Wednesday, December 4, 2013


"How weird it was to drive streets I knew so well. What a different perspective." - Suzanne Vega

Last year I was running well. 2012 was good to me on my feet. After a PR at the Chicago Marathon, I felt I could transition into fast 5K/8K shape. I didn't. I ran poorly at the Richmond 8K, and poorly on my Thanksgiving Turkey Trot 5K. Thanksgiving was definitely a low point in my 2012 racing calendar, after entering with high expectations of running a personal best. 

This year was different. I was injured a lot. I didn't race much. I was in grad school. We had a baby. My training has been inconsistent and largely independent. Since I'm running a marathon in a week and my training for that has been minimal, I didn't think much of my Thanksgiving-day chances.

It was cold on Thursday morning. 24 degrees when Anne and I left the house for Central Park. It was supposed to be 30 by the time the race started. I started my warm up 80 minutes before the gun to ensure plenty of time for a slow warm up and lots of stretching. An 800m on the track on Tuesday in 2:37 didn't give me much confidence in my sharpness, nor did I feel too limber as a result, so I knew I needed some extra time.

10 minutes before the gun, I emerged from Wegmans' needing to put my stuff into Anne's car. I was wearing my racing clothes, plus a t-shirt and jacket. It was cold. I had to tell myself repeatedly that I was making the right decision about what I chose to wear. As I headed to the line, I prepared myself for what usually happens before these chip-timed RTU races with a starting mat... a line of high school kids telling me that I couldn't get to the line that way and that I'd have to go to the back. That group was missing today (maybe I was too late for them) so I just went to the line. There weren't a lot of people in front of the rope... close to a dozen Kenyan men & women and a few others; Mark Hopely, Robert Reynolds, Nick Oltman, some others I didn't recognize. Jack and Scott were behind the rope. I fell in behind the foreign contingent, and Mark asked me what I was planning to run. I answered him honestly: I was just trying to break 16:30. He was excited by this and suggested we run together. It sounded good to me. I said I'd really just like to run even so that I didn't die a miserable death at the end and embarrass myself in front of my friends and family. He agreed, so we planned on 5:20s. He assured me of an even effort with his Garmin.

The gun went off and things went on as usual. The Kenyans jumped out-- both the men and the women. A bunch of kids went out hard in front of me too. I just tried to stay relaxed as the field ran away from me. It was hard though, as I wasn't too comfortable being behind the women. I quickly calculated the odds of them running under 16:30 and decided I needed to get in front of them or else I was going to go out too slowly. About that time, I saw Silvio Guerra (13:30/27:47/2:09) right in front of the women. I figured he was going to run fast and even, and for some reason I completely threw my race plan out the window and went up to run with him. This was before even getting to Central Park.

Running up on Silvio's shoulder, we were creeping towards the left side of the road as we crossed Fall Hill Avenue. I knew we were going to turn right as we continued into Central Park, so I had no interest in running the longest distance possible. I was on Silvio's left and there was a kid on my right wearing a Mountain View singlet. I pointed over to my right and the kid let me through as I dramatically cut through and darted over to the right side of the road. I think it was a little too extreme, but oh well. I wanted out of the box. All of the sudden I was in 8th place and I felt very alone. There were 2190 finishers behind me and I'm sure plenty of bandits.

I knew that KC and Henry would be near the McDonalds, and when I saw them I waved and yelled hello to him. It was his first time seeing me run so I wanted to make sure I acknowledged him being there. I'm sure he'll remember it one day.

After seeing them, it was all about the race. I'd certainly bit off more than I planned at this point and I was moving. Things were starting to get quiet and I couldn't really hear the masses behind me anymore. Looking up, the leaders were so far ahead, already turning at the Target. But for some reason, no one was running the tangents. What is the deal? I could hear one guy behind me, moving up to me. I started to see the mile marker and didn't want to know. I was so scared it was going to be something like 4:50 or 5:20. I felt like I was running fast, but I was comfortable so I didn't know. I'd run ONE 800 on Tuesday in 2:37 and it was the hardest thing ever, so I had no expectations of being able to run fast. But that's the way that races go. I hit the mile in 5:00 and felt great.

As I felt someone on my shoulder, I glanced to my left and saw the Mountain View singlet. I didn't really feel like getting passed by a high school kid at this point, so I pushed as I made the turn at Target for Chuck E Cheese. It was pretty windy here and definitely cold. I started talking to myself, as the self-doubt about my lack of workouts and fast stuff was starting to creep in. But I know I've been running and doing some easier workouts for 3 Bridges, so I just thought about that; strength equals speed. Just focus on having some good base and hope for the best as the wheels start to fall off towards the end.

Fast forward to Carl D. Silver Parkway, there was a big headwind. Jack said he didn't notice it, but on the cool down he acknowledged it was there. This is when I remembered that it was cold too. The wind had blown the 2-mile marker over, but I saw it written on the ground as I passed through in 10:06. Not bad. I could hear KC yelling at me from the other side of the road, telling me to catch the guy ahead of me. He'd fallen off of the group in front and he was coming back to me quickly. I thought I had a chance to catch him.

But the last mile was not kind to me. Heading back towards the Expo Center, we had to take a left onto World Street. I passed Chuck Love, who took some great pictures but mistakenly told me I was in 6th place. The leaders were so far up, he didn't even know it as a spectator. Someone, maybe Chuck, told me the total race time. It was something like 12:20, I don't know, but I remember thinking, "Maybe I'll break 16:30." Just then, the leader went by on the other side of the median and I knew he'd run a fast time. 

It was all uphill before we turned around. The guy in 7th place was afforded the opportunity to see me coming, so he stopped phoning it in. Going around the turn I lost a lot of momentum (as would everyone - terrible course decision), but I could also see that Mountain View was not a threat behind me. But that didn't stop me, I was cold and wanted this thing over. 

I didn't look at my watch at 3 miles; in fact I actually stopped it there on accident, so I'm glad I didn't look. I forget which buttons do what sometimes since I don't use it much anymore. I could see the clock though, as we continued to run uphill. First it said 15:35. Holy crap! Get there! Go! But that last stretch took forever, and I got to the line in 15:52 after a 5:13 third mile. I immediately grabbed my jacket off the ground by the starting line to warm my frozen lungs.

This is all about perspective. I'm really happy with this race. I don't know the last time I did a fast workout. I certainly haven't done any quick intervals in the last two months. Immediately afterwards I was thrilled. I was going to get $50 for 8th place. I ran hard from the gun and didn't blow up as badly as I could have. I tried to race, even if I was alone most of the way. I was the second American behind Robert Reynolds, last year's winner. The winner, Emmanuel Bor (Alabama alumni, 13:43 5k guy) won in 14:07, an event record. But independent of all outside variables, I was happy with what I did: the decisions I made, how hard I pushed, and the result on the clock.

Last year I ran 1 second faster and was disappointed. 

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