Sunday, October 23, 2011

Redemption Run

I signed up for the Rock and Roll 10k in Prospect Park, Brooklyn because it looked like it would be a fun race in a pretty park. With the half-marathon behind me, I figured it would be a low-pressure event put together by the Competitor group which is known for its highly organized, high-energy races. In fact, this being an inaugural event, I would likely have never entered it unless I knew the people putting it together had a sterling reputation. Inaugural races have a history of being too long, too short, not starting on time, messing up the timing, running out of bananas, or any combination of the just-listed problems.

When the half-marathon didn’t produce the results I was expecting, this “fun run” turned into a redemption run. I looked toward it as a chance to prove to myself that the run in Jersey City was circumstantial, caused by a more-hectic-than-usual work schedule, a string of sleepless nights and oppressive humidity. I knew this was the case, but I needed something concrete to prove it. Otherwise, in my admittedly crazy mind, I had failed in this ambitious endeavor that I had set out on; improving my running on my own while balancing a new intense and time-consuming job, learning a new city (which just happens to be New York) and being a good husband. Failure would mean really re-thinking how I approach my hobby.

The road to Brooklyn (GQ’s “coolest city on the planet”) started out a little rocky. When my work schedule for race week came out, it had me listed as producing the late night news for the three nights leading up to the race, including the night before the race. Visions of Jersey City appeared in my head. But, instead of panicking, I formulated a plan. Each night, I went to bed shortly after I got home and took naps after enjoying breakfast with Lauren the next morning. The night before the race, I pre-packed my bag and decided that even though it would cost a little more money, we’d take a cab to Brooklyn to save 20 minutes of travel time we’d have to tack on if we took the subway.

We got to Prospect park at 6:35, just under an hour before the start of the race. It was still dark and cold. Lauren and I were both shivering as we walked to packet pick-up. As soon as we got there, we found Marcie, a colleague of mine who worked at the competition when I was in Syracuse and now works in Orlando. She pointed me in the right direction of the bib numbers and we briefly caught up. Then, it was time for business. I took off on an easy warm-up along the course, and succeeded in finding a porto-john that was off-the-beaten-path and thus devoid of a long line and the mess that comes with portos in more high-traffic areas.

I was cutting it close on time when I got back from my 2.2 mile jog. I quickly pinned my bib on to my red Urban Athletics singlet, changed into my Adidas Adios, put on a CRC sweatband, posed for a picture and jogged to the first coral. I made my way to the front of the group just behind the elite field made up mostly of Kenyans and Ethiopians from the Westchester Track Club. I was pleasantly surprised to find UA teammates Josh and David were both racing as well. Familiar faces at races aren’t as common as they used to be.

The 7:30 start time came and went. There was a speech from Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz, a recorded National Anthem and then finally the command to go. A bit off-put that the starter wouldn’t allow me to edge my way up to the elite group (I know I am not elite, but there was some 12-year-old kid in there, so the standards obviously weren’t very high), I had an extra shot of adrenaline that gave me a nice boost from the start. I quickly caught the pre-teen runner and passed him with ease, then made the decision to select a gear. I settled into my goal pace which was in the neighborhood of 5:20, and was able to hit the first mile in 5:18 without feeling much stress. By this point, the field had spread out and those of you who have read my previous race reports will not be surprised to hear I was now working solo.

Mile two climbed the first hill in Prospect Park. Sidebar for history lesson. Prospect Park was designed Frederick Olmstead after he completed Central Park. Upon completion he is quoted as calling Prospect Park the “one he got right.” It truly is a beautiful place. I digress. Mile two climbs a fairly noticeable hill and I backed off to a 5:29 figuring I could make up the lost time on the downhill. By mile three I was cruising and still feeling very good. I hit the 5K in 16:22 stride for stride with a Westchester guy who eventually pulled away from me. But, I knew I was on pace as I headed into the second half of the race.

The biggest hill comes midway through the third mile. My pace dropped about as much as I would expect, but I did have a momentary fear that I might be too tired at the top of the hill to get back on track. Fortunately, those fears were unfounded and I went through the five mile mark at 26:42. For me, the five mile was the end of the work portion of the race and beginning of the hanging on portion of the race. I knew that I was on track for a PR and that helped me push aside any tiredness or aches and pains. Shortly after the mile marker, the lead pack hit heavy traffic. Runners were supposed to stay to the right of the dividers separating them from those nearing the finish, but many strayed, oblivious to people like me quickly approaching. There were no near-collisions, but I did have to shout “on your left” a couple of times out of fear that someone would make a sudden move that my cat-like reflexes wouldn’t be able to react to.

