Tuesday, May 6, 2008

My Best Run Ever, Part II
Race Report from the New Jersey/Long Branch Half Marathon

Race Eve [10 pm] – I’m sitting on a king sized bed in a Days Inn just a few miles away from the start. I’ve got all kinds of race gear spread all around me: short-sleeve tech shirt, long-sleeve Under Armour liner, racing shorts, 3 lucky bandanas to match, heart rate monitor, Garmin 305, socks, racing sunglasses, gels, water bottle, a leftover PowerBar from my long run last week, a thin fleece sweater, long racing tights, and a cheap wind jacket I picked up at the expo earlier in the day. I’m freaking out right now because I cannot figure out what I should wear for the race tomorrow. Is it going to be misty with heavy gusting winds like it was on the boardwalk today on the way to packet pickup? Is it going to rain like weather.com predicted all week? Or maybe it’ll just be damp and cold like it always is this time of year in Jersey. Gosh, if it’s cold, windy, AND rainy, maybe I should just jog the whole thing and pretend it’s just another training run. Am I even adequately hydrated, have I had enough carbs, does it even matter? I transfer all the junk to the bed next to me, finish the last piece of fruit salad, set the alarm and head to bed. As I drift off to await tomorrow’s fate, I can hear the words of the Mizunos coach I saw speak at the expo resonating all around me…”Why do we always give ourselves excuses not to succeed right before a race? ‘Oh, yeah, I’m running the 10K, but my left side is bothering me, so I might just take it easy’. Or ‘Oh, I signed up for this half-marathon as a long training run, not really to race it.’ Bullshit. Time matters, people, time always always matter…”

The Start – There’s an announcement. “Due to some traffic concerns, it looks like there’ll be a slight delay in the start of the race. Don’t worry. We’re only looking at like a 5-10 minute delay, I think. As soon as we get clearance from the road, we will begin.” I’m trying hard to hide my anxiety. All around me, people are taking test strides and hopping in place to temper their emotions. I review my game plan to maintain focus. Start slow to conserve energy. Maintain 6:44 minute miles through the course. Don’t get trapped by the rabbits in front. Instead, maintain your pace and try to pick out someone to pass every couple of miles. At the end, aim to finish with a faster last mile than your first. “All right folks, we’re ready to begin…”

Mile 1 [6:19] – Shoot, I did it again. I was tricked by the delayed start to run too fast again. The front pack of 20 or so runners are already way ahead. I’m in my own little group, each of us thinking slow but moving fast, trying to figure out our pace for the rest of the race. I feel my heart rate increasing rapidly and force myself to slow down. Instead of fixating on the few runners slipping by, I redirect my gaze upward. There’s no sun, no rain, just some heavy cloud cover and a dense fog. This is a strange day. I feel as if the weather gods are being indecisive; not really sure if a thunderstorm or clear skies were more appropriate for the occasion. I glance at my tech shirt, racing shorts, thin gloves and decide that my choice of running attire this morning was dead on.

Mile 2 [6:38] – This is more my pace, but my breathing is still labored. The runners are starting to thin out now. I cross pockets of spectators all around me. Sometimes, I’m not sure if they’re really cheering for me. Then I hear “Way to go, L-” (Our names are printed as part of our race bib) and then I know. I smile, say thanks, and move on.

Mile 3 [6:42] – I’m finally hitting my comfortable race zone and cross a bridge. This is significant because it’s the first uphill I’ve noticed since the start. I see some funny signs on the side of the road and let out a chuckle which startles the guy running past me. Two kids are standing right at the mile marker. One holds up a sign that says “In our minds, you’re all Kenyans!”; his brother, two steps away, holds up another sign that says “Go Kenyans!” For some reason, I thought this was hilarious.

Mile 4 [6:46] – Slower still, but not too bad. I look ahead and do a double-take. Aside from the spectators sporadically placed on both sides, there’s no one else on the course! The guy in front of me is at least a couple of hundred feet in front. The guy in back, well, I’m not looking back, but at least is not in my vicinity. I start to feel something I haven’t felt since the Hartford Marathon a year and half ago. I try not to acknowledge it, but I’m lonely. At least in Hartford, there was nice fall foliage to look at. Where I’m at, in a beach town on a Sunday morning with dense fog, the scenery is less than stellar. So I adapt, and recruit the crowds to cheer harder for me.

