by Paul Thompson (pictures by Shamala Kandiah Thompson)
Today I have the weary legs common for the day after a race. Only this time, for the first time since I stepped off a track in the early 80s during a 10,000m track race, I did not finish the race. The race being the Popular Brooklyn Half Marathon, one of NYRR’s premier race fixtures. And today not only did I have weary legs and the tail tangled between my legs, I also was physically unable to run so had some spare time to reflect as I walked on my own through Rockefeller State Park.
Going into the race I sensed I was ready for a fast one. The only question mark was to what extent the forecast persistent rain and unseasonably cold temperatures would weigh on my time. My target was to run sub 1:13, enough to lead the UK and USA M50 half marathon rankings. In 2017, I’d run the same race and clocked 1:12:01. Recent training had been going well and deep down I was very confident. So I figured I’d go out at 5:30 MPM pace and see if I could hold on.
The race largely went to plan. It had been raining all morning so most of us were wet even before the gun went off. The beauty of running New York races is the sea of familiar faces. In the starting corral I knew pretty much everyone except for those coming from out of town. We were, all 26,000 if us, in this together. It was 7am, piss wet and cold. But we would not want to be anywhere else even St George’s Chapel. This was our thing. And we were hoping for the best for each other.
It seemed like it was Boston all over again. The roads were also pockmarked with puddles. Before long racing shoes and socks were soaking. I quickly settled into a group running at 5:30 pace including fellow Brit Ben Leese of North Brooklyn Runners. He like me, had opted to run the half instead of go to a royal wedding. Actually our invites had not arrived, lost in the post no doubt by either the Royal Mail or US Postal.
I passed the first 5K in 16:58 and soon our group was joined by my team mate Askale (Asku) Meraichi. Asku was the 2017 NYRR Women Runner of the Year. It was nice to have a team mate to work with. And so we did until I dropped out! We passed 5 miles, the highest point of the race in Prospect Park, in 27:45. The pace had slowed a little due to the half mile climb to get to this point. From here it’s all down hill to the finish on Coney Island Boardwalk and that’s what makes the Brooklyn Half a pretty fast race. Faster still when it’s dry. The interactive map is here, the PDF with elevations here (see right hand panel).
Asku, the leading woman, and I were stride for stride for the next 5 miles. We passed 10K in 34:33 and descended the hill on the south west side of Prospect Park. It was here that I had an inkling of what was to come. I felt a slight twinge in my left hamstring, the same hamstring that had been strained after an indoor track meet followed by a long run the next day in the wet and cold. And I felt it again as we descended the ramp onto Ocean Parkway.
One by one we overtook runners as we hurtled along the parkway. And then got overtaken by two, one of them Philip Falk of CPTC., around mile 8. Running the parkway is like running on a treadmill. It’s straight as a dye, apart from one kink, for 5 miles. You have 3 lanes to work with. And much of the roadway is like a bowling green, unlike a typical New York roadway.
We passed 20K in 51:34 and 10 miles in 55:05, and Ben Leese and Brent Frissora in the process. These times were good enough to lead the UK and USA M50 rankings and suggested a 1:12:30 finish was on the cards. Fearful I was holding her back I encouraged Asku to start chasing those in front. She started to edge away. Desperate to see her all the way to the finish, I accelerated slightly. And then the hamstring came back to haunt me.
In the space of a few hundred meters a rapidly tightening hamstring reduced me to a heavily labored running style. And then I just stepped off the roadway, gripping the hamstring in a vice like hold to relieve the pain. I tried twice to reignite but quickly came to the conclusion that running to the finish would be painful. slow and carry the risk of lasting damage.
I started a slow, ungainly 3-mile walk to the finish. Team mate Javier Rodriguez jogged up with a quizzical expression. As we walked I tried to make some sense of it all. This was only my 4th ever DNF and the first one due to injury. Reagan and Thatcher were in power when I last failed to finish – a 10,000m track race.
While part of me was bitterly disappointed, especially given I was clearly in great shape. But part of me was content. Content in having played some small part in helping Asku have a good race (read the NYRR race report here). That contented part of me grew as I saw and got to learn later of team mates that had, in difficult conditions, great races, including Jordan Wolff (2nd M40-44 and masters PR of 1:14:40), Flavio De Simone (2nd M45-49 and all time PR of 1:14:53), Fiona Bayly (1st W50 and top women’s AG in 1:22:19), Ramin Tabib (all time PR of 1:27:37), Bob Smullen (2nd best ever of 1:36:08), Jennifer Harvey (3rd W50 in 1:31:24) and Kathleen Kilbride (2nd W60 in 1:45:15). And then to learn that the M40 team got 2nd (Jordan, Flavio and Sebastien Baret, who hobbled home injured), W40 4th (Fiona, Jennifer Amato (1:30:19) and Jennifer Harvey). and W50 2nd (Fiona, Jennifer Harvey and Kathleen).
So what of the self refection. Well first it’s the realization, or confirmation of what I’ve known for a while, that I am a runner. It’s what I am and what I do. Second, running comes with a big family of like minded people. I ran with 26,000 of them on Saturday. In foul weather at the crack of dawn. Third, while my DNF was a disappointment it came with a silver lining. That I’d played some small part in helping other runners. And recognition of that is as priceless as the crown jewels. A team mate paid me the ultimate tribute, thanking me for helping him dramatically improve. This will help me get back on the saddle and back to the top of the M50 rankings on both sides of the Pond.