Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Streak Is Broken, A Sub-3 Not To Be
Race Report from the 2009 New York City Marathon
Part IV – The Worst 10K, Miles 21-26.2

Mile 21 – 7:09; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:49 min/mi
In my experience, the race story of the NYC marathon doesn’t officially begin until you reach the Bronx in Mile 21. Prior to this point, the marathon resembles more of a twenty mile block party through the five boroughs than an actual competitive race. There are spectators and dancers, music players and banners, and costumes and of course beer everywhere until everything suddenly disappears after the Willis Avenue Bridge. Almost concurrently, gone too is the fun, the joy, and the general euphoria that accompanied us during the preceding miles. I become acutely aware of my physical surroundings as I feel my energy and effort fade ever so slightly. More and more people are breaking down and walking now and I start to wonder whether I will be joining their procession soon. We make six right-angle turns on our way over to the Madison Ave Bridge and out of this wasteland that inexplicably sapped my energy today.

Mile 22 – 7:06; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:50 min/mi
Back in Manhattan, I check my last mile time as we run through the 21 mile marker. For reasons that seemed completely rational at the time, I was physically and emotionally devastated by the 7:09 I ran during the preceding mile. Even though my overall pace was still significantly below my goal time for this race, I was unable to fathom how I could have just ran 20 seconds above pace. In my mind, I was unable to justify that momentary lapse in speed and doubted if I could even maintain seven minute miles for the rest of the race. All I could see were the obstacles coming--the vaunted uphill battle on Fifth Ave, the rolling hills in Central Park and the last steep climb near the finish at Tavern on the Green—and I start to lose faith in myself. I take a gel, hoping it would help and speed up some when I see some good Flyers (LG, DL, and JT) clapping and cheering on the sidelines

Mile 23 – 7:16; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:51 min/mi
Mile 22 ends next to Marcus Garvey Memorial Park and I tell myself that I’ve just 4 measely miles to go. Although I figure I still have about a minute or so of bank time left, judging from my horrendous times for the last few miles, it was fairly evident that sub-3 would be in serious jeopardy today. My legs are fatiguing and complaining now. The purple magic carpet ride that I’ve been riding for the last two and a half hours is now nowhere to be found. I take the turn onto 5th Ave and stare down my destiny. I knew right there and then that these thirty blocks, from 120th Street right up to the Central Park entrance at 90th would hold the key to sub-3 for me. For all the weeks of hard training, all the high mileage I’ve endured, and all the aches and pains and muscle strains I’ve had to fight through, all of it will come down to this next mile and a half. Suddenly, I remember that these are the heart miles. My heart is supposed to take over now that the legs have dropped off. So I ask my heart what it’s got left. Do we really want this or are we not so ready to be elite? I push onward as I search within for an appropriate response.

Mile 24 – 8:08; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:54 min/mi
I continue to ask, but all I hear is just silence in return. I search the skies, the trees, and the spectators, waiting for a reason to keep this fight alive. My legs are sore and my body aches as I climb further and further along Fifth Avenue. The race slows down and each block feels as if it’s a mile all onto itself. More and more people have slowed to a walk now and despite the crowds enthusiastically urging us runners to go on, the marathon starts to resemble a funeral procession more and more. I go through the motions for another half block but quickly realize that my race has come to an end. I’ve lost all hope for sub-3 and I feel defeated, fatigued, and too emotionally drained to care anymore. I give up on myself and take my first steps halfway up the Fifth Avenue mile. The truth becomes incredibly evident to me immediately upon taking that first step. Although my physical body was equipped and trained to handle 20 miles at sub-3 pace, I did not equip my mind emotionally to do the same for the last six. I forgot to give myself more than one goal. I did not mentally acknowledge the implications of THIS marathon THIS time around. I failed to think about my own reasons why sub-3 is so important to me. It’s just an arbitrary time standard that sounds cool but has no real-life merit, isn’t it? The absolute worst was as I was walking mid-race and self-diagnosing myself, I quickly realized that I wasn’t cramping, wasn’t in pain, wasn’t even exhausted or feeling particularly hungry or thirsty. I felt fine which ashamed and frustrated me to no end. I have no justification for walking right now. Fueled by rage and anger over my epic fail as a marathon runner, I increase my gait to a steady shuffle.
When I finally do make it out of the abyss and reach the park entrance on 90th, I had every intention of turning left instead of right to drop out and head home. Unfortunately right at that moment, I saw a few folks that recognized me, and I was too embarrassed to quit. So I smile, continue on, and wonder how I could even think about not finishing a marathon with less than a 5K to go.

