Brooklyn Half Marathon Recap

I wish I could tell you all that today’s race was perfect and wonderful and that I have a shiny new PR.

Sorry. That’s not the recap you’re getting.

Today’s race was my roughest one yet — but rest assured, you’re about to get all the lovely details.

Porta Potties are involved.

Last night I had a normal dinner. I didn’t feel the need to go crazy with carbo loading (for once), so I stuck with a piece of fish and some veggies.

I was in bed by 10 pm and asleep by, well, 10 pm. I didn’t sleep great, thanks to my neighbors having an all-hours screamfest in the courtyard right outside my window, but I did get a sufficient amount of sleep.

I was up at the ripe hour of 4:15 am, ready to follow my pre-race ritual:

  • Shower
  • Eat granola bar
  • Drink half a glass of water
  • Do 200 crunches
  • Lather up with BodyGlide
  • Figure out what to do with hair
  • Put race clothes on
  • Pin bib and attach D-tag
  • Smile, take photo, get out the door

Plus many bathroom trips. Naturally.

I was out the door at 5:26 to meet my new friend Donnie (we met on the Metro after the National Half in D.C. and soon found out we were neighbors — random!) and Ben. We shared a cab to Prospect Park, where the race would start.

It was so hazy this morning, and Prospect Park looked eerie before all the fog lifted.

All week my stomach has been in rough shape. I don’t know if it’s stress-induced or an oncoming Crohn’s flare-up, but either way it hasn’t been fun.

So going into today’s race I was extra nervous. I feared that at any point my stomach would start churning and I’d be rushing for a bathroom. I’ve never had to stop during a race and I didn’t want to start today.

I ate fine last night, and I spent plenty of time using the bathroom before leaving my apartment this morning. I still knew I would want to hit up the Porta Potties before the race though.

Luckily we made it to the park plenty early, so I got into one of the many long lines and eventually got my turn in the bathroom.

No toilet paper.


I didn’t get to go.

So I kind of just gave up. I didn’t want to jump back in line and wait for a different “bathroom.” I needed to get in my corral, even though I knew “not going” might prove to be a problem. I hoped that the uneasiness in my stomach was just pre-race jitters and that it would go away once I started running and found my groove.

I got into my corral with Donnie and as I tried to keep my body loose, I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I didn’t squeeze in one last bathroom trip.

If at any point this gets to be too much information, you can skip to the end, but the toilet talk continues for at least a little bit more of this recap. Sorry. That’s my life.

The National Anthem went off right on schedule and soon I was crossing the start line, ready to run.

I wasn’t looking to PR (personal record) today, for the first time in my racing career. Because I’ve run so few races, I’ve always PR’d. I kind of knew that wouldn’t happen today, especially after emailing Coach Cane yesterday.

I asked him if I should be going for a PR in Brooklyn, and I asked what he thought about my current training runs.

He told me We agreed that I would use today’s race as a strong long training run, and that I shouldn’t go crazy trying to set a new record. (In my mind that basically meant run like Hell, try to PR, see what happens, but try really hard to make Coach proud.)

His plan for me was to hold back in the first [hilly] half, then power through the second [totally long, flat and boring] half of the course trying to pass people.

I felt awesome for the first three miles. Yay!

I loved running in Prospect Park because it was unfamiliar. I didn’t know when the hills were coming and was excited to see all the fans out cheering. I was surprised at the decent amount of people out to cheer for a 7 am race!

The second loop in Prospect Park wasn’t so fun. My pace stayed fast — I hovered between an 8:15 and a 7:30 pace — and I tried to stay right around 8-8:15 minute miles, which I knew I could hang onto for the duration of the race.

But then, it happened.

My stomach went from calm to crap.

Physically, my body started to stress out. My stomach got all knotty and I knew this wasn’t good.

Mentally, I went into a panic.

Do I stop? Do I try to power through? Seven miles is a long way to “power through…”

Suddenly I found myself going from really enjoying a new course to frantically scanning the view ahead for toilets.

I continued running through mile 8, at which point I finally convinced myself that it was in my best interest to stop. I didn’t necessarily want to lose the time, but my pace had dropped considerably and I just couldn’t find my groove with a stomach on the brink of something bad.

I ended up stopping at mile 9. There were no lines at the Porta Potties, so I dashed in. It wasn’t pretty, but at the very least I felt a huge mental distraction being lifted. I could go back into the race focusing on my run rather than on my icky health.