Mile 5 [6:38] – I’m running on a long straight road that seemed to stretch toward the horizon. I speed up a bit, hoping to catch the guy way in the distance for a little company. Coming up on a fluid station, I see 10 volunteers all filling their cups and holding it in front of my face, each offering, no pleading for me to take theirs. I take them out of their misery and point to the little girl in the back of the line, whose cup of Gatorade I scoop up effortlessly, pinch and drink all in one motion. “Perfect technique.” I hear some spectator comment to his friend behind me.

Mile 6 [6:40] – I honestly do not know from where she came. I was feeling good, trying to remind myself to maintain race pace, not tempo race, when suddenly this figure came up from behind me amidst some loud cheers from the crowd and moved ever so effortlessly by. From the back, I could see this figure had slender legs and long blond hair. Wow, but could it be? In my mind, I wanted to speed up and eliminate the possibility. But almost as soon as I realized what had just happened, she was gone, and I was left to contemplate how she would’ve made a perfect rabbit.

Mile 7 [6:43] – Another long straight road with not an end in sight. A kid asks his dad “What’s his name?” His dad whispers in his ear, and the kid goes “Faster, L-, faster, faster, faster!” For some reason that gives me a kick, and I do go faster.

Mile 8 [6:46] – My right leg is starting to throb ever so slightly and I’m refocused internally again. Did I do enough long runs? Did I do too much? I did 8 miles somewhat fast on Thursday...have I not recovered fully? Since I’ve clocked more than a few miles below 6:44, I know I’m at least on pace for a PR. Should I take 2 cups of Gatorade instead of 1 at the next fluid station? I start to worry.

Mile 9 [6:53] – The only big incline of the race comes at a bad time for me. My left leg is starting to feel slightly throbby like the left and even though I was mentally ready to tackle this mogul, I decided to take the hill slow to preserve my PR opportunity. I felt a little weary, but knew that the finish was only 4 miles away equating to a single small loop track around Central Park. How many times have I run that feeling less than 100%? So I pressed on. Towards the end of this mile, I could see the fast pack of runners heading back towards the finish.

Mile 10 [6:43] – After the hill, my legs felt less throbby and I was able to speed up to a faster pace in preparation for a big finish. I finally found a guy during this straightaway that I recognized from earlier in the race and passed him without much trouble.

Mile 11 [6:50] – My legs are really starting to burn now, with intermittent spasms that may transform to sustained cramps at any given moment. Knowing that a PR was less than 2 miles away now, I refuse to slow down. Instead, I focus on synchronizing each foot strike with a deep breath. I'm clearing my head and closing my eyes intermittently to create a calm mental image of me finishing strong. Inadvertently, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of a sign which reads “Yes, you signed up for this!”

Mile 12 [6:43] – Making the final turn onto the boardwalk once again, I'm think about how I made it through another race with another PR. I think about all my friends, real and virtual, who helped me along the way. I think about how far I’ve come since the first time I ran this distance in Central Park in 2005 with a 1:41 and the last time I ran this distance in Central Park (before NYCM last year) with a 1:30. I also think about how much pain my legs are in right now, and how much further I have to go, in this race, in this year, and in this lifetime.

Mile 13.1 [7:03] – Coming into the last mile, I decide to empty the tank and push to the finish. I am doing this not because I think I need it to PR, but because I finally see someone a short distance away that I think I can take on my way in. So I grit my teeth, straighten out my back, and challenge my legs to run faster than it had for the entire race. When I get within 10 feet of the him, he suddenly realizes what is happening and quickens his stride. In response, I turn it up some more and take over the lead temporarily. After another quarter mile, he retakes the lead with a kick of his own. We are less than 400 feet from the finish now. I am about to use one final push to overtake him right before the line when something strange happens. Instead of veering left where the half-marathon finish was, he veers right, into the lane bypassing the finish. I cannot believe what I am seeing. This guy, who had just pushed me into pure exhaustion, was running the loop a second time for his marathon. I am so embarrassed by what had just happened that I don’t really want to wear the finisher’s medal the volunteer was placing around my neck.

