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Race Report from Percy Sutton 5K

My BibThe late spring and early summer has not been too kind to me this year.  I am still struggling to come back, struggling to recover from the devastating injury that stole away the latter half of my 2012 racing season.  It has been frustrating to not be able to train at paces which seemed so comfortable just a year ago.  Even though I did have had some brief moments of “ups” including a 1:24:19 (course PR!) Brooklyn Half in the spring, most of my races this year have been downright demoralizing…like the Run for Israel 4M in early June where I slowed to a walk twice mid-race, and the San Francisco Marathon where I ran a 3:18:18, a full 9 minutes slower than first time I ran it 5 years ago …need I say more?

Lately though, after receiving the blessing of my girlfriend to run as much as I want, and rededicating myself to speed training, I am starting to feel normal again.  Of course, I haven’t really had any recent race results to prove that yet…so, almost on a whim, I signed up for the Percy Sutton 5K this past weekend.  I missed Coogan’s this year because I was on call at the hospital so I was itching for a chance to race a 5K anyway.  Besides, I wanted to see where my fitness was at as I heads toward the peak of marathon training.  I am registered to run the NYC Marathon again this year so I was curious to see whether my speed had returned to where breaking 3 hours is a legitimate possibility.

It was a picture perfect day for racing.  The temperature was mild, the humidity was low and there was a touch of a chill in the air the likes of which I haven’t felt in a race since sometime last winter.  I was anxious heading to the start for several reasons.  First, I had never done this race before so had no clue what to expect in terms of hills or turns.  It was also my first 5K since Coogans in the spring of 2012 and my first short race since the accident last fall so I didn’t know where my body could physically handle the intensity of a 5K.  Also, I knew I was starting to doubt if I “belonged” in the sprint races (5Ks, 4 milers) anymore since I had done so horribly the last time I did one in mid June.  So for many reasons I was a bag of nerves when I lined up with the crowd towards the front of the blue corral.

The Race
The Percy Sutton 5K is an annual local race that takes place in Harlem.  Although there was a carnival like atmosphere near the staging area and the start, with balloons and kids at every turn, from where I was running, it resembled every bit the part of a  competitive points race in Central Park.  Right from the gun, I tried to take it out fast, but because of crowds in the front, I couldn’t.  I cursed myself for not lining up closer to the starting line as I swerved to the side to avoid a guy racing with earbuds sticking out of his ears (Music? For a 5K?  Interesting…). I weaved around a couple more times trying to avoid slower runners as I accelerated to match my perception of 5K intensity.  Nearing the end of the first half mile, I found myself charging up a curvy big hill whose apex I couldn’t quite make out from a long while away. It was still crowded and the road was narrow, so I took short strides, focused on the other runners and the top of the hill, ignored the searing pain in my chest and legs screaming at me to slow down and kept running hard.  I could almost make out the end of this treacherous climb when I suddenly lost my footing and found myself hurling through the air!  I quickly turned to avoid a head-on faceplant and landed with a thud on my right side.  As I laid on the pavement for a few seconds, I took a glance behind to understand what had just happened.  Amidst the stampede of legs and feet, I could make out the giant speed bump that I tripped and fallen over.  As I stumbled to get back on my feet as quietly and quickly as possible, my mind struggled to make sense of the absurdity of the situation.  Why the hell is there a speed bump in the middle of a 5K…in the first mile…on a HILL no less?  Was this a road race or the steeplechase that I had signed up for?  I did not have time to answer my own questions but I knew I wasn’t badly hurt so I didn’t bother to assess my injuries and just took off running again.  In my mind, I didn’t know whether I was more angered that I received no advanced warning of speed bumps in a 5K or aggravated that i’d have to explain to my girlfriend, my brother and my parents why I injured myself running again, knowing full well they’d never understand!  Fueled by a mixture of fear, anger and pure adrenaline, I charged up the rest of the hill completely out of breath and finished the first mile in 5:50.

I slowly down and stretched out in the second mile, which was slightly less rolling than the first.  I caught my breath slightly and moved through the course as best as I could.  As I did, I could feel a small river of blood mixed with sweat slowly trickling down my right lower leg.  I didn’t dare look down.  Ahead of me, I could see Flyer PD gliding effortlessly through the hilly streets.  I wanted to catch up to him in the penultimate 3rd mile but I never did.  He was well out of sight by the time I was ready to surge.  Great race PD!

