Monday, April 5, 2010

My "Silva"-like Performance
Race Report for the NYC 13.1 (Part I)


After running 20 half marathons, I would have figured that I've encountered pretty much very scenario that could come up in a 13.1 mile race. Whether it's pacing issues, fueling problems, Garmin mishaps, or dealing with annoying guy who wouldn't get off your tail no matter whether you sped up or slowed down, you name it, I've dealt with it. So maybe it was destined that in a race where the element of surprise was supposed to be minimal for me, I would find myself in a completely foreign situation that would have a significant impact on the outcome of this race.

Before The Start

I arrived at the starting line of the inaugural NYC 13.1 (Half) Marathon with supreme confidence that I was going to have a good race. My training has been stellar in terms of endurance, stamina, and speed, I had minimal to no injury concerns and the weather was absolutely perfect for race morning. But even aside from all of those factors, I predicted I was going to turn in a stellar performance today because the race was being held, for the first time, in Flushing Meadows Park, which just happens to be my home park! Since I train here almost on a daily basis, I knew the exact location of all the puddles, all the cracks, all the curves, and all the troublesome areas to avoid on this inaugural course. As I waited for the Star Spangled Banner and final announcements to be made, I was determined to let my "home field advantage" guide me to a new half marathon PR.

Miles 1-2: (Mile 1 - 6:12; Mile 2 - 6:15)

The starting horn sounded at exactly 9:15AM and I see the first pack of runners take off after the pace car and cyclists leading the charge. Because the start and the first quarter mile of the course were situated in the back roads of Arthur Ashe Stadium, hidden from view of anyone not directly associated with the race, the whole spectacle looked more like a scene from an illegal drag race in a back alley in Long Island City than the start of a 13.1 mile run through a park in Flushing Queens! Soon it was my turn and I take off at a fast and steady pace while trying to avoid the packs of newbie runners wearing the green 13.1 race t-shirt on either side. The temperature was in the upper fifties and there was a cool breeze greeting all the runners as we exited the shadows and unleashed ourselves onto the course. After about a quarter mile of weaving and dodging runners who had no business running in front, I found myself running comfortably in the clear, albeit single file with the other speedsters around the perimeter of the park. Once I was out of danger, I concentrated on running with good form and established a steady rhythm with my breathing and footstriking. While I was doing that, a guy in a lacrosse jersey and backwards hat was falling behind and leapfrogging me a few times within the first mile. I gave him room to practice his praying mantis antics, knowing full well that no one with a backwards hat can keep up with me for very long. Sure enough, after we crossed the first mile marker, he faded behind and was never heard from again.

I checked my split for the first mile and was surprised that I had taken it out so fast, considering all the congestion I faced at the start. I was still feeling strong though so I didn't panic when several frontrunners began slowing down, allowing me to surge ahead. We pass by the first water station and cheer zone as we made our way through the perimeter of the park on the second mile. The sun had risen a bit higher now and was starting to exert its influence on this race. I took a cup of water from a cheerful volunteer, drank, and sped up a little to maintain contact with the runner in front. Although I was making sure to run my own race at my own pace, I was excited that I was already picking people off this early in the race. As I scaled the bridge that went over a scenic stream and pass by the mile 2 marker, I saw a race director point toward me and yell "11th overall."

Miles 3-4: (Mile 3 - 6:19; Mile 4 - 6:27)

We're returning back to the starting line in mile 3 although the scene looks completely different now that all the runners are gone. All we got are more spectators clapping and cheering and water stops serving more water and Gatorade. I tried to thank and acknowledge their applause but soon thought better of it when I realized that expending excess energy at Mile 3 of a half marathon would not be such a good idea. So I continued running and breathing at a metronomic rhythm, my attention transfixed on the two runner in front of me, flanking either side of the road. Although I was now beyond 5k, my mind was still deciphering what it heard a quarter mile back. Did I hear right? Am I really in 11th place? Maybe he meant in my age group? But he couldn't have known my age...hmmm. I had joked with my friend before the race that the professional and elites were all probably racing the 10K in Central Park today, leaving us wannabes to duke it out here, but to be 11th place overall in a race of a couple thousand sounded insane to me. So I blocked the thoughts from my head and focused on the task at hand.

Towards the end of Mile 3, we run up a big semicircle incline onto an overpass that led us toward the back section of the park. Although I was a bit apprehensive that running 10K PR pace in the first three miles of a half marathon could ultimately prove foolish, I couldn't resist the rush to use the windy hill to surge ahead. So as I use my hill training expertise to steadily climb up and over the overpass, I first pass the guy on my left who is obviously a heel striker and then the guy on my right who annoyed me with his triathlete uniform and knee high socks. Seriously, guys? That's why you had to be passed. Once I was clear, I checked my mile 3 time and was pleasantly surprised that it was still in the six-teens. Some quick math told me that I was a full thirty seconds below PR pace by this point. If I could somehow maintain the effort, victory (in terms of a PR) would be mine!

