Saturday, July 19, 2008

So Frustratingly Close
Race Report from The Run For Central Park

In running, as in life, what goes around usually comes around. For example, if you ever make a comment to a running buddy that a certain newbie roadster runs with gel packs on a 5 mile jog, you’re bound to find yourself needing one and not having one on your next long run. Likewise, if you ever make a passing remark that you’re on your third consecutive 50 mile week just as your friend is telling you how he’s lacking motivation to run 30 miles per weeks training for his second marathon, you’ll inevitably sustain an overtraining injury the following week that will force you to take time off the road at the peak of your training. And for the ultimate faux pas, if you ever leave a comment poking fun at a fellow RBF for being First Loser at his age group by a mere 17 seconds as I did here, well then you deserve what came to me today…

For the record, and just in case you thought you knew what this post was going to be about, I didn’t come close to winning my age group. Not. Even. Close. The winner of the 30-39 age group was also the overall winner. He finished the 4 mile race in 19:27. I, on the other hand, finished 157 overall, 51st in my age group. Like I said, not so close.

Now for my bad karma race report.

Today’s race was called Run for Central Park, which was a quick 4-miler for the general audience and a short fun kids race to follow. (Personally, I see holding a mid-morning kids race in the dead of summer as somewhat dangerous, but what do I know, I’m just a pediatrician!) According to the NYRR website, both events were held in partnership with the Central Park Conservatory to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the selection of the Greensward Plan as the winning entry in the design competition for Central Park. Although I had never heard of the Greensward Plan prior to the race, I’m grateful that his design won because overall I think the park is a pretty neat place to run.

Having said that, I really wasn’t sure I was even going to participate until this morning. I had mixed emotions the whole week about whether it was a good idea to race a 4-miler so close (2 weeks) to a target marathon. I also openly worried whether the oven hot temperature and suffocating humidity would turn this race into another death march like my last race. Still, I knew this was a local club points race and as one of the faster Flyer members, it’d be important that I show up and represent. So despite the fact that I hadn’t slept well for the past few days due to my hospital work, and it was already 80° by the time I rolled out of bed at 6:30, I found myself at the blue starting corral a couple of hours later anxiously to get started.

My race strategy going into this race was simply not to get injured and run the best race that I can given the circumstances. Given that the race course was identical to Race for the Parks, where I ran a 24:44 (6:11 pace) for a PR back in April, I used that race as a basis for comparison. What I wanted to do today was to run fast and easy based on effort up to the mile 2 marker, and decide from there whether I should take it easy or pour it on. I purposely situated myself a few steps behind the fast pack of Flyers at the starting corrals because I was running my own race today and didn’t want my instinctual drive to keep up with their ultra fast speed to overwhelm my common sense. While I was standing there, packed like sardines next to a myriad of fluorescently colored team jerseys, I bent my head down and tried hard to concentrate on positive thoughts of “Running fast, running smart” I briefly reviewed my interval training in recent weeks and felt confident that I was ready to have a good run. The temperature was a sultry 84° with 60% humidity, but cloudy, when the race got underway at 8:30AM.

Because I didn’t line up in the front but toward the middle of the first corral, there was some congestion for the first 10-15 seconds at the start of the race. I ran cautiously through the crowded field through this early section, taking care not to get trampled or get carried off by my neighbors. Everyone slowed and crowds thinned as we made our way up Cat Hill. I opened my legs up a bit, settling into a comfortably fast pace as I climbed. Just as I reached the stoplight at the end of this tough stretch, I suddenly felt a cool breeze sweep across me, and felt very happy to be racing. I must have speeded up for a while after that because the Garmin read 5:56 as I passed the second mile marker, signifying that I had just ran my fastest mile in a road race EVER!

I gave a first-two, whoop-whoop of slight jubilation at the sight of those digits, although I doubt my brief incantation was discernible above all the heavy breathing. Although I was slowing down just a tad after the brief surge, and people were passing me on the course ever so slowly one-by-one, I was feeling good that I was running fast, far ahead of my PR pace of 6:11. Even at this early point, I had already lost all my faster teammates, which helped me to concentrate just on my own efforts on the course. I ran through the upper east side course along the reservoir and next to the grassy baseball fields as comfortably fast as I could. I knew full well that after this flat pleasant stretch the always treacherous West Side hills loom ahead. I tried hard to run fast while conserving as much energy as I could during this stretch. The Garmin read 6:05 as I passed the mile 2 marker.

