The Philly Half Family Affair

philly2013_001Sometime last year my older sister got the running bug. She started out like most of us do, running for fitness and eventually graduated to the competitive scene by taking part in a couple of local 5K races. Earlier this year she stepped it up again, and took part in the Broad Street Run, a very popular 10 mile race that goes through the heart of Philadelphia. Despite some nerves, she did really well – finishing in a time of 1:28:45. After the race, I somehow convinced her to sign up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. She in turn talked her husband and neighbor into running too.

I have to admit, it was nice to be able to talk running with her. She had the same enthusiasm and was going through the same race-associated emotions that I had gone through the previous year. It brought back some good memories of the first few races I took part in and how excited I would get about a good performance. Since this year has been something of a bust for me, to a certain extent I guess I was living vicariously through Carla and her achievements.

If you’ve been reading my last few updates you will know that my own preparations for the race were pretty disastrous. Most people taper before a big race, but in my case I went off a precipice and shut everything down. Injury and illness conspired to force me into three weeks of idleness in the lead up to the half. My last run had been the marathon kickoff in Central Park in late October – a decent run capping off a few weeks of successful training. Since then though, my training diary was completely empty – a wasteland of blank space that embarrassed me on a daily basis.

Jess and I travelled down to Philly on the Friday night, taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a little extra time with Carla, her husband and their two kids. We played with the kids on Saturday morning and then all headed into the city to pick up our numbers. A brief stop at a really nice pizza restaurant helped with our carbo-loading and we were back home by 4pm, ready to relax for the evening. We had a 4AM wake-up planned, so it was an early night all around.

The next morning (or middle of the night in reality) we woke up and went through our individual preparations. By 4:30AM we were on the road and on our way to the start area in downtown Philadelphia. On the way we managed to run over a skunk, so any lingering sleepiness was soon dispelled when the smell hit in full force shortly thereafter. Even though it was cold outside, I think we were all happy to leave the confines of the car and get a bit of fresh air when we parked an hour later.

We were in the third corral, so didn’t have to wait around too long after the first batch of runners set off. Just in front of us was the Clif Bar pace runner with the 1:50 target time. For some reason, despite my complete lack of training, I felt I could keep with the pace. I managed to stay with the group for the first three or four miles, but the fast speed and lack of training eventually caught up to me and I had to drop off. Carla and Lars had also dropped off and were a little further back. I kept going over the next two miles with the aid of a couple of walk breaks, and by mile six had settled into a comfortable nine minutes mile pace. Around the half way point and just prior to the start of the challenging hill section, I slowed for a walk break. Carla and Lars caught up to me shortly after, but stopped themselves for a walk break as I started up again. We had completed the first 10K in 54 minutes. They were deep in discussionphilly2013_002s about tactics and trying to manage their pace, having gone off a little faster than planned and were concerned about lasting the distance.

Meanwhile, Jess and my niece had gotten up early and set themselves up near the Please Touch museum in Fairmount Park. Unfortunately, I missed them as I ran past but they saw me (apparently I was totally in the zone) and Carla & Lars a minute or two later. Seeing her daughter definitely helped my sister and gave her that little extra bit of motivation she needed to push on to the finish. For Jess and my niece, it was good bonding time and a nice way to spend a few hours together. After standing out in the cold cheering on the athletes for an hour, they headed off to the warmth of the car and the inviting smells of a local diner for some delicious breakfast before returning home to greet their weary runners.

For us, still out on the course, we were entering the final miles. In my case, the miles and lack of training was taking a real toll and the walk breaks became more frequent. Over the last 10K I slowed considerably, and cross the line with a time of 2:00:04. Two minutes behind me, Carla and Lars crossed the line hand-in-hand, with a time of 2:02:35. We had missed our two hour target but were happy to have finished with such a respectable time. The recovery started immediately, with water and pretzels handed out by volunteers at the finish. The ride home was relatively quiet, each of us replaying the race in our heads.

