Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Saying Goodbye to 2008:
Reviewing My Year In Running (Part II)

Coming home after spending a long weekend in New Hampshire with extended family (20+ under one roof!), I finally bit the bullet this week, and signed up for a gym membership. Not only so, but I also ended the temporary restraining order I imposed on my running shoes and got back out to the park again. I know I originally posted that there’d be “no running ‘til new year” but once I figured out that the Boston Marathon is but 16 weeks away from this past Monday, I really had no choice but to get back on the horse and start training. (More on this to come later this week…) But strangely enough, a funny thing happened on my first post-recovery run. I was expecting myself to be slightly sluggish after the 3 week layoff, but after a long stretch and some tentative first steps, I was running again comfortably and effortlessly at my NYCM goal pace. And the more I ran, the faster the pace became. I wasn’t sure if it was just the pure excitement of running again or if it was the way my legs chose to show their appreciation for my recovery break, but it became really difficult to control my speed. I felt really good the whole way through…up to the very last step of the last mile. I finished 6.1 miles at 6:55 pace and felt completely wonderful. It wasn’t until I got home and looked back at my training log that I realized that I hadn’t run that pace for that long a distance since the weeks before NYCM! Wow! What started as a nice easy comeback run became one of the best training runs I’ve had all year!

Speaking of which, I’m ready to delve into the second part of my review of 2008. Instead of evaluating my accomplishments on the road in terms of PRs or race times (which I did in Part I), let’s see how the year stacked up in terms of what I set out to do way back in the very first post of 2008. If you remember (and you can check here if you don’t) I wrote down a list of 8 goals I wanted to achieve this past year – my running resolutions. In July, I took advantage of the All-Star break in baseball to compose a midsummer review of these running goals. I gave myself a 50 out of a possible 80 points in that evaluation – which I was content with at that point. With that as the backdrop, let’s revisit those goals and see how my running year finished out in the final analysis.

Final Review of Running Resolutions for 2008
Goal 1: Run 3 marathons in 2008.
Completed? Yes – SFM, NYCM, LVM
Grade: 10
Comment: Ran as many this year as I did the last 3 years combined!

Goal 2: Log at least 1333 miles for 2008.
Completed? Yes – Logged 1366 miles for 2008.
Grade: 10
Comment: Had some catching up to do after having only 10 miles on 3/1 due to injury.

Goal 3: Established PRs in at least 3 distances.
Completed? Yes – Had PRs in all 5 race distances – 4M, 5M, 10K, Half, Full.
Grade: 10
Comment: Ten PRs in all this year. Never expected that. Simply wow!

Goal 4: Run in 3 road races outside of New York.
Completed? Yes – NJ Half, SFM, LVM
Grade: 10
Comment: Good I got to travel; bad I never made it to CT to run a race.

Goal 5: Participate in 3 road races that I’ve never ran before.
Completed? Yes – Need for Speed relay, Newport Half, GC Turkey Trot
Grade: 10
Comment: Each of these was so fun in their own way…and I didn’t even have to repeat any from the last category.

Goal 6: Run a road race with 3 new people.
Completed? Yes – NY Flyers (any of them), sRod, my friend EW…etc
Grade: 10
Comment: Ran with a lot of new people this year, more than I ever expected I would…only hoping there’s more to come.

Goal 7: Coach 3 new runners to run well in their distance events.
Completed? Yes – Frayed Laces (BQ), RB, MW
Grade: 10
Comment: Paying it forward! (Read this if you don’t know what I mean.)

Goal 8: Run a marathon in under 3:05.
Completed? Yes – NYCM (3:02:20)
Grade: 10
Comment: Reached my A+ goal for this race.

Total Score: 80 points out of 80 points
Final Analysis: A Perfect Score! Some will say that my goals were too soft; I’d like to think that I was just that awesome this year! Who knows. Only thing I can say is that I truly enjoyed my ride—so if I’m still dreaming, please don’t wake me up (at least not until after Boston)!

Happy New Year to everyone!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Saying Goodbye to 2008:
Reviewing My Year In Running (Part I)

Now that all the guests have left, the yummy food is gone, and all the gifts I’m gonna get has been gotten (No, no R.L.F.S.T. for me…yeah, I’m sorry too…) it’s time to look back on the year that was before we forge ahead into the new year. And because this was such an amazing year for me running-wise, it’s going to take a multi-part post for me to record all my sentiments on 2008. (After all, if it took me four sessions to cover my 26.2 mile tour through the streets of NYC otherwise known as 3:02 on 11/4…how long should my story for 1300+ miles be?) This is a disclaimer just in case you feels slapped-in-the-face by my pats-on-the-back, it’s not my intention, so feel free to look away, turn back, or skip ahead. I’ll understand. Just don’t ask me next time why you didn’t get an invite to the party!

As for the rest of you…welcome to part I. First the digits.

  • Total running distance : 1355 miles (1018 miles in 2007)
  • Total running time: 167:06:47 (124:50:10 in 2007)
  • Average running pace: 7:24 min/mile (7:21 min/mile in 2007)
  • Total road races: 15 (vs 10 in 2007)
  • PRs achieved: 10 (vs 4 in 2007)
  • PRs by distance (4M twice; 5M thrice; 10K twice; 13.1M once; 26.2M once)
  • PRs by distance (2008 time vs previous PR)
    4M: 24:38 (vs 24:53 in 2007) = improvement of 0:17
    5M: 30:46 (vs 32:40 in 2006) = improvement of 1:54
    10K: 39:44 (vs 40:34 in 2006) = improvement of 0:50
    13.1M: 1:25:44 (vs
    1:28:06 in 2007) = improvement of 2:22
    26.2M: 3:
    02:20 (vs 3:08:18 in 2007) = improvement of 5:58

The numbers don’t lie. I’ve ran more, competed more, and won more (via PRs) than I’ve ever done before. What the numbers don’t tell you though is how much more of a confident and more determined runner I’ve become during the past year. Despite the fact that I was forced to take off the first two months of the year because of a broken clavicle, I was able to come back stronger, trained harder and run faster than I’ve ever dreamed possible. Yet, I find it interesting that despite my overall improvement in speed, my overall average running pace is a few seconds slower than it was last year. I guess it proves my contention that racing fast does not simple equate to running fast all the time. As one increases mileage, it is much more important to have fewer sessions of high quality runs than more sessions of just pure speed.

Another tidbit that I find interesting is that my biggest improvements in PR time this past year came in the marathon followed by the half-marathon. This is surprising to me because I’ve always considered myself more of a short road race junkie than a pure distance runner. I find the training vs reward ratio so much higher in the longer distance races than at the 4M or 10K. In fact, prior to this year, I hated the long and grueling marathon training cycle so much that I limited myself to running only one marathon annually. This year, I’ve run three and thoroughly enjoyed the added sense of accomplishment in training for them. Despite these antics, I’m hesitant to consider myself a pure distance runner because I don’t think I spend nearly the amount of time on the road that one should to be a good marathoner. When I hear 60,70,80 mile weeks, I’m more incline to shudder than be inspired. Still, I’d like to think that I’m at least versatile and can run either short or long distance and be equally adept at both.

