Sunday, September 28, 2008

My “Rabbit” and Me
Race Report from the Newport Liberty Half Marathon

I ran a half marathon this morning, my first since my PR race back in May. Unlike any of my previous efforts at this distance, this wasn’t a planned race. Rather it was a spur of the moment decision on my part to enter this race when I heard about it a week ago. The truth is that I had originally planned to run the 18 Mile Marathon Tune-Up Race today in Central Park as part of marathon training but given the opportunity to travel out-of-town to race a shorter and more familiar distance on a pancake flat course, especially on my gimpy knees and ankles, the offer was really too good to pass up.

So that’s how it came to be that I ended up in Jersey City this morning, after a fistful night of sleep (not sure why) and without much preparation in terms of nutrition/hydration (my fault entirely) at 8:30AM prepared to run a half marathon with a couple of usual Flyer suspects (BS and BH). Given the warm temps (70s at start) and high humidity (we’re in the midst of a tropical storm weekend in the tri-state area) with the possibility of rain in the forecast, I really wasn’t sure what to expect in this race. I was willing to not set the bar too high for this one as it has been almost five months since I last ran a half-marathon and it was too much to ask for my rash of injuries to completely hold off for an hour and a half. Still, I was willing to just let my body dictate the pace and just be satisfied with whatever time I happen to end up with (which hopefully will be less than 1:30!)

The race began somewhat auspiciously as there was no chip mat and no banner or flag delineating the actual start line. We were told to stand and wait in front of the Marriott Hotel and the next thing we know, the starting horn sounded, and we were off! I basically just followed the crowd as it exited the town square and onto the roads. Luckily for me, I was somewhat close to the front and thus was able to establish a good pace right off the bat. Actually, my body must have forgotten how to pace a half-marathon as I found myself running faster than my 10K pace for the first two miles (6:14, 6:27 respectively). I gradually decreased my speed until I found a comfortably hard pace that I felt I could carry for the middle miles of this race. The plan worked well as I was able to carry a 6:40-6:41 pace for the next four miles and 6:45-6:50 pace for the three miles after that. Talk about consistent pacing. Needless to say, I was pretty impressed with myself for maintaining such a steady pace for much of this race. In fact, I was doing so well that I was on a sub-PR pace for this race up until through mile 10.

For those, like me, who thought this would be an easy PR course, let me assure you it was anything but. For starters there was the dreary weather which left hazardous puddles all over the course. Then there was the wide assortment of terrain we had to confront every few miles: from cobblestone to unpaved roads, from grassy fields to asphalt. Finally, there was the myriad of turns that we had to contend with throughout the course. At times, I felt as if were little mice being led through a maze of city streets as drawn out by the race directors.

Fortunately for me, starting from somewhere around the third mile, when I was still figuring out what my race speed should me, I found a “rabbit” to keep me on track and pace me for the duration of the race. In this case, the “rabbit” was a late 20s/early 30s female runner who passed me by in the second mile and was now running directly in front of me an arms length away. Over the next mile or so, it became evident that she was running at exactly the same pace I was as the distance between us never increased or decreased by more than a few feet. That’s when I decided to use her as my rabbit and to stay right behind her for as long as I could. Needless to say, I was thoroughly enjoying the scenery from back there and couldn’t stop studying and admiring her form and grace as I ran. If ever I’d find myself falling in love in the middle of a race, this would’ve been it. I was so impressed with her stamina and speed (the chick hung in front of me for a good 8 miles before I was able to pass her) that I promised myself that I’d congratulate her after the race if I run into her at the finish.

Aside from this unexpected treasure, the first 9 miles of the race was rather mundane. There was no crowd support (not that I was expecting any on a dreary Sunday morning), there was not much city scenery to be seen as the whole morning was foggy and dreary, and the course were at parts unpaved and treacherous, so you had to really pay close attention to the road in front of you. But despite all that, I was pretty excited through the first 2/3 of the race to be running comfortably, without pain, and with an outside chance at a PR.

At mile 10, my hopes for a great race were suddenly dashed as I felt the first drops of rain roll down my face. Pretty soon after, the road began to swell with water, my shoes/socks became wet, and I found myself slowing down and flapping around as if I was dressed in a wet suit preparing for a dive. A couple of runners, including my lady “rabbit” friend, retook their positions in front of me as I struggled to keep up. After passing mile 10 at a disappointing 6:56, I managed to hold off the demons temporary as we passed single-file through a ferry terminal and a marina. My “rabbit” had opened a bit of a gap on me and I was doing all I can just to hold on to my pace for the final stretch. Mile 11 was passed in 6:53 as we made the turn at the end of the marina to head back to the town center.