The hardest part wasn’t stopping — it was starting up again.

I was shocked by how quickly my legs tightened up during those few minutes I was in that quaint little makeshift bathroom.

It took a little while to find my stride again.

Mile 9 and 10 went pretty well. I still didn’t feel totally relieved, but I was happy to be running again.

Then it happened…again.

I was so annoyed at this point. I couldn’t believe that I was going to have to stop for a second time.

By this point, I knew my hopes of PRing were long gone, and I also knew that with a second stop I’d lose my sub-1:50 time goal.

I also knew that, again, if I tried to just “power through” I was going to be completely miserable.

So at mile 11, I made another stop.

It wasn’t pretty.


When I hopped back onto the course, I was determined to just get the next 2.1 miles over with. I put on my favorite songs and focused on the road ahead.

I tried not to get discouraged by the swarms of people passing me, but I just couldn’t get back to the pace I wanted to be at.

I was determined to finish with a smile, though, and I did.

Running that last strip on the boardwalk in Coney Island was so much fun. And honestly, once I lost sight of a PR or a time I wanted, I just kind of let myself enjoy the run as best I could.

(When I told Coach Cane that I took a photo as I neared the finish line he shook his head and said, “Oh Ali, you’re killing me!” So I probably won’t try to do that again. More running, less picture taking. Noted. Thanks, Coach.)

I crossed the finish line and forced a smile.

I felt frustrated. It’s so discouraging to train so hard and work so diligently toward a goal and then to have an outside factor mess with it.

Case in point: I’ve been busting my butt already working with Coach Cane, and I want to keep improving, but then Crohn’s Disease swoops in and basically says, “Nope, sorry, not today, Ali. Haha, sucker.”

It happens though. Not every race day can be a perfect race day.

I still finished.

And I finished with a time I’m actually pretty happy with (1:52:14), all things considered!

I ate a post-race apple and had a few bites of a bagel (They had the French Toast ones at the finish today, but silly me, I grabbed a plain one!) — and then I spotted Donnie, who PR’d!

It was so nice having company on the long subway ride back to Manhattan. I spent a lot of time analyzing how I felt at every point of the race.

If I could do it again, I’d jump out of the toilet paper-less Porta Potty, get back in line for one that was stocked, and get that one last bathroom trip in before the race.

And that may not have even made a difference. Who knows.

Instead of thinking of all the different potential situations, I’ll just say I gave it my best today. I didn’t give up. I kept running. And I smiled at the finish.

I have another chance to PR in June at the Fairfield Half Marathon. There will always be another race. You will always get another shot. And  you can always learn something from every race, whether good or bad.

My day didn’t stop there though.

After going from Manhattan out to the depths of Brooklyn, then back to Manhattan, it was off to yet another borough: the Bronx.

We were filming another round of Run For The Rabbit commercials today, which was so much fun. I feel so lucky to be part of this program and I love the crew I get to work with.

We filmed in Van Cortlandt Park, which was new to me.

It’s also really far away.

So after being on set for four hours, then driving back to my apartment, I’m beyond exhausted. I spent way too many hours in a sports bra today.

My takeaway from today? Not all races are dream races. You can train your heart out, but you can’t control everything.

That’s my story.

All that being said, this is clearly why I’m raising money for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation with JackRabbit. While I was running — and Porta Potty searching — I just kept wishing there was a magic pill I could take that would fix this issue.

There isn’t one today.

There may not be one tomorrow.

But I’m hoping that by the time I finish the Hamptons Marathon in September — and I will finish that marathon — we’ll be a little bit closer to a cure.

Last note: Congratulations to all the racers today, in Brooklyn and beyond. Whether you had a kickass race, a mediocre race or the worst race of your life, I hope you’re celebrating tonight. Preferably with wine and a Celine Dion karaoke session.

Or maybe that’s just what I’ll be doing…



0 Responses

  1. Hi Ali! I’m a new follower, so this is a super-late response to your post, but I 100 percent TOTALLY feel your bathroom pain. For different reasons, I had a similar bathroom crisis during my first half-marathon, and you are so right … how can your legs lock up so fast during such a quick stop? Total bummer. But clearly you’ve recovered. Congrats on the marathon completion!

  2. Great job Ali! I still think that’s an awesome time, with or without BM issues! I think part of running, training, and doing races, is figuring out what works best for you, and I’m sure you took a lot of things away from this race that you will know and apply for future races.