Having said all this, I still think digits or just that…numbers. They are good to look at and provide a basis for analyzing our individual performances, but don’t stand for much else if not for the journey and the memories we have obtaining them. What I find most gratifying over the past year is the number of new personal connections I’ve made over the past year because of running. Whether it’s coaching some new friends, joining a new running club, or meeting other fellow bloggers, I think it’s the social interaction I’ve had with people I would never have known otherwise that I’ll remember most about 2008.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Still Waiting

Hey All. I have a bit of good news and a bit of bad news.

The good news is I finally finished my Christmas shopping. It took me ‘til now to complete all the gift buying, paper wrapping, and card writing. I didn’t know how much of a procrastinator I am until tonight when I finished my shopping just as the guards were just about to lock up. (Truthfully, I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to spend a night in a department store…)

As for the bad news, I still haven’t found my R.L.F.S.T. Apparently Santa couldn’t ask his elves to built one for me in their workshop but I’d have to find one myself if I wanted to see one for Christmas this year. Sigh. I guess I’ll have to settle for something much more mundane for Santa to bring down the chimney this year.

In other news. I think I’m almost ready to get back to training. I’ve been getting the urge to hit the road even when the temps been in the single digits outside. I think that means my body’s fully recovered. I’m planning to do my first miles in three weeks this weekend and ease back to base training next week. But since I don’t plan on having good enough weather to run on most days of the week, and I don’t own a treadmill, I’ll have to sign up for a monthly membership at the gym just so I can use the running carousel from hell. Feels like such a waste to me, but I know motivation alone won’t be enough to get me to Boston. I actually have to run, and train, and all of that. I haven’t made up a training schedule yet, but I know it must be done by the end of the month since it’s already less than 17 weeks to race day.

Hmmm…gives me something to think about over Christmas. Meanwhile, I’m still holding out hope that my very own R.L.F.S.T. will magically appear in my room tomorrow morning so I won’t have to worry about the weather throwing a wrench into my marathon training. Here’s to hoping anyways.

Hoping everyone has a safe and wonderful holiday! Merry Christmas to all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

All I Want For Christmas

So yes, for all those who wanted to know, I FINALLY started my Christmas shopping this week (because honestly I have no excuse now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag in my last post.) But let me tell you all, as I’ve been running all over town this week, picking up this thing from this store and plucking that thing from another, traveling up the East Side and down the West, staring at all the same holiday displays at all the shop windows until I’m ready to deck someone’s halls and call it my folly, all I could keep thinking about is what I’d really want for Christmas. So just in case Santa asks any of you before he gets to me, and because I’ve really been a good boy this year (just check out my PRs!) this is my ONLY request this Christmas…you ready?

Okay…again if Santa asks…What I really want, more than any thing, under my Christmas tree (even though I don’t have one) on Dec 25th…maybe technically the 24th…is…get this…a REAL-LIFE FACILATATOR SIMULATOR TREADMILL (RLFST). What is RLFST? You (or Santa) might ask? Other than a short acronym for REAL FAST, it is for all intents and purposes, a treadmill. But not just any old treadmill, no siree, it’s one with the following built- in features:

  • More than one running lane so as to allow others some maneuverability or some companionship
  • Instead of a smooth boring slab of rubber, it will have customizable terrain like asphalt, grass, dirt, sand, and the like, to simulate real-life training
  • It will also have obstacles, like potholes, cracks, dog dung, and the like which will force you to pay attention to the road and dodge to the other running lane to avoid disasters
  • The running lanes can be cambered…higher in the middle, lower to the side to simulate street running
  • Instead of a tv screen or windows looking out on the street, the treadmill will be in a self-contained video room which will simulcast the Boston Marathon course or a serene beach trail in front of me as I’m running.
  • The simulcast video is synchronized to my stride and pace
  • Temperature and humidity in RLFST is customizable to my training objectives and preferences…maybe even a fan for wind
  • There's an attached sprinkler and precipitation maker above the RLFST to adjust for rain, snow, sleet, hail…to create whatever weather pattern I choose to train in.
  • Every couple of miles or so, there's a motor arm on the side of RLFST that hands out Gatorade in a disposable cup so you can perfect the technique of grabbing, pinching and drinking on the run.
  • Oh and finally, the RLFST is completely idiot-proof! No instructions…just like an iPhone.

Yep, so if Santa asks, I’d like one of those…RLFST…the best treadmill ever! If he doesn't drop by, someone please drop him a note. Thanks. Hope you’re all enjoying the final preparation for the holidays!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

No Running Til New Year…

I have a secret. It’s about time I share. It’s not that big really, except to me it is. It’s been a full 8 days since I last ran. I’m talking zilch, zero, nada. Not even a mile today when it’s 50 degrees out or a leisurely stroll to hang out with the guys from my running club. And the surprising thing is that I’m not even feeling so guilty about it.

Some people close to me have been worried lately. Laminator, where have you been? Haven’t seen you at group runs, in the park, in races. Are you hibernating? Well, folks. The truth is that I have decided to take a short break. After the great running year I’ve had in terms of mileage, marathons, or even just race PRs, I feel it’s appropriate that I give my legs and feet a short rest before official training for Boston Marathon kicks off in January. I’ve never ran more than 6 miles before at any one time during the winter, much less train for a springtime marathon so I’m worried that my body will burn out both physically and psychologically if I ran hard and long from one marathon training cycle to another without a good break in between. Besides, it will help me refocus and allow whatever microscopic injuries I might or might not be having to completely heal before I ask my body to perform again like a well oiled machine. So as much as it pains me to read and talk about running without actually doing it, I will adhere to my strict ‘no running’ policy until after the New Year.

Meanwhile, I think I have enough things happening in the next two weeks to keep me occupied. Case in point, I haven’t yet done any of my Christmas shopping yet…yikes! Maybe I’ll need to sprint from store to store this weekend to make it happen. Either way, at least my secrets out. Just thought you all should know. Aaahhh…the burden on my back feels so much lighter already!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Why I Run
Reason #9 - To Pay It Forward

I know it’s been a while since I’ve made a contribution to the “Why I Run” series (please visit the archives under the same heading for my previous installments) but I feel that given the current holiday season and the events of the past week, it is a most opportune time for me to discuss one of the poignant and powerful motivations for why I run.

For those who haven’t yet had the fortune of watching this wonderful movie, Pay It Forward is a low-budget feel-good story about a seventh grader, Trevor, whotook an intriguing homework assignment given to him by his social studies teacher and by completing it inspired a national movement to change the world for the better. The assignment (movie clip) was simple yet challenging: Think of something to change the world and put it into action. Trevor’s solution (movie clip) was revolutionary and profound: Repay good deeds not by payback, but by pay forward – doing good deeds for three new complete strangers with the understanding that they would have to pay off by helping three other new people.

I’m not going to divulge any more details about the movie, as I’m hoping you all would be intrigued enough to see it on your own. Suffice it to say that this flick ranks as one of my favorite movies of all time. I love this film not only for its simple yet elegant message, but also because it is so applicable to what we can achieve in our own lives as runners.