As for me, I was pretty sore and out of breath by the time I got to the second mile marker in 6:09.  All the adrenaline I had gathered after the fall was starting to dissipate.  Luckily at just the time when I felt like I was slowly down and my goal of a sub6 average race pace was starting to dissipate, I was greeted by a long steady decent that seemed to re-energize me.  I relaxed and just allowed gravity to control my pace.  By the time I was done with that, I was only a half mile away from the finish.  One 800 meter repeat…you can do THIS, I told myself as I gave whatever I had left in a dead sprint toward the finish.  I allowed myself a vindictive roar when I saw 18:2x flash on the clock as I crossed the line.  After almost a year of rehab and recovery, disappointments and failed trials, I finally put together a race performance I can be proud of.

This is also the first time I’ve ever fallen in a short distance race and not quit.  I demonstrated to myself a focus and a drive for racing that I never knew I had.  I may not be as weak and flimsy as I thought!  I hope this is not the last  but the first sign of bigger and better things to come in the fall.

Official Statistics
Final Time – 18:23
Average Pace – 5:55
Mile Splits – 5:50, 6:10, 5:48, 0:35
Overall Place – 63/3492
Age Group Place – 7/330
Age Graded Percentage – 73.18

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A Comeback and Redemption: The 2013 Brooklyn Half Marathon

Brooklyn Half Logo“No Sleep Til Brooklyn” was the rallying cry I heard all over Facebook and Twitter early Saturday morning as I made myself over to the start in Prospect Park. Because I had stayed over at my brother’s place the night before, I had rather good sleep myself. That wasn’t the problem. My issue was horrible stomach cramps that forced me to the bathroom the first instant I was awake. I patiently did my business as best as I could but it still didn’t feel right as I gathered myself and got dressed for the race. I opted to skip breakfast in favor of some premixed Gatorade for the mile-and-half jog over to the start from my brother’s place. I figured I’d be okay since I had eaten more than my share at the seafood buffet the night before and didn’t feel particularly hungry. By the time I got to my starting corral a half hour later though, I had to do my business again.   Ugh!  Two trips to the can on race morning was really not what I had prepped for. Still, as I watched the masses start scurrying toward their respective corrals, I couldn’t help but feel excited for the race to get underway.

One Year Ago

One Year Ago

It was my fifth consecutive year running this race, yet it never ceases to amaze me how much bigger the field size gets year after year. Last year there were 7000+ finishers and I remember feeling packed in and claustrophobic making the loop around Prospect Park. This year, with a field triple that size and an additional wave, I was fearing for the worse. In my mind, I knew I wanted to put in a good time at this race. Traditionally, perhaps because of timing or because of hot weather, I’ve always done my worst at this race. This year, I wanted to run to redeem myself. I wanted to beat my course PR of 1:25:42 set last year when I was reduced to walking bits of the last 2 miles. I also wanted to go sub-1:25 so I can legitimately claim sub3 as a possibility in SFM, my next marathon. And although I wasn’t in shape yet for an overall PR, I feel those goals are conservative and attainable if I just run my race.

I allowed myself to relax a bit as I sat down at the side of the corral and waited for the race to begin. My stomach was calmer now so I take in what’s left of the gatorade I came in to the race with. As the race start drew near, I stood up and situate myself closer to the front of my corral.  It was gonna be crowded and I didn’t want to be stuck behind a slew of slower runners, especially when I saw people jumping the bannisters at whim and sneaking into the crowd in front of me. For the life of me, I cannot understand why people would want to start where they clearly didn’t belong. To be running in front of thousands who are clearly faster than you is like standing in front of a stampede of raging bulls. In either case, you are just asking for trouble.

My parents comes over to wish me luck as 7AM draws near. They are both running in the second wave today and had time to grab breakfast and watch me start my race. I hear the national anthem play in the background and I leave my parents and disappear further in my corral. I hear the familiar sound of Peter Ciaccia asking for “clearance on the roadway‘’ and my heart rate accelerates. A few seconds later, amidst a loud smattering of applause from the audience, the air horn sounds and we are off!

