Race Autopsy: Brooklyn Half Marathon 2014

Unless you’re a pro runner with some writing chops, who runs in exotic locales against the best runners in the world, like Dakota Jones, or Sabrina Moran, odds are your race report is tedious and uninteresting to just about everyone but you. Your mom may say she enjoyed reading it, but she’s lying.

Still, race reports serve a purpose. By setting down the details of what happened, we can assess what went right, and what went wrong.  We can learn, and hopefully, we can improve. This is of little consolation to the reader (who should probably just stop here), but it can be of help to the writer.

And so, here’s my dull, boring, and not very good race report for the Brooklyn Half Marathon.

In a nutshell, it wasn’t a bad race, but it wasn’t a great one, either.  I’d trained as best I could given a gimpy foot and a five-month-old baby.  I averaged around twenty miles a week for the two months leading up to the race focusing on miles, not speed. I got in a half dozen thirteen-mile runs, but did no speed work.  I choose to focus on miles because speed work often results in me getting injured.  And this year, more than any racing goal, I wish to remain injury free.

I started the race with good pal Joe. Joe’s an old friend and fellow aging amateur jock. He and I took totally different approaches to our training. He ran, I think, one 13 miler in the lead up to the race and did very few runs in double digits.  He did, however, do much more speed training than I did.  I was worried he was going to blow up at the end. I was wrong.

We took the first half easy. We cruised down Washington, up Flatbush, around Grand Army Plaza and back down Flatbush at a comfortable 8:30ish pace chatting about running, getting old, and the changes we’ve seen in the County of Kings.  Joe and I have both lived in Brooklyn for the better part of fifteen years and it is hard to imagine the Washington Avenue of 2000 playing host to 20,000 runners. In some ways, I miss the old days, the old Brooklyn of cheap rent, danger, and diversity; in other ways, I don’t.  Its great to see Brooklyn celebrated by such a huge crowd of runners, but its important to remember all the people who can no longer afford to live here or run in some dumb ass race.

Still, it was 8 am on a Saturday morning and Brooklyn was glorious.  The crowds for this race are never big, but those who came out were great: conga drum players, weirdos with ukuleles, and dozens of members of my running club, Prospect Park Track Club.  After we’d entered Prospect Park, an older PPTC member shouted at us “PPTC! Go Get ‘Em! This is Your Park!”

And it is; and we did.  We dropped the pace to low 8s as we circled the Park and headed out onto Ocean Parkway at mile seven.

This is the second year in a row I’ve run this race.  Last year, I went out much faster, at just under 8 minutes per mile.  By the time I hit Ocean Parkway, I was barely holding on to 8-minute miles. This year, I felt fresh and ready to go at the same pace at the same place in the race. I couldn’t tell if I was running smart, or too conservative.

One day, I’ll figure this whole racing thing out, but this wasn’t that day.

Somewhere around the 8-mile mark, Joe dropped me. He was feeling strong and picked it up.  He ran low sevens and a high six* for the last part of the course. I just didn’t have that extra gear. I got the pace down to high 7s, but didn’t have the legs for anything faster.  I finished feeling strong, but not fast, in a time of 1:49:08.  Joe finished in 1:45 something.

So, what went wrong? Why did someone who ran significantly less mileage than me beat me so handily? There’s probably a bunch of reasons:  Little Dude was up half the night and I started the race exhausted; my foot has been giving me some problems; I’m older. Etc, etc, etc. To me these sound more like excuses than reasons.  They’re also all factors I cannot control. The one factor I can control? Speed work. Joe did much more of it than I did and it appears to have paid off.

Lesson learned.  If you want to run fast, you have to train for fast.  It isn’t like this is new information, but seeing Joe pull away really put it in stark relief.  This next cycle of training will include consistent mileage, hopefully more than the last cycle. However, just as importantly, it will include regular speed work.  In the past, I’ve gotten hurt doing speed work, especially short intervals, so I plan to stick to hill work and tempo runs.  No need for 400 repeats when the distance I’m focusing on is 13.1 miles.

After the race we gathered with our partners and my kid for a celebratory beer.  As the loser, I was buying.  We’re already looking at some fall halfs — Joe will be buying the beer then.

Little Dude, Joe and I post-race. LD be all "damn dude, you smell."

Little Dude, Joe and I post-race. LD be all “damn dude, you smell.”

* One of the great things about training now-a-days is the ability to slice and dice not only your own running data, but also that of your training partners and friends. Joe and I both use Strava and it was easy to consult his log when writing this thing up.