When I first started out, I saw running as a very individual sport. It was just me and a pair of running shoes going to war against the asphalt. The first time I went running which was only about 5 years ago, I wasn’t even able to make it past 2 miles before I called it quits and went home. Slowly though, as I laced up the shoes more habitually and visited the park more and more, it became rather obvious that I was not the only runner around. Because I didn’t know much about running at the time, I’d hang around water fountains and port-a-potty lines, listening to conversational tidbits and asking stupid questions of any runner I could find. I picked up most of what I knew about running back in the day in the most unsanitary of circumstances. Since my friends at that time were all non-runners, I was somewhat forced to learn all I could about running that way. Eventually, however, as I became more familiar and knowledgeable about the sport, I realized that this secret running passion was too great, too powerful, and too inspiring to keep to myself alone. That’s when I decided I would do what I could to introduce, teach, and/or coach three new people every year to the sport. It was the best way I knew how of giving back. Although some of my efforts have not been met with much success, others have gone on to do great things with their running. For all my time and energy, I never ask for much from those who’ve been under my tutelage. All I ask is that when the time comes, they would likewise do the same for those around them - introduce them to the sport and help them out as much as they can. In essence, they have to promise to pay it forward...

Shortly after her B.Q. the other day, F.L. came to tell me she’s been encouraging and helping out a fellow runner/blogger who recently found out she has a pelvic fracture and has to be on crutches for a while…I couldn’t help but look at her and smile. The circle is now complete. I think my own little social experiment is working out just fine.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Matter of Perspective

I have always believed that runners experience life entirely differently than non-runners. Because of this, our perspectives on different subjects tend to vary greatly. I came back to town from Las Vegas last night, expecting to ease back into the swing of things. Instead, what unfolded today, became all just a matter of perspective...

I went into work a half-hour late this morning. Those who saw me sneaking into our departmental meeting must have thought I was lazy, slacking from the job. The word on the street was that I had gone off to Vegas to gamble, to sin, to get away from the hospital and my patient responsibilities for a while. I was exhausted all right, from a three hour overnight nap after a twelve hour double-connection flight that landed at JFK at one in the morning. And no, work pals, I didn’t go off to Vegas to make friends with the club managers or blow off my dough at the craps table or on the roulette wheel. I ran my 6th marathon this weekend and coached my friend to a B.Q. which is more work than any of you will give me credit for. I’m late today only because my foot is busted and I didn’t account for the terrible pain masking a brewing stress fracture in my right first metatarsal when I headed out for work this morning.

I didn’t leave haphazardly but designated patients and clinical tasks to the care of colleagues before I left. I’d like to think I’m a responsible physician and have the interests of all my patients at heart even when I’m not physically there to care for them. Perhaps that’s why it was such a shock to me when one of the fellows told me on my way in to the office this morning that a patient of mine had mysteriously died while I was away. Yes, he was a noncompliant teenage diabetic whose family neglected to heed the warning signs of intractable vomiting and flagrant hyperglycemia and didn’t bring the patient to seek medical care until three days after the fact when he became apneic and lost consciousness in the bathroom. And yes, there probably wasn’t anything different I could have done before or during the episode to change the eventual outcome. Still, I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible. If I didn’t, I’d no longer deserve to be in this profession.

Over lunch, one of my workmates who was not native to this country asked me what my score was for the marathon. I’m sure he meant time, not score, but I asked anyway, just to verify. “Your score,” he repeated again. “Don’t you run marathons for the score…so you know if you win.” “No, I didn’t run this one for the score.” I told him. “But I know I already won.”

Some people congratulated me on my 3:15:09 marathon finish. To many, it was a relatively good time, considering I was running it easy. To me, 3:15 is a relative disappointment. It would have been one thing if I kept a 7:23 pace throughout and ran though the finish at around a similar pace, but in actuality, I ran 8:00 miles, 6:40 miles, and bonked hard in the final few. I’m not judging those for whom 3:15 is a great time, but for me, in this race, I really could have and should have done a whole lot better.

FL finally posted her race report for the Las Vegas Marathon. In it, she mentions me helping her with this and comforting her about that. Who is she kidding, really? I made it a point just not to mess anything up. Everyone knew she was going to B.Q. I just happened to be along for the ride.

Finally, have you listened to the latest edition of the Runners’ Loungecast (Episode 5)? In it, some insightful blogging runners, including yours truly, share tips on how to beat the winter cold even as we run and train all season long. I might be biased here, but I think this episode will prove most useful for those who are planning or thinking about training for a spring marathon, especially if you happen to be, like me, preparing for a certain roadrace that starts in downtown Hopkinton on Patriots’ Day. Try it out, and take a listen.

Afterwards, let me know. What’s your perspective?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Mission Accomplished in Las Vegas

In case you haven’t heard, FL rocked the Las Vegas Marathon and punched her ticket for the 2009 Boston Marathon with a sensational time of 3:37:40. It turned out she really didn’t need my help all that much as she ran her own pace, managed her own fuel/water, focused her own thoughts and pushed herself through the difficult miles all the way to a fantastic finish and marathon PR! I for one am very proud of her as I know how much training, both physical and psychological, it took for her to reach her lofty goals. She went from a broken pelvis in her first marathon to a B.Q. in less than 365 days, for crying out loud. [As an aside…I’m trying to convince her to publish a book about that…it’d be a bestseller!] If ever there was a reason to believe that anything is possible if you are smart, have a good plan, and are willing to work hard, this would be the prime example. It is such a great and inspirational story that I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn't come and got to experience it firsthand. (Please go over, if you haven’t done so already, to congratulate her on a job well done!)
As for my own marathon experience, which is really beside the point as far as this weekend goes, it went as I had predicted. Finishing time was 3:15:09. This was my second slowest marathon finish ever. I had a late start, spent too much time bobbing and weave amidst the crowds and ran the race without a specific goal in mind. At multiple points during the course, whenever I would pass by a fast food place, I would think of sneaking in, grabbing a burger and sitting by the road to wait for FL. I knew she’d kill me though so I didn’t dare bother. I spent the bulk of my race worrying whether she was still on pace or not. I ended the race really struggling today, but just kept reminding myself that this marathon really wasn’t about me – not my pace, not my time, not my finish. There will be other races and marathons for that. I was running today for a higher purpose, and when that purpose came rushing through the finishing line about 20 minutes later, I was emotionally choked up and as happy as a clown because I knew I had done my job this day.
Congrats FL for a fantastic marathon and allowing me to share in the experience of your magic carpet ride through the streets of Las Vegas!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Countdown Begins - Las Vegas and a Boston Qualifier Awaits

It’s funny how things turn out sometimes.

A year ago, I decided to reach out to FL who suffered a broken pelvis while running her very first marathon. She had some underlying hormonal disturbances which caused her pelvic fractures, and since I am somewhat of an expert in that sort of thing, offered my virtual assistance in the off chance she needed any. Eight months ago, I was here, spending some days and nights in the heart of the Las Vegas strip, helping a friend celebrate his final days in bachelorhood. The only running related highlight of that trip was one small incident involving a runner (me), a city bus, a side impact collision, and a story for the guys that I was involved in a fistfight at 9am (link). I vowed after that brush with death that I’d never run in Las Vegas again.

