by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Thompson)
It’s been barely a month since I ran the Virgin London Marathon so I stood on the start line – after an Amazing Race style expedition to get there – somewhat wary of whether I’d fully recovered. Turns out I had not fully, but had nearly. So here’s how it all went, by popular demand in fewer words than my marathon post.
I last raced the Brooklyn Half in 2006. Back then Sham and I lived in Park Slope and the race ran in reverse to 2017, from the Coney Island Boardwalk to the transverse in Prospect Park, and as such was a local race. Fast forward to 2017 and for those of us living in Northern Westchester, this was more like an overseas race. Sham and I drove to Marcus Garvey Park at 4:30am, parked, jogged to the nearby Harlem 125th St. 2/3 Station to board the 5:45am 3 train and got out at Nevins Street at 6:25am to jog the 15 minutes to the start area. The final hurdle was entering the start area. It was fortified.Back in 2006 this race was one of NYRR’s niche out of Manhattan races. Those living in Manhattan rarely ventured out of their borough except to get to an airport. And today many of them are still think that heading to another borough is like a foreign vacation. Being niche meant small and less competitive. I came 2nd in 1:10:43, the exact same position and time as in 2005 (fancy that). This race is now one of NYRR’s signature races. A monster race of 27,000 in two waves that has cult cache, a hashtag and Manhattan prices to match. It was nice to be back in my old neighborhood but I’d happily pass on the 3:45am wake-up and car loan scale entry fee.
Since London I’d kinda gotten back into the swing of things. After a few ‘recovery’ weeks I’d stepped back up to around 60 miles per week – with some easy tempos but no workouts or long runs – to ensure I could run something close to 1:13, enough to help pace, and if possible, beat, team mate Javier Rodriguez. For two of these weeks I’d been on vacation with Sham’s family in Singapore (with a side trip to Manila thrown in).
So having got through the security in the start area, here I was on the start line with UA team mates. The plan was to run together as far as possible at 5:30 pace. It was only after finishing that I realized that translated to 1:12 pace: my maths (math!) are not good during a race. I imagined us running like Eliud Kipchoge’s pacers only with no lead car, no rotation, no sponsors and no media. Let’s call it the sub 72 minute project.
And we were off. In the early stages team mates Harriott Kelly and Sebastien Baret were ahead. Barely 800 meters in I ran past and saluted M50 rival Brad Kelley. Brad almost jumped onto the sidewalk when he realized it was me. I was running in lockstep with team mates Javier, Carlo Agostinetto and Jamie Brisbois with Javi whispering team orders. Suddenly it was overcast as I fell under John Henwood’s 6′ 5″ shadow. Jason Lakritz was also up ahead but he, lucky for him, would not be able to hear Javi’s dictats.The Brooklyn Half course ricochets and takes in some gentle inclines for the opening few miles before entering Prospect Park. It then takes in an anti-clockwise (counter!) loop of the road in the park. Contrary to course whisperer Javi, we were running faster than 5:30 miles until we entered the park. My Garmin had me doing 5:34, 5:25, 5:14 and 5:26 for a 4 mile split of 21:39. I shared some of the work at the front – met by “easy” whispers from Javi – but had that feeling it was going to be a hard day at the office. I was proved right. In the park Jamie dropped away but Javi, Carlo and I, resplendent in new club colors of black and gold with dark shades to match (and superfluous given the overcast conditions and John’s shadow), had several uninvited interlopers for company – John, M40 runner Guillermo Pineda Morales (‘Memo’), a North Brooklyn Runner, and two runners each from Central Park Track Club and Dashing Whippets.
In the park I felt like I was back home. I used to train here 3-4 times a week while living on Park Slope. I’d also run 15:25 in a 5K race, a full circuit, back in 2006. So at 4 miles I knew there was a long steady drag looming that would slow us down. And it did. I clocked 5:39 for the fifth mile, passing 5 miles just shy of the crest of the hill in 27:18. At the ‘summit’ I lost contact with the group. The hard day had started. Early.The sixth mile along the top end of the park gently undulates. I reined the group back in and took to the front in my customary do or die style. Today it would be more do and die. The sixth mile was a pacey 5:17, assisted by a long steady descent, and we exited the park at mile 7 in 38:08, 22 seconds ahead of Javi’s goal. The next 5 miles along Ocean Parkway is perhaps the most boring section of any race anywhere. The roadway is huge: a central bidirectional avenue of seven lanes (the middle lane is for left turns or a painted median), two small parallel side streets, and two medians with trees, benches, and pedestrian paths. And it’s as straight as a die except for one kink.
