On Saturday morning, ten of my co-workers and I (and 27,400 other people) got out of bed a lot earlier than we wanted to and packed ourselves into a corral along Eastern Parkway. After getting through security, most of us waited for more than 30 minutes in a slow winding line whose terminus was a Porta Potty. The sky was gray; the temperature hovered somewhere between moderate and chilly. It was the start of the 2016 Brooklyn Half Marathon, which would take us around Prospect Park, straight down Ocean Parkway, and, finally, to the finish line on the Coney Island Boardwalk.
Some context: Though I’ve run two full marathons, neither were in New York City and I had never run a half marathon. So this was a new scene. Several of my coworkers had run it before, however, and raved, “It’s so much fun.” They justified this sentiment mostly through the hot dogs they ate and beer they drank together at Nathan’s after the race was over, and didn’t dwell too much on the physical challenge of running 13.1 miles. And so with that giant plastic cup of Coney Island lager and a big hot dog in mind, we all signed up.
But if hot dogs and beer aren’t enough to convince you to run this or any other race, here are 13 of the most important takeaways from running this year’s Brooklyn Half Marathon.
The whole thing is set up to make you believe you’re about to take part in a giant party.
This message begins the day before the race. A large race “pre-party” is set up at Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, where you pick up your bib number but, more importantly, partake in the joviality of a whole bunch of people gearing up to do something kind of crazy at the same time. There is a very large live music stage, a very large tent filled with running gear and calorie-rich goos and gummies for purchase and, most importantly, outside, a very large number of vendors selling beer and smoked meats. “Look,” this gathering told us, “running 13 miles is a riot; party with us.” So we sat at a picnic table and drank Brooklyn Brewery suds and sipped white wine and munched on a cookie and pulled pork. The sun shined down and the East River sparkled. At the Brooklyn Half Pre-Party, life was good.
On race day, arrive early to avoid a massive portable toilet line. As mentioned, almost 30,000 people run this race. In most of the rest of the country, that’s an entire town, but here all those people are packed into a small section of Eastern Parkway. And suddenly, every single person has to go to the bathroom; simultaneously, the party becomes a circus, running on nervous energy, because everyone is beginning to realize: “Shit, now we have to run.” Even though I’ve never seen more portable toilets set up in my life, there still weren’t enough for 30,000 people. So, once again, avoid this scene. Get there like an hour before your start time. You’ll thank me later (i.e. in one year).
Pre-race, check a bag with a sweatshirt and long pants, even though that sounds like a hassle.
You might be thinking: I’ll be hot and sweaty, I won’t need long sleeves. True, but after you run, all that sweat gets cold and soaks into your clothes and feels terrible on your skin. Coney Island is next to the ocean and 10 degrees cooler than everywhere else. So do the smart thing, check a bag with warm clothes and pick it up after the race. I didn’t; it was a terrible decision. So do it and feel effective and wise.
Don’t worry about pre-race corral positioning. Your bib number has two little electronic strips that track your time from the start of the race to the finish. So, pre-race, try to chill out, even though you might not be standing where you were told to be standing because you can’t get there due to the crowds and you still have to use the bathroom. All that matters is that, by the race’s end, your electronic strip has been detected at the finish line.
Too many people run this race, but try to not let that turn you into a jerk. Our borough’s streets were not made to fit 30,000 runners. So, at times, you’re gonna have to slow down to avoid stepping on people or whacking them in the side with your swinging elbow. I am not saying I was good at this; I actually wasn’t and that didn’t feel good. So don’t be a jerk like me, jerks are the worst. You can make up for that time later when the path clears around mile 8. Or, just run outside the designated course on the sidewalk to avoid so many people. You’re not supposed to but nothing happens if you do.
Unlike a full marathon, you can run a half marathon even if you haven’t trained. Kind of. One reason you might not want to sign up is due to your belief that you don’t have enough time to train. That might be true, but it doesn’t matter. Your body can handle a lot more abuse than it wants to. So, if you get your mind in the right spot, you can stick it out even when everything hurts. You can stop running after the race, and, remember? Hots dogs and beer are there to comfort you. I didn’t train enough* and, as a result, mile eight felt more like mile 20 in a full marathon, but I just kept going and I survived. It’s not so bad. *but please do some training… it’s still a long way to Coney Island.
