It’s been a minute since I’ve been able to update the site, but we’ll file that under “life gets in the way” and try to move on, shall we? With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the 2012 Brooklyn Marathon, organized by NYC Runs and dutifully supported by volunteers from two great Brooklyn running clubs, Prospect Park Track Club and North Brooklyn Runners.
I signed up to run Brooklyn on a whim the Friday before I ran the Hudson Mohawk Marathon (race report here); this left me with five weeks between each race, which seemed like enough time to recover and still get in a little training. The way I saw it, running Brooklyn so soon after my “A” race would be a good chance to further refine my marathon routine, test my recovery capabilities, and push my endurance threshold. At the very least, I would finally get a medal for running on my usual course.
Brooklyn might be a big city, but this race has a small-town vibe in a very good way. There were fewer than 500 runners and a good number of volunteers and spectators, so runners felt well looked after. While there was no pre-race expo, you had three days to pick up your packet and the swag included a nice long-sleeve technical shirt, a cinch-style backpack, and a some other random goodies (hand sanitizer, etc).
The course consists of a variety loops around the park, which means you end up running the Center Drive hill 3 times and the North Hill (I refuse to call it Zoo hill) 6 times, making for a somewhat hilly course (my Training Peaks data has the course at just over 1000 ft. net elevation gain). The park is free of vehicle traffic, but the roads are open for recreational use by other park-goers. Generally this worked out fine, however I did overhear a few cyclists yelling at runners for being in the bike lane (we get it, weekend Lance Armstrong: you’ve gotta get those laps in at 9:30 on a Sunday or you’ll be kicked out of the club).
I had laid out my gear the night before as I usually do, and was planning on using calf sleeves to see if they made any difference (not that my calves cramp during races, but just out of curiosity). When I woke up, though, it was 40°, with 68% humidity, 7 MPH winds and sun—pretty ideal if you’re a cold weather fan like me—so I left the calf sleeves and hat, grabbed my sunglasses, and donned my homemade “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” arm warmers.
It was awesome to leave my house and jog the short distance to the start, instead of having to arrive three hours early with 60,000 other runners to huddle in the cold like in this other local race. I got to the start about 45 minutes early, enough time to check my bag, do my warmup, and use the porto-potties (note: it wouldn’t hurt to have a few more next year).
Going in I felt mentally relaxed, buoyed by the idea of running on my home turf and a solid performance in my last race; however, physically I felt a little weary, but that’s to be expected when you’re running marathons so close together (and over-doing your mileage in between). I didn’t have much in the way of a race plan, especially since I didn’t have any PR pressure this time around or a pace group to run with, so I decided to try to enjoy the race and to focus on consistent pacing based on perceived rate of exertion.
The race started off with two lower loops of the park, so your first four miles alternated between downhills and uphills, making for uneven splits even if you went out conservatively, like I tried to do. From this point, you started your six full loops of the park, which meant more hills but also many more spectators. I actually loved running up the North Hill so many times. Sure, flat courses may make for faster times, but having something to get psyched up for makes the race more interesting for me, mentally. All the long hilly runs in the Berkshires this fall convinced me of the value of being bolder on hills and not letting my pace slip too much, and this tactic proved successful during the race, as on each time up the Hill I’d rack up a few more kills. The North Hill also had a strong spectator presence, with members of NBR, PPTC, and NYC Hash House Harriers coaxing weary runners up the hill with shouts of encouragement.
I did a loop with a fewllow JGB Coaching runner, Art, who told me all about his running his first 50-miler up at Can Lake the month before (he kicked ass). I also saw a bunch of old friends from Team in Training, including Joel, Pam, and Gina, who ran with me for my last climb up the North Hill despite having run the Harrisburg Marathon the weekend before (PR). My friend Matt tried to jump in with me for my last lap but I could feel him pushing my pace so I told him to bugger off (in I nice way, I think?) and pressed on. I saw a lot of other familiar faces cheering and running, including the awe-inspiring ultra runner Cherie Yanek, who was pacing her boyfriend during the marathon, even though she had run the Coyote 100 Miler the weekend before (first female finisher to boot!).