So what do those two stories have in common? Well, both incidents have led me to this day, as I’m sitting in bed in a hotel suite less than 24 hours away from the start of the Las Vegas Marathon with FL in the other room. We spent almost all of yesterday walking and sightseeing all over town: From our hotel on the center of the strip to the race expo at Mandalay Bay (which was right next to a rodeo convention/cowboy marketplace), from the beautiful yet disoriented Italian river d├ęcor at the Venetian to the spiraling escalators at the Forum Shops. All the while, we reviewed pacing strategies, course details, and race apparels. The magnitude of this B.Q. attempt on her part weighed so heavily that at times I felt as if I was the one needing to run a specific time to qualify for Boston. I think I’m more nervous this time coaching someone else to B.Q. than I was when I prepared for my own B.Q. race! Oh brother. I did a good job hiding my own anxieties from her however. She never suspected a thing.

At the end of the night, because of some “drama” surrounding her own living arrangements, I invited her to spend the night over at my hotel suite so that she could one final night of peaceful sleeping prior to running the race of her life. After dinner and before retiring for the night, we got to preview the hot tub located right in our suite and make plans how we’d celebrate in it with some champagne come post race Sunday! Wahoo! Both of us can hardly wait…now less than a day away!

We’re officially ready for you, Las Vegas. Bring. It. On.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Leaving (for) Las Vegas

Wow…I can’t believe I’m leaving town in two days.

It’s been a while since I’ve gone out of town. The last time I left the state (not counting a brief excursion to Jersey for a half-marathon) was four months ago, when I went to San Francisco to celebrate my birthday. Coincidentally, I left town that time to run in a marathon too, SFM ’08. I remember being just a nervous wreck the entire week leading up to the race. I did a whole bunch of runs up and down Harlem Hill because I thought that would help me conquer the hilly course. Boy, was I wrong! It didn’t matter though because even though I didn’t run the race as well as I thought I could, I still had a lot of fun visiting the town and seeing the sights from a totally different perspective.

This trip, although it will still involve a marathon, is going to be so much different from that one. For starters, I am not running for time, and so I haven’t been as diligent with my training or my taper as I probably should. I figured that having run NYCM four short weeks ago, I still should be able to tackle the distance without too much difficulty. Secondly, as some of you may know, I’m been coaching a friend of mine, FL, all year to BQ in this race. So in essence, this race will be so much more about her than it is about me. So whether I do a good job will be dependent on if she does a good job, and because I KNOW I’ve been doing a good job, she cannot help but follow suit. Yes, yes, yes. (But it'll help too if you can go over to her blog and send her some last minute encouragement!) Lastly, because this trip is first and foremost a vacation for me, there’ll be plenty of partying...probably much more so than before or after any of my previous marathons.

I don’t know how much blogging I’ll get down when I’m down there so I apologize in advance if this is the last you hear of me for a while. I promise a full recap though when I’m back so don’t you worry. There are also rumblings of another podcast with my voice inside it as well coming out in a week or so. So yes, there’ll be plenty more of me to go around upon my return. I can hear the frightful gasps already…

Have a great rest of the week everyone!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Almost Unofficial Thanksgiving 5M PR Race
Race Report from the Garden City Turkey Trot

The Preface

While most people probably spent their holiday cooking, eating, or watching football, I spent the bulk of mine finding the answer and dealing with the consequences to one of life’s greatest mysteries—What is the opposite of banditing a race? (C’mon you know you wondered about this too at some point in your life. No? Maybe it’s just me then.) Well, in any case, it turned out to be a Thanksgiving I would not soon forget.

The Intro

Of course, I never intended for my only day off this weekend to be THIS interesting. All I wanted to do this Thanksgiving, more than anything, was to do something I had never done before---participate in a Turkey Trot race. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the powers that be in the NYC racing scene doesn’t believe in holding races in Central Park on Thanksgiving even though there’s practically a race there on every other weekend all year long. And because I’ve never traveled far from the city on Thanksgiving since most of my family is from around these parts, I’d never been privy to join in this annual American tradition. This year however, because I felt I just had to enter a Thanksgiving race to celebrate and give thanks for the best running year I’ve ever had thus far, I made special arrangements to enter a Turkey Trot race in Long Island, which was about a half-hour drive from my parent’s house in Whitestone Queens.

Because this was my very first Turkey Trot and my first roadrace experience in Long Island, I would have been excited about this race regardless of circumstance. Yet, on the morning of the race, I was practically bubbling over with nervousness when my mom, my dad, and my little brother decided to come along and watch me run. Given that no member of my immediate family has ever before been spotted on the sidelines for any of my previous races, having them all there to cheer me on was such a special moment for me. I was so intent on making a good impression that I told my brother right before the race to expect me in less than 31 minutes. My previous PR for a 5 mile race was 31:07.

Although the field was not nearly as crowded as any of the NYRR races I was accustomed to, I was still quite surprised by the massive sea of runners that I found myself a part of at the start of the race. Fearing that I’d be stuck behind hordes of people that were going to approach this Turkey Trot more as a family fun run than a race, I situated myself as close to the front as I possibly could. All around me, I could see representatives from all of the local NYC running teams – Warren Street, NY Harriers, Central Park Track Team, etc in their uniform singlets, conversing boisterously over the race director shouting race information into his megaphone as if they were members of a running elite, far too important to worry about frivolous details like where the water stop and port-a-potties were located on the course. I for one was quite annoyed by this display, and wondered aloud if their gaudiness and arrogance could be reserved for a more appropriate race venue back in the city.

The race started a little after 10AM with the race director signaling a countdown with his fingers in the air and shouting “GO!” into the megaphone. Since I was but a few steps behind the starting line, it didn’t take me long to find and hit my pace. The course for this five mile race consisted essentially of two giant loops. The first 3.5 miles would be a out-and-back loop around a golf course while the last 1.5 miles would be a loop around a park and field house. My miles splits for the first part of the race was pretty good (Mile 1 – 6:00; Mile 2 – 6:12; Mile 3 – 6:10). I ran to the best of my abilities and tried hard to ignore the pack of teenagers gunning it right from the start. I eventually caught up to most of them between the second and third mile, although one of them stole the cup of water that a volunteer was about to hand off to me when he messed up the transfer and dropped his own cup of water and reached back for another. Luckily, I knew that I could do without the water anyways, so I took the opportunity to overtake him while he drank the water. In the end, justice was served because he never caught back up to me again after that.

