Are you running the Airbnb Brooklyn Half Marathon this weekend? If so, how did you do that! This year’s race sold out in 26 minutes, so exceptionally good on you if you had the fortune of getting a slot. This Saturday morning, you’ll join 27,000 other half marathoners in several starting corrals along the Brooklyn Museum, in preparation to run 13.1 miles around Prospect Park, down Ocean Parkway, and finally to the boardwalk on Coney Island, where you will find post race snacks, liquids, and, if you so wish it, beer, that you may drink before you go home, collapse, watch bad TV, and nap.
But wait—I’m getting ahead of myself. Before you can think about beer and napping, you’ve gotta run the damn race. From my experience of running it last year, I know a few anxieties can befall you the morning of (and the night before) that might catch you by surprise—things like start-positioning, porta-potty lines, crowd navigation, race-endurance, nourishment, and hydration.
And so, in order to get the low-down on the last-minute questions that you didn’t necessarily see coming or think about while training, I asked a professional to tackle them ahead of time: NYRR Group Trainer Roberto Mandje is an Olympian distance runner and also manages the runner training, education, and products at New York Road Runners. Mandje has been running for 24 years and, surely, has faced every race-day obstacle one can imagine. I asked him to answer the questions that I have found to be most pressing on race day, so that, hopefully, this weekend, you can stave off some of your own race-time anxieties.
Most of all, remember: This might be a race with a set course and timed outcome, but it really concerns something much bigger than that—goal setting, limit pushing, and participating in a journey that manages to be simultaneously personal, and much, much bigger than any one of us; namely, it is about the thousands of people participating in the race with you, and about the personal and humanitarian causes they’re running for. As for Mandje, his attachment to running has a similar binary root: “I gradually got into it through a love and appreciation of the simplicity of distance running. I always enjoyed knowing that I could control—within reason—my results and outcome based on how hard and smart I worked,” he told me. But also, he added, “running breaks down a myriad of barriers, as virtually anyone in the world can participate, regardless of age, socio-economic background, and race.”
So, before you reach mile 13.1, and perhaps feel like you want to collapse into a lump of exhaustion and pain, hold on tight to thoughts like those. And when all else fails, and your bad ankle or full bladder consume you anyway, here are some sage tips from Mandje for successfully crossing the finish line.
1. On race day, I am most nervous about calibrating the amount of liquid and food in my system prior to race time. In your experience, what is the best kind and amount of thing to eat and drink the night before, and the morning of?
It’s important to remember that everyone is different in terms of fueling on race day and in the lead up to it. What works for one person might not necessarily work for another. During training, you should experiment with what works and doesn’t for you. That being said, there are a few general tips to adhere to:
—Nothing new on race day. Stick to the foods you know work for you in the days before the race and on race morning.
—Eat a healthy carbohydrate-filled meal the night before the race, though, again, try to stick to foods that you know worked during your training and presumably what you’ve eaten the night before many of your long runs. Most runners will eat pasta, chicken, rice, or potatoes. You don’t want to eat like a competitive eater but you also want to make sure that you’re full and ready to go for the next day’s race.
—Race morning aim to have breakfast two to three hours before the start of your race. You should include some carbohydrates and proteins. In order to avoid potential stomach issues, it’s important to keep both protein and fat consumption relatively low. A bagel with peanut butter and honey, a banana, eggs or low-fat yogurt are some examples. Again, it’s important to stick to eating what you’ve found to work for you in the past.
2. When I ran the Brooklyn Half last year, people got very nervous about their positioning in the corral prior to race time: Is there any reason for anyone to jockey any particular start position?
The short answer is no. Keep in mind that regardless of which corral you find yourself in, your official race time won’t start until you cross the start line timing strip. Many runners can overlook this fact due to being understandably nervous and excited on race day. Often a runner will waste valuable mental and physical energy by worrying and jockeying for positioning in their corral.
3. One thing that I found most difficult about the Brooklyn Half last year was navigating the sheer volume of runners on the course; it made it difficult at times to find and sink into a consistent pace, because I was avoiding the arms and feet of so many other runners. What do you find is the best strategy for managing this crowding?
The Airbnb Brooklyn Half, like many other popular races, provides an opportunity for runners of all ages and abilities to collectively celebrate their love of running. As with any large race, you’re inevitably going to find yourself running with more people around you than you would typically encounter in your everyday training. It’s important to stay calm, focus on your race plan (something you would’ve presumably crafted during your training) and use the energy of the runners around you to motivate you and propel you forward.
As far as positions on the road go, most people will try and run the tangents, meaning the shortest distance possible and therefore not add extra distance to their total. I would recommend being flexible and open to what the race course offers versus staying in the middle of the road regardless of an upcoming turn. Aid stations, upcoming turns or hills on the course, can all dictate where you should be. At the end of the day, the best strategy to smoothly navigate the crowds is to stay relaxed, don’t waste extra energy (both mental and physical) working against your fellow competitors, and accept ahead of time that perhaps there’ll be sections where some crowding may occur, but there’ll also be long stretches where you can easily pass many runners.