Also take the time to enjoy how far you’re running. Normally, if you’re at Prospect Park and someone wants you to go to Coney Island, you’d be like: Yeah, sure, but that’s really far away and I don’t want to pay for a car or take the F train; I’m not even near an F train. So, thanks, but probably not going to happen. But on half marathon day, your feet are your transportation and it costs no money! NBD; you’re incredible.
At the end of the race there is a hairpin turn onto the boardwalk and it is the pits.
At this point, mile 13, you are probably experiencing significant discomfort, but you might also have entered a nearly unconscious zone in which pain stops meaning anything. Instead, you’re just putting one foot in front of the next at a regular pace. But then you have to make this turn onto the boardwalk to reach the finish line, and it’s a really sharp change of direction and a narrow path, so you’ll have to slow down to avoid stepping on other people’s heels. At this time, I suggest blocking the world out and thinking about beer and meat until you’re through it.
The other side of the finish line is a hilarious alternate realty filled with limping zombies.
Congratulations, you did it. You ran 13.1 miles and that was probably at least five miles more than you would have preferred. So, way to go, you’re a gifted masochist. And look! You’re surrounded by thousands of other gifted masochists who are alternately cringing with pain, and taking euphoric selfies featuring their mouths kissing or biting their marathon metals. Just do your best and appreciate that this is funny. Grab your “lunch bag” with a Gatorade and a small bag of pretzels and a power bar and water bottle and an apple, and move off the boardwalk. Feel the camaraderie of being out of it with a huge group of people without doing a single drug.
Spend a little time at the first post-race party, the Brooklyn Cyclone’s Ball Field. In order to exit the race area, you’ve got to go through MCU Park. There, another funny scene awaits: all those zombies are now splayed out on the mildly soft astro turf, slowly transitioning back to reality. Some have gone up to the concessions and already acquired a beer. Some are eating hot dogs. Some are just staring at the sky, lying on their backs. Just do what you feel; it’s a weird time. And you’ll probably be alone because cell reception is terrible and text messages might not be going through. So pick a meeting place with friends ahead of time. And then leave the ball field when you can because there is a real party to attend, and it happens not there.
The real party is at Nathan’s.
You’re in Coney Island, so that means the most important thing to do is purchase a huge plastic cup of Coney Island beer and a large hot dog from Nathan’s with pump cheese and onions and peppers. Meet your friends and family, get a table, and then get into a line at Nathan’s immediately. It takes a really long time to get vittles because 30,000 other people have the same idea. But you’ve just run really far so the line will almost feel like peanuts. When you rejoin your friends, eat and drink and take pictures of yourself in front of a wall with a giant American flag. It’s great for Instagrams you’ll make later.
For the rest of the day, do nothing.
You live in New York City so most of the time you are likely always overly busy and moving. Guess what—post marathon is a rare, priceless stretch of hours where you are so exhausted that, even if you have something to do, you can’t. So do nothing, it’s incredible. Personally, I sat on an inflatable mattress and drank white wine and ate a crab roll and watched that beautiful television show from the early aughts, The OC. It’s imposed relaxation due to exhaustion and pain. Soak it up. And take a glorious nap while you’re at it.
Finally, use your phone while you lie around to look at your race times and make social media.
New York Road Runners has a website where you can look up anyone’s race time. Use it! It’s a good time. Make fun of, or feel bad about, the friends who you beat or who beat you. After all, this was technically a race, a competition, if you will. Personally, all I have to say is I beat comedian Jon Glaser and my boss Mike and that’s all I care about. On the other hand, I got obliterated by this ridiculously fast “person” on our sales team who might actually be a cheetah, so I was quickly reminded how not actually fast I am and put in my place. After you’ve looked up all relevant people, default to standard protocol and start Instagramming. You just did something crazy that will make you look strong; you’re about to get a lot more likes than you normally do, and, when all is said and done, those likes will stick with you, even after the pain and triumph of your actual, physical victory has subsided—and you do it again next year.