What I found after making that turn could only be described as cruel and unusual punishment. Ordinarily, the mild ascension up a half-mile long and gradual hill would hardly be worth mentioning, but given that a steady rain was falling and I could feel my toes starting to blister from the wet shoes and socks and the fact that the road was so unpaved and uneven it felt as I was running on metal spikes, the mismatch of circumstances became more than overwhelming for me. At that point in the race, I was too physically drained to put forth a resistance as I watched some more runners past me by. With each step, the uneven footing on the wet and soggy ground was causing my ankle to recoil with pain. It took forever (7:02) for me to make it through this mile and over through the transition back onto paved asphalt. I literally had nothing left as I raced through the last 1.1 on fumes to finish with a final gun time of 1:28:11.

After the race, I kept my promise, found my “rabbit”, and congratulated her on a fantastic race. She accepted my thanks sheepishly and remarked that my persistence in keeping a strong pace behind her propelled her to run her best race ever. Nice. I felt so good afterwards that I high-fived and congratulated some of the guys who finished in the same pack as I did. Overall, although I faltered in the last 3 miles and didn’t get the PR that I was hoping for, I had a positive experience at this race and learned a great deal about race pacing.

Final Statistics
Finishing Time – 1:28:11 (6:43 min/mi);
Pace – 6:43 min/mile; Age Graded % - 67.2;
Overall Place – 61/1348 (4.5%);
Gender Place – 56/771 (7.2%);
Age Group (30-34M) Place – 12/110 (10.9%)

19 comments:

Run For Life said...

Stupid rain, but hey, you still got under 1:30! I also like to find rabbits and it certainly is a plus when they're the opposite sex, haha.

J said...

That stinks about the rain, but it still was a good race! Great post.

jb24 said...

Despite the unfavorable conditions, you still ended up running a great time. Congrats and rest your injuries for a bit.

*aron* said...

great race!!! even though the rain made it bad at the end, it was still an awesome time and sounds like you enjoyed yourself :)

thanks for all the advice on the ITB, i have never felt it before until yesterday but i knew exactly what it was. hopefully it will go away!!!! i've been rolling, icing and stretching like a crazy person :) which stretches do you do for it? i can feel the stretches in the band part but not quite down more towards the knee where its hurting more.

Julianne said...

Oh, I had no idea that the person you're "chasing" in a race is called a "rabbit". That is a great term!! And great race report on your half marathon. I really enjoyed reading it. I used to live in NYC for about 2 years and really miss the area. (Not the weather, though.) I miss running in Central Park, for sure! Congrats on finishing at a really great time, even if that's not your PR. Next time!

"If ever I’d find myself falling in love in the middle of a race, this would’ve been it."
Great line! :-)

Betsy said...

It's going to be so romantic when you and the rabbit get married.

M*J*C said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog! Great post, how funny about the "rabbit"!!! I'm sure she was quite flattered!!!

Irish Cream said...

Ooooh La la! Congrats on a great race! And I do hope you got the rabbit's digits ;)

joyRuN said...

LOL! Was the rabbit as cute from the front as she was from the back?

Great times, as unprepared you said you were ;)

The Happy Runner said...

1:28 is super! Especially under less than ideal conditions and with all you've been dealing with on the knee/ankle front.

I always find race routes with lots of twists and turns tougher than those with lots of hills.

D10 said...

Way to work through the conditions. You had a great time. I think we can always learn something either about running or ourselves each race. Nice sportsmanship too!

Meg said...

Did you get her number?!
Congrats on running it under 1:30 despite the puddles in your shoes!
Thanks for the advice on my foot. It's definitely been feeling almost 100% and I've been laying off the NSAIDs as much as possible so hopefully I'll be ready for race day.

Chris said...

I found your blog whilst Googling through race reports for the Newport Liberty Half - I also ran it yesterday, although not in such a blisteringly fast time!

Between the weather, the lack of a start mat/ banner, the twisty course and the other issues (the lack of course port o potties really stuck out to me), you ran a truly great race! I hope your blisters heal up quickly - I've got a great one on my right foot, I'm thinking of naming it.

The Laminator said...

Thanks everyone for all your delightful comments.

Just to answer a few of your concerns, my conversation with "rabbit" was actually quite short as a bunch of her friends were just about to surround her as I was talking. So, sorry to kill the buzz, but no there were no digits or personal info exchange. I didn't even know her name until I got home to look up the results.

But she did look pretty good at the front side too, in case you're wondering...of course, I was already so mesmerized by the back side that it might have exaggerated the view =)

But like d10 said, the important thing is that I ran a good race and learned something about myself.

Trakmaniak said...

Hey congrats on the great time. As a person about a mile behind you I thought you looked rather good out there, with your IT issues and all. Still trying to beat you in a race...gosh, what is that for the year? 6-0 you?

Beware next year...ha!

You didn't tell me about this "rabbit" of yours...

Nitmos said...

Great race. This is right around the time I want to come in on my next half...whenever that may be. Need more work though. Congratulations on a great race!

Reluctant Runner said...

Hey, Laminator. Really enjoyed your race report and your blog. Your approach to running as a learning experience is refreshing and insighful. Thanks.

nyflygirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nyflygirl said...

little late to comment, but congrats!! you look to be in good shape for NYC :)

(btw-i said the same thing to BS too...but was the course really .2 mile long?)

 
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