The 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 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.
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