Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Going For It: An Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon Race Report

This spring, I didn’t train for a marathon; I trained for a half. The Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon, to be specific. What follows is a rather gruesomely detailed race report, so consider yourself warned. And since every race actually starts during taper week, I begin my tale on the Thursday before the race.

Me and my teammates!
Two days out, my a.m. teammates and I did our standard pre-race workout: one mile close to race pace, followed by six quarters a tad faster. Of course, it felt awful. Taper always feels awful. And, of course, the usual voices of doubt bubbled up, just like they always do. If one 6:10 mile felt that bad, how the hell are you going to run twelve more of them? You’re out of shape. You were panting after those quarters. You should be able to run those paces in your sleep. What is wrong with you?

Fortunately, those taper week demons and I are already well acquainted. I’ve proven them wrong often enough that—knock wood—I’ve become semi-comfortable feeling uncomfortable. So I let them natter on, while my inner self said, You’re in shape. You know you’re in shape. You’re ready for this. You’re going to do this.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that when the conversation turned to projected race times, I didn’t estimate conservatively. After all, a PR is a PR, so as long as I broke my last half marathon time (a low 1:22), I’d honestly be happy. And barring any last-minute weather- or health-related issues, I was pretty confident I could do that.

Through the course of the conversation, I learned that my morning coach believed I could run a 1:21 (yay!), and also that a guy who trains at the track at the same as us had volunteered as a pacer for the race. When we asked what time he was pacing, he responded,

“The 1:20 group.”

What? Come again.There was a 1:20 pace group???

“Yeah, it’s the fastest one. Honestly, if you’re going to run a 1:20, I don’t see why you need a pacer, but they asked me to do it, so that’s the sign I’ll be holding.”

So this guy was going to run 6:06/mile for 13.1 miles while holding a sign. Unreal.

“See you guys on the course, maybe,” he said as we gathered our stuff to leave. Impulsively, I replied,

“Ha! If I see you on the course, I’ll buy you a beer.”

Ironically, I now owe him a beer. But he totally earned it.

Ran my midday 30-minute shakeout alone. The demons of doubt were still yammering away, this time pointing out how much I was sweating, how dry my throat felt, and how I still couldn’t breathe through my nose. I continued to reassure myself that none of that mattered. Then, I made a deal: no matter how the first eleven miles of the race went, when I got to those last two miles, I would "go for broke." After all, why not? I’d trained for this race for months. There was nothing to lose.

Ate pasta. Packed my bag. Set my 4am alarm. Went to bed.

Saturday – RACE DAY
I've probably written this before, but when it comes to racing, I get really selfish. I love warming up and hanging out with my teammates all the way up until the gun goes off, but when I step over the starting line, it’s all me, all the time. I don’t want to think about what pace anyone else is running; I don’t want to hear how heavily they’re breathing; I just want to run my race, by myself.

Of course, that’s not to say that races happen in a vacuum. The beginning of the Brooklyn course has this quick little out-and-back, so you get to see runners who started before/after you on the opposite side of the course for about a mile. I absolutely love this. It’s such a rush to see your teammates and give a little cheer and a wave as you pass them going in the opposite direction. Plus, it’s the beginning of the race, so everyone is smiling and feeling good, and it takes your mind off of those early race jitters. Am I going out too fast? Taking it too easy? Why are all these people passing me? Oh look—there’s one of my teammates! Hiiii!

The first part of the race circled and then entered  Prospect Park. This part of the race was all about control. Cruise the uphills, relax on the downhills, don’t take things too easy, and try not to tie yourself up in mental knots. Luckily, this part of the race was convenient to spectate, so I got to see my teammate cheer squad not once, but twice within the first six miles, plus a bunch of other folks I recognized along the course. Seeing people I know screaming my name will never, ever get old. It’s an instant confidence boost and a welcome distraction from the mental daisy plucking that is simultaneously going on in my head. (My body loves me…. It loves me not.)

Then, suddenly, the hill was done. We were out of the park. Trees became concrete. Ocean Parkway. Halfway done.

Now, I’m no mental math savant (I have another teammate who gets that title), but by my rough estimation, I was so far executing according to plan. Cross the half in 40-42, I’d been told by my coach. Then start hammering the parkway. With half of the race still to go, I didn’t want to kill myself, but I knew if I didn’t settle into a slightly faster rhythm now, I might never get there. So I picked a guy who seemed like he was running a fairly consistent (faster) pace, settled in behind him, and . . . well . . . ran.