After circling back to the start, I passed my family again at the 3.5 mile mark, which was quite thrilling. My mom was clapping and yelling my name as I ran by while my little brother gave me a thumbs up sign as I ran across. I was tiring somewhat by then but did all I could to hold on. I passed Mile 4 at 6:19 and knew that if I could hold on at my current pace, I’d have my PR. Towards the end, I found myself trailing a female runner and did all I could to catch up to her. I probably would have too if it weren’t for the fact that there was a turn about 0.1 mile from the finish and the road narrowed to a single file around the finish line. I gave it my all with a big sprint at the end and came in just after her with a final time of 30:46. My last mile was ran in 6:03, which was a lot faster than I thought I was capable of feeling so exhausted at the last mile. For my efforts, I recorded a PR by 20 seconds! I was very stoked that I ran so well in front of my family. Unfortunately, they missed my triumphant finish as they were still wandering around the course, not knowing where the end of the race would be. Still, everyone was excited that they saw me run for the first time, and they all guessed I was within the top 20 or 30 runners at the point that they saw me. Personally, I wasn’t so concerned about my overall finish, just my age group finish. I thought for a moment that I might be up for an award, but when I saw that they were only giving out trophies for the top 2 finishes in every decade, I knew there was not going to be any souvenirs for me that day. After drinking some fluids and allowing my head to settle from the post race nausea caused by my anaerobic sprinting at the end, we headed back home and prepared for the rest of our Thanksgiving Day activities.

The Discovery

After a self-congratulatory hot shower and some lunch, I proceeded to enjoy the rest of my day off watching football and having a grand ol’ time with the family, and forgot all about my race. It wasn’t until later that night, during an intersession in Thanksgiving dinner when I logged on to the race website to check on my official result that I knew something was wrong. As I scrolled through the screen searching for my name, I became more and more disappointed. Not only couldn’t I find my name in the top 50 or top 100, my name was not even listed among the 2293 finishers!

The Dilemma

I went through the five stages of grief in about five minutes after I overcame the shock of not seeing my name in the official results. At first I thought maybe I had dreamt the whole thing up and hadn’t really run the race. (I had to ask my brother if he really saw me run that day.) Then I became angry that they messed up and didn’t record my time. After that, I became confused and wondered if my PR should count since I didn’t receive an official time. A few minutes after that I felt sad that even though I ran a great race, and had my family there to witness my achievement, there would be no documented evidence of my running that race. Eventually, after another minute of contemplation, I accepted my fate and the fact that there wouldn’t be a time for me. So yeah, five stages of grief…all in about five minutes.

But while lying in bed that night and reviewing the events of the day, I couldn’t help but wonder if indeed my race should really “count”. On the one hand, I knew I ran the race and had witnesses that saw me run the race. On the other hand, if there was no time recorded for me at the finish, how could I prove to myself that I had run a PR? Even though I had kept the time on my Garmin, how did I know that I hadn’t started or stopped it a few seconds too fast or too slow. I had no way of knowing. In my mind, the result would’ve been the same if I hadn’t done the actual race but ran another 5 mile course somewhere else. Although I had every reason to count it as such, I decided that night that if my race result wasn’t officially posted, I would pretend it didn’t happen, which would mean no PR as well. To my analytical mind, my dilemma was the same as the philosophical question “If a tree falls down in a forest, but no one is there to witness it firsthand, did it really happen?” All I knew as I drifted off to sleep that night was that this awkward experience of running a great race and yet not receiving the acknowledgment must be the exact opposite of what it feels like to run a race as a bandit.

The Resolution

The next day, while scrolling through race results and race pictures still feeling somewhat numb from what happened the day before, I found out that I would have finished #37 overall and 8th in my age group (30-39) if my result counted. Not only so, but interestingly enough, the woman that out-strided me to the finish, was the first female finisher! In the picture they had of her at the finish, I could clearly be seen in the background, coming in right after her. Because of that, I had documented evidence of my finish! I quickly scoured through the race photos to find one of me and sent an e-mail with both pictures to the race director to ask about my race result.

Well, I’m happy to report that after three days of nervous anticipation, the official race results were finally corrected and my name was inserted in its rightful place today among all the finishers. Instead of being excited and thrilled that I ran another PR, my tenth this year, I’m just relieved that everything was fixed and I don’t have to have any further debates with myself on what to do with an unofficial race PR result.

Although the experience was somewhat psychologically traumatically and morally grueling, I’m glad that this whole experience happened because it proved to me how intimately personal my passion for running and running fast is. I know there are many around me who would never understand why this whole episode could be so aggravating for me. But then again my races and my PRs are all my own, and I would never expect anyone else to know about the many hours of hard work and training that goes into preparing for each of them either.

Hope you all had a good holiday weekend, whether or not you got to run. (But hopefully you did!)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Work and Play

I know for most people, this long holiday weekend is reserved mainly for giving thanks and rejoicing with family and friends where sloth and gluttony take a vacation from the list of deadly sins. Unfortunately, as I was so rudely reminded by my secretary as she handed me my recently updated patient list today, I am not most people. I will be hard at work bright and early Friday morning and possibly all through the rest of the weekend.

I can’t complain though because part of the reason I have clinic duty this weekend is because I’m taking off most of next week for a marathon vacation in Las Vegas. Woohoo! Although I’m not sure if I’m prepared to run 26.2 miles when I haven’t completed a run longer than 13 miles since I crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon 3 weeks ago, I am excited to be escaping the wind/cold/rain for a few days with my running club, and meeting up with a few friends (including one fellow blogger who is looking to run her first B.Q.!).

We have quite a few wild party itineraries planned for when we arrive so this marathon preparation period is going to be a little bit out of the ordinary for me. Obviously then, there’ll be no grand delusions of a sub-3:00 or a P.R. attempt in this marathon as I’m strictly looking for a fun and leisurely scenic run around the Strip. If I have to guess, I’ll probably end up with a personal worst this time around—and I’ll be all fine with it.

In any case, I'll probably have more to say about the marathon next week. Honestly, I really haven't thought much about it or even looked at the course. (Bad Laminator!) First, just let me get through the rest of this holiday work week. Unlike the rest of you all, I’ll be so thrilled when it’s all over. Play time for me will start when play time for everyone else is over. What a wierd dichotomy!

In the meantime, enjoy enjoy your turkeys (and your Turkey Trots) everyone!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Weekend Potpourri:
Is Integrity Inherent In Running?

"The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out." -- Thomas Babington Macaulay

I had every intention of blogging about my long run today—how I pounded out 18 miles in sub freezing temperatures with a wind chill in the teens and wind gusts up to 25 miles an hour. But before I was even able to entertain the question of how or where I was to run the tough middle miles, I noticed my hands getting cold and numb (even as my head and body was sweating!) after just the first loop around Central Park. As a result, for health reasons, I was forced to terminate my run after only 6 miles today. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed with myself and the weather.

