Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Halfway to Redemption
Race Report from the Long Branch Half Marathon

Before I conclude my thoughts and give a synopsis of what went on after I crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon, let me take a short break (from what some are calling my own narcissistic pity party) and tell you all about the half-marathon I ran this weekend. Now, I know there are many who question my decision to run this race so soon after Boston. In fact, a concerned blogger last week e-mailed to ask “Um, Lam, what kind of recovery program is this?” But I figured that since I’ve run this race once before (see Exhibit A – last year’s race report) and know that the course is pancake flat plus the fact that many of my friends would be out there running either the full or the half with me, I could just do this as a fun run if I really didn’t feel well and still enjoy myself. Besides, if the weather cooperated, there was the possibility of turning race day into a full beach day. Now, how fun would that be? So yeah, in the end, the decision to run this race was really a no-brainer.

Heading Down to the Jersey Shore
Because Long Branch is located in the southern New Jersey as part of the Jersey Shore, it is actually quite far away from the city. On race morning, those of us traveling down from NYC had to wake up at 3-4am to take the 5AM NJ Transit train that would take us to a station that was within walking distance of the start of the race. Although I had only about 4 hours of sleep the night before and couldn’t doze off on the train for the life of me, I was still feeling quite awake and ready to race by the time we got to Long Branch. I dropped off my bag at the expo, went to a portapotty one last time, and headed over to the race start. Since there were no corrals or waves or even designated pace markers, I was anxious to start near the front to avoid the inevitable congestion after the gun goes off. On my stroll over to the front from the back, I ran into JoyRun, who was running the full marathon. We chatted for only a few seconds because the scheduled start was only minutes away and I needed to find my buddies near the front. Little did I know that once I carefully situate myself where I thought I should be near the front of the pack, there was a 28 minute delay to the start of the race. Apparently, there was an accident on one of the roads we’d be running through. So we had to wait for a police escort to guide them out and re-clear the roads before starting. After many false-starts and more stalling by the M.C., the countdown finally ensued at 7:58AM. A few moments later, we were off and running!

Miles 1-5
Winds and rains dominated the weekend forecast for much of the northeast, and we knew even before we arrived that Long Branch would be the same. Although the rains hadn’t yet officially come in by the start of the race, it started to sprinkle by mile 2 and continued to rain off and on pretty much the entire day. Knowing that I was facing a bad weather day and with my physical recovery from the marathon not fully complete, I established very modest expectations for myself at the beginning of this race. My goal was simply to redeem myself somewhat from my disappointment at Boston by proving that I am a better runner now than I was last year. In order to do that, I wanted to run this exact race in almost the exact weather at a faster time. For reference, I ran this race in 1:27:28 (6:40 avg pace) in last year’s race, which at the time was a 28 second PR for me. I also wanted to implement my new half-marathon racing strategy of running the first ten miles at a good and comfortable pace before gradually picking it up in the last 5K until I’m running at top speed by the last 1.1 mile. I have learned from my early 2009 race experiences that this racing style not only lends itself to fast and strong finishing times when the plan is well executed but it also trains the body to run negative splits over the long haul. Anything beyond these goals would just be more icing on the proverbial cake.

Early on in this race, even though I felt I was letting the elites take off while consciously holding back to run within myself, the first mile still ended a bit too fast for me. But instead of carrying through and holding on to this blistering pace like I’m apt to do in previous races, I slowed myself down purposely to a more manageable pace over the next two miles. By mile 4, I felt I had hit my zone and was happy with where I was in terms of my leg cadence, heart rate and breathing. Traveling behind a pack of three younger girls who were running side-by-side a few steps in front of me, I was quite comfortable just to stay where I was, take in the scenery and just drift. By the end of mile 5, almost unintentionally, I realized I was carrying a PR pace and feeling great.

