I crossed the start line, I ran 13.1 miles to Coney Island, and I crossed the finish line. So I ran the race, yes! But in reality, I quit — like completely gave up in almost every aspect — right around mile four.
Mentally, physically, nothing was clicking. I had no legs, no head, and no heart. And so after four fast, fun, and fabulous miles, I just sort of…gave up. I kept running, and I earned my medal and space blanket just like the other 27,000 runners. But the 2015 Brooklyn Half Marathon didn’t get my best effort. Bummer.
It wasn’t necessarily the worst day ever because I didn’t have to make any bathroom stops along the way (always a victory, especially coming off a little 24-hour stomach bug), I got to spend a lot of quality time with some very dear friends, and I got to run. I truly believe that any day you get to run — that you are well enough, healthy enough, and strong enough to physically put one foot in front of the other — just can’t be the worst day in the world.
My official finish time was 1:53:08, which was just more than three minutes slower than my sub-1:50 goal time, and about five minutes slower than where I really would have liked to be for this race. (And slower than the on-a-whim half I ran a few weeks ago, which I was just using “as a long run.”)
Want more? OK.
The truth is that getting to the start of this race required a lot of forced enthusiasm on my part. I believe I was totally over-trained for my two fall marathons, and I didn’t recover well from them. I took two weeks off running earlier this year, but I still did some yoga during that time, and I would have benefited more from two weeks of total rest. (Unheard of these days!) Hindsight, you bitch.
I jumped into half-marathon training at the start of the new year, and was averaging 35–50-mile weeks. Very few of my training runs felt good. My legs were almost always tired, I rarely hit the paces I wanted, and I just kept pushing. I wasn’t injured, so I kept working. I took rest days, sure, but I didn’t truly listen to my body. Instead I listened to my training plan.
I was just going through the motions of running every day and I wasn’t enjoying most of my runs. I was always counting down the miles, watching my paces get slower, and feeling frustrated. I took walk breaks, Instagram breaks, puppy breaks, anything to stop running. I wasn’t running for fun. I was running because “I had to.” Good signs.
So just like with Steamtown in the fall, I went into this race feeling over-trained and not recovered enough, even with three rest days the week leading up to the race. My legs never felt light and bouncy. Everything felt heavy, thanks also in part to this weight gain thing that we will maybe touch on in another post if I decide the public needs to hear about it. (And if my sensitive, not-very-thick skin wants to open up those gates.)
Anyway. I kept trying to be excited about the half because it was my first time racing with a team (!!!) and because it really is a great race! It’s a fun course, and everyone you know is running, volunteering, or cheering. Really. Everyone you know. Probably even your grandmother and your dog.
It never really felt like “race week” to me, but I went through the motions — new outfit, bib pickup, nails painted because obviously that makes a difference, HOKAs shined with a damp paper towel, Airbnb secured — and half-heartedly hoped for the best.
I knew I wanted to go sub-1:50 and would’ve liked to run around 1:47. I never looked up the splits to know what paces that meant I had to run, but figured if I averaged around 8:10–8:15/mile I’d be good.
The race started, and it was fun! I saw tons of familiar faces before the gun even sounded, I was able to get into the porta potties with time to spare, and I got tons of hugs from my November Project teammates. It wasn’t even raining!
The first few miles were a blast. We kicked off with a slight downhill, and ran an out-and-back, which is sometimes my favorite way to run.
My highlight from the entire day came within the first two miles: During the out-and-back, I saw all of my super-fast NP teammates f-ing crushing it. They were flyyyyying. I felt so proud to be wearing the same logo as them, and I got warm, sweaty fuzzies seeing them looking so strong already. Also I cried. Because of course I did.
I reached the November Project water station around mile 3.5 and locked eyes with my BFF Michael McLinden, who screamed for me and you would’ve thought his joy would’ve propelled me to a strong finish.
I saw so many friends along the course cheering and running, but by mile four I was over it.