Mile 25 – 8:35; Avg Marathon Pace – 6:58 min/mi
The park looks splendid today with the autumn foliage highlighting the course in different shades of orange, yellow and brown. The crowds are lined four to five deep on either side and the excitement is palpable as we approach closer and closer to the finish. If my mind wasn’t so trapped in my own negativity, I could imagine how this would have been the perfect day to run. As is, I’m reduced to walking and shuffling as best I can. At around the back of the Met, I see familiar faces from the Flyers and I force myself to pick up the pace again for a little bit. I say hi to the Cat, roll down the Hill and wish that I was an inanimate object so I wouldn’t have to move any further. Each step becomes psychological warfare as I force my legs to become my slave even as it’s firing back with pangs of pain. After the hill, my mind becomes blank and I no longer even have the strength to acknowledge or hide from the crowd. All I did, until the park mile was over was recite a villanelle I memorized for poetry class way back when which seemed oddly appropriate given the circumstance. It begins “The art of losing isn’t hard to master…

Mile 26 – 8:12; Avg Marathon Pace – 7:01 min/mi
The park is behind me now as I make the turn onto W59th to begin the final mile. In the distance I can faintly see Columbus Circle, my destination. Although the sign on the lamp post clearly state that the distance separating us are less than 800 meters, to my tired and feeble mind, it seemed like forever and a mile away. I am overwhelmed by fatigue and I take my final walk break less than 800m from the finish. I sneak a peak at the crowds gathered on the south side of the street and hear them start to chant my name. How pathetic it must seem to those who know me to be seeing me now moving at a snail’s pace so damn close to the finish. I start running again and am determined not to stop until I either cross that finish line or death consumes me, whichever was going to happen first.

The Last 0.2 – 1:36
Columbus Circle finally comes as I make the last right hand turn towards the finish. I start to relax and gather my thoughts one final time. Well, at least I finished another NYCM and didn’t die. At least I didn’t take a wrong turn and quit two miles back. I am utterly disappointed that I ran the last 10K so poorly yet am slightly relieved that the pressure to PR in this race is finally over. I can claim a moral victory knowing that I finished what I started even though I gave myself every reason not to go on. I climbed the last hill and silence my inner critic to hear the roar of the crowd one last time. I blow kisses to the spectators and race volunteers nearby as I approach the finish. The course may have gotten the best of me today, but I take solace in knowing that NYC has not yet seen the last of me, and I’ll be back again, better and stronger than I was today, to claim the prize in this city on this course one day!

Official Marathon Time – 3:04:20; Avg Marathon Pace – 7:02 min/mi


Vava said...

Great report; your dissapointment is palpable, though your gutting it out is inspiring (for what it's worth).

My impression is that you just might be a tad too concerned with how others perceive you and your running ability, and should maybe shift you focus a little bit more inward. What are YOU getting out of it, how do YOU define success and failure. Those are the things that really matter. From my perspective, you are a hard working and dedicated runner.

But it doesn't mean a thing what I think, now does it? My perspective will never get you over that finish line any faster.

And I can identify with you assessment of the meaning(lessness) of an arbitrary time barrier, and I'm a fine one to talk, but don't ever let the clock decide the ultimate level of success that you achieve. All that will happen is you will immediately focus on yet another barrier to break, perhaps at the expense of enjoying your many victories.

