Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Almost Unofficial Thanksgiving 5M PR Race
Race Report from the Garden City Turkey Trot

The Preface

While most people probably spent their holiday cooking, eating, or watching football, I spent the bulk of mine finding the answer and dealing with the consequences to one of life’s greatest mysteries—What is the opposite of banditing a race? (C’mon you know you wondered about this too at some point in your life. No? Maybe it’s just me then.) Well, in any case, it turned out to be a Thanksgiving I would not soon forget.

The Intro

Of course, I never intended for my only day off this weekend to be THIS interesting. All I wanted to do this Thanksgiving, more than anything, was to do something I had never done before---participate in a Turkey Trot race. For reasons unbeknownst to me, the powers that be in the NYC racing scene doesn’t believe in holding races in Central Park on Thanksgiving even though there’s practically a race there on every other weekend all year long. And because I’ve never traveled far from the city on Thanksgiving since most of my family is from around these parts, I’d never been privy to join in this annual American tradition. This year however, because I felt I just had to enter a Thanksgiving race to celebrate and give thanks for the best running year I’ve ever had thus far, I made special arrangements to enter a Turkey Trot race in Long Island, which was about a half-hour drive from my parent’s house in Whitestone Queens.

Because this was my very first Turkey Trot and my first roadrace experience in Long Island, I would have been excited about this race regardless of circumstance. Yet, on the morning of the race, I was practically bubbling over with nervousness when my mom, my dad, and my little brother decided to come along and watch me run. Given that no member of my immediate family has ever before been spotted on the sidelines for any of my previous races, having them all there to cheer me on was such a special moment for me. I was so intent on making a good impression that I told my brother right before the race to expect me in less than 31 minutes. My previous PR for a 5 mile race was 31:07.

Although the field was not nearly as crowded as any of the NYRR races I was accustomed to, I was still quite surprised by the massive sea of runners that I found myself a part of at the start of the race. Fearing that I’d be stuck behind hordes of people that were going to approach this Turkey Trot more as a family fun run than a race, I situated myself as close to the front as I possibly could. All around me, I could see representatives from all of the local NYC running teams – Warren Street, NY Harriers, Central Park Track Team, etc in their uniform singlets, conversing boisterously over the race director shouting race information into his megaphone as if they were members of a running elite, far too important to worry about frivolous details like where the water stop and port-a-potties were located on the course. I for one was quite annoyed by this display, and wondered aloud if their gaudiness and arrogance could be reserved for a more appropriate race venue back in the city.

The race started a little after 10AM with the race director signaling a countdown with his fingers in the air and shouting “GO!” into the megaphone. Since I was but a few steps behind the starting line, it didn’t take me long to find and hit my pace. The course for this five mile race consisted essentially of two giant loops. The first 3.5 miles would be a out-and-back loop around a golf course while the last 1.5 miles would be a loop around a park and field house. My miles splits for the first part of the race was pretty good (Mile 1 – 6:00; Mile 2 – 6:12; Mile 3 – 6:10). I ran to the best of my abilities and tried hard to ignore the pack of teenagers gunning it right from the start. I eventually caught up to most of them between the second and third mile, although one of them stole the cup of water that a volunteer was about to hand off to me when he messed up the transfer and dropped his own cup of water and reached back for another. Luckily, I knew that I could do without the water anyways, so I took the opportunity to overtake him while he drank the water. In the end, justice was served because he never caught back up to me again after that.

After circling back to the start, I passed my family again at the 3.5 mile mark, which was quite thrilling. My mom was clapping and yelling my name as I ran by while my little brother gave me a thumbs up sign as I ran across. I was tiring somewhat by then but did all I could to hold on. I passed Mile 4 at 6:19 and knew that if I could hold on at my current pace, I’d have my PR. Towards the end, I found myself trailing a female runner and did all I could to catch up to her. I probably would have too if it weren’t for the fact that there was a turn about 0.1 mile from the finish and the road narrowed to a single file around the finish line. I gave it my all with a big sprint at the end and came in just after her with a final time of 30:46. My last mile was ran in 6:03, which was a lot faster than I thought I was capable of feeling so exhausted at the last mile. For my efforts, I recorded a PR by 20 seconds! I was very stoked that I ran so well in front of my family. Unfortunately, they missed my triumphant finish as they were still wandering around the course, not knowing where the end of the race would be. Still, everyone was excited that they saw me run for the first time, and they all guessed I was within the top 20 or 30 runners at the point that they saw me. Personally, I wasn’t so concerned about my overall finish, just my age group finish. I thought for a moment that I might be up for an award, but when I saw that they were only giving out trophies for the top 2 finishes in every decade, I knew there was not going to be any souvenirs for me that day. After drinking some fluids and allowing my head to settle from the post race nausea caused by my anaerobic sprinting at the end, we headed back home and prepared for the rest of our Thanksgiving Day activities.

The Discovery

After a self-congratulatory hot shower and some lunch, I proceeded to enjoy the rest of my day off watching football and having a grand ol’ time with the family, and forgot all about my race. It wasn’t until later that night, during an intersession in Thanksgiving dinner when I logged on to the race website to check on my official result that I knew something was wrong. As I scrolled through the screen searching for my name, I became more and more disappointed. Not only couldn’t I find my name in the top 50 or top 100, my name was not even listed among the 2293 finishers!

The Dilemma

I went through the five stages of grief in about five minutes after I overcame the shock of not seeing my name in the official results. At first I thought maybe I had dreamt the whole thing up and hadn’t really run the race. (I had to ask my brother if he really saw me run that day.) Then I became angry that they messed up and didn’t record my time. After that, I became confused and wondered if my PR should count since I didn’t receive an official time. A few minutes after that I felt sad that even though I ran a great race, and had my family there to witness my achievement, there would be no documented evidence of my running that race. Eventually, after another minute of contemplation, I accepted my fate and the fact that there wouldn’t be a time for me. So yeah, five stages of grief…all in about five minutes.

