Monday, September 21, 2009

Catching The Rabbit:
Race Report from the 2009 Queens Half Marathon

(Yes, I ran a half marathon yesterday and yes, I’m sorry this is coming to you a day late!)

The way the morning began, I had every excuse NOT to run a good race. Between the 7AM race start in a remote pocket of Queens not accessible by public transportation (at least not in the wee hours on a Sunday morning) and the limited number of shuttle buses (two) that was ill-equipped to handle the running masses arriving via the subway, I consider it a minor miracle that I arrived at my corral at 6:58, exactly 2 minutes before the start of the race. Never mind that I waited for a bus pickup at the shuttle stop for more than 45 minutes for a ride that normally requires 10. Never mind that when I finally arrived at the starting area, I had so little time left that I was forced to run around like a chicken without a head to find the baggage area, drop off my bag and race like hell just to get to my starting corral. By the time I lined up next to some Flyers waiting for the starting horn to sound, even though I was slightly out of breath from all the pre-race running, I was just happy that I eventually found myself exactly where I needed to be at the sound of the starting horn.

Miles 1-3 (M1 – 6:32; M2 – 6:17; M3 – 6:28)
My game plan for this race, formulated on the bus ride over when I was as sure that I was going to be late as I was that yesterday was Sunday, was to establish and hold a consistent pace through the entire race. Since I had done this race once before, and was familiar with the curvy and hilly topographical nature of the course, I knew this was NOT going to be a PR day. Coupled with the fact that I had not done a consistent tempo run for longer than a mile since the middle of last month, I was hesitant to push the pace to an extreme and risk burning out toward the last portion of the race. As long as I felt comfortable running, paced well enough to have a good last mile sprint, and beat my time from my last half marathon (in Brooklyn; 1:26:27), I would be extremely satisfied. The PR attempt will come in a few weeks when I travel to Staten Island for the final leg of the NYRR Half-Marathon Grand Prix series.
If I had any lingering thoughts of P.R.-ing, it melted away as soon as I passed the start. Because I was rather late to the corrals, I found myself much further back in the pack than I wanted to be. From the faces of people I recognize surrounding me, I could tell it’d be a struggle for most of this crowd to run 1:35, much less 1:30 like I was hoping for. Still, staying true to my word, I didn’t dodge and weave. I didn’t get irritated. I just ran with the people I was with until I saw some opening that I could comfortably take. It helped that the first big hill came off of the first turn as soon as we exited the park because it slowed down my neighbors some as I took the hill at my comfortable pace. It helped me move steadily toward the front, passing by many racers and Flyers in the process. I was slightly embarrassed and felt somewhat uncomfortable moving so effortlessly by as I watch some familiar faces struggle climbing the big hill. I thought about yelling something encouraging but I really didn’t to be thought of as THAT guy, the only who’s cocky and bubbly at the start only to fade and sulk at the end. So I minded to my own business at hand and made my way up the pack until I found others running a similar pace. It took me nearly all of the first mile to find my place, and didn’t feel comfortable with my effort and pace until nearly all of the second.

Mile 4-6 (M4 – 6:33; M5 – 6:28; M6 – 6:37)
I found my rabbit early on in the third mile, the one who I’d be trading places with and inadvertently battling for the rest of the race.
To be honest, I never thought of her as a worthy adversary when I initially found myself running behind her in the early miles. With her long sleeve beige shirt that matched the color of her hair and thick legs which complemented her heavy stride, I thought she was more suitable to be my track partner than for racing with me on the road. We ran even paces for the flats but at completely different speeds up and down the hills. For the most part, I’d pass her regularly climbing up, feeling pretty good about myself, only to have her completely smoke by me during the long descents. It’d be somewhat hilarious if it weren’t so embarrassing. Because the number of noxious hills on this course doubled the number of miles within it, I had multiple opportunities to adjust my strategies. I tried slowing a bit on the ascent, opening my stride on the descent, or running fartleks for short burst of speed. But everything I tried was to no avail. I never really gained on her and she kept herself always just slightly ahead of me. By about mile 6 and 7, I was mentally fatigued and annoyed. By mile 10, I was beyond impressed. No matter what happened after that, I reminded myself to congratulate my rabbit after the race.

