race report: verrazano half marathon

The NYCRUNS Verrazano Half Marathon (April 28) was a very flat race on the Shore Park Greenway along the Narrows — the water between Brooklyn and Staten Island. Originally, it was supposed to consist of two loops (three 180-degree turnarounds).

But six days before the race, NYCRUNS sent an email to registrants saying there may be a course change, because the city had safety concerns about the route after some bad weather over the winter. The day before the race, NYCRUNS confirmed the new course: four loops (seven 180-degree turnarounds).

The change didn’t really bother me, and I appreciated the clear communication about it.

Overall, NYCRUNS put on an OK race.

highlights

  • Cost. I registered about six weeks out and it cost $60 — not too bad for a late registration on a half marathon. NYCRUNS also has a great volunteer incentive program, so I registered for free by using credits I had accrued after volunteering at two races.
  • Size. The Verrazano Half Marathon was small — fewer than 500 finishers. I personally like small races because they have a relaxed vibe and are easy to navigate, in a few ways: there’s the actual race course, and then there’s the race venue. A race with fewer people means you avoid the annoying congestion you encounter in the early miles (or all the miles) of larger races. As far as the venue goes, at a small race, there’s no pre-race confusion about where to go for bag check or wondering if you have time to find the bathrooms — they’re right by the start. And after the race, there’s no long, miserable march to the post-race food or wherever you’re trying to meet your friends. This race had all the advantages of a smaller event.
  • Terrain. The path is well-paved and flat. My Garmin registered 141 feet of elevation gain. Enough said.
  • Location. The start at the American Veterans Memorial Pier in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, is easy to get to. At least, it was for me. I rode my bike (five miles each way), but the start area wasn’t too far from the Bay Ridge Ave R stop. Non-Brooklynites might be less enthused about getting to Bay Ridge on race day. Typical New York parking and transit limitations apply.
  • Post-race food. I’m a big fan of the bagels NYCRUNS offers athletes after its races. They also provided peanut butter and cream cheese, utensils and napkins, apples, bananas, cups of water and cups of Gatorade.
  • SWAG. All finishers get a medal and a gender-specific race shirt made of tech material. I liked the medal and shirt design, as well as the shirt fit. Not a fan of the neon orange shirt color, but I guess I can wear it at night for visibility.
  • Communication. In addition to the well-communicated course change, the race company sent a thorough pre-race email briefing, emailed near-instant, unofficial results and followed up with official results later in the week. They also apologized for a portapotty shortage in the immediate post-race email (more on that in a second).

drawbacks

  • Course change. It’s not NYCRUNS’ fault and they communicated about it well, but the new course resulted in a noteworthy annoyance: very few aid stations. The course technically had two stations on the loop, but they were right before and right after southern turnaround. Runners pass it only four times — in a half marathon. I carry my own water in most races longer than a 10K, and I’m glad I did this day. It wasn’t hot, but it was very humid, and one aid station every 3ish miles isn’t enough.
  • No on-course portapotty. NYCRUNS said in a post-race email that their vendor had problems dropping off the toilets. There was nowhere to stop during the 13.1 miles, and that’s a HUGE issue. At one point I heard a runner frantically ask a volunteer what to do because he really needed to go. Yikes. I don’t recall there being an announcement at the start of the race, but that’s something runners should definitely know before taking off, especially because the race briefing said there’d be portapotties on course.
  • Other toilet issues. I was surprised by how few portapotties they had in the start area. I wandered over at 7:20 (much earlier than I usually would for an 8 a.m. start) and the line was very long.
  • No offsite bib pickup. The good news is you could pick up your bib number and t-shirt on race day. The bad news is that’s the only option, so you have to get there early and wait a while before the race. Again, NYCRUNS communicated this well, and I was prepared for the down time, but I prefer to avoid race-day pickup. Being a small race, the process went quickly, so that’s good.
IMG_5691
everyone lining up for the PRP — 40 minutes before race start. 

my race

I chose to run the Verrazano Half Marathon for a few reasons:

  1. I wanted to gauge my half-marathon fitness, because I have some half-distance triathlons on my radar this summer.
  2. It’s flat.
  3. It’s close to home.
  4. I was able to register for free, per the aforementioned volunteer incentive program.

With the first goal being my primary concern, I went out pursuing a PR pace and committed to taking more risks than I usually do. The race started with a roughly 2-mile run south to the turnaround, and once I made the 180, I realized I had a tailwind carrying me north. On the way back south (between miles 3 and 4), I stuck to a few runners who seemed to be going my pace and let them block the wind. This helped me stay on pace (and feel really good doing it) through mile 5.

But right around mile 6, I heard one of the two women I’d been running behind tell her friend she couldn’t keep up the pace. I decided to latch onto a woman we’d leap-frogged a few times but seemed to be gaining speed. She was running slightly faster than my PR pace, and for the first mile I was with her, I thought I could hold on. During the second mile (mile 7), I really started suffering but told myself I needed to stick to her because she was blocking the headwind. When I started to feel dizzy and thought about the 5ish miles ahead of me, I knew I had to back off.

IMG_5298
trying to hang onto those 8-minute miles. [credit: MW]
I clocked an 8:07 mile 7. Mile 8 dropped to 8:40. Mile 9, 8:56. I was in rough shape for miles 9-11, but felt like I was in slightly more control than I had been in 8. I kept it pretty consistent during that period, even though I felt like I was constantly pushing my legs to turn over faster. I picked up a little steam in mile 12 and threw down in 13. While I didn’t PR, I finished very satisfied: I took more risks and raced smarter than I ever have, and I walked away with a clear view of what I need to work on in the coming months: strength, cadence consistency and intervals. My lungs are there. My legs are not. In the end, I finished with my best half marathon time in two years (when I was in my best half-marathon shape so far).

I felt relatively well afterward, too. (It’s a low bar. More often than not, I’ve finished half marathons with a bad headache and a desire to sleep for the next 12 hours.) I must be learning some stuff.

IMG_0203
sprinting to the finish. I won the footrace but she won in chip time. [credit: MW]

nerdy stuff

fuel

[before] a bobo bar (this one), beet juice (this kind), water and coffee (this programmable coffee maker has changed my life). plus a salt stick.

[during] water as needed. gatorade at every aid station (four times in the race). one clif shot blok every 2ish miles (mountain berry flavor).

gear

shoes: Saucony Freedom ISO
socks: Stance Mood Tab
chafe prevention: none because I AM AN IDIOT and I have paid dearly for it.
the rest: Asics capris, Asics PPTC singlet, Oiselle 2016 Verrazano bra (I am just now realizing the coincidence there), BOCO Brooklyn Tri Club hat, Nathan SpeedDraw Plus Insulated Flask.

results

time: 01:52:16
age group: 17 of 130
women: 33 of 243
everyone: 125 of 469

Many thanks to MW for getting up early on a Saturday to cheer me on, take tons of pictures, send updates to my mom and get me a grilled cheese sandwich at 10 a.m., because that’s what I really wanted after finishing the race.

{main image: feeling so good I’m giving a thumbs up. it’s mile 4. [credit: MW]}

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