But while lying in bed that night and reviewing the events of the day, I couldn’t help but wonder if indeed my race should really “count”. On the one hand, I knew I ran the race and had witnesses that saw me run the race. On the other hand, if there was no time recorded for me at the finish, how could I prove to myself that I had run a PR? Even though I had kept the time on my Garmin, how did I know that I hadn’t started or stopped it a few seconds too fast or too slow. I had no way of knowing. In my mind, the result would’ve been the same if I hadn’t done the actual race but ran another 5 mile course somewhere else. Although I had every reason to count it as such, I decided that night that if my race result wasn’t officially posted, I would pretend it didn’t happen, which would mean no PR as well. To my analytical mind, my dilemma was the same as the philosophical question “If a tree falls down in a forest, but no one is there to witness it firsthand, did it really happen?” All I knew as I drifted off to sleep that night was that this awkward experience of running a great race and yet not receiving the acknowledgment must be the exact opposite of what it feels like to run a race as a bandit.

The Resolution

The next day, while scrolling through race results and race pictures still feeling somewhat numb from what happened the day before, I found out that I would have finished #37 overall and 8th in my age group (30-39) if my result counted. Not only so, but interestingly enough, the woman that out-strided me to the finish, was the first female finisher! In the picture they had of her at the finish, I could clearly be seen in the background, coming in right after her. Because of that, I had documented evidence of my finish! I quickly scoured through the race photos to find one of me and sent an e-mail with both pictures to the race director to ask about my race result.

Well, I’m happy to report that after three days of nervous anticipation, the official race results were finally corrected and my name was inserted in its rightful place today among all the finishers. Instead of being excited and thrilled that I ran another PR, my tenth this year, I’m just relieved that everything was fixed and I don’t have to have any further debates with myself on what to do with an unofficial race PR result.

Although the experience was somewhat psychologically traumatically and morally grueling, I’m glad that this whole experience happened because it proved to me how intimately personal my passion for running and running fast is. I know there are many around me who would never understand why this whole episode could be so aggravating for me. But then again my races and my PRs are all my own, and I would never expect anyone else to know about the many hours of hard work and training that goes into preparing for each of them either.

Hope you all had a good holiday weekend, whether or not you got to run. (But hopefully you did!)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Work and Play

I know for most people, this long holiday weekend is reserved mainly for giving thanks and rejoicing with family and friends where sloth and gluttony take a vacation from the list of deadly sins. Unfortunately, as I was so rudely reminded by my secretary as she handed me my recently updated patient list today, I am not most people. I will be hard at work bright and early Friday morning and possibly all through the rest of the weekend.

I can’t complain though because part of the reason I have clinic duty this weekend is because I’m taking off most of next week for a marathon vacation in Las Vegas. Woohoo! Although I’m not sure if I’m prepared to run 26.2 miles when I haven’t completed a run longer than 13 miles since I crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon 3 weeks ago, I am excited to be escaping the wind/cold/rain for a few days with my running club, and meeting up with a few friends (including one fellow blogger who is looking to run her first B.Q.!).

We have quite a few wild party itineraries planned for when we arrive so this marathon preparation period is going to be a little bit out of the ordinary for me. Obviously then, there’ll be no grand delusions of a sub-3:00 or a P.R. attempt in this marathon as I’m strictly looking for a fun and leisurely scenic run around the Strip. If I have to guess, I’ll probably end up with a personal worst this time around—and I’ll be all fine with it.

In any case, I'll probably have more to say about the marathon next week. Honestly, I really haven't thought much about it or even looked at the course. (Bad Laminator!) First, just let me get through the rest of this holiday work week. Unlike the rest of you all, I’ll be so thrilled when it’s all over. Play time for me will start when play time for everyone else is over. What a wierd dichotomy!

In the meantime, enjoy enjoy your turkeys (and your Turkey Trots) everyone!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Weekend Potpourri:
Is Integrity Inherent In Running?

"The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out." -- Thomas Babington Macaulay

I had every intention of blogging about my long run today—how I pounded out 18 miles in sub freezing temperatures with a wind chill in the teens and wind gusts up to 25 miles an hour. But before I was even able to entertain the question of how or where I was to run the tough middle miles, I noticed my hands getting cold and numb (even as my head and body was sweating!) after just the first loop around Central Park. As a result, for health reasons, I was forced to terminate my run after only 6 miles today. Needless to say, I was quite disappointed with myself and the weather.

So instead I am going to tell you a fascinating story that I read in the news a couple of days back which had me thinking about the integrity of our sport…

The story involves a lesser known PGA golfer named J.P. Hayes and what he did during the second stage of the PGA Tour qualifying tournament last week. You can read the full account of the tale here, but essentially the highlights are:

  • During the 12th hole of the first round, Hayes inadvertently played two shots with a different model golf ball than the one he had used to start the round.
  • When he realized his mistake in the middle of the hole, he acknowledged his mistake, called an official over, and incurred a two-stroke penalty for the hole. According to golf experts, if he had not admitted his own mistake, it would have been impossible for anyone else (except for maybe his caddie) to have known about it otherwise.
  • Even after incurring the penalty, Hayes still shot a 74 in Round 1 and a 71 in Round 2, putting him in good shape to finish within the top 20 and advance to the qualifying finals in December. Of note, finishing well in this qualifying tournament affords the golfer automatic entry into major PGA Tour events the following year.
  • Later that night, while relaxing in his hotel room (after Round 2), he suddenly realizes that the errant golf ball he had used in the 12th hold of Round 1 might not have been on the approved list.
  • He had a choice: He could have said nothing and kept playing, with no one aware of his mistake. Or he could turn himself in and let his mistake cost him a 2009 PGA Tour card.
  • He chose the latter.
  • When asked about his decision afterwards, Hayes nonchalantly replied “I would say everyone out here (on the PGA Tour) would have done the same thing.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I found this story absolutely fascinating and intriguing on so many levels. How someone can be so forthright and honest that he calls a penalty on himself and then disqualifies himself from a tournament that essentially eliminates him from active competition in 2009 just boggles my mind. In this day and age of professional athletics, where it seems like every other story is about instant replay, bad officiating, gambling scandals and doping controversies, it is so awkwardly strange to hear about a sporting culture that is fundamentally built on honesty, integrity, and trust as in golf. Can you imagine if baseball, or basketball, or even tennis operated on such a premise—where ballplayers will say to the ump, “You know…I know you called Ball Four, but I really swung across the plate so I’m just going to go back to the bench now.” or the point guard will go to the referee and say “Sorry ref, I know you missed it, but I hit his arm as he was releasing his shot…please give him a free throw.” That would be so weird, I’m not even sure I can imagine such a scenario. Then I started to ask myself if I can find a corollary in the sport of running. Is there a scenario where our integrity is similarly tested--where our character is in full display for others to bear witness?