Mile 7-9 (M7 - 6:24; M8 – 6:26; M9 – 6:35)
Aside from toying with my rabbit, I was in my own little paradise running this race. The weather was absolute perfect for running and I felt completely comfortable keeping my speed right around my PR pace of 6:30. I slowed during the uphills and surged through through the downhills. I cut tangents on the 61 (yes, someone counted) right angle turns that the course provided, drank water/Gatorade at all the mile markers and for the first time in a long time savored the pure joy of running fast. I breathed the fresh air, watched the beautiful homes roll by, and focused on keep my form as smooth and efficient as possible. At mile 9, I heard my name being yelled and some of my neighbors cheering from the sidelines. I chuckled at their boisterous enthusiasm and sped up ever so slightly. Although some would complain afterwards that this section contained the most treacherous peaks and valleys of the course, I enjoyed this scenic tour of Whitestone as the beautiful landscaping, magnificent homes and the glistening bay made for some breath-taking views for those who bothered to pay attention to the scenery around them.

Mile 10-12 (M10 – 6:35; M11 – 6:36; M12 – 6:52)
Coming up through the backstretch, I noticed I was fatiguing ever so slightly. I know this because things that I found amusing just a few miles ago started to bother me out of the blue. I was puzzled by the mile markers that were all running slightly long. I no longer cared for meandering through side streets which made me feel like a lab rat stuck in a never-ending maze. Even my new performance shoes (Asics Gel-Speedstar 3) which I bought this week and really loving for the first 9 miles, started to cause some mild midfoot pain at mile 10. I located my rabbit, who was about 200-300 feet ahead of me at this point, downed a gel slowly over the next quarter mile and quickened my pace a bit to give chase.

Mile 13 And The Finish (Last 1.1M – 6:56)
After registering that horrendous last mile split, which I could have sworn was measured incorrectly, I made up my mind to leave my comfort zone and start my kick towards the finish. Unfortunately, NYRR had other ideas as it designed two quick steep uphill climbs at the start of this mile. “Oh, this is just cruel!” I thought as I eased my effort and slowed a bit to tackle them. Once over the hills, I spotted some people I wanted to pass. First, I sped by some tall guy who was panting so audibly loud that I couldn’t hear my other breathing. Then I spotted another guy wearing a Flyers jersey and took him down also with a half mile to go. I was imagining myself running a Yasso 800 at this point, gaining speed, and running faster and faster with each step. Eventually, I found myself about 100 feet behind my rabbit again with a quarter of a mile to go. Up ahead, I can barely make out the park and the blue finish line banner. People were lining the sidelines and cheering loudly by this point. Because I consider myself now a Queens native, I pretended a portion of those cheers were for me, even if in the back of my mind I knew better. No matter. I was finally gaining on my rabbit! We approached the park, the cheers got louder, I got excited and pushed a bit harder still. Finally, we passed the mile 13 marker and enter the park. I am now directly behind her. Above the boisterous crowd cheering and clapping wildly, I hear the announcement, “Ladies and Gentleman, bring your hands together for our first female runner approaching the finish line!” I almost stopped dead on my tracks and suddenly everything made sense. I was being paced this whole race by the first overall female runner! Oh my gosh…what an honor! As we approached the finish, race officials were directing me toward the left lane to make way for her to cross the tape held out for her on the right side. Light bulbs flashed in every direction. I thought about running directly behind her all the way through but at the last second thought better of it. I allowed my speed burst to carry me all the way over my side of the finish line just in front of her.
After catching my breath and grabbing a sip of water, I returned to the finish line to pay my respects to the rabbit. Unfortunately, she was nowhere to be found. I figured she must have been siphoned off to a VIP area immediately after crossing the finish. It’s too bad really because I thoroughly appreciated her efforts at inadvertently pacing me to an awesome time at this race. If I had a chance, I would have loved to ask if she also was training for NYCM and whether she’d mind running that marathon just slightly ahead of me for that race as well…

Final Assessment
On a personal note, I am very proud of the race I ran today as my 1:25:27 finish represents my second fastest time in a half marathon and just 11 seconds off of my PR race from early May. So despite late start, nagging turns, tumultuous hills and my nagging doubts, I ran a very smooth and efficient race for myself today. Oh, and with this race, I finished another 60+ mile training week and scored my second consecutive highest mileage training week ever! Yeah, can you imagine if I actually tapered for this race? I am preparing to run the Staten Island Half as my PR attempt in one month so we’ll see if adequate rest and a flatter course will be enough to carry me to a sub-1:25. If not, maybe I can find my rabbit and invite her to pace me again next year!

