Today was supposed to be a special day. I had been anticipating today for a couple of months. I was supposed to run the Cherry Tree 10 Mile Race in Brooklyn as my first "official" race of 2010. Since I ran this same race last year, my performance in this race was not only supposed to give me a sense of my current level of fitness, it was also supposed to tell me where I am now as compared to the same point last year. In short, this race was supposed to be a big "fitness test" for me.
Maybe I should have informed the MTA before making such grandiose plans. Apparently on the weekends, two hours isn't enough buffer time to go from East Queens to Prospect Park in the middle of Brooklyn, a trip that would take an hour tops on the weekdays. Aside from "weekend construction" halting the F train randomly on the edge of Brooklyn necessitating a transfer to a shuttle bus for the rest of the trip, they left me high and dry this morning when it refused to even show for 40 minutes! C'mon MTA! By the time I found one and got myself moving into Manhattan, it was already too late. There would be no way I'd make it to the race in time. I was almost beside myself in annoyance and anger!
Since my chance at an "official" race was now shot, I made the executive decision that I'd hold my own "unofficial" race of one and rerouted my travels toward Central Park. Along the way, I thought about what my "unofficial" race parameters should be. In the back of my mind, I vaguely remember racing myself through two loops of Central Park a year ago in preparation in Boston. I remember pulling off an average pace of around 6:45 in that race simulation and afterwards feeling quite confident of my chances in running a good marathon. So I thought I would make that my target today to have a repeat performance as both a personal fitness test and a race goal.
Fifteen minutes later, dressed in my Saucony race jacket over a long sleeve tech shirt and race shorts that haven't been worn since last summer, I found myself at the foot of the Fred Lebow statue with a few dozen other runners but no other participants, anxious to start my unofficial secret race.
In retrospect, I probably should not have psyched myself so much in anticipation of this run because I made the same mistake I always do in races - I started out too fast. Mile 1 came in at 6:24, and Mile 2 (which included the gnarly Harlem Hill) came in at 6:31. By the time I was done with my first 5K, I was ready to throw in the towel. Somehow, I battled through, barely maintaining mile 5 and mile 6 at marathon pace (6:52) and finish the first loop (6.07 miles) in 40:29 for a 6:40 average pace.
At this point, it was approaching noon, I was sweating profusely and my heart rate (after passing through the gauntlet of Cat Hill) was through the roof. I thought about quitting seeing as I was in no shape to tackle all those hills a second time. But then I remembered that this was no ordinary workout nor for that matter an ordinary race. This was a secret race against me. No one out here knows I'm struggling. No one out here is passing me by. So technically I'm still winning! For some reason that was all the motivation I needed (after shedding my jacket and taking a sip of Gatorade) for me to start the second loop.
Maybe I was more aware of myself. Maybe I was much more conscious of not overextending my pace. Whatever the reason was, the second loop went so much better for me. I slowed down. The pace became more stable and consistent and I didn't feel like puking even after sprinting in at the last mile. Woohoo! As an added bonus, I even negatively splitted each section by a couple of seconds despite the fact that my average heart rate didn't budge at all through the whole second loop. I finished the second six mile (6.07 miles) loop in 40:53 for an average pace of 6:44.
Altogether then, I finished my unofficial secret 12.14 mile race in 1:21:22, which is an average pace of 6:42 min/mi. When I got home, I saw that my race of similar distance last year was run in 12 seconds slower which meant that I captured the gold in this race of one today. Yeah baby! (On a side note, last year's race of one was actually done on March 12, which meant I am one month ahead of schedule even though my target marathon is two weeks later! Score and double score!)
So in the end, although I never got a chance to test my fitness in an officially scored race, I was still able to hold my own unofficial race and claim my own personal victory. I even learned and re-learned some valuable lessons that I can incorporate into future workouts. Not bad I'd say for recovering a good workout after missing a highly anticipated race. Take that, MTA!