Off the top of my head, I can think of one such example.

Somewhere in the middle miles of the New York City Marathon, in a remote section of Queens that is distinctly unpopulated and for the most part, deafeningly quiet, there is a playground/soccer field around which the marathon course travels. Although I’ve rarely seen children play there in the three years that I’ve run the race, I’m no less shocked and bothered by the gamesmanship tactics and unsportsmanlike actions I see all around me in my travels through that neighborhood. No, I’m not talking about kids pushing, shoving, or kicking each other as they chase after a ball. I’m talking about my fellow competitors who jump off the course, onto the sidewalk, and back onto the course as they make their sharp right corner turn at the edge of this field! Normally, I often do not notice such trivial things during the marathon as I’m too absorbed in my own breathing and my own pace to care, but in the most recent edition of the race three weeks ago, I succinctly remember a fellow runner start from behind me, took the short cut over the sidewalk and end up in front of me as I made the full right hand turn! It was a bit aggravating to say the least, but in my mind, I wanted to ask him if the knowledge of breaking the rules and running off the course if only to gain a few extra seconds or feet of running was worth more to him than his regard for honesty and integrity and the satisfaction that he ran the full 26.2 miles instead of a fraction less. I know there are many who took the shortcut that day and the trespassers will not be identified or reprimanded in any sort of way, but I just wonder how many of them would do what they did if they knew their friends and/or families were there, cheering them from the sidelines.

I’m not here to judge anybody because god knows I’ve had my share of transgressions. I’m simply throwing this out there for us to realize that even in very simple acts of life, like running, our inner character is in full display. The essential question which we should ask ourselves is: If you knew others were watching, what kind of person/runner would YOU want them to see?

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Runner’s LoungeCast Episode 2: The Marathon

Have you wondered what it really takes to run 26.2 miles? Or maybe just the last 6.2? What are some things you should know before you tackle marathon training for the first time? Or the fifth? If you’ve ever pondered these questions on your runs, on your walks, or maybe even in your sleep, you should listen to episode 2 of the Runners’ LoungeCast where I and seven of my likeminded friends discuss these and other topics related to marathons and marathon training. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced pro, you’ll definitely find something you can use for your own quest for 26.2. Take a listen here. Thanks Razzdoodle for producing this great new podcast for the running community. Enjoy the show!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Race Report from the God’s Love We Deliver 4M Race

Distance vs Speed. Running long vs running fast. Although there are many who believe that it is perfectly reasonable to train simultaneously on both aspects of one’s running game, I believe that endurance training puts such an onus on patience, diligence and persistence, that it is very difficult to switch gears effectively on a daily or a weekly basis to incorporates both pursuits into one single training plan. For the past month or so, during the most intense portions of marathon training, I sacrificed my opportunities to run in the shorter races in favor of much longer ones in hopes that they would lead to a better performance in my target race, the New York City Marathon. But now that the training has been done, the race completed, and the race report to end all race reports has been written, I was eager to return to the short game to see what progress, if any, I’d made in this arena over the course of the summer.

I found myself at the starting line on a cold and windy Sunday morning with about 6000 other crazy neighbors for a four mile race around Central Park. This particular version, aptly titled God’s Love We Deliver, is very familiar to me; I’d been a participant for three years running. But although I was mentally prepared for a good race, physically, I was feeling somewhat less than 100%. I had caught the flu earlier this week and was still coughing and sneezing a little on the morning of the race. I also ran a little too hard, a little too fast on my twelve miler the day prior due to an impending thunderstorm in the area. My legs were still slightly sore, but eager to run. I had thought about running this race to set a PR, but given the events of the past week, I’d be happy just to come close.

We started the race on the 72nd Street Transverse running east. Because I was lined up in the very first corral, I knew the pace of the race would accelerate very quickly right from the gun. Although I recognized a few of my Flyer teammates and some other familiar faces, most of the starting crowd was completely foreign to me. In fact, I could tell from the giddiness of the chatter and heightened level of excitement in their movements, there were more than a few who were just happy to be running and not exactly lined up properly or prepared to race this course. My suspicions were verified when within a few seconds of starting, I saw a female runner who was still busy conversing with her friend slip and fall face first on the ground next to me. I grimaced with pain as I scooted around the accident, afraid to look back to see if there’d be a domino effect.

I raced up Cat Hill and past the first mile marker in 6:02. I didn’t necessarily have a strategy planned for this race, so to have completed the tougher portion of the course with this time was more than acceptable to me. As I continued onward on the Upper East Side, I tried easing into a good running cadence and breathing rhythm. I was getting passed steadily on this mile, which made me think I was slowing down somewhat. I was pleasantly surprised when I passed the second mile marker at 6:02. Really?

I was starting to get sore now, probably more from the lingering effects of my long run from the day before than anything I had done on the previous miles. Having crossed the halfway point of the race at the 102nd Street Transverse, I was preparing but dreading the series of hills I’d have to cross in the critical third mile of the race. In my previous race of this distance during the summer, I remember crossing mile 2 twenty-one seconds ahead of PR pace, but then lost my speed and my mind in mile 3 to finish one second off my PR. How frustrating. So now, having to tackle this treacherous stretch once again, I prepared myself for battle with the memories of the failed mission a few months prior still fresh on my mind.

I wasn’t sure about the time at first, but I somehow made it through mile 3 at 6:26. A lot of runners were passing me now, but I kept my focused at the task at hand as best I can. My lungs were starting to burn and my legs felt as heavy as if they were at mile 20 of the marathon. I remember telling myself that my job today wasn’t to beat all these runners, but to run as best as I can to beat my previous self. It was a good revelation to have at this point because it settled me down and kept me from feeling demoralized as runners steadily streamed by.

