On Saturday morning I awoke feeling a bit trepidatious ahead of running my second half marathon in seven days. Was my body ready? Had I overestimated my fitness? What was a reasonable performance goal? The list of unknowns weighed heavily as I made my way to Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens for the Michelob Ultra 13.1.
Arriving at the start line to see nearly 2,000 runners collecting without any regard to their abilities set off alarm bells. Rightfully so, as I’d soon find out. In the distance I could see a number of pace signs to regulate proper corralling. But as the start time neared, there in the distance they remained. Not surprisingly, the result was a rather chaotic and unsafe start.
Once underway, the disorganized mass lurched forward as hundreds began zigzagging for position. With so many darting in-and-out and only a small minority actually looking first to see if the path was clear, the route quickly became an obstacle course.
Coupled with the rough, pot-hole-ridden pavement, the frenzy quickly became exceedingly frustrating to navigate. Above all, it was unsafe. By mile two, I witnessed one girl lose her footing and fall, and I experienced several near misses myself. Throughout the course I encountered an excessively high number of meandering runners, just randomly weaving across the width of the road. I have no idea what these folks were trying to do; they were just haplessly running any which direction. I had never seen anything like it.
At mile four, with my frustrations mounting, I decided to adopt a new mantra, “The race experience is what you make of it.” I realized that the longer I run, odds are that I’ll come across a few races that would make a sixth-grade track meet seem expertly put together.
A successful finish shouldn’t be exclusively assessed by time. Instead, the lessons garnered enroute to the finish are often the best indicators of progress. In the face of less than ideal circumstances, I knew that my reaction would determine the value of today’s experience. So I took a deep breath and resolved to put this perspective to the test.
For the next nine miles I focused on my stride, my breathing, as well as artfully dodging the spectators who decided to cheer from the middle of the course and the portable stop signs that remained in the middle of the road. At mile ten, when I lapped a group of four walkers, I didn’t even let the fact that they were inexplicably strolling along side by side annoy me. Instead, I chose to enjoy the moment. After all, I had never lapped anyone before. I was determined to make the most of this adventure.
I practiced my on-course fueling, