Monday, March 31, 2008

Race Report from the Scotland 10K Run
Part I – Intro, Start, and "The Battle At Harlem Hill”

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve pontificated about dissociative running, detailed my triumphs over commitophobia and shizophrenia, and even revealed the fickle love affair I share with running. Although it’s been fun generating some good food for thought for all my running friends, I’ve come to realize that it’s actually been quite a while since I’ve discussed my own adventures on the road. With that in mind, let me share with you a two-part race report from the 10K race I ran yesterday called The Scotland Run. Although I didn’t have high expectations entering this race being that it was my first race of 2008, and the first since recovering from my shoulder injury, it became quite memorable after the finish because the result left me completely exhiliarated and mystified at what I had just done…

By way of introduction, The Scotland Run 10K is an annual event put on by New York Road Runners in conjunction with the Scottish government to kickoff a week of local events that is geared toward celebrating Scottish culture in NYC. It is a popular event in the local running community not only because it is generally the first 10K race of spring, but also because the swag bag is already big, and you get a free raffle ticket at the end to win all kinds of stuff including two roundtrip tickets to Scotland (and especially in this city, who wouldn’t run for free stuff!) For me, this is actually the first time I’m running this race. Although I was excited to see the traditional bagpipers, runners dressed in kilts, and various Scottish paraphernalia spread out over Central Park for the very first time, I was running this race for a slightly more personal reason. As mentioned before, this was my first race since coming back from a freakish snowboarding accident that kept me off my feet for the better part of a month and a half. Because of this, I really had no intention of running the race for racing purposes. I merely wanted some objective data to assess my fitness and stamina in preparation for running the NJ Half Marathon on May 3rd. The depth of my speedwork training for this particular event consisted of a mind-boggling collection of ONE interval session and ONE tempo run (I can hear the oohs and aahs already!).

Because I knew I wasn’t planning to race, I allowed myself to wake up a bit later than usual on race morning. Normally I would need an extra 15 minutes to half hour to read past race reports and figure out an optimal race strategy for the day. Not necessary today, I told myself as I grabbed breakfast, got dressed and headed out the door. In fact, just to drive home the point that I was not going to run fast, I purposely didn’t even open my race log to figure out what my course PR was. (This turned out not to be such a great move as we shall see later!)

The first thing I noticed about race morning as I began the slow jog over to the park was how bitterly cold and windy it was. As I would find out later, the local temperature was 32° with a wind chill of 25°. Although I had aspirations of running in a single layer tech long sleeve T-shirt and shorts, I wasn’t quite sure if I’d be better served holding on to my fleece sweater and thin sweatpants during the race. Luckily, by the time I got over to the start, which was about a good mile and half from my apartment, the weather had gotten a few degrees warmer and I had worked up a sufficient sweat that I no longer needed the cold weather gear.

The scene at the start was crowded, but very festive. As I suspected, there were hordes of people dressed in all kinds of blue and white. Amidst face painters, little girls and grown men dressed in kilts and a few bagpipers entertaining the crowd with traditional Scottish songs, I scurried to remove my layers, pin my race bib to my racing shirt and drop my backpack in the baggage area before heading over to the starting area. I wasn’t quite sure how many thousands of runners were exactly running this race, but I was thoroughly surprised at how many people thought they could run sub 6 minute miles, including two older women running with fanny packs, holding up their Scottish flags, and chatting away through the starting gun. (Jeez, how I cannot wait until the new corral starting system takes effect at the next race…rant over.) Normally, I’d twist and slither my way until I was next to these ladies, but because I was more concerned about running a steady race and less about time, I was content to start exactly midway between the 6 and 7 minute/mile markers. Still, as I watched them being deeply immersed in their own personal conversation, seemingly oblivious what’s around them, I couldn’t help but wonder what personal agenda would possess two otherwise perfectly normal elderly folk to be so out of touch with their surroundings. (Okay, for real this time, rant OVER…) Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long before the sound of the starting horn and shuffling feet took me out of my irritation and anger

The crowd of runners during the first half mile resembled more of a mob procession than a roadrace. Thousands of bodies moving at different speeds lead to more than a few accidents on the road. Since I had it in my mind to run a controlled steady race, I decline the impulse to be overly aggressive at the start. Instead of focusing on taking every possible angle to move up, I focused instead on maintain even breaths and keeping an even stride. Using this strategy, I passed through the crowd slowly. Sheer numbers prevented me from hitting my natural stride until 3/4 of the first mile had passed. And although I had the best intentions not to run for speed, I have to admit, I was slightly disappointed to see a 6:52 on my Garmin passing through the first mile marker. Inituitively, I knew I shouldn’t care, but instinctively it dawned on me that this was perhaps my slowest first mile ever in a roadrace.

Because mile 2 consisted of a series of short uphills and longer downhills, I was able to regain some speed during this part of the course. Yet, despite netting a 6:23 for the second mile, I did not dare celebrate because the treacherous Harlem Hill was looming straight ahead.

Mile 3 and Mile 4 was all about the long descent into ‘Harlem’ and the longer ascend up the ‘Hill’. During previous races, this used to be section of the course where I’d always deploy the “Burn and Crash” racing strategy: Burn down the downhill, crash through the uphill, and hope to survive to last through the rest of the race. This time though, since I knew I’d already run a poor first mile, thereby ruining my chances for a good finish anyway, I decided to approach ‘The Battle At Harlem Hill’ slightly differently. The idea, as I had established during the second mile, was to run the downhill and uphill with the same even effort and intensity. Although I probably had similar thoughts in the past, the execution was always faulty, since I seem to always have trouble checking my speed on downhills. I’d like to think it’s a sign of my maturity as a runner, but you could argue it was divine intervention (from the Scottish running gods, maybe?), but for whatever reason, my plan, this time around, was carried out to perfection. I ended up easing down one side of Harlem Hill, passing mile 3 at 6:25, and easing up the other side to end up with a 6:40 for mile 4. That was such a blistering pace for me. I was so excited that I gave a self-congratulatory wave to the bagpiper doing his thing near the 102 St Transverse.


Laura said...

Congrats! Sounds like a successful first race back. I'm sorry I missed the fun - I didn't realize the Scotland Run was such a big deal until I already had made plans for that weekend. Looking forward to the rest of your report!

Non-Runner Nancy said...

Wow, great start. I'm not familiar with any of those numbers. :P

bill carter said...

Hi Lam

I cracked up laughing when I read rant part one and rant part two. I have all the respect in the world for people of all different paces (I love that phrase..), but I do believe people should line up corrrectly based on their pace. I would also put some of the blame on races for not making it enough of an issue..

Great 4 miles so far.. lets get to part two. Is there going to be a PR at the Scotland 10k??

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