Mile 1 – 6:12
Mile 2 – 6:23
Mile 3 – 6:27
Mile 4 – 6:33
Mile 5 – 6:33

Miles 6-10
Unfortunately, somewhere in mile 6, when the rain started to get heavy and I found myself having to dodge puddles on the street, my right hamstring and knee started acting up again. The involved muscles, which were the same one as those that cramped during the Boston marathon, weren’t actively screaming so much as just merely complaining and letting me know that racing a half marathon less than two weeks after racing a full really isn’t such a good idea. Sadly, I had to let the girls go as well as about a dozen other runners as I forced myself to decrease my cadence to a turnover rate that would appease my right leg. Again, I had to deal with the awkward feeling of allowing my legs to dictate what my heart and lungs couldn’t in the middle of a race. It took me about three miles to get readjusted to this new slower pace. By mile 9, as I rode the only blip in elevation for the entire course and passing back a few people, I gradually realize that my legs were no longer being so disagreeable. I charge the hill a bit harder and take the descent a bit faster. I take a GU in three bites and anticipate slowly speeding up and taking control of the last 5K.

Mile 6 – 6:42
Mile 7 – 6:45
Mile 8 – 6:45
Mile 9 – 6:39
Mile 10 – 6:35

Miles 11-13.1
I had wanted someone to focus on overtaking as I prepared to run the last 5K progressively faster than the miles before. But since we were so spread out by this point that I haven’t been in shouting distance of passing or being passed in the last mile and half, I turn inwardly for my motivation to keep running faster. Luckly, the last couple miles of the course is sort of out-and-back, allowing me to see and interact with runners at mile 6-8 on the other side of the double yellow line as they came toward me. Honestly, I was running too fast to pick out any recognizable faces amidst the crowd, but I must have heard my name being called out at least a dozen times within that mile. I felt bad not knowing sometimes who called me but figured I’d thank them later when they identified themselves. I did get to see JoyRun again, looking strong running her marathon, which was so inspiring to see. Eventually, I crossed the bridge, made a left and found myself on the boardwalk again bounding for home. Once I knew I was on the cusp of a great race with only a mile or so left to go, I dropped the hammer and ran as fast as I could down the straightaway to the finish line. Although there was no one to pass and my footing was precarious on the wet pavement, I finish the race strong and with fervor. I can say I held nothing back in that final mile and finished with a much better time than I expected…and a new half-marathon PR!

Mile 11 – 6:29
Mile 12 – 6:27
Mile 13.1 – 6:40 (6:03 pace)

Final Statistics
Gun Time – 1:25:22
Chip Time – 1:25:16 (PR by 0:28)
Average Pace - 6:30 min/mi
Overall Place – 34/4636 (0.7%)
Age Group Place – 7/282 (2.5%)

The funny thing about these results was the fact that even though I achieved my goal and ran almost 2 and a half minutes faster this year than last, my age group placement remained exactly the same and my overall placement dropped by 8 places! Seriously? Is racing really getting that much more popular or do the really fast guys just intuitively know which races I’m entered in so they can gang up and make me feel generally incompetent. Haha! I am loving and savoring my new PR because I think it was well-earned and legitimizes my contention that I’m a better runner this year than I was last year (and still improving!), but still, I can’t help but wonder what I’d ever have to do to have a chance to hang with the top dogs.

Congrats to all the road warriors who ran such great races this weekend. There are a lot of great race reports out there this week (and too many for me to even attempt listing them all). I’m getting excited to move on from Boston in anticipation of my next marathon just reading you guys.


Run For Life said...

SWEET!!! I'd say that's some tasty icing on the cake! Seriously, a 2+ mins. PR in RAIN...after 26.2...and a whiny hamstring/knee combo?! You better be feeling proud of that. :)

That is odd about age placement should go run a race in Nebraska or something, haha.

Also, I am jealous you got to meet Joy!

carpeviam said...

Great "come back" race, Doc! Well played and well run.

You seem happy with those lap splits, as you should be.


joyRuN said...

You looked great flying down that last mile!! Congrats on a great finish :) Great to meet you.

Irish Cream said...

Awesome job, Lam! I am so glad you had a much better day in Long Branch than I did . . . that is an AMAZING accomplishment considering you're just bouncing back from Boston! Can't wait to see what's next!

