I spent the first mile of the Brooklyn Half Marathon wanting to murder the organizers at New York Road Runners. (Do a social-media search of NYRR and you’ll see that’s been a common theme over the past year.) I’d had nightmares visualizing what it would be like to have 15,000 people trying to navigate the first couple of miles of the new and “improved” course. It would be a clusterfuck of GoogaMooga proportions. And in the first mile of the race, these visions were coming … well, actually it wasn’t as bad as I initially thought it was going to be. But I was trying to hit a PR and Mile One was going to make things difficult.
The fact of the matter is NYRR could only be faulted with two things in the execution.
The first were the orange traffic cones and crowd-control posts positioned in the middle of Washington Avenue for some inexplicable reason. These showed up again between mile two and three. Perhaps they were placed there in a futile attempt to keep people to one side of the road. Listen up, if 15,000 people are running down a fairly narrow street, the first wave is going to knock them over. Everyone else who follows will not see them until after they’ve tripped over them, fallen face-forward onto the pavement and screamed, “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT? OH, IT’S AN ORANGE TRAFFIC CONE PLACED ON ITS SIDE RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF A RACE COURSE!” Full disclosure: I did not see this happen.
The second thing–and I’d predicted this–was the Grand Army Plaza fiasco. Just when the crowd was starting to open a little tiny bit, they were all funneled into a cattle shoot to round the plaza. Not only frustrating, but a little bit dangerous.
But what frustrated me most–and this was not the fault of NYRR–were the slow-ass people clogging up the first couple of miles of the race. I am not the world’s fasted runner. Not even close. I have nothing against people slower than me. I have nothing against people who want to walk a race. What I do have something against is those people working their way into corrals they don’t belong in–either because they are clueless or, worse, just rude assholes who think they’re above the rules.
For non-runners wondering how this is supposed to work, when you register for a race with this many people, you are asked to provide your average pace per mile based on previous race performance or a reasonable guesstimate. The organizers then set up corrals based on times. Fast people–elite runners who stand a chance of breaking records or winning races–go up front. Second-fastest go behind them. And so forth and so on. My friend Rahmin’s bib number was in the 400s. Because he’s fast. Mine was in the 11,000 range–because I’m in the middle of the pack. Cara was in the back corral–because this was her first race and she based her time off her training runs. If you’re unsure of your performance, you should assume a slower time. This way, quicker people have a chance of breaking their personal bests and slower people don’t get yelled at by quicker people — or trampled.
But on Saturday morning, there were people practically strolling up Flatbush. Others moseying by the water station at Mile 1. Some folks walking three or four across, as if there weren’t 15,000 people running around them. I swear I saw people stopping and stretching. Look, if you’re that out of shape, line up in the back. If once, three years ago, you crushed it in a race, but haven’t run anything other than the couch-to-refrigerator course in your living room, line up in the back. Want to walk? Line up in the back.
Again, if you want to stroll the course, knock yourself out. All I’m asking is that you be courteous and line up at the end. And I don’t care if you’re curing cancer, child abuse, AIDs, beri-beri, the rheumatid, left-handedness or the rocking pneumonia and the boogie-woogie flu, you shouldn’t be walking four across in a field so crowded. AND YOU DEFINITELY SHOULD NOT BE TALKING ON YOUR GODDAMNED CELL PHONE DURING A RACE!
MILES TWO AND THREE
Still really wanting to kill people. Also, after an 8:26 first mile, worried a little that I wasn’t going to make my goal. On the record, I was just looking to beat my previous PR set in last year’s Brooklyn Half. That was 1:52:44 on a day that started off miserably humid. Saturday, the weather was perfect for running. It was to get a little warm by the end, but no humidity at all and no wind. I’d trained a lot harder this time around. I was telling myself I’d be happy with anything under 1:50, but in my head what I really wanted was 1:45. And an 8:26 first mile wasn’t helping that cause. Granted, the first mile is usually my slowest and I was still having to run around a lot of people and take the very outside of turns (which ended up adding an additional .15 miles to my race, according to Garmin) so I wasn’t quite in panic mode. I got Mile 2 in at 8:00 and Mile 3, which was mostly down hill came in at a cool 7:44.
