Sunday, January 27, 2008

Manhattan half-marathon (Grand Prix #1)

Interesting experience.

My time (off my Polar--official times not yet up) was 1:57:33, which would have greatly disappointed me had it been revealed to me yesterday by a malicious time-traveler, and yet as I felt it was fairly hard-won I will count it a minor triumph and leave it at that.

First of all: seeding disaster!

(Really I prefer to save the word disaster for genuine calamities, but I think I am allowed a little negative hyperbole as a race-day treat--and in fact the main thing that got me through miles three and four was thinking about the phrasing of a potential blog post on this topic...)

Or, to be more accurate, not so much a seeding disaster as a port-a-potty disaster--it can be said the New York Road Runners direly miscalculated the number needed at the start, so that when I arrived around 8:05 (8:30 start) there were literally, oh, fifty people in line for each one.

(Getting there earlier wouldn't help, because I'd need to pee more than once!)

After a minor peeing-related seeding disaster in August, I resolved just not to drink liquids the morning of a race! But yesterday I found myself with a slight cold (not anything serious enough to call off the race or switch to a slower pace, slight sore throat and stuffed-up nose, neck-up only), and I felt it more important than usual to hydrate properly this morning, I felt rather parched.

In fact, though, this time it wasn't just me being walnut-sized-bladderish, it was a lot of people quite inconvenienced--when the race was started, there were still many hundreds of people waiting to use the toilets, and by the time I got to pee and then went to the starting corrals I was literally at the very, very back (of a field of over six thousand...).

(It's chip time rather than gun time, so it doesn't exactly matter if one is still waiting in the line for a toilet when the gun goes off, but obviously it is better to be seeded appropriately.)

However I was not as irritable as I sometimes have been in this situation, I felt fairly philosophical, really there was nothing to be done--only it is very discouraging for one's race to feel at the beginning that one is losing quite a lot of time in an unavoidable way. I was slipping through gaps and overtaking as many people as I could, but it's really pretty nightmarishly crowded in any case, and it was quite depressing thinking about the extra minute or so that probably accrued to my time in some fairly straightforward way as a result of my self-placement.

My times were slow enough for the first four miles, in fact, that the real mental challenge was resisting the temptation to slow down and do this run as a training run and race the Bronx one in two weeks instead.

(Racing two in two weeks seems to me a recipe for injury, so I must restrain myself and do the next one very slowly.)

I spent a lot of time contemplating the appealing prospect of slowing down fairly dramatically, also because I just didn't feel great.

(I had a fairly tiring week, no good taper feeling, slept little and badly on Friday night, etc. etc. Nothing anything could have been done about, really...)

A lot of time contemplating it...

However I was finally rallied by two things, one positive and one self-admonitory.

The positive: as I came up to the six-mile mark, one or two very fast runners went by to the finish--I think usually I am past that point by the time the first finishers are going by, but it was actually rather lovely, it is good for the spirits to see a very fast and graceful runner glide by!

The self-admonitory: race results and paces are up for ever more on the NYRR website, I would have self-reproach every time I ever looked at my results if I saw this time over two hours when I knew I'd actually set out to race it.

(Quite different if one deliberately did it as a training run or what have you! It is not a point about the absolute times but about the relationship between times and goals and the successful interplay of resolution and flexibility in a race situation.)

So I got a grip on myself, and of course the second hour of a half-marathon is really much more enjoyable than the first, though I never really physically got in a good groove. Not a bad result in any case--in August I would have been thrilled to go sub-2:00, so I should just remember that and be grateful!--and actually there's something really valuable about a race like this.

As I've said before, I have a pretty strong preference for training over racing. I like racing, but I love training...

This race was certainly considerably less enjoyable than most of my long training runs have been over the last six months. But on the other hand, it showed me very clearly what I sort of know already but what it's worth being reminded of--it's the mental challenges that keep racing interesting, and make it worth doing.

(Otherwise I would just train almost all the time and hardly ever race!)

Keeping oneself steeled to the purpose, working uncomfortably hard when one is not particularly having lovely endorphins or seductively fast mile splits or whatever--it's the kind of thing that takes quite a bit of practice to be able to really call forth in oneself under genuinely trying but high-stakes race situations (this was neither), and this race was definitely a good one for practicing those skills.

1:57:33 (HR avg 162, HR max 178, 8:41 pace average)

Mile splits (numbers slightly dodgy I think, total distance for instance coming up as 13.44 rather than 13.1--must recalibrate...--terrain is quite varied, though, so steady effort yields variable mile splits according to elevation):

9:33 (146)
8:46 (159)
8:46 (159)
8:05 (161)
8:30 (160)
8:31 (163)
8:24 (163)
8:39 (161)
8:50 (166)
9:12 (161)
8:42 (166)
8:45 (168)
8:33 (172)
and a bit (HR avg 174 for last part, 177 at race end)

[Updated: NYRR site says 1:57:27 and 8:57 pace, that sounds about right--the Polar must have a weird algorithm for calculating average pace! And I note that the 9:12 mile later on in the race must be the one where I walked through a water station eating a gel--I wasn't feeling physically overwhelmed, but didn't have the mental fortitude to eat and run and drink at the same time... something to work on...]


Wendy said...

Good for you!! (And really, much better to err on the side of hydration, despite the porta-potty queues.)

Brent Buckner said...

Astounding how much minor dehydration can hit performance.

Really, good day!

Dorothy W. said...

It took me a while to figure out what a "seeding disaster" was -- I was exercising my imagination on that one!

Lynn said...

Just this morning, while doing my daily perusal of Light Reading, I discovered that I've been missing this blog for five months! Reading some of the past entries made me happy (and miss you dreadfully!).

I just a few weeks ago started running on a treadmill at the gym, and have decided that it's the only way I'm going to survive graduate school (which has been rather awful recently). I'll be using you as inspiration as I try to learn how not to flail about awkwardly - I've always been much more graceful in the water than on land!

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