For the first few miles the roadway was like the Monza race track. Newly paved it was pristine. But then it reverted to the usual shoddy New York City standard. The group held together except for losing the North Brooklyn and one Dashing Whippets runner. I had a brief moment in front. A final hurrah before the legs and lungs decided I was pretty much done. We clocked 5:27 for the 8th and 9th miles. As we passed the 15K banner in 51:00 I impressed Javi that he’d just logged a new PR: for me it was just 15 seconds shy of my last attempt at that distance, Gate River in 2016.
Soon after 15K, Memo, sporting his country colors of Mexico, jumped to the front and started ramping up the pace. Suddenly the group was strung out in a long thin line with me at the back and thinnest part of that line. The next few miles I was an increasingly distant spectator of the group duking it out. I covered the 10th mile in 5:26 and 11th in 5:27. John was about 20 meters ahead of me but the rest of the group edged further away. Javi pulled alongside Memo. And finally Carlo turned out the afterburners and opened a group winning gap.
As the end of the parkway came into view at around mile 12 I started to slow. I covered the 12th mile in 5:31. I had that feeling, the one I often get at around 23 miles of the marathon, that the wheels were starting to fall off and I have to switch from competing to surviving mode. The only consolation was that I had a little over a mile to run. And I was closing on John who was slowing more than me. As the course turned right off the parkway and with 800 meters left I caught and passed John. And he returned the honor in the last 200 meters down the boardwalk. The 13th mile was my slowest: 5:35.
The official timing had John on 1:11:58 (3rd M40-44) to my 1:12:01 (31st overall, 4th masters and 1st M50-54), though that 3 seconds flattered his narrow advantage. My age grade was 91.26%. Carlo, one week ahead of a big national ultra trail race in his native Italy, had blown the group away and recorded 1:11:22 (26th and 1st M35-39). Javi did enough to take 1st masters and 1st M40-44, his 1:11:34 a second ahead of Memo. His time was a massive PR, clipping 2:21 from his PR from the same race in 2016. So unlike Nike, UA achieved its goal – #wedidit.
In the final reckoning Urban Athletics had a great day with team placings of Open Men 5th, Open Women 7th, Masters Men 1st, Masters Women 1st and M50+ 1st. Top placers were Jason Lakritz (22nd in 1:10:35) and Harriott Kelly (6th and 3rd W25-29 in 1:17:31). Other top UA placings included Sebastien (3rd M35-39 in 1:13: 24), Matt Chaston (1st M45-49 in 1:16:06), Aaron Mendelsohn (10th M40-44 in 1:19:28); Fiona Bayly (1st masters women and 1st W45-49 in 1:22:06), Jonathan Schindel (7th M50-55 in 1:23:25), Adam Kuklinski (8th M50-55 in 1: 23:40), Ellen Basile (2nd masters women and 2nd W45-49 in 1:26:05, a 3 minute PR), and Jennifer Harvey (5th W45-49 in 1:32:16). The official NYRR story of the AirbnbBKHalf is here and my official pictures (bib #5434) here.
Post race many UA headed home to see to family duties. And many landed in the Coney Island Brewery. Some might still be there.The beer was great but like NYRR it came at Manhattan prices (fellow Brits still just off the shores of Europe, that’s $7 for a small pint, about 5 quid,plus the almost obligatory $1 tip for the ten seconds to pour it and hand it to you). My hamstring tendinitis, which Russell Stram treated on the Thursday before the race, held out but is sore as I write. It’s now time to plan my attempt to add the title of European Champ by winning the EMACS Half Marathon in Aarhus, Denmark in August, to go with the World gold I got last year in Perth. For now the time puts me top of the UK M50-54 half-marathon rankings for 2017.
Now about this promise to keep my blog posts shorter. Ah well, next time.