Since I ran my first Brooklyn Half in 2013, it has been my favorite race. Expectations and excitement were high for this year after being sidelined by injury for far too long. The race did not disappoint–fellow runners, cheering spectators, and my home borough of Brooklyn were all beaming. And, as much as I bitch about the money-grubbing hands of NYRR, they know how to put on a race; everything was organized to a T and resources before, during, and after the race were plentiful.
I rose early (a little before 5am) to meditate, hydrate, foam roll, and drop as many #2s as I could. I guess I’ll just be up front here and now–if I’m gonna be sharing about running for hours at a time, poop talk is inevitable. My first movement of the day is usually what wakes me up in the morning, which works well for early morning races. However as my nutrition has improved over the years, I’ve developed a tendency towards a 2nd, mid-morning movement that often comes as soon as I get home from the gym or a run. Luckily, if I foam roll as extensively as I should, it’s usually enough exertion to get things traveling in the right direction. After 2 ACV/lemon waters, a green protein drink, a bone broth, and 2 solid bowel movements (pun intended), my husband and I were headed out the door.
The camaraderie of a race day in the city starts the moment you step out onto the street. I’ve never been completely alone walking to the subway to get to a race, my neighborhood houses more than a few runners. Saturday morning was no different. When our train pulled into our stop to pick us up it was already packed; about 90% of the riders were wearing bibs and/or compression socks. As we rode the 10 minutes towards the starting corrals, I leaned on my husband and attempted a few calf stretches while simultaneously peeping the numbers and letters on the bibs around me. Naturally I felt superior to every higher number and inferior to every lower. I told my mind to shut up and it finally did just as we were pulling into our destination. We let the crowd carry us out of the car, onto the platform, and up and onto the street.
I was grateful that we didn’t take the advice of the race organizers and arrive insanely early; I’m not a fan of standing and waiting for long periods of time in the corrals like cattle, especially in cold, windy, drizzly, weather. In all honesty though we got really lucky with the conditions that day. Although the early morning wait was a little uncomfortable, by the time we crossed the starting line the sun was peaking through, the wind had calmed, and the rain held off until 2 hours later when we crossed the finish line.
Mile 1 was significantly different than other first miles I have run. Usually I start off really slow; I’m careful to not let the excited energy of the crowd take me out too fast. I get some serious satisfaction later on when I scoot by all the sprinters who shot passed me during the first mile. This time though, with a sub 2 goal in mind, I decided to let that energy push me a bit; I settled into a steady but strong pace that I hoped I could increase mile by mile.
As I shared a few days ago here , my husband and I started out running together but then decided to separate. We trained differently and knew that our journeys would differ as well. As soon as we passed the first fluid station and parted ways I started formulating my plan for the rest of the race in my head. That is one of the things I love most about long distance running–you’ve got time to think. In the weeks before the race I had a general idea of how I wanted to run, but getting on the course made everything more clear. By the time I felt like my strategy was in place, I was passing mile 2 and throwing back my first waxy cup of gatorade.
As I began mile 3 I knew I was running a good bit ahead of the 2:15 group. My plan was to run negative splits. I would slowly increase my pace and hope to pass the 2:10 group at around mile 5, the 2:05 group around mile 8, and the 2:00 group around mile 11. I knew I had started a few minutes behind the 2:00 group so if I could cross the finish line with them, or even a bit before, I would meet my goal. The biggest obstacle to my plan was that I had no way of tracking my splits. My hubs has generously offered to get me a running watch but after reading about 500 reviews on Amazon, I’ve been at a loss as to which one to purchase (taking suggestions in the comments for something solid and simple!). While I was carrying my phone on me, I left my headphones at home in an effort to keep present and experience everything around me. My last ditch effort to keep my time was in my head–after all, I do math for a living! Alas, the constant subtraction that was necessitated by running in wave 2 was too much for my brain to handle. I’d get distracted by the blister I was sure was forming on the ball of my foot or by the fact that my left sneaker was tied tighter than my right, and I’d forget the number I was holding onto from the last mile. It was a mess. By mile 5 I was able to let go of any effort to track the actual numbers; the pacers would be my guides.
I thought my plan worked pretty much to perfection for 3/4 of the race. I can’t tell you the thrill I would get each time I saw that little white stick up ahead of me; it gave my heavy legs some serious juice, it invigorated my sometimes lagging spirit. Right on schedule, I passed the 2:10 group at mile 5 and the 2:05 group at mile 8. But then I faltered, I could never find that last white stick–the 2:00 group. I looked for it at mile 11–nothing. I was sure I would spy it around mile 12 as I really pushed it out. I looked as far up ahead as I could and thought “Where the F is that white stick, damn’t!!”. At one point the negative thoughts in my mind got really loud. I heard, “Why are you even trying for this sub 2 hour goal–that’s not even fast! You won’t have accomplished anything if you get it–just face it, you are not a fast runner, you never will be, your body is not even made for running…just GIVE UP!”
