Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why the Brooklyn Half is The Best Finish In Running

One month ago yesterday, I finished strong at the ASICS LA Marathon in Santa Monica, alongside the Pacific Ocean. It was an idyllic, Forrest Gumpian finish -- and all the better if you stayed at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows right there at the finish line, courtesy of my ASICS friends.
My first Brooklyn Half in 2007

As I approach my 100th race, I think back now to so many beautiful finish-line settings like that one. I finished the Paris Marathon on Avenue Foch, near L'Arc de Triomphe. I finished Miami (twice), Fort Lauderdale and New Jersey marathon along scenic water. New York City Marathon, winding up at Tavern on the Green in iconic Central Park. One of our MLB All-Star 5Ks finished where the Angels play. St. Louis, you're in the shadow of the Arch. Race after race, my own or those I read and hear about, feature wondrous landmarks, surf or something cool at the finish.

But when it comes to The Best Finish Line In Running *, the argument stops with the Brooklyn Half.

The Boardwalk at Coney Island, Cyclone wooden roller coaster, Atlantic Ocean, Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs, the Party, a great PR-opportunity course with an uncontested No. 1 for a finish. I mean, it's Coney Island!

The New York Road Runners' second-best race of the calendar year, behind only the TCS New York City Marathon, the Brooklyn Half is coming on May 17. It is part of the NYRR Five-Borough Series, and if you run at least four of those five or the NYC Half (so four of those six total), you are guaranteed entry into the following year's NYC Half.

Look, the NYC Half is amazing and goes through Times Square and you must run it at least once (I've run it three times). But to me, Brooklyn is the best Half not only in the NYC area, but in the world -- thanks to its finish. It has the most perfect-weather returning power and charm of any NYRR event other than NYCM. I have run them all multiple times, so technically this qualification process is backwards -- it should be to qualify for BRKLN -- but that is just my opinion and that is not why I'm blogging about this.

Finishing 2010 Brooklyn Half on the Boardwalk
I will be running Brooklyn for the sixth time (2007, '08, '10-12), setting my Half PR there in '07 and then breaking it in '08 (2:15:46). I know the race intimately and have seen it change over the years, and can tell you why it now deserves this title of The Best Finish In Running. There is no better place for me to celebrate my 100th overall race since I stopped smoking and joined NYRR and became a runner for life.

When I started running it in '07, the Brooklyn Half began on the Boardwalk. We would gather at Central Park and ride buses in the dark to Coney Island, and then I would sit on the sand with gulls looking at the sunrise on the ocean before the start. That was pretty cool. But there were some disadvantages. For one, I was watching runners trip on the uneven planks on the Boardwalk during the crowded start, dodging one woman who fell in front of me, and once my shoe caught on a plank. Secondly, and more importantly, Coney Island is the place to finish. NYRR was able to remove the bus component by starting it around Prospect Park, easier access. There is now a Pre-Race Party presented by New Balance, so this finish is the culmination of a three-day festival that brings out the best of Brooklyn for runners.

We now start near the Brooklyn Museum and run the first couple of miles past the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and around Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza before entering Prospect Park. After a loop around the moderately hilly park, we exit in Mile 8 from the southwest corner onto Ocean Parkway and cruise toward the world-famous finish. You have to contend during that long five mile stretch with direct sun beaming down on you and the pavement, and the unfortunately alphabetical countdown of blocks: Avenue Z, Avenue Y, and so on. But it is all worth it for what happens next.

You see the Atlantic Ocean up ahead. You make a right turn for a short distance and then a sharp left up onto the Boardwalk. Then an immediate right (as I'm eyeballing in the photo above) and maybe 400 meters to a glorious finish line. The loud music is pounding. The ocean breeze is uplifting. The scenery to your left is breathtaking, in a charming Coneyesque kind of way, beachgoers parked on sand or carrying their chairs and coolers. You cross the finish line with your arms raised triumphantly, a big smile on your face.

And at that part you are just starting.

Next comes a great medal, a tradition that began just two years ago. Walking through the finish chute, you turn right and make your way to the fun. Nathan's is the world-famous home to the Hot Dog Eating Contest. You jump into the long lines there and celebrate with a Coney dog, chili and cheese.

Last year, my friend Karla Bruning (@KBruning), host of NYRR's great "On the Run" show, did a segment with an Eating Contest alum who was running the race and they brought out 13.1 hot dogs to the finish line.

Watch that episode to get a full sense of the 2013 Brooklyn Half and all the festivities:

You can celebrate with beers as part of the post-race party scene courtesy of Brooklyn businesses. If you don't believe me, then take it from my friend and fellow runner Shannon Moriarty:

And if you want, you can just hang out on the beach, play some Coney Island games, lay in the sand and cool yourself off by wading out into the refreshing surf. You have just seen The Best Finish In Running.

I will be driving to Prospect Park that morning, so getting back to my car will mean jumping on one of the subway trains right there at Coney Island. It's a lot of stops but it's worth it for that finish. It keeps me coming back every year, except for last year, which I missed due to my son's law-school graduation. The race itself is very conducive to PR's, and the ending always makes me look around to see if there are any other races that can possibly compare to the way this one ends. To me, there is none that compares.

It's Coney Island!

* - excluding any races in which I proposed to my wife Lisa at the finish line.  :)

What do YOU think is The Best Finish In Running?

1 comment:

the running schlub said...

great post, never ran outside AZ but man your post makes me want to hit this race.