After passing the mile 3 marker, I ran the last mile as a dead sprint towards the finish. I didn’t have the mental capacity at that point to calculate if I was ahead or behind my PR pace, but just trusted myself to the running gods and ran as hard as I could down the stretch. Even while I was pumping arms and legs, I saw one of my teammates sprint past me during the last quarter mile which was a bit depressing, but I kept on. As I made the final turn back onto the 72nd Street Transverse, I could hear the public address announcer at the finish call out “and coming in at an even 24:30…” and thought to myself “My PR is 24:44 so I still have a chance”. I found another gear and charged up the hill to the finish faster than in any race I could remember. I wound up crossing the mat at 24:38, setting a PR by 6 seconds! As I struggled to catch my breath again after the finish, I went over and congratulated my teammate for his great race in chasing me down to the finish. Inwardly, I was very tired, very sore, but somewhat proud that even as I lost some battles with others on the road, I ran well enough to claim victory over my former self once again.

Final Statistics
Finishing Time – 24:38 (PR by 0:06!)
Pace by Miles - 1: 6:02; 2: 6:02; 3: 6:26; 4: 6:08;
Avg Pace – 6:09; Age Graded % - 69.2
Avg HR – 175; Max HR – 187
Overall Place – 80/5979 (1.3%)
Age Group Place – 11 (best ever in NYRR race)
Flyers Rank (Men) – 4

Friday, November 14, 2008

After The Curtain Falls:
Tying Up Loose Ends from My 2008 NYCM

First of all, I’d like to thank everyone for their best wishes before the race, the shouts of encouragement during the race and the warm congratulations after the race. I consider myself very fortunate to have found this great community of runners and an honor to be considered a member. The race report to end all my previous race reports was just an attempt to pay my respects to both the race itself and my bloggy friends for their support. (I sincerely apologize for those who read my race report at work and had their tears jerked…it wasn’t totally intentional. I simply wanted to simulate how I was feeling during those long “heart” miles.)

Now that we’ve gotten through the mushy and serious stuff. It’s time to have some fun with race time numbers. So here’s an excerpt from the marathon results web page showing the five competitors who finished immediately in front and behind me. I’ve highlighted my race time in red and blacked out all the names to protect the identities of the interested parties.


As you read (if you can't read...just trust me) split times and discern paces, some intriguing trends become evident:

  1. Notice how they are two, count’em two, chicks who finished within seconds of where I finished. To make matters worse, both are North Americans, and both are at least a year older than me. How embarrassing.
  2. Aside from me and fast chick #1 from NJ, there are no other Americans within my study group. And aside from the 32 year old Italian dame who leads the pack and finished 9 seconds before I did, I’m the youngest of the group. [It’s mind boggling to me how there are as many 30-somethings as there are 40-and even a 50-something on this list]
  3. Moving on to the individual paces. All the runners except the guy bringing up the rear of the pack ran a faster 5K than I did. Not only so, but even by extending the analysis to the half-way mark, out of the 9 other runners in this group who started out faster than me, only one (and a chick at that) ended the 13.1 miles with a slower time than I.
  4. Finally, if we were to calculate times for the second half of the race as compared to the first half, we’d see that only one competitor (Runner #451) ran a negative split for the race, by more than a minute no less! Female Runner #36 ran the next best differential at +2:41, while I was third with a differential of +3:20. Everyone else ran a worse positive split.

I was especially proud of this last fact because running even splits was a major goal of mine coming into the race. Given that I ended last year’s race with a +7:04 positive split in the second half, cutting that figure down by more than 50% was a gratifying sign of improvement. (Now, if someone can translate these points into different languages and distribute them as pamphlets at the marathon start or the expo next year, maybe we wouldn’t see so much unnecessary bonking in Central Park. Just a thought.)

Finally, I present to you a race picture of mine from mile 25, I think…

2008 NYCM

I’m showing you this because it’s the only marathon picture that doesn’t have me with my eyes closed, playing with my bandana, fiddling with the Garmin or holding a half-eaten GU packet in my hands. Personally, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that my picture looks so much like this picture, taken at approximately the same place.

winner of 2008 nycm

Yeah, so what if he finished his marathon in 2:08:43 en-route to securing his second championship in this race while I finished mine in 3:02:20, good for 1105th place. Apparently, even though we generally looked the same (he was airbone a bit longer than I was and chose a darker shade of black for his running shoes, they couldn't find a spot on the podium for 1105th place. Who knew? I'm telling you, the locals always gets the shaft!

On that note, have a great weekend, all! There’ll probably be another race report (albeit, a much shorter one) in the next posting. I’m scheduled to run a 4M race on Sunday to test out the speed fibers. It’s my first short race since early in my marathon training so I’m really excited. Unfortunately, I’m still fighting off the tail end of a nasty cold/flu that I’d been suffering from the past week, so I’m a bit worried that my performance will be somewhat hampered. Oh well, we’ll see what happens.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rocking The Marathon, New York Style
Race Report from the 2008 New York City Marathon
Part IV – The “Heart” Miles


Mile 21 (Mile Time – 7:09; Total Time – 2:24:59; Average Pace – 6:54)

“Running in the Bronx was all you did when someone was chasing you for money,” Harrie (Bakst) recalled a few days before the marathon. He was mugged, he added, as a seventh grader.

In all the marathons I’ve run so far, I’ve found only one universal truth. Everyone dies a little at Mile 21. For most there isn’t a physical death per se, although some experts might argue that the instantaneous transition to alternate fuel sources once all glycogen stores have been depleted constitutes as metabolic death at the cellular level. Rather there is an emotional and sometimes spiritual fight that occurs in this mile that forces the marathoner to confront his or her own faults and weaknesses. Whatever the consequences of that battle are, afterwards, there is a portion of the former self that will forever be gone.