MILE FOUR, FIVE AND SIX
Once into the park, the crowd was a little easier to deal with. I was sad to no longer be seeing all those sites of Brooklyn the new course provided — you know, the outside of Prospect Park and, uh, well that was about it, we all got to see approximately 0.0000000001% more of Brooklyn than we did on the old course. But now I could just run. And the first order of business was getting past the cursed North Hill. And this is where many of us who bitch and moan about NYRR and the way they handled registration and the money grab of letting in all these people and wanh-wanh-wahh, would get on our knees and provide various sexual services to the people who changed the course so that we had to run the North Hill once instead of twice. Fucking North Hill. If it had balls, I’d kick it right in the balls. But! Knowing I only had to run it once and also having trained on this thing quite regularly, I was all like, “Pfft. Whatever. A hill” and cruised right through.
Special thanks in this stretch to Radie, Nick and Juno, and Maryann for cheering! Also special thanks to Prospect Park bicyclists for not being assholes–for once.
MILE 7 THRU 12
Blasted through the down hill on the south side of the park. My philosophy about down hills is that they were put there for a reason — to go faster. (You’ll see that was my fastest mile.) Once out of the park, it was all gravy. Okay, so it wasn’t that easy. I spent a bit of time doing some math. The Garmin was now hitting mile markers before the actual mile markers, so I knew I might not be hitting some of those miles as much below an 8-minute pace as it was claiming. But some mental calculation–and I’m horrible at math–told me I could still do this in 1:45. Part of me started to say, “Well, you could ease up a touch and still get a PR.” And another part of me called me all sorts of filthy names based on long-held assumptions about physical inequalities between men and women that Brooklyn runners aren’t allowed to voice and reminded me that this was a race, not a training run.
(Special mention of the NYPD officer who decided he just had to drive his car across Ocean Parkway during the middle of the race.)
I saw the high-rise apartment of Coney Island in the distance and knew I was almost there. But, like that hallway in Poltergeist, for a while there they just weren’t getting any closer. And then there they were.
Special thanks to Lela for cheering along this section.
THE LAST MILE
I may have sped up on the last mile a little too soon. When you’re running 13.1, you focus much more on the 13 and not so much on the .1. The seconds stretched out. I saw a sign that said 800M left — and I thought we only had 400 or so. I looked down at my watch. Was it still possible? Maybe. But I was sucking wind. And we weren’t even on the boardwalk yet. And hey, is that a finisher wearing a medal? There are medals this year? Sweet. There weren’t medals last year! Kick it, Ken. Kick it. Onto the boardwalk. A lot of people. The ocean. The sun. Oh, damn. The sun. It is bright. And hot. Three hundred meters to go. Finish line. There it is.
And that was it. 1:45:05. PR and close enough to my ideal goal to be happy about all of it. (I’d misremembered last year’s time, so was telling people I beat my previous PR by 5 minutes. Turns out I beat it by 7 minutes. Nice.)
But I wasn’t done with worrying yet. Cara was out there somewhere, running her first ever half marathon. And I wanted to make it somewhere along the course to cheer for her. Last year, runners could simply turn around and head to the finish. This year, we were funneled out toward the street. I made my way back and while I did so, I realized how warm it had gotten. I started to worry about Cara. I was sure she’d finish, but would it be at or near her own goal of 2:30. I found a place on a picnic table outside of Ruby’s Bar and Grill and waited with the camera. I was so intent on seeing her cross the finish line, I did not even risk getting a beer, though I figured I had some time. I watched the clock. Waited. Watched the clock. Still some time left. And there she was. Impossibly, she saw me standing on the table and waved as she crossed the finish line arms up, smiling and minutes ahead of her goal.
Mission accomplished, we knocked back a few beers at Ruby’s, then crushed some dogs at Nathans and headed home.
1 8:26.1 1.00 8:26
2 8:00.9 1.00 8:01
3 7:44.7 1.00 7:45
4 7:58.3 1.00 7:58
5 8:01.8 1.00 8:02
6 8:04.7 1.00 8:05
7 7:36.0 1.00 7:36
8 7:49.2 1.00 7:49
9 7:53.5 1.00 7:54
10 7:56.9 1.00 7:57
11 7:54.0 1.00 7:54
12 8:04.4 1.00 8:04
13 7:45.8 1.00 7:46