It's often been stated by those in professional running circles, that in a road race or longer endurance event, a good start does not often equate to ultimate success. Get off to a bad one however, and you can kiss your PR chances goodbye! I must say that prior to today, I'd never given much credence to these esoteric observations. After all, it is the redeeming quality of long distance running, the ability to find "a second wind" and "a second chance at life" despite a poor start that endears me to the sport. But, knowing now the sequence of events that transpired as a result of my bad start to race day, if I had to do today over again, I might have been better off just choosing to stay in bed.
It's a bit sad for me to acknowledge how truly excited I was to run this race just 24 hours ago. As I mentioned at the start of my previous post, this was the last race of the year for me. I desperately wanted to cap off a successful racing season with a newly minted 10K PR. Although I haven't done a full loop of Central Park in several months, I figured that I was familiar enough with the terrain and had enough fitness remaining from marathon training that I still should be able to run a good race.
My aspirations were tempered a bit when I woke up early on race day and found myself shivering from the deep freeze that had developed overnight. A check of the weather forecast quickly confirmed my suspicions. It was going to be 31F at the start in Central Park with winds of 10+ MPH. I debated going back to bed but knew my absence would be felt by both teammates and friends. So I begrudgingly put on my racing attire (shorts and short sleeves with gloves, bandana and compression socks), threw on a couple of additional layers for the long travel into the city and got out the door.
For a subway ride that ordinarily takes about an hour on weekends, I gave myself an additional half hour for the journey just in case. Sitting on an empty 7 train with no other passengers except for two homeless guys sleeping on the seats on the opposite end of the train felt surreptitiously eerie this early on a cold Sunday morning in December. I couldn't remember the last time I voluntarily woke up before dawn to travel so far to run a 10K race. I must want this PR bad, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, my sentiments were not share by the MTA who, despite my best intentions, still managed to delay the 6 train for 20 minutes at the 86th Street Station, leaving us with less than 10 minutes to get to the start when the train pulled into 103rd Street. Knowing that I was in serious jeopardy of missing my corral and the start, I took off in a pull sprint once I got out of the station. I was weaving and dodging the pilgrimage of runners strolling about, counting the minutes and seconds I had left before the start of the race. I ran about a full block before my feet got caught on an uneven section of the pavement and sent me flying toward the ground. I got up as soon as I felt impact, and although I did not feel much pain, I could see that my right knee was badly scraped and bleeding. I continued running, not daring to stop for fear that I'll miss the race.
By the time I got to Central Park, ran to baggage, dropped off my bag, and arrived at the starting line, they were already starting to sing the national anthem. The corrals had already collapsed and I found myself on the wrong side of the barricades at the front of the race with less than 2 minutes to go before the start. I ran toward the back until I could find an opening to squeeze through. I was now squarely in the back of the red corral with the race about to start. Less than a minute later, with my heart rate not yet settled from my race to the start, the command was given and we were off.
As expected, there was a lot of bumping and weaving in the first mile. I ran decisively but conservatively as the start. I squeezed through openings when I could and made my way forward in the crowd until I found some space to operate. Mile 1, 2, and 3 was pretty steady for me as I carried a good effort through Harlem and the West Side Hills. I was careful not to run too fast on downhills or drag too much on uphills knowing there was much more running left to be done. I was on PR pace through 5K but silently wondered whether I had enough to bring it home. Starting at mile 4 though, when I slowed a bit for the first time, my right leg and knee became achy and incongruous with the rest of my body. Although I couldn't identify the exact source of the pain, I could tell that it was beginning to affect my stride. I was obviously injured and thought about DNF'ing right before Cat Hill to save myself the embarrassment of finishing with a bad time and getting further injured. But then I remembered that this was a points race and felt that taking one for the team was more important than my personal welfare. Besides, I was still running albeit at a slower pace than before. I kept my stride short and increased my cadence to compensate as I lumbered over Cat Hill. Once over the hill, I knew there was less than 2 miles to go. Normally, this would be my signal to start sprinting. Today however, despite the ability of my cardiovascular fitness to accommodate this change, my legs just felt uncoordinated and unwilling to sprint. My form was suffering as a result and it was debilitating to see everyone who I passed in mile 1 come back to pass me again. I struggled through to the finish and wasn't able to generate much of a kick in the end. My finish time was 39:50...almost a full minute behind where I expected to be. Although I was able to score for the Flyers (4th on the team), legitimizing my decision to not DNF, I was not at all pleased with my effort, as I ended my 10K with an average pace that equals current half marathon pace.
Despite my troubles, I'm glad I suffered and ran this race even if the final time wasn't up to par with my expectations. I know my performance was not indicative of my current level of fitness but tempered by a freak injury that resulted from my own clumsiness and the unreliable MTA. I'm going to take the rest of this year to run easy, recover, and heal in order to recharge my batteries for an even more spectacular 2011! I already have some preliminary plans that I'm dying to share.
Congratulations to all of you who ran this race! Despite the sub-freezing temperatures and howling winds, there were over 4600 10K finishers today. If there's one thing I take away from this race, it is that runners are hard core. In running with just short sleeves, shorts, bandana and gloves in the race and with blood trickling out of my knee for the entire duration of the race, I became a little more of that myself today.
Official Time - 39:50; Pace - 6:25 min/mi
Overall Place - 211/4647
Gender Place - 201/2262
Age Group Place - 37/399
Age Group Percentile - 68.8%
Flyers Men - 4th Place