Throughout the year the New York Road Runners hold a series of six half marathons (seven if you’re a lady) — The NYRR Half Marathon Series consisting of the Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island Half Marathons, Grete’s Great Gallop in Central Park, and the More Half Marathon also in Central Park (I don’t include the NYC Half Marathon because so few local runners get a chance to run it). In my mind the Half Marathon Series is better than the other two and the king of the Half Marathon Series is the Brooklyn Half Marathon (there’s a NYC pun in there…). Manhattan takes place in January, so you might freeze. Bronx and Queens are in the summer, so you’re probably going to bake. There could be good weather for Staten Island, but honestly, I’ve never really wanted to go there. The Brooklyn Half held in May is at an ideal time on a good course — twice around Prospect Park then down Ocean Parkway to the Coney Island Boardwalk. Sounds exciting, right? It is!
Unfortunately, there are some crappy aspects of this. First, it’s in Brooklyn, which even on good days mean that it’s going to take two hours of trains to make it there. However, even worse, the race started at 7am and baggage cutoff was supposed to be around 6:20am (in reality it was 6:40am). This meant I either needed to crash on a friends couch in the city and get up at 4am to make it to the race in time, or suck it up and get up at 3:30am and drive to Coney Island, park there, and take the subway to Prospect Park. It gets even better with the F train not running, which meant it was the day for a Q train. Ughh.
Nonetheless after going to bed at 10:30 last night I woke up a little past 3am ready to get in my car and drive the hour plus to Coney Island. I really don’t like driving and don’t consider myself to be good at it. I’m pretty sure the 45 miles from here to Coney Island is the furthest I’ve driven in the NYC area in almost a year. The fog had started to move in by the time that I arrived at Coney Island giving a bit of a surreal feel with the little bit of neon on at 5am. By the time I arrived in Prospect Park 5:45am the sun was starting peek through and there were signs that the fog would be gone soon.
The route seemed pretty straight-forward. Twice around the park, including the hill on the north side of the park, then a long straight run to a finish on the boardwalk. I had told myself that my goal was going to be 8 minute miles. As usual, I had no idea how fast I did my first mile because it was a little bit more than a minute before I crossed the starting line. The clock was somewhere around 9:15. For the rest of the race I would spend each mile thinking through what my next mile would have to end at to make me have an 8 minute mile. I failed for the next twelve mile markers. There were a few times, such as when I came out of the park toward Mile 8 when I thought I had it, but then I realized I was actually closer to a seven minute mile.
This race was made of three different parts. First was the two loops around Prospect Park, which was very enjoyable. I love running in Prospect Park, it has nice hills to keep it more interesting, beautiful scenery, is quiet, and, perhaps most importantly, lacks the mobs of tourists wandering about. Although the hills make me slower, I can tell that living at the top of a large hill has dramatically improved my hill running and made it significantly less painful. The second part was a straight shot for five miles down Ocean Parkway. While it seems like this would be a great chance to get to know Brooklyn, it’s not like the NYC marathon. The side roads along Ocean Parkway provide a strong buffer from the communities you run through. Also, running on a nearly perfectly straight road for five miles is horribly boring. Especially when it’s so wide and isolated as Ocean Parkway. Finally, we turned onto Surf Avenue and quickly headed over to the Coney Island Boardwalk.
I had thought the boardwalk would be this wonderful place to finish a race, and from a scenic point of view it was a simply wonderful place to end a race. But from a footing point of view it was a nightmare. The way the boardwalk gave inconsistently and how some boards were incredibly loose or had enormous screws sticking out. As it had been raining for most of the past week in New York the boardwalk was still moist in some spots which made for horrible traction. A great spot to end a race, but let’s face it, if you’re going to run a lot on a boardwalk you’re not aiming to set a PR for that span.
As I wrote earlier, I was originally aiming for 8 minute miles. This would put me slightly slower than my PR set at the 2010 NYC Half Marathon, but still very respectable. I realized after about four miles that I was on a PR pace and not only that I didn’t feel like I was running really hard. I’m certain I could have run harder, but hey, it’s supposed to be an off week.
That’s right, not a single mile was at my goal pace. This is exciting on some levels, but also horribly disappointing. It means that I’m far too stupid to properly set and run a pace. On the bright side, I felt just fine at the end of the race. I had the usual case of no appetite after a race and was tired, but that was much more because of getting up at that god-forsaken hour this morning. When I crossed the finish line, just like last week, my clock time was better than PR. So the question was by how much?
I wish I had known that I was so close to breaking 1:40. I’m certain that I could have kicked in a bit more over the last few miles and broken it. None the less, I am extremely pleased with my time and it portends well for running a good race in Chicago this fall.