Many runners like to designate their races as A, B, or C events days, weeks, or even months in advance. I personally don't believe in such practice. For me, a race is either a competitive event or its not. I don't ever start a race thinking I'm going to give 50% effort. I always go out thinking I'm going to do my best. If circumstances change in the middle of a race that prevents me from giving it my all, than so be it. But at the start of every event, I always look to race well or I don't race at all. That was precisely my mindset today as I waited at my starting corral, hands on hips, body bent at the waist, a minute before the start of this race.
On paper, this was just an ordinary 5 mile race in Central Park, one that I've done countless number of times before (including one just 5 weeks ago!). Realistically speaking though, this was anything but "just another race". This annual race is for club points (actually DOUBLE points) and draws the best runners from across the many local clubs around the tri-state. it is notoriously small (only club members are allow to run), universally fast, and isn't for the faint of heart. I've done this particular race twice and each year have managed to set a PR for that distance. I've been nervous and anxious the past few days wondering if that trend will continue this year.
The lead-up to the race was mediocre at best. I didn't sleep well, ate poorly and despite taking a rare rest day yesterday, didn't feel fresh heading over to the race. I also made the mistake of overhydrating prior to the start by drinking a combination of water, tea, milk and gatorade all within an hour before the start. Despite the temperature being a bit on the mild side in the early morning (74F), I knew the sun was getting higher and stronger by the minute. For whatever reason, I felt a little sick, a little tired, and not ready to race even as I was running my warmup strides. Probably pre-race jitters...nothing to worry about, I said to myself as I gulped down 2 cups of water and ran off to my corral.
Although I customarily start races from the 1st blue corral, rarely from the 2nd red corral, I found myself lining up for the first time from the 3rd yellow corral today. Despite the small race field today, it was personally a bit disconcerting to start a 5 mile race not being able to actually see the starting line from where I was. I was also anxious of the extra heavy crowd around me jostling for position around the sharp first turn. I'd been stepped on rounding the corner each of the previous two years so I was afraid of what might happen this year with a bigger crowd around me all fighting for that tight space of real estate. The only positive I drew from my yellow bib was that it matched my spanking new Saucony Fasttwitch 4s perfectly!
After a brief set of announcements and the singing of the national anthem (apparently from a fellow runner), the horn sounded and we took off.
The pace was aggressive right from the start. As the frontrunners unleashed themselves along the straightaway and around the tight first turn like raging rapids over a waterfall, I thought I'd avoid trouble by running along the center of the course. I was wrong. No sooner was I about to make a wide sweeping turn around the first bend did I feel a sharp elbow jab right into my exposed shoulder. Ouch! I tumbled over a step just from the force alone before regaining my balance and continuing on. Well, at least one streak is continuing today.
Right from the getgo, I was looking for fellow Flyers to hang onto. As I made my way up the first west side hill, I see AP running about 100m ahead of me, and thought he'd be perfect for me to latch on. I stuck pretty close to his pace for about the first mile and a half. During this time, I was feeling good, running fast, but wasn't entirely comfortable with how I was running. There were a lot of spectators around, mostly cheering for the other elite teams, but I was able to feed off their energy to fuel my own run.
I was pretty happy with my first mile time, considering it was over a series of three hills, but by the middle of the second, I was tiring just a little bit. My good friend BW called out my name as he biked along the race course and that pumped me up to maintain my pace for just a little bit. I could tell I was dragging from the number of racers passing me so even as I tried hard to maintain effort (without looking at the Garmin), I knew I was losing pace.
After passing the mile 2 marker in a respectable time, I suddenly felt a minor cramp in my stomach that bothered and irritated me. It wasn't severe, it wasn't debilitating, but I felt I had to slow down to prevent it from progressing further. I eased off the gas pedal for nothing more than a quarter to a half mile tops, and then it was gone. Yet even though it was gone, I had no energy to pick the pace backed up. It was as if my legs were married to the slower pace and would not deviate to a higher turnover. At this point, the sun was high up in the sky, and I was getting hot. I inadvertently glanced over at Garmin and saw my heart rate skyrocket to the 170s. For some reason, that freaked me out more (even though it shouldn't) and I started to disintegrate. I lost pace, I lost effort, I felt horrible and everyone and their grandmother were passing me left and right. I wanted to stop and almost did...but the fact that I'd have to explain another DNF to my teammates and friends, both real and on twitter, FB and DailyMile kept me from dropping out.
So I struggled over the mile 3 marker (at a pace that's slower than tempo), struggled over Cat Hill and the rest of mile 4 (at a pace that wouldn't be found in a good half marathon for me). I know there were many runners and spectators who were cheering me on. I could hear their voices echoing in my head. But all I could sense was fatigue and all I could feel was ineptitude and failure. I know I was headed for a really horrible time and all I wanted to do was to run away and hide. But I couldn't...I wouldn't let myself. I was a Flyer, a runner, and soon to be running coach at diabetes camp, which meant that unless I was suffering some unbearable physical ailment, I have to finish what I started.
Shortly after mile 4, I saw my fellow Asian Flyer BH come up from behind and pass me. He gave me some brief words of encouragements and brought me out of the self-pity party I was throwing myself mid-race. Since this was the last mile, mostly flat, I decided to pick up the pace and stick with him. The weird thing was that the harder I ran, the better I felt. Out of courtesy (don't ask me why I thought that was an appropriate sentiment at mile 4 of a 5 mile race), I ran behind him for about a quarter mile. Eventually, with about 800 meters to go, I told him to pick it up and ran past him. I didn't look back but just ran as hard as I could toward the finish line. There were many Flyer ladies cheering close to the finish and I absorbed all their energy and came in with as strong a finish as I've ever had. Needless to say, it was my best mile of the race, both physically and emotionally.
In the end, I ended up with my worst 5 miler in over a year, exactly 20 seconds slower than a race on a similar course 5 weeks ago and 45 seconds than my Team Championship race from last year. Even though I'm more than a little disappointed, I am withholding judgment on the implications of this race performance on my chances for a good marathon in Chicago. Like I've told many others before, bad training days and bad races happen, sometimes for inexplicable reasons. This is my opportunity to practice my own sage advice and try my best to move on.
Official Time: 30:58; Pace – 6:11 min/mi
Mile Splits: 5:56, 6:03, 6:25, 6:40, 5:54
Overall Place: 218 out of 783
Age Group Place: 40 out of 129
Age Graded Percentile: 70.3%
Flyer Men Rank: 5th