Monday, March 19, 2012

Long race = long recap

I spent Saturday night in that semi-conscious stage of being half-awake and half-asleep. Every couple of hours, I would lean forward and look at the clock, then calculate in my head how many hours of sleep I would get if I fell asleep at that very moment. Of course, that only makes it worse. It’s classic insomnia. You can’t sleep because you are too busy worrying about not being able to sleep. I had spent all day Saturday slightly nervous about the half marathon, but when I got into bed and all the distractions were gone, I started to panic. What if I hadn’t run enough hard tempos? What if I ran too many miles last week? I had only run two races in 2012, and the longest one was four miles. This was 13.1! I thought about my last half-marathon which was a disaster. Before I knew it, it was 5:30am.

I got up, downed a banana, an English muffin with peanut butter and a glass of water. Then, I laced up my shoes, and headed out the door to run to Central Park. Over a delicious pasta dinner the night before, Lauren and I had determined that the best way to go about getting to the race was for me to go on foot and for her to take the trains with my bag. Since the corrals closed 30 minutes before the race went off, my options for a warm up were limited. The three mile trip to the park would have to do. Then, I’d have to stand still for a half-an-hour. Lauren and I met at 6:45 as planned. I changed into my flats, put on my singlet, rubbed on some Body Glide and then went to the entrance to the corral which is actually on the opposite side of the park from the actual corral.

I got to the corral just before 7:00am and immediately ran into Val Matena who had travelled up from Charlotte. She pointed me in the direction of her husband Dan who would be starting near me. On the line, I passed the time calming nerves by talking with Dan, and two friends from the Front Runners team, Thomas and Josh. We watched the elites warm up, envious of their ability to get in striders and then listened to the starting line announcer introducer Kara Goucher by pronouncing her name wrong. (Seriously!?!)

When the horn finally went off, there was a bit of bottle-necking up front and then we were off. About 300 meters into the race, my Urban Athletics teammate, Jason, jumped in to click off some miles with me. I ran past Charlotte’s Alana Hadley and Stephanie Pezzullo and wished them luck and then started executing my race plan. The first 10k of the course is a full lap around Central Park. It is much more challenging than the second half of the course, but the race is made in the first half. In my head, I knew I had to be out of the park between 33 and 34 minutes to have a shot at my goal which was 1:12 or faster.

About ½ mile into the park, Jason and I settled in with Olympic marathoner Desiree Davila who was running a comfortable pace. The added bonus was that Desi’s fame meant a lot of people were cheering for her, so I was happy to benefit from some of that positive energy. We went back and forth with me leading on the hills and her coming back when the course descended or flattened out. There was a huge sense of relief after conquering the Harlem Hills because even though it was early in the race, it was the part I feared the most. We hit the 5K in 16:40. Right on target.

Coming back to the starting area, it was amazing how many people weren’t even close to beginning their race when we were nearly 6 miles in. The huge crowd of runners was super supportive, giving us the loudest cheers we’d heard so far. Again, it didn’t hurt that I was right near Desi who everyone recognized. Leaving the park, I saw and heard Lauren cheering which gave me a little boost as we crossed the 10k in 33:31 (which is a three second PR).

As I mentioned, the park is the hard part. Once the course goes onto 7th Avenue, it flattens out. The problem is, you’ve trashed your legs on the hills. As we headed toward Times Square, I was temporarily distracted by the site of one of the world’s most famous places completely shut down to traffic. Have you seen Vanilla Sky? It was sort of like that. There was supposed to be bands lining this stretch of the course, but most were still setting up when we went by. I took my first sip of water before heading toward the West Side Highway.

Miles 8 and 9 were the hardest points of the race for me. I had been holding 5:20-5:30 pace the entire time, but with 5 miles still in front of me, I started to think about how much was left and briefly doubted my ability to hang on. Ahead of me, the West Side Highway looked endless. Fortunately, around this time, Jason and I joined in with a solid pack. I decided to settle in the middle and let them carry me while I regained my confidence and strength. We went through the 15k together in 50:27, a 50 second PR.

Now, I was doing the math in my head. If I could run the last 3.8 miles in 22 minutes, I would hit my goal. I was feeling good again, still clicking off 5:28-5:30 and coming into the home stretch. Miles 10 and 11 were uneventful and by mile 12, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel…literally. Mile 12 is almost entirely in a tunnel. My Garmin lost its signal, the crowd noise disappeared and all you could hear was the sound of flats hitting the asphalt. Knowing that I could hang on for a mile no matter what happened, I moved to the front of the pack and took control of the race. Around this point, Jason bailed, although much later than planned, and I was solo carrying the Urban Athletics colors. We passed the 20K in 1:07:36 and I knew I could run 8/10ths of a mile in 4:24. The goal was going to happen.

Exiting the tunnel we climbed the last hill of the course and passed the "800 meters to go" sign. I could hear the screaming crowd. We turned on to Water Street and I could see the clock. 200 meters to go and I was not only going to break 1:12, I was going to shatter it. The adrenaline rush accelerated me over the line and I did no fewer than three fist pumps when I saw my finishing time was 1:11:19. I thanked Desi for allowing me to steal some of her fans and high-fived Meb Keflezighi who remembered me from an interview we did in the park on Thursday. Granted, this was only my third half-marathon and the two previous had included a solo victory in Charlotte and a humid, tired disaster in Jersey City, but it was still a 4 plus minute personal best and more importantly, a huge confidence booster and indicator of my fitness.

But fitness only gets you so far. I had the benefit of running in one of the largest half-marathons in the world surrounded by some of the best runners in the world. I have an incredibly talented teammate (who has a 1:07 under his belt) who kept me sane and steady. I have a coach who not only has given me workouts that work, but also is more confident in my ability than I am. I have a team that holds me accountable on every run. I heard Desi say it on the pre-race show, “you can’t cheat at running. You can only cheat yourself.” I have friends like Tara and Heidi who came out on the course to cheer me on in multiple locations. Most importantly, I have a wife who comes to every race to carry my bag and cheer for me at every point she can. During this particular race, she had to mow down an old lady just to get to the finish. But her support extends far beyond race day. She waits for me to eat dinner when I am out running until 9pm. She deals with my alarm when it goes off before 4am. If that’s not love, well…

Three races in 2012. Three PRs. But they mean nothing if I don’t nail the next one in Boston. Back to work.

Race Stats:
Time: 1:11:19
Pace: 5:26
Runners: 15,331
Place: 59th
Age Group: 23rd
Age Grade: 83.05%
Weather: 47 degrees, 90% humidity, 3mph wind

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