For me, finishing the race was an achievement in itself. This was the third half-marathon I had finished this year, each one on the back of interrupted training and challenging physical conditions. For my sister it was the culmination of months of training and a goal realized. Sure, the time was just outside the target, but that shouldn’t distract from the achievement. She set out to run a half-marathon and that’s exactly what she did. I felt proud of her for sticking it out and resisting the strong urge to quit at various points. Coming through a test like that builds character and makes a person stronger. For Carla and Lars, the strength and support he provided throughout the run is a testament to the strength of their relationship and the love and respect they have for each other. I’m proud of all of us for what we’ve done!

Marathon Kickoff

psmk2013Marathon week is usually a fun time in New York City. In addition to the marathon-related activities, there’s also the Halloween Parade in the East Village. This annual freakshow is a spectacle that many marathoners work into their trip and come to town a little early just to bear witness to. There’s also the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff race, a 5M loop of Central Park that routes competitors along portions of the marathon path including the grandstand finish. For me, in addition to running part of the marathon route, the race offered up the opportunity for a competitive run out after a fairly lengthy break from middle distance competition.

Conditions were perfect as I arrived at the park. The weather was still warm enough for shorts, and short sleeves. The park was in full transition mode, with barriers and grandstands almost ready for the upcoming marathon. There was quite a large crowd already gathered and the mood was lively as runners basked in the early morning sun. Personally, I was looking forward to running at the front of the field in part because of my fast time at the Fifth Ave Mile. The course was clockwise around the park, one of only two races that travel in this direction. I had enjoyed my previous experiences running this direction. After a couple of weeks of good training, I had a feeling that a PR might be possible but tempered my expectations because of my ongoing knee issues.

The race started out very fast, more so than I had expected even. I tried to run my own pace initially and didn’t panic when quite a few runners started passing me over the first mile. Controlling my pace, I put in an 8:10 first mile and an 8:06 second mile. However, the pace started to catch up to me by the time I reached the 102nd St Transverse and at the water station I slowed down to take on some fluids and give the legs a break. This time last year I was capable of doing the same run and pace with no breaks, but given the shoddy year I have had it’s no surprise that my strength and stamina are off.

Over the remaining miles I clocked an 8:30 average pace to finish in a time of 41:43. After the race I felt fine and took only a couple of minutes to fully recover and head home. Looking back on the race, even with two walk breaks and a reduced training workload leading up to the event, I was less than two minutes off my PR for the distance. This is not the first time I have been in that position, and yet again I’m faced with the realization that, were I to have a decent period of uninterrupted training, I could probably beat all of my PRs.

If only…

Fifth Avenue Mile

5thavemile001In the two years or so I’ve been running, I’ve always looked at myself as more of a stamina runner. Most of my races have been slow and steady, churning out the miles at an even pace somewhere between 8:30 and 9:00. I don’t really have a great burst of speed in me – being six foot tall and two hundred pounds will have that kind of effect on a person. But this year, as I look to complete my qualifying events for next years marathon, I found myself inexplicably drawn to the Fifth Ave Mile. Sure, part of the attraction was because I need the race credit but I was also attracted to the race because it was something new. It’s the only race of it’s kind on the NYRR calendar – a straight sprint down Central Park East, 5280 feet from 80th St to 60th St.

I had done some good times for Yasso 800’s and a couple of spins around the Red Hook track, but never ran an official mile race. Despite that, I didn’t do any specific training for this event, other than a few speed sessions on the treadmill at my local gym.

The morning of the race I got off the subway at 63rd and Lex and walked the course from the finish all the way back to the start. Knowing the course, where the inclines and declines were would help me pace myself during the crucial first half. After studying the course, I dropped of my gear bag and warmed up with a solid 3M around the Central Park. I made my way back to the start area and watched the beginning of the previous heat. The start was a bit crowded and there definitely looked to be a lot of jockeying for position over the first couple of hundred yards. As the announcers called us forward to take our places in the starting corral, I hung towards the back. I figured it best to let the pack go and leave a bit of daylight between myself and the pack, so I didn’t have to deal with the typical crowd issues.

