Aside from the occasional circumstance where the weather cooperates, the stars align, training has gone well, and you've properly fueled and hydrated, success in road racing has more to do with running smart and running well than it is about attaining a PR and/or a goal time. This race that I ran on Saturday serves as an illustration of that point for me...
Although I went through the motions of preparing well for this race (drinking lots of water the two days before, holding myself to one (okay two) cups of beer at a birthday party the night prior, getting good pillow time, etc), I knew in my heart of hearts that this was not going to be awesome race for me. Considering that I had just come back from California where the weather was perfect into the burning hell-like sauna has been NYC the past week, and the lack of speedwork that I did while I was on the West Coast, I sincerely thought that just crossing the finish line in relatively decent shape would be a worthwhile primary goal for me. A secondary goal would be to run well and run smart and not blow up like I did in my previous NYRR race (where I syncopized and DNFed at the 5K mark of a 4 mile race). I didn't know and wasn't concerned about what pace that would translate into. I was just going to run my own race and let the chips fall what they may.
Before The Start
I arrived at the starting corral in plenty of time to watch the colorful festivities and the original jazzy rendition of the national anthem sung by the MC from the FrontRunners Lesbian & Gay community. Although I anticipated it to be a small race, I felt rather intimidated when I inadvertently found myself situated just a few rows behind the elites at the start. I had gotten there only because I saw Flyers JW and ES hanging out there a few minutes prior and wanted to walk over to say hi. We all commented to each other at the same time that this was the most "in front" we've ever been at a NYRR race where we clearly did not belong. Unfortunately, no one in the pack we were in was willing to move up so we were stuck there, right behind the elites right up to the start of the race
As the starting horn surrounded and the applause and cheering began, I remind myself one last time to avoid getting pulled ahead by the speedy crowd around me and focus on running my own race. It was already a balmy 80 degrees with 56% humidity when I started my counter-clockwise journey around a loop of the park from the lower west side. More than anything, I was determined to run my first mile as conservatively as I can so I allowed many folks including a couple of other teammates to fly past me for the first quarter mile. Once I found my grove and settled into a cadence that I thought I could keep for the duration of the run, I began my race in earnest. I nestled myself behind a pack of runners who seemed as out of place as I was in their black tech t-shirts and baggy shorts that were a big too long. It didn't take long for them to fade after the first little hill at around the halfway point of the first mile. Just as I passed them though, four to a pack, running side by side, another runner came from behind to slip though as well. I wanted to follow this new guy, who was sleak but ripped, as I felt I could keep up with him, but thought better of it as I reminded myself of my primary objective again. Besides, Cat Hill was coming up early in the next mile and I'd be damned if he chews me up and spits me out again like he has so many times before. I slowed my effort back to what I felt would be manageable as I passed through the first mile marker. (Mile 1 - 5:50)
I was beyond shocked when the mile 1 time sunk in. Did I really just run another sub-6 mile? How the heck did I manage to run the exact same time for the first mile as I did in my DNF 4-miler when I started off so conservatively? Honestly, instead of being inspired by my fast time, I was disappointed and a bit frustrated that I blew up another race at mile 1 again. But before I could contemplate holding sub-6 pace for another mile, I found myself staring at Cat Hill right in the face. I knew I had to keep the same manageable effort that I was running. I knew I had to slow down. My hope was that the strength I gained running long steep hills in San Diego would help me maintain a respectable time. It was here that I think I passed the most people. It was here that I blew the cat a kiss which startled those around me. It was also here that Flyer photographer extraordinaire BC spotted me for the first of many race photos. The top of the hill came quickly for me so I knew I had run it well. As I came upon Mile 2 marker, I kept my mind occupied by predicting that I'd come in 6:10, or at worse a 6:15 for that mile. (Mile 2 - 6:05)
Are you joking? That was only a 6:05?! But before I allowed any instantaneous projected goal time to be calculated, I reminded myself again that this race wasn't about time for me. Heck, even as I'm passing a few people who looked like they were struggling in the heat, I know this race wasn't about competition against others either. This race was all about me and running a smart race with a good effort and finishing. No premature celebrations will be tolerated. So I pressed on - by the Engineer's Gate, by the edge of the bridle path surrounding the reservoir, by the baseball fields in the North Meadow, and finally around the bend that is the 102nd street Transverse. During this stretch, I focused intently on my cadence, breathing, and footstrike. Suddenly, the distance between me and the next runner increases. There was no one within second yards of me. I began to feel a little tired, as if my body wanted to tell me that maybe I wasn't ready to race five miles yet. I didn't listen. Instead, I thought about how I was still running relatively well. I predict I was maintaining 6:15 or so pace. I also thought about how glorious it would feel to just finish and bury the hatchet from the DNF debacle that has haunted me for the past month. I must keep running even if I have to do so at a slower pace, I decided at that point. (Mile 3 - 6:12)
I made the turn onto the west side drive and prepare myself for the toughest mile of the whole race. The series of three hills, each lower and shorter than the first, always creates a havoc whenever it arises in an NYRR race. I was grumpy, I was tired, and I felt slow. I did not feel so well climbing them each in rapid succession. And despite seeing Flyer photographer BC again on the third small hill, I was so exhausted by that point that I did not even have the energy to fake a smile anymore. Luckily, everyone else around me felt the same thing at exactly the same time, which explains why no one passed me even as I was slowing down considerably. I was truly running on an island now. (Mile 4 - 6:23)
I was annoyed that I ran such a slow 4th mile, but I was happier that I was heading towards the home stretch and the final mile of this race. Although I had imagined pre-race that I'd fly down the big downhill that highlights this mile and coast to the finish, in reality, keeping my feet moving at a decent pace was all that my tired body was capable of. I saw my friend and fellow flyer JB running in the opposite direction and I wanted to stop and just run slow with him. He didn't hear me so I resolved to continue running. Even while my chest was burning though, I picked up the pace as best as I could. As I approached the finish, I could hear the cheers from the crowd growing louder and louder. There were both male and female cheerleaders out spectating and cheering for us at the finish. I absorbed all the vibes and carried it through the last 400m to the finish line. I gave the kick all I had as I fought my body through to the end. Judging from the last mile stats, I think I performed as brilliantly as I could, given the circumstances. I showed some pride in my run today! (Mile 5 - 6:07)
Official Time: 30:38; Pace – 6:08 min/mi
Overall Place: 51 out of 3564
Age Group Place: 10 out of 360
Age Graded Percentile: 70.78%
Flyer Men Rank: 1st