There was a part of me that wanted to just die in the Bronx so I wouldn’t have to contemplate how I’d ever make it back to Central Park. In the Jumbotron up ahead I watch the procession of limpers and walkers exiting over the Madison Avenue Bridge and am frightened by what I see. In my head, I’m trying to block out the memories of yesteryear when I used to be one of them, trudging slowly but defiantly back to Manhattan in a half-asleep half-awake zombie-like state, totally oblivious to the outside world. I sing songs that have stuck in my head, recite poems that I can’t understand, and hold imaginary conversations with loved ones in faraway places, all in an effort to not join in. I trick myself into believing that I’m a better runner now, even if my ever increasing pace would have had me convinced otherwise.

I eventually begin the climb over the bridge out of the Bronx and leave the shadows of my former self trickling in from behind.

Mile 22 (Mile Time – 7:06; Total Time – 2:32:05; Average Pace – 6:54)

The marathon distance is nothing if not merciless. Those 26.2 miles—especially the final six, where the real race begins—have the ability to expose even the slightest of injuries and create new ones.

I’m passing by West Harlem in a part of town that I’m very unfamiliar with. My legs are definitely complaining a little more now, but not so unlike what I’m used to after a weekend long run coming off a high mileage week. I’d already made the executive decision to acknowledge the pain but completely disassociate my mind from legitimizing it way back in mile 20, so there wasn’t a way out for me except to run fast, finish strong, and extricate myself from the situation as quickly as possible.

As a method of distraction, I chose to look around and soak in the sights. The crowd was dense and the mood festive in this corner of upper Manhattan. A school band was playing while an older generation watched and danced in rhythm to the marching beat. I had very little recollection of this mile in my previous marathons because in both instances, I was hurting so bad by this mile that my eyes were half-closed and my mind completely internally driven at this point. So this time, being able to see and fully appreciate the interactions between the marathoners and the Harlem crowd was a victory all onto itself.

Mile 23 (Mile Time – 7:02; Total Time – 2:39:07; Average Pace – 6:55)

“I am convinced that you can go through a lot more when you are physically fit,” Grete (Waitz) said. “It is both physical and mental. With the athletic background, you think more on the positive side—you can do this.”

After deriving pleasure from the cheers and good wishes offered all through Harlem, I find myself once again at the vaunted Fifth Avenue mile. Topographically, the degree of elevation gain in this stretch of road does not hold a light to the intermittent but hilly terrain of Central Park, where I’ve been consistently training over the past year. However, given its location on the course, the mild but steady one-and-a-half mile climb (encompassing most of this and some of the next mile) on Fifth Avenue has always been the most treacherous for me. Not only have they invariably been my slowest miles in the marathon, but some of my worst marathon experiences (crawling for two blocks in Marathon 1, and hurting so much I was inconsolably crying in Marathon 2) have occurred here as well. In fact, I’ve often felt that the story of my marathon can be summarized by my efforts in these 30 blocks.

But just as in other venues of athletic performance, from the depths of some horrific circumstances can sometimes be found the most beautiful of life experiences. For every year, at this time, in this mile, when I’ve gone too far to just drop out yet am still not close enough to visualize the finish line, when I have perhaps overextended myself and have questions and doubts as to whether I should even be here running this race, I turn to talk to the one person who’ve always been there for me, encouraging me, pushing me forward, through any and all of life’s toughest challenges, especially at mile 23. I’m speaking of course of my little sister. (For those who never had the pleasure of meeting her, I’m sorry you missed all would have really liked her…she passed away from a car accident when I was 10 and she was 8) I have extremely deep, personal, and emotional conversations with her every time out in mile 23 and she responds in kind by inspiring me, guiding me, and teaching me a few things I hadn’t yet learned about myself. So I know for a fact she’s listening. I only wish she were alive to see my run so well because of her, she would have been so proud.

Mile 24 (Mile Time – 7:22; Total Time – 2:46:29; Average Pace – 6:56)

If you allow yourself to say that maybe you’re working too hard, a lot of the times you’ll say that over and over again and then you’re not going to work hard enough. – Stephen Shay (brother of Ryan Shay)

After recovering from the emotional catharsis of the last mile, I finally reach Engineer’s Gate and make the turn at 90th into Central Park. Once I reach these familiar grounds, I know for a fact I’m going to make it to the finish for the third straight time.

If ever there was a place I’d call my running home, this would most definitely be the place. For it is within these hallowed training grounds, once roamed by legendary and current greats like Alberto Salazar and Anthony Famiglietti, that I learn, practice, and display my sport almost invariably each and everyday. And although some may find it a bit dangerous and congested with cars, bikes, runners and pedestrians all fighting for the same two lane road, it has always suited my purposes just fine.

But even for someone who is as familiar with the park as I am, I can’t help but be shocked and a bit overwhelmed by the sight of hundreds of spectators packed like sardines behind barricades cheering me on while watching me run. I hear my name being called out and am startled. I look to my left and see my dear friend D.S. off to the side waving her arms and yelling my name. I wasn’t expecting to find her out here today, so to have spotted her right in the Park was definitely a huge surprise. For a moment, I remembered back to a summer ago when she told me I inspired her to pick out new running shoes after a long time off from the sport. At the time, that was a turning point for me for that was when I really understood how this simple little exercise can have far reaching benefits way beyond my own.

Towards the end of the mile, as I reached the back side of the Met, I find my cousin J.K. and her boyfriend stationed on the grass off to the left. She had made a sign for me with my name in giant block letters for all to see. It felt just a little embarrassing but so exhilarating at the same time.

Mile 25 (Mile Time – 7:09; Total Time – 2:53:38; Average Pace – 6:56)

“It’s about going father than you ever thought you would have to go. You have to go way beyond, to a point where you are uncomfortable.” – Rich Bakst (2007 NYCM finisher)

Someone’s holding up a sign that reads “Pain is temporary, glory lasts forever.”

I’m flying down Cat Hill and running towards the lower east end of the park. I knew I was in store for a big P.R. but just didn’t know by how much. I’m extremely sore, but otherwise surprisingly strong. I continue to pass by hordes and hordes of walkers and joggers who are fighting to finish what they’ve started. Some are hanging on to the metal side barriers for support. Others are stretching out different body parts with the help of loved ones and strangers out on the curb. I stare at the ESSEX sign towering straight ahead and keep moving on.

