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Reston Marathon 2014 – The Race Report

Pre-Race

Staring at the rainfall hitting the pavement outside my hotel window on race morning, I didn’t know whether I should laugh or cry.  “Are we really going to run in THIS?!” My father asked as I got up out of bed and prepared myself for what the day might bring. “This is pure crazy!  That’s how you know we’re really crazy!”  My mother and I ignored his rants as we ate our breakfast, got dressed and drove over to the marathon start at the South Lakes High School.  We were mentally prepared for the task at hand or so it would seem to any outsider. We had spent 7 hours the previous day driving down to Virginia and countless many others training for this marathon. There was no way in hell we weren’t going to run or drive home without a shiny medal hanging around our necks.

When I had plan this out way back in December after our previous planned marathon was cancelled on account of weather (see Dallas Marathon 2013), I really had no idea I’d be setting a trend.  In the 20+ marathons I had previously run in the past, precipitation had never been much of a factor.  The most I ever had to deal with was a little heat, some humidity and maybe moderate winds.  But now, as I am standing at the start line watching the droplets of rain dance in the puddles all around me, I really was wondering what exactly I had gotten myself (and parents) into.

After some pre-race photos, the singing of the national anthem and the obligatory salutations and announcements, we were finally ready to start.  Both my parents, who were running their 4th marathon, were really happy, standing in the rain next to me.  I tried to smile and share in their revelry and excitement, but inwardly, I was a nervous wreck, shivering at the thought of what the next 3 hours would bring.

The Race

The horn sounds.  I bid my parents a good race and take off running.  Since I was already close to line at the start of the race, I had to be extremely careful not to get caught up with the leaders and go out way faster than I should.   I slowed down just enough to allow 3 or 4 runners to surge ahead, then gradually opened my stride, stretched out my legs and began settling down to a comfortable running pace.

I was perhaps the 6th or 7th runner when I made my way out of the staging area and onto the marathon course.  Rain was coming down pretty steady at this point and visibility was poor so I really couldn’t see how many runners were in front of my immediate vicinity.  I started running with the mindset of using the first couple of miles as a warmup, something I did often in training when I couldn’t figure out what pace I should run on a particular day.  There were some steady climbs on paved roads in the early going and I took my time climbing them. Despite my wet socks and shoes and running with a perpetual feeling that I had mistakenly entered an episode of Survivor, I was actually feeling pretty comfortable out there, at least better than I imagined I’d feel before the race.

By the time we dipped into the inner park trails and away from the roads for miles 4, 5, 6. I had passed by about 3 runners who had passed me in the initial burst out of the gate.  My average pace of about 7min/miles was about 10sec/mile slower than what I had trained for but given the sloppy roads and windy rain, I knew holding myself to any specific pace or time goal now would just lead to a massive blowup later.  So I allowed my pace to drift and just ran with it.  Around curves, across puddles and streams, up and over small hills and wooden bridges, down windy roads and steep descents, I kept a steady gaze at the runner in front of me who had been pacing me for the last couple of miles and just followed his lead.  At some point he stopped to drink at a water station and I was on my own.  I couldn’t see any more runners ahead and it was frightening.  My mind naturally drifted back to the only other time I found myself running alone in a race and it wasn’t a pleasant memory.  I got lost at mile 9 of a half marathon and missed out on an age group award by 10 seconds.  Fortunately, just as soon as I started seriously freaking out, I looked behind and recognized a familiar face coming up towards me.  It was Baker, a runner/triathlete I know well from our many encounters in Central Park races over the years.  Although I was surprised to find him here, so far away from home, I was secretly glad he was there to keep me company.

By the end of mile 6, Baker and another runner who shall be referred to as “The Tall Guy” (‘cause he was over 6 feet) had caught up to me and the three of us would travel together as a pack for the next 12 miles.  I don’t remember much from these middles miles but I did remember it turning windy and cold in certain areas of the course.  I also remember having a brief conversation with Baker who told me that he grew up just a few blocks away from where we were running.  He had come home to run in his hometown marathon which I thought was pretty cool.  I also remember not caring about my pace or time anymore after I passed the halfway sign in 1:32.  I just wanted to keep up with Baker and Tall guy.

