Race Report: The Brooklyn Half – A Valiant Effort but Not Quite Enough

Five weeks ago, I ran the Jersey City Marathon.

Normally, I’d take some time before another big race. But this weekend, I raced the RBC Brooklyn Half.

The reason is that NYRR changed the rules for qualifying times for the NYC Marathon. Previously, you could get in with marathon or half marathon results from other races. Now, while you still can, you have to be well under the qualifying time to use a non-NYRR race.

The easiest way for me to get in is to run one of NYRR’s half marathons and finish under 1:25 (the qualifying time for men 40-44).

I put in for the United Half in March, but I didn’t make it in through the lottery. That would have been a much better option – both timing and weather wise. But the RBC Brooklyn Half was just far enough away from Jersey City that I thought things might work out. So I put in for the lottery – and here we are.

I bounced back from the marathon pretty well in terms of mileage and easy runs, but I haven’t been able to hit workout paces very well. This past week, I finally had a decent workout, though, and I figured if the stars aligned a 1:25 finish just might be possible.

Pre-Race Travel and Logistics

The race is on Saturday morning, which meant that I had to travel into the city and handle bib pick-up on Friday.

I managed to snag a great rate at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Brooklyn – about a mile from the start line. If you’re traveling for a marathon and need a hotel, consider snagging one of the Chase Marriott credit cards. The promos are a great way to score free nights for stuff like this.

The bib pick-up and pre-race party was on Pier 2 in Brooklyn until 9:30. So I had plenty of time, but I didn’t want to cut things too close. I left my house in New Jersey a little after 3 – and it took me close to 2 hours in traffic to get to the hotel.

Parking at the hotel was $40/night, so I had arranged for a spot in a garage down by the Pier for ~$50 on SpotHero. But as luck would have it, there was actually plenty of street parking within a couple blocks of the hotel. So I parked about two blocks away, grabbed my stuff (I packed light), and walked over.

After checking in, I walked up to the subway and took it a few stops down to the Pier. I hadn’t eaten much earlier in the day, so I stopped at the Wetzel’s Pretzels to grab some pretzel bites and a lemonade. The pre-race party was great – but getting there wasn’t too convenient. It was a good 15 minute walk from the nearest subway stop. It was a nice day, though, so I enjoyed the walk and the vibe in the park.

On the way to the pier, I passed by some people playing pickle ball. There was a nice view of the Statue of Liberty. There were lots of volunteers pointing people in the right direction, and once you were down on the waterside just about everyone seemed to be heading towards the Pier for the race.

Bib pick-up itself was super smooth. I scanned my QR code, got my bib, turned around to grab my shirt, and meandered through the rest of the expo. I wasn’t really interested in buying anything, but outside on the Pier they had live music. It was still early (~6:00), so I grabbed some mac and cheese from a food truck and a Mich Ultra, and I sat down to enjoy the music.

I hung out for a while, had a second beer, and eventually meandered back to the hotel. My wife had to work late, and she ended up taking an Uber into the city. She got there about 10:30, we grabbed some tacos from down the street for her. I also ordered some tortilla chips for a morning snack, and then we sat on the rooftop deck while she ate.

By then, it was time for bed. I got to sleep a little before midnight – and I actually slept pretty well for a race night.

Race Morning

I woke up at 4:45. I always set a bunch of alarms just in case, but I hopped up with the first one and got out of bed. I made a cup of coffee in the room and took it up to the rooftop with the tortilla chips to wake up. I used the bathroom, got dressed, and before I knew it it was 5:50 – time to head out.

It was about a mile and a half to the entrance I needed to use for Wave 1 / Corral A. I jogged over as a warm-up, and as I got closer I started to see more runners. Pretty soon, they were everywhere.

I passed a security entrance and tried to go in – only to be rebuffed by security. I realized when they pointed down the street that I was at the entrance for Wave 2. So I jogged further down and found the right place. It was still early (~6:10-6:15), and the line to get in was pretty short.