Right out of the gate I accelerate to a comfortable speed to match that of my neighbors and held it there. It was downhill for the first half mile or so so it was tempting to push it hard to get ahead of the crowd. But experience told me I’d pay for it later so I just ran within myself, took in the scenery and just used the first mile to stretch out my legs. I recognize some familiar faces in the runners next to me and I knew I was right where I belonged. I passed the first mile marker in 6:16 and remember feeling rather satisfied with life. The air was fresh, the weather unseasonably mild and I was running well in a half marathon with no pain or discomfort. What more could a guy want?  I headed off to the familiar loop through Grand Army Plaza eager anticipating the friends and family waiting for me in Prospect Park. Mile 2 was 6:22 and Mile 3 was 6:06 and I entered the park ready for the hills coming my way.

As I entered the park, I see my brother cheering and yelling for me and I acknowldeged him with a fist pump. It was odd to see him not running this since he’s been looking so forward to this race.  But I knew he’s dealing with a slight injury so it probably was the right decision for him not to run this race. I decided to dedicate the next 2.7 miles of Prospect Park to him so that afterwards I could tell him I did “his” park proud.  And in a way, I did. My next 3 mile splits in the park were 6:26, 6:32 and 6:30. That was by far the fastest 3 miles I’ve ever run in Prospect Park. I was actually quite surprised that I wasn’t gobbled, chewed up, and spat out like I usually am when I run there. In fact, by the time I saw my brother again just before the mile 7 marker, I realized I was still on my half marathon PR pace! I’m sure my brother was rather surprised to see me running so fast.

At Mile 12

At Mile 12

I knew it wouldn’t last though. I reached the exit to Prospect Park mile 7 in 6:26 and mile 8 in Ocean Parkway at 6:28. At this point I began to tire and had doubts whether I could make it the whole way without walking. I struggled to mile 9 in 6:31 and then to mile 10 in 6:30 fighting some fatigue now in my legs. I took the only GU I had at this point hoping to stimulate a late kick. But my body was just too tired to cooperate anymore. So I coasted to mile 11 in 6:32 and then slower to 12 in 6:40, knowing Melly and Noel would be there somewhere waiting to cheer me on. I saw them both from 50 meters away, flashed a brief smile for the cameras and pushed on. It was so exciting see the both of them cheering for me but it was odd that they were at the exact same spot on opposite sides of the street! My gas was running on empty at this point and it was all I could do to hold on. I waited for 400m left before mustering a feeble last push for the finish line.  I collapsed on the boardwalk within steps of crossing the line and had to dry heave for a good two or three minutes before I had the energy to get my medal and move on.

My last two mile splits were 6:35 and 6:40…and the penultimate mile point one was covered in 7:00 flat. It was not exactly the way I would have hoped to run the last 5K of a half marathon but given the long layoff I’ve had since I last raced a half, it was about as well as I could have done.

Official Time – 1:24:19 (average pace 6:26 min/mi)
Overall Place – 304
Age Group Place – 55
Flyers Place – 2nd Male
AG Percentage – 71.53%

So overall, the Brooklyn Half turned out to be a good race for me. Not only did I set a course PR and achieved sub 1:25, it was also my best half time in well over a year! That is surprising given that it’s my favorite distance to race and I usually do 4-5 of these a year. I attribute much of my relative success today to the mild temps and overcast skies and my consistent hill training for the past month and a half. I’ll be back next year to claim a sub124 on these same streets, but for now I’m going to bask in the glory of a well-fought fight, especially since it resulted in an appearance on the ‘Local Heroes’ section of the NYRR website by yours truly.

NYRR Local HeroesNot to be outdone, my parents both rocked the course and PR’d in their individual races as well. My mom ended up 9th in her AG and my dad broke 2 hours by 4 seconds! My parents have gone from nonrunners to superstars in less time than it took for me to write this post. Haha! I only hope I can be similarly inspiring to my kids when I am their age one day.