4. How often would you recommend that people stop for water or Gatorade? Why is it particularly important to do that?
The rule of thumb is to hydrate every 5K or so with 4-6 ounces of water and/or a sports drink mixture like Gatorade. Hydration, both in terms of water and Gatorade, is important in replenishing the fluids and minerals you’ll lose as you race through the course. Sports drinks such as Gatorade are designed to provide a combination of carbohydrates and electrolytes, which are lost as you run. This is important because without a hydration plan, you run the risk of not accomplishing your race day goal(s).
5. For pace-planning: When—if a person is able to—do you recommend that you start speeding up? At what point can you reasonably start to accelerate your pace in order to achieve your best time?
I highly recommend starting out slower and working towards a “negative split.” This means you’ll run the second half of a race faster than your first. The Airbnb Brooklyn Half-marathon is a perfect course for such an approach. The hilliest areas are all in the first 6-7 miles as you run through Prospect Park. Beyond that, it’s flat, downhill and fast straight shot to the finish. I would recommend using the first 10K (6.20 miles) of the course as a hard but not all-out-effort, and then start gradually racing and picking up the effort level once you exit Prospect Park at mile 7.
6.What, for most people, is the most difficult part of the BK half marathon course? Are there tricky corners or inclines that people should be aware of and prepare for?
The most difficult part of the Airbnb Brooklyn Half is the opening miles. No matter how much it’s drilled into our heads, people tend to start a little fast as adrenaline, competitive juices, and even nerves take the better of them. There aren’t any tricky corners but there are some false flats and even downhill sections that can lure a runner into abandoning their race plan. Here are some suggestions on race strategy:
—The start through the first mile is relatively flat and downhill, whereas miles 1 – 2 are rolling and can seem tougher than they should be if you’re dealing with fatigue from going out too fast.
—Miles 2 – 5 are relatively flat, which is a good time to work on your rhythm and settle into your effort for the first half of the race.
—Miles 5 – 7 are the steepest hills in the park and really where a runner can make or break their race. This is the time to really focus on your breathing, pacing, and form.
—Miles 7 – 13.1 are “Go-time” as you run down Ocean Parkway and leave the hilliest portions of the race behind.
7. If a person really starts to hit a wall, what is the best thing you recommend they do to push through it?
Hitting the wall occurs when the body’s glycogen stores are severely depleted. If you start to feel a sudden loss of energy and more fatigue than what your effort/pace dictates, then you should listen to your body and slow down. By attempting to push through it, you’re most likely doing yourself more harm than good, whereas by slowing down, you lower some of the demands you’ve placed on your body. Doing this and consuming some carbs (ideally before you’ve hit the wall) will help you get to the finish line while successfully navigating the proverbial wall.
8. Is it more dangerous to stop running if you’re exhausted than it is to just slow down your pace? (i.e., is it harder to start running again once you’ve stopped?)
Neither stopping nor slowing down are bad things. The real danger lies in continuing to run for the sake of “pushing through it” when your body isn’t prepared for the distance and/or having a bad day. Presumably you’ve run a few long runs in the build-up to race day, and therefore have a good understanding on what you should do when you’re tiring toward the end of a long run, or in this case, a race. Slowing down and/or stopping can sometimes be just the slight break your body needs, allowing you to recalibrate, to get to the finish line.
9. What is the best way for you to race-recover? Stretch? Ice? Nap? What kind of thing should you eat or drink?
There are a number of ways to recover after a race:
—Epsom Salt Baths: these baths—15 or so mins in a warm bath with Epsom salts—help combat muscle soreness and inflammation. They are also a great source of Magnesium (energy production) for athletes.
—Leg Elevation: Slightly elevate your legs either at the end of your race or when you’re back home. This helps prevent swelling of your feet and ankles.
—Refuel: It’s vital to consume protein and carbohydrate-rich foods in the first two hours post-race. The protein will repair and build the muscles, while the carbohydrates will restore glycogen for the liver and muscles. Chocolate milk is a great option for recovery, as it contains the near-universally agreed upon ratio of 4:1 of carbohydrates to protein.
—Rest: Naps are great and something that should be taken just as seriously as training/racing. The gains and adaptation from training, working out, and racing occur when the body is resting, and there’s no better way to do that than by napping.
—Stretch: It’s best to do some dynamic stretches after the race. Gently stretching your calf muscles will help promote better blood flow to the area and help flush them out. Special attention should also be paid to your quads and hamstrings, below are some stretches:
▪Quads: Holding on to something to support yourself, bring your foot behind you and grab your leg at the ankle and pull your heel slowly back towards your rear end. Hold it there for 5 seconds, release and do the same to your other leg. You may repeat this a couple of times before moving on.
▪Hamstring: You can either lay down or stand up. Laying down, you’ll keep one leg flat on the ground while bringing the other vertically with as little bend at the knee as possible. With both hands, grab your leg behind the calf and gradually bring it towards you. The more flexible you are, the greater your range of motion will be. Standing up, you will stick out one leg in front of you balancing it on the heel of your foot while keeping the whole leg straight. You’ll slightly bend your other leg and lean forward over your outstretched leg. You will feel a bit of tension in your hamstring, that means you’re isolating your hamstring muscles. Do the same on the other leg.
—Ice: Icing your muscles is a good way to curb inflammation and potentially speed up your recovery.
Images courtesy of NYRR