Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Running Gift:
Race Report for the 2009 Bronx Half Marathon

The Bronx Half Marathon is the second of a five-part grand prix series of half-marathon races held annually in each of the boroughs of New York City. The first installment occurred two weeks ago in Central Park, where I finished the 13.1 mile torture test in 1:29:06. (You can revisit that race report here.) I call it a torture test because the temperature that day was in the teens with wind chill in the single digits, and it was all I could do to move my body so it wouldn’t freeze until after the finish. Although I was satisfied with my time for that race given the brutal conditions, I felt exhausted and winded less than halfway into the race, which I took as a sign that I was not as prepared to tackle the distance as I thought I was.

Fast forward to this morning.

After a couple more speedwork sessions and a longish tempo run mid-week, I felt somewhat more prepared to have a good race. My objectives for the race were twofold. First, I wanted to improve upon my Manhattan Half time by a minute. This would put me somewhere in line with where I was at the middle of marathon training last season. Second, I wanted to make sure I run well and strong because I was dedicating this race to a friend who was celebrating her 26th birthday. And since I couldn’t celebrate with her since she lives in an island far far away in the middle of nowhere, I told her I’d think of her as I run half her age in miles to commemorate her special day.

We were blessed today with exceptionally good weather as runners from all over the city packed subway cars and migrated like nomads on the annual pilgrimage to the Bronx. Although there was still the occasional gusts of wind that brought a chill to the early morning air, none of us were complaining with the 54° F temperatures and clear skies that greeted us at the starting line. After some NYRR announcements, the singing of our national anthem, and the shortest race directions I’d ever heard – “Umm, people, just follow the guy in front of you…”, the starting horn sounded, and we were off!

I started the race thinking I really should use the first few miles as a warmup. There were three good reasons for this: First, this was a brand new course for me. Second, I was told to expect a lot of hills. And third, because my last go-around through Central Park inadvertently turned into a limbo run - with each successive mile faster than the last - in which I felt unexpectedly strong throughout and so thought that there was a small chance I might be able to run this half in a negative split. Well, that theory went straight out the backdoor in a hurry when I passed the first 3 miles in 6:13, 6:14, and 6:18 respectively. What the heck! At the time, I was quite surprised by those times because I felt I was still running easy. Hmm…could it be that I’d just been underestimating my racing abilities all along? In retrospect, this was a dumb thought at mile 3 because it was still too early to have grandiose illusions of yourself and because any novice runner would have realized that we’ve been losing altitude since we started, which meant that all those numbers don’t really count because they were gravity-assisted and only serve as appetizers for the steady diet of hills waiting in the wings.

No sooner after having such thoughts did I turn the corner onto the Mosholu Parkway and was greeted immediately by one giant uphill, and then another, and then another. Over the next successive four miles, I just remember climbing and climbing, not knowing when the end was in sight. (I'm including the elevation profile from the race so you can see what I mean.) My mile times reflected this too, as they inflated to 6:33, 6:38, 6:46, and 6:45 respectively. I remember hurting so bad and feeling so miserable during mile 5 and 6 that I wanted so bad just to stop and walk. But then I thought again about why I’m running this race and what kind of “gift” I’d be sending my friend if I couldn’t put in a respectable performance. Luckily, for me, much of this course consisted of long out-and-back roadways, which allowed runners to see each other coming back on the opposite side. It was all I could do to draw inspiration from my fellow Flyer teammates to push through the monotony and the pain.

After mile 7, we made another hairpin turn onto the Grand Concourse. Here, we were greeted not only with more rolling hills, but also a strong headwind blowing directly at us. The two miles leading to the turnaround was downright brutal. I don’t remember anything from that section of the course other than inaudible voices from the deeper recesses of my memory reminding me when my friend use to say “From where I from, we eat hills like these for breakfast!” So I pushed, pushed, and pushed (Mile 8 at 6:43) until I finally passed the Mile 9 marker at the turnaround point at 6:44.

