Saturday, May 22, 2010

Race Report: Brooklyn Half Marathon, May 22, 2010

As some of you know, I ran the Brooklyn Half Marathon today! I arrived at Prospect Park (the race start) with about half an hour to spare...but little did I realize that the starting line was about two miles away!! For some reason, it was nestled right in the middle of the park. The trek was so long that people actually started running to get there on time! I thought that was silly and a waste of energy...the race was timed with D-tags so it didn't matter how late you crossed the start.

Now, I’ve lost almost 30 pounds since I started running, and I’m still figuring out what my body is capable of doing. I have NEVER considered myself a fast runner; before losing weight, I was lucky if I averaged better than an 11 minute mile for any kind of distance. But after my ten miler last month (finished in 1:33:35), I learned that I CAN actually sustain a 9:15 pace for a significant length of time - something that truly was not possible before I lost all this weight. So given that, I decided to shoot for under 2:10...ideally (and secretly) I wanted to come in under two hours. A half marathon is 13.1 miles, so a 2 hour time would require a pace of about 9:09 per mile.

The race started with TWO loops around prospect park for a total of almost seven miles. BLECH. I hate doubling back over the same territory and I felt myself losing a bit of steam, not only because of the boredom (HALF the race in the park??) but also because the park was kind of hilly. I was running about a 9 minute mile at this point, maybe a bit slower.

After mile seven, we broke out onto Ocean Parkway, which had been closed down for us. The second half of the race was just the long stretch down this road to Coney Island. The parkway onramp was a relatively steep decline, so I powered down it and used gravity for some free speed.

Around mile eight, I started to get kind of tired and achy. I checked my watch, and it looked like I was slowing down quite a bit. I also was beginning to develop a near-desperate need to pee, but I knew that I would be cutting it VERY close to two hours and that a bathroom break would make the difference between the time I wanted and the time that is SO CLOSE to the time I wanted.

Mile nine was decision time for me. My watch said 1:23 (1 hour 23 minutes), and with four miles to go I would need to decide: do I speed up and try to hit my target time (at the risk of burning out too early and needing to walk to the end), or do I give up on the 2 hour dream and run at a slower pace to the finish, but finish running? I decided to take the risk and I kicked it into higher gear.

I made up some time on miles 9 and 10. I came into mile 10 with less than half an hour to go before the two hour mark, so I gave it another hard push and started trying to make up some time. I started feeling fatigued and tired, and began debating whether to give up on two hours. Between miles 11 and 12, I probably decided I was going to just give up about five times, but I remembered that twinge of disappointment I felt when I just missed the 1:30 mark for my ten miler...I kept thinking about how I really COULD have run a bit faster at points, and that the effort required to get that close to such a fantastic time again would be much harder than the effort required to push for just a little longer.

At mile 12, I really picked up my pace and started running as fast as I could reasonably sustain for ten minutes. I kept looking for the finish line, hoping that seeing it would give me a much-needed jolt of energy to propel me to the end, but I couldn't see it - all I could see were people bobbing up and down as they ran. As we approached Coney Island, we turned onto the boardwalk and onlookers shouted to us that we were almost done. I picked up speed and just KNEW I'd be seeing the finish line when I turned the corner onto the boardwalk...

...but nothing. I couldn't see anything except more people. My legs almost gave out; I felt like my spirit was broken. How could I maintain this pace? My watch showed only four minutes to go before I would be over 2 hours. I was so worn down and felt like I was on the verge of throwing up. I started to slow down and was about to walk when my brain screamed, "NO!!!" I would NOT finish in 2:01, or 2:00:45...I was so close...I HAD to do this. I sped up again. I started to cry. I repeated "I can do this. I am going to do this" to myself as I ran. I thought of MSINOWAY and picked a girl I would pass, even though I couldn't see the finish, as a way of speeding up my pace. After I'd passed her, I could see the 13 mile marker. SURELY I'd see the finish line now!!

Still couldn't see it, with .1 to go and my legs felt like bricks. I felt them slow again as I looked at my watch with only a few seconds to go. I kept pushing and eventually saw the finish. The .1 mile seemed like it was an hour away. I looked at the official clock: 2:11:42. I'd started with about 12 minutes and change on the clock, so I was still under two hours...

I began to sprint with every ounce of energy I had left, determined to make it across the line before the clock turned 2:12.

I did it.

I stopped my watch and walked a few feet and then crumpled (in a controlled fashion) on the floor near some spectators. I felt the tears coming back, and just took a few deep breaths. My watch said 1:59:51. My official finish time was 1:59:37. I ran 13.1 miles with an average pace of 9:07 per mile.

After I caught my breath and the risk of vomit subsided, I walked over to the refreshment tables and grabbed some gatorade, a banana, and a chocolate chip bagel. I ate the bagel first, and then had the banana on the subway ride home later.

Post-race, many runners gathered at the original Nathan’s hot dog store for a celebratory order of chili dogs and cheese fries. We earned heart rate monitor said I burned 1302 calories!

Sign at a convenience store on Coney Island. This was especially apropos since they charged me $4 for a 1.5 liter bottle of water.

I rode the famous Coney Island Cyclone before I left! This wooden coaster can haul tush, lemme tell you. I don’t think I’ve ever screamed so much (on a roller coaster)!

You know, one of the things I love most about races is that you often learn something new about yourself. In this race, I learned that I am capable of incredible feats of strength - both physical and psychological.

Really, this race felt like a metaphor for so many challenging journeys in life: starts out kind of easy/fun...we're moving fast...then something happens and it gets kind of dull. Routine. Difficult. Painful. We question ourselves. We question what we want. We wonder if our goals are really worth this struggle. Fundamentally, we doubt whether we can even make our goals happen.

But we push through even when we want to quit, even when we slow down...and we cross that finish line.

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