I’m coming to realize that one of the best parts of running in New York is the train ride to and from races. At any other time, subway rides are an exercise in pretending that the strangers who are occupying your personal space (and who could potentially fall and/or step on you at the next curve) don’t actually exist. On race mornings, however, runners smile at each other and say hello, chat about race plans, and cheerfully dispense advice. Sure, there’s the occasional guy talking way too loud about his PR and how he usually only runs ultras, or complaining about the starting time/location/corral system, but all in all it’s generally a friendly, happy bunch. Saturday morning was no exception when we headed off at 5:30 to the Brooklyn Museum.
We had actually gotten out the door a little later than I’d hoped, and in my rush I gulped down my smoothie and pounded some beet juice faster than was probably wise. I nursed some butter coffee on the train, but by the time we arrived at the start it was clear that my digestive system was not fully on board with the morning’s activities. Thankfully, the Caveboy offered to make the run to baggage check while I waited in line at the porta-potties. We reunited briefly for quick wishes of luck and a discussion of where to meet after the race, and then he headed off to the Wave 2 start.
I had a long wait ahead, as the corrals closed at 6:20 and the race was not scheduled to start until 7:00. I tend to get nervous and a little too amped up waiting in the corral, particularly with the aggressive jock-rock music that tends to be blasted there. I’ve realized that if I plan for it, I can use that time to calm down, so I’ve started including some chill pre-race music in my playlists. After saying goodbye to the Caveboy, I popped my headphones in, did a last gear check, and tried to get into my race mindset. After the usual chitchat and shuffling, we finally ended up getting off about 15 minutes late due to a car parked on the course (?) near the start.
This was my first Wave 1 start, and due either to the extreme competence of NYRR or simply the speed of the runners ahead of me, we got out FAST. There were roughly 12,500 runners in the crush through the starting line, and within the first 20 seconds I realized I was already running faster than race pace. I had been vacillating all week about how hard to push it in this race–I already had two half marathon PR’s on the season and part of me wanted to run this one on cruise control and just enjoy the day. Another part of me felt like I had worked really hard training for this and it was the perfect opportunity to really push myself and leave it all on the course. I ultimately decided to try the latter approach, and was shooting for 8:30 splits, which would be good enough for another PR.
For some reason I was more nervous for this race than for anything else I’ve run this season. I spent the early miles focusing on settling into a steady pace and staying loose, trying to keep my shoulders down and breathing deeply. I could feel the slight pulling of a side stitch starting, but I did my best to breathe and stay focused and positive about the race ahead. Somewhere in the third mile I realized that my mouth was really dry, and I grabbed some Gatorade at the mile 4 aid station. I was starting to get hungry already (probably due to the, um, compromised digestion earlier). I had brought two gels, but had really only planned to eat one, probably around mile 7 or 8. I decided that I would have one at at mile 6 instead and then judge from there if my stomach could tolerate another around 9 or 10.
We turned into Prospect Park not long after the mile 4 aid station, and from there the course starts rolling gently uphill for the next mile or so. I was holding just ahead of my pace and feeling good. The only real hill of the course comes around mile 5 and rises about 300 feet in a third of a mile. I run it nearly every week on my long runs–usually several times–and I’ve actually developed some affection for it. I charged up it this time, pleased with the number of runners I was passing and probably speeding up a little too much in the process. I crested the hill knowing the hardest part was now over and focused on recovering a bit and finding a good pace on the next downhill. At the mile 6 aid station I had my first GU (chocolate mint) and grabbed some water to wash it down. I don’t know if it was the slight change in my breathing when I ate, or just the effort of the hill sprint catching up with me, but the side stitch that had been threatening since the start suddenly kicked in with a vengeance. Without slowing my pace, I tried to adjust my breathing and footfalls, hoping to alleviate the sharp pain. I rarely get side stitches, but I had a similarly severe one during my last 10K that nearly doubled me over for the last two miles. I was now finding it hard to breathe deeply, and after some agonizing, I decided that power walking as briefly as possible was preferable to potentially running the second half the race with that much discomfort. I walked as fast as I could for about 30 or 40 seconds, lamenting that I was wasting a particularly speedy downhill in the process. The stitch let go a bit though, and I was quickly able to resume the 8-ish pace I’d been holding on the downward slopes. It still hurt a lot, but I told myself I could deal with the pain as long as I could at least breathe normally.
