Marathon 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.
I was a little apprehensive coming into this race for a number of reasons. I had only been back running less than a week, and was still favoring my left knee after the recent injury. The previous weekend I flew back from Poland and in the intervening days I had managed only a single leisurely 4 mile run. I was definitely hesitant to put a lot of pressure on my knee, but after setting an easy pace on the treadmill I found that there were no lingering effects of the tendonitis. It seemed as though the break, along with the ice pack, stretches, and strength exercises were actually making a difference.
The morning of the race I headed off to the park. I resolved not to push myself too much, preferring to finish the event and chalk up another notch in my 9+1 quest for entry to next years New York City Marathon, rather than risk further injury and setback. I knew I had a long summer ahead and my mind was also on my training for the Philadelphia Marathon, due to start in mid-July. If I was going to be ready to take on that workload I had to make sure my knee was in the best condition possible.
That morning was hot and humid. I had been somewhat sheltered up to that point, having only run in relatively mild or cool conditions. I learned that morning that running in the heat and humidity is really not for me. The whole race was a struggle for me because of the heat, the drop in my fitness level from a month off, crowding at the start of the race, and general stiffness in my legs. But primarily from the heat and humidity.
We started on the west side of the park and circled the southern end. By the time I hit the the first mile marker I was already struggling and somewhat reluctantly checked my watch. Imagine my surprise when I saw it registered just shy of ten minutes. As I said, I had resolved to take it easy but ten minutes for the opening mile was much slower than planned. There was some crowding at the start that led to bunching and slow downs, but certainly not enough to have that much of an impact on my time. From that point on I knew it was going to be a rough day, so I settled in and tried to make the most of it.
By the time we reached the west side at the 102nd St transverse I was starting to take walk breaks every half mile or so. My knee was fine but my legs felt heavy and the humidity left me feeling sluggish. I remember feeling an immense sense of relief as the finish line came into view. I had picked up the pace enough over the middle miles to end up with a respectable time of 47:40, averaging 9:32 per mile. This was by far my slowest ever race, but given the conditions, my recent break and the fact that I was still protecting my knee, I felt like I had accomplished an important milestone in my comeback.