Sunday, April 20, 2008

Race Report from the Adidas Run For The Parks 4M Race

Big occasions and races which have been eagerly anticipated almost to the point of dread, are where great deeds can be accomplished. – Jack Lovelock
I originally signed up for this race intending only to use it as a speedwork session in my training for the New Jersey Half Marathon in two weeks. But, as the event drew closer, it began to take on added significance. For one thing, as I’ve mentioned in the previous post, I’m running this race in lieu of another New England race which I qualified for but couldn’t run this year. For another, a second great race, the Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials, is starting in Boston about the same time as my race. Leading up to today, I’ve had a great week of speed training, so I was looking forward to proving my progress out on the race course. Finally, the seeded corral start will be implemented for the first time at this race. For those who are unfamiliar with this development, seeded corrals is an attempt by NYRR to ease congestion at the start of road races by assigning each participant to one of ten different starting corrals based on their best pace in a previous race. The fastest runners will start in the front. The slower runners start in the back. Presumably, gone are the days where the faster runners will have to push aside, elbow out or trample over slower runners who refuse to line up according to their appropriate race pace at the start of every race. Knowing I will no longer have to account for wasted seconds at the start because of this nonsense made me excited to find out exactly what I could do.

For all these factors, I woke up this morning with a certain degree of anticipatory angst about the race. My enthusiasm was tempered somewhat when I realized that I somehow contracted the sniffles overnight. I must have caught something running around town the entire day yesterday in shorts and a T-shirt. But given the extremely perfect weather we had the past couple of days (60° and gorgeously sunny), can I really be blamed for being a bit overzealous?

I ate a banana, got dressed in my racing shorts and shirt, and headed out the door. Because I hadn’t had time to pick up my race packet the past few days, I gave myself extra time to get to the start. The weather this morning was a bit cold, in stark contrast to the warmth and sun I had grown accustomed to the past week. In my hurry to leave my apartment, I was not quite prepared for a return to spring-like temps. All I had to protect me was a windbreaker which would have to be discarded prior to the start of the race. As I walked over to the park and saw everyone else running in long sleeves and tights, I contemplated taking my windbreaker on the race with me.

I knew I was destined to start near the front based on the 6:13 min/mile pace I ran at last year’s PR 4-miler. Still, when they handed me my race packet, and I saw that not only was I starting in the very first corral, but my race number was a double-digit 74, I was more than a little intimidated. I felt as if NYRR was not only asking me to rub elbows and run the race with the city’s most elite runners, they were expecting me to finish somewhere in the top 100. In a field of a few thousand easy, that’s a lot of pressure. I’m not trying to be facetious when I say that I’ve always considered myself a middle-of-the-pack runner, blending in with the running mass, and in competition only with myself. But when you stick me at the very head of the race with professionals and the like who probably run 100+ mile weeks and can probably lap me running backwards, I am going to feel like a deer in headlights and stick out like a sore thumb. As I stretched, run my usual warmup and striders, and walked over to take my place in the starting corrals, I was dreading the image of me starting among the dark blues and ending with the reds and yellows. All of a sudden, my goal became to not only run a good race, but well enough to make NYRR proud that they had given me a double-digit race number and prove that I belong to run among the very best.

I was so full of excitement and energy that I busted out of the gate really fast once the starting horn sounded. Because everyone else was running just as fast as I was, there was minimal jostling for position. It was amazing to me how we all ran so fast so close to each other. I couldn’t help but think that if some guy in the front took a wrong step, we’d all fall down like dominoes. Because the start was close to the 72nd Street Transverse, the first big hill, Cat Hill, comes at you really fast and real early in the beginning. To avoid burnout, I did all I could to maintain a good leg turnover while keeping my breathing as controlled as possible. The runners started to thin out a bit after we made it up the hill. I was thrilled that I could see the race leader way up in the distance. Although I have no grandiose idea of winning anything, it was still pretty cool that even after the half-mile mark, the leaders were still within sight.