Once through security, I walked by the corrals up to Corral A. On the way there, I definitely had a moment of imposter syndrome. Like, what was I doing up here? All these people … and I’m near the front? This can’t be right.

Then I saw the 1:30 pacer at the front of Corral B and I figured … yup. This must be where I belong.

There was a big bank of porta potties in each corral, and I waited for one to open up in Corral A. There was no line when I went in – just a few people scattered in front of individual porta potties. I came out a few minutes later, and there was a loooong line.

What a difference a few minutes makes. I hopped on the end of the line, thinking that I might need to pee real quick before the start, but we didn’t make much progress. Before long, the corral was filling up with people ready to start. They sang the national anthem, and then people started to shuffle forwards towards the real start line.

At this point, there were some short lines (3-4 people) in front of individual porta potties. I hopped on one for a brief second and thought about waiting. But then they opened up Corral B and let them start walking towards the start. If I waited another couple minutes, I’d end up jammed up way back in the wave, and that would not be good.

So I joined the crowd and headed towards the start. While I was standing there, I noticed an Asian guy with no shirt on. Apparently he’s some kind of Instagram running influencer – Matt Choi – and a bunch of people were saying hi to him. To my right, somebody tapped me on the shoulder, and I saw a guy I’d met a race last fall (Pete). We chatted for a second, and then we saw the 1:25 pacer pushing his way to the front. I followed him further up towards the start and got in position a few rows back.

My goal was to hang close to him and take it easy through the Prospect Park Hills. If I got out of the park with an average pace of 6:35 or less, I’d try and push the pace down to finish under 1:25.

The First Half – The Hilly Park

When the gun went off, we didn’t move. It took a few seconds for all of the people in front of me to start shuffling and for me to shuffle up as well. About a minute or so after the gun, I finally crossed the start and got up to speed.

The race starts by going downhill for the first half mile or so. I just kept pace with everyone around me and kept the 1:25 pacer in sight up ahead. There wasn’t much else to do in the dense crowd.

At the bottom of the hill, we turned and headed back into the park. This started the first hill up towards Grand Army Plaza. The road was divided by some cones, and I was on the left side of the crowd (towards the middle). I saw some other people dash around the cones to pass a few people, so I followed suit.

Before we knew it, the cones suddenly had tape connecting them – so most of us ducked under the tape and got back on the right side of the road. Towards the top of the hill, we hit the 1 mile mark – 6:42. A little slow, but perfectly fine for the start.

As we rounded the corner at Grand Army Plaza, I spotted my wife in the crowd. I ran over to give her a kiss, then I sprinted back into the crowd – still about 20 or 30 meters behind the 1:25 pacer. From here, it was downhill for a bit, and then the next two splits were 6:21 / 6:17. Nice.

By the time we hit the 2nd mile marker, the crowds had thinned out a bit and I was no longer hemmed in on every side.

Mile 4 was a flat out and back along the south side of the park. That mile was 6:32 – just about spot on for a flat mile. I was feeling pretty good, and this seemed like a good sign.

All through this early part, Matt Choi was running in my vicinity – probably within 20 or 30 meters ahead of or behind. Every couple of minutes, his camera man would rush by on a bike, dismount, and start snapping some pictures and video. I made a few cameos in the video he posted.

Mile 5 was the test. We turned north into the park and headed up hill. It wasn’t super steep, but it was long. When we split that mile in 6:47, I thought, “Great!” Didn’t lose much time.

But the hill continued for a little bit into mile 6. I was starting to flag here, but I spotted my wife at her second viewing spot and that gave me a little pick me up. After we crested the hill, I caught my breath and tried to speed up on the decline. But I couldn’t – and mile 6 split in 6:51.

Mile 7 was my last hope. It’s a steep descent – about 100 feet over the course of the mile. I felt like I had finally caught my breath and gotten some life back in my legs, so I opened things up. I split the mile in 6:26. On the one hand, that’s movement in the right direction – but I probably should have been able to take that hill quicker (and make up a few more seconds).