At this point, I decided to take the next mile a bit slower for recovery. I was exhausted from the long climb and needed to cruise a bit before the final push toward the finish. Besides, we were heading back now and I wanted to catch as many of my Flyer teammates coming up the other side as possible. It was so great to see so many familiar faces as I ran by. It made this race feel so much more of a communal affair than any of the others that I had participated in recently. And even though I was struggling internally, I waved and smiled at everyone I recognized because I think they absorb as much positive energy from me as I do from them. My respite caused me only a few second as I passed the Mile 10 marker at 6:49, but it was all I needed to recharge my batteries for the final stretch.

After 10, I knew that all that stood between me and the finish line was a short 5K. I didn’t know what my average pace was or what my projected finishing time was, nor did I care. Absolute time wasn’t going to be a goal for me today, as I just wanted to keep my time around 1:28. I knew I had lost some time in the debacle on the Concourse but told myself that I’d be in the clear if I can keep my last three miles under 6:40 pace. Conveniently, mile 11 and 12 were net downhills, so I dared myself to open my stride and recover some of the time I had lost in the preceding miles. During these miles, I passed by more than a dozen runners that had so rudely passed me by in the earlier miles. Mile 11 came and went at 6:30 while Mile 12 lingered for a few seconds longer at 6:38. Finally, on the final mile and .1, I thought about how fortunate I feel not to have given up at mile 5, how beautiful this 55 degree day in the middle of February was, how blessed I feel to be able to run this race with so many Flyer teammates, how wonderful my friend will feel after I tell her about my “gift” run and picked up the pace exponentially towards the finish. As I approached the final .1 mile, I didn’t dare look up at the clock as I found myself in a dead sprint with two other guys. I was able to nick both of them just in the last moments as the announcer declared me the winner in the little group. Time for final 1.1 mile was 7:11, good for 6:32 pace.

It wasn’t even until minutes later when I recovered my senses again and checked my Garmin did I find out the awesome truth. My final finishing time for my half marathon was 1:26:11!!! How funny is that? Such perfect symmetry. Needless to say, I was tickled silly.

So there it is. A Bronx tale of how I ran 13.1 miles in 1:26 to celebrate, in spirit, with my runner blogger friend on her 26th birthday!

Happy Birthday, F.L.!

Final Statistics
Finishing Time – 1:26:11
Average Pace – 6:34; Age Graded % - 68.8
Overall Place – 103/3668 (2.8%)
Age Place – 25
Flyers Place – 2

19 comments:

Andrew is getting fit said...

That's a great gift and a great race report.

Cowboy Hazel said...

That's a great time for such a tough, hilly course. Congrats! And, as always, great race report.

aron said...

awesome job on another speedy race!

X-Country2 said...

What a great day to run! Awesome race report, and congrats on your excellent finish.

Frayed Laces said...

Does that race come with a gift receipt?

Uggh said...

Great blog! I read some of your other race reports too. You seem to run, and run well, for all the right reasons. I'm inspired

D10 said...

I really enjoy reading your race reports! This one was nice sicne I knew the roads you ran on. My parents grew up in the Bronx.

bill carter said...

Hi Lam

Great race and a great time! You are right on course for a great Boston.

Chic Runner said...

Great race report and another quick time! You continue to kill it out there. :)

Marci said...

Wow hilly course, great job! Thanks for the race report.

Marie said...

Good job! You sure did get lucky with the beautiful weather!

The Happy Runner said...

Wow, wow, wow! Great job! That's awesome! And what a nice gift.

joyRuN said...

What a great present for FL!

Awesome report too :)

runner26 said...

Great race!! Wow!

pigtailsflying said...

I am happy that someone had a good race that day! It gives me hope.

J said...

You just keep running faster and faster!! Great job!

Run For Life said...

Haha, that's awesome!

sRod said...

Great job on the race!

Michelle said...

Hey that is amazing time!!!

Is it a PR for you???

http://runningdowndreams.wordpress.com/

 
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