Several yards before the Mile 7 sign, my watch beeped. 6:01. Uh oh. This is not what I had intended to do. I’d been thinking more like 6:05-6:08ish, and that’s certainly what it had felt like. There were so many more miles to go. I checked in with my body: my breathing wasn’t horribly labored, and nothing else was acting wonky. Yet. So now it was time to decide: should I back off, let this guy run away, and hope I could pick up the pace for the last 2-3 miles? Or should I try to hang here, at this pace–in vastly unknown territory–as long as I possibly could?

I decided to go for it. After all, what I did I have to lose? It would be super painful at the end, and my body might start failing me. But at least I could say I went for it. And thus began my mantra: At least you can say you went for it.

About to cry/throw up/pass out.At mile 8, when my Gu was not going down right: At least you can say you went for it.

At mile 9, when I saw a former of teammate of mine walking on the side of the road, face dejected, clearly no longer on pace to hit the 1:19 he’d said he was going to run: At least you can say you went for it.

At mile 10, when a red-headed girl I had passed earlier sped by me: At least you can say you went for it.

At mile 11, it was time to execute on the deal I had made with myself: when you have two miles left, go for broke. But no matter what mental games I tried, my legs felt stuck in gear. Granted it was a pretty good gear, but I had clearly lost all semblance of control. At least you can say you went for it.

At mile 12, when I saw the race clock, I realized: I had this! All I had to do was maintain my pace and I’d break 1:20. I’d break 1:20!!!

However, my bodily functions were starting to go haywire. My bladder gave out almost exactly at the mile marker, and I was starting to feel nauseous. You only have a mile left! cheered the supportive part of my brain. A six-minute mile. You’ve run these in practice. You can totally do this. Then I made the mistake of checking my watch. You’ve only run a quarter of a mile, and you are literally about to die, announced the demon doubters. It feels like you’re slowing down, doesn’t it? And you may have passed that red-headed chick again, but she’s obviously right behind you. . . .

At that moment, I glimpsed the 1:20 pace flag bobbing up ahead. The guy from the track! What was he doing up there? He’d started in the corral behind me, and I was on pace to break 1:20 . . . at least I thought I was. Had I calculated wrong?

Boy was my stomach feeling unhappy now....

Then, for whatever reason, he looked back and saw me. “Hey!” he shouted. “Come on! Let’s go!”

With 400 meters left, I finally made it to his side.

“You’ve got this,” he cheered. “Go catch that CPTC girl!”

I could see her, in the orange-and-blue crop top, just a few steps ahead of me. I could do this. It was just 400 meters. Time to kick, right?

“When your legs get tired, use your arms,” I could hear my coach say. “Don’t get outkicked. This is why we sprint when we’re tired.”

Yep, can't breathe.Tired doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. I have never been so scared that my legs would collapse under me in my entire life. I’m pretty sure they were actually wobbling, and the uneven slats of the boardwalk didn’t help.

I'd studied the map. I knew that when we turned onto the boardwalk, the finish line should be right there. And it was. Yet no finish line has ever seemed so far away.

When I finally crossed, I was too out of breath to do anything but wheeze. Also, I was scared of falling over. And vomiting. I’m pretty sure it took me ten solid minutes to feel confident that I hadn’t suddenly developed asthma and that neither of those other two things was going to happen.

But I had done it. I had gone for it . . . and it worked. 1:19:33. It felt like someone else's time.

Later, at the bar, one of my teammate asked, “So, what does running 1:19 feel like?” When I described it (in only slightly less detail than I have here), her response was, “Oh. So it feels just like running 1:40.”

Yes. Yes it does.

Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon 2016 Race Results

Race Length
Finishing Time
Average Pace
Overall Place
Gender Place
Age Group Place
13.1 mi
152 / 27,409
14 / 14,716
7 / 3,510


Ania Beata Owczarczyk said...

YAY YOU DO IT!!! It's all so freaking mental at the end. Seriously.

Greg said...

Geez... could you be more awesome??
I submit that you cannot.

Congratulations... on to the next challenge;-)

jendres said...

This is so super!! Love the race report. Congrats on smashing 80.

jendres said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Alina Simone Mello said...

you are amazing! reading your post gives me jitters and makes me feel like racing again!
congrats, allison!