We kept leapfrogging each other but staying relatively close together until mile 18 when out of a uphill stretch that dipped into another rolling section of forest trails I made a decisive move, took the lead and left them for good.  I don’t particularly know why I decided that was a good time to run ahead but I did feel a bit jubilant that I had survive the rain and the wind for 18 miles and knew that I was just another hour away from finishing.  I took umbrage from the fact that I had plenty of practice logging long miles in harsh conditions this past winter and plowed ahead.

I held my own for a bit but the trail became hilly and steep and the running became more difficult after the 20th mile.  I was getting tired and although I hadn’t pushed my pace at all and wasn’t in any immediate danger of hitting the wall, my body and mind grew weary of the constant shifts in elevations and topography of the race course.  At mile 21, my quads and hamstrings started to feel sore and achy.  At mile 22, my calves joined in the party.  I was still running alone at this point, well ahead of Baker and Tall Guy but too far back behind the leaders to see anyone else in front.  The roads, bridges and trails were wet and the course was not as well-marked or intuitive as I would have liked.  Although the many race volunteers (bless their souls) stationed throughout the course did all they could directing traffic and keeping me going about the right way, I had trouble keeping focus while keeping my legs moving at a reasonable pace.  By mile 23, I was cooked.  I had caught up with the back end of walkers from the half marathon (which started a half hour after us and utilized the same course) and all I wanted to do was join them. I held imaginary conversations with my brother, my late sister and my girlfriend, who was cheering me on back home and kept running grudgingly.  This stretch of paved trails was full of sharp turns, steep short climbs and rapid descents and just seemed to drag on and on.  I wasn’t even sure by how much my pace had slowed by this point but I knew that I just had to hold on until the next mile.  I encountered more half marathon walkers.  I say “good job!” and “excuse me” and shuffle on.  I encounter a hill.  I curse the road but dare not stop.  I run up taking small slow steps.  My shoes find another puddle.  I curse again.  I run on.  I find another short hill and climb that.  With each step, I wonder how much longer I can keep pushing and how much further I can run.  I am tired, just so tired now.  Finally, when it felt like I had not an ounce of energy left, I reach the summit of the final climb, turn a corner and find myself on the road again.  I had survived.
I left out a big fist pump at mile 25 and start my kick for home.  I count down the tenths of miles and thank the volunteers that were clapping for me.  At mile 26, they point in the direction of the football field where the finish line was at.  I got misty eyed at the thought of finishing a marathon I never thought I could.  I lowered my head and thought about all the people that made this finish possible.  When I raised my head again, I looked around and felt my stomach drop into an abyss.  The football field I was supposed to run into was now somehow BEHIND me.  I curse again.  It took another few seconds for me to register that I had run off course.  I turn around and run back to where I had come.  By the time I make it back to front of the stadium, I see Baker running inside the football field towards the finish.  I find my way to where he is and sprint the last .2 miles with all my might.  It was a bit too late.  I finish my race behind my NY mate in a time of 3:10:12.

Post-Race

After regaining my breath and getting my medal, I find Baker and congratulate him on a great race in tough conditions.  In my mind, there was a high probablility that I had just lost out on an age group award with my little snaffu in the last .2 of the race.  I was a little bummed, but was still pretty content that I had finished this marathon without stopping or walking at any point.  I change quickly out of my race gear, grabbed a bowl of hot chili and found a corner booth near the post-race area to wait for my parents.  I was still there when I heard my name being announced over the loud speaker an hour later.  They were presenting awards and I, despite thinking that I may not even qualify for an age group award today, had captured 3rd place overall!  Not to be outdone, mom and dad both finished about an hour later and both grabbed 1st and 2nd age group awards respectively themselves!  Needless to say, it was a happy drive back to the city for the Lam fam later that day.

Lam Fam Award Photo

Lam Fam Award Photo

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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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