Seeing that number was truly a mixed blessing. On the one hand, I knew that I had slowed by 9 seconds over the first mile with a series of tough hills to come. On the other hand, I was a full 21 seconds below my PR time with only 2 miles to go! As I made the turn over onto the west side, I wanted to pour it on over these hills. But as I tried ever so slightly to increase my turnover, my chest started to complain and my calves began to tighten. I was starting to feel fatigued from the quick race pace so I decided to hold back my speed somewhat through the first hill. I had calculated that I could run a 6:30 through this brutal third mile and still be in time for my PR, so I didn't feel the need to push so hard. A slight tiredness turned into a steady fatigue by the middle of the second hill. By the third hill, I felt my pace seriously dragging behind as I passively watched packs of runners passing me by. I was horrified when I saw Garmin scowling at me with a 6:34 as I scaled the last hill while passing through the third mile marker. I was physically and mentally exhausted at this point. A combination of sun, heat, humidity, dehydration, and hard hill effort left me wanting anything for this race to end. I wasn’t in any condition to do math at this point so I didn’t know whether I was still on pace for my PR or not. Although my breathing was labored and my heart felt as it was ready to explode out of my chest with every step, I forced myself not to slow down and ran the last mile as hard as I could. I tried to imagine as if I was running intervals on a typical morning. I tried questioning how I’d run if I was in the last 0.2 miles of the marathon. I even tried imagining as if I was at the Olympic Trials needing a quick 400 to qualify for Beijing. (I admit I had to close my eyes at times to help with the imagery.) Luckily, I spotted nyflygirl as she was running up the opposite direction. Just to hear her calling out my name gave me a much needed boost as I made my way down to the finish. As I made the final turn for the last 200m to the finish line, I wanted to conjure up whatever I had for a final kick. But truly, there was nothing left in the tank. So, in untypical Laminator fashion, I rolled myself as best as I could into the finish! Pace for mile 4: 6:09.

I knew it as soon as I caught my breath and clicked the button on the side of my Garmin. In big gigantic digits, 26:44 glared back at me liked a scarlet number of shame. I had just missed eclipsing my PR by one mere second! (BTW, because I know NYRR likes to gyp me out of a second from my Garmin time in every race I've ever done, I knew even before the official results were posted that my time would be listed as one second slower!) Oh my gosh! What I would have given if I had known during that last mile that I’d be one second off! Never mind my heart rate averaged 184 bpm with a max of 193 (a record high for me) during that last mile, I’m sure I could’ve found another gear to give me an extra second of boost. Either that or I could’ve dove, projectile vomited, or threw my chip over the finish line to shave off an extra second for my PR! I blame it all on the frontpackers at the start who caused me to shuffle my feet instead of run, losing valuable PR seconds for me. If only I wasn’t so gentle and blatantly allow people who obviously can’t run as fast as me to line up in front of me at the corrals. If only I were a true New Yorker or felt as easy as one throwing elbows and jabs to clear my way toward a running start. If only I were confident enough in my own abilities as a runner to line up with the truly elite in the very front of the first corral as not to be stuck in the middle of the pack. If only…

After the race, I met up with a bunch of my Flyer teammates for a race review. Everyone did very well for themselves…all except me it seems. There were reports of PRs and negative splits floating amidst the conversations. I’m sincerely proud of everyone on my team for their race efforts, as today was a hot and humid day, and as such, took extraordinary effort to come out preparing to race. Great job by all out there today!

As for me, I’m already plotting my revenge on the course this fall. After San Francisco. After New York. After 4 more months of interval training and speedwork, on a day in late November when it isn’t so hot or humid, when everyone else with be training or recovering from their fall marathons, I will run hard, and I will run fast, and I will run to reclaim my personal prize that was stolen from me today.

I will be back. Mark my words.

Final Statistics
Finishing Time – 0:24:45;
Pace – 6:11; Age Graded % - 68.6;
Overall Place – 157/4607 (3.4%);
Gender Place – 138/2326 (5.9%);
Ave Place – 51/1661 (3.1%)


Frayed Laces said...

You crack me up.

sRod said...

Eh, bad races happen. Better to do not-so-well on this little race than a more important race.

nyflygirl said...

dood-to come so close to your PR when it's 20-30 degrees hotter is fantastic!!

Glad to know my playing cheerleader in the last mile helped some :)

Nitmos said...

I wouldn't say "karma" so much as "heat". Perhaps you should have set a farcical race goal as I recommended.

Laura said...

Awww, that's SO close! On the brighter side, hopefully you're all rested up and in good shape for SFM? Do you want to meet up at the BBQ after?

The Laminator said...

FrayedLaces - I'm sooo glad my failure to PR is such a source of entertainment for you =)

sRod - I know...I like to exaggerate and while about every race on my blog.

nyflygirl - Hmmm...yeah, but when you're that stings. Anyway, thanks for cheering me on in that last mile.

nitmos - Yes, I will obliterate my PR next time around! How's that for farcical...

Laura - BBQ it is!

Non-Runner Nancy said...

Good night. A 5:56 mile? 1 second off a blistering PR??

Yep, you are a total failure. =^)

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