I started counting the exhales just to focus my mind, and got to about 56 before the ache started to lessen. (Full disclosure: the last-minute addition of the perplexing Work, Bitch to my playlist may have aided in effectively distracting me at that point. Has anyone worked out what the correlation is between fitness and living in France?) A few minutes later I was out of the park and making the turn onto Ocean Ave, which would lead us south to Coney Island. Without the cramp and with some sugar in my system I was feeling really good again, and started doing some quick math as I approached the mile marker at 8. I was still ahead of my goal pace and if I maintained an 8:30, I would finish around 1:51. I had five downhill miles to go, though, and was already running 8:15’s. I realized that if I could keep that up, I’d break 1:50. Suddenly, the PR seemed trivial and cracking the 110 minute mark was all that mattered.
I hammered on with renewed resolve, which was probably good, since this stretch of the race is pretty monotonous. I pulled over for Gatorade at mile 9, but opted not to eat the gel since the side stitch seemed to be reawakening every time I took in any nutrition. This may or may not have been the best call, but at the time I figured I could hang on without any problem and refuel post-race. I don’t remember much about the next few miles, but by 11 I was still holding the 8:15 pace, but starting to feel it. My legs felt good, but I was working hard and starting to feel a little loopy. I hadn’t sipped much of the Gatorade at 9 and I was pretty sure the added speed had already burned through what little sugar reserves I had left.
Through the next mile I kept checking the instantaneous pace readout on my Garmin to make sure it stayed below 8:15, but I couldn’t really summon the focus to compute how close I might be to 1:50. When I passed the aid station for 12 I really wanted to grab a cup, but I was afraid that if I slowed down at all I wouldn’t be able to pull it back together for a fast finish. I remember having a conversation with myself at one point as to whether I was willing to puke for this, and I decided that I was, if it came to it. As I charged on I started to feel vaguely detached from my legs, which seemed to be doing a remarkable job of holding pace despite my mental fog. It was kind of disconcerting, actually, and I tried to think as little as possible that last mile. The pack around me slowed down a bit as we negotiated a narrow pedestrian ramp, and then we finally made the turn final onto the boardwalk at Coney Island. I picked up the pace as much as I could for the final push, hampered a bit by fatigue, but mostly by the wet, sandy boardwalk, which was quite slippery. I ran through the finish line and stopped my watch without looking down until I was clear of the chutes. 1:49:45! I wouldn’t have wanted to cut it much closer, but there it was!
With a few days perspective, I have the following take-aways:
I am really, really happy with how I ran this race. I was more nervous than I expected or would have liked, and it led me to slide back into micromanaging my race a bit. Despite that, I stayed positive, confident, and pretty happy throughout. I really fought for this one in a way that I haven’t been able to do before. The sub-1:50 was a huge accomplishment for me, especially given that until last November I hadn’t run sub-2 hours since 2011. The course was downhill and about as fast as you could get, though, so I’m considering it more of a course record than a PR.
The other major point that I learned on Saturday is that if I’m going to run faster paces, I probably need to consider including more starches and carbs in the week before the race. Stomach issues aside, I maintain a pretty low carb diet and I clearly did not have enough glycogen in my system to really turn on the jets at the end of this. I’m planning to reread The Paleo Diet for Athletes to get some ideas on how much and when to incorporate carbs and starches. I also may start using Generation UCan, which I initially tried a while back but haven’t reordered. If anyone has any suggestions for “safe” carb-loading, let me know! This was the last big race of the season for me, and my plan right now is to take the next couple of weeks with reduced mileage to recharge, retool, and get ready for the next bid thing. Details to follow.
P.S. My 8:23 average split is precisely my BQ pace. I cannot imagine maintaining that focus and energy for 26.2 miles. I am totally fantasizing about maintaining that pace for 26.2 miles.