This year I reached out to several of the competitors from the 2015 Midnight Half requesting interviews so I could get to know this race a bit more intimately. I only see one point of view each year we do this thing. This is the first of a series of interviews with some of this year’s top finishers. The featured image was shot by Izzy Cohan.
While shooting this years poster I got into conversation with Mac Schneider about the 2014 race, which he had won, and realized there was a whole side of the story I was missing. I will never run this race, and therefore I (and some readers) will never know what its like to compete..I’m also not fast enough to experience what it is like to be chasing down first place with guys like Jerry Faulkner and Mac Schneider..playing the head games they play or trying to figure out if my route was as efficient as the guy I am running with.
Here is the first interview in his own words, the 2015 Overall Champ and course record holder (1:11:57) Pat Casterline. He managed to get ahead of Mac Schneider and battled through much of the course with Jerry Faulkner chasing him down. I can’t even imagine how fucking crazy that must feel. Jerry is fast as hell and a competitor through and through
This portrait was shot by Alex Muccilli seconds after Pat crossed the finish line.
But enough about that, lets get down into this interview. I haven’t even read it yet..here we go:
1. How did you find out about the Midnight Half? What had you heard about it, if anything?
The night before the 2014 Midnight Half, I met Andre, Matt D, Jan, and Adama at a Brooklyn Running Co event. The race format sparked my interest, and since then it had been on my radar. Apart from that I did my own research; looked up times, routes, and race documentation. The more I discovered, the more I wanted to race it. In the end, the weekly OSR runs sealed the deal. It’s exhilarating to run with a group of guys going sub-6 minute pace through traffic and busy intersections. It got me excited to race in that context. It’s like road racing, but with the volume turned up to 11.
2. Why did you sign up? Did you think you were capable of winning? Why?
I initially signed up because I loved the race format. It was something I could relate to from running trail races, but it was a new challenge that I wanted to take on. As for winning, to be honest, I didn’t dwell on my odds in the race. I knew I was capable of winning, but anything can happen out there. In this type of context, you can’t overanalyze your odds, because one traffic light can change everything. And that’s exhilarating; nothing is guaranteed. Universal traffic justice is promised to no one. More importantly, if you expect to win, then you deserve to win, and that sort of logic makes you complacent in a race like this. Expecting to win leaves you with blind confidence and a poorly planned route. In severe cases, it leaves you calling out other runners who you deserve to beat. Going into the race, all I knew is that I could win, but I focused on running the fastest time.
3. What’s your favorite context to run in? Trail, street, track?
The trail. That’s ultimately where I see my calling as a competitor. I’ve always gravitated towards longer trail races because that’s where I excel, but it’s more than that. The trail offers so many unique, multi-dimensional challenges that don’t exist on the track or in traditional road races. That’s what I love about the Midnight Half, it blends together so many aspects of running to create something more complex and challenging. That being said, I still enjoy track and road races, and I understand their importance. To get faster in every context and distance, you need that middle-distance speed. I used to shy away from that because it wasn’t my forte, but I’ve learned to face it.
4. What’s your training like right now? Where do you find the several thousand feet in elevation change that you run each week?
I have to credit all of my recent racing success to Jason Kilderry of ETA Coach. I started working with him in December, have since dropped every personal record from the mile to the 10k. Jason is a physiology nerd with an evidence-based approach. No secrets or magic shortcuts, just calculated hard work. I’ve always struggled with structured training, and never did it on my own. Don’t get me wrong, I was running a ton of miles; with consecutive weeks over 100 miles and 7,000 feet of gain. I was seeing some results, but ignoring essential aspects of training. I was comfortable doing distance and elevation, but I stayed away from working on my weakness; speed. Now I’m running 80 miles with 2-3 track workouts a week, and seeing much better results. I still look for hills everywhere, and take full advantage of nearby Inwood Hill and Fort Tryon Parks. But you can always find hills if you’re looking for them. Last fall, I was living in Williamsburg and training for the JFK 50 Mile. I ran the bridges almost every day to get some elevation.