A few minutes later the horn sounded and we were off. The first quarter mile was slightly downhill, but with the second quarter promising a slight incline, I paced myself to a solid 1:50 start. Around this time I also started to pass some of the slower members of the bunch which provided some additional motivation. The second quarter was not as bad as expected, perhaps because I had controlled my opening 400m. I crested the hill at the half way point in a time of 3:35. At this point I was looking good for close to 7 minutes, which I have to admit, I would have been delighted with.

The second half of the race consisted of a downhill quarter and a relatively flat final quarter. From somewhere deep inside, I found an extra kick on the downhill stretch and passed a bunch of runners who were motoring along at a decent clip. Over the third quarter I gain time and going into the last 400m the clock read 5:05. It was at this point that I started to feel the strain, but the pull of the finish line and the noise from the crowd pushed me along even as my legs and lungs started to fade. I crossed the finish line in a time of 6:47 – well below my original target of seven minutes.

The whole thing was over so fast, but I walked away from the run extremely happy. I felt I had given a good account of myself and could be proud of my first official mile personal record.


Where It All Started

smallwood2013Two years ago I ran a neighborhood 5K with no training or real race preparation. I had just started running for health reasons and wanted to test my abilities in a relatively low pressure situation. The race bug bite me that day, I haven’t looked back since. However, that remained the only 5K I ever ran and my time has stood (as a rather poor) personal record. That is until the other day.

Jess and I were spending a few days with her family at their summer retreat in the Hudson Valley area and as is tradition, we gathered up a group to run the local fire company fundraiser 5k. Two years ago the conditions were not favorable, with rain showers throughout the run and a lot of standing water on the ground. This year we had the opposite, the sun was beating down by the time the race started at 9:30AM, melting everyone and everything around it. Combined with the high humidity and absence of any noticable breeze, everyone was suffering.

The course itself is pretty challenging, with a few short sharp hills mixed in with some lakeside flat sections. The last mile or so is mostly downhill, making for a quick finish to the race. The pack was small, so I started out near the front and set a solid pace up the first hill. By the time I reached the summit at the one mile mark in eight and a half minutes, my knee was already hurting and my legs felt like they were on fire. I guess six weeks away really set me back in terms of my levels of strength and stamina.

Admittedly, I had to stop and walk for 30 seconds to catch my breathe and give my legs a break. Following that brief respite I kicked off again and covered the next mile in a little under nine minutes. I took another walking break along the way, again to cool down and catch my breathe because of the heat. As I passed the two mile marker, I committed to finishing the race with no more breaks and ran through some labored breathing and heavy legs to finish in just under 27 minutes. For a first run in six weeks, an 8:40 per mile pace was not too bad. In fact, it was good enough for fifth place in my age group.

I definitely experienced some conflicting emotions during and after the run. At times I regretted my decision to participate, longing instead for my warm comfy bed or the pedal power of my bicycle while jogging up the sharp hills around the lake. At other times it felt good to be back running again after a month and a half. I guess what this run taught me is that I need to work on the mental side a little more, in addition to building strength in my leg and stretching more. I need to arm myself with some tools to fight the twin desires to walk or quit whenever they rear their ugly heads.

By the way, I have to give an honorable mention to Jess who also ran the race and finished third in her age group. Way to go Jess!


The Brooklyn Half

bkln_half_002The Brooklyn Half is one of my favorite races, not least because it takes place in my back yard. The start area is less than half an hour from my apartment and the finish is close to the F subway, which makes getting home pretty easy. In terms of course layout, the first half takes place in and around Prospect Park, where I run and bike on a daily basis. I know the roads, know my optimal pace, and can read my bodies reaction to the roads. About half way through, the course exits the park and runs along Ocean Parkway all the way Coney Island. Ocean Parkway is a pretty straight run, making it a bit of a toil. After about four miles of straight, flat concrete the course turns onto Surf Avenue and then the boardwalk in Coney Island. The last corner, going from Surf Ave to the boardwalk is a but tricky in a crowd of people because the runners have to take the ramp, there’s only enough room for two people to run side by side, so make sure to get ahead of the group before the last bend.

