I really like half marathons. This is mainly because it’s very easy to start speaking too quietly, or ‘accidentally’ cough as you begin to talk about them, and suddenly seem all kinds of impressive. As a person who only recently started enjoying a state of Normal-BMI-ed-ness, I promised myself that moving to a country synoymous with bad food wouldn’t change a thing. And as a combination of those two factors, this weekend I found myself inhaling portaloo stench* with 30,000 people wearing varying amounts of lycra before 7am in the middle of a road in Brooklyn.
The day before the Brooklyn Half happened, we had to go to a party and collect our race numbers and as much free crap as we could grab. I mean, uh, our allotted T-shirts. It was kind of like a normal party, except for a much higher concentration of bad shoes and a higher-than-average chance of walking round a corner to find people comparing nippular bleeding. Having grabbed all of the free stuff, there was a chance to wander round and buy (Or drool over while bemoaning living on student budgets) neon-coloured lycra and ‘sports nutrition’ supplements which are probably fine as long as nobody ever finds out what’s in them. It all ended at a sensible time, bearing in mind the horrifically early hour they were making people get up the next day.
Why America feels the need to begin races so early in the morning I do not know. I’ve lodged complaints about this vociferously and without discrimination, but to date I’ve heard nothing back, which suggests to me that my friends, co-workers and people back in England may not be the correct conduit for my whining. Just a word of warning, though: That doesn’t mean it’ll stop.
Once I crossed the line and my legs realised that yes, we were really doing this, the race was good. The course description mentioned a ‘respectable hill’, which I had been assuming was race-organiser speak for Effing Mountain, but even that turned out to not be too bad. I was managing to stay under the 10 minute mile mark the entire way round, and I ran past a chicken playing the xylophone. These are all good things.
At about the seven mile mark we got on to the expressway. My initial thought of ‘Ooh, I bet not many people can say they’ve run down the middle of an expressway’ was almost immediately overtaken by the realisation that the mind games I usually use to get myself to the end were not going to work. You can’t promise yourself it’s going to stop after the next corner when the road is dead straight for miles ahead. I settled for telling myself that when I got to the top of every slight incline, there would be a giant downhill. Turns out, I am a liar. This pattern of getting my own hopes up and then dying inside continued to the last kilometre.
After that it all went pretty smoothly. Everyone’s seen Chariots of Fire. It was kind of like that, but with shorter shorts, if that’s humanly possible.
And, having started so early, we were done by 10am. We were released, hobbling, to enjoy everything Coney Island has to offer. Which, if we’re honest, is a hotdog and a view of a building site right now – it was pretty badly torn up by Hurricane Sandy. But everything’s rosy and glowing when there are medals involved.
Unless you happen to be a poor, unsuspecting subway traveller getting into a carriage packed full of medal-toting people with numbers pinned to their midriffs. Judging by the reactions it takes roughly 6.7 seconds for the smell of 100 sweaty runners to waft over. We may all have finished a half marathon on Saturday, but those innocent commuters would definitely win in a sprint.
*You know that weird blue stuff they have in portaloos in the UK? American portaloos do not have that blue stuff. Turns out, you need that blue stuff. Otherwise it’s just a box of poo being gently heated by the sun.