by Lilly Ardell Stevens
I registered for the NYRR Brooklyn Half Marathon amidst the same flurry and excitement that the rest of our club and the country did. This race holds a special place in my heart for the obvious reasons. It’s one of the 5 borough series flagship races, it’s in my hometown borough and the beach party at Coney Island - but the most salient reason is this was my first ever half-marathon 3 years ago. Although I’ve been a runner all my life, I only began joining races in 2014, a year before I even joined up with the black and white clad singlets at McCarren Park. Much to my delight, I learned I was six weeks pregnant the morning of February 27th, which some of you may know as the date of the NBR Gala 2016. My excitement gave way to a brief bit of nerves what would I do about all those damn NYRR 9+1 races I had registered for in my quest to earn a 2017 Marathon spot?? Holy crap, how will I manage not one but TWO half-marathons during this pregnancy? The internet didn’t provide MUCH solace, and my gynecologist remarked, “why risk it?”. Hmph. I resolved to trust in my body, faithfully wear my heart rate monitor, and continue training at a reduced pace while my body began to change, expand, and prepare for my growing baby boy. (Yes it’s a boy!)
Lunging towards May 21st, I ticked off all my NYRR races from March to May: Wash Heights 5K, Scotland Run 10K, and More Women's Half Marathon: each one reducing my pace just slightly and (miraculously) finishing each one with a kick in my step. I began to adjust my race goals from obsessing over my pace to monitoring my body’s dynamics. I had a NEW goal in mind: finish this race, and ONLY this race, feeling strong and hydrated. I used this mantra while enduring the next several Narwhals and SFRs in the weekends leading up to the big event, to ensure baby and I had the endurance to manage another 13.1. On race day morning, I donned my stretchiest NBR singlet (thanks Only Atoms!), affixed a bright-green Baby On Board! sign to my bib, and grabbed all my Gu's, gear, and guts. I ate my typical prerace ritual of bananas and peanut butter toast with a cup of DECAF coffee, and hopped in an Uber with Ms. Silbiger and Ms. Harvey down to Eastern parkway. The weather gods really showed up for me on race day: slightly overcast skies with a mild low 60s temp. In the corral waiting for the starting gun, I chatted with my fellow corral E and F sistren and brethren, reacquainting myself with Beth Weinstein who insisted on doing a slow run today due to a nagging injury. Would I run into any of them on the course or would I be solo the whole time? Either way, I knew my mantra: keep hydrated, keep your shoulders down and head up, and enjoy the ride. Only YOU are showing up for this experience today. Only YOU are pushing yourself to finish what you started.
"Only YOU are showing up for this experience today. Only YOU are pushing yourself to finish what you started."
Wait. It isn’t only me. It’s me and baby boy today. He has no agency in this decision - I have made my choice and whether he likes it or not he’s coming along for the ride. 7:20 am, and away we goooo......
The first stretch of the race, was really a breeze thanks to the training runs I’d done with NBR, I knew how to pace myself up and down Flatbush, plus there was the added bonus of searching for my faster buddies all up and back along miles 12. Knowing the cheer squad was right at the entrance to Prospect Park helped me stay focused, trying not to acquiesce to the pounding on my bladder. To no avail, I stopped at mile 3, gave myself the relief I needed, and was back on the trail in no time.
Hitting the park, I knew my biggest nemesis was upon me: the big hill between miles 4 and 5. I was mentally preparing for it as Beth Weinstein strode up to my right, checking in to see how I was feeling. After briefly chatting, I insisted she go on ahead, that I may decide to do runwalk intervals earlier in my race than expected. Beth figured she would walk the entire upcoming hill anyway, and that I may catch her up ahead. She was right, although to my delight there was another NBRior by her side: Christine Huber! We introduced ourselves (how did we not know one another?) and merrily tackled that damn hill with the collective power of not focusing on our pain! Our newly formed gaggle proceeded forth to tackle the rest of the park, and before we knew it, Ocean parkway was upon us.
Our gaggle prodded forward chatting away, stopping for hydration at each mile and helping keep our focus on anything but our increasing physical exertion. As it turns out, each of us had our own conditions to manage: injury for Beth, a shift in focus from running to cycling (and thus not a lot of training) for Christine, and pregnancy for me. No matter our reason for needing to run at a reduced pace, we relied on the impromptu camaraderie that you find by sharing a team singlet, making most of the race fly by without even feeling like a half-marathon. Several times I remember thinking “This feels like a SFR with fluid stations”, that by the time I hit the 10 mile marker, I was ready to treat this as the race I knew I was in: partly because I wanted to finish already(!), and partly because I had some gas left in me. I took a minute to walk, clear my head, and go inward. This race was for the two of us, and baby boy had (unwillingly?) comported himself for 10 long miles. I owed it to give him the mindfulness and attention that he deserved. So for the final 5K, it was all about going inward. Lilly and baby - the two of us marshalling all the courage and endurance we could muster to finish strong and confident. It turns out I dropped my pace by 40 seconds per mile in the final flourish to the boardwalk.
While this race was for me, this finish and the metal were for him. We crossed the finish line together as a tear welled up in my eye. Our time of 2:12:22 just 8 minutes more than our April HM in central park, was precisely the time I was aiming for. I can’t wait to meet him next fall and relive this story together; to let him know how special it was to be a racing mom-to-be in our hometown borough.