This year marked the first ever extension of the ever increasingly popular Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon series into the New York region, specifically around Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. After a night of rain and cold temperatures, Saturday ended up being perfect for a race with temperatures in the mid 60s and sunny skies. Read on for my impressions of the race and the series in general. I’ll also be running the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll half at the end of the month, and after such a great day, can’t wait for it.
Pre-race: Expo and Carbo-loading at Paulie Gee’s
Packet pick up was at the Brooklyn Expo Center which is in an area of great food. The expo was a bit soggy from the rain, and I’ll never understand why people wear their running gear to the expo when it is the night before, but for an expo, it was pretty good. It was nothing like the insanity at Javitz Center for the New York City Marathon, but was a bit nicer than some of the NYRR half expos. Pickup was fast with well organized lines and it was surprisingly easy to change up to a faster coral to get with a desired pacer. The shirts are super nice from Books with a nice NYC subway style logo and I’ll definitely use it a lot. They had a bit better of a selection of other gear for purchase than some of the NYRR races, in keeping with the slightly better promotional organization of this series. Best of all, they had a beer garden sponsored by Michelob outside with free beer. Not many people took advantage because of the weather though.
The weather gave us the perfect excuse to try a nearby favorite that we could never get into before. Paulie Gee’s is a high rated pizza joint with coal fire pizza and a pretty good beer list. The wait can often be several hours, but because we were willing to stand at a bar table, we got served right away. The pizza was tasty, especially the huge slices of pepperoni covered in hot honey. I didn’t think it was as good as Roberta’s in Bushwick or Marta’s in Manhattan though.
The most critical piece of organization for a race comes at the start so it is very critical to get right. For the inaugural race, they got most things right. Well some things. Getting to the start was very easy with most roads around the park open. Maybe we’re just getting good at getting to Prospect Park after the Brooklyn Half and running here several times. Security was also very well organized and oddly friendly. Must be those cheerful Brooklyn cops. There were absolutely nowhere near enough port-a-potties though. I counted 10 for the entire field of 17,000 at the starting corrals. In fact I saw people still lined up at them when we looped back past around mile 3. The course itself and the finish line had plenty though. The corrals weren’t very well organized either. There were no checkpoints or verification, so people could go in wherever they wanted. This led to some poorly mixed in paces for the first mile or so. I targeted a 1:45 finish and started 2 feet behind the pacer, and almost lost him before mile 1 because of this. The race also started 20 minutes late due to police activity which I heard unofficially was because they were towing cars still.
Starting right at Grand Army Plaza was really cool though with the arch right in the background. The starting music was pretty nice too, as expected for a “Rock and Roll” half marathon.
The course wasn’t that dissimilar from the Brooklyn Half in May, but instead of going down to Coney Island, looped around Prospect Park. It began similarly with an out and back to the end of the park and then down Ocean Parkway and back, finishing with a tough loop around the park. About 10 minutes in, a man in front of me staggered off to the side of the course and then took two steps and collapsed. I think he may have been having a seizure but I don’t know for sure. I helped turn him over and lift him up with some other runners until the cops arrived and basically shoved me out of the way which I suppose is for the best. This was a first and put me in a bit of a strange mental place for the race, but I was able to catch back up to the pacer a bit later.
Along the course they had several bands and spirit crews as well as entertainers on the side. The bands were good for race entertainment and featured two rock bands, an acapella group, and a jazz quartet. I always run with headphones, so this didn’t make much of an impression on me during the run, but added some atmosphere and broke up the run. It would have been nice to have more on the long Ocean Parkway stretch in the middle though. The spirit groups were also cool and actually boosted my energy. I also liked the stilt walkers and the ones that were encouraging people to run under them. It definitely felt more unique.
The course was pretty flat, and with the temperature, it made it easy to settle into a fast pace. The Ocean Parkway stretch was a bit tedious, but around the 10k mark, because it is an out and back, the elites leading the field came flying toward us at about 15k. It was really cool to see them up close and feel like we were sharing the same run. This was when racing really hit me as the only sport where someone like me can participate in the same event as champions.
Ocean Parkway is also interesting because you have to play frogger with the Orthodox Jewish community who like to pretend nothing is going on and cross the street normally in front of you. I saw a girl wipe out trying to get around someone with a small suitcase. This is also where the spectator crowd died down a bit and energy was low, so digging deep was key.
Prospect Park was a nice place to end the run, but I forgot about the hills. I remember the Central Park hills with disdain and while Prospect Park is less steep, the hill at the end still felt endless. I pushed myself through, but had absolutely no gas left in the tank for a final push once the finish line was in sight. Still, I was able to destroy my previous best and set a new PR of 1:44:37, right under my goal.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll series has become very popular thanks to the entertainment, the spectacle, and of course the bling. The medal is very substantial, features the Grand Army Plaza Arch, and even has a bottle opener built in! Where you really start amassing hardware is by completing multiple races in the series, building your own “World Tour” and getting Heavy Medals”. Yes they love music based puns. By completing the Philly one at the end of the month, I’ll get a Philly medal, and special double medal, and even a special hoodie. We even saw people getting a “8 timer” medal which looked like it contained more metal than a car.
Post-Race: The Music
Another big draw for these events is the music. The finish line was much much better organized than the start. There were plenty of port-a-potties and flags around for help meeting up with friends and family. They also had the most freebies I’ve ever got after a race. I ended up with a bottle of water, a big gatorade, chocolate milk, jalapeno cashews, a banana, granola, and their own special edition Gu.
The huge field that we ended in also made for a great place for a concert. A cover band started the festivities and was pretty good. They know their audience as about 9/10 songs were on my running playlist. There was also a beer garden where you could get a free beer with a tear off from the bib or by chasing down the Michelob staff. I don’t know why you had to chase down staff to get a card, but maybe it’s for controlling amounts.
After the cover band, they announced the top three male and female finishers, then the headliner came out. Nate Ruess from Fun, a New York native, performed a killer set. I would have been happy if this was just a concert we payed for, but as a bonus after a run, it was amazing. The energy was high and he kept a group of exhausted runners entertained very well. He seemed super personable as well and was really supportive of the runners. He gained a much bigger fan in me as a result.
The concert was a great idea as normally you just wander off after a race, and this kept everyone around and engaged. It put a much better cap on the event than other races. After this, I’m super excited to run in Philly in three weeks.