5. What shoes did you wear to the race? Why?
I wore the Vertical K by La Sportiva. It’s a lightweight trail flat, with just enough cushion for rocky trails. Suited with super-sticky-rubber and a wide last, it’s nearly impossible to slip or turn an ankle while running in them. I considered wearing a road flat, but the Vertical K simplified my footing. Over curbs, cobbles, steps, and boards, I stepped with ease. Part of my strategy was to mentally simplify the race. There’s so much to think about, and I didn’t want to worry about my footing. The Vertical K allowed me to do that.
6. How did you prep your route?
My strategy was to make my route as short and simple as possible. I tried to take everything into consideration. I mapped-out my course on Wednesday, and ran it Thursday morning before work. I live and work in Washington Heights, so I was up at a miserable hour to make it happen. Then I spent 2 hours, map in hand, running and remodeling my route. By the end of the run, I made a lot of progress, but still wasn’t satisfied. The next night I met up with Cara Notarianni (2nd place female) to bike the course. Cara and I ran together in college and she’s transitioning into the city to work at Brooklyn Running Co. We spent hours on the course Friday night, stopping often to talk strategy, and getting ready to wreak havoc. We finally finished mapping the course around midnight. We took an aggressive approach, running just about the shortest route, which provided its own challenges. We ran the Brooklyn Bridge to Red Hook and back, and avoided the bike-path until after Atlantic Ave. Then we took the Manhattan Bridge bike path to the commandant’s house and back, hopping highway barriers and cutting corners along the way. It seemed like most competitors went with a longer, smoother route instead. We took it for granted, and assumed most runners would run a similar route to our own. Cara had the lead for most of the race, but missed a turn after the 3rd checkpoint. She still managed to grab 2nd place, and it was only her 2nd half marathon. What’s perhaps even more impressive is how she managed to make it to her college graduation the next morning, which was 2 hours away.
7. What was your plan of attack going in, did you stick to it once the race started or did it get thrown out the window once the start happened?
When it came down to it, I was confident in my route. My plan was to run it as fast as I could. I stuck to the plan, but I didn’t expect to have the lead at mile 1 when the pack split. After that, I charged the Brooklyn Bridge, hoping to gap the field and run my own race. The rest of my race saw highs and lows. Red Hook was hot, and I was already overheating at mile 3. But I ended up with some good stretches too. I just imagined Jerry and Mac on my heels to keep pushing the pace. That wasn’t hard to do, considering they were close-behind at the 3rd and 4th checkpoints. That kept me from becoming complacent and helped me battle heavy legs over the Manhattan Bridge.
Image above shot by Cooper Ray of Pat running through the arch of the Brooklyn Bridge.
8. What was it like having Jerry Faulkner put a target on your back? I heard him yelling “I’m coming for you” along the course a few times..is that typical in races, the shit talking? What was your reaction, did he get to you, did it motivate you?
It was daunting to see Jerry on my heels with 2 miles to go (just as I got off the Manhattan Bridge in Brooklyn). I knew he had the speed, and it seemed unlikely that I’d be able to hold on. But I’m glad he called me out. I wouldn’t have realized how close he was if he didn’t, and it added fuel to the furnace. Shit talking isn’t really typical in running. In my experience, competitors joke around before races, but it never gets too serious. I think you typically call someone out, or “talk shit,” to get in someone’s head, hoping that they’ll give up or make a mistake. But runners are different; we internalize that kind of stuff. We’re passive aggressive by nature, and excel in bottling up, then channeling our emotions. That being said, I don’t know what Jerry’s intentions were. He could’ve just felt like yelling out what seemed inevitable. Anyway, it definitely gave me a boost. I was miserable, but giving it everything I had to hold on. Dave Trimble was on the radio saying Jerry was getting closer, then yelling to you (Joe DiNoto) that it was about to come down to the line. I remember it sort of distantly. I was deep in the pain cave and focused on the task. Tunnel vision took over, and I was lucky to make it down Canal Street smoothly. Jerry was certainly gaining on me, running a 5:18 last mile, but my 5:36 was enough to hold a 49 second lead.