Pulling into mile 7, I grabbed a gel and choked it down. I checked my watch after the mile 7 split, and my average pace was 6:34.

The Second Half – The Sunny Parkway

So far, things were going more or less to plan. I was on pace coming out of the park.

If I could work down to an average pace of below 6:30 for the remaining miles, I’d have a shot at dipping under 1:25. Although somewhere this point, I realized that the 1:25 pacer had disappeared ahead of me and I’d lost sight of him. Not a great sign.

We exited the park, hit level ground, and I tried to grind away. My legs didn’t feel dead, and I felt like I was picking up some speed. But when I glanced at my watch the pace was still above 6:30.

We merged onto Ocean Parkway and started the long march south to Coney Island. I passed through the aid station before mile 8, grabbed some Gatorade, and managed to get a few small swigs down. But when we hit the 8 mile mark, my split was 6:37.

That’s not gonna cut it.

I weighed my options. It wasn’t looking good, but I could press forward … or I could ease up and save my legs for another day. If I wasn’t going to hit 1:25, I didn’t much care of I ran 1:26 or 1:27. Anything below 1:33 was a PR for me.

I decided to try and push forward – and if I couldn’t get on pace by the end of this mile, I’d ease up. For a minute or two, I was able to get down to 6:30. But I couldn’t get to 6:25 – which I really needed to do if I was going to hit my goal. And that 6:30 wasn’t quite sustainable. Before long, the pace was drifting back up a bit.

Before the end of mile 9, I decided to just bail. I’d try to cruise in around 6:45-6:50 pace for a 1:27-1:28 finish.

At first, slowing down felt great. But then, the sun and the heat started to take their toll. It hadn’t felt so bad in the shade of the park, but there was almost no shade on Ocean Parkway. Mile 9 clicked off in 6:42.

Mile 10, I slowed down a little further. I pulled into the aid station before the mile marker, and I slowed to a walk for a few seconds so I could actually get a full cup of Gatorade down. I’d stopped at the aid stations at 2, 4, 6, and 8, but I’m sure I spilled as much Gatorade as I drank at those stops. At this point, I was definitely slightly dehydrated.

After the aid station, I hit the split at 6:54. A little slower (possibly due to the pit stop), but I was feeling better.

Right about this point, my buddy Donny came up behind me. I knew he was running the race, too. But I hadn’t seen him at the busy start. We chatted for a second, and when I told him I wasn’t going to be able to hit 1:25, he looked confused. I realized later that that’s because he started a good 90 seconds behind me, so he was on pace for 1:25. He’d go on to finish a few seconds above it.

Even though I knew it was unlikely, his encouragement got me to give it a try. I picked up the pace substantially, and for a minute or two I was really cruising along – 6:05 to 6:10 pace. I glanced down at my watch and saw that if I maintained this pace, I’d actually have a chance.

But, I quickly came to the realization that it just wasn’t going to happen. I still had some speed in my legs, but I couldn’t keep that going for another 20 minutes. A couple minutes, sure. But there was just too much ground left to cover. I waved Donny on, and I eased up again. I ended up splitting mile 11 in 6:52.

At this point, I was pretty spent. That little kick took it out of me, and I was really feeling the heat and the sun. Those last two miles down Ocean Parkway felt like forever – but I just kept plodding along one foot in front of the other.

Mile 12 was 7:01 – my slowest of the race.

Finally, we turned right at the end of Ocean Parkway and headed towards the finish. For much of mile 13, I’d been sputtering along at 7:00/mi, plus or minus a few seconds. I mustered up what I had left to speed up – not to a sprint but to a more steady pace.

Over the last quarter mile, we turned onto the boardwalk. My pace improved significantly, and I was going about 6:15-6:20/mi when I got to the finish. I forgot to hit the lap button at the 13 mile marker, but my pace for the final 13.1 miles was ~6:50/mi.

