Saturday, May 22, 2010

The One and Only Brooklyn Half Marathon!

One of the things the New York Road Runners Club does that I actually like a lot is the five borough half-marathon series: a half marathon race in each of New York City's five boroughs. Most years I manage to do at least three out of the five races. The most special of these five races is the Brooklyn half marathon. The Brooklyn half marathon is special for a number of reasons. Firstly, it takes place in Brooklyn, the best borough in New York City. Secondly, it starts in Prospect Park, the best park in New York City. And thirdly, it ends right by the beach in Coney Island. Finishing a race and then going to the beach on a nice warm day is a very good thing indeed. Especially when there are hot dogs and beer close by.

Despite all the great things about the Brooklyn half marathon, I really wasn't in the mood to run it this year. Following a couple of weeks of sleepless nights and a ramp up in my training, I woke up on Saturday morning with tired legs and absolutely no desire to run. Furthermore, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had conveniently decided to shut down all subway lines going to the start of race, just for this weekend. I arrived at Prospect Park at 6am in a bad mood, feeling like a loser and wishing I was back home in bed.

One of the interesting things I find about racing is all the wierd thoughts that go through my head before and during a race. Running a 13 mile race at hard effort at 7am on a Saturday morning is fundamentally a silly and uncomfortable thing to do. The mind rebels. Here are some of the things that went through my mind:
  • At mile 3, I decided the race was boring, and that I was going to drop out and go home.
  • At mile 5 I saw Prospect Park Track Club coach Tony Watson. I decided he would be mad with me if I dropped out of the race due to boredom, so decided to carry on.
  • At mile 6, I decided I was having a wonderful time, now that the race was starting to hurt a little.
  • At mile 7, I believed I was running such an amazing race, that maybe this would mean I could qualify for Boston in my next marathon.
  • At mile 12, I thought I had a chance of breaking my PR by a minute, so I ran so hard I almost started to vomit, and had to slow down.
Well unfortunately I didn't run quite the spectacular race I was fantasizing about, although I did achieve a PR by 1 second, finishing in 1 hour  47 minutes, 26 seconds. My previous PR was achieved eight years ago, in Central Park. I also managed to run negative splits, averaging a 7:50 pace for the last few miles. Even better, at the end of the race they had chocolate bagels. Brooklyn rocks!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Report from Bear Mountain

On Saturday I ran my first marathon of the year at Bear Mountain, about 50 miles north of New York City in the Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks. This is one of the races in the North Face Endurance Challenge series, which also includes a 50 miler and a 50K. I had originally signed up for the 50K race a few months earlier, hoping to provide some motivation for much needed, post holiday season fat-burning long runs. Alas, I was not inspired: I barely nudged over 25-30 miles a week of training for the months leading up to the race, and a short trip to Mexico City for a wedding left me with a poo infection and further lack of desire to run. The week before the race, not wanting to waste the registration fee, I downgraded to the marathon and decided to see how far I could go on what would be, at the very least, a very scenic and challenging course.

Well, I managed to finish in the race in my worst ever marathon time of 6 hours 7 minutes, more than 2 hours slower than my best ever marathon time. I think this was also one of the most enjoyable marathons I have run, and even more surprisingly, I placed 3rd out of the 13 runners in my age group. Despite being named the Endurance Challenge, I did not find the endurance aspect of the race to be the most challenging part of it. The real challenge was that the course was "very technical", which is runner speak for saying that it was very hard to actually run on the course. It was a trail race, and for most of the way, the trail was covered with rocks, fallen trees, streams, and discarded GU packets. It was necessary to be very careful where you ran, and there were parts of the race where running seemed to be completely out of the question. Furthermore, the course was quite hilly for this part of the country: I recorded over 4,000 feet of elevation gain (and 4,000 feet of elevation loss). Although the trail was very well marked with pink ribbons, I managed to get lost and run at least an extra mile. This was my fault: I had assumed that we wouldn't be doing any rock climbing, so didn't notice the pink ribbons leading up a vertical wall of granite.

I will definitely do this race again, and hopefully improve my time. So, here are a few things I learnt for the future me to read a year or two from now:

  • It is really necessary to train on the course before the race. Three days after the race, I still have sore muscles in places where I didn't know muscles existed. 
  • It is necessary to carry lots of water. Some parts of the course are fairly remote and the aid stations can be quite far apart (7 miles at one point). Since the afternoon was hot and the progress was slow, this could mean 90-120 mins between water refills.
  • I need to spend more time doing real hill training for trail runs like this. At least once or twice a week. And on a big hill - running hill repeats in Prospect Park is not enough.