Here’s a picture of me with my teammates after the finish. I’m on the left with a lame attempt at color coordination with my yellow bandanna, yellow souvenir shirt, yellow shoes (not shown), and the biggest goofy smile this side of Queens!

Final Statistics
Finishing Time – 1:25:27; Pace – 6:31 min/mi
Overall Place – 73/5072 (1.4%)
Gender Place – 73/2852 (2.6%)
Age Group Place – 19/597 (3.2%)
Age Grade – 69.5%
Flyers Men – 1st Place


carpeviam said...

You totally TOTALLY rocked it! Way to go and congrats!

I love when the weather works in my favor for a great race.


joyRuN said...

Nicely done, Lam. Good thing you didn't need to hit the portapots before the race with a scant 2 minutes to spare :)

Stacy said...

OMG!!! Awesome half you had. You had me at every word. I almost felt like I was reading a book.... don't laugh, but this entry's writing, especially the part where you said you found our rabbit was very similar to that of Stephanie Meyer's writing when the vampires were preying on the humans. Sorry. Okay. I'll stop. LOL Anyways, good job and I hope to get to where you are at someday! Way to go!

Anonymous said...

awesome race report! Well done! sounds like it was a fun race too.

B.o.B. said...

Great job Lam! I love your yellow matching. (The great job was about the race, but great job on the yellow! LOL! It's my favorite color.)

I hope you find that rabbit she would be an awesome training partner for you.

Congrats on a race well run.

Jamie said...

Wow! You had an awesome race despite all the other stuff happening. Congrats on the race and another high mileage week. I can't wait to see what you'll do when you actually rest before a race!

Anonymous said...

Great job Lam! That should give you some confidence that your legs are back! And I know what you mean about getting annoyed in races although that's usually when I know I'm pushing it!

Morgan said...

Sometimes I giggle when you fess up to having setbacks during a race because you ALWAYS end up running it faster than I could ever dream! Great job!!!

aron said...

AWESOME job!!! this should be a BIG confidence boost for you going into the final stages of tough training. i can definitely see a PR in your upcoming future :)

sooo cool that your pace bunny was the female winner!! how awesome :)

send some of that perfect running weather this way if you have any to spare pretty please :)

lindsay said...

figures, a woman doing a man's work... :-p

nice job lam! excellent running, especially with the pre-race issues on top of it. your spirits better be re-boosted now after the past few weeks of blah's.

Anonymous said...

way to go! loved reading this. what a confidence booster after such a long illness

Chic Runner said...

Great job lam! Seriously, to run that close to your PR that isn't even that old and even all that adversity you were dealing with really says a lot about the runner you've become. Glad you had a great race and fun day!

Anonymous said...

Great race report and a terrific race for you - congratulations!

The Happy Runner said...

Fantastic! You write such great race reports. I love them!

Spike said...

awesome race, and great race report. great weather for a race = best thing ever

NY Wolve said...

Nice race. I have run the Queens half before, and don't remember the hills so much as all the turns. Love to hear your perspective, and honestly, the reason I didn't try too hard to run it this year was the logistics in getting to and from the start/finish line. Hearing the the shuttle bus issue made me shudder.
But how awesome that you ran with the female winner.

X-Country2 said...

Great race! Aren't rabbits the best. I need to find one for hire.

nyflygirl said...

OMG those hills in the last mile...I totally remember that from 2 years ago, so cruel!!

Anyway, congrats on coming so close to your PR on a much tougher course!! And pretty cool to do it now that it's your "hometown" race of sorts ;-)

runner26 said...

omg--i go away for two days and have no idea what's going on in the running world! congrats on this incredible race!! you got your speed back and had a hell of a performance in queens--awesome!!

monicac2 said...

If only I could cross your name out of that race report and make it mine! Great job!

Erin said...

Wow, what a great time! This is a great race report!!

Irish Cream said...

Ugh, the hills in the last couple miles all but ate me . . . cruel, weren't they? And I had no clue there were such issues with the shuttle buses! Now I'm REALLY glad we decided to take a car to the start! Anyway, GREAT race . . . I think it's safe to say you have your speed back ;)

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