Photo credit: Gretchen Connelie
For some, the Brooklyn Half is the final race of the spring marathon season--a last hurrah down the boardwalk at Coney Island that ushers in the easy miles and beach runs of summer. For others, the Brooklyn Half is the first race of the summer season and a transition back to speedwork and weeknight 5K's. On paper, the course is perhaps deceptively straightforward--the hills are all done by mile 7 and then it's a straight shot downhill on Ocean Parkway. Easy peasy. A typical course overview (which this post is not) can be summarized in this image:
And yet every year, the Brooklyn Half seems to surprise us. Whether it's heat or rain, wind, humidity, or the seeming endlessness of the alphabet somewhere around Avenue U, this race is decidedly harder than it looks on paper. We're here to break down every aspect of the Brooklyn Half, from bib pickup to boardwalk.
Pre-Party and Bib Pickup
Unlike NYRR's other races (with the exception of the NYC Marathon), bib pickup for the Brooklyn Half is not at the Run Center in Midtown. Instead, runners must head to Pier 2 in Brooklyn Bridge Park on Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday of race week to receive their number, gear check bag, and race tee. (This is the same location for the pre-party as recent years.) The closest trains are the A/C at High Street and the 2/3 and 4/5 at Borough Hall, but be advised that it's about a 15-minute walk from either station. Depending on where you're coming from, a shakeout run to the pre-party is often a good option.
Race Day Logistics
Be sure to plan your transportation to the race start ahead of time as well. The BK Half is the largest half marathon in the country, and part of a successful race day requires navigating among the 26,000 other runners to get where you need to be with as little stress as possible.
Be aware that the two waves have entirely separate entrances, bag checks, and start areas. The 2, 3, 4, and Q trains will all get you close to the start, but be sure you know where to go upon arrival. If you take a car (which we don't recommend), the drop-off is Grand Army Plaza. Once you arrive at your start area athletes' village, prioritize getting through security and checking your bag. Similar to the NYC Marathon, there will be porta-potties inside the corrals.
The schedule of events for race morning is as follows:
- Gear Check - 5:00 AM - 6:20 AM
- Corrals Open - 6:00 AM
- Corrals Close - 6:40 AM
- Start - 7:00 AM
- Gear Check - 5:00 AM - 7:05 AM
- Corrals Open - 6:00 AM
- Corrals Close - 7:20 AM
- Start - 7:45 AM
The Course Elevation Profile
Again, on paper, this looks to be a race that is frontloaded with all the hard parts and finishes nice and easy. And seemingly not that hard anyway. Use this image to orient yourself with what's going on as we compare it to the NYC Half. But you'll see in our analysis below, the tactical strategy is buried beneath what the elevation visual has to offer. Which is a very different physical and mental challenge than NYC Half (Brooklyn half is the red line).
The Course - Section by Section
The Start: Mile 1 through 5K
Congratulations! You've made it through the adventure race of getting to the starting line and now you have a half marathon to run. It's a good thing you've been up for a while, because the first 5K of this course requires your A game. Washington Ave is wide and gently downhill, making for a fast start even in a very large race. Be aware of your pace and don't let the crowds carry you.
After the first half mile, you'll make two rights and head back uphill on Flatbush, and make a nice and gradual u-turn around Grand Army Plaza. There's always a good crowd here even early in the morning, so soak in the music and the atmosphere, but watch your feet on the barriers and curbs!
From GAP you'll run down Flatbush, make a few more right turns (So it's ok if you're Zoolander), and finally enter Prospect Park a little after the 5K mark.
Prospect Park: Mile 3.5 through 7
While still early in the race, miles 3.5 through 7 in Prospect Park offer an interesting strategic opportunity. Many runners hurry through Prospect on their way to the halfway point, with the idea that they can afford to burn a match or two here since the remaining miles will be fast, straight, and downhill. But in the cool shade of Prospect it's easy to forget that the second half of the race is fully exposed to the elements.
These miles set up the rest of your race, and taking the time to check in, assess your hydration and fuel needs, and make any necessary pace adjustments here will have substantial payoffs in the final miles. We'd recommend not "banking" time and respecting that the second half brings its own challenge not seen on the elevation profile.
Note that the aid station with nutrition (discussed later) is at mile 7.
Ocean Parkway Alphabet Soup: Mile 7 through 10
The challenges of the second half of the Brooklyn Half won't be found on the course map. After the narrow, winding paths of the park, Ocean Parkway feels vast and endless, and whatever the weather, it will feel hotter or colder or wetter or windier on Ocean.
You are, however, now largely done with turns, tangents, and hills, and if you've managed your race well, you can now lock in a pace and "enjoy" the ride for a few miles. The stretch from mile 7 to 10 is largely unremarkable, and your biggest challenge here will be maintaining focus. Whether you pick landmarks or aid stations, break this section into smaller pieces and run the mile you're in. Just don't pick the next letter in the alphabet, waiting for Z. Because it doesn't end there!
The Finish: Mile 10 through the Boardwalk
Once you get to Mile 10 in a half, the strategy is always the same: give it everything you have left. Most of the remaining miles are still on Ocean Parkway, but the smell of the ocean and glimpses of the parachute tower will pull you towards the finish.
The final turns begin around the 20K mark, and we'd argue that you might want to give your final kick a bit earlier than usual in this race. The actual finish on the boardwalk involves a ramp, some turns, and a run down an uneven and aging wood structure, so take your speed on the streets where you can get it. Because the actual part near the finish is not conducive to running fast.
If it is wet, be careful of the boardwalk wood!
Course Nutrition and Hydration
Nutrition and hydration strategies can vary greatly depending on your pace, the weather, and the demands of the course. But regardless of where you fall on the pace spectrum, race morning logistics will generally dictate leaving your home several hours before your starting time, so plan your breakfast and race nutrition needs accordingly.
The on-course nutrition is SIS, available at the Mile 7 aid station. If you plan to take nutrition before that, you'll have to carry your own. Water and Gatorade Endurance Formula are available at even-numbered miles for the first half, and every mile from 7 to the finish.
As always, we recommend nothing new on race day, so if you haven't tried SIS already, Mile 7 might not be the time to start. If you do end up grabbing the course nutrition for the first time on Saturday, be aware that SIS gels contain more liquid than most (they are 2 oz as compared to the 1-1.5 of most gels). As a result they are a little more runny than you might expect, so take care when you open them. SIS are isotonic, meaning they do not need to be taken with water, and contain 22g carbs, 87 cal, and 477mg sodium.
Post Race Party in Maimonides Ballpark
The Brooklyn Half offers one of the most relaxed and fun finish experiences on the NYRR docket. While you'll still be herded into the forced shuffle of post-finish endemic to all NYRR races, the stadium parking lot and beach offer plenty of space to spread out and reunite with friends. Phone service is always a little dicey at the finish, so if you plan to meet people, pick a spot ahead of time.
Whether you elect to stay for a baseball game, enjoy the beach, or grab a hot dog and beer before heading home, soak in the fun and then head to the nearby F train to make your way north.
All the best from Team Bakline!
Bakline wishes you all the very best of luck. If you liked what you read, please give our performance wear a look (we've got a number of performance pieces for racing) and give us a follow @baklinerunning.