Two consecutive races. Two times I've found myself in the grass mid-race lying on the side of the road. Last time, I was there as a pit stop to help out a friend. This time, I was alone, not feeling well and not even sure why or how I got there. I knew though even as I laid there, too dizzy to think, out of mind and out of sight of any of the other racers, this outcome was entirely my fault.
Of course I couldn't have predicted such a miserable performance in my worst nightmare when I got up this morning. I had been hitting good times on the track the last couple of weeks. I ate well the night before, hydrated like crazy the day prior, and had gotten decent sleep the last couple of days too. Although I was expecting no less than a PR as my goal in this 4M race, that seemed entirely reasonable given that my 4M PR pace is 6:09 from 2 years ago while my 5M PR pace is 6:02 and my 5K PR pace is 5:56. Just for kicks, I did a random 3M tempo workout around the lake earlier this week and my pace for that was 6:07. So even if I wasn't in tip-top speed running form, I should still be able to PR relatively easily if I could manage a half decent race.
The first sign of trouble came when I was lined up in my corral waiting for the race to start. My brow was already wet, beads of sweat were dripping down my bandana and Garmin reported a heart rate in the upper 90s even before the race begun. What was this craziness? I had only gotten in 2 warmup strides of about 100m that weren't very intense and I feel relaxed as can be. Yes, the weather was warm (79 degrees F) and humid (67%) as the thunderstorm that was promised overnight never materialized, but it wasn't stifling hot and I thought for sure I was acclimated to running in these conditions. So I didn't pay attention, even as the race announcer warned us to be careful running in this humidity. I was just so focused on starting out the first mile as fast as I can.
I was hot and bothered right out of the gate. I didn't like the fact that it was humid, I didn't like the fact that I was behind hundreds of runners even in the first (blue) corral and I especially didn't like the bumping and jostling that went on the first quarter mile. I just wanted to get out of the pack, run clear and establish my PR pace. I came out off the 103rd street drive and attacked the west side hills. I ran mile 1 as if I was running my usual mile intervals out on the track. I thought I was running easy, but in retrospect, the fact that I was moving up in the pack as I was climbing each of the series of three hills meant I was running way too fast. I didn't look at the Garmin until I passed the first mile marker. 5:49. This is faster than any previous first mile pace at any road race. This is faster than 5k pace. This is even faster than any 1M interval run I've ever done on flat ground!
But instead of slowing way down to accommodate a more appropriate pace, I continued to press. In my mind, I knew mile 2 was mostly downhill and there was no way I was going to let up going downhill after suffering through the three uphills. After 0.5 mile though, I did slow down, but just enough to maintain the same perceived effort as the first mile. I was starting to not feel well, but didn't attribute it to anything until I inadvertently looked down at Garmin and saw that my HR was now at 198. 198?! That is one or two beats above what had been my previous max! I've never seen anything above 190 prior to the last mile of a race before. No wonder I felt like crap. I must slow down. Must. Mile 2 came in at 6:00 even.
At the 72nd St transverse, Flyer PD recognizes me, tells me I'm doing a great job and motivates me to keep up the pace. I do, but only for a short stretch. The treachery of Cat Hill was about to begin and I was dealing with a HR that was unsustainable for running on flat ground, much less climbing what seemed like Mt. Everest to me at that time. I look my foot off the gas pedal and took the hill slow. I knew I had at least 30 seconds in the bank for a PR so the pace wasn't as concerning to me as was just getting over it with as little damage as possible. Runners were passing me now as I focused on just running toward the Cat, then toward the traffic light at the end of the hill. As I was climbing though, I began to feel dizzy and nauseous. Not the kind where I'm about to puke, but the kind where you feel as if you weren't getting enough oxygen upstairs. I had never felt like this in a race before and didn't know what to do. I was about to crest though and thought the feeling would go away after the hill, so I continued running.
I crested and glided down the hill at a slower pace still while waiting for the dizziness to subside. But it never did. It got a little more intense as I ran by the Met. I took some water at a rest stop. Up in the distance around the bend, I could make out the mile 3 marker. I looked down and saw that my HR was 185, still much too high for cardiovascular stability. My vision was getting blurry. As I ran the little minor hill leading out of the Met, it hurt too much to even open my eyes, so I closed them for just a second. I drifted in and out of consciousness and I started swerving. That scared me. I pass mile 3 at 6:21. I took a few more steps and realized my dilemma. One on hand, I had one more flat mile to go. Even if I ran something slow for this stretch (like a 6:30), I'd still get my PR. On the other hand, my body was failing terribly, my head was terribly dizzy and it was taking all of my focus and concentration just to coordinate my legs to move in a straight line. After another five or ten steps, when I almost collapsed onto a neighboring runner TWICE, I knew right then that there would be no PR that day. I found the nearest convenient exit behind some bushes and trees and ducked in. Once I saw that no one was around, I collapsed onto the grass and passed out.
The events that transpired afterwards were hazy at best. I know I stayed down for at least fifteen to twenty minutes. I know I limped over to baggage to grab my stuff. Then, after realizing that I was way too dizzy to walk home, hid in the Northern Woodlands of Central Park for a good couple of hours. In between, there was alot of cursing, emoting, contemplating, and trying to figure out how a race that was meant to go so right went so terribly wrong. Thank goodness I found an isolated and peaceful piece of land in the woods surrounded by trees by the side of a gently flowing brook where no one visited and where I could hide from my shame and escape my embarrassment for just a little while. It is incredibly ironic that it took a DNF (my first no less) for me to find such a majestic place in the middle of Central Park.