May 22, 2005

Personal Best - Ah, But At What Cost, Glory?

Yesterday, in the middle of a beautiful, sunny Saturday afternoon while I was at work, I had the urge to go for a run. Perhaps after work, I thought. Then I wondered if there was a short-distance race on Sunday. Sure, enough, New York Road Runners had one scheduled - today's Healthy Kidney 10K in Central Park.

So, giving up my one chance to sleep in, I got up even earlier and prepared for a "long" run. My knee had been feeling pretty good the last few days, and my ankle wasn't complaining much either. A run would be good, I thought.

The trains this morning were mercifully fast, service changes and weekend schedules notwithstanding. Those Saints of Transportation, also known as the MTA, got me to Central Park in good time and I had an hour and fifteen minutes to leisurely register and warmup before the race. The t-shirts are technical shirts this time -- good fabric. And a new company was handing out pre-race food bars. I took one, but since there was only about half an hour before the race at that point, saved it for later.

My warm-up was good. Some aches and pains, but after a half mile I was running at a good clip and figured that I could keep up a good pace for the race. I downed some power goop and a chose a couple of Excedrin - I'd need not only the painkillers, but also the caffeine, I figured. I happened to see James Lu before the race: he asked if I'd done the Queens Half and I had to say no. We wished each other luck.

5500 runners, including some of the world's top professional runners, ran today's race. I lined up at the very back of the pack. For once, the pack near the 10 marker wasn't jam-packed, making me think a lot of people had been out training and were going to use today to try for personal bests - much as I was! Since I'd done 10-minute miles at the Nutter Run, I wondered if I could turn in a similar performance today and perhaps post a personal record.

My only apprehensions were: I had on new shoes. I'd forgotten my stretchy running gloves and my hands were cold. The weather was cool, but humid - would I be able to breathe well? Would I stay too cold, or would I warm up enough? I'd also forgotten a snotrag. And I chose not to carry my own hydration or any power goo, figuring this would be a good test if I could run an hour with only the water from the tables. I also forgot my sunglasses which, as the sun came out just before the race began, for some reason really had me worried. They're like my good-luck charm.

I forced myself to just forget about all that. Time to concentrate: pre-visualize finishing this course with a good time on the clock. 10-minute miles would mean 62:30 on the clock. Could I do that? Could I beat that? I wanted for sure to beat my Scotland Run 10K time (1:08:48) and THAT had been a good solid performance, with a "coach" who had talked me along through it. I found no such person this time.

I never heard the starting horn. The pack just started creeping forward, then walking, then power-walking, then jogging, then running. As noted, I started at the BACK of the pack - on purpose. Turning in a solid performance meant, to me, passing people and drawing energy from that.

And sure enough, I spent most of the race passing people. I made a game of it. I'd find the next nice-looking butt a few yards ahead of me and concentrate on chasing, catching, and passing him or her. I found myself passed only a few times and always by the same two girls - one in a full knee-brace - so I figure we were running similar paces.

I was really running pretty strong, but by mile two, my left knee and right ankle were complaining and I began to ponder the flawed wisdom of running on KNOWN injuries! I really must see a doctor. But I'm also mentally prepared for this and it wasn't anywhere near the pain I experienced in the marathon, so I kept going. I discovered the knee pain got worse on uphills, but went away completely on downhills. The big climb, at the top of the park, just about did me in. But I kept trucking.

I used the water tables. As I did in the marathon, I'd grab a cup of water and keep running, squishing the top together and drinking from the "corner" so as not to soak myself in spilled water. It's still hard to drink while running, tho...I got a lot up my nose. Unfortunately, I didn't drink nearly enough. (After the race, as I used a port-a-john on my way out of the park, my urine color was the darkest I've seen in in a year!) Maybe next time, I go back to carrying my own HEED - I'll at least keep hydrated better!

Turns out I didn't need to worry about soaking myself - about mile three and half, it began lightly raining, enough that my shirt was getting wet, if not soaked. Mercifully, the rain actually lowered the humidity, which had been keeping me from breathing well, and I didn't feel so labored anymore. The course got slippery, but what the hell.

About mile four, my right knee joined in the chorus with my left; now both knees were singing the same pitiful song, begging me to stop. "Shut up, biatches! You do your job and stop whining!" I learned something about pain today - new pain is more painful than old pain. Huh.

But hey, I had zero reason to worry about my knees and didn't feel sorry for myself. There were people in worse shape, as I could tell from the girl with the brace and all the other knee-butressing things I saw on people. More importantly, I was in far, far better shape than the runner I passed at 2.5 miles. We were on a downhill there and as the pack came around a bend, I noticed a large clump of runners off to the left of the road, several kneeling. A runner was down. I could only see his/her legs, but it was clear this runner was having convulsions. I heard and saw several people getting out cell phones and dialing for 911. I sent a silent prayer skyward and kept running.

The last two miles pretty much flew by. I was still passing people, though now I was slowing a little, even with efforts to keep the pace up. A lot of people were walking by then. Finally, blessedly, the 400 (meters) sign finally showed up, meaning I was now where the race began and had but a quarter-mile to go. A minute later and the finish line was in sight. I was able to pick up speed during that last quarter-mile, though I didn't try to sprint it out.

I finished well! I finished in 1:03:09, making for a 10:11 pace and, yes, a PERSONAL BEST!!! I made absolutely sure to take a long cooling-down and stretching-out period, knowing already that I'd be practically crippled again for the journey home, but hoping the stretching would at least keep my muscles happy, if not my joints.

I wandered around, collected a nifty water bottle, some food, another free bar from the Amino Vital people, this time a post-race bar. It's mostly a rice krispy bar, with some nuts and raisins and rabbit turds or something thrown in. Palatable, good texture; not for everyday consumption, but probably a good idea post-race.

The journey home, while being the exact same route as coming in, but in reverse, was arduous. Due to service changes, my route home wasn't quite as easy as planned. Those Sadistic Motherfuckers, also known as the MTA, forced me to do an up-and-over train change. By that point, stairs were so painful that I had to pause halfway down them to give my knees a break. Coming down the four flights of steps at my home station was also a real bitch. When I got home, I got into as cold a bath as I could stand - which wasn't as brutal an experience as it was after the marathon! I spent 20 minutes soaking my legs in as cold a water as comes from the tap and, for a while, they felt better for it. Probably more ibuprofen and more coldpacks later tonight.

My knees have me worried. A 10K shouldn't result in pain like this. There is damage and either it's not healing, or it's doing so very slowly. And here I am actively retarding the process. I really must see a doctor. If I have to stop running for a couple months, I guess I need to know that now, before I do any more damage.

All in all, though - an excellent run! Personal best time, decent weather conditions (not lousy); great freebies; good to see familiar faces on the course, good to be in "the routine". Good way to spend a Sunday morning! And... I do believe this was my sixth qualifier towards the 2006 NYC marathon!
PS: I called NYRR Monday afternoon and got confirmation that the downed runner is all right now.


Derek said...

congrats on the PR! nice!

Thomas Sørensen said...

Congrats on your PR.

Have you been to the doctor? I hope your knee injury is easy and fast to recover from.

Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I will read your now.


sarah said...

yeah, excellent on the PR!! rabbit turds . . . ha