Sunday, May 20, 2012

Revenge on Ocean Parkway: The Brooklyn Half RR

Short Version

Brooklyn Half 2011: 2:01:50
Brooklyn Half 2012: 1:56:26*
Overall Place: 6131 / 14168
Gender Place: 1936 / 7071  
    adjusted for AG %: 2289 / 7071
Age Group Place: 698 / 2161
*Almost, but not quite a course PR. The first 3 miles were different this year. 
My revenge on Ocean Parkway is complete! 

Long Version

        A year ago, I attempted my first half marathon after approximately six and a half months of running. It was the Brooklyn Half marathon, and my goal was to finish in under two hours. Unfortunately, as some of you recall, I bonked and finished in 2:01:50. I earned my HM PR of 1:52:28 in March, but I actually trained for that one. This half came in the middle of base building, so I didn't specifically train or taper for this one. Because of that, my only goal was to break two hours. 
         I had been looking forward to going back, but once registration was opened, I started to have misgivings. The price of the race had gone up from $25 to $45, and the field had expanded from almost 6,000 to almost 15,000. Although they changed the course to accomodate this, I was worried that I wouldn't be able to run the race I wanted to. 
        NYRR had expanded bib-pickup so that it was offered from Tuesday - Friday instead of the usual two days. I had lowered my bib pace from 8:11 to a 7:53 in last month's 4 miler, but unfortunately, the bibs were printed further back in advance than usual, so I was stuck with my old pace. Although there was only a 20 second difference per mile, I would have been in the 6xxx corral instead of the 9xxx corral. I was annoyed, but there was nothing I could do about it. 
... and once again their idea of a small is huge on me.
Time to put it through the dryer once or twice. 
       Once again, I woke up at 4am to make my way to the race. I was excited when I found out the train line nearest my apartment stopped close to the race, but then I found out that that train wasn't running into Brooklyn that weekend. Instead, I met up with my friend Jen and we carefully timed it so that we would take the crosstown to the 2/3 and it worked perfectly. I ate my usual HM breakfast of a bagel and cream cheese on the way. 
       There were signs pointing to baggage check and the bathrooms, and when we arrived, we noticed that there were enough porta-potties for an army. After checking my bag and using the bathroom twice, we met up with my coworkers briefly before heading to the start corrals. 
Jen and I hanging near baggage claim 
       We got to the corrals not long after 6am. Since we agreed to start together, Jen came back to my corral and we waited. While the corral marshall in front of me did a decent job, a few people fell through the cracks. 
       While the announcements were loud and clear, we could barely hear the national anthem sung by a trio. Shortly after, the race started, but it took my corral approximately 10 minutes to cross the start line. Since I didn't know how good the Garmin signal was on the Brooklyn streets, I took it off of auto lap for the race, meaning that I would have to press the lap button on every mile myself. 

