This is an important race report. Important being an adjective, in this case, not an adverb; e.g. This is an import report about a race - the 2008 Adidas Run for the Parks 4 miler.
Many months ago, I alluded to some unhappy shenanigans at the green start of the NY Marathon, where I volunteered. I wrote a formal letter of complaint in January and sent it via registered mail to Mary Wittenburg. Much of the letter dwelled on the miserable failure the staggered start was, surmising that with very little practice, NYRR could certainly have done a better job than the guests who ran the staggered start did.
Well, apparently my letter was received with attention. Though I won't assume it was the impetus for the changes in the way NYRR is running races now, I will assume it fed into a winter-long examination of starting line practices and re-invention of those procedures.
The result was today's first-ever (in my experience anyway) staggered start to a non-major NY race. When I arrived, the starting lane was laid out twice as long as normal, broken up by colorful flags labeled not with pace numbers, but bib numbers. The bibs themselves were color-coded - and a runner had merely to go to his colored corral to await the start.
I had initially decided not to do this race - that I could wake up late and run locally just as easily. However, a combination stomach pain that included some gall bladder pain kept me in a fitful sleep all night and I was wide awake by 4:30 a.m. I took my time getting up, took a shower, ate, checked email, and then went to Central Park.
Luckily, there was morning-of registration available - I was afraid they might end that practice with the initiation of pace-related corral assignments. The volunteer I handed my entry form and money to noted my estimated 11 minutes/mile time and handed me a number with brown color code. Last corral. Fine with me.
I had no stake in this race. In fact, had only shown up out of curiosity about this new staggered start and to rack up another qualifer for 2009 NY Marathon. I didn't even pick up the t-shirt, initially. I told myself it would be enough to get my legs back to running at all, having taken the last two weeks off. This would be my first run since the St Louis Half.
It was chilly and moist, with the misty skies threatening to start drizzling the whole morning. When I woke up, it was 52 degrees. At race start, 50. By the end of the race 48. Because I'd worn shorts, I was cold despite my cotton t-shirt and the long-sleeve, long-necked tech shirt I had over it. So I went back for the race t and asked for an XL. The shirt came down to mid-thigh on me, but thereafter I felt much warmer while waiting for the start.
The start was run very well. The new equipment is quality work and the staff was obviously trained and rehearsed on this. The only downside was that those of us in the last three or four corrals couldn't hear the start announcements. We just kind of got going four or five minutes after the start.
The run itself was pretty good, I'd say, and I didn't expect it to be. Like I said, I had no stake in this run and I didn't care if I walked the entire thing - which was certainly shaping up to be my fate since I was in so much pain. However, once we got going, the pace was slow and steady and I felt I could discount the gut pain. Right away, we tackled Cat Hill, one of the hardest on the 4-mile loop. I once again tried the little trick I used in the St Louis Half and "shuffled" my way with quick, short strides up the hill from a bout 1/3 of the way up to the top. Then I told myself "30 seconds" - just keep running for 30 seconds more before walking. By the time that 30 seconds was over, I didn't want to walk.
And so it went. Very steadily, despite wanting to stop and use the porta-potties, I kept passing them and I kept going. Just short of the turn on to the 102nd street crossover and the second mile marker, this woman I'd been closely tailing dropped to a walk. As I passed her, I half-turned toward her and said, "You were doing so well!" I paused, then added, "Come on." And she started running again. :) That's me, the Middle-of-the-pack Motivator.
I endured mile three, which is the hilliest, with three challenging climbs. Finally, the easiest mile of the park lay before me, making most of mile 4 a real pleasure. About 400 yards short of the turn onto 72nd street crossover, a small group of kids who were being mentored, coached, and encouraged by their NYRR Kids Foundation volunteer, dropped to a walk just in front of me. I heard one ask a version of the ages-old question "are we there yet?" and the coach promising the finish was nearly in sight. I don't think they believed him. (4 miles is a mighty long way for twelve year olds.) Again, I turned around as I passed them. "Hey, kids - it's just a 1/4 mile from here! Come on!" And I turned back around and continued plodding along on my pace. Shortly thereafter, they passed me at breakneck speed. I do believe they might've gone to plaid. :)
Right after the hard left onto 72nd, I did a slow, smooth burn, extended my stride length, ramping up in speed for the last two hundred yards. This felt good - I felt powerful in a way I haven't felt in months. About 75 yards from the finish, a figure appeared in my peripheral vision, coming up fast: a woman, dressed head to toe in black. Black hat, black long-sleeve shirt (like mine - I'd ditched the race T after the first mile), black running tights, black sunglasses (it was cloudy, remember), and even black running shoes for cryin' out loud! I was NOT going to be passed by Darth Vader! I put an extra grunt into it, quickened my pace and extended my stride even further and out-kicked my competition.
When I turned around after the finish line, the woman in black was gone. Had I really seen her? Maybe it wasn't a woman I'd seen. Maybe it wasn't Darth Vader. Maybe it was death and I'd succeeded in holding him/her off for one more day.
I finished in a net time of 42:45, my sixth-best time in this distance (out of 10). It is almost dead average - four other 4-milers have been done in 42:something. Better: this makes the third race in a row (since October) that my pace has improved, even if only by a few seconds from two weeks ago. (10:41 m/m today) And that was without actually racing this. I was well within comfort zone.
Even better: zero walking. This is a goal I've been striving for for MONTHS. And today I accomplished it without really trying. And I could have extended it to five or six miles. Once I'd finished mile three, I felt really warmed up, much less pain, and the run was really working.
This Wednesday, I'm going to re-start my Wednesday long run tradition, running home from work. I don't think I'll do the full ten miles, but I'm hoping to at least do the 10K from work to Court street station in Brooklyn.