Serious shit talking up there. Luckily, I was able to shut it down and push forward. Admittedly, more than once I looked up to the sky and shouted, “I need you…shit, I need somethin’!” Funnily enough, the answer I got each and every time referred me back to one of my goals for the race, which I shared with you all here . Help someone! Every single time I was sure I had nothing left in the tank, it occurred to me to look around for someone who might be even worse off. On mile 7 I passed a young muscly guy in a Team for Kids jersey who looked like he was really regretting going out so fast. As I glided past him I swung around and silently gave him a thumbs up and the biggest smile I could muster. I can’t be sure it helped but the enormous grin and giggle he gave back made me feel like my effort was not lost on him.
Later, around mile 11, I approached a short blonde woman who appeared to be laboring. My suspicions were confirmed as I passed her and she let out a very tired, very exasperated “FUUUUCK!!!!” I glanced at her immediately and as she started to apologize I cut her off and yelled, “No, you are right, this fucking sucks, but we are almost there, come on, WE got this!” She smiled as much as she could bear and shouted back up to me, “Thank you!”.
And then there was Glenn. At least that is what I named him. He looked like a Glenn. Glenn was amazing. He was by far one of the most animated runners I have ever come across and I ran the last 3.1 miles with him. The funny thing was, as many times as I tried to team up with him and shout words of encouragement, he never acknowledged me. He made wild animal noises every half mile or so, dumped more than one cup of water over his head at each fluid station, and would sporadically break out in skips that barely seemed to break his stride. Although he never seemed to receive my support, I never ceased giving it, all the way till the end. At that point it was probably more for me than it was for him; I knew any strength that I shared would be multiplied, it would grow infinitely more than it ever could in solitary confinement.
I know the last 1.1 miles was not the fastest I’ve ever run (you can see my 5k splits below), but I’m quite sure it’s the hardest I’ve ever run in a race. To be honest, I gathered so much inspiration from other running bloggers. I’ve heard so many of you say (or write) that at the end of the race you were pulling from somewhere inside of you you didn’t even know that you had. I didn’t expect to have this same experience till my first marathon; instead I got it on Saturday, in the last 1.1 miles. My body felt tired and my strides felt stiff–nothing close to the loose and beautiful glides I’ve sometimes been endowed with at the end of long runs. My breath was beyond labored–I was audibly huffing and puffing. Somehow though, I was able to ignore all of this. I pushed back against anything trying to hold me down, and I moved my legs forward, over and over again, as fast as I possibly could. As I turned the corner onto the boardwalk, I felt a tinge of disappointment when I still couldn’t spot the 2:00 white flag. Just then though, I heard the announcers on the PA explaining to the audience, “Who you are seeing now cross the finish line is the wave 2 group, all these guys finishing are coming in at almost exactly 2 hours, an excellent time, so give them a big hand.” That was it–I couldn’t see the white flag, but I could hear it. I gave it everything I had and leapt across the finish. I started walking towards the medals and catching my breath and stretching my legs. I felt so happy with my effort, but again my math was brutal that day so I still wasn’t sure I had made it in under 2 hours. I swung my medal around my neck and continued a little further on the boardwalk. Then I felt my back vibrate. It was my mom texting. I knew I still had a couple of minutes to wait for my husband so I thought, sure, I will text her and I let her know I finished. As I slid open the text box all I could see was, “YOU DID IT!! YOU DID IT!! ❤ ❤ <3”. I was shocked and excited. My mom had been tracking me the whole time. “I did?” I answered her back. “YES! 1:58:22”. In that moment all my hate for technology ceased; it was one of the most exciting texts I had ever received. I was so excited to know that I had accomplished my goal and so happy to get to share that moment with her. I know that I will never forget it.
Just as I had begun to bask in the glow of my triumph, someone tapped me on the shoulder. It was Glenn! “You girl! Man, you carried me all the way!” He looked me directly in the eyes and reached out for a perfect, sweaty, palm-popping high five. “Thank you!” He bellowed as he made his way towards the water and apples. “Thank you, CONGRATS!” I shouted back to him, more elated than ever as I realized I had accomplished ALL of my goals. I had finished in under 2 hours. I had had a blast, and was being present and taking in every moment of the experience. I had finished healthy–I was tired but totally injury free. And, thanks to Glenn, I was sure I had helped someone. I felt overwhelmed with gratitude.
Then, just at that moment, my mom texted me again. “Mikey just finished, 2:07:13!!” I looked down at the text happily and then looked up to see my amazing husband walking towards me. I swear, I can’t make this shit up–I could never manufacture this much happy; life is just that awesome. I gave my love a big squeeze and then we snapped a few selfies, grabbed some water and pretzels, and walked off the boardwalk just as it started to drizzle. My hubs and I had just run the same race, but I knew our journeys were totally unique. We jumped on the F train and left Coney Island in such splendor, regaling each other with stories of 13.1 miles full of adventure, determination, and joy.