Inside the Finisher’s Tent – After recovering from the humiliation at the finish, I pick up my bag, get changed, and go back to the finisher’s area to check out what food and drinks were available. While in there, I glance at the leaderboard to figure out where my final net time of 1:27:28 (1:27:33 gun time) placed me among the finishers. I was thrilled when I see my name placed among the age group leaders (#7). Not only so, but I am #26 among all half-marathon finishers, and the top finisher hailing from New York, NY! I am so excited by all of that, I have to ask the race officials if they give out awards for anything that I might qualify for. He said no, but gives me an honorable mention for being tops from NY, NY over the loud speaker. How’s that for recognition!

Final Race Results
Gun Time - 1:27:33; Net Time – 1:27:28; Pace – 6:40;
Overall Place - 26/3701 (0.7%); 1st from NY,NY!!!

Gender Place – 25/1430 (1.7%)
Age Group (30-34,M) Place – 7/246 (2.8%)
Age Graded % - 67.6%


Frayed Laces said...

No one writes a race report like you, Lam. Way to go! I think my HR increased a few points just reading your mile-by-mile.

KimsRunning said...

Wonderful post!! Awesome race! I just ran the Minnie Mouse 15K 18 minutes slower than your half....lol

mom2beccaNallie said...

Great report Lam. You did awesome and should be very proud!

Nitmos said...

Wow, very impressive and even miles outside of the first mile! Why should you be embarrassed over the duel with the marathoner at mile 13? He might have pulled off by mile 14 and puked all over the curb for all you know for getting into a sprint with a half marathoner.

Great job. Speed envy!!

Jamie said...

Another fantastic race report! Again congrats on your stellar PR! And I agree with nitmos regarding the final duel with a marathoner.

Irish Cream said...

Great report, Lam! Congrats on the PR . . . and rather than being humiliated, I would be wondering what that marathoner was thinking trying to take you on at mile 13! Maybe he WAS running the half, but was so distracted with trying to out-kick you, he accidentally split off the wrong way? ;)

Andrew is getting fit said...

What a great race report! It was like I was there with you. I must remember to do a mile by mile when I run my first one.

Congratulations on the PR.

Laura said...

Congratulations! Though I have to admit, I think my favorite part are the two Kenyans signs.

Robert W. said...

Congratulations! Really inspirational. And thanks for mentioning the Kenyans signs: that really made me laugh.

Betsy said...

Way to go, Lam! Now I'm even more excited for my trisko on Sunday.

Nibbles said...

Awesome, Lam! Congrats again!

Gotta love that kid at mile 7. Adorable.

Run For Life said...

What a great race report to accompany an even better race! Good job.

sRod said...

Way to go Lam! Long Branch can be really lonely, especially if you're out in front the whole time. But the community seems to get really into it.

Looking forward to doing ten this Saturday? I had to skip the group run last weekend, so both of us have to get back on the free show wagon.

nyflygirl said...

awesome race!! congrats on yet another "best race ever" :-)

KimsRunning said...

Thank you! You just made my day!!!

MissAllycat said...

I love clever signs, too. My favorite is "Your feet hurt because you're kicking so much ass!" :)

Speaking of kicking ass...WAY TO KICK ASS!!

Laura said...

I totally want to steal the ass-kicking sign idea. That is BRILLIANT.

audgepodge said...

Man, you're wicked fast - Congrats!!!

And yes, you should definitely consider the Disney marathon, maybe even the Goofy challenge!

Eric said...


That was the best thing I have read on the internet in a really long time (and trust me, I read A LOT on the internet!). Truly, truly inspiring stuff my friend, I can't believe you are running as fast as you are....Calling yourself slow is like saying Michael Jordan wasn't clutch. Just acknowledge it. You ARE an elite runner. You are in the top 1%. You are officially kicking ass. It must feel amazing to truly excel at something, especially after putting in so much hard work.

BTW, congrats on passing the boards! As the old ESPN commentators used to say, you are "en fuego"!

See you Wednesday for cards???
Also, Ren and I are hanging out after work tomorrow if you're interested

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