The only tactic I employed throughout the race (since my Garmin shows I cut the tangents like a rusty knifes) was to use the big downhill on the South Hill to recover and prepare for the North HIll, which in the end was the part of the cours where I felt strongest. I have no idea why, but the consistently hardest section for me was the flat mile just after the 3/4 mile downhill on the South Hill. Luckily, this stretch ended at Center Drive, where the awesome folk from NBR were providing hydration and motivation.
Hydration and Nutrition
I stuck to my usual gel schedule: 20 minutes before the start, 8 miles in, and then roughly every 4 miles after that (last gel at mile 22). I tried a couple of new flavors of Cliff Shots and all were pretty decent, although the Lemon/Lime tastes a little like I imagine anti-freeze tastes. I usually take a caffeinated gel at mile 20, but I had given that one to another runner who forgot her gels (really?) and had to make do with the non-caffeinated one I had given my wife to hold on the course. There were water tables at either end of Center Drive, which means on each full park loop you were never more than 2 miles from hydration (to be more precise: you had 1.5 miles from the table on the South Hill to the table just before the North Hill, and then another 1.85 miles from that table back to the table on the South Hill). I decided to drink less gatorade (they offered lemon) this time around since my stomach suffered a little at Hudson Mohawk, and this proved the right decision since I felt fine throughout the race. I was still surprised to see a lot of runners carrying their own water, as I think the extra weight and energy expenditure takes a toll, but I guess it comes down to personal preference. I’ll admit I blushed a few times when the awesome NBR volunteers praised my cup grabbing technique. One thing that didn’t work out in my hydration plan was the cup of coffee I had with breakfast. I felt the need to pee at mile 6 and finally gave in at mile 20 when I passed the porto potty by the Center Drive water table. Unfortunately, there was a line and the friendly race marshall gave me a menacing look when I feinted for the woods (just doing their job), so in the end I lost a minute. Bummer, but better than a soggy finish.
The last loop was understandably the hardest, but I dug deep and managed to run mile 25 in 7:33, my fastest mile of the race. From there I started to fade a little, but knew I was almost at the finish so wasn’t too stressed. I though I maybe had a chance of finishing under 3:30, but the lost minute at the porto-potties scuppered that chance. I felt relieved taking the final left onto center drive, especially as I passed a few runners who had another loop and were audibly questioning and cursing another trip up the North Hill. I wasn’t exactly prepared for how far the finish line was up Center Drive, so I lost a few seconds there, but I still finished strong and with a big smile on my face. For once I didn’t look down to check my Garmin and even struck a decent finish pose as I crossed the tape—fittingly, not a camera in sight! My final time was 3:31:06, which was really encouraging considering the proximity to my big fall marathon.
Not much else to say about the finish except that they had hot chocolate and cheesecake, both of which were greatly appreciated and greedily consumed. It took all of 30 seconds to get my bag, and then I hobbled back to the finish to cheer on my friend Amanda who set a big PR, finishing under 4 hours! Oh, wait, I lied…there’s definitely something else to say about the finish: FRIGGIN’ DISCO MEDALS:
This is by far the most unique race medal I’ve received and it really puts the NYC marathon medals to shame. Sure, I almost have a seizure when I wear it, and my wife hasn’t slept well since the race, but it’s well worth it…just look at the bleedin’ thing!
I was two weeks shy of running my fourth marathon in a year when I finished Brooklyn, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate that accomplishment than by running a marathon in my favorite park, in my favorite borough, in my favorite city. It also helped to be cheered on my some of my favorite people, including more than a few devoted friends and family members, and part of the beauty of this course is just how accesible it is for spectators. I was worried going in that the layout of the looped course would be confusing, but in the end it was pretty easy to follow. The organizers and all the wonderful volunteers made the race run so smoothly, and the devoted fans made even the North Hill an enjoyable experience.
The Brooklyn Marathon may lack the pomp and circumstance of the NYC Marathon and for me that’s just fine. I don’t want to jinx it, but this just might become a tradition.