I ran the Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon this weekend!
I made it to the start line and the finish line, and checked out pretty much every porta-potty in between. By the numbers, it was my slowest half marathon in seven years. But I’m calling it a win. Here’s how it went down…
To backtrack: This race was supposed to be my goal half marathon. I was following a “Run a 1:45 Half” training plan in an effort to hopefully break my six-year-old PR, which is 1:44:48. My training was going OK. I’d give myself a solid B. I was getting my runs in, including Track Tuesday workouts and weekend long runs, but (as always) I should’ve done more cross-training and strength work. I have weak glutes, lazy hamstrings, and an unstable core. But hey. I did some running.
A few weeks ago, though, it was clear my peak weeks of training weren’t going to shake out the way I’d hoped. What started as “maybe a thing, IDK,” quickly turned into a full-blown Crohn’s flare. I didn’t get to finish out my training cycle, and by the beginning of Race Week, I didn’t even know if I’d show up at the start line.
Right now, my flare is mild-to-moderate. Probably more on the mild side. It sucks and it’s debilitating, but I’ve dealt with far worse. Right now, I can’t run most of the time, but every now and then I’ll get a good few minutes and I can give it a go. I’m having the bathroom urgency and some stomach pain, but I’ve been free of the other symptoms, like the fevers, night sweats, and joint pain. YAY.
My plan was no plan: If I woke up Saturday morning and felt up for it, I’d try to run the race. I wouldn’t attempt a PR, but I’d go out and try to have a fun day. Just like the New York City Marathon last year, but with less pressure, because I cared so much about being able to run the marathon and wasn’t nearly as invested in the Brooklyn Half. If I couldn’t run it, I’d be bummed, but I’d survive.
So I went through the motions as if I were going to run the race: I got a little tune-up at Finish Line, picked up my bib from the expo a million miles away, and went to Outback Steakhouse for dinner Friday night. But other than that, it didn’t feel like race week. It felt like a normal, high-stress week during which I just tried to stay alive and meet my deadlines. (Another B grade there. Ugh.)
I went to bed Friday not being sure about the race, but knowing I wanted to try. I knew I’d be sad if I didn’t at least try — and what was my worst case scenario? Oh right, pooping my pants on Ocean Parkway.
So I woke up Saturday morning and tried. I took a shower, I ate some little energy bites that I’ve been into lately, and I got dressed. I told Brian I was going to get to the start line. And I left my Garmin at home.
Brian and Ellie, bless them, drove me to the start, and I was nervous. Not nervous about the race — nervous about the bathroom situations, as always. We were running late, which I hate, and I was nervous about getting into my corral in time, and with enough time to wait in Brooklyn’s notoriously long bathroom lines (seriously, they are the worst). We also had to stop and get gas, at which point I convinced myself I needed to go to the bathroom. The gas station attendant said the bathroom was for employees only and wouldn’t let me use it (jerk), so I dashed next door to a 24-hour Burger King — only to discover it wasn’t actually open.
Eventually I found a Dunkin Donuts across the street with an open bathroom, and that saved me. Next stop: Brooklyn.
So that wasn’t a great start. But the minute I get it into my head that I “need” a bathroom, my body reacts accordingly. I panic, I start to sweat, and I can’t focus on anything but making it to a bathroom immediately. It sucks, man.
After a quick downpour as we drove over the Manhattan Bridge, I made it to the start and into my corral. I took my standard pre-race Imodium and waited in two separate porta-potty lines to just keep going as much as possible before the race started.
And then the race started! I was running the half — yay!
I definitely went out fast. I wasn’t wearing my watch and didn’t take note of the clock at the start, so I don’t know what my delay was (I also missed most of the clocks along the way because it didn’t matter to me), but I know I took off and felt amazing for a while.
The first three miles of this race are my favorite. I love the out-and-back because I just hug the left side of the course and people watch and look for my teammates. It makes the first two miles fly by, and it’s so fun. I have no idea what my pace was, but according to my official splits, I came through the first 5K at a 7:58 pace. Sounds about right.
