Sunday, March 1, 2009

Not So Afraid After A Good Race
Race Report for Coogan’s Salsa, Blues, and Shamrock 5K Run

Well, okay, maybe I needn’t be so afraid of the 5K anymore. But in my defense, we are referring to the guy who was hesitant to sit in the first aisle of the New York New York roller coaster in Las Vegas even when it was available with no line, so I tend to approach any activity that would threaten the emission of my stomach contents in reverse peristalsis with much angst and trepidation. Actually, the most worrisome moments of today’s 5K occurred before the race, when I wasn’t sure if I was going to miss the start entirely, and after the race, when I wasn’t sure if there was going to be enough free beer leftover for me at Coogan’s…but, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here, so let me backtrack a bit…

There was a time, at about 6:30AM this morning, when I wasn’t sure if this race was even going to happen. I was staring outside my apartment window at the windshield of a minivan parked out on the street that was coated with a thin layer of snow. Up above, I could see thin white flakes falling softly but steadily from a heavy overcastted sky. My Flyer friend, BS, had just texted to say he’s sitting this one out, which meant that if I was going to race, I was going to have to find my own way up to Washington Heights. I gave a fleeting thought to sliding back under the warm bed covers but knew that I’d be sorely disappointed in myself if I allowed some wispy snow and a little cold to thwart my efforts at my inaugural 5K. Without a second’s hesitation, I quickly got dressed, checked the directions one last time, and headed out the door.

The first sign of trouble came when the crosstown bus did not come by for a good 20 minutes. Although I had left myself about an hour and a half to travel from my Upper East Side apartment to the race start in Washington Heights, I wavered back and forth between thinking it was too little time or too much time for the entirety of the trip. I was thinking I was still okay on time when I finally boarded the bus, but was frustrated that I had given away all my cushion time even before my trip had gotten under way. Upon reaching the West Side another 20 minutes later, I was shocked to find that the 1 train station on 86th Street was closed off. What? Why now? A paper stuck to a billoard on the subway station directed me to 96th Street, so I began first jogging then running the 10 blocks to catch the next train. Everything went smoothly after that, but by the time I got to the race start, I had less than ten minutes to find the baggage area, drop off my stuff, and get to my corral before the gun went off. As a result, I never got a chance to put in an adequate warmup which I knew would be critical for a fast start in a short distance race.

The wind had died down a bit and the snow reduced to occasional flurries by the time I lined up in my assigned corral near the starting line. As I waited for the national anthem to finish off the introductory ceremonies, I had only a few minutes to collect my thoughts as I looked around at the crowded field all around me. Runners of all shapes and sizes, of different genders and ethnicies, and all very very fast, began to engulf me in a collective mayhem as we inched closer to the starting line once the song ended. I reminded myself to run a steady pace and avoid the initial swarm as the horn sounded signaling the beginning of the race.

The course is essentially an out and back course on some avenues that weren’t wide enough to fit 2 cars through each way, much less a crowd of 4600+. Due to the massive field of runners, the narrow streets and the lack of a suitable warmup, I struggled a bit coming off the blocks. Out of the initial straightaway, I must have gotten clipped on my ankles on four or five different occasions which was somewhat disconcerting when you’re trying to build up speed. All around me, packs and packs of runners were racing past as if I was an old Chevy in the slow lane, even though I knew, despite my Garmin not working today, that I was moving at a sub 6:00 pace. I fought so hard to control my speed and nerves throughout that first mile. Even as the road changed from uphill than downhill after the first half mile and I dared myself to open my stride ever so slightly, I was still getting consistently passed, which was so very demoralizing to say the least. I tried to play them no mind but just focused on my stride, my cadence, and my breathing as if I was just running interval miles by myself on the treadmill, which I had done a few times this week in preparation for this race. After what felt like 10 miles instead of just one, I passed the first mile marker in 5:55.

The second mile started on a long downhill followed by a gradual uphill around a fort tower and then a longer ascent back from where we came. Psychologically, I knew this would be the toughest part of the race for me. The crowd had thinned just a bit so at least now I no longer had to worry about being trampled or clipped from behind and was free to run at my own pace. I allowed gravity and my legs to carry me fast through the long downhill portion then fought like hell to maintain my pace as I used a steady gait to climb back up the incline. It was only during this stretch of the course when I was probably the least comfortable that I was able to pass by a few runners. A few weeks ago, a teammate of mine had commented on how I look like a strong natural hill climber and today I used that knowledge to fight through all the demons that threatened to slow me down. Still, after the tumultuous climb when I thought I had regained some semblance of speed and confidence, I was utterly disappointed when I passed mile 2 in 6:08.

Honestly, I shouldn’t have been so devastated given that the bulk of that mile was uphill, but at that point of the race, I couldn’t stop fixating on that fact that I had just lost my chance at sub 6 min average pace for the 5K. Uggh! I remembered back to my workouts this week when I would pound out sub 5:50 mile intervals on the treadmills and felt as if I could be like Kara Goucher, racing and winning the short distance mile event at the Millrose Games even as she’s training hard for the Boston Marathon. As I watched 12:00 flash on the digital clock a few seconds before my arrival at the second mile marker, I chastised myself for having such foolish thoughts of grandeur earlier in the week. Ummm, Kara is a sprinter, a master of the short distance, long before she became a marathoner, while you my friend, are not. You, Laminator, are an imposter, a long distance runner who has no business competing amongst the jackrabbits. No wonder you’re so slow!