J said...

Congrats on the PR! And after just running the marathon! You are one awesome dude!!

Xenia said...

Fantastic finish! Well done, Lam.

Michelle said...

Great job on the PR my friend!!!

Heather said...

Great race and awesome job. I am impressed and inspired!
Of course I'm to use you as an example and say to myself, "Well, if Lam ran so well in a half just a few weeks after Boston, surely that means I can resume training as well!"

Congrats and I hope you have chased the Boston demons away. You did a stellar job in both races and should be nothing but proud of your achievements.

The Happy Runner said...

AWESOME! Congrats on the PR!

carrie said...

Awesome job! My husband also ran Boston, and then ran a half this past Saturday. He had his fastest time in 15 years...those hills in Boston must make it easy to attack the flat courses! Congrats on the PR.

lindsay said...

alright. you lost my sympathy. wahhh i ran a "slow" 3:02 marathon, and then pr'd in a half less than 2 weeks later. boo hoo lam ;)

nice racing! and so soon after boston! and in the rain... and a pr... you are a machine. just think if you had real fresh legs! congrats on the pr and a great race. hope the mopey thoughts have been evicted!

Spike said...

Great race! Nothing better than runnning in the rain and smashing a pr! Oh, and I hate when the speedy guys show up in my ag and take away my awards.

Vava said...

Well done, Lam! If it makes you feel any better you make me feel REALLLLLLLL slow!

M*J*C said...

For REAL?!?!?!?!? You totally ROCK! Your attitude and goals for this race (and then your performance) are all completely admirable! Great job, you totally deserved another PR!

Nitmos said...

Damn, you are on fire!

Wonder what you could have done with a little more rest/preparation for this?

Running and living said...

Wow, this is awesome. I completly understand the urge to race so soon after the Boston marathon. Glad things worked out so well. And I agree with Nitmost - what would your 1/2m time be with more rest? I can only imagine:) Ana-Maria

Jamie said...

Congrats on the PR speedy! ANd only 2 short weeks after Boston and a bum hammie. Way to go!

Ted said...

Terrific post race report and Congrats on the PR.

Chic Runner said...

Congrats on yet another great race, and so close to boston! Amazing job! :) You are so quick and you'll be back sooner than you know it, Personally I think you're back already!

Robert James Reese said...

Nice race. It's good to see that you recovered after slumping a bit in the middle miles. That time puts you 2.5 minutes away from qualifying for NYC on time (the half requirement is 1:23:00 assuming you're in the same age group as me.) So, there's another carrot dangling in front of you to chase. :-)

Oh, and I think it's fine to race this early after a marathon. I ran a race last fall 4 days after my marathon and it was one of my best ever. A great way to push aside the heartbreak of the marathon (as it sounds like you were able to do here.) Good work.

Susan said...

Congrats on an awesome race!! What a great race, especially so soon after Boston. I'm guessing that means the injury isn't flaring up anymore? (Knock on wood!!)

FLYERS26 said...

Man what a great race you ran!
I PR'd also at the LB1/2, so it was a great day for both of us.

Best of luck with your future races. Always good to see runners you know at a race. I also met up with Joy & JoyHub before the race.

Abby said...

Thanks for your note - sounds like you had a great day out there on Sunday! Hope your legs are on the mend - I imagine they have some recovery to do after two hard races in a row!

Anonymous said...

Great job! Racing in the rain is so fun, isn't it?

aron said...

nothing like getting over some post marathon blues with a half marathon PR! awesome job :) sounds like it was a great race.

bill carter said...


Amazing results! You just did Boston a couple weeks ago and there is no way your legs are even remotely recovered and you still ran a great time. Don't worry about the age group stuff as that is totally out of your hands. I have had kind of lousy times in races and won trophys and run really well and not even come close.

Best of luck with your recovery Lam!

Mike G said...

6:30 avg pace - I am very envious of that number!

X-Country2 said...

Recovery shmacovery! Great race.

sRod said...

FANTASTIC work out there. In the rain no less. You should be very, very proud.

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