9. What did it feel like to turn the corner on Ludlow, seeing the finish up ahead? What was going through your head? how much pain were you in from pushing the pace at 5:30min/mi over that course?
The Midnight Half is an iron maiden of a race. You have to focus on navigating the city while fighting the clock. It’s no road race; you can’t just zone out and hold your pace. You’re charged with running at midnight through heat, traffic, pedestrians, and everything else. No one knows or cares that you’re in a race. You have to fight for every second. Turning on Ludlow, I was still in disbelief. For the last few miles, everything pointed to Jerry catching me. I was possessed with holding him off and getting there first. So much so, that I didn’t think about what it meant. I battled with that throughout the race, stopping myself from fantasizing about winning. Focusing on that fantasy can mentally weaken you; it’s too far off to really mean anything when you’re in that much pain. I always seem to self-loathe my way through it, mentally calling-out that pathetic desire to slow down. You get to the point where you’re so consumed by the task that you disregard its effect. So when I turned the corner of Ludlow, I really was in disbelief. It hit me all at once after I got on the sidewalk and saw the finishing mats, and even then it didn’t seem real.
From my calculation, my average overall pace was around 5:40. When the miles were smooth I was in the 5:20’s and 5:30’s but that was broken up by stairwells, traffic, and all the other obstacles. I was happy that I was able to hold that pace through it all.
10. How did it feel to wake up the next day as the new champ? As the organizer of this race it’s hard to gauge the value it has to others, what does being the champ mean to you? How does it compare to other races you have committed to or placed in?
Waking up the next day at 4pm as the new champ was mind-blowing. Winning the Midnight Half was huge for me. It tops anything any I’ve ever won, and it still seems unreal. I started running cross-country when I was 15, and ran the 5k in 24 minutes. I used to be in the back of the pack, so now that I’m at a point where I’m starting to win races is mind-blowing. As I’ve steadily improved, I’ve also faced more difficult competition, so I’ve only won a handful of smaller races. I don’t take it for granted and I appreciate being able to compete at this level. I’m not used to winning races and being the center of attention, so it was pretty funny, I had no idea how to handle it. This win has marked a huge breakthrough for me into another level of competition; it feels like the start of another chapter for me as a runner. In addition, I believe in the race format. I’m excited to watch the race grow, and I’m proud to be a part of that as the 2015 champion.
11. Will you be back to defend the title next year? If so, where do you hope to be in terms of your fitness level compared to this year? What will you do differently to prepare – having the experience of one Midnight Half under your belt?
I’ll be back, and I’m pumped to run against an even more competitive field. Defending a title will be a new experience though. I’ve gotten used to being the underdog, but I guess it’s about time I started moving past that role. As I said earlier, I’ve recorded my fastest times in every distance from the Mile to the 10k in the last 6 months, and I’m working towards half and full marathon records this year as well. It’s bad luck to throw around times that my legs haven’t reached, but I’ll have some new digits for the pre-race report next year. Who knows, with new competition, I may be the underdog again. I’ll do a lot of things differently for next year, but I’ve already said too much. After all, I’m not expecting to win. Jerry already claimed next year’s title; he deserves it.
I also have to thank Joe DiNoto, David Trimble, Pavel Marosin, Alex Mucilli, and everyone else involved in making this race come to life. The experience wouldn’t have been possible without every single volunteer, spectator, and participant. Thanks again to all my friends who rooted for me on race day, and Jarid Emmenuel, for his support through the race.
Pat and I seconds after his win shot by Alex Muccilli.
For more on Pat Casterline’s race experience, as well as more on his training visit his blog here: Pat Casterline
If you would like to share your own personal Midnight Half experiences submit them for consideration to: firstname.lastname@example.org