Race Recap – Hartford Half Marathon

This hasn’t been my best training cycle, but it hasn’t been my worst, either.  I got in a decent number of long runs, and some tempo work but my mileage was never consistently very high.  In the two weeks before the Hartford Half Marathon, a niggling ache in my right ankle, and work commitments, kept me from getting in many miles at all.  Still, I felt pretty good at the start of the race this Saturday.  The weather was good, my ankle seemed fine, and I felt like I could give my PR time a run for its money.

Through mile seven, everything was going great.  I was on pace to run a PR, and I felt like I had a lot left in the tank.  But as seven turn to eight, and eight turned to nine, that left ankle really started barking and my gait got all wonky.  By mile ten, I was off PR pace.  By mile eleven, not only was my left ankle killing me, but my left calf was cramping up ever 400 meters.  It wasn’t pretty.  I went into this race feeling pretty burnt out on the running game, and at mile 10 I seriously considered just walking it in and never running again.  But I didn’t. For whatever pigheaded reasons, I hobble-jogged the rest of the way and finished in an extremely disappointing 1:52:24.

It’s a bummer.  Writing this on a Tuesday morning, I really do not know where my running is going.  My ankle isn’t bothering me when I walk, but I haven’t run a step since Saturday.  I’ll take the ankle out for a spin tomorrow and see how it performs.  How much running I am going to do in the near future is an open question.  I have some big life changes coming up, and time for exercise is going to be at a premium.  Nothing keeps me as fit as running, but the sport isn’t filling me with the joy like it used to with only so much time to work out, should I spend it on something I am not really enjoying.

Meanwhile, I went climbing last night for the first time in a month.  The camaraderie of the wall, and the joy of sending problems, presented a pretty stark contrast to long miles in the dark by myself.  It might be time for a change.

Race Autopsy – The Brooklyn Half Marathon

I ran an actual honest to god race a couple of weeks ago.  It hurt, but in a good way.  It wasn’t the best race of my life, but it was better than expected.

In the last couple of years, the Brooklyn Half Marathon has gone from a sleepy outer borough race with a few thousand participants to a huge, twenty thousand strong, spectacle.  The Brooklyn renaissance raises all ships, including New York Road Runners which made a huge effort to promote this race, and its part in bringing business to Coney Island.  Along with the size of the race, New York Road Runners has changed the course of the race — but don’t worry, it’s still kind of dull.  This year, the race started on Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue, ran down Washington to Empire Boulevard, over to Flatbush Avenue, up the Flatbush hill to Grand Army Plaza, a loop around the Plaza, back down Flatbush, then a loop through Prospect Park and out Ocean Parkway to Coney Island where you finished with a hundred yard section of the newly rebuilt board walk.

I have run every inch of this course before, some of it many times.  I’ve done hundreds of runs through Grand Army Plaza, and thousands of miles in Prospect Park.  This was my home turf.  I wanted to do well.  But what is “well” for a guy who has struggled all winter to get in the miles?  When I work up at five thirty in the morning, I wasn’t sure.  And when the gun went off at seven a.m., I didn’t have much of a race plan.  A friend from my running club asked me what my goal was at the start – I said I hadn’t a clue. I knew I’d take it easy through the first couple of miles, see how I was feeling in the park, and take it from there.  Not very well thought out, I know.

A bad photograph of the start.

A bad photograph of the start.

Those first miles were easy and peaceful. I cruised along at about an eight minute pace.  Though the New York Marathon brings out crowds in the hundreds of thousands, I think all total there were probably about a thousand spectators for this race.  That was fine with me.  fewer people screaming meant I wasn’t feeling as pushed by the crowd to pick up the pace.

It was easy to run my own race, not worrying about the splits. I tried to run by effort and enjoy the small pleasure of running through my neighborhood with twenty thousand other people.  Soon, we were at the six mile mark and I was hearing some cheers from my teammates in the Prospect Park Track Club.  I looked down at my watch, did some quick math, and thought, if I can keep the pace right around eight minutes, I might just PR.

So that’s what I set out to do.  I broke the race down into small bit. I told myself to hold the pace for just the next five minutes, the next half mile, the next mile, getting stride by stride closer to the finish.  It hurt, but I tried to keep at it.

Unfortunately, willpower didn’t make up for under training and I let the pace creep up a little bit closer to 8:30 at the end.  I crossed the line in 1:47:11, forty six seconds shy of a P.R.

Oh well.

This was actually a better performance than I was expecting.  My fitness isn’t as bad as I thought.  There is still hope for a fall marathon PR.  Now the real work begins (again).  I know where I stand and I know where I need to go.  Time to execute.

 

Postscript – After the race I went to bachelor party that started at one p.m. and went until three in the morning.  For those keep track at home, that’s a 22 hour day.  One hour and forty seven minutes of it spent running; fourteen hours spent carousing.  Needless to say, I felt like death the next day.