n Saturday April 28th I ran the Verrazano Half Marathon along Shore Road Park in Brooklyn. It was a beautiful blue sky day on a beautiful course with views of the Narrows, of Staten Island and of the Upper Harbor, including the downtown Manhattan skyline and the Statue of Liberty. My only complaint was the stiff headwind on the westbound and northbound portions of the run. But hey, what you lose in one direction, you gain in the other. And my race was better than I was hoping for. But first a little background ...

Training for a Marathon and Finding out "How am I doing?"

n April I was training for the "Shires of Vermont Marathon" (), which was fast approaching, on May 20th. Training for a marathon, at least for me, involves 4 to 5 months of long runs, tempo runs, maybe hill workouts and an emphasis on miles, miles and more miles. For almost all of those miles you are running slower, some times significantly slower, than you hope to run in the marathon. And for a few of those miles (the tempo runs) you are running significantly faster. Races are few and far between and mostly you need to keep the length of a race quite a bit less than a marathon. For me that means a 10 mile race is just about the limit. More than that and you will tax your system too much and basically interrupt your training. So there's just about nothing in that whole cycle that will tell you how you're doing, that will tell you "Is my training working?"

To find that out, I like to do a half marathon about 3 or 4 weeks before the big race. The half marathon distance is long enough to mimic the endurance plus speed you'll need in a marathon, but not so long — if strategically placed not too close to the marathon — to mess up your training. So the Verrazano Half, just 3 weeks out, was ready made for my training.

So, is my training working?
Short answer: you bet!
Long answer: read on ...

The Verrazano Half

  couple of months ago I got an email about a new half-marathon in Brooklyn run by a small group called NYCRuns (). The regular NY Road Runner Club's Brooklyn Half (which I've run about 20 times) has gotten very crowded of late and besides, this year's Brooklyn Half is the same weekend as my marathon, so having an alternate was "interesting". It turned out this new race went along the Brooklyn shoreline right under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge — a beautiful area — and it was 3 weeks before my marathon. I was in!

So I rearranged my last 20 miler, scheduled for this weekend, and started looking forward to this race. I was a little careless, thinking until last Thursday that it was on Sunday, but thankfully I finally read the information more carefully than I had and realized it was on Saturday. Thank goodness — I once showed up for a race a half hour late, but showing up a day late would have been the end.

I got there almost an hour early and after stripping down, took a warmup jog of about a mile out and back along the race route. There is a combination bike path / running path along the shoreline which goes right under the big bridge to Staten Island and covers about 4 miles of the shore just where Brooklyn bulges out towards the west, and with Staten Island, forms the "Narrows" a channel between the Upper Harbor around the tip of Manhattan and the Lower Harbor between Sandy Hook, NJ and the Rockaway's. Check a map — it's geographically quite a spot. The first set of pictures in the slideshow above show some of the course and some of the views taken during my warmup run. It was cold for late April — around 40° — and there was a cold wind out of the west which would figure in the race later. But for now it was not about the wind; it was about a beautiful course on a beautiful day and my high hopes for a good race.

And They're Off!

hen I returned from my warmup run, the place was crowded with the 320 plus registrants and I chatted with a few friends and teammates. I was fairly close to the starting line so the delay from the "gun" (actually an air horn) and my crossing the line would be but a few seconds. My strategy was to run about a 9 minute/mile pace so I could comfortably break 2 hours (9 minute pace is about a 1:58 half marathon). My secret desire was to do perhaps 15 seconds per mile faster and come in around 1:55. My ultimate marathon goal is to break 4 hours so these times would put me on the path to that.

At the one mile point I hit my watch and it said 8:14! Wow, I didn't think I was going that fast. I better slow down (I thought). I did relax and try to slow a little but the next couple of miles were 8:21 and 8:23. So I thought "Just relax and go with the flow and see what happens". The course went under the bridge and turned towards the east and just after the 4 mile point was the turnaround point. I said "Hello" to Mike, one of the organizers, and made the turn.

BAM! The stiff headwind hit me like a ton of bricks. Suddenly running was a lot of work. My mile splits fell off to 8:45, 8:47, 8:50. No wonder my fast pace going out was so easy — I was being pushed by the wind. And now the wind was pushing back. As it says somewhere "The Wind giveth and the Wind taketh away" (or something like that.)

But I knew I had to push on and that I'd get another couple of miles of free assistance when I got back to the turnaround near the starting line. The course was one big loop of 8 miles (4 miles out and 4 miles back) followed by a small loop of about 5 miles (2.5 miles out and 2.5 miles back). As I was finishing the 8 mile loop I was also feeling the effects of fatigue, but I concentrated on a steady even effort and kept tabs on my splits to make sure they didn't fall off too much. I passed and was passed by a few fellow travelers and, in a way, we all helped each other push along.

The small loop was a miniature version of the big loop, except I didn't start out with 8:14 or 8:21 miles. No, at this point I was happy to do an 8:30 and an 8:25. At the final turnaround I had just 2.5 miles now to push into the wind till I got to the finish. Well, I did push with a respectable 8:42 and 8:43 for mile 12 and 13. A half marathon is 13.1 miles so there is that little .1 miles after the 13 mile marker and then you are done.

After finishing, my friend Ray finished just a step behind me and complemented me on my steady pace. He was aparently "stalking" me for much of the race but I never noticed him behind me. My final time was 1:52:02 (an 8:33 pace) and this was MUCH BETTER than I expected (and almost exactly the time I did 2 years ago in the Brooklyn Half). And as for looking forward to my marathon in 3 weeks, a 4:00 hour finish was no longer a secret hope, it was a real possiblity. This race was one HUGE confidence booster.

One thing I didn't mention was that for the last 3 miles or so, my right forefoot hurt at each foot strike. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But I have 3 weeks to figure what to do (Padding in the shoe? Arch supports?) But in a way, if I don't need to worry about how my training is going, I will at least have SOMETHING to worry about.

After the Race

he race organizers had put together a nice spread of bagels, donuts, fresh fruits and drinks for our enjoyment after the race. Just wondering, does anyone else get a tired jaw after eating a bagel after a race?

I found a few frieds to chat with about the race and things, mostly the wind. Paul said he runs along the shore here all the time and it's always windy. Once, he said, the wind was in his face on the way out, then shifted and was in his face on the way back. Mike, one of the organizers, said he's seen it much windier, and a wind at high tide would have soaked everyone with spindrift. Would my time have been better with no wind? Probably not much. Just remember that quote I quoted above about "giveth" and "taketh away".

And speaking of race organizers: THESE GUYS ARE GREAT! On a lot of time and work and little money they manage to put on and publicize many small local races in the New York Area. They are after, in a different way, just what I am after on this web site, namely to find events and places less crowded, less "tried and true" and more "Small Town" right here close to home. Here's their web site . Get on their mailing list. Enter their races. Support the small club races they support. Really!