We interrupt this ongoing Q&A series to bring you a special report…A race report! Only this isn’t just any old report about any old race. It’s my own personal reflections on the Healthy Kidney 10K that took place this morning. Why is this race so important? Well, for one thing it is a professional race which draws a lot of international runners from all over the world, all vying for the $20K top prize for first place. For another, it is a points race for all the New York area running clubs. This means that the top dogs from all the local running clubs will be racing against each other to score points for their team and bragging rights over all the other clubs. Every year, this race gets so competitive that I’ve heard it referenced as The Throwdown in Central Park, The Rumble in Manhattan and The Six Mile Mayhem, just to name a few. For those in my running club who care about such things, it was important that I ran this race since by default and not by choice, I’m considered one of the top dogs in my club. For me, however, I was running this race with a slightly different agenda.
Unbeknownst to most other people because it happened Thursday in a dark underground bar out of earshot of most everyone else, a friend and fellow Flyer announced to me that I needed to be yelled at. This was somewhat curious to me since I hadn’t been yelled at out in public since the time I was at a bar and offered to run around an NYC block with an open can of beer only to be stopped by a cop standing right outside the front steps. I asked my friend what about my running offended her so, and she told me that I need to be yelled at for never acknowledging that I’m a “good” runner. “Oh, that again!”, I thought. I don’t quite remember what else she said (because I was already semi-drunk, not because I wasn’t paying attention) but I’m guessing it was about taking what I have for granted and about never being satisfied with my race results and race times. I know she was concerned because it seems like I’ve been racing so much this spring that I haven’t even allowed my body to physically heal after Boston. She probably senses my frustration at the diminishing returns I’ve seen in my spring races thus far, even if by other objective criteria, all my race times would be considered “good.”
I thought about her words for a long time that night and the next day (probably more than I ought to for a passing comment), trying to figure out if I had somehow lost my perspective as a runner. If I’m a marathoner, why am I so adamant on racing and performing well at all these short distance events. If I’m not, then I should stop pretending and just concentrate on the short stuff. All this switching between marathons, half-marathons, 4 milers and now a 10K is taking a physical toll on my body and leaving my mind a bit fatigued. Right now I feel I have my feet in both camps and as a result is really a master of none. So, I made up my mind the day before this race that I would use this 10K as a litmus test for my short distance racing. It had been exactly a year since the last time I ran a 10K, which coincidentally was also at this same race last year, and I wanted to see if I could put forth a good effort despite having run two grueling races in the previous two weeks and having had no time to train for this race. Last year I PR’d at this race and completed the last goal in my running Trifecta. This year I vowed to PR again if only to prove that my short game is up to par with my longer ones and I shouldn’t give up on running the shorter races just yet.
I woke up this morning especially jazzed for a good run. I had eaten the right foods, hydrated like a fish out of water, and slept like a boar the night before. I thought I gave myself plenty of time to get over to the start but still found myself scrambling to be on time. No matter, I thought to myself. I had eaten breakfast and gotten a good bottle of Gatorade in me on my way over so I knew I was fueled sufficiently for a good race. The weather was unseasonably mild on race morning which made conditions perfect for running. Unlike yesterday afternoon when it was sunny and hot when I went over to Randall’s Island for my easy 4 mile pre-race jog, there was a light breeze and plenty of cloud cover by the time I made it to my starting corral. Because the weather reports early this morning predicted rain in the late afternoon, the possibility of the skies opening up never really crossed my mind.
At The Start
I exchanged pleasantries with a few of the faster Flyer guys, and situated myself a couple of rows behind them. Although I’m miraculously a BLUE (first) corral runner today, I feel like anything but when I’m surrounded by the colored singlets of other racing clubs in the tri-state area. I perhaps should have dropped back to the RED (second) corral since I’m not as competitive as all the others and would feel less intimidated there, but by the time I recognized my lapse in judgment, the corrals had already collapsed, we were moving forward and the final instructions were being announced. Oh well, no choice now but to buckle down and run my own race. If my friend were listening, I’d offer her another reason why I’m not “good”. I feel so uncomfortable next to other runners who are!