In my mind, I was perplexed by how even among this pact of faster runners, all moving at better than B.Q. marathon pace, there’d still be so much bonking, walking, cramping, and limping. Hadn’t they practiced this distance before? Didn’t they have a contingency plan for if something goes wrong? What’s the point of starting so fast if all you’re going to do is limp to the finish? I felt somewhat sorry for them as I calmly glided by, like a race car speeding past the competition to take the checked flag.

Mile 26 and The Last 0.2 (Last 1.2 Miles – 8:42; Final Time – 3:02:20; Average Pace – 6:57)

I am trained for this. In my mind I am going to fight to the finish. – Henrik Ramaala

I exit the park and take the right onto Central Park South. By the time I get here, I’m physically and emotionally spent. There are markers counting down the distance now; one mile to go, then 0.5 miles to go, then 800 meters, then 400 meters. I know they were meant to be informative for the greater running community, but when I saw them so straight forward and blunt, I couldn’t help but feel as if they were directly speaking to me, poking, taunting and pleading with me to sprint the remaining distance.

I passed by the spot whether a past champion once took an early turn off course, had to be redirected back and still had enough to recapture the lead and win the crown. At that moment, given my level of exhaustion, I thought about how likely I would’ve made the same mistake if a barricade wasn’t already set up there to obstruct the way.

I eventually do make the final turn back into the park. At 800m left, I decide to bear down and take off towards the finish. I close my eyes for one final time. In my mind, I am Paul Tergat running the final 0.2 miles with Henrik Ramaala in the form of two nearby Russian runners hot on my heels. I start to make out 3:02:XX on the clock above the finish line and make it my goal to finish before 3:03. I speed up some more, clearing out whatever reserved energy I had left. I count off the final steps as I cross the finish line under 3:03….officially, 3:02:20…capping the epic journey and my 3rd NYCM with a 6 minute P.R.!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Rocking The Marathon, New York Style
Race Report from the 2008 New York City Marathon
Part III – The “Leg” Miles


Mile 11 (Mile Time – 6:53; Total Time – 1:15:02; Average Pace – 6:49)

“Don’t bring the people to the races,” (Fred) Lebow said. “Bring the race to the people.”

I continue onward on Bedford Avenue and are getting closer to the first location where a friend of mine said she’d be coming out to spectate. The crowd was somewhat sporadic in this part of Brooklyn but since I didn’t know which side of the street she’d be on, I had to look in both directions and scan the crowds quickly as I was running. The marathon course traverses through a very orthodox Jewish community at this point, a community that views our travel through their neighborhood more as public nuisance than as a activity worthy of commendation. For the most part, all the local residents I saw tried as hard as they could to ignore the public spectacle happening just a few feet from where they were standing and walking. I even saw an older mother trying to cross over Bedford Avenue with her four small toddlers right in front of us! Thank goodness a cop was there to redirect her and save her young ones from being trampled by the onslaught of runners.

I finally saw R.H. at the end of this mile together with her roommate, screaming wildly and cheering like madwoman dressed in oversized plastic glasses and puffy feathery dresses. “This must have been their leftover costumes they didn’t wear to their Halloween party!” I thought to myself as I approached them. I chuckled, gave them a hearty big wave and cruised on by.

Mile 12 (Mile Time – 6:50; Total Time – 1:21:52; Average Pace – 6:49)

One day his sister asked him. “Why do you care so much about strangers?” Lebow responded…”There is no such thing as a stranger; every human being is special.”

Maybe it’s a defense mechanism. Or maybe it’s the delirium that accompanies running on for so many miles. I’m convinced though that there are stretches in the tough middle miles of a marathon where the mind will play tricks on you. It’d make you perceive things that are not really happening or go through emotions that would seem out of place and irrational otherwise. It wants to make you alter your plans or stop you dead in your tracks even when everything’s physically fine and you’re having the time of your life.

I should have been so happy at this point in the race. I had stuck with the game plan and had run quick even miles while expending very little energy. In fact I was running faster than I’ve ever had in a marathon and still felt I could have sped up a bit more if I had wanted. I just saw one of my spectating friends with promises of more to come once we hit Manhattan. The weather was getting warmer and milder with each successive mile, and I had no physical complaints whatsoever. I was running freer and speedier than I ever thought I would be at this point in a marathon.

But instead, I was downright miserable. Up ahead, an Italian guy was playing helicopter with the crowd, weaving in and out of the road to slap the hands of all the youngsters cheering from the sidelines. He looked so happy swerving left and right and entertaining the spectators with his antics. Another foreign runner was posing for pictures with a mob of his Brooklyn contingents on the opposite side of the road. Something about watching these foreign runners having the time of their lives with the locals in my town really bothered me. I thought about how despite my deepest desires, they’d be no posing for pictures, no playing with the crowd, not even a thank you to those who’d come out to cheer for me today. It was the realization of that harsh reality that made me sad. I wish there was some way to run for fun AND run for time both in the same race.

In order to stop the floodgates from opening up, I made a promise to myself that one day, after I’ve hit that running plateau that so many others have warned me about, I will run this marathon course slow, perhaps with a friend, just to dance to the music, play with the crowds, eat all their free giveaways and generally see all that I’ve missed out on in all the years I ran this marathon for a BQ or a time. Yeah, that’d be nice.

Mile 13 (Mile Time – 6:52; Total Time – 1:28:44; Average Pace – 6:49)

“The thing that sets New York apart from all the other marathons is that half of the runners are foreigners.” Obelkevich said. New York is a melting pot.” (Dave Obelkevich is one of only two runners who has run every consecutive New York City Marathon since its inception in 1976)

The crowds are more boisterous and loud in this part of Williamsburg, which is also the last section of Brooklyn we would visit that day. There is an obvious international theme here with spectators hoisting different colored flags and conversations being held in a myriad of languages. The conglomeration of different cultures and the circus-like atmosphere made it feel more like an international political rally in the U.N. than an organized marathon. As I made my way through the heavy crowd and foreign runners, I wondered what they’d say if I told them that although I’d never been to most of their countries of origin, I still have aspirations of running in their marathons one day.

One country that I did visit this year was New Zealand, where I met up with K.C. and went backpacking through the country. Although the trip was already some 9 months ago, I still remember the panoramic views over snow capped mountains as some of the most breathtaking sights I’d ever seen. In a way, it was not totally unlike what I was experiencing touring the streets of Brooklyn. The overwhelming power of both nature and civilized culture was awe-inspiring in both cases.

Once I was out of Brooklyn, running towards the end of this mile, I took my first G.U. and prepared myself mentally for what awaits me in the next borough.

Mile 14 (Mile Time – 6:57; Total Time – 1:35:41; Average Pace – 6:50)

A marathoner is obsessed with details. Miles, minutes, split times, weather, calories, aches, pains, blisters, black toenails, heart rate, lactate threshold, sleep hours, ice baths, training partners, races, courses, shoes, energy gel, Gatorade flavor, feelings—it is all log material. Past performance must instruct the future.

In many ways, running through the ethnic neighborhoods of Brooklyn felt more like an episode of the Amazing Race with 37,000 contestants than the first half of a marathon. Upon reaching the Pulaski Bridge however, I knew it was time to get serious. Half of the marathon was already complete, which meant that half of the work towards a spanking new PR was already done. I just had to make sure to keep the same effort and avoid major catastrophes in the second half.

Coming upon the 13.1 marker, I was almost giddy with anticipation to see what my time for the half would be. Before the race, I had made a nominal goal at the start to cross the halfway point under 1:30. This time would not only be the fastest half in a marathon for me, but also provide a good barometer to gauge the second half effort. With short strides and a relaxed posture, I crossed the timing mat at 1:29:30. I felt a slight exhilaration upon seeing the yellow digits flash up on the timing screen. Not only was this more than a minute faster than what I ran last year, I was actually on pace for a sub 3 hour marathon – if my body wanted it.

The significant of this moment was not lost on me. I remembered a time not so long ago when breaking the 1:30 benchmark for a half-marathon was both a physical and psychological barrier for me. Although I’d get close on multiple previous occasions, it took me more than 2 years, over 7 different tries for me to finally conquer that time. During those days when I would habitually break down in the final two or three miles and finish a minute or two over the 1:30 mark, I seriously thought that I’ve ever be taken seriously as a runner because I was neither fast enough or strong enough to make my time. And now that I’ve done it multiple times, and for the first time in the first half of a full marathon no less, I felt grateful for all those who’ve stuck with me and wouldn’t allow me to give up on myself.

As I crested and fell over the bridge and took my first steps into hometown Queens, I thought a bit about my friend M.A. Four years ago, he introduced me to this crazy sport and motivated me to run my first marathon when I had no business even filling out the entry form much less winning the lottery and earning an entry way back when. He was there through all the doubts, the insecurities, the injuries and the triumphs at a time when I really had no idea what I was doing. I’m totally indebted to him for guiding me toward this new running life of mine. Coincidentally, he is here, running in this same marathon with me, somewhere in the back. This was a momentous occasion for both of us because it was the first NYC Marathon we were participating in jointly. I’m not sure what times we’ll end up with today. Whatever it is, I’ll thank him afterwards for finally running this one with me. And although family and work obligations have taken a significant toll on his running and training, I’m hoping to encourage him to run in future marathons in the same manner he encouraged me (even though he couldn’t run) in that first one not so long ago.

Mile 15 (Mile Time – 7:00; Total Time – 1:42:41; Average Pace – 6:50)

“I don’t have a coach, I don’t have a manager, so I have these arguments with myself,” Ramaala said. “I tell myself when it’s time to go.”

Like a pack of migrating pigeons, we landed ourselves in my hometown of Queens. This borough is considered the most ethnically diverse in all of New York, although it’d be hard for the foreigners to tell from all the abandoned warehouses and desolate parks we were running next to. I’m somewhat disappointed that the marathon trail cuts through Long Island City, and makes no mention of all the delectable neighborhoods and scenic vistas lying just maybe a few miles away. The crowd is sparse, and in some stretches unenthusiastic, as they watch us runners negotiate the twists and turns of the meandering marathon course on our way through their narrow streets.

Given the lackluster scenery and uninspiring nature of the crowds, I for one have checked out of this place barely a mile into it. Mentally, I’m already preparing for the challenge of the Queensborough Bridge lying straight ahead and eagerly anticipating the thunderous reception I’d be receiving on the opposite side.

Mile 16 (Mile Time – 7:08; Total Time – 1:49:49; Average Pace – 6:51)

“It’s like coming home,” Radcliffe will explain (referring to the Queensborough Bridge). “It’s like when you’ve been away for a while and you come back to your favorite mug and your favorite chair.”

I reach the bridge and the first thing I notice is how quiet and dark it is here. There is no talk, there is no light. There’s not even a water stop or a poster ad to break up the monotony of this uphill mile. Other than the opening mile at the entrance to the Verrazano, this is the steepest incline on the entire marathon course. For me, this serves as the unofficial half-way point for the marathon. Although there is no banner or marker signifying it as such, I have come to realize that my efforts after this point will have as much to do if not more than anything I did up to this point in determining my final time. In essence, the key to the city serves as the key to my race.

I, like the rest of my fellow compatriots, are forced to focus on our thoughts as we migrate like nomads over this bridge. At the midpoint of this brutal climb, I start to feel some pain in my right knee. I have slowed down considerably since crossing the halfway point, but refuse to succumb to the temptation of slowing to a crawl. In my mind, I have confidence that the pain is only temporary and is accentuated only by his steep mountainous journey. Instead of fixating on the fatigue and pain, I chose instead to hold my form, stay relaxed and recollect and reflect on all my positive running accomplishments since I was last at this point one year ago.

Mile 17 (Mile Time – 6:51; Total Time – 1:56:40; Average Pace – 6:51)

“You really feel like everybody’s there cheering for you,” Harrie (Bakst) will say. “You’re running this race with 38,000 people, but it’s almost like the spotlight is on you.”

