Around avenue J and Ocean Parkway, 10-11 miles into running the Brooklyn Half Marathon, I saw two green parrots flying from tree to tree by the side of the road. “Of course,” I said to myself, “the Parrots of Telegraph Hill.”
I was exhausted enough to mix up San Francisco with Brooklyn, but not, thankfully, so delirious that I had imagined the parrots. They are, it turns out, a well known immigrant group adding flavor to the NY borough. Sadly, these birds were some of the lone aspects of Brooklyn culture experienced on the course– except for the Coney Island finish line and the tree lined glades of Prospect Park. I was a bit disappointed in the course, waiting patiently for my two loops of Prospect park to finish, I had pictured myself emerging at mile 7 into the streets of Brooklyn and experiencing the character of this borough I hope to know better. Instead, I climbed up an entrance ramp and found myself on a highway– a moment very reminiscent of my Toronto Half Marathon, when my visions of running through my beloved city were replaced by an endless waterfront thoroughfare.
But I get ahead of myself, as my journey began three and a half hours earlier, at 5.50 am, in Manhattan. Then, I stood at a street corner and waited for three work colleagues to share a cab to the Prospect Park start line. There were a few reasons to be concerned about the start of this race: it was early (7am), in Brooklyn with the most direct subway stops closed for the weekend, with a baggage check that closed early (to be able to ship the bags to the finish), and nightmare tales of port-o-potty lines from the previous year. Yet all of these things went smoothly, and I was able to get into my corral by the 6.50 cut off– which I think was never actually cut off.
And this is where my self doubt began, because I was not at all trained for this race, and had no time goal– a first for me. I should note here that my time goal for my half marathon in January was under two hours, a goal I achieved with a time marginally over 1.59, and that this has remained my half marathon standard. As I started the race I felt like I might need to pee again, and told myself that I might just have to stop, and that would be Ok, since time didn’t matter in this race. Then I wondered at this attitude, since being so unmotivated, even after the start of a race, was such a new experience for me. Likely this was because 6 weeks ago, just when I needed to start training for this race, I had to stop running to rehab my knee. Then, returning to running, I got sick with two separate spring colds, and was only able to manage two strong weeks of training (one with a 10 mile and one with a 12 mile run), before the Ragnar relay the previous weekend. The relay race had been exciting, fun, and doable, but had left my sleeping schedule a mess, and me still somewhat sleep deprived. So perhaps I shouldn’t have been too hard on myself, when I had absolutely no expectations of myself race day morning.
This changed after my first climb of the Prospect Park hill. The hills in Ragnar had all averaged about 200 feet, and so cresting the 100 foot hill in the park I turned the corner thinking I was half way there, and was shocked to see the summit. I whipped through the next turn of the park then, thinking that I had this in the bag. The hills were nothing, and the rest of the park was downhill. But here is where lack of training comes into play, because as I summited the hill for the second time, I was now exhausted. That huge kick I had felt going down the downhill park stretch in the first loop was gone, and I had force myself to swallow my Gu as my stomach (not happy with me since the unrest of Ragnar) seemed displeased once again.
Still, I felt that I must be able to get an under 2 hour pace, and counted on the excitement of the flat and fresh Ocean Parkway stretch. And here is when I came face to face with what was in fact a long, long highway stretch, bringing back memories of my most painful race ever, and with nothing to break up the monotony but an alphabetized stretch of streets, mile markers, and fluid stations. During this long stretch my pace had slowed, imperceptibly, but effectively, with no landmarks, twists, or turns to spur me on but a building at the far far terminus of the road that slowly grew to be a recognizable form, from an original reddish smudge.
I had anticipated the excitement of hitting 12 miles and knowing that I was almost done, with just an ocean stretch to look forward to. But a glance at my watch told me I would need to kick it hard, so hard that I wouldn’t enjoy the entrance to the boardwalk as I had hoped. The tiny climb to reach the boardwalk felt like a mountain, and the bouncing and uneven ground felt like the very floor was out to get me, waiting to snag at my tired, and it turns out heavily blistered, feet. I heard someone cheering for my team from the side, but did not look over. Instead, I stared at my watch as it turned from 1.59 to 2.00. It remained 2.00 as I crossed the finish line, an actual time of 2.00.30.
Truly this is a great time for me considering my approach to the race, which was beyond casual. I had even taken my strength training class this week, knowing that it might leave me with tired legs for the race, but feeling that it was important to my knee rehab to continue it. What was amazing was how I could come so close to a goal, and just not have it in me to shave away a few mere seconds. But, when I came face to face with the reality of these 30 seconds during the last half mile of the race, it was now too late to undo them.
After being momentarily dizzy at the finish, I perked up quickly when I was able to drink properly for the first time since that morning. Even removing my shoes to find a bloody sock and a nasty blistered surprise couldn’t dampen my mood: Although the course was below expectations, the finish was up to them. Truly there is no better way to celebrate an accomplished half marathon, than Nathan’s hot dogs while napping on the beach with friends.