Post-Race Festivities

I stopped my watch and looked down – 1:27:56. Not my goal, but it’s still a time I’m proud of.

After the finish, there was a long walk towards the baseball stadium. We passed a group of volunteers with water, and I eagerly grabbed a cup to sip on. Further along, we were given a clear bag with some other stuff – gatorade, water, an apple, and pretzels. Finally, I grabbed my medal and left the finishers chute.

I saw Donny up ahead, but he was leaving to go into the city. I turned right and went into Maimonides Park to enjoy the post race party for a bit. It was still pretty empty when I got there, but it filled up over the next 20 or 30 minutes.

I was pretty hot, and the first thing I wanted to do was sit down in the shade. There wasn’t much shade to be had, but I finally found a chair up by the “O” section that I could position behind a pillar to get out of the sun. I sipped on the Gatorade and cooled off. When I felt a little better, I grabbed a beer from one of the vendors and went to sit down by the field.

I ate the pretzels, grabbed a hot dog, and enjoyed some people watching for a bit. Chit chatted with a few other finishers and drank my beer. There wasn’t anything in the way of free food/drink (a little disappointing), but the atmosphere was great. People met up with their families, and there were some games on the field to play with.

Eventually, I made my way out of the stadium and followed the sea of people down to the subway stop. The Q train was jam packed heading north, and we waited a good five minutes or so before we pulled out of the station. It was a long 30 minutes north, but when I finally made it to the hotel I was so happy to shower and climb in bed for a well deserved nap.

Once I had rested up a bit, my wife and I went out to explore the city. We grabbed some Thai food – she had pho and I had a banh mi. It was amazing. Then we went next door to a little dive bar for a couple drinks. Then it was back to the hotel to watch some TV and relax for the evening.

Reflections and Plans

Looking back on this race, I stand by the notion that I had a 1:25 in me on a good day. This just wasn’t my day.

If I wanted to run an even race – and finish strong – I’d have been a bit more conservative with my pacing. Going through the hills a little more slowly probably would have saved my legs enough to finish with a strong 1:26 or 1:27. But today was 1:25 or bust. And I went bust.

Better weather might have helped make the difference. But for a May race, the weather wasn’t too bad – a little warm, but nothing crazy.

And maybe some more hills in my training could have helped. I’ve avoided running too many hills this spring, because Jersey City is a flat race. I think I’ll try to incorporate some more moving forward – but realistically that probably wouldn’t have made the difference, either.

I’m at peace with it. Last week, I published an article on Medium titled, “The Marathon Is a Race That Rewards Patience and Consistency.” It was a reflection on my performance at Jersey City – but now it’s a reminder that I need to be patient.

I was hoping this spring to qualify for both Boston and New York City in 2025. That didn’t happen. I was a little impatient.

I was considering running Erie again in September to have another crack at Boston. But that would undercut my training for Chicago, and it would prevent me from enjoying some other races this summer. Doing that again would have been really impatient.

Instead, I’m going to set those aspirations aside for the moment.

In the short term, I want to enjoy some shorter races over the summer – work on my speed and have fun. I’ll keep my mileage around 70 mpw through August, and then I’ll ramp up to 80+ in the final weeks before Chicago.

With a solid summer of racing and training, Chicago will be the perfect opportunity to run sub-3. It won’t be in the qualifying window for Boston 2025, but it should pretty much guarantee me a spot in 2026. I’ll just have to find something else to do next spring. Maybe I’ll even try and run Brooklyn again next May to get some payback.

I’m going to try and run the Fred Lebow half in January. That’ll give me one more shot at qualifying for NYC next year. And by that point, a 1:25 finish ought to be pretty attainable for me. So the ship hasn’t sailed completely on majors for next year just yet.

All in all, Brooklyn was a great experience. I enjoyed the race – from the pre-race party to exploring the city afterwards – even though I didn’t quite hit my goal. But there will be plenty more chances to do that in the future.

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