Two Weeks, Two Races, Two Records

jingle_bell_jog_002Only last Sunday I pulled out a new personal best during the Join The Voices 5M race in Central Park. Unfortunately, through some oddity in the New York Road Runners results database, my total time of 39:56 was recorded as an average pace of 8:00 per mile (rather than the more accurate 7:59:20). Even applying proper rounding rules, the time should have been 7:59 per mile. I have no idea why they rounded up, but that really irked me. Strange how such a simple thing could take the sheen off an otherwise excellent run. I was clearly at my peak following all that marathon training and it was showing in my training and race times. Aside from the scoring anomaly, that was a great run and with one race left on the 2012 calendar I was even more determined than ever to go out again and run a race under 8:00 per mile before the years end. Mentally and physically I was in the best condition I had ever been, and I was sure as shit not going to waste the opportunity to score a new personal best at the my favorite race on the NYRR calendar.

The Jingle Bell Jog is a pretty significant race for me, it was the first NYRR race I competed in – only one year ago. In the lead up to the race I was reflecting on how far I had come over the last twelve months. Having made a commitment to run, I can honestly say that I have achieved far more in the last year than I ever would have expected. Last year I ran the modified course in a fast time of 8:17 per mile and that was with very little training under my belt. With all my training, I knew I had a good time in me – it was just a matter how much the previous race had taken out of me and whether I could get myself in the right mental state to go out and record a new personal best.

Although the morning was cold and wet, the rain held off and I was in good form as I made my way to the park for the early morning start. After picking up my race bib and going through my pre-race stretches, I took my place in the start corral and was set to go. All around me, people were getting into the spirit – some dressed in Santa suits while one or two braved the zero temperatures to run in nothing more than shorts or a speedo.

The race started and the first half mile was relatively fast as the lead pack made it’s way east on the narrow Center Drive. We turned north and took in the only major hill approaching Grand Army Plaza. The first mile marker appeared at the top of the hill and my time was just under 8 minutes. Over the next two miles, I kept up the high pace on very familiar roads and by the third mile marker I my time was just over 23 minutes.

I started to feel the effects of the high pace on the last mile, especially around the tops of my legs. But I was determined to keep going and record a good time, so I fought the urge to slow down or walk and pushed on up the long drag towards the left run on Center Drive. As I took the bend I glanced at my watch and knew I was on course for something remarkable. The last quarter mile was uphill and probably would have hurt more if it wasn’t for the adrenaline coursing through my body. With the finish line in sight, I managed a slight kick and cross the line in a time of 31:12.

It took a minute or two to catch my breathe, grab some water and food, and make my way out of the finish area. I must have had the biggest smile on my face as I made the quick calculations and realized I had shattered my previous best for a 4M race and a per mile average. Not just shattered, but completely demolished! It was a fantastic way to finish up the race calendar for the year and the perfect gift to myself going into the holiday season.

Join the Voices 5M

join_voices_001I was really looking forward to this race. Two weeks had passed since I ran my first marathon and I was getting over the disappointment of missing my target time. I had taken it relatively easy over the intervening fortnight, clocking up just shy of 30 miles over five different runs. Just enough to keep myself in race shape but not too much to put unnecessary stress on my legs after the damage they sustained in Philadelphia. On the morning of the race I felt strong, so strong that as I was leaving I promised Jess I would do a personal best. My pre-race routine had gone well, I was dressed and ready for competition. I felt like I had a good time in me, and hoped that posting a personal best could erase the last shreds of doubt that still clung to my psyche after the marathon.

I arrived early at the start area and picked up my bib. I was in the 3000’s – and therefore starting toward the front of the field which helped me relax. After the slow start in Philly I am definitely becoming more conscious of my starting place and the early miles. Sitting towards the front alongside other reasonably fast runners, I figured I wouldn’t have to worry about blowing my target pace in the first mile.

My last 5M race was also my first one back from tendonitis of the knee, so my personal best for the distance was a modest 47:40. Setting a new personal best in this race was almost mandatory. I was targeting a 42:30 time, which works out to 8:30 per mile pace. I felt like I was in decent condition following the marathon, and the sessions since then had gone reasonably well including some high tempo runs. Anything better than that would be a massive bonus.

By the time the race started I was eager to get going. We moved off from our corral fairly slowly but quickly got going by the time we crossed the start line. The pace was high as swept around the southern end of Central Park, but nothing I couldn’t handle. In fact, even though I knew the pace was high I felt like I was coasting along. It was just a matter of checking my confidence and not burning out too early. As we passed the first mile marker I glanced at my watch and was delighted to see a time of 8:07. The second mile was up the east side drive, including Cat Hill and behind the art museum. Passing the two mile marker around 86th St, I was maintaining my fast pace. We continued up the east side to the 102nd St transverse and I hit three miles at 24:25. My early pace was starting to effect my legs though, and I could feel the workload taking it’s toll. However, I was in no mood to slow down and I pushed on – relentlessly pursuing a new(er) personal best.

At the mile three marker my mind started to calculate and I quickly realized I was on course for a 41:00 time. Considering my pre-race goal, that would very impressive and would also reflect an improved per mile pace over any of my previous races: from 8:13 down to 8:10. If you’ve run this 5 mile route around Central Park before you’ll know that the next mile or so, over the three sisters on the west side, can be the hardest of all. This is where the temptation to slow down or walk was the strongest, but again I pushed on. I was sticking with the runners around me and felt like losing contact with them would be a bitter mental blow at this late stage.

By the top of the third hill we had passed the four mile marker and my time was 32:30. Knowing the last mile was mostly downhill, I made the decision to push myself even harder and go for the 40:00 barrier. It was a stretch at that point, but I felt like I could at least make the effort. I may miss by a few seconds, but at least I had to try. And so I dug in …

Every stride became a litte bit longer. Every breathe became a little bit deeper. I started to pass other runners who had been in front of me for the last mile or two. I passed someone hold a sign that said, “put the hammer down” and so I did. In my mind, every marshall and supporter was cheering for me – I used every single clap, shout, and cheer to spur me on. I knew I was going fast, I just didn’t know if it would be enough or if I could sustain the effort.

As we turned left at the 72nd St transverse I could see the finish line and the clock above it counting down. My lungs felt like they were going to explode as the strain of the last few yards registered. But I pushed on – focused only on the clock and putting one foot in front of the other. I had nothing left to give as I crossed the line and stopped my watch. And then I looked … my watch said 39:56. It was unofficial of course, but I swear I had to look at my watch two or three times to confirm that I had indeed run 5 miles in under 40 minutes.

I took some water, a bagel and an apple from the volunteers and found a bench to sit. Only after I caught my breathe and took on some sustanence did I fully absorb my accomplishment. My time was far better than I imagined. Five miles in under 40 minutes is a major achievement and represents a pretty nifty pace of 7:59 per mile! Breaking eight minutes per mile is a major threshold for me, something I have never accomplished beyond a mile and it’s also the type of encouragement I needed to move past my marathon experience. I’m not going out competing for an Olympics place or anything, but at a minimum this tells me that all that marathon training had benefits and just cause I didn’t get to reap them in Philadelphia, doesn’t mean it was all to waste. Far from it in fact!