Unfortunately for me, both times I have attempted this race I have been recovering from or dealing with knee pain. It seems like I just can’t catch a break at this time of year! A couple of months of relative inactivity following the NYC Half meant that my knee was not giving me as much grief as it had earlier in the year. That’s not to say I had recovered, I just wasn’t pushing myself that hard and putting as much strain on it.

My preparations went as smoothly as can be expected. In the lead up to the race I only had a couple of short training runs to keep my legs ticking over. The night before I got to bed early and the morning of I ate a bowl of oatmeal. On the walk up to the start I took onboard plenty of fluids. After dropping off my bag I got in a good stretch and mentally prepared for the next two hours.

Starting in the first wave, I took off at a moderate nine minute mile pace. Almost immediately, my knee started to ache. I couldn’t believe it! Perhaps, stupidly but certainly stubbornly, I was determined to push through. I had already dropped out of one half-marathon this year and had no intention of putting up another DNF. My original plan had been to aim for a negative split by starting slowly and picking up speed later in the race. With my knee acting up, that plan went out the window. I resigned myself to maintaining a consistent pace and trying to come in under two hours.

Each mile was as painful as the previous one, and on a couple of occasions I came close to stopping. The first time was pretty early on as we wound our way through Prospect Park. I struggled up the hill and at the top, the point on the course closest to my apartment, I seriously considered stopping. I didn’t, mainly thanks to Jess who had come out to cheer me on. She ran next to me for a couple of hundred yards and that definitely helped to lift my spirits. For the rest of the race I alternated between jogging at my default pace and taking walk breaks fill up on fluids and rest my aching joint.

As we closed in one the finish, I was running on adrenaline more than anything else. I knew I had a good shot at breaking two hours, so I kept pushing myself and even skipped the last walk break. Once on the boardwalk, the finish line acted like a magnet, drawing me in with the promise of rest and relaxation. I crossed the line in a time of 1:58, over twelve minutes slower than my personal best but still respectable. Just like the previous year, my thoughts turned to “what if,” what if I could run this race without any pain or knee issues. I felt sure that, were I in decent physical shape and injury free, I could probably turn in a pretty fast time. The course is ideal for it, it’s just a case of getting myself in the right condition. Maybe next year …

NYC Half-Marathon & Almost Quitting

nychalf_002Race day arrived and although it was a bit cold, the weather decided to cooperate for the many thousands of runners. I woke up around 5AM and went through my usual morning routine. Cold oatmeal, coffee, stretch, bathroom, and dress – I have it down by now and it varies so infrequently that I’ve noticed I need less and less time with each race.

The hardest part of the morning was traveling to the start, which meant catching a subway around 5:30AM. Surprisingly, there were quite a few people on the train at that time of the morning. Half the car was people heading off to work for the morning, looking on in bemusement at the other half – a bunch of jaded runners, mentally preparing for the morning ahead. I got chatting to a few people for whom it was their first time and shared my experiences of the run from last year. From my perspective, the hardest part of large races such as this is the lengthy wait to get going once the leaders set off. Last year I was back in the 19K range and the leaders actually lapped me before my group got to the start line.

This year I was placed much higher in the start corrals, so crossed the start line a mere 15 minutes after the leaders. Bearing in mind that I hadn’t trained or even run in about three weeks, I was not expecting a stellar performance of any kind. A true enough, the first couple of miles were quite tough on the legs. Without the preparation, my muscles were screaming for oxygen from an early point. Cat Hill, Harlem Hill and the three peaks down the west side all took their toll, but I was moving along at a modest 9:00 per mile. The next stage of the run gave me and I suspect all the other runners a boost, as we exited the park and cruised down 6th Ave to Times Square. It’s one of the biggest thrills of the NYRR racing calendar, as runners own the busiest street in the city for a few hours and crowds come out to cheer on the runners.

