back to Cobble Hill), I got my medal, walked through the designated path to get us safely away from the boardwalk, and headed to the subway for my ride back.  While a lot of the post race photos show a big party, it hadn't even started yet by the time I was walking out.  Bands were just getting set up and some music was playing, but it was like 10-20% of what it seemed like later on.  Would have been nice to have that going on the whole time, as it would've given me a reason to stick around and maybe buy some stuff in the area.  Instead, I didn't feel like waiting, so I left to head back and meet Rebecca, Z, and my sister.  Too bad.

- You'll notice there aren't many (really, any!) spectators in my photos, which all took place in the last mile of the race.  Aside from Miles 1-7 and the aid stations, there wasn't much crowd support when I was out there for the remainder of the race.  While I thought Prospect Park had a lot of people, I was told it really filled in about 15 minutes after I came through.  I don't know if Ocean Ave ever got any more spectators, but that section of the race is the only thing holding this race back from being on par with major races.  I realize Coney Island is pretty far for most people to get to, especially early in the morning, but I did expect the post-race party to be fully set up.  That said, I'd race this again, simply because it is relatively easy logistically for me for such a large race. 


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