February 9, 2009

Bronx Half Marathon: Part Deux

Alarm at 5 a.m. Breakfast: a cup of peach yogurt, half a nutrition bar, a banana, and a cup of coffee; the usual for race mornings. Train ride: 75 minutes. It was interesting seeing the otherwise-empty D train fill up with runners stop by stop. I would see a couple of those same runners on the ride home.

I got to the start area with about twenty minutes to spare. Plenty of time, I thought. I picked up my bib, pinned it on, chatted with Beast for a few minutes (who revealed his plan to run about 35 miles that day), changed clothes, and dropped off my bag. I hadn't counted on the portapotty lines being so insufferably long, though, and when I was still several people from the front of my line, I heard the horn go off. Well, that's not a tragedy - I've begun races late before.

What that translates to, though, is a "running start". In most races, we back of the packers have the perfect first mile - slow. Because it's so crowded. But this time, those of us at the portajohns had about a quarter mile to traverse before the start and were met with no crowds by the time we got there. (I started about six minutes late, I think). I was able to start the race at full speed, and because there was that sort of "I'm late" and "I need to catch up" feeling (both of which are FALSE), I made a very rookie mistake.

In every single book on running that's ever been written and ever will be written (and let us not say I am partial to hyperbole), it is printed on the very first page in fiddy-fi-point bold, italicized, gold-leafed lettering: the #1 golden rule of running: THOU SHALT NOT GO OUT TOO FAST!*
*If thou goeth out too fast, thou shalt be mistaken for a n00b. Dumbass.

I didn't not hit the starting line at "full speed" (for me). I didn't not tell myself a half-mile in that I had better slow down or there would surely be a reckoning awaiting me, of the type Admiral Adama laid down upon the traitorous leaders of the mutiny, Gaeta and Zareck. I didn't not revel in how "easy" those first couple of miles were.

Look at the graph. See how well I was running. The mile splits are off - I know I didn't run 14 miles. But the splits per-mile are close enough. The graph tells the tale. I ran well through the sixth mile. The first two walk breaks were for drinking fluid and were intentional - unrelated to lungs or legs. You can then see three moments where I stopped altogether - coughing hard at the side of the road. Green stuff is back.

Then things get hairy. I had a stitch in my left thigh that felt like someone had plunged a knife in and cut me about six inches up the leg. More walks breaks. An extended stop at the side of the road after mile 7 to try to stretch. Still managing to string most of a mile together, but the walk breaks were getting longer. The thigh stopped hurting about mile 8.5, but my left calf and right hamstring were -->this<-- close to cramping for the rest of the run. I was in pain. A lot of pain.

There are two kinds of hills. 1) Terrain hills - those which, even when covered over with asphalt, occur naturally. They are long, usually mild slopes that work into steepness gradually and work out of steepness gradually. Then there are 2) man-made hills - ramps and underpasses. Short, but brutally steep. Abrupt in change in slope. Concrete, always. This is what did me in in Nashville a couple years ago. And right now I was feeling a lot like I did back then. The Bronx is littered with man-made hills.

I was also having the gastro problems. I'd mixed my Sustained Energy too rich - I could tell from the first sip I took. It sat in my stomach, no moving out on its own. I would take water off the tables and sip some of that, too, in an effort to balance the osmolarity of the mix in my stomach and encourage it to move. I'm not sure I ever really emptied my stomach. By the end of the race, I felt somewhat bloated, completely drained, and - despite taking a couple of salt pills - short on electrolytes. This alone explains 95% of the problems I was having. The last couple miles, I had to walk every hill and a lot of the flat sections. I couldn't tell where the finish line was and I was just cajoling myself into running as far as the next landmark, the next block, the next vehicle. The last mile was misery. I finally turned a corner and realized I had perhaps 400 meters to the finish. I could see it and hear it and 400 meters has never felt so far away. I even finished the marathon in better shape than this! I finished trotting, but not strong. I must have looked like...well, just exactly like someone who doesn't want to lay down and die doesn't look.