Mile 4 brings runners on the outskirts of the Queens Zoo then around a large oval that surrounds a couple of baseball fields before returning back to the northern section of the park via an overpass. Although I usually take time when I'm around here to sneak a peek inside the cages to say hi to animals, I couldn't afford to do so knowing that more than a couple of runners were hot on my tail. Because of the surge and the incline leading back to the overpass, I faded a bit on this mile back to my half marathon PR pace. I was suspecting that I was quickly losing ground tot he other competitors, the sight of the runner in front far off in the distance becoming closer at each quarter mile told me otherwise.

Miles 5-6: (Mile 5 - 6:20; Mile 6 - 7:39)

Exiting the overpass, the course makes a sharp left as it passes by the entrance to the Queens Museum of Art and the front gate of the USTA National Tennis Center before making its return to the northeastern sections of the park. I was familiar with this portion of the course because I run a significant portion of this road for 800 intervals. Mr. bald guy in blue shorts was fading fast toward me now and I invoked my speedwork legs to surge slightly faster to catch up to him. Before I did, a tall skinny high school athlete who I haven't yet seen, suddenly appears from behind me and overtakes the both of us. A few minutes later, I pass the fading baldie. In my mind though, this was only a draw since I exited mile 5 in the same overall place that I entered. One of the race director confirmed my suspicions when he yelled "9th Place - Good Job!" as I passed by.

Mile 6 was an unorthodox circular route that took us around the inside of the park toward an overpass that would eventually lead toward Meadow Lake. I started mile 6 for sure that 8th was pretty much out of reach. Tall skinny high school athlete was looking strong as he passed earlier in the previous mile and I wasn't sure I would be able to keep up. Because there were no visible runners in front of him, I was counting on this 8th place runner to lead the way. The course was marked with cones that were haphazardly placed on the grass with few volunteers around to direct us around all the twists and turns. Although he was doing great leading me through the unorthodox windy path, he was suddenly losing steam at around 5.5 miles. I debated about moving past him at this point. Part of me wanted to pass him and move on to my next target. A big part of me wanted to hang back, knowing I'd be up to my own resources to figure out where we were meant to go. Because I'd never before been asked to take the lead on a course with twists and turns that I wasn't familiar with, I didn't know what to do. Eventually though, after following his lead for another quarter mile, I took the lead from him and dared myself to find and catch the next runner out on the course.

Having taken the lead, it was up to me now to lead the way. Because I couldn't see anyone else in front and the course was not well marked except for a few volunteers who tried to deal with pedestrians while yelling directions to the runners at the same time, I was caught in no man's land as I tried to run fast while at the same time figure out what I could remember from the description of the course I had heard earlier at the start. At about 6.8 miles, we circle the Unisphere and come upon a road that gave the option of turning left onto a bigger park road or going straight onto the overpass toward Meadow Lake. I thought about going straight but remembered vaguely that mile 7 was not supposed to start until the overpass and felt it was a bit too soon. There was a biker standing off to the side who I thought was one of the earlier race pacers. I threw my hands up to ask if the course turned or went straight. He didn't respond, which for some reason I took to mean the first option was correct. So I turned and went about 0.1 mile before I saw two metal barricades blocking my way. I immediately stopped, cursed at the top of my lungs and turned to see four or five runners moving onward to the bridge from the road that I had just vacated. For a second, I panicked and just stood. I looked around for a race official, hoping against hope that maybe they saw what just transpired and could do something, anything. Finally, when I surrendered to the fact that no one saw except an 8 year old kid kicking a soccer bar with his dad, I squealed in frustration, turned around and ran back from where I came.


Julie said...

Hi Lam,
What a great first half of your race report:) I feel your pain about running a race where your not sure where to go and race officials are MIA!! The same thing happened to me at the Minnesota Zoo 5k run last year. I started out strong and I felt great. I think I was third for woman at the two and a half mile point. I was following the people in front of me who were lost....there were fifty of us who went off track and ended up running about five miles instead of a 5k:( It is frustrating! I can't wait for the rest of the report! If I know you, there will be a little magic involved:) Have a good one Lam!

Betsy said...

I am on the edge of my seat!

Linna said...

Wow, what a riveting first part of the race report! You include lots of details, I'm impressed you remembered each character that you passed! Congrats on such a stellar start and to be 9th in a field of thousands, well - that's just crazy awesome!

I'm sorry to hear about the course being unclear and things going awry! Looking forward to reading how the rest of the race went (hopefully a great finish!)

Amy said...

I want to hear the rest of it!

Sounds like you were on track to do awesome! KEEP IT UP!

kevin f forde said...

please tell me this wasn't a NYRRC Race?
As a runner there are certain things I expect,and certain things I expect to go wrong but c'mon!!!

michelle Jacobs said...

Still awesome Lam. You did sensational.

Write more!!!!

jenna is awkward said...

oh man, I STILL can't believe this happened to you! So insane! part 2! part 2!

Anne said...

No way!!!!!!

X-Country2 said...

Can't wait to read the rest of the report.

lindsay said...

only you would manage to make a half-marathon race recap into multiple posts ;)

i saw your tweets - can't believe about you running off course and what it cost you! :( it's definitely a little mind-wrecking to know where you stand and can you hold it/move up.

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