All the best!

Stacy said...

Loved this post yet again. I could feel the emotions you were going through with each mile and I'm sorry that your mentality took over you. But, like you said, you finished and didn't die! I look fwd to reading a NYC marathon run and cheering for you that you ran a under 3 very very soon! Congrats on a great race :D

aron said...

i cant tell you how much i relate to everything you said in this post. this is how i have felt a lot of this year.

this: "Although my physical body was equipped and trained to handle 20 miles at sub-3 pace, I did not equip my mind emotionally to do the same for the last six." is exactly what i am trying to work on right now.

no matter what, you did not quit, and I KNOW in races like this that can be a bigger accomplishment than having reached your goal. you didnt quit, you finished, and you WILL be back :)

Running and living said...

This is the best of your writing, in my opinion. Really touching. It is obvious to me that you have a sub 3 in you. As you said it yourself, the body was trained, but the mind struggled. I agree, I did not see you fighting as hard as you did in Boston 2009. Were you burned out this time? Too much racing, too many miles? You are so right that you will come back stronger and run the race that you deserve to run. Thanks for sharing your journey with us.

Anonymous said...

"at least i finished another nycm and didn't die" made me smile but is so true. your disappointment is understandable but you are so amazing for finishing and not quitting! use this race as fuel for the next one :) thanks for writing such a meaningful and thoughtful report for all of us

Irish Cream said...

I felt like I was right there with you, Lam, and frankly, it hurt. I could feel your devastation. And yet there is a difference between you and me . . . I'm not so sure I wouldn't have quit once I knew my goal time was out the window. You are amazing for hanging in there and finishing. I am so proud of you. I agree with Aron. Sometimes not quitting in a race like this is far more impressive than actually reaching your goal time. You are a VERY strong runner. You will be back! You rock ;)

Tami said...

some day you will get there, it's hard to get your mind and body to work as one

Spike said...

because I've had it happen to me in a marathon, I know exactly how you felt during those last six miles. shock at how quickly the wheels come off, how all the banked time just disappears.

if it helps, know that you will come back and do well next time.

thank you for sharing all of it.

Saima said...

Lam-- thanx for taking us on this emotional rollercoaster ride! it is remarkable how you remember the emotions at any given mile....Loved the trois part series....i enjoyed the historical background and despite having never visited NY, i cud envision the surroundings--well, almost!!

The race may not have lived upto your grand expectations but it is STILL a great achievement. Congratulations!

Malecia said...

The important thing when you got to that point where your body gave out was that you finished instead of peeling off and going home. I'm glad you ended this report on a high note.

I was disappointed in my last 10K time because it was not as good as my previous one (a 52:52 PR), but I felt fabulous after the race! Trouble is, I finished so strongly that I think I should've had more fight in the middle of the race. I try not to overanalyze it.

Ms. V. said...

Beautiful. Simply beautiful. I'm humbled by your race report.

Tell me, when did you talk with your sister? Did I miss it in one of the last posts? I know this is key for you.

Lam, you continue to be the standard.

Thank you.

Scott Brown said...

Terrific report Lam. It would be good one day to see someone put a book together with race reports such as these. They are very moving and simply a good read.

What you said here:

"The truth becomes incredibly evident to me immediately upon taking that first step. Although my physical body was equipped and trained to handle 20 miles at sub-3 pace, I did not equip my mind emotionally to do the same for the last six."

caught my eye. I understand what you are saying but in all honesty, I've said it before and I'll say it again, you are going to have to up your mileage to around 100miles a week and pay a price in terms of time that you haven't up until now. I always thought I was doing my best, and believe I did, but only after training more and breaking sub 3 relatively effortlessly compared to my other attempts did I know that I just had to do more.

Some people will say this effort it's too high a price to pay for something like a sub 3 marathon. And they would be right. Still you do what's right for you.

All the best with your training and racing. If you continue in this game I'm sure we haven't seen the best of you, by a long shot.

Anonymous said...

