May 22, 2010

Brooklyn Half-Marathon 2010

Last year I trained for the Brooklyn Half as my key race of the season, but an overuse injury kept me on the sofa for that part of the calendar. So I had a score to settle today.

Didn't sleep well at all last night, probably just the excitement. I kept looking at the clock - 3:47, 4:15. The baby woke before 5:00 as I was getting ready to go. Just as well, I was awake and wanted to see her before the race anyway. I gave her a hug and she went back to sleep.

My wife makes me coconut rice to have for breakfast when I'm carb-loading, that stuff is total rocket fuel. On top of last night's farro pasta with kale pesto (Shug writes recipes for a living, did I tell you?), that ensured I had some juice in the legs. Now just to get on with the mental game.

My goal was to beat 1:20, and my fitness in recent races showed I might do it. You never know what you've got in the tank, a tiger or a rock. I aimed to run a very consistent pace, with slight adjustments for known hills, with the aid of my handy Garmin.

I went over super early to make sure to get my number and get my bag turned in. In fact I was early enough to avoid all the lines because no one had arrived quite yet. The park was quietly preparing for something subterranean, or extra-terrestrial, but in any case for something unexpected. I had time to do a few strides on the grass and warm up.

Waiting at the start I chatted with Robert, who had forgotten his watch. I sometimes wonder whether my watch slows me down, since I think I know how fast I can go and check it constantly. I figured Robert, who runs 80-mile weeks in his quest for the nastiest race in the world, would either bonk or PR.

The first two laps in the park shot by, since I know the park very well and could focus on running tangents in a very wide running lane. My goal time meant I needed to keep to 6:06s on average, maybe slower on the big hill, and much faster on that crazy downhill at the south end of the park. Apart from the first time up the hill, I kept well under my mark. I love that park.

Then I figured the long stretch down Ocean Parkway would be fairly flat. But I was running as close to my lactate threshold as I could and everything felt uphill. In fact everything began to feel vertical, except when it seemed vertiginous, or spinning, or upside down. Ocean was deserted except for some grouchy grandmothers being prevented from crossing the street, and a few of us runners. I let a couple of guys pass by rather than pick up the pace, since I wanted to stay rigorously on target. But I wonder if I hadn't been counting seconds if might have gone faster without the watch?

Without a watch I at least would have been able to count down the lettered avenues of South Brooklyn. I slowed considerably between Avenues H - R, but then picked it back up to faster-than-goal for the rest of the alphabet. This gave me an absurd amount of time to ponder the absence of an Avenue Q.

At last the boardwalk and a cheer from my next door neighbor and her baby, and to the finish (where I was outkicked by a really nice guy two age divisions older than me). I came in at 1:19:11, totally shocking myself since I had stopped looking at my watch a ways back. Placed 36th out of 7,006 runners, and was something like the 4th guy over 40 years of age.

One guy I talked to at the finish had a goal of tucking behind the lead female runner and seeing what he could do. Things were going well until he realized he was pacing behind a skinny guy with a ponytail. So he accidentally finished a minute or two ahead of the first woman.

By the way - watchless Robert PR'd.

I looped back and met neighbor Sara to try to catch her husband Brian as he finished. I just missed Brian's finish (1:33 - at his first half-mary!), but we found him and headed down to the beach to soak my legs.

This was the real glory of the race - beyond even the perfect weather, the awesome vibe in Prospect Park, finishing right under the Parachute Drop and in sight of the glorious Cyclone - because we had run all that way to the beach. The feeling of sand between my toes after all that, and the cold water on my legs, was a bliss I cannot describe to you.

One more moment of bliss - watching the 2-year-old children's race. Again, indescribable.

The subway, being what it is, took exactly as much time going home as it had taken me to get there on foot. But I got home to pancakes, wife and daughter, and everything overfloweth.

And with that I declare my spring season at an end. My next key race is the Berlin Marathon, and while I'll race at least once a month until then, there are no scores to settle. Probably I'll try racing without a watch a few times though.

May 19, 2010

Media Challenge #1

It's been a heck of a quarter - new job responsibilities, tons of running, a bunch of PRs, still learning tons every time I run. But time for the blog has obviously fallen back.

Tonight was the first of this year's Media Challenge races, pitting your media overlords against one another (when will we realize our mistake and join forces to fight crime?). The race loops twice around the occasionally-stinky bottom part of Central Park for 3.5 miles. It's a particularly grueling course, and you have to spend yourself very wisely.

I didn't spend myself all that wisely tonight, but I had a great race. Came in feeling pretty good, and was determined to stay with the front runners as long as I could. Unfortunately they set an insane pace for the first half mile (around 5:15 pace), and while I finished the first mile in 5:24, I was still under my target pace of 5:34.

Found myself slowing a lot in the middle before attempting a dignified kick at the end. But the two front guys had lost me long before the end.

I finished in 19:31, which was almost exactly my target. It's just that I ran really unevenly to hit it. That time earned me third place - the winner ran 18:58, or 5:25 per mile - holy cow.

Met up with friends and colleagues afterward. I chatted with Team Fox teammate and super-blogger TK. Lady Ani, who runs for another team, encouraged me before the race just to take it easy, as she blasted Coldplay on hot pink earbuds. Comrade Brenn ran an amazing race himself, and comrade Chris showed up in a suit since he's still recovering from his marathon.  Coach Sue injured herself at Penn Relays, so was out too. So our team's 2nd place position is therefore quite an accomplishment.

Now: onward to the Brooklyn Half-Marathon on Saturday. . . .