The Race by Miles
Mile 1 - As soon as the horn sounded, I forgot about my own agenda and started to run. At first, I followed the pack around me as they scooted and danced around some slower runners. Although the field was packed with 7500+ participants, it wasn’t long before I found comfortable running space and hit my stride. I left my group and allowed others to pass. I was careful not to burst out of the gate but kept as much in the tank as I could running comfortably up the West Side. It was slightly discouraging to see packs of runners streaming by as I stuck to my own easy effort and resisted the gravitational pull of all the faster runners surging past. In my mind, I fooled myself into thinking I wasn’t racing against anyone but against the higher purpose of my own internal clock. [Mile 1 – 5:59]
Mile 2 – I was beyond shocked when I saw my time for Mile 1. My, oh my, this pace is faster than my start for last week’s 4 miler! This is against race protocol. Abort mission now! I warned myself as I fought like hell to gradually decrease the speed. The pacing plan as I had envisioned it before starting the race was to go out a bit below PR pace (6:20), keep it steady through the 5K, climb through Mile 4 with as little deviation as possible than burn down Cat Hill and sprint the last mile to an awesome finish, a PR, and a negative split. I was a bit disappointed that I ran out so fast but was intrigued that the effort and the pace felt so comfortable. I hear someone call out my name on the sideline and it startles me. I didn’t recognize the voice but felt grateful that even amongst this field of giants, little old me is not so anonymous. A little drizzle began to fall as I carefully maneuvered my way over to a water table to grab a drink. Being as uncoordinated as ever, by the time I got to pinching the top and taking a sip, barely any water remained. I tossed the cup away in frustration and continued back on the road. [Mile 2 – 6:11]
Mile 3 - This pace is better, but still not what I imagined I would be running here. Where was this speed when I needed it last weekend at the 4 miler? Instead of getting upset, I decide mid-race to see the bright side of things. My lightning quick first two miles means I’m about forty seconds ahead of PR pace. Wahoo! Suddenly, the rain which began as a light drizzle in the middle of mile 2 turned into a monsoon-like downpour! I’m charging up and down the first portion of Harlem Hill, trying to tread through the wet treacherous pavement as carefully as I can. I tell myself not to get flustered but remain calm even as I’m starting to feel the wetness affecting my stride. Miraculously, within five minutes, the rain disappears just as suddenly as it came. "Instant air conditioning," I thought as I crossed the mile 3 marker. [Mile 3 – 6:20]
Mile 4 – Just as the rain stops, I begin the climb up the second portion of Harlem Hill. From reviewing my race report and notes from last year, I knew this was going to be the hardest mile of the entire course. Not only is there an elevation gain of more than 70 feet right at the outset, there are a number of smaller climbs throughout this trek which draws comparisons to the Newton Hills of the Boston Marathon Course condensed into a single mile. Last year, I labored through this mile in 6:46, some 29 seconds slower than the previous mile, and 23 seconds above my average pace for the race. This year, I was more much prepared and used some of the energy I had kept in reserve in the earlier miles to maintain a faster and steadier pace. I saw some Flyer supporters right at the mile marker which thrilled me to no end. I gave them a thumbs up sign as I triumphantly strolled through. [Mile 4 – 6:30]
Mile 5 – I knew I was supposed to fly through this mile with Cat Hill close by and the end not too far ahead, but since I knew by now that I was in store for a big PR day, I didn’t have the heart to be reckless and tempt fate by running too fast and risking a leg cramp. I considered myself fortunate that up until now, my right hamstring and knee, which had given me trouble in varying degrees in my past two races, have been functioning admirably without complaint. Even through the rolling gauntlet of the Central Park Hills, my body was passing through injury-free. I was grateful and very happy. It didn’t matter to me that a few guys and gals were speeding past me now. I am on cloud 9, keeping the effort, tempering my pace, and running my own race, on my way to a grand PR. [Mile 5 – 6:17]
Mile 6 and The Finish – Alas, even knowing you’re near the end, the last mile and change can be quite grueling. I feel the culmination of general fatigue from running three races in three consecutive weeks and find the gas tank somewhat empty to fuel a final kick. A few runners pass me in the interim. A quarter mile later, I pass some of them right back as I am determined to run strong to the finish. The distance markers pass by deceptively slow. 800m to go…400m…I dig deep and hold off the surge of a female runner trying to pass me. 200m…I see the fluorescent digits on the clock above the finish line flicker 39:00 and realize that I’m within striking distance of sub-39. I drive my arms, lengthened the stride and quicken the pace in a mad dash toward the finish. I clench my teeth and fist and absorb the cheers from the crowd as I completely empty the tank and power through the final meters. Once over the mat, I slump over on the side, collect my breath and check the Garmin. The time 38:59 smiles back at me. I had done it! [Mile 6 – 6:21; Last .2 – 1:16]
Final Race Statistics
Finishing Time – 38:59 (0:45 PR!)
Average Pace – 6:17 min/mi
Overall Place – 253/7532 (3.4%)
Age Group Place – 48/1669 (2.9%)
Age Group % - 69.6
NY Flyers Rank – 6
Just to give you all a sense of how competitive this race was, compare my result this week to that of last week. Last week, I didn't even run a PR but ended up in 33rd place overall. This week, I ran a big PR and ended up 48th...in my own age group! Wow, how crazy!
Still, I’m quite proud of my performance in this race since it is my 3rd PR in my past 5 races and second in the last three weeks. Despite not scoring for my running club (top five individual times score) and not pulling off a negative split, it really was a good confidence booster for me as I head toward the summer. (On a side note, I am also psyched that I finally completed one of the goals for the Laminator Pentathalon I invented as part my 2009 Running Resolutions – 10K in 39:00. Wahoo!)
As for the question of whether I’m as “good” in the short races as I am in the longer ones, I think it remains to be answered. I think I still have so much to learn in both arenas that I know I haven’t as yet discovered my full potential. “Good” just isn’t something I’m willing to entertain as long as I know there’s room for improvement.
One of my other friends told me at the finish after hearing about my PR today that even if I’m not the fastest runner he knows, I’m definitely the most versatile. My response to him: Dude, you just don’t know enough runners =P
Have a great weekend everyone and thanks for reading my race report!