The Race
       I went into this race with one thought: I am not aiming to PR. Do not get greedy and go too fast.
       Last year, the first half of the race was two loops of Prospect Park, but this year, we started with an out and back along the perimeter of the park. After running down Washington Avenue, we turned onto Flatbush Avenue towards Grand Army Plaza for an out and back. Because of this, I was able to catch glimpses of both the front and back of the pack. 
       Since I didn't warm up enough, my left calf was stiff, and it took me a couple of miles to truly hit my stride. We waited so long in the corral that I had to pee by mile two, but stopping was not an option. I was so preoccupied that I missed the mile two marker by a bit, which is why the splits for those miles are a bit off. 
       I was tested early on when Jen started to speed up. Last year, I kept up with a faster friend until mile eight, and it was a factor in my bonking, but this year, I was secure enough to know that I would be fine doing this on my own, so I let her go. I stopped for water once during this time, and it was hard to get in and out cleanly, but I managed to drink and run at the same time. I was pleasantly surprised to see a 5K timing mat. Later on, I found out that my first 5K split was a 27:47, which was an average pace of 8:56mm. Still on track for a sub-2 finish. 
       We entered Prospect Park not long after the 5K point, where I saw some of the leading runners leaving the park. I knew that there was one big hill, but I had forgotten exactly where it would be during the race. I hadn't run Prospect Park since last year. At first, the rolling hills seemed intimidating, but then I reminded myself that I did Central Park, which is more difficult in my opinion, on almost a daily basis. That thought gave me a burst of energy and somehow my second 5K split was almost exactly the same as the first. I crossed the 10K point at 55:32 and completed the second 5K in 27:45. 
       I fueled shortly after that, and at mile seven, I left the park and it was time to face my nemesis: Ocean Parkway. I had planned on stopping for water every two miles, but I ended up taking water at almost every stop until mile eleven. The long stretch was pretty boring for the most part, but as I passed the 15K point, I had an important reason to celebrate. Last year, this was the point where I realized that I was bonking and that sub-2 was not in the cards. This year, I was still going strong, and had passed the 15K point at 1:23:09, completing the third 5K split in 27:37, with no signs of slowing down. 
        After that though, other than watching random people try to cross in front of all of the runners, there was very little by way of course entertainment. There were spectators, but it wasn't enough to not make Ocean Parkway seem endless (but I do thank some of the cops for trying). As I approached the 20K point, I started to get excited as I knew that we were getting close to the boardwalk and the finish. I crossed the 20K point at 1:50:34, and my last 5K split was 27:25, which was about a second per mile faster than the previous one. 
       However, I ended up being inspired by a fellow student at my MBA program, Melissa. When I was on Ocean Parkway, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder, and she said hi before speeding off. I figured that I wouldn't see her again, but a few miles later, I found that she wasn't far ahead of me, and we ended up passing each other back and forth a few times. While I wasn't competing with her, keeping a lookout for her helped the monotonous miles go by faster. We finished within a few seconds of each other and we thanked each other for being pacers, so to speak.  
       We passed the 800m to go sign, the 400m to go sign, and then we approached the boardwalk ramps. There were two of them to accomodate the people - something I could have sworn wasn't an option last year, but I was so out of it by that time that it's possible I just forgot. Either way, the ramp wasn't nearly as hard as I remembered it, and I charged up it, made the right turn, and knew that the finish line was approaching.
       After hitting the lap button one last time at the mile 13 marker, I realized that sub-1:57 was in the cards. I resolved to not look at my watch again until the finish, and focused on finishing strongly. I threw my arms up in the air as I crossed the line, and immediately stopped my watch afterwards. My official finish time was 1:56:26, which came out to an 8:54mm pace.
       Did I leave anything on the course? Probably. But getting a PR was never my main objective. I had finally accomplished the goal that I set for myself the minute I finished the Brooklyn half last year, and I couldn't have been happier. Jen ended up finishing in 1:54:26, which is pretty amazing considering she hadn't run a race in a very long time. 
       My official 5K splits and my Garmin splits are below. I was pleased to find out that my 5K splits were almost perfectly even, and that I ultimately had a faster second half. 

Total Time 5K Split Time
5K 0:27:47 0:27:47
10K 0:55:32 0:27:45
15K 1:23:09 0:27:37
20K 1:50:34 0:27:25
Finish 1:56:26 0:05:52

Post-Race Activities
       It took me a while to find my coworkers due to horrible cell reception, but once we found one another, we headed to the beach and got our feet wet. Two of them even jumped into the ocean, but it was too cold for me. After hanging on the beach for a while, I took the train back into the city with my manager. I was a little light-headed, but it was nothing a nap, food, and a shower couldn't solve. 
Team HSS - the Finance Department representatives
I was very proud of my manager for finishing his first half, especially since I had to make up a shortened training plan for him. His ankle was a little swollen after the race, but hopefully he'll recover from that quickly. 

       I need to give credit where credit is due. NYRR put on an amazing race. I felt like I was able to run at my speed despite the large number of runners, and the water stations were well stocked. My one complaint was that there were no plain bagels at the finish - they were only handing out cinnamon raisin bagels and I can't stand raisins. I also though that the family reunion station was a little far away from everything. The medals were nice, but honestly, I would have preferred to pay less and not get a medal. 
...though I do have to admit it was a pretty medal

       Although the course was slightly easier this year, the area where I ended up being in trouble stayed the same. However, last year, the humidity was at 96%, and this year, it was only at 58%, so I do think that had an impact, but there is no way of knowing how I would have done last year if the humidity had been at this year's level. 
       In the end, I believe that I achieved sub-2 this time mostly because I was able to avoid making the same mistakes as last year:

1. Not starting out too fast
2. Not trying to keep up with a faster friend
3. Fueling properly
4. Wearing a hat 

Even though I probably will not do this race again, I was very happy that I was able to improve my performance this time around. Thanks for reading!