The first four miles were great. I wasn’t looking at my watch too much (probs went out too fast, naturally), but I felt good. Once we got into Prospect Park, though, I was miserable. I hate running in Prospect Park. It feels all uphill to me, and I don’t know it like I know Central Park, so I don’t know when the inclines are coming and where the delicious declines will be. I’m sorry, Brooklyn, I just don’t love your park.
So I slowed down a lot in Brooklyn and I just wasn’t enjoying myself. I was already wishing the race were over. That’s not such a great sign.
Eventually, the course spits you out onto Ocean Parkway, which comes around mile 7 and takes you all the way to the finish. It’s a long, straight shot and again it feels uphill to me at times. But it’s most flat, and ends up being a net downhill.
By Ocean Parkway, I was barely holding a 9:00/mile pace and I just didn’t care. I kept asking myself, “Ali, will you be mad if you don’t reach your goal? If not, it’s OK to slow down and just run, but if you’re going to beat yourself up later, then please keep trying, and try harder.” Meggie caught me for a while, and ran alongside me and was chatty and I was just like, “Dude, I can’t even fake a smile for you, I’m sorry, go ahead, have fun, don’t let me bring you down.”
I hate that this feels like such a grumpy recap, but I just wasn’t into it, and for no one’s fault but my own.
Around mile 9, I walked through a water station, and then I walked through each water station until the finish. That gave me the mindset of, “You only have to run one mile at a time, then you get a little reward and a little break.”
It started drizzling around mile 10, and pouring around mile 10.1. The rain made things sort of fun and puddle jumpy, and after a very humid start it felt good to cool off!
Finally, Coney Island came into view, and we made that cluster-y left turn onto the boardwalk (seriously, there’s gotta be a better way…). I tried to give it one last hard effort and kicked my way to the finish. I did happily pass a few people in those final meters, but ultimately I was done.
And then I walked 13.1 more miles just to get through the finishing area and back into the real world. Seriously, that death march…it felt worse than the marathon and everyone was soaked.
I wasn’t immediately upset, I was just happy to be done and eager to see Lucy and Anne and to see how they had done.
It took hours (really) but eventually I found all my people and we hugged and the sun came out and people drank beer (I did not).
The post-race party was super fun, though it was a little womp-womp-y having to answer honestly each time someone asked how my race went and I just didn’t have a happy story to share.
And, the good thing for me is, I think I know why it happened.
This race was a good reminder that every distance can be humbling! I’ve been so focused on marathons and my mileage was too high for a half. I did a lot of short interval work, but doing longer tempos would’ve increased my confidence (and fitness, obviously). Marathons aren’t the only “hard” races. Everything is hard if you push yourself enough. (Write that down.)
I am not plotting some secret “redemption race” and I have no desire to sign up for another race. I’m not running a marathon this year, and don’t have plans to run another half. My goal is to get healthy — to get my head where it needs to be, and to finally give my body the break it so obviously and desperately needs — and to actually start planning this wedding that’s coming up mighty quickly. (We ordered our invitations last night, so…already being productive!)
I wish I could’ve made a stronger showing for my team debut and my age group debut, and admittedly my running confidence is a little shot right now. I’m trying not to dwell on it, and once this recap is published it’s onto the next thought! I mean, honestly, it’s just a race, a hobby, a thing I generally really enjoy — and want to enjoy for years to come, which means taking good care of myself now and giving my body a lot more looove.
To all 27,000 of you who PR’d at Saturday’s race, congratulations! To the 19,000 of you I met in the corrals or at the finish, yay! I am so happy we are best friends now! And to all 12 of you who made it through this entire lengthy recap, well done! Sorry I kept you here so long.
And now, to stretch. Because even though this race wasn’t my fastest and I finished feeling like I hadn’t necessarily worked all that hard, my quads are furious about the whole situation.
It’s not you, racing. It’s me.
I’ll be back when I’m good and rested!