And that’s where the fun ended for me. By then I had a nice big blister going on the instep of my right foot. Unfortunately, the pain was so much that I was unconsciously over-correcting and ran the entire second half of the race favoring the outside of my right foot. The lack of preparation was really starting to show at this point, as all the way down the west side highway, the long stretches of concrete took their toll on my already tired muscles. I stopped to walk on a couple of occasions and at one point, when I stopped to say hi to Jess and plant a big kiss on her lips, I momentarily debated stopping. But given my recent failure at the Manhattan Half and the terrible feelings of shame I had afterward, I decided to suck it up and finish the last two miles.

There was a definite sense of relief crossing the finish line, pretty much the same feeling I had when I ran the Philadelphia Marathon. I completed the run in 2:01:06, just outside my two hour target time, which I think added to my disappointment. For a couple of days after I would ask myself why I kept doing this to myself without ever coming up with an answer. I had enjoyed running for so long, only now to be dealing with feelings of shame, doubt, and disappointment on a regular basis. I’m not sure if I was looking for excuses not to run anymore or if I was just processing what happened, but eventually I realized that I was looking at it all wrong. I had been through three bad race experiences in the space of four months, but the reality was that I set myself up for those bad experiences through poor preparation and failure to follow my race plans. Those are not excuses to not run … they’re lessons to learn for the future. It’s not like all of a sudden I didn’t enjoy running. I was still waking up at 5AM to run and still running through pain to finish races. I was just tired of bad experiences – I want to get back to enjoying my running.

Al Gordon Classic

algordon_001I wasn’t living in Brooklyn last year and missed this early season race. Now that I’ve switched boroughs, I want to take full advantage or races in my backyard. As one of only three NYRR races in Brooklyn, I was looking forward to putting myself to the test in a race scenario on a course that I train on regularly.

For a couple of weeks prior to the race I had been operating on a modified training program that involved stationary bike and weight training. Essentially, staying off my knee in order to help it recover from the latest bout of tendinitis  This was the first of the two races I would undertake on this new program and I was curious to see how it affected my performance.

The morning was crisp and a bit damp, but thankfully nowhere near as cold as the last race. Zhenya and I lined up at the start, relatively close to the front of the field. He was just out for a light run, with his mind on the Manhattan Marathon the next day. I was out to test my knee and try to set a fast time in a race situation, with the NYC Half looming a few weeks in the future. Today’s performance would be a good guide to how well I might fare at the longer distance.

As expected, the race started out fast. The narrow center almost demands as much, as any kind of lollygagging will result in the runner getting caught in a deep pack of runners. The first mile includes the hill to Grand Army Plaza, and I felt good as I powered up the incline. Interestingly, my knee was feeling fine and standing up well to the additional pressure of the hills. Passing the first mile marker at the crest of the hill, I was motoring along at a little over an eight minute mile pace. The next two miles were tailor made for a fast time, and true to form I clocked them at 7:35 and 7:07 respectively. The final mile is the real test, as the course swings around to the slight uphill drag on the west side of the park and then left onto center drive with the uphill finish. The early pace was starting to tell on my legs and lungs. Although I slowed somewhat, I still ran an 8:30 last mile for a 30:56 finish time – yet another personal best over the distance.

As with the Kleinerman 10K, there was an element of guilt after the race. Again, I felt like I had not entirely earned such a fast time but that feeling didn’t last as I basked in the glory of a stellar performance and a new fastest pace of 7:44 on my NYRR record. With three weeks to go between this race and the NYC Half, my performance gave me enough confidence to continue with the stationary bike regime and preserve the condition of my knee as much as possible.

My First Did-Not-Finish

“Shame, boatloads of shame,
Day after day, more of the same.”
– The Avett Brothers

manhattanhalf_001In the year or more that I’ve been running competitively I’ve had some interesting race day experiences. The vast majority of them have been positive, one of the reasons I have stuck with it so long and had so much success losing weight and getting into shape. However, it was somewhat inevitable that I would eventually have a dodgy on the course and my luck eventually ran out last Sunday at the Manhattan Half-Marathon. For the first time ever, I failed to complete the full race distance.