  3. Posts like this are why your blog is one of my favorites. If you didn’t post about the “bad” runs, I think people might read your blog and think:
    -Wow. She runs like every day. I could never be that dedicated.
    or, like me:
    -Wow. Her “bad” time is crazy fast. I could never be that fast.

    But when you post about stomach problems and trying to balance advice from your coach against your own running habits/tendencies, and how stopping for the bathroom screwed up the goal time you had…it’s so encouraging for your readers. Because then we think:
    -Wow. She’s a real person like me with problems and frustrations and setbacks to her fitness goals. But she keeps going with a smile on her face. I could do that.

  4. Even though it’s not what you hoped for or trained for, that’s still a phenomenal time all things considered! Be proud of your accomplishment and pushing through all the discomfort. My mother has had Crohn’s disease for quite some time, I can’t imagine running with that but you DID. You rock, Ali!

  5. I’m sorry! I had a really miserable race too – awful, awful stomach issues as well. Not sure what caused mine – I think it was a combination of not feeling great the night before, sensitivity to the Gatorade and the humidity/relative heat Hopefully there are lessons to be learned, right?

    Wasn’t planning signing up for the Fairfield Half in June, but since I live 10 miles away…I’m thinking of it as a revenge race. I’m just worried it will be hot-hot-hot!

  6. It’s incredible what a great outlook you have on everything. That is a spectacular time with your multiple stops. I’m happy you persevered to the end, and can’t wait to hear you move forward with your training. Up and at ’em!

    Also SO excited with your Run for the Rabbit taping and everything – I’ve been following along. 😉

    Missing your Sunday post. Have a great night!

  7. I can only imagine how tough this race was for you. This post is exactly why you need to win Run for the Rabbit! You manage to stay strong through every obstacle and continue to challenge yourself and inspire others. I had to stop during my last marathon and honestly, its so tough to start up again. Congrats to you!

  8. Aw man, I’m so sorry about your tummy issues during this race. I really hope it doesn’t turn into a flare-up. 🙁 I have to say, I’m constantly amazed at your strength and positive outlook on this whole thing, you handle it so very well. I”m not sure that I would. Hang in there, as I know you will!

  9. Ali I can only imagine how frustrating those bathroom breaks must have been — but I hope you are still proud of what you did out there. You really did your best given all of the physical and mental obstacles you faced, and you should feel great about that. One of the best things about your blog is that you talk candidly about having CD and dealing with the consequences, yet your blog is SO motivating and uplifting, because the message is always how you are overcoming every obstacle in your way. Even though you were (very understandably) frustrated with this race, I know this won’t stop you from racing half marathons. Just the fact that you were out there running and you didn’t quit the race when you easily could have is a huge accomplishment in itself. So proud of you!

  10. Congrats on the race–that is still an awesome time! That is such an awesome time, despite your stomach problems. 🙂

  11. Congrats on finishing! Question: Do you do 200 crunches everyday or just on race days? I’m so bad about doing ab work! =(

  12. FYI, the french toast bagels were kind of awesome 🙂 congrats on the run anyway, even if it wasn’t your best ever. Even your worst half marathon is still 13 miles most people didn’t run!

  13. Given the amount of stops, you did awesome! I think yesterday just was not out day. I had a pretty crappy run that I did not even finish. Kudos on powering through!

  14. Sorry about your less than stellar race experience, Ali. I’ve definitely been there with bathroom issues, though not as serious as you. I love your determination to conquer such a crappy condition (hmm, pun intended?) and your awesome attitude. And I’m pretty sure you’ll kill your next race 🙂

  15. Wow- I am so impressed with how you persevered through the end. That’s a great time and you should be very proud with the way you handled adversity during the race. Great recap. I definitely want to run in that race next year!

  16. I’m sorry about the bathroom troubles, friend. I know how uncomfortable/stressful that situation can be. I think it’s awesome that you still finished in the time you did despite multiple porta-potty breaks!

    The Brooklyn 1/2 is over, put it behind you, and as Jay-Z would say “On to the next one!”

  17. That sucks about the stops along the race, but what a great finish time all things considered! Plus it looks like the day itself was gorgeous and you got to share it with runner friends and your coach. Nice race 🙂

  18. I feel your pain! I’ve been training the last 5 months to try and run sub-2 hours for the first time at the race, but I came down with a cold on Friday! I was on pace for the first 10 miles or so but the heat totally got to me and I fell apart at mile 10 and finished in 2:03. We just have to not think about the ‘what ifs.’ You still ran your heart out!

