Monday, September 24, 2007

My Best Run Ever:
Race Report on the Queens Half-Marathon

I’ve always believed that there are moments in each of our lives that come to define or shape who we are as individuals. As distance runners, our legacy on the road is similarly marked by half-marathons, marathons and/or longer races that identify us as members of the running elite, however that’s defined. Out of the blue, that’s the kind of race I believed I ran yesterday.

To be blatantly honest, I did not even enter the race with any confidence that I would run well. Although I had high expectations at the beginning of the summer for this marathon training season, my running over the past several weeks had been lackluster at best. I was sick in the beginning of the month and had some ankle and shoe issues that caused me to miss many long training runs. It got so bad that the day before my race, a non-runner buddy even called to tell me that the word on the street was that my marathon training was going bad and people were questioning whether I was still thinking about qualifying for Boston at NYCM in November. I told him not to worry and just to be sure to be there to cheer me on; but inwardly, I was wondering when I should start setting a deadline to pull the string on my post-marathon extravaganza. Still, I told myself to not give in to the negativity, but go to the half-marathon with an open mind given that I had eaten and hydrated well throughout the week, and was physically well-rested for the race.

On race morning, I woke up at the insane time of 3:45 AM to prepare for the race. I changed, made breakfast of Campbell’s sirloin burger stew and a banana, ate, got my stuff together, and ran to catch the 4:30 AM bus from NYRR headquarters that would take us to Queens. Why we needed to get dropped off at 5:00 AM for 7:00 AM race start I have no clue, but at least it was good preparation for NYCM I thought. The sun hadn’t yet come up so it was a bit chilly (upper 50s I presume) by the time we got to McNeil Park. In my haste to catch the bus, I had forgotten to grab my windbreaker and long running pants, so I was shivering a little as I sat on one of the park benches, listening to my Ipod and waiting anxiously for the race start. I didn’t really mind though because I knew cooler temps would translate to a more comfortable race.

At around 6:15AM, I got up from my bench, took my ipod and my backpack to the baggage check, made my last trip to the port-a-potty, and started to stretch. The sun had already begun to peek over the horizon, and I walked over to the start to get a feel of the land. Although the Queens Half-Marathon is an annual race held in the fall of every year, the race this year was held on a complete new course. No one knew what the course would be like, although I had an impression from some rumblings on the message boards that this section of town was quite hilly. So, as I finished up my stretches and took a few warmup striders near the start, I kept reminding myself to keep focused and not run too fast lest I come upon a long tough uphill during the latter parts of the race. Still, as I lined up near the front of the pack, my legs felt fresh and I was ready to race.

The air temperature was a mild 63 degrees as the airhorn sounded, signaling the start of the race. Since I began near the front of the pack, I had a fast start running alongside the elite runners. Although I had intended to establish a strong start, I was literally dumbfounded when I read my split on my garmin 305 at the end of the first mile, 6:18, which was much faster than my intended average pace of 6:58 min/mile. Yet, because I was still feeling comfortable at that point, I allowed myself to run at a fast pace as long as my effort was even and my breathing non-labored. The first part of the course was on some long roads through quiet neighborhoods which was ideal for finding and setting a good race pace. Mile 2 was clocked at 6:22; Mile 3 at 6:36. At this point, I was excited to be running faster than my intended pace, but at the same time acutely aware that the bulk of the race had not yet begun. I noticed that everyone around me was keeping a very even pace early on, and by the end of mile 3, most of the people who were going to past me had already done so. Otherwise, everyone was running in unison as a pack. Mile 4 carried us through multiple steep uphill roads, and my pace slowed to 6:48. It was a tough little stretch for me, because I have a hard time in general of maintaining an even pace on uphills. During this race, I used the guy directly in front to guide me, aiming to keep myself at the same distance away from him at the beginning of the hill as after it. Mile 5-8 was all about consistency as I kept my feet moving at a very steady rhythm through this stretch of the race, clocking each mile at 6:45, 6:50, 6:48, and 6:48 respectively. On the roads, there was a lot of twisting and turning, through small uphills and downhills. Through much of our run through this part of Beechhurst, we were literally turning at every street corner as if we were rats trapped in a giant maze. At least the scenery was nice. As we ran from block to block, I enjoyed the endless display of beautiful residences on perfectly manicured lawns. I was amazed that although I grew up in Queens, I had never seen this section of town before.

