I was angry, frustrated and scared as I slipped into my running costume on Saturday morning. In a little over an hour, I had to race a 10K in Central Park. It was to be my last hard effort before the Boston Marathon and more importantly, the second points race of the NYRR team racing season. But, all I wanted to do was crawl back into bed and continue to try in vain to get some sleep.
My little bout with insomnia turned into a crisis (at least in my mind) after one full week of tossing and turning. I was getting out of bed each day not sure if I had slept the night before but feeling pretty certain I hadn't. My days were spent in what felt like suspended animation where I just went through the motions of working, eating and running in a thick fog. Focus was impossible. Inevitably, I got sick. The Thursday before the race, I cracked. I called out sick to work and locked myself in my apartment with the goal of resetting the system. Things got better, but Friday night was still far from quality sleep that made me feel race ready.
I made the stubborn decision to go anyways. I had already sacrificed a workout the weekend before because of this affliction, I wasn't going to sacrifice another one. At the very least, it would be a chance to see what it felt like running hard in my condition lest I have to do it in the big race or worst case scenario, it could be the run that tells me I have to drop out of Boston. Aerobically, I knew I was fit, but mentally, I was worried the train was going off the tracks. With little rest going into the race, I accepted that a great performance was not a possibility, but wanted to try and score for the team and restore some confidence.
The pre-race jog was a death march as I tried to wake up my body and warm up in the once-again freezing temperatures. Then, the race started and something clicked. My head instantly cleared and I knew what I needed to do. The first mile, the UA guys all ran together in a pack clocking a conservatively slow first mile. I think experience has taught all of us that going out hard is a suicide mission in the hilly park. By mile two, we had fanned out and I found a group of the top four Central Park guys to latch on to. At that point in the race, I was running 4th on our team and knew that if I kept the guys in the orange and blue singlets in my sights, we'd be able to again defeat our rivals.
There was really only one point in the race where I felt like dropping out. In the middle of mile 4 coming off the Harlem Hills, I started to get very tired, but being with the group was a huge motivator to keep going. In the last mile, I was out of energy. The Central Park guys put in a final move, but I was already running at 5:10 pace and it wasn't going to get much faster than that on this particular day. I did the math in my head and knew that UA has secured a third place finish in the team race. (Our first guy ended up being scored for another team in error. This is currently in the process of being fixed.)
Then, about 400 yards from the finish line, the announcer came on the mic and said, "and here comes our female winner." Now, I am not a sexist. I don't consider myself a chauvinist and I doubt you'd find anyone who does. I am well aware of the fact that there are many women out there who can take me to the cleaners. I am also well aware that many of my female friends that have "slower" times than me are in fact, MUCH MUCH better runners than I am comparatively. But on this day, in this race I did not want to get "chicked". I summoned up everything I had left in the tank and kicked it to the finish line crossing in 33:11 with 10 seconds to spare. The woman who won set the course record, and I have to say, it was pretty impressive. As for me, that's a PR by a few seconds in a distance that I have raced only three times since moving to New York City. I have no doubt that I have the fitness for a faster time, but given the circumstances, this was the confidence booster I needed going into the marathon.
And that's it. Time to put my feet up, load up on pasta and get pampered. Last year, I wrote about the importance of and the science behind the taper. I talked about blending training plans of the past with new training plans, etc. etc. Forget all that. This year, I have one strategy: sleep. No matter who's taper schedule you look at, one thing remains consistent. The hours of sleep you log count much more than the number of miles you log. After using a variety of methods including but not limited to Tylenol PM and scotch (not at the same time), sleep is coming naturally again this week. If I can help it, I'll be the most well-rested runner in Hopkinton next Monday.