Crossing the mile 6 marker at the top of the overpass leading over to Meadow Lake, I stared at the half dozen or so characters who used my mishap in the previous mile to sneak past me in the race. Back again was Mr. Tri-athlete who was now accompanied by a coach running directly next to him. In front of him was the Mr. Lacrosse Jersey and Mr. Heel Striker whose unorthodox running form made it not only annoying but painful to watch. Way in the distance, I could also see Mr. Baldie leading the pack, about 50 yards in front of everyone else. I wasn't sure how much time I had lost at this point since I didn't bother to check my mile split but judging roughly from the pace of the other racers, I thought 45 seconds was a conservative estimate. As I started on my journey around Meadow Lake with all the others, fueled with a passionate mixture of fury, indignation, annoyance and embarrassment, I couldn't help but think of German Silva and the brief wrong turn he made in the final mile of the New York City Marathon before ultimately claiming victory in 1994.
Although it was quite demoralizing to see the long string of runners who I passed a few miles back now suddenly running in front, I also knew that I had the capacity to pass them right back if I can just maintain my race pace for a little while longer. I used all of mile 7 and half of mile 8 to regain my rightful place in the moving carousel around the park until I found myself once gain behind the leader of my immediate pack. Although I hadn't seen him before then, I could tell he was a serious runner by the matching tank and shorts that adorned his slender body. I allowed him to lead me through Meadow Lake, which was made treacherous by residual water puddles left over from the rainstorm in the weekend prior. As I watched him jump from road to grass and back again to avoid the bigger puddles, I followed suit until towards the end of mile 8 when I was forced to the edge of the grass just as he was about to climb back over the overpass. Coincidentally. that would be the last I would see of him out in the course that day.
Mile 9-10: (Mile 9 - 6:31; Mile 10 - 6:19)
By Mile 9, as we were led back over the bridge for a second loop around the perimeter of the park, I began to fatigue and tire just a little bit. Since the last mile, when I had company to tackle the wet and narrow paths of Meadow Lake, I hadn't encountered anyone else attacking this course in front of me. Although I knew I wouldn't get lost on this second journey around the park, it was extremely difficult to maintain race pace when there are no visible runners in front of me. All I saw were more and more neighbors using the roads as their personal playground and obstructing my view of the race course and its participants. I passed by a water station and everyone clapped and cheered me as I ran across. Since no other racer was within earshot of them, I was sure the applause was a personal gesture for me. I picked up the pace slightly and took a GU at 10. We were now just a 5K away.
Mile 11-12: (Mile 11 - 6:32; Mile 12 - 6:26)
Passing back through the starting line and climbing the same semi-circular incline I did in mile 1, I was now holding onto my effort and pace for dear life. I was tired and with no to chase in front and no one to push me in back, I almost convinced myself not to push as hard. But then I remembered that there were many family and friends who were running and looking for me (albeit figuratively) to do well and represent. What if they saw that I was moseying it in and not giving the absolutely best that I've got? Would that really be the right message for me to send, as the ambassador of the sport I claim to be? Besides...we've now got less than a 5K to go anyway. I force myself to pick up the speed in an effort to give top 10 one more shot. A race official nearby signals that I'm in 11th place but could not tell me how far behind I was.
The park was getting crowded now and it was all I could do to separate the recreational joggers from the possible race participants and volunteers. By the time we completed the loop around the Queens Zoo and back over the overpass nearing the end of mile 12, I had given up trying to find the next racer. The end was now just 2 miles away and I just wanted to get there as soon as I can. Unfortunately, at this point, there wasn't much fuel left in the tank. I poured it on as best as I could.
Mile 13, the last 0.1, and the Finish: (Mile 13 - 6:20; Last 0.1M - 0:38)
Upon reaching the final stretch which started at the entrance to the Queens Museum of Art and ends at the central rotunda, I knew it was time to go. I convinced myself that this is just a one mile interval (or tried to anyway) and sprinted as I could. Spectators were lining up by the dozens to cheer me on. I could see the finish line a half mile away. I sprinted faster once I realize we were just 800m from being done. The cruelest joke was when the course forced us to run a short circular loop around the man made Center Lake when we got close to the finish. I had been sprinting for quite a while and was exhaustedly tired. I held it together the best I could for the final push over the finish line. It was only after I was done did I see my time and realize that my detour at 6M cost me more than 45 seconds. I lost 70 seconds, a PR chance and an age group award all at the same time!
After the Finish
Once I finished, collected my breath and got my things, I went back to the finish line to cheer on the other runners as they came in. While I was watching, I was approached by a local paper who wanted to interviewed me as it seemed that I was the first overall local to finish the rest. He asked me why and how I became a runner. As we talked, I realized that it wasn't so important that I came in 11th overall, or 4th in my age group, or the 1st in Flushing. The best part of the story was that I made a mistake mid-race and yet found some inner fortitude to keep running, to keep fighting, and to savage a good performance out of what easily could have been a DNF! No, the final result wasn't indicative of the effort I put forth today, but I got to run, I got to race, and inspire at least those who will read my story that sometimes awesomeness isn't defined by a time on a clock.
Official Time - 1:24:59
Average Pace - 6:29 min/mile
Overall Place - 11/2103
Age Group Place - 4/177
Age Grade - 70%