At around mile 8, as I was looking up at the trees and taking in the fresh aroma from this foreign part of my hometown, my knees suddenly gave out and I was sent tumbling to the ground! It seemed like I had just tripped over a speed bump (what irony!). As I quickly surveyed my injuries (luckily there were none) and got back on my feet, I felt this sick “oh no, here we go!” feeling in my stomach trying to burst out. It took all of my focus and concentration to reestablish my previously good running pace and suppress the negative thoughts that were starting to form as a result of my freak accident.

I slowed a bit on miles 9-11, running 6:51, 6:55 and 6:57 on our way back to Whitestone because historically these were my “make-or-break” miles. During the last two half-marathons I completed, I hit the wall during these miles and had to take two walking breaks at this point in order to finish. Even as I saw multiple runners speeding past me, I was focused on keeping my legs moving at a slow and steady pace. As one by one they passed, I just kept repeating to myself, “Run your own race L, never mind them!” In my heart of hearts, I wanted so much to keep up and run with them, but in the back of my mind, at this point in the race, I knew a monumental PR was in sight and I was not willing to risk that for a warped sense of pride I’d get by running with them.

After passing back under the Whitestone Bridge and the mile 11 marker, I finally relaxed, knowing I had passed the troublesome miles and the end was in sight. I sped back up to set a fast pace for the finish. Mile 12 was passed at a split of 6:42, as I could slowly make out the contours of McNeil Park, marking the end of the race. Mile 13 was a complete blur as I spent whatever energy I had left in a mad dash toward the finish. The last 1.1 miles took me 7:24 to complete, and I finish my half-marathon tour of my hometown in 1:28:06, a distance PR by 3:10, averaging 6:44 min/mile for the duration of the 13.1 mile run.

I seriously don’t know what got into me yesterday to run so fast for so long. I’m still very emotional thinking about it. Running a sub-1:30 half-marathon has always been a dream of mine. It was a benchmark that, at least to me, separated a good runner from a great one. It was an unexpected, but poignant reminder of what can be achieved through solid preparation, hard training, and strong mental discipline. It all should bode well for me as I had into the last month of training before the marathon.

Thank you all for reading my long race report. I wish that all of you can enjoy as much success in your own races as I did in mine.


aham23 said...

very cool. i must remember, "run your own race!" congrats. later.

jb24 said...

Congrats on a great race. I totally agree with you. Sometimes, the stars align and out of nowhere you just run a spectacular race. Just ride it as far as it goes. I had the same type of experience during the Queens Half as well. Keep up the good work.b

nwgdc said...

congrats! i completely agree, the 1:30 was a big step...much like a BQ or a sub 3 hour marathon. Enjoy it and know you're ready for NYC, no matter what the rumors are!

Jim said...

Congrats! It is awesome to break 1:30. That is a goal of mine so it is encouraging to see someone break through. This should be a big confidence boost for your marathon.

Reba said...

Congratulations on a great race. There's nothing quite like the feeling of smashing a PR. Way to go. Best of luck in NYCM.

JohnnyGo said...

Thanks for the inspirational race report! May there be many "My Best Run Ever"s in your future.

cymrusteve said...

excellent race and excellent race report!

The Laminator said...

Thanks everyone for the support and the kind words. Indeed it will be a day I will not soon forget!

OCHalf07 said...

Congratulations -- your race story was inspirational! I've been following your blog and am rooting for you to kick ass in the NY marathon!! Looks like you're set to go full speed ahead -- way to go.

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