Months ago, when I signed up for the Baltimore Marathon, I also searched for a backup option. This was my I-wake-up-on-race-day-with-a-stomach-flu plan B, and knowing it was there took away some of the added stress of preparing for a big race. The Brooklyn Marathon was perfect for this, as it was less than a month after my A race, and was practically in my backyard. The entire distance is run in Prospect Park, and while it sounded monotonous, it also meant that I knew every inch of the course. I also know that I could easily recruit pacers for moral support. It wouldn’t be glamorous, but it wasn’t bad for a fall back plan.
I had never envisioned running both races, but after the less than stellar day I had in Baltimore, I found myself thinking about Brooklyn again. I really wanted another shot at the distance, partly to see if I could improve my time, but mostly to conquer my fear. I spent so much of the race in Baltimore in such a dark place that I didn’t really want to let the memory fester until a spring race. Brooklyn seemed like the perfect opportunity to take another shot at 26.2, but I was worried about the possibility of overtraining or injury. After gauging my recovery for two weeks, I decided to grab a spot knowing that I could defer the registration until next year if I didn’t feel up to it in any way.
I wasn’t quite sure how to manage the build-up taper with only three weekends between races, so I winged it. I essentially reversed my taper for two weeks, which gave one week of actual workouts, and ran a 15-miler in Prospect last Saturday at half marathon pace. Monday I started my taper again. On Saturday the Caveboy and I volunteered at NYRR’s 60k, so I was up at 4 AM and on my feet for about 10 hours, though I did remember to wear my compression socks at least. I really had no idea what to expect on Sunday. I had only run 85 miles in the almost-month since Baltimore, and 40 of that had come during my one workout week. My 15-miler had felt great, but I wasn’t sure if I’d lost any endurance. I was much more nervous than I would have liked.
Sunday morning I awoke to perfect conditions–overcast skies and 40 degrees with no wind. I got dressed, then second-guessed all of the gear I had laid out the night before. I got dressed again. We headed over to Prospect a little before 8 and I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of a race with only 400 people. At 8:30 we lined up at the start and were off. The route started with 3 laps of the lower (flatter) half of the course, followed by 6 full laps. Caveboy had agreed to run the first two lower loops with me and promised to keep me from going out too fast. Given my uncertainty about the whole endeavor, I had decided that the A goal was to go sub 4-hours, and B was just to beat my time at Baltimore. More than that, though, I just wanted to have a decent experience.
As nervous as I was at the starting line, the minute I started running, it all just fell away. Maybe it’s just that running in Prospect Park is my happy place. I started counting my breaths and steps and locked in a nice relaxed 9-minute pace. The three flat laps flew by and soon we were climbing The Hill that would start each of the remaining full loops. The hill–Mount Prospect–is about .4 miles at about 3% grade. It’s not terrible, but it’s definitely long enough to make you hurt after a few laps. The loops, while potentially monotonous, actually broke the race into nice digestible chunks, though. I figured that the first two would be no sweat. The third would mean I was half done with them, and by the end of the fourth there would only be two left, which seemed manageable. Long Run Buddy had mercifully agreed to pace me for the final laps, and also promised to make sure I was drinking and taking in nutrition, which had been a problem at Baltimore.
I was resolved to learn from my previous mistakes and keep my speed in check early and on the hills. For the first few laps I aimed for easy 9’s, and deliberately slowed to 9:20-9:30 up the big hill. My legs felt good and I wasn’t really feeling the climbs at all, but I wanted to make sure that my quads weren’t shot by the time I got to laps 5 and 6. I found LRB at the start of the fourth loop and we had a quick discussion of how I was feeling and the strategy going forward. I was walking through the water station before the hill on each lap and had been taking a gu every 4 miles since mile 8. By the start of the fifth lap my legs still felt good, but I was reaching the point of not wanting to eat or drink. In Baltimore I was worried I was one of the unfortunate people who just can’t take in nutrition past mile 20 and I pretty much stopped trying. This time, I kept sipping on my water bottle and was able to put down a gu at 21. It seemed to sit okay and I felt some of the loopiness ebb as the sugar hit my system. I got up the hill on lap 5 with no drama and knew there was only one more climb to go. I still felt strong over the rest of the lap, but was beginning to feel the fatigue creeping up.
At the aid station I had a minor crisis involving my last gel, cold fingers, and a stuck zipper, which luckily pulled free before I totally lost my composure. Once I was refueled, LRB yelled “Make this hill your bitch!” and we started the climb. I had been expecting the last assault on the hill to be excruciating, but my legs felt miraculously good. At the top I did some quick low-blood-sugar math and told LRB that I thought I needed 9 flats for the last three miles to get it in under 4 hours. He picked up the pace a bit as we started a downhill stretch and I turned on my ipod for the first time and did my best to shut off my brain. Over the next mile I started to dissociate a bit. I could tell I had a good turnover going, but I couldn’t really feel my legs, due to either cold or fatigue. There was a little uphill at the marker for 25 and suddenly–Whoosh–I had the biggest runner’s high of my life. We rounded the bottom of the park and in no time we were at the turn off to the finish line on the lower loop. I hadn’t looked at my watch since the 24th mile marker and had no idea how close I was to 4 hours. There was another slight climb up to the 26 mile mark, but I wasn’t feeling anything at that point. One last curve and I saw the finish line up ahead. LRB dropped off and I kicked as hard as I could. The gun time read 3:57:44 as I crossed. My official time clocked in a 3:57:18; I actually managed to negative split it by almost two minutes.
I couldn’t be happier with the experience. I actually enjoyed running this race, not just finishing it. I know I could have run it faster, and as I crossed the finish line I realized that I probably still had a few miles left in me. Even so, I wouldn’t change a thing. There’s always next time.