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Return to Running and Blogging

Hi All!  So after hearing sufficient complaints from those who care about me the most, I’ve decided to return to blogging…at least periodically and at least for a little while.  I make no promises on how long this will last or when I’ll disappear again but I plan to make the most of my little slice of the interwebs… if not for the random people that care about my comings and goings, then to hold myself accountable for my running, my training and the racing.  I find that I am more consistent with my training when I force myself to write them down.   So without further ado, let’s see what I’ve been up to since the beginning of 2013 when I last blogged and promised myself a good year of running.

Well, the long and the short of it is…Not really a whole lot yet.  For the first few months of this year, I struggled to come back from the meniscal tear injury I sustained last September and failed to train with any sort of real consistency.  Between the brutal winter we had this winter, my long hours at the hospital and my injury concerns, I just had too many physical and mental roadblocks to overcome.  Although I had registered and intended to run the Boston Marathon a month ago, I never got to the starting line because I felt so undertrained and seriously doubted my abilities to run the distance much less race it.  Needless to say, it turned out to be a personal blessing in disguise as I was nowhere near the finish line bombings when they occurred.  It still saddens me tremendously to think about the innocent lives that were lost that day and how the famous left turn onto Boylston St will never quite be the same.  What it did do personally was enrage and inspire me to renew my commitment to training for and racing marathons.  How dare the terrorists think they could ever stop us from crossing the finish line of a major marathon?  HELLO? WE’RE RUNNERS – THIS IS WHAT WE DO!  WE LIVE FOR THIS STUFF!

I made my season racing debut at the Scotland 10K in early April.  I decided to enter the race off of very little training not because I was ready to race, but because I needed a starting point.  I needed an objective benchmark of where my fitness, or lack of fitness, was.  Before that 10K, my previous road race was a half marathon over 7 months ago.  Yikes!  Although my final time was rather mediocre for me, 38:59 (a full 35 seconds slower than last year in the same race), I was glad to have run and finished and not gotten hurt because I wasn’t fully convinced I could ever  race again without some sort of nagging pain or bothersome injury.  I took It as a good sign and the first indication that I was ready to run and train consistently again.

As I began to ramp up my mileage and training, I took a running “vacation” towards the end of the month and went to Monterey California to run the 2013 Big Sur International Marathon on 4/28.  I’d always wanted to run this race because of all the great things I’ve heard about the place and it did not disappoint.  The views were spectacular, the course was hilly and challenging, and I had the best time just running easy and stopping to take pictures whenever I felt the whim.  I finished that marathon in 3:46 which is my slowest ever solo marathon time, but I honestly could not have cared less.  I had great fun with some good friends (and even snuck in a visit to my cousin and her new baby in SF) and thoroughly enjoyed myself while I was there.  It also reaffirmed my love of the west coast, something I had forgotten about since my last visit several years ago.  When I got back to NYC, it was all I could think about to find a convenient excuse to go back again.  It so happened that a work conference came up that would have me in the heart of San Francisco the week before the San Francisco Marathon on 6/18!  I could hardly believe my luck.  So even though I’ve run that marathon once before in 2008, I got permission from work and registered for this year’s race.  My loose goals in that race will be, in order of preference, to run a BQ marathon time (sub-3:10 for my age group), improve upon my 2008 time of 3:09:08 and get as close to 3hrs as possible.  I also devised a quick two month training plan for myself which has me running on average of 40+ miles per week until the marathon.  I figured that for my conservative goals, that should at least suffice.

Since I’ve started on that marathon training plan just a few weeks ago, I’ve already seen considerable progress in both my speed and my endurance.  I have treated my easy and rest days like religious observances and have done my speedwork according to paces as prescribed to me by the race calculators.  Although my times are still slow and I’m not quite back to the level of fitness I had before my injury, I’ve amazed at how much better I feel about running in general and how much things are starting to pick up in every facet of my running.  But no matter how much subjective improvement I’ve felt I’ve made since a couple months ago, I know it wouldn’t be enough just to say or think it.  I needed objective data to prove to myself that I’m indeed headed in the right direction.   Little did I know, I would get that confirmation and then some in the Brooklyn Half Marathon bright and early yesterday morning.

(Stay tuned for the full race report to follow in the next blog post…)

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