So instead I am going to tell you a fascinating story that I read in the news a couple of days back which had me thinking about the integrity of our sport…

The story involves a lesser known PGA golfer named J.P. Hayes and what he did during the second stage of the PGA Tour qualifying tournament last week. You can read the full account of the tale here, but essentially the highlights are:

  • During the 12th hole of the first round, Hayes inadvertently played two shots with a different model golf ball than the one he had used to start the round.
  • When he realized his mistake in the middle of the hole, he acknowledged his mistake, called an official over, and incurred a two-stroke penalty for the hole. According to golf experts, if he had not admitted his own mistake, it would have been impossible for anyone else (except for maybe his caddie) to have known about it otherwise.
  • Even after incurring the penalty, Hayes still shot a 74 in Round 1 and a 71 in Round 2, putting him in good shape to finish within the top 20 and advance to the qualifying finals in December. Of note, finishing well in this qualifying tournament affords the golfer automatic entry into major PGA Tour events the following year.
  • Later that night, while relaxing in his hotel room (after Round 2), he suddenly realizes that the errant golf ball he had used in the 12th hold of Round 1 might not have been on the approved list.
  • He had a choice: He could have said nothing and kept playing, with no one aware of his mistake. Or he could turn himself in and let his mistake cost him a 2009 PGA Tour card.
  • He chose the latter.
  • When asked about his decision afterwards, Hayes nonchalantly replied “I would say everyone out here (on the PGA Tour) would have done the same thing.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I found this story absolutely fascinating and intriguing on so many levels. How someone can be so forthright and honest that he calls a penalty on himself and then disqualifies himself from a tournament that essentially eliminates him from active competition in 2009 just boggles my mind. In this day and age of professional athletics, where it seems like every other story is about instant replay, bad officiating, gambling scandals and doping controversies, it is so awkwardly strange to hear about a sporting culture that is fundamentally built on honesty, integrity, and trust as in golf. Can you imagine if baseball, or basketball, or even tennis operated on such a premise—where ballplayers will say to the ump, “You know…I know you called Ball Four, but I really swung across the plate so I’m just going to go back to the bench now.” or the point guard will go to the referee and say “Sorry ref, I know you missed it, but I hit his arm as he was releasing his shot…please give him a free throw.” That would be so weird, I’m not even sure I can imagine such a scenario. Then I started to ask myself if I can find a corollary in the sport of running. Is there a scenario where our integrity is similarly tested--where our character is in full display for others to bear witness?

Off the top of my head, I can think of one such example.

Somewhere in the middle miles of the New York City Marathon, in a remote section of Queens that is distinctly unpopulated and for the most part, deafeningly quiet, there is a playground/soccer field around which the marathon course travels. Although I’ve rarely seen children play there in the three years that I’ve run the race, I’m no less shocked and bothered by the gamesmanship tactics and unsportsmanlike actions I see all around me in my travels through that neighborhood. No, I’m not talking about kids pushing, shoving, or kicking each other as they chase after a ball. I’m talking about my fellow competitors who jump off the course, onto the sidewalk, and back onto the course as they make their sharp right corner turn at the edge of this field! Normally, I often do not notice such trivial things during the marathon as I’m too absorbed in my own breathing and my own pace to care, but in the most recent edition of the race three weeks ago, I succinctly remember a fellow runner start from behind me, took the short cut over the sidewalk and end up in front of me as I made the full right hand turn! It was a bit aggravating to say the least, but in my mind, I wanted to ask him if the knowledge of breaking the rules and running off the course if only to gain a few extra seconds or feet of running was worth more to him than his regard for honesty and integrity and the satisfaction that he ran the full 26.2 miles instead of a fraction less. I know there are many who took the shortcut that day and the trespassers will not be identified or reprimanded in any sort of way, but I just wonder how many of them would do what they did if they knew their friends and/or families were there, cheering them from the sidelines.

I’m not here to judge anybody because god knows I’ve had my share of transgressions. I’m simply throwing this out there for us to realize that even in very simple acts of life, like running, our inner character is in full display. The essential question which we should ask ourselves is: If you knew others were watching, what kind of person/runner would YOU want them to see?

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Runner’s LoungeCast Episode 2: The Marathon

Have you wondered what it really takes to run 26.2 miles? Or maybe just the last 6.2? What are some things you should know before you tackle marathon training for the first time? Or the fifth? If you’ve ever pondered these questions on your runs, on your walks, or maybe even in your sleep, you should listen to episode 2 of the Runners’ LoungeCast where I and seven of my likeminded friends discuss these and other topics related to marathons and marathon training. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced pro, you’ll definitely find something you can use for your own quest for 26.2. Take a listen here. Thanks Razzdoodle for producing this great new podcast for the running community. Enjoy the show!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Race Report from the God’s Love We Deliver 4M Race

Distance vs Speed. Running long vs running fast. Although there are many who believe that it is perfectly reasonable to train simultaneously on both aspects of one’s running game, I believe that endurance training puts such an onus on patience, diligence and persistence, that it is very difficult to switch gears effectively on a daily or a weekly basis to incorporates both pursuits into one single training plan. For the past month or so, during the most intense portions of marathon training, I sacrificed my opportunities to run in the shorter races in favor of much longer ones in hopes that they would lead to a better performance in my target race, the New York City Marathon. But now that the training has been done, the race completed, and the race report to end all race reports has been written, I was eager to return to the short game to see what progress, if any, I’d made in this arena over the course of the summer.

I found myself at the starting line on a cold and windy Sunday morning with about 6000 other crazy neighbors for a four mile race around Central Park. This particular version, aptly titled God’s Love We Deliver, is very familiar to me; I’d been a participant for three years running. But although I was mentally prepared for a good race, physically, I was feeling somewhat less than 100%. I had caught the flu earlier this week and was still coughing and sneezing a little on the morning of the race. I also ran a little too hard, a little too fast on my twelve miler the day prior due to an impending thunderstorm in the area. My legs were still slightly sore, but eager to run. I had thought about running this race to set a PR, but given the events of the past week, I’d be happy just to come close.

We started the race on the 72nd Street Transverse running east. Because I was lined up in the very first corral, I knew the pace of the race would accelerate very quickly right from the gun. Although I recognized a few of my Flyer teammates and some other familiar faces, most of the starting crowd was completely foreign to me. In fact, I could tell from the giddiness of the chatter and heightened level of excitement in their movements, there were more than a few who were just happy to be running and not exactly lined up properly or prepared to race this course. My suspicions were verified when within a few seconds of starting, I saw a female runner who was still busy conversing with her friend slip and fall face first on the ground next to me. I grimaced with pain as I scooted around the accident, afraid to look back to see if there’d be a domino effect.

I raced up Cat Hill and past the first mile marker in 6:02. I didn’t necessarily have a strategy planned for this race, so to have completed the tougher portion of the course with this time was more than acceptable to me. As I continued onward on the Upper East Side, I tried easing into a good running cadence and breathing rhythm. I was getting passed steadily on this mile, which made me think I was slowing down somewhat. I was pleasantly surprised when I passed the second mile marker at 6:02. Really?

I was starting to get sore now, probably more from the lingering effects of my long run from the day before than anything I had done on the previous miles. Having crossed the halfway point of the race at the 102nd Street Transverse, I was preparing but dreading the series of hills I’d have to cross in the critical third mile of the race. In my previous race of this distance during the summer, I remember crossing mile 2 twenty-one seconds ahead of PR pace, but then lost my speed and my mind in mile 3 to finish one second off my PR. How frustrating. So now, having to tackle this treacherous stretch once again, I prepared myself for battle with the memories of the failed mission a few months prior still fresh on my mind.

