I woke up bright and early Saturday morning with the usual mixture of dread, excitement, anxiety and restlessness that often accompany race morning. A thousand questions race through my mind as I prepared for the battle ahead.
Will I PR today...maybe go sub 1:24 for the first time on my hometown course?
Should I be conservative, aim for 1:25 and equal my best time this year on almost the same course?
Can I NOT embarrass myself in front of neighbors and friends and do worse than 1:27, please?
Before I could answer my own questions, I opened the patio door, stepped out onto balcony to preview race morning and almost fainted from the extreme humidity! Apparently, while I was asleep, Flushing had transformed overnight from a quiet suburban town into "the surface of the sun"! It was already insanely hot (84F) and humid (70%) at 5:45am - a full hour and fifteen minutes before the scheduled start! Needless to say, all my race goals and aspirations went out the door with me.
As I walked over to the start of this race with a Flyer teammate who had stayed with me the previous night, I was disappointed and slightly embarrassed that so many friends and Flyers were making the trek all the way from Manhattan just to run this race. Although I was enthused about having so many people visiting Flushing Meadow Park and experiencing this new half marathon course with me, I was equally nervous for the negative feedback from the runners on the park and the race due to the weather alone. As I arrived at the staging area amidst the throng of runners, walking, stretching, scurrying, and running (seriously?) in the extreme conditions, I wondered myself whether the race should be canceled in favor of a fun run.
I dropped my stuff in baggage, saw and greeted some friends and teammates I knew and headed to my starting corral. Amidst the constant barrage of heat advisories and reminders to "drink plenty" and "slow down" from the race directors and Mary Wittenberg at the podium, I thought about my previous misfortunes in races with hot weather and readjusted my goals for this race to the following: 1) No DNF; 2) No walking; 3) 1:30 finish If possible.
The Start and Mile 1
I had been drinking like a fish out of water ever since I got up this morning - downing a whole bottle of Gatorade just in the starting corral alone - so I was well hydrated for the long insufferable journey ahead. Still, as the command to start the race was finally given, and the horn sounded, I considered it strange that I never developed the urge to pee again after leaving home. Could it really be that hot and am I really sweating that much?
It was a balmy 86F with 66% humidity by the start of the race. There was a heavy cloud cover initially for the first half hour or so, shielding us from the devastation of the sun's unrelenting fury which we would all suffer through in the second half of the race. I started my journey through mile 1 running as conservative and fast as I thought my body can handle. Aside from a smattering of cheerful spectators consisting of friends and family, and the guys spray painting the Unisphere as we were running through, the park was eerily empty and still. (Mile 1 - 6:33)
Upon passing mile 1 and exiting the park, I looked at my mile split and realized instantly that even averaging marathon pace (6:51 min/mi for 1:30 finish) would not be possible today. I gave up trying to chase my only time goal I had remaining and vowed I'd take 2 cups of fluids at all the water station and run comfortably for the rest of the race.
Mile 2-5: The College Point Boulevard Miles
After taking some water and Gatorade at the first fluid station shortly after mile 1, I made the left turn onto College Point and dialed into my pace. On the out portion of this out-and-back stretch, I found a few hills I never knew existed despite living on the side of this boulevard for the past 12 months. That's because this is the second busiest thoroughfare street in all of Flushing and I avoid running here normally as much as possible. Running along it now with water stations instead of cars parked on the streets felt not only awkward to me, but to my astonished neighbors as well just walking by.
I ran at a conservative semi-tempo effort through these miles, keeping a similar pace as those of my neighbors. As I ran by the water stations at every mile, I jogged slowly, taking a cup of Gatorade then at least one full cup of water before picking back up the pace. I remember getting passed by a friend early in mile 3 who yelled out my name as he passed through. Otherwise, I was keeping speed with all of my neighbors, all of us wet and traveling together as if we're in the same school of fish swimming along a similar current.
