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A Fast Trot Around The ParkRace Report from the NYRR Fitness 4M Race

Posted Sep 12 2010 9:39pm
Hello folks, it's been a while...Yes, I realize that I haven't updated this blog in over a week, and yes I realize too that I haven't been as active in the blogosphere of late but honestly, the working, running and training has gotten so intense lately that I feel like I hardly have a chance to catch my breath sometimes after doing what I have to do on a daily basis to call myself a professional M.D. and a serious recreational marathoner. I sincerely apologize and hope that I can return to a more consistent blogging schedule sometime soon.

Another thing that I haven't been doing much of lately since marathon training began in earnest is participating in shorter distance races. Over the years, I've always used short distance races (5K, 4mile, 5mile, 10K), usually one to two per month, to motivate myself through the monotony of marathon training. This summer however, because the weather has been so hot and unwelcoming, I've shied away from doing many of the local races in Central Park in favor of longer training runs in Queens and Long Island. However, at times, when I'm tired and fatigued from a tempo or interval session gone too long, I find myself yearning to race just to evaluate my fitness and to find out if all the speed training I'm doing is actually making a difference on my times. This is why when my brother told me he was entering a 4 mile race today just to see where his fitness is at, I did not hesitate in signing up for the same race myself. I figured if nothing else, I'd be able to practice race pacing, have a finish time with which I can extrapolate and better define what my current marathon time should be and readjust my training paces accordingly.

The race I ran today was called the NYRR Fitness Mind, Body and Spirit run. It is essentially a 4 mile race running in a counterclockwise direction around Central Park. Although you would think that such a mundane venue wouldn't draw a big or competitive crowd, but because it was another local club points race, divided into a separate men and women's starts, the field was large and full of speedsters looking to claim bragging rights for their respective clubs. I, by comparison, wasn't so much looking forward to the competition but just hoping to race well, run fast, not injure myself and score a PR if possible. Because the weather was sunny but relatively mild at the start, I was hopeful that running a race that I'd be proud of may actually be in the realm of possibility for me.

I went through the necessary pre-race warmups, bid my brother farewell and scooted into the blue corral a few minutes before the barricade was lifted. I situated myself in the middle of the crowd, waited intently as pre-race announcements were made, got emotional at the reminder of this date (9/11) nine years ago, and sang a bit of the national anthem while watching some birds in flight directly overhead. All around me, I could feel the anxiety and tension emanating from my fellow competitors as we collectively wait for the final race instructions which we all knew by heart. Finally, with a blaring of the starting horn, the race began and we were off!

Because the course initially dips down a bit before rising into the infamous Cat Hill in mile 1, most of the runners around me were running at top speed right out of the gate. I fought the urge to follow suit and allowed my body to accelerate slowly to what I perceived to be a reasonably fast speed. Early on, my main focus was less about running speed than about finding a comfort zone where my legs can operate. Once I was able to settle down to a manageable cadence, I carried that effort up and over Cat Hill. I resisted the urge to check my pace but judging from past experience, I imagined I was running slow at this point. Still, I was already passing a few people who had gunned it too hard right out of the gate, so I was encouraged by that. I crested the big hill feeling pretty good, not tired at all, and approached the first mile marker thinking I needed to pick up the pace to make up for lost time in mile 1. So imagine my surprise when I looked down at exactly the mile 1 marker and saw that I was at 5:48. Wow!

At the beginning of mile 2, I passed by the exact spot where I blacked out and DNF'd at about 5K in my previous attempt at a 4 mile race. I used my memory of that last race to remind myself to not press my luck but run steady and comfortably. As I passed by Engineers Gate and saw some disabled Achilles athletes doing their best out on the race course, I felt very inspired and motivated to run with passion, healthy and strong. I tell myself that I am out here not necessarily to beat the other competitors, but to do the best that I can, not falter and to prove to myself that I belong. Fueled by the energy of my thoughts yet calmed by the serenity of instantaneous grace, I passed mile 2 marker at 5:52.

Given that my previous PR pace is 6:09, I knew I was looking extremely good for a big PR. However, given that the treacherous rolling hills at mile 3 awaits, my exhilaration was tempered by the reality that my race can turn bad extremely quickly if I wasn't careful. So I focused all my mental energy on just maintaining good cadence and good flow through the succession of hills in mile 3. Because I was running in open space essentially by this point with no racers in my immediate vicinity, I had to rely on my own perceived effort to gauge my progress as I ran cautiously through this undulating mile. I was pleasantly surprised again when I crested the last hill and saw 6:05 flashing on the Garmin.

Upon recognizing that only one measely mile now separated me from the PR that has eluded my grasp for so long, I was originally content with just cruising the last mile and claiming my prize at the finish line. But since I was energized and still feeling relatively comfortable at this point, I picked it up a little and searched the field up ahead for someone to pass. Lo and behold, out of the corner of my eye, I spot fellow Flyer AP up ahead, about a quarter mile away. So I gradually increased my cadence and ran more purposefully in an effort to catch him. I wasn't sure whether I had enough real estate to track him down and it wasn't until the last 50-100 meters of that race that I finally caught up to him and found myself neck and neck with this great fellow Flyer runner. I pushed forward at the last instant and was able to beat him to the finish by a mere second. I was gassed by the time this race was over but very happy that I can claim victory over myself once again!

In the end, I PR'd in this race by a whopping 62 seconds. More importantly, I showed the world and myself that I haven't forgotten how to run fast without dying at the end. I practiced flawless pacing and remained comfortable through the whole entire race. Although I know these short distance races do not necessarily translate to marathon success, nevertheless they provide a good barometer of overall fitness. According to the various race calculator, my new 4 mile PR now predicts a 2:52-2:55 marathon. No matter if they are accurate or not, just knowing that I have the potential to run such fast times in Chicago is music to my ears and provides me with the much needed incentive to keep training hard. And right now, heading into the last week of high mileage training before the taper, I need all the motivation and incentive I can find!

Official Race Statistics
Time - 0:23:36 (P.R. by 1:02)
Average Pace - 5:54 min/mile
Mile Splits - 5:48, 5:52, 6:05, 5:50
Official Place - 113/2181 (5.2%)
Age Group Place - 23/396 (5.8%)
NY Flyer Men - 1st Place
Age Graded Percentage - 72.9%
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