After conquering Cat Hill, I was excited to be visiting my neck of the woods, and allowed myself to run a little faster. Seeing the cherry blossoms and the spring foliage in full display on all sides made me realize how happy I was to be running in Central Park. I crossed the first mile marker at 5:59, which was my fastest one-mile time in any road race to date. Knowing that there was no way I can keep this blistering pace the rest of the way and needing to conserve some energy for the series of hills waiting for me on the West Side, I slowed my pace a bit, and allowed some of the other runners to run past. Somewhere along this mile, I saw a pack of women jogging leisurely on the opposite side of the road. Images of the elite women running the race of their lives in Boston today flashed before me, and I became somewhat emotional. In my mind, this was my “trials”. Although I am not in Boston (even though I was supposed to), and am not running for any medals or entry berths, I am running this race with some elite runners to prove to myself that I am a good runner, which, for me, is all I’ve ever wanted to be. With this extra inspiration fueling my legs, I passed the second mile marker at 6:09.

The third mile was all about the hills for me. Having been inspired to run faster than I’ve ever run up to this point, I was more than a little fatigued by the time I made the turn over to the West Side. Through the series of 3 small hills, I tried to keep my legs moving as fast as I could. In my head, I knew that I had past the half-way point, and yet was still running faster than my previous PR pace (6:13). As such, I knew that as long as I kept a semi-decent pace, I’d have what I came for. Still, it was a struggle for me battling the hills and seeing some runners slip past me one by one as I slowed my pace. Mercifully, after deciding that I could not make it up another hill, the end of this stretch of hell ended and I passed the mile 3 marker at 6:23.

I was a bit disappointed with my hill run, but by this point the end was in sight. I ran the last mile basically in fumes. I sped up as much as I could not wanting any more runners to slip past me. In my mind though, I was somewhere else. I was thinking of Boston, imagining the last mile as if I was running down Bolyston street, seeing the Citgo sign, hearing the cheer of crowds and bands all around me. By the end of the race, I no longer cared that I was not in Boston, because throughout this course, on what turned out to be a perfect race morning, I had visited it in mind and spirit. As I crossed the finish line with a fast last mile of 6:12 for a final time of 24:44, and claiming yet another PR, my second in two races this year, I was emotional and happy, knowing that I had run with the best this morning, and had proven to myself that I am not half-bad at this silly little thing I call running.

Final Statistics
Finishing Time - 24:44; Pace – 6:11; Age Graded % - 68.6%
Overall Place – 106/5863 (1.8%)
Gender Place – 101/3054 (3.3%)
Age Place – 30/2221 (1.4%)

Actually, the most awesome thing about the morning happened when I got home and caught the end of the Marathon Trials coverage, when I saw Joan Benoit Samuelson crossed the finish line at a time of 2:49:08 at the ripe young age of 50! After everything I went through, the sight of this amazing female athlete running like hell so strong to finish a marathon so fast was the final kicker that brought a tear to my eye.


Andrew is getting fit said...

Great race report! You sound insanely fast!

Melanie said...

congrats on a great run, and race report!... you were so close to what NYRR set out for you to do!! your speed work obviously paid off. take care.

KimsRunning said...

WOW! I'm very impressed! I felt like I was running right along with you, which is impossible since I'm at a 9:30 mm pace....LOL...(for now anyway)

Great run, great report, thank you!


Irish Cream said...

Congrats on the great race, Lam! I am impressed, to say the least . . . and I am glad all of the emotion surrounding Boston could at least get you a PR! Way to go!

Betsy said...

Great PR. Nicely done, and very entertaining report.

scarinzic said...

hey there! nice recap. i raced sunday too - i thought the corral system (i scored bib #70, so i was probably right near you) worked out quite well. a friend of mine a few minutes back said things were still a bit congested, but hey, i had tons of open road and i think all of us in that first corral had a pretty good experience with the new system!

see you on the roads!

sRod said...

Man, you have some serious speed. I was doing cartwheels this weekend when I managed to run a 6:51 mile. Congrats on the great run!

Laura said...

Lam, congrats on a great race! Looking forward to seeing you in Boston next year.

Timed Run said...

Terrific report! I really hope to match that kind of speed soon!

Jamie said...

Incredible job mr. speedy. And fantastic race report. I love reading your race reports.

Nitmos said...

Strong run! Looking forward to building my speed this summer and will be stalking your site for training tips.

Nibbles said...

What a great milestone--another PR. That's awesome! Congrats.

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