I wasn’t sure about the time at first, but I somehow made it through mile 3 at 6:26. A lot of runners were passing me now, but I kept my focused at the task at hand as best I can. My lungs were starting to burn and my legs felt as heavy as if they were at mile 20 of the marathon. I remember telling myself that my job today wasn’t to beat all these runners, but to run as best as I can to beat my previous self. It was a good revelation to have at this point because it settled me down and kept me from feeling demoralized as runners steadily streamed by.

After passing the mile 3 marker, I ran the last mile as a dead sprint towards the finish. I didn’t have the mental capacity at that point to calculate if I was ahead or behind my PR pace, but just trusted myself to the running gods and ran as hard as I could down the stretch. Even while I was pumping arms and legs, I saw one of my teammates sprint past me during the last quarter mile which was a bit depressing, but I kept on. As I made the final turn back onto the 72nd Street Transverse, I could hear the public address announcer at the finish call out “and coming in at an even 24:30…” and thought to myself “My PR is 24:44 so I still have a chance”. I found another gear and charged up the hill to the finish faster than in any race I could remember. I wound up crossing the mat at 24:38, setting a PR by 6 seconds! As I struggled to catch my breath again after the finish, I went over and congratulated my teammate for his great race in chasing me down to the finish. Inwardly, I was very tired, very sore, but somewhat proud that even as I lost some battles with others on the road, I ran well enough to claim victory over my former self once again.

Final Statistics
Finishing Time – 24:38 (PR by 0:06!)
Pace by Miles - 1: 6:02; 2: 6:02; 3: 6:26; 4: 6:08;
Avg Pace – 6:09; Age Graded % - 69.2
Avg HR – 175; Max HR – 187
Overall Place – 80/5979 (1.3%)
Age Group Place – 11 (best ever in NYRR race)
Flyers Rank (Men) – 4

Friday, November 14, 2008

After The Curtain Falls:
Tying Up Loose Ends from My 2008 NYCM

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for their best wishes before the race, the shouts of encouragement during the race and the warm congratulations after the race. I consider myself very fortunate to have found this great community of runners and an honor to be considered a member. The race report to end all my previous race reports was just an attempt to pay my respects to both the race itself and my bloggy friends for their support. (I sincerely apologize for those who read my race report at work and had their tears jerked…it wasn’t totally intentional. I simply wanted to simulate how I was feeling during those long “heart” miles.)

Now that we’ve gotten through the mushy and serious stuff. It’s time to have some fun with race time numbers. So here’s an excerpt from the marathon results web page showing the five competitors who finished immediately in front and behind me. I’ve highlighted my race time in red and blacked out all the names to protect the identities of the interested parties.

Photobucket

As you read (if you can't read...just trust me) split times and discern paces, some intriguing trends become evident:

  1. Notice how they are two, count’em two, chicks who finished within seconds of where I finished. To make matters worse, both are North Americans, and both are at least a year older than me. How embarrassing.
  2. Aside from me and fast chick #1 from NJ, there are no other Americans within my study group. And aside from the 32 year old Italian dame who leads the pack and finished 9 seconds before I did, I’m the youngest of the group. [It’s mind boggling to me how there are as many 30-somethings as there are 40-and even a 50-something on this list]
  3. Moving on to the individual paces. All the runners except the guy bringing up the rear of the pack ran a faster 5K than I did. Not only so, but even by extending the analysis to the half-way mark, out of the 9 other runners in this group who started out faster than me, only one (and a chick at that) ended the 13.1 miles with a slower time than I.
  4. Finally, if we were to calculate times for the second half of the race as compared to the first half, we’d see that only one competitor (Runner #451) ran a negative split for the race, by more than a minute no less! Female Runner #36 ran the next best differential at +2:41, while I was third with a differential of +3:20. Everyone else ran a worse positive split.

I was especially proud of this last fact because running even splits was a major goal of mine coming into the race. Given that I ended last year’s race with a +7:04 positive split in the second half, cutting that figure down by more than 50% was a gratifying sign of improvement. (Now, if someone can translate these points into different languages and distribute them as pamphlets at the marathon start or the expo next year, maybe we wouldn’t see so much unnecessary bonking in Central Park. Just a thought.)

Finally, I present to you a race picture of mine from mile 25, I think…

2008 NYCM

I’m showing you this because it’s the only marathon picture that doesn’t have me with my eyes closed, playing with my bandana, fiddling with the Garmin or holding a half-eaten GU packet in my hands. Personally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my picture looks so much like this picture, taken at approximately the same place.

winner of 2008 nycm

Yeah, so what if he finished his marathon in 2:08:43 en-route to securing his second championship in this race while I finished mine in 3:02:20, good for 1105th place. Apparently, even though we generally looked the same (he was airbone a bit longer than I was and chose a darker shade of black for his running shoes, they couldn't find a spot on the podium for 1105th place. Who knew? I'm telling you, the locals always gets the shaft!

On that note, have a great weekend, all! There’ll probably be another race report (albeit, a much shorter one) in the next posting. I’m scheduled to run a 4M race on Sunday to test out the speed fibers. It’s my first short race since early in my marathon training so I’m really excited. Unfortunately, I’m still fighting off the tail end of a nasty cold/flu that I’d been suffering from the past week, so I’m a bit worried that my performance will be somewhat hampered. Oh well, we’ll see what happens.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rocking The Marathon, New York Style
Race Report from the 2008 New York City Marathon
Part IV – The “Heart” Miles

THE “HEART” MILES

Mile 21 (Mile Time – 7:09; Total Time – 2:24:59; Average Pace – 6:54)

“Running in the Bronx was all you did when someone was chasing you for money,” Harrie (Bakst) recalled a few days before the marathon. He was mugged, he added, as a seventh grader.

In all the marathons I’ve run so far, I’ve found only one universal truth. Everyone dies a little at Mile 21. For most there isn’t a physical death per se, although some experts might argue that the instantaneous transition to alternate fuel sources once all glycogen stores have been depleted constitutes as metabolic death at the cellular level. Rather there is an emotional and sometimes spiritual fight that occurs in this mile that forces the marathoner to confront his or her own faults and weaknesses. Whatever the consequences of that battle are, afterwards, there is a portion of the former self that will forever be gone.

There was a part of me that wanted to just die in the Bronx so I wouldn’t have to contemplate how I’d ever make it back to Central Park. In the Jumbotron up ahead I watch the procession of limpers and walkers exiting over the Madison Avenue Bridge and am frightened by what I see. In my head, I’m trying to block out the memories of yesteryear when I used to be one of them, trudging slowly but defiantly back to Manhattan in a half-asleep half-awake zombie-like state, totally oblivious to the outside world. I sing songs that have stuck in my head, recite poems that I can’t understand, and hold imaginary conversations with loved ones in faraway places, all in an effort to not join in. I trick myself into believing that I’m a better runner now, even if my ever increasing pace would have had me convinced otherwise.

I eventually begin the climb over the bridge out of the Bronx and leave the shadows of my former self trickling in from behind.


Mile 22 (Mile Time – 7:06; Total Time – 2:32:05; Average Pace – 6:54)

The marathon distance is nothing if not merciless. Those 26.2 miles—especially the final six, where the real race begins—have the ability to expose even the slightest of injuries and create new ones.