After the turnaround point at mile 3.5, we headed back to the park the same way we came. The return trip was fun because we got to see friends and others we know coming up behind us. I got greeted by so many people, some I recognized, some I didn't that at times I couldn't even keep up. It was completely awesome though and I wished there were more NYRR races with long out and back portions where this could be a more common occurrence. As I ran, waved and cheered for those I could make out, the mile and a half quickly flew by. (Mile 2 - 6:38; Mile 3 - 6:44, Mile 4 - 6:49, Mile 5 - 6:45)
Mile 6-11: The Middle Park Miles and Meadow Lake
After the exhilaration of the return trip on College Point, the park now seemed so much lonelier now than when we had left it. Although we were running on Perimeter Road along the majestic Flushing Meadows Aquatic Center and the U.S.T.A. National Center, a path that I take almost daily, I could feel my enthusiasm and energy slowly fading away. The sun was fully shining now and mile by mile I was slowing down. By the time I reached Shea Road overlooking the back section of CitiField, it was all I could do to keep moving. To make matters worse, there was a spectator/volunteer at Mile 7 who kept yelling "Almost There...Almost There" at all the runners who were already struggling by this point. From the anger and vitriol I heard from fellow runners afterwards, I prayed for his livelihood after the race.
As for me, mile 7-8 were the toughest miles of the race. It was hot, it was humid, but above all that, I just lost interest in the race once I saw my pace creep over 6:50. I was tired, I was angry, and 5-6 miles left still seemed so far away to me. I wanted to walk so badly here, but as I struggled, I reminded myself that running would almost be impossible after walking. Walking was one step closer to a DNF. Would I consider walking and DNF'ing in my own hometown race? How embarrassing would that be? Once the option of walking was taken off the table, I told myself to slow down, acknowledged that this was a bad stretch, and kept running. Less than a mile later, I saw my Flyer friends LG, DL, and their little dog Grady on the sideline. They hollered and cheered and gave me the extra mental boost I needed to overcome my struggles.
We made a sharp right and started the loop around Meadow Lake at mile 9. Because this is my usual stomping grounds for speedwork and tempo runs, I'm familiar with running fast here on less than a full tank of gas. I took as much Gatorade and water as my stomach could handle at the water station at the start of this loop and powered through as if this just another speedwork day. I wanted to remain conservative but keep pace through the rest of this course. The sun was blazing, there was no shade, some runners were walking, but I just kept running. Even though my pace never picked up to anywhere near where it usually is when I'm running here, the effort remained extremely consistent which I was very proud of after the struggles I had in the miles before. (Mile 6 - 6:55, Mile 7 - 6:57, Mile 8 - 7:14, Mile 9 - 7:20, Mile 10 - 7:11, Mile 11 - 7:13)
Mile 12-13.1: The Zoo/Hall of Science Mile and The Finish
Once we were done with the lake, the last two miles of the race took us to the finish via a running path that ran alongside the Queens Zoo and the Hall of Science. Honestly though, most of us who made it this far along in the race were not too interested in the sideline scenery. We just wanted to see the finish and end the suffering. I ran through mile 12 with this same attitude in mind. However, at some point in the middle of it all, I checked my heart and noticed that it was still hovering in the 160s. Since my max HR is 198 and my interval HR is usually in 170s, I was very surprised to see my heart rate so low so late in this race. This signified to me that I really did have a lot left in the tank, so I threw caution to the wind and kicked it in the last mile. I opened up my legs and sprinted as if I was in a one-mile time trial. I surprised myself by dropping my pace by almost a whole min/mile. I passed by at least 6-8 runners on that last mile and finished the race with the MC announcing my name as I crossed the line. Torture fest OVER! (Mile 12 - 7:11, Mile 13 - 6:18, Last 0.1M - 0:33)
After the race, I drank ten cups of water, five cups of Gatorade and still felt as if I was still dehydrated. I met up with fellow Flyers and traded war stories on what we had just gone through. For many of us, this was perhaps the most extreme conditions we've ever experienced in a race. For me, this was by far the hottest and most humid race I've ever been involved in. (Yes, for those wondering, this was even worse than it was at the New Jersey Marathon where there was at least a cool ocean breeze for the start and finish on the boardwalk!) I'm glad everyone I knew made it through okay and we didn't have to pick anyone up at the medical tent. From the post-race chatter, it seemed that everyone took it easy and made it a fun run for them even if it was not officially one. As for the course, even though I know there will be many who will disagree with me, I think Flushing Meadows Park and College Point represented the neighborhood pretty well today. There were no issues with crowd control, the roads were for the most part smooth and unobstructed, and it was relatively convenient for people to get to from the city.
I am excited for the opportunity to race this course again next year. Only this time, maybe I'll hold a seance the night before to ask the weather gods to have pity on us and turn down the furnace for just one summer race!
Finishing Time - 1:30:28
Average Pace - 6:55 min/mi
Overall Place - 70th out of 3668
Age Graded Pct - 65.7%
Age Group Place - 19th out of 473
NY Flyers Men - 1st