Yesterday, May 21, I finished my third half marathon. With over 27,000 finishers, the Airbnb BK Half is the biggest half marathon in the US– it’s so popular that registration for spots sold out in 52 minutes this year. For me, this was a high-energy, fun, yet very painful one. Let’s get into, shall we?
I had a lot of anxiety going into this race. Due to knee issues, I had only done 4 runs in the last two weeks of training. To make matters worse, I had started to feel a strange nagging sensation in my left ankle in the week leading up to it as well. I barely slept the night before the race, excited yet very nervous for what was to come.
After a long night of tossing and turning, my alarm finally went off at 4:30. The start time was 7 am, and NYRR advised runners to get there by 5:40, so I wanted to be out the door by 5:15. I did a short meditation, got dressed, grabbed my toast and fruit, and headed out to walk the 1.3 miles to the start line. It was a little chilly out, but it was nothing compared to the frigid mornings of most other races I’ve done, so I was happy. I ate my toast (half a banana mashed onto sourdough bread) on the way, and saved the other half of the banana and strawberries to eat an hour before the start time.
I got there around 5:45 and walked through the security checkpoint, which was surprisingly really quick, which then led into the corrals. I was so happy to see that they had water in the corrals. There are few things worse than being really thirsty before a big race. I used the next hour and a half to stretch, use the porta-potties, and eat the rest of my breakfast.
If I had one critique of the pre-race set up, it would be the placement of the porta-potties. They had them inside the corrals, which caused a lot of congestion. I think it would have made more sense to place them outside so the lines for the bathrooms wouldn’t take up the entire corral.
The start buzzer went off right on time, and by 7:10 my corral (E) was off. The first 3 miles were a loop outside Prospect Park, and they flew by. It was awesome seeing so many people cheering us on that early in the morning.
Noteworthy signs/spectators include:
- ‘If Trump can run, so can you’ sign
- Guy with ‘Punch Trump’ sign and a punchable trump pillow
(There were others but I dont remember, oops.)
I got my first water at the mile-3 aid station. It gave me an unexpected surge of energy, so I decided I would get water at every 2 miles thereafter to maintain my energy level. Miles 4-7 were a loop around the park, and although I felt a slight pain in my right knee, it wasn’t anything to slow me down. I was feeling really good.
Wow, I thought to myself. Could it be possible that I’ll get through this whole race feeling this good?
Famous last words…
As we left the park, we entered onto the highway/Ocean Ave, which would take us all the way to Coney Island. The pain in my right knee stayed stagnant, and now pain in my left knee started to creep up. However, it was still completely manageable. As I got gatorade at the 9 mile marker, I was shocked by my pace. Given my limited training, I wasn’t expecting hold a sub 9 minute mile, but I was running 8:27 min/mile at the 15K (9.3 miles) mark. When I saw the 8:00 min/mile pacer (a runner who holds a certain pace for people trying to reach a goal) a few feet ahead of me, I got really excited, thinking maybe I could PR today.
Then it all went downhill.
I got more water at mile 10, and as I slowed to grab the cup, I realized how bad the pain in my left knee had gotten. It was now worse than whatever I had going on in my right knee, and it was the same tight, sharp pain I had felt on my long run a couple weeks ago. I slowed my pace, but I didn’t want to stop to walk because I knew if I did I would never be able to get myself to start running again.
I tried my best to move my thoughts away from the pain, but it was nearly impossible. The pain started to throb all along the side of my left thigh, from my knee to my hip. I decided to make each upcoming traffic signal my next goal. Once I’d reached the traffic signal ahead, I’d start over and make the next signal my new goal. This really helped me, as my attention shifted more to the future than the present. My mind wandered often and I went back to thinking about the pain quite frequently, but as soon as I became aware of it, I reverted my focus back to the traffic signal ahead.
That tenth mile seemed to take forever. Mile 11 felt even slower. My hopes for a PR started to diminish. By mile 12 my mantra became just put one foot in front of the other. I reminded myself that I had 12 miles behind me and just 1 more to go.
We approached Coney Island, and when I saw the ‘800 meters to the finish’ sign, I knew this would be the hardest 1/2 mile of my life. Then, as we turned the corner onto the boardwalk, the most incredible backdrop appeared in front of me. There were rollercoasters to the right, the sea to the left, and people cheering all around. It was beautiful, and I tried my best to stay positive as I pushed through the pain.
I didn’t think I could go any faster without completely destroying my body, but I somehow surged into a sprint for the last .15 miles or so.
My legs were screaming at me as I crossed the finish line. The pain was more intense than anything I had felt on my training runs. Needless to say, I was extremely happy to be done. I retrieved my medal, snapped a few pictures of the finish line area, and walked a little further to grab a goodie bag. (Contents included a big water, gatorade, a [non-vegan] protein bar, pretzels, and an apple.) Again, this area was super organized; there was minimal congestion, and volunteers were everywhere to tell you where to go to find your goodie bags, water, bathrooms, etc. Despite my extreme fatigue, I had no issues finding what I needed. I thought about checking out the after party, but I didn’t really feel like having a beer (it was 9 am, mind you) and my legs were really tired, so I decided to just take the subway back.
I missed my PR by two minutes, but I’m ok with that. I did the best I could given my circumstances, and I know I’ll PR someday soon. Although this half was undoubtedly marked by pain, I had a fantastic experience overall and would recommend this race to anyone looking for a fun and relatively flat half marathon.
For the first time in a long time, I’m excited to take a break from running. I haven’t willingly gone more than a week without running (I was forced to stop this winter due to my stress reaction) since I started trained for my first half marathon almost two years ago. However, if this half taught me anything, it’s that my body desperately needs a reset. With NYC marathon training coming up, I’m going to take the next few weeks to give my legs a rest and concentrate more on yoga and strength training. I’m going to Guatemala in a couple weeks, where I’ll probably be doing a lot of walking and some hiking, and once I come back I’ll have a couple more weeks to ease back into running. I’m hoping that by the time I start training for the marathon, which will most likely be sometime in July, I’ll be fully ready in both mind and body to take on the challenge.