I’m passing by West Harlem in a part of town that I’m very unfamiliar with. My legs are definitely complaining a little more now, but not so unlike what I’m used to after a weekend long run coming off a high mileage week. I’d already made the executive decision to acknowledge the pain but completely disassociate my mind from legitimizing it way back in mile 20, so there wasn’t a way out for me except to run fast, finish strong, and extricate myself from the situation as quickly as possible.

As a method of distraction, I chose to look around and soak in the sights. The crowd was dense and the mood festive in this corner of upper Manhattan. A school band was playing while an older generation watched and danced in rhythm to the marching beat. I had very little recollection of this mile in my previous marathons because in both instances, I was hurting so bad by this mile that my eyes were half-closed and my mind completely internally driven at this point. So this time, being able to see and fully appreciate the interactions between the marathoners and the Harlem crowd was a victory all onto itself.


Mile 23 (Mile Time – 7:02; Total Time – 2:39:07; Average Pace – 6:55)

“I am convinced that you can go through a lot more when you are physically fit,” Grete (Waitz) said. “It is both physical and mental. With the athletic background, you think more on the positive side—you can do this.”

After deriving pleasure from the cheers and good wishes offered all through Harlem, I find myself once again at the vaunted Fifth Avenue mile. Topographically, the degree of elevation gain in this stretch of road does not hold a light to the intermittent but hilly terrain of Central Park, where I’ve been consistently training over the past year. However, given its location on the course, the mild but steady one-and-a-half mile climb (encompassing most of this and some of the next mile) on Fifth Avenue has always been the most treacherous for me. Not only have they invariably been my slowest miles in the marathon, but some of my worst marathon experiences (crawling for two blocks in Marathon 1, and hurting so much I was inconsolably crying in Marathon 2) have occurred here as well. In fact, I’ve often felt that the story of my marathon can be summarized by my efforts in these 30 blocks.

But just as in other venues of athletic performance, from the depths of some horrific circumstances can sometimes be found the most beautiful of life experiences. For every year, at this time, in this mile, when I’ve gone too far to just drop out yet am still not close enough to visualize the finish line, when I have perhaps overextended myself and have questions and doubts as to whether I should even be here running this race, I turn to talk to the one person who’ve always been there for me, encouraging me, pushing me forward, through any and all of life’s toughest challenges, especially at mile 23. I’m speaking of course of my little sister. (For those who never had the pleasure of meeting her, I’m sorry you missed out..you all would have really liked her…she passed away from a car accident when I was 10 and she was 8) I have extremely deep, personal, and emotional conversations with her every time out in mile 23 and she responds in kind by inspiring me, guiding me, and teaching me a few things I hadn’t yet learned about myself. So I know for a fact she’s listening. I only wish she were alive to see my run so well because of her, she would have been so proud.


Mile 24 (Mile Time – 7:22; Total Time – 2:46:29; Average Pace – 6:56)

If you allow yourself to say that maybe you’re working too hard, a lot of the times you’ll say that over and over again and then you’re not going to work hard enough. – Stephen Shay (brother of Ryan Shay)

After recovering from the emotional catharsis of the last mile, I finally reach Engineer’s Gate and make the turn at 90th into Central Park. Once I reach these familiar grounds, I know for a fact I’m going to make it to the finish for the third straight time.

If ever there was a place I’d call my running home, this would most definitely be the place. For it is within these hallowed training grounds, once roamed by legendary and current greats like Alberto Salazar and Anthony Famiglietti, that I learn, practice, and display my sport almost invariably each and everyday. And although some may find it a bit dangerous and congested with cars, bikes, runners and pedestrians all fighting for the same two lane road, it has always suited my purposes just fine.

But even for someone who is as familiar with the park as I am, I can’t help but be shocked and a bit overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds of spectators packed like sardines behind barricades cheering me on while watching me run. I hear my name being called out and am startled. I look to my left and see my dear friend D.S. off to the side waving her arms and yelling my name. I wasn’t expecting to find her out here today, so to have spotted her right in the Park was definitely a huge surprise. For a moment, I remembered back to a summer ago when she told me I inspired her to pick out new running shoes after a long time off from the sport. At the time, that was a turning point for me for that was when I really understood how this simple little exercise can have far reaching benefits way beyond my own.

Towards the end of the mile, as I reached the back side of the Met, I find my cousin J.K. and her boyfriend stationed on the grass off to the left. She had made a sign for me with my name in giant block letters for all to see. It felt just a little embarrassing but so exhilarating at the same time.


Mile 25 (Mile Time – 7:09; Total Time – 2:53:38; Average Pace – 6:56)

“It’s about going father than you ever thought you would have to go. You have to go way beyond, to a point where you are uncomfortable.” – Rich Bakst (2007 NYCM finisher)

Someone’s holding up a sign that reads “Pain is temporary, glory lasts forever.”

I’m flying down Cat Hill and running towards the lower east end of the park. I knew I was in store for a big P.R. but just didn’t know by how much. I’m extremely sore, but otherwise surprisingly strong. I continue to pass by hordes and hordes of walkers and joggers who are fighting to finish what they’ve started. Some are hanging on to the metal side barriers for support. Others are stretching out different body parts with the help of loved ones and strangers out on the curb. I stare at the ESSEX sign towering straight ahead and keep moving on.

In my mind, I was perplexed by how even among this pact of faster runners, all moving at better than B.Q. marathon pace, there’d still be so much bonking, walking, cramping, and limping. Hadn’t they practiced this distance before? Didn’t they have a contingency plan for if something goes wrong? What’s the point of starting so fast if all you’re going to do is limp to the finish? I felt somewhat sorry for them as I calmly glided by, like a race car speeding past the competition to take the checked flag.


Mile 26 and The Last 0.2 (Last 1.2 Miles – 8:42; Final Time – 3:02:20; Average Pace – 6:57)

I am trained for this. In my mind I am going to fight to the finish. – Henrik Ramaala

I exit the park and take the right onto Central Park South. By the time I get here, I’m physically and emotionally spent. There are markers counting down the distance now; one mile to go, then 0.5 miles to go, then 800 meters, then 400 meters. I know they were meant to be informative for the greater running community, but when I saw them so straight forward and blunt, I couldn’t help but feel as if they were directly speaking to me, poking, taunting and pleading with me to sprint the remaining distance.

I passed by the spot whether a past champion once took an early turn off course, had to be redirected back and still had enough to recapture the lead and win the crown. At that moment, given my level of exhaustion, I thought about how likely I would’ve made the same mistake if a barricade wasn’t already set up there to obstruct the way.

I eventually do make the final turn back into the park. At 800m left, I decide to bear down and take off towards the finish. I close my eyes for one final time. In my mind, I am Paul Tergat running the final 0.2 miles with Henrik Ramaala in the form of two nearby Russian runners hot on my heels. I start to make out 3:02:XX on the clock above the finish line and make it my goal to finish before 3:03. I speed up some more, clearing out whatever reserved energy I had left. I count off the final steps as I cross the finish line under 3:03….officially, 3:02:20…capping the epic journey and my 3rd NYCM with a 6 minute P.R.!

 
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