I was not the only one having a rough time. I've already mentioned that Crista couldn't spare the energy for words - yet she finished only eight minutes behind me! I ended up playing tag with several people. One was a woman who carried a purse the whole way. As we walked toward baggage, I asked her about that. She said she doesn't trust baggage check and has carried her little red purse in every race, including the marathon. I'll have to look for her in the future.

I also chatted with one particular guy I'd made a point of not letting get too far ahead of me. Every time he passed me (when I was walking), I'd force myself back to a trot, catch him, pass him. It wasn't a game - it was survival of the fittest. If you and I are out in the woods and a bear starts chasing us, I don't have to run faster than the bear; I only have to run faster than you. Same principle applied here. Well, I chatted with him while getting the post-run bagel (my first clue I must have run a decent race, cuz they still had some!) and mentioned he was "that guy" for me this race. How every time he passed me, I felt I had to turn it on again. "Really?" he asked, "I was thinking the same about you!" We would have LOLed, but we were too tired to do more than chuckle quietly.

When the photos come out, I suspect the pics will be gruesome. Maybe I'll show you them. I know you jackals just come here for the road-kill pics. Sick bastards.

A word about the course: balls. As in: this course can suck my. This "3 out-and-backs" bullshiat doesn't not blow. Comic Book Guy: Worst. Course. Evar. Even Manhattan Half's 2 loops of central park isn't so unimaginative and boring. At least that one's got some got dam trees! From what I could tell, the Bronx has no trees. Anything thin and vertical is a signpole and anything above ground that provides shade is an overpass. Now that I think about, this is, so far, my most unfavorite route of all the half marathons - I'll just go ahead and assume that the Queens Half enjoys a route that, while not award-winning, doesn't stink like a 3-days-gone dead hooker.

Update on Beast: he did not, in fact, finish. A friend of his took sick mid-race and he did the noble thing and accompanied her to the hospital. Good on you, man. You can read his own report here.

I'm sure you want to know how I did. Well, in terms of the history of my 17 half-marathons, this one was actually on the leading edge of average, which is to say, I did a 2:29:23! I shaved 17 minutes off my last half-marathon time! This was my 7th fastest race, and I'd have to shave 7 more minutes to beat my sixth fastest. Seven of my races have all finished within a 9-minute window - I feel confident calling that window my average. The last time I ran faster was the St Louis Half and the next even-faster time was the Houston Half.

So it was a good race in that one respect - that my time improved tremendously. But I am not happy about the second half of the race. I am rankled by my performance and irritated to no end by the course. I consider this a personal challenge from all of the Bronx to me: I must do this one better. I will come back to this one with some very focused training next year and do it RIGHT.

My last topic for this post is about focus. I wanted to focus on running this race in memory of Nic Waitt, an online friend who passed away from Cystic Fibrosis. I found myself losing that focus in the second half of the race and wonder, if I could have stayed focused, could I have performed better? I was also overwhelmed with distress and concern for another friend of mine, but that topic...well, some things are too personal even for this blog. Sorry.


Michelle said...

Hey Chris,
All i can say is please don't be so hard on yourself dude!!! You ran a noble race and you finished in GOOD time. I am sorry you felt like shit for the second half of the race! That indeed sucks, but you finished bro!!! You finished!!!

I won't talk about my TOE or my stupidity. Let's just say YEAH!!!!

Call me if you want to talk!!!

Anonymous said...

Cris: Do you remember when you moved to Brooklyn I sent you the book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? Remember that the title was not A tree Grows in the Bronx. There must be a reason there! I remember Houston - you ran with Rachel. St. Louis - you ran with Rachel. Maybe that says something!

Joe Garland said...

You seem to be rather hard on the Bronx and the HM course. It's a fair course, and I don't think there is much in the way of hills, although I've heard others say it is hilly.

More important, don't get hung up on courses. Whatever the terrain, whatever the conditions (such as wind), everyone faces the same thing. Telling yourself how hard the course is just becomes self-fulfilling. And when you really encounter a hill, much of it is mental so it helps to include hills in workouts and to tell yourself as you're racing on one that you may be hurting, but others are hurting more.

The Bronx, by the way, is loaded with trees. Head up to Van Cortlandt for one of the dozen or so XC races held every summer and fall.