  19. Ali,

    I think you did really well! Many people would have given up after the first stop!

    I know so well that feeling of fear that there might not be a toilet there exactly when you need one. I hope someone does come up with a cure pretty quickly for us sufferers!

  20. Sorry to hear you had to deal with that today, but you still finished strong! I actually stopped to go to the bathroom 11 times when I ran the Chicago marathon and the mental part of trying not to stop and looking for a place to go was the worst!

    You’re doing such a great job with your training and you’re working so hard! I’m super impressed.

  21. Aww Ali, I am so sorry! I know exactly how that pain feels and what it’s like to need the bathroom throughout a race. It is SO unfair when your body decides to disagree with you for no reason!

    I do know that next time you have an awesome race it will feel extra special. I promise 🙂

    And congrats! You still did amazing!

  22. Congratulations, Ali! It sounds like it was a hard race but you should be proud- I think your time was awesome, especially with all that was going on with your stomach.

    Also, I think this is the first time I have commented on your blog. Just wanted to tell you what a funny and inspiring blog you have! You always write about IBD with such wit and grace. And I really enjoy reading about your race recaps.

  23. Great job powering through and finding positives on a tough morning.

    Can I add something to yesterday’s race day tips that I generally forget myself? Bring a small amount of tp or tissues with you to the starting line in case such an issue arises, it’s disturbingly common to come upon porapotties without tp.

  24. wow, ali.. this is such a powerful post. it is amazing that despite your hardships were able to reflect upon the day…and move forward from it. I am sure you will kill the fairfield half… you’ll be right down the road from me!!

  25. That is too bad… You finished and for that, you can be proud.. With a smile on your face 🙂
    Sometimes the body has a mind of it’s own!!!!!!

  26. ali,
    congrats! even though the race didn’t turn out the way you wanted, i would say that running 13.1 miles with all those stomach issues is pretty impressive in itself!! i know it’s frustrating — but i am keeping my fingers crossed for you that your stomach calms down ! also, stay away from red peppers ! (have you heard that red peppers/hot peppers are thought to cause crohn’s flares? i read in a paper on ibd that it is a suspected trigger..)

  27. Sorry to hear about your stomach troubles! Hope you’re feeling better. Congrats on still finishing with a great time! My twin sister ran it this morning (she lives in Park Slope) and said she loved the course.

    I also loved VC Park the one time I ran there and always wished it wasn’t such a trek (two hours from Astoria!).

  28. So sorry you had a rough time today! I still cannot imagine keeping a pace like that and stopping at the potties and still finishing in under 2 hours! You should still feel proud!

  29. congrats! despite the setbacks, of course. so sorry about the bathroom issues. that is the worst. i had some similar issues, but mine subsided early on thankfully.

    glad you liked the course! LOVE finishing on the boardwalk – so excited for summer

    ps – i run in van cortlandt often — and it’s awesome.

  30. Hi Ali! what a day you had! are you really running Fairfield?? I went to college out there and I’m on the verge of registering… it’s a great town to run through. only drawback is the Governors Island 10K is the same morning

  31. Even though it wasn’t the race you imagined, you still did great! And I’m proud of you and all of your accomplishments. I am so happy to follow your journey towards 26.2. 🙂

    I had a downright AWFUL 15K race this morning. It was TOO hot and my chest tightened so much during mile 6 that I literally had to stop (not even walk) to get my breathing back under control. It was the most frustrating thing ever and I ran my first race over an 8 minute pace (my pace ended up being 9:04). I know that I am capable of so much more and I know that I can run 9.3 miles with under a 9:00 pace… but today was not my day.

    What I took away from it was that not every race is going to be perfect. But the bad races make the bigger and better ones all the much better. 🙂

  32. Ah, I’m sorry the race didn’t go as you hoped it would, but you still finished and with a great time! I feel you on the race/bathroom problems though…just started happening the past year and crohn’s does run in my family, but isn’t the issue…

    better luck next time!

  33. First — congratulations!!!! Even with feeling bad and stopping twice at a bathroom, you ran in a faster time than I will ever run a half marathon in my LIFE. Seriously. You are amazing and naturally speedy and you should be grateful for that.

    Second — ugh, I am so sorry the race was so stressful.

    Third — you are such a natural runner. I can’t run a half without everything hurting and passing out immediately after in my bed. You are magnificent.

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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