After the first 5K, I started obsessing over my stomach — and that stayed true for the rest of the race.
My stomach never really hurt, I was just hyper aware of it the entire time. My eyes were constantly darting around looking for porta-potties, whether they were official ones on the course or rogue ones sprinkled throughout Prospect Park (which I do not recommend).
I never expected to run the race without bathroom stops, but I would’ve loved to not make as many as I eventually made. I made my first bathroom stop in Prospect Park, which I think was around mile 4. I couldn’t get it off my mind, so I figured if I just went in, I’d feel better and would get some peace of mind. I ran into a stray porta-potty on a transverse in the park (near the base of the big hill), and it was GNARLY. The seat was covered in poop and there was no toilet paper, so I turned right around and booked it out of there. Gross gross gross. Then I pretty much sprinted to get to an official bathroom, which I knew would probably be cleaner. And it was!
The “big hill” in the park didn’t feel so bad, which was somewhat surprising considering I do all my runs in pancake-flat West New York. I felt relatively strong going up, and hit at least one more porta-potty before exiting the park.
Last year, I felt super strong on Ocean Parkway, and this year was kind of the opposite. My running was fine and my legs felt fine, but I couldn’t stop thinking about my stomach. And the thing is, it was probably fine! But every time I saw a bathroom, it was like I convinced myself I needed it. Half the time I’d run in and nothing would even happen, so I’d just sit there and wait. (That’s kind of also the downside of Imodium: Crohn’s makes you feel like you have to go, but the Imodium stops you up. So you get the feeling of urgency without the relief.)
I really did enjoy Ocean Parkway, though! In spite of the bathroom stops (I stopped keeping count at #6), I loved just taking my pace down a notch and jogging toward the finish. I took a lot of walk breaks because, again, I told myself I needed to walk. I wasn’t walking because my legs were tired. I walked because I thought that if I ran too hard, I’d need another bathroom — and there’s nowhere to hide on Ocean Parkway. Ugh.
But my nightmare scenario never did come true, and anytime I did urgently need a bathroom, I made it into one. I spent quite a bit of time in bathrooms, but when I was on the course, I was smiling. (I think.)
And almost every time I slowed to a walk, someone would pass by and ask if I was OK. The running community is so awesome. Around mile 10, I was walking, and I was fine with walking! Spectators hate when you walk and they cheer for you, but I was like, “No, it’s fine! I’m OK! I just might have a problem if I run right now!” Anyway, my friend and teammate, Phil, ran by and put his hand on my back and was like, “Come on, Ali, less than a 5K to go!” So from there, I tried to run more than I walked, and I just kept reminding myself how lucky I was to be out there.
I KNOW, it’s cheesy. I KNOW it sounds fake. But I swear, in spite of all the stops — necessary and less so — I really had a great day. I had no idea what my time would be when I eventually crossed the line, but I was excited to make that final turn onto the boardwalk and to see Brian and Ellie.
My official finish time was 2:03:11 (9:24/mile pace). I think if I had worn my watch and knew I wouldn’t come in under two hours, I might’ve been bummed. But instead, I just got to run happy, and I have zero negative feelings about running my slowest time in years. Plus, a good chunk of that time was spent in bathrooms, so the time on the clock seems pretty irrelevant — but in case you were wondering, now you know! 2:03:11 and crossed the finish with a smile (and not having to look down to stop my watch!).
What’s next? I don’t know! I still want a half PR someday, but right now I just want to get myself better. However I’m supposed to do that. And then I want a 5K PR. I really want to PR the 5K this year.
Congratulations to all of the Brooklyn Half finishers, and THANK YOU to the kickass volunteers, race organizers, and wonderful spectators.
I used to hate this race because the first two times I ran it didn’t go so well. (Though after I ran it the first time — which was also the first time I ever made a bathroom stop during a race — I went on my first date with Brian!) But now I love it. It was a good day for this Crohn’s kid. This disease may slow me down, but it hasn’t kicked me out of the game yet.
And then I slept all day.