RACE: Brooklyn Half (5/21/2016) TIME: 1:28:48 (PR by 6 seconds)
While due to miscellaneous scheduling problems the week leading up to the race itself was a frustrating one, the morning of the start couldn't have gone better. I woke up with plenty of time and remembered to leave the apartment with everything I needed. It wasn't cool, but wasn't hot. I didn't get a seat on the train, but was well rested enough to the point that it didn't bother me (too much). I breezed through security, saw some friends outside the corral, got maybe 800-1000m of warmups in, and had plenty of time to wait on the bathroom lines. I even had five minutes to sit down before getting into position. In contrast to last year's corral debacle, I was feeling pretty good.
The race started fast but I was OK with that. I didn't have any real goals for the race except to be in the neighborhood of my PR (a 6:48 pace back in March at the NYC Half in a breakthrough race for me) so I was OK with banking a little bit of time in prep for the park hill(s). I felt a smidge tight but chalked that up to the weird taper week I had, which lacked a true shakeout. Was in pretty high spirits as I passed Mile 2 - a friend who was one of the official race music acts was signing at Ocean and Flatbush, and I got high fives from the TMIRCE cheer squad. Things were looking up. (Miles 1-3: 6:41, 6:37, 6:28)
Here is where I miscalculated. Seeing the 6:28 on my watch I thought "you can slow down a bit now" and took my foot off the gas slightly. Big mistake. Whatever extra energy I thought I was getting didn't make up for the loss of focus. My next mile was right on target but I could feel already that slowing down was a bad idea. The hill was right in front of me. I tried to even out my stride and just ride it up, but I was feeling heavy and breathing hard. I tucked in behind someone going slightly faster than me and kept up as best I could but it was harder than expected. I kept my breathing even and tried to relax, knowing the hills were coming to an end, but I was starting to panic. I was tired and I couldn't figure out why. The 6th mile was even more discouraging because by then my watch had fallen behind the mile markers, by about .10, so I was even slower than that (by around 40 seconds I figured). I'd eaten up all of my banked time and then some. (Miles 4-6: 6:49, 6:58, 6:53)
I ate my gu and rallied on the downhill but the first stretch of Ocean Parkway was rough. A lot of people really hate this part of the race but road that is flat, wide and straight is totally fine by me. My problem was that while the gu had picked me up a bit I still had to hang on. I'd come into the race thinking I would leave the park with plenty of energy and turn it up on the straightaway. I looked for it for three miles but I could not find that next gear. (Miles 7-10: 6:38, 6:46, 6:49, 6:47) Somewhere between 10 and 11 I felt a clap on my shoulder and saw Rick from TMIRCE to my left. It was so great to see him! We checked in on each other- he was on his way to a 1:26 or so. I told him I thought it was gonna be close for me and I was trying to hang on. He said he'd spotted me as he moved up and assured me I was running fine and was looking strong. This really set me at ease. I wished him well as he continued up the course.
The last three miles were all about the mental game. Not letting my mind subdivide every second into eternity. This is the part of the race that I never remember what it feels like. It's not a blur. It's just something that I give up access to. A heap of broken images. The eerie hollow sound passing under the Belt Parkway overpass. The cyclone. The shitty band playing AC/DC. The scent of the overcast sky. (Miles 11-13: 6:45, 6:44, 6:38)
I sprinted the last 400 with everything I had and ended up with a six second PR. Hard to be upset about a PR, and I wasn’t. I was mostly humbled and frustrated. I’m not sure why I thought I would cruise - one of the first things I thought after seeing my time at the NYC Half, a PR by five minutes, was "Oh crap now I have to run that hard for every half?"- but looking back I definitely had let my guard down a bit in the weeks leading up to the race. I’d already had some good races this spring. I knew the course was not as challenging as the NYC Half. And I didn’t come into the race with any clear goals. Being ambivalent about a half marathon is a good way to experience more pain than expected, so I’ve learned that lesson if nothing else.
After the race I found my girlfriend and we sat in the stadium behind home plate, drinking piping hot coffee and relaxing. I’d gotten stories from her and some other TMIRCE folks I’d run into, which gave me some much needed and much appreciated perspective, and being happy for them allowed me to be happier for myself. Given how solitary the experience of the sport can be, it’s remarkable how critical the social element is to my overall enjoyment of it. For the camaraderie and empathy it engenders but also for letting me forget, at least for a few hours, that I have to run the Queens 10k in a few weeks.