Heather Weneck’s Brooklyn Half Recap

This year was the fourth time I have run the Brooklyn Half, but this one was very different.  Not only did I get a PR that I can be proud of, but this was also the first time I trained for it without ending up in a doctor’s office — which to me is an even bigger accomplishment.

Three years ago I was standing on the sidelines cheering for the Brooklyn Half.  I wasn’t able to run the race that year because I had stress fractures in my left tibia and fibula… Again… Sadly, injuries and broken bones were something I had become used to.  In July of that same year, as I was gearing up to train for my first NYC Marathon, I was at work when my speech started slurring, my face started drooping and the left side of my body went numb.  I was having a T.I.A. otherwise known as a “mini-stroke” and I was only 29 years old.  I’m very fortunate that it didn’t cause any permanent damage, but it was scary and I needed answers.  I was diagnosed with osteopenia (low-bone density), which partially explained the fractures.  It was suggested that there was a correlation between the fractures and the stroke but the rest was pretty much a mystery that was never solved.

The past couple of years saw more injuries and health problems, many doctors and opinions on my physical state, including one doctor who told me, “Some people are just not cut out to run.”  It was mentally draining and I felt as though I had no control over my own body.  Everything felt like a struggle.  I didn’t talk about my health stuff a lot.  On the outside, people saw my running slowly getting better, but every time I pushed harder and ended up back at the doctor, it felt like it all came with a price.  For me, running became survival.  I was too stubborn to stop, but not being able to understand why I was having such extreme issues for someone relatively young and healthy left me in a constant state of feeling like I was on the verge of “breaking.”

Training:

I was determined that this year and this season would be different.  I wasn’t going to be defined by health problems.  In the beginning I was really patient.  Even on days where I felt like I could do more, I followed the base building workouts.  I added lots of cross-training (spinning, yoga and barre) to combat past injuries and strengthen the weak parts.  

I’m a musical theatre performer and director so my work is very active.  Between that and my injury-prone self, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to handle running as many days or as many miles as other teammates.  When the training plan officially started for the Brooklyn Half, I took that pressure off myself and began a plan of quality over quantity.  I focused on doing the Tuesday and Thursday Whippet workouts and the weekend long runs, staying at the lower end of suggested repeats, miles, etc.  I figured that it would be more important to do six really strong repeats with good form than to exhaust myself barely irking out 10.  The rest of the week, I would do an easy run when I was feeling up for it (yay, downtown Mondays!), continue with cross-training to get extra cardio and strength, and LOTS of epsom salt baths, foam rolling and acupuncture.  Whew!  That took a lot of discipline.  Oh, and I SLOWED DOWN my warm-ups and cool-downs.

I did the final Tuesday workout with the group in Prospect Park and then the nerves set in.  My legs felt much more tired than I thought they should, but I knew that I had trained hard and told myself it was ok that my body was tired.  Then the phantom pains crept in.  The night before the race, I’m pretty sure I sounded like a cranky old lady and felt random pains everywhere.

Race Day:

I woke up to realize that thankfully the temperature had dropped from the horrible heat we had in the days before and it was cool and breezy.  I met up with a couple other Whippets in the corral, but it became so crowded and difficult to stay together.  Once I crossed the start line, I hung with another Whippet (thanks, Melissa!) and we chased each other through the first few miles into the park.  Well, a lot of that was me chasing her.  I started to get nervous that I was going out too fast, but told myself that if I felt OK, don’t get scared of it and GO FOR IT!  Entering the park felt good — familiar.  I had done workouts there so many times and it reminded me that I had trained hard.  

My race buddy needed to drop back just before the big hill in Prospect Park and when she left, my brain did a nosedive.  I was on my own.  The reality set in that it was up to me to keep the pace, to push myself, to get the PR.  Could I really maintain this effort for the rest of the race?  I wasn’t even halfway there.

I used the downhill getting out of the park to get my confidence back up.  I knew once I got on Ocean Parkway the biggest mental challenge would begin — keeping my pace up and telling myself that I wasn’t going to break.

The rest was a bit of a blur.  I had good moments and bad moments.  I had a strong first half of the race and knew that as long as I continued a relatively steady pace (easier said than done), I would get the sub 1:50 PR, but I also knew that if I pushed that pace into the zone that scared me, I could hit my A goal of 1:47.  I made sure not to mentally check out and concentrated on my form.  So much of my training was centered around trying to improve it, now was the time to put that into action.  Shoulders down, glutes tucked, hips straight, push through each step… Exhausting!  The water stops were hard.  I tried not to slow too much, but always had trouble getting my momentum back up.  Moments of “I hate running” mixed with “stay strong” circled in my brain.  I had no excess energy for anything.  

Around mile 11, I was getting excited.  The finish was getting close, but I was getting tired.  I knew I had the Whippets cheering station to look forward to and when I saw them, I don’t even think I had the energy to smile (but I was so happy to see you guys!).  I tried to add in some kick at the end, but I didn’t have much left.  I had left it out on the course behind me.  

I crossed the finish line with a 1:46:48 — I hit my A goal!  I know that there will be more ups and downs in my running future, but finishing this race strong and healthy feels better than I ever knew it would.  I’m not broken.  Patience, diligence and trust are what really pushed me to my finish line this time.  Thank you to all who believed in me and encouraged me.  I look forward to tackling my next challenge!!

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