I spanked it. My previous personal best for a half-marathon (at the Flying Pig): 2:26:37. Today I smashed it! I snapped it like a cheap chopstick. I beat it like a gong. In short, I shredded the old PR!
Today's time: 2:06:44!
More than that, my average pace was well below a 10-minute mile, which, truly, surprises the hell out of me. And my age place ranking has risen significantly above the 50th percentile. I think I'm offically no longer a jogger, but a bona-fide runner. Perhaps as important: I began running one year ago today. I have come a long, long way, in every respect. *pats self on back*
Here's how things went:
Rose at 6 a.m. and was on the road towards Staten Island at 7. I needed to pick up my number and thought the race began at 9, and I didn't know if I'd be able to find the Richmond County Bank Balllpark easily. It was a cold ride over and very windy. My first big positive of the day was as I crested the top of the Verazzano Bridge, the sun peeked over the horizon, bathing the bridge, me, and a large portion of the city in a rosy orange glow.
As I parked, a guy who noticed I rode in called me a biathlete. Hah! Picked up my number and shirt and realized I actually had about two hours 'til the race. Over that period of time I drank a cup of honest-to-god real coffee and slowly acclimated myself to what was, frankly, a very chilly morning. The wind cut right through my clothes and I wished I'd brought my running pants, not my running shorts.
By the time the race was about to start, I'd shed everything but my running clothes with the race shirt over my technical shirt. I was cold still and was lucky to find a trash bag, which I put on like a poncho. That helped a lot, particularly during the last 10 minutes of waiting and the first half-mile of the race.
Once away from the immediate shore area, I warmed up significantly. My pace improved, my legs loosened up, and I took off the trash bag. I had a cap on and that proved to be a good idea, as it kept me warm and provided stray hair control.
I was running with the music on, but not letting it control my pace; I concentrated on my breathing. I concentrated so much on my form and breath that I nearly ran over a couple of people, but in general, the course was less crowded than I'd expected and it was a pleasure to be slowly passing (many) people. I was looking for two people in particular, whom I knew from previous races and had greeted that morning as they arrived.
Somewhere between mile two and four, in a nicely wind-shaded warehouse area, I finally caught up with Crista, a Mercury Master, and asked her how she was doing. Typically, she was doing fine, just chugging along. She is a machine!
Moderate hills presented themselves during the next three miles. The water stations were on hills much of the time. I avoided the stations, having brought a bottle of HEED with me. My plan was to finish up the HEED about mile 9 and ditch the water bottle, which was rather leaky.
We passed through several interesting areas, some of which were uber-windy, but my pace was not much affected. I was steadily reeling off the miles and couldn't believe how good I felt. My coughing was sporadic, though it was hard to bring stuff up - so I tended to have some hilariously protracted coughing fits. I don't know what the runners around me thought, particularly as I didn't slow to a walk for these fits, but continued to run. I'd be interested in getting an objective observation from someone.
At five and a half miles, on a long, long dowhill, I started seeing runners coming back the other way. At mile six, I finally, finally caught up with James Lu (the bells guy, as most people think of him) and passed him. He, too, was looking strong. I can't believe it took me six miles; that dude is fast!
The turnaround came right at six miles, meaning the return leg had to be folded to make it longer than the outbound trip. One of the detours was through the Army Reserve base at the foot of the Bridge. It occurred to me that with Army bases at the foot of both ends of the bridge, it would be possible, should martial law ever be declared, to secure the Verazzano faster than I could get out of New York using it. Scary thought.
Remember that downhill? Well, now it was a long, long uphill - and steep. This overcame several people and walking was much in display. I nearly gave in myself; but I wanted to see if I could keep my "no stopping, no walking" goal intact. After mile seven or eight, and another couple of hills, my energy was sagging, but I had faith that if I just powered through, I'd be fine in a few minutes.
I felt better soon enough and was finding myself powering up each hill at passing speed. I was also changing my breathing patterns like a bicyclist changes gears in preparation for different grades. Weird. It's almost like I'm getting good at this.
I ran out of HEED at mile 10 and threw the bottle to the side at that water station. I resolved to just snap on through the last 3.1 miles and not worry about hydration. I looked foward to the bottle of Recoverite I had stashed in my bag back at the finish.
At this point I picked up my pace pretty good, even though through most of miles twelve and thirteen we were running directly into a strong headwind. But I couldn't let that slow me down - I had to pee! I'd had to pee since mile 2, but hadn't seen any porta potties and the one place I actually veered off to find a bathroom, the gas station attendent waved us all off. Did I miss the mid-course porta-johns?
At 12.5 miles, I was sure I was about to piss myself, but was reassured that I was a mere six minutes or so from relief. My thirst didn't matter; my pace (while still good) didn't matter; the fact that the route passed the finish line and folded back didn't matter; I just wanted to get to a bathroom!
As a nice touch, because the course folded back for the last 4/10s mile or so, we were pushed to the finish by a tailwind. This made it easier to generate a finishing kick. When I spied the finish clock, it was thirty seconds from clicking over to 2:10 and I really wanted to beat that clock. Crossing the line was awesome, but I was beat. I bypassed the chip clip and went straight to the first green plastic structure I could reach and finally, finally let loose. (Clear urine; good sign).
It was as I was draining the tank with my head resting against the wall that I realized I wasn't running anymore, that I had actually come to a stop. You see, I didn't have to think about my legs during this race; they just did their thing, which is kind of a first. My brain was checking on my lungs frequently - and getting a lot of feedback - but every time my brain checked in with my legs, they sent back a simple "we're fine down here," so I checked in with them infrequently. By the end, my legs were tired, but not sore and even now, as I write, only my right hamstring is giving me shit. I wore the custom orthotics for this race and - aside from two bloody toenails, which I expected - I had zero foot or knee problems. Sweet.
I waited around and stretched and drank Recoverite 'til Crista appeared about fifteen minutes later and I cheered her in to the finish. She must think I'm nuts - that I always make sure to find her and cheer her on. But it's nice to have someone know you and cheer for you, I think, and if I can be Crista's own personal cheerleader, then I will try to be.
Getting home was cake. Other vehicles plied the brake pedal for 45 minutes just getting through the first half mile - I got through in about 5. The next fifteen, I threaded my way past closed streets (there were still runners on the course) and finally got to the SI Expressway and the Bridge. My ride home was very pleasant as I basked in the sunshine, the fresh breeze, and the afterglow of a run well done.
Now I'm thinking ahead. I will research and find an opportune marathon and keep training up to it. I think if done on a long, judicious schedule, I stand a very good chance of cutting 15 minutes off my marathon time, perhaps even doing a sub-5-hour run. I also think that if I got in some speed training, I could whisk a flat 2:00 in a half-marathon.
To paraphrase Reepicheep: Onwards and Upwards!