It was a challenge of the mind as much as the body- you were able to finish the race, so you can surpass your goal another day. I am impressed by what you did do. I am looking forward to reading about what you will do, as well! Thanks for sharing.

Morgan said...

"If my mind wasn’t so trapped in my own negativity, I could imagine how this would have been the perfect day to run."

I've felt like this so many times... Why do we let Negative Nancy get the best of us? Why do we let her win when we still clearly have a fight left in us. I've totally quit on myself mid run/race so I know this feeling all too well.

It wasn't THE day but you still finished and it may have took you till the very end of that last 10k to do it but you defeated Negative Nancy too.

Thank you so much for sharing this, for giving us a look into the head of someone we all look up to and aspire to run like... because at the end of the day you are human just like us and we all have our bad days.

Can't wait to read next year's recap when you DO get your Sub-3. Great running Lam!

Chris said...

MEB was down and out 2 years ago, and looked what happened to him. You have it in you, no doubt. Keep it up and you CAN do it.

btw - I tried your Gatorade/Red Bull formula for my marathon yesterday, and it was a nice mixture.

Jamie said...

I definitely understand your disappoint. It may have not been your day but one day it will be. You finished when you could have quit and there is a lot to be said for that. Congrats on another marathon finish!

NY Wolve said...

Nice recap and I am sort of stunned at how much you recall as you flew through the miles.

At any rate, you inspire many of us in blogland, and even in your failure to realize your goal, makes me feel not so bad about my inability to reach my goal as well. As runners, we probably are not going to win, so we race against ourselves, our inner demons to realize and celebrate inner victories. As my high school football coach said, "If it was easy, everyone would do it and be a champion. It ain't easy."

I'll bet you a six pack of beer that years from now you will be proud of this race, this time and this effort, and will hardly remember the difference between 3:04 and 3:00. But that doesn't make it any easier now.

Cheers and good luck!!!

The Happy Runner said...

Terrific report. I've said it before and I'll say it again, you are such an inspiration. Thank you.

I love that you were blowing kisses at the end. Love it!

Eric said...


Once again you have bared your soul with honest, raw, and emotional writing....takes as much guts to write about your inner turmoil as it does to run a marathon. I was waiting all week just to read your post and see what went through your mind as finished the race. You did not disappoint.

All I can say is, you've inspired me to take the next step and see what my heart is made of. Three words - I'm in 2010!

Anonymous said...

Great race report. Don't worry too much about what others think-- you ran the best race you could on that day with everything you have. You'll get your sub-3. And even if you don't, you'll still be an amazing runner.

Thanks for all the detail in this report, it always amazes me how much you are able to recall!

J said...

Your writing continues to amaze me - you have a gift for running and writing. You didn't quit and no matter what your time, you persevered and that is something you can't train for. It comes from within and it carries you. I cant imagine the mental capacity to run a marathon. I know that I have had to push past my breaking point and have not been able to. You are a great runner and continue to be an inspiration to me and many others.

Marathon Maritza said...

What a great finish to your recap. I know that you are disappointed but I am so impressed with your continued push for the finish at such a high pace. You'd run TWENTY miles at a sub-7 pace....that is SUCH an effort and to keep pushing it, despite the mental battle, I think will serve you well next time. You have this lesson and you will train your mind differently next time. You WILL get that sub-3. It's in you. Not many people (myself included) will ever say that.

Congratulations on another marathon!

sRod said...

Sorry it took me so long to get to this--I wanted to make sure I had enough time to read it all in one sitting.

Lizzy B is one of the only poets who has ever made sense to me--so I'm happy that of all poetry, she came to you.

Disappointment is tough to deal with--especially when you've been on a streak like you have. But you'll emerge stronger and more determined. Can you really have a major success without a failure to define it?

monicac2 said...

You MUST write a book. Amazing writing (not to mention the running!).

Linna said...

lam can i just say WOW you are amazing? i don't think you had anything to be disappointed about :) thanks for inspiring me!!!

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