How to run the Brooklyn Marathon

The 2012 New York City Marathon was supposed to be my first 26.2-mile race. Its cancelation after Superstorm Sandy sent me, like many other runners, scrambling for another outlet for the 20-odd weeks of training I’d amassed over the summer and autumn.

Enter the Brooklyn Marathon, held two weeks after New York. This Sunday will be the sixth edition of that race, and I figure it’s a good time to look back on my experience and offer some advice.

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Describe the route to people – in essence, six big loops and three small loops of Prospect Park – and you’ll inevitably get an eye-roll and a caustic response about how boring that sounds.

To the contrary: it’s a great race, for a number of reasons.

First, if you live in Brooklyn, you’ve spent a lot of your training cycle on this course. You know every dip, every rise, every tangent like the back of your hand (even if you tend to run in a clockwise direction, as I do). You’ll use that to your advantage on race day.

Second, because the race is small (~500 runners), close to home, and doesn’t have insane security restrictions, you can roll out of bed and leave your apartment 45 minutes or an hour before start time, rather than waste half of your energy shivering for an eternity at Fort Wadsworth.

Third, and perhaps most importantly, the repetitive nature of the course helps you settle into a groove. You can make mental notes of particular milestones (say, the sign that says “Mile [X]“) and visualize getting there. It helps with pacing yourself, too, as I describe below.

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My friend Rusty and I ran together for the first 20 miles. (Photo: Mike Goettig)

It also provides the illusion that there are many more people cheering along the route. During my race, I had a friend posted about halfway up Zoo Hill, the imposing climb that crests at Grand Army Plaza. Because it is the toughest part of the course, it is the best place to have support.

This friend (who shall remain anonymous) had a special brew in his mug, so as the race went on, he became progressively more enthusiastic. The first time around, he hooted and hollered; by the sixth lap, just after mile 23, he trailed an American flag behind him like a cape as he ran alongside me up the hill, yelling at me to keep up my pace. On each lap, wondering what he was going to do next took my mind off the pain in my legs.

Strategy

If you’re planning to tackle this race, I suggest you focus not on mile splits, but on your pace depending on where you are on the course.

My goal was to finish in under three hours, a pace of 6:52/mile. Based on my training and results from recent races, I figured I could run a time of 2:56 in ideal conditions (6:43/mile), which would leave me four minutes as a buffer. (The climb up Zoo Hill, which you must do six times, makes this race more challenging than your standard marathon.)

I broke the course into four segments based on elevation profile. I then calculated a target pace for each segment, rounded to the nearest 5 seconds. (I can’t remember exactly how I did this, but you can download the spreadsheet I used here. Maybe it’ll be helpful for you, too!)

  1. brooklyn-marathon-checkpointsPark Circle to Wellhouse Drive (~0.8 miles) is the flattest part (20-foot elevation gain). I aimed to run a 6:50 pace here, slightly above my average target pace.
  2. Wellhouse Drive to Top of Zoo Hill (~0.8 miles) is a 90-foot climb, most of it in the last 600 meters before you reach the top. The best thing you can do here is save energy and relax; a 7:10 pace was my goal.
  3. Top of Zoo Hill to Center Drive (~1.2 miles) has a 35-foot drop, so you can start to gain back some of that “lost” time. I aimed for a pace of 6:35 on this segment.
  4. Center Drive to Park Circle (~0.5 miles), a 75-foot drop, is where you make hay. Let gravity do most of the work while you take advantage of this particularly steep downhill. My target was a 6:20 pace for this brief burst.

brooklyn-marathon-pacingI carried a little piece of card stock in my glove. I’d look at my Garmin every so often, aiming for the target pace for my current segment; each time I hit one of those four checkpoints, I started a new lap. That made it much easier than doing math on the fly.

I also  listed the cumulative times I hoped to pass the porta-potty on the west end of Center Drive. I realize now that my target lap times were slightly inconsistent, owing to the way my spreadsheet calculated various splits, but this was not a problem. (On the whole, I was gunning for 22:15 for each loop, which is a little more than 3.3 miles in length.)

Overall, it was a fantastic day; the weather was in the low 40s and the crowds were very supportive. I finished in 2:58:36.

If you’re running this Sunday, best of luck to you!

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