I had barely time to complete the last negative thought when the uphill mercifully ended and gave way to a long straight downhill. I took all the negative emotions I had and HAMMERED. IT. HOME. I didn’t dare look at anyone around me. I didn’t dare think. I didn’t even dare to see the one or two spectators yelling my name near the finish. I just ran. Faster and stronger than I ever had before. At one point, I felt my feet moving so fast that I felt as if my body inherited someone else’s legs. Towards the end of the race, when I felt myself moving through at close to maximum velocity, I had a feeling of euphoria and almost wanted to carry the pace for a little while longer. These inexplicable emotions carried me through the last 1.1 mile as I covered that distance in 6:31 and crossed the finish line in 18:34. I was dumbfounded a bit later when I found out that my time actually calculates to a 5:59 average pace for the 5K. Wow, and to think I had given myself such psychological grief for thinking I had missed out on sub 6 at mile 2. It’s a wonder why I would bother listening to myself in the middle of races anymore.

Following the race, after immediately checking the finishing area to see if my awesome finish had led to another’s unfortunate puking (Nope, no dice. So it is indeed a myth!), I found my bag, quickly changed, and headed over to Coogan’s around the block. Although there was a line wrapping around the corner by the time I got to Coogan’s, I was eventually able to squeeze into the bar. I celebrated my new life as a sub-6 average pacer with a hearty breakfast and some free brews with some Flyer teammates and a new blogger friend. (Hi, Irish!) Afterwards, it was on to another Flyer friend’s birthday lunch where I chowed down some more.

All-in-all, it was a good day for my first 5K. (And to think I almost gave up and slept in instead…)

Final Statistics
Finishing Time – 18:34; Average Pace – 5:59
Overall Place – 218/4696 (4.6%)
Gender Place – 192/2607 (7.4%)
Age Place – 30/811 (3.7%)
A.G. Time – 18:21 [70.2%]
Flyer Rank – 2/42


Cowboy Hazel said...

Nice work. I almost sat this one out too after seeing the snow (and worrying that they might turn it into a fun run.) You could have been writing my race report -- the crowds and that mile 2 hill both killed me too, but I somehow found a little burst at the end. Not quite as good of a burst as yours though... Again, great job on the sub-6 finish!

Michelle said...

Wow Lam!!!

My heart was beating fast as i was reading your race report.


Congrats on an amazing race and sub-6 pace!!!!

JohnnyGo said...

Great run -- sub 6, and no vomit -- can't beat that!

The Happy Runner said...

AWESOME! I was thinking you would go sub-6 min, especially after your 10miler pace. BTW, I always find that second mile to be the toughest.

Great job!!!

matpedw said...

Nice! That's pretty select sub 6 club you joined.
4000 plus runners on a 5k course!? Wow! I would have had an anxiety attack, but I still enjoy reading your tales of racing in a big city.

Anonymous said...

See, nothing to be scared of! Great job on the 5k. Sounds like a great weekend all around.

joyRuN said...

18:34 5K? And NO puke?



GREAT job & congrats!!

bill carter said...


I really understand where you are coming from. I don't mind running distance and am quite sure that is why I love the marathon so much. But I still fear the short, fast races. I don't know if it is the acute, high intensity of these races or the pain or the difficulty breathing or what.

Congratulations to you on overcoming something that I still fear.

BTW, I think you are an amazingly strong runner. I appreciate what you said on my site, but I would certainly be able to run at the speeds that you are now doing so regularly.

You are going to have a GREAT Boston. Wait for me at the finish!

Running and living said...

Congrats! That's such an incredible pace! Ana-Maria

Xenia said...

Fantastic inaugural 5K! Well done, Lam.

Mike G said...

Congratulations, 1834 is very fast. And sounds like it was not optimal conditions so even more so.

I know what you mean about feeling slow in that short distance compared to the Kara Gouchers and Haile Gebrselassies of the world (I think he started at 10ks and then moved on to marathons later in his career). But you did it. You nailed a fast one for the marathoners.

Jamie said...

Congrats on your first 5K! What an awesome job!!!

runner26 said...

glad you were able to save some room for the 2nd refueling ;) great race, Lam! congrats on your awesome time!

aron said...

WOW - AMAZING time!!!! congrats on your first 5k and sub 6 min AP!!

my 2nd mile is always my slowest in 5ks.

you seriously run some SPEEDY races looking at those stats - WOW.

M*J*C said...

AWESOME!!!! Great job, you are a total rock star!!!

Marci said...

Great job on your 5K Lam. You are so fast, and inspiring to other runners!

P.S- Thanks for your advice on my blog, I think I am going to run 18 or so this weekend instead of 22!

Run For Life said...

Sweeeeet, that's an awesome time, Lam! Congrats on a great race and what sounds like a good day all around.

Meg said...

Great job! You are so fast!!

sRod said...

Nice work! You may have a short-distance runner inside you after all!

Clicky Web Analytics