This was the first race of the five borough series, a set of races that takes place in each of the cities boroughs and provides automatic entry to the following years NYC Half-Marathon. I planned to run the race with Zhenya, my occasional training partner. In the days leading up to the race, the forecast promised an cold but dry morning and sure enough the wind that morning was bone chilling. I layered up with my favorite tights and under armor shirts, and then stacked on tech shirts, hats and gloves to give extra protection against the elements. It wasn’t enough!

After stripping off the outer layers and checking our bags, we made our way to the start corrals. For the next fifteen minutes we stood around in freezing temperatures (the board at the bottom of the park said it was 20F) and tried desperately to stave off the chills.

Once we started, I hoped that the run would bring my body temperature back up and keep the cold out, but as I completed the first loop of the park I couldn’t shake the cold from inside of me. Coming around the southern end of the park and up the east side, I passed the seven mile marker in a time of 57:30. My time was pretty reasonable, but my mind just couldn’t fathom keeping going for another 45-50 minutes. And that’s when I stopped.

Almost immediately I regretted the decision. I sat on the guard rail and debated started up again, but as each minute passed by the thought of spending another minute in these freezing temperatures became less and less attractive. I decided I had had enough, and walked back toward the finish line to pick up my bag and get put back on my sweats. On the way there one of the course marshals asked me if I was ok or needed medical attention. I responded automatically and as I heard myself say the words, “I’m fine … I just don’t want to do this anymore,” I felt that growing sense of shame inside of me. For the next few days I tried not to think about what happened, and as time passed and I spoke to more and more people, I began to realize that I was being a bit too hard on myself. These things happen – I’m going to have some bad days from time to time. The key things is to learn from the experiences, see what works for me and where the issues are and manage my race schedule going forward.

I’ve stopped beating myself up over my first DNF. It probably won’t be my last.

Hey Joe …

kleinerman_10k_002This was my second time running the Joe Kleinerman 10K. Unlike last year, when the race started and finished near the 102nd St. Transverse, this edition of the race had the start and finish located in the area of the 72nd St. Transverse. It’s all much the same to me, although the biggest difference with the new course is that the big hills come towards the end. I have to admit that I do like getting the Harlem Hill over with early on when running in Central Park.

I really hadn’t done a whole of running or training over the holidays. I used our trip to Europe as an excuse to take a break from everything running, especially after the intensity of the prior couple of months both leading up to and immediately after the Philadelphia Marathon. Being the first post-holidays race, I figured my fitness and stamina levels would be down from their peaks and I might struggle to put up a good time.

Apparently not!

The morning was relatively nice for January, with temperatures a little above freezing and no breeze to speak of. My morning routine had gone off without a hitch, and I felt really good as the race wound it’s way around the southern end of the park and up toward Cat Hill. My legs were turning over nicely and as I powered up the hill, I felt no pain in my knee. By the third mile marker I was clocking a faster than expected pace of 8:00 per mile, with most of the major hills remaining.

Funnily enough, Harlem Hill and the three sisters on the West side failed to significantly slow me down, and I completed the second half of the race with a slightly slower pace, to hit the finish in a time of 50:19 (8:07 per mile) – a new personal best for the distance.

In the immediate aftermath of the race I felt a little guilty, mainly because I thought I hadn’t worked hard enough to earn the personal best distinction. It was the first time I had ever felt that way after a race and took some time to rationalize. In the ensuing days however, I read a lot of articles about training styles and the effects of long-term stamina training. As it turns out, even though I took a few weeks off to enjoy the holidays, the rate of decline was incredibly slow because of the intensity of my marathon training. Running experts and publications alike all spoke about the benefits of rest and allowing the body to recover following high intensity training. It’s an area I didn’t pay a lot of attention to up to that point, but something that I plan on incorporating into future training plans to create a more balanced regimen going forward.

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.