Having crested the bridge, I can hear the thunderous cheers of the Manhattan faithful reaching a new crescendo with each footfall. Posted on a banister along the exit ramp to the bridge is an ING sign that reads “If you made it here—you can make it anywhere.” Although I couldn’t disagree with the sentiment, I still would rather have seen last year’s sign here which said “If easier means 10 miles to go…welcome to easier!” In my mind, that’s what I was imagining I’d see, so I kept repeating “Get to easier, get to easier…” as I ran through the toughest portions of the bridge.

I was still recovering from the tortuous climb when I ran down the off-ramp and exited onto the streets of Manhattan. As such, I didn’t have time to adequately prepare myself for the onslaught of noise from the crowds numbering ten deep lining the side street off the bridge. For those who’ve never experienced it, the sensation is similar to the one you get after you’ve just gotten to the top of a roller-coaster and now just free-falling towards the earth. And even though this is already the third time I’ve gone through the experience, the sheer power of the decibel level and enormity of the situation never fails to overwhelm me with pure joy and passion.

I gathered myself quickly though after reaching First Avenue. My first designated cheering spot in the big city was coming up and I didn’t want to look worse the part. My friend M.T. was keeping an eye out for me on the east side of 1st and 63rd. As I ran past her and some friends standing outside her favorite tavern, I gave her a quick thumbs up and continued fervently on my way.

Mile 18 (Mile Time – 7:01; Total Time – 2:03:41; Average Pace – 6:52)

The New York City Marathon—Pam realizes—makes you feel like a superstar. (She is a recovering alcoholic and a mother of three from Virginia who ran the 2007 race)

I progress northward on First Avenue and find myself back on very familiar ground. If my little side journey into Queens this morning could be considered a short hometown visit, well then this foray into the Upper East Side should be my homecoming for it passes within steps of my current residence. Indeed, this little marathon mile was not only exciting but somewhat emotional for me this year. Within a radius of about ten city blocks, I’d not only pass by bars, neighbors, and shops I’d come to know like the back of my hand, but also an entourage of Flyer teammates, who will be handing out Powergels at the PowerStation, as well as my best friend EW, who will be stationed there with his parents cheering me on heartily while waiting for his sister and her husband who will arriving in the wave after me.

As I prepared to run pass each of these checkpoints, I told myself to avoid the temptation to linger but keep a good pace moving through. The object was to leave everyone with a good impression, even if internally, I was doubting my ability to maintain my focus and my pace. I was slowing down now with each successive mile, and even the promise of free beer on the house by my favorite bartender wasn’t able to motivate my legs to drop the pace again.

Given all that was going on, I’d say I completed my run through this emotional mile very admirably. I didn’t drop off the pace too much and found and greeted everyone I was supposed to at all the designated place. The only person I missed was my friend SS who brought a kickass sign for me that I somehow missed. She’d tell me afterwards that she spotted me flying by her looking faster than what she’d imagined at this late stage of the marathon. I’m hoping she’d bring her sign out next year so I can get to see it first hand in a race.

Mile 19 (Mile Time – 6:59; Total Time – 2:10:40; Average Pace – 6:52)

“His (Fred Lebow) whole thing was to make people happy,” Sarah added. “He got people volunteering for nothing, for maybe a T-shirt.”

I left the last of my designated cheering squad at the beginning of this mile and now am on my own for the rest of the journey, at least until Central Park. The rows of spectators piled three, four person deep in the previous mile have also quietly disappeared. Over on the other side, a few runners are pulled over to the metal barricades kicking their legs and stretching their calves, doing what they can to overcome the effects of the long distance. I take their cue and make a quick analysis of my own running condition.

Physically, I was a bit beat up now, but not suffering any excruciating pains in any one area. My legs were sore, as I would assume they would be at this point, while the pains in both my feet never crept up beyond a mild soreness and tingling. Pacing wise, I had settled into the 7:00 min/mile zone for the past three or four miles, which meant that sub-3:00 was now out of the question. Still, I was excited that my pace has remained only in the 7 minute range, which meant that my sub-3:05 as well as my sub-3:03 goals were still within reach.

I allowed my legs to carry the pace so my head can be focused for the challenge staring right at me…the Willis Avenue Bridge and the torture chamber otherwise known as the Bronx.

Mile 20 (Mile Time – 7:10; Total Time – 2:17:50; Average Pace – 6:53)

"I recall the Willis Avenue Bridge being a no-man’s-land,” said Duffy, 46, a runner himself. “Now, as runners go by, the reception you get is amazing. You see the pumping of the fists and a smile on their face, which is important especially at that place, which is The Wall.”

There are certain miles in a marathon where conquering the distance is more of a mental struggle than it is a physical one. Mile 20, for all intents and purposes, was that mile for me. It wasn’t so much that there was any tangible reason for this mile at this point to be so tough. It was more the vivid memories of past performances during this stretch that haunts my race today. It was here in my first marathon that I first physically broke down and had to walk and eventually crawl my way in to the finish. It was here in my second marathon that my pace completely dropped off and it took all of my energy and strength just to keep it together for the final 10K. Now, as I prepared for battle a third time around, I hoped that these past experience will prove more of an ally than an adversary.

I gulped down a GU and tossed the empty packet aside as I cautiously take my first steps across the Willis Avenue Bridge. My calves are throbbing in pain from the incline but unlike in years past, I chose to ignore the pain. I half-expected to see Flyer PD and his bagpipe out at his usual location on the bridge, but he must have been late this day because I couldn’t find him (unless I’d been looking at the wrong place) I crested the bridge at a gentle pace and descend gradually toward the other side.

I arrived in the Bronx with a different attitude today than I did in years past. This quick little detour—no longer than a mile—used to be just an unnecessary pitstop in a forgotten borough for me. Now, I’m seeing it as the closest I’ll get to visiting the workplace before I’d be turning back. For a little while, I scan the faces of the children and teens who came out to cheer today and can imagine some of my patients who are mostly drawn from this heterogeneous neighborhood. I send a small prayer out to my patients and their families hoping they’d be out here, being inspired by all the runners to make a healthy change in their own lives.

Clicky Web Analytics