Finally, I rounded the corner at the six mile marker. A clear path to the finish line was in sight and I could already hear Lauren cheering for me. You can always hear her above any crowd, screaming as loud as she can. It’s good extra motivation to finish strong. With just two-tenths of a mile to go, I dropped the hammer, finishing with a 4:50 pace kick in 33:34, a new PR for me and a top ten finish. I was so thrilled to have run a good race that even the announcer commented on my finish-line fist pump. While personally 2011 has been one of the most-rewarding years of my life, running-wise it has been largely disappointing. A string of injuries ruined the first half of the year, and I hadn’t set a personal best in a single distance despite what seemed like a lot of hard work and feeling very fit. That’s why the half-marathon was such a letdown. Now, I know it wasn’t an indicator of time spent, workouts run or dedication.

There was a brief scare when we got back to the apartment. Lauren looked up the results and I was not listed. “Oh no, it’s Richmond all over again,” I thought. Without missing a beat, I fired off an email and called Competitor. Then, I laid down for a nap to try and sleep off this unexpected interruption in the celebration. By the time I went back to the computer, the results were updated and I was in my rightful place. It’s pretty hard to walk away upset after running a PR.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

How I'm capping 2011

I was pretty down on running last time I posted. So, I took a little more than a week to not care about it too much and reset the system physically and mentally. That week allowed me to give a lot of other much more important things the attention they needed and deserved. I was given a tough assignment at work and I really wanted to shine. I wanted to attend Lauren's matriculation ceremony and spend time with her mother who was in town to visit. Not to mention the continuing challenge of assimilating and learning life in Manhattan. In no particular order, we took in a Broadway show, found some delicious new restaurants, enjoyed a night out with Mr and Mrs. Contario who were in from Geneva, and another night out with Mr. and Mrs. Mainwaring who were in from Charlotte. We discovered a CSA that will provide us with local produce each week (See Lauren's blog for some of the culinary creations). And we did something that is quintessentially New York; that is, get the hell out of New York. We took a weekend in Chappaqua (not far away, but not the city) to breathe fresh air, drink good wine and drive a car for a change.

Of course, during that time, I got over my fight with running and started to develop a plan for the rest of 2011. I'm pretty excited about it, so I am going to share it here. Next weekend, I'm running the inaugural Rock and Roll 10K in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. I have never run a Rock and Roll race, but the reviews are always glowing. I did a 5K in Prospect Park back in July, and enjoy the terrain even though it is a little hilly. My friend Marcie is flying into the city to run it, and her being there was really the kick in the pants I needed to sign up.

The next weekend, I have a complimentary entry to the Poland Spring Marathon Kick Off Five Miler in Central Park. This race was a recent addition to the calendar. I had no plans to race this weekend, but a free entry into a sold out race is tough to turn down. At this point, I am not sure whether I will race all out, or run a solid tempo because the following weekend is the race I'm really excited about.

I signed up for the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5K thinking it would be more of a fun run than a competitive race. A lot of people from office are running it, and I figured it would be a good time, no pressure kind of situation. Then, I got to thinking that I never really achieved what I wanted to achieve in the 5K distance this year. Usually, the 5K is reserved for spring and summer, but since I am not doing a marathon this fall, I figured why not go for broke. NYRR is bringing in a solid elite field for this race including Dathan Ritzenheim, Molly Huddle, Deena Kastor and Lopez Lamong to name a few. I'm hoping the atmosphere is enough to bring a PR.

On November 20th, it's a return to Van Cortlandt Park where I ran in high school and college for the Fred Lebow Cross Country Championships. The Urban Athletics team is primed to put up a good showing, and with our deep field, it would be an honor to be in the top five.

The stretch of races will wrap up with the Newark Turkey Trot 5 Miler in Newark, NY on Thanksgiving. I ran the race a few times in High School and college, but haven't run it since 2002. I believe 2001 was the year I was handed a subpoena at the finish line. It's the 35th anniversary of this small town and event and perhaps the final time it's going to be run. I'm excited to get to run on my home turf and perhaps, if I am lucky, hang with Jesse for at least a couple of miles.

Then, December is going to be a rest month. I'm going to try really hard to not do any workouts or run more than 50 miles a week for the entire month. I'm not good at self restraint, so this will likely be the biggest challenge. But, I know it's smart to give the body some ample rest, especially with a grueling Boston cycle beginning in 2012.

For now, the training is going well. I'm working out on Tuesdays and Thursdays with the Urban Athletics team. I did a mile repeat workout where the times ranged from 5:11 all the way down to 4:57. I did a two mile repeat progression workout that started at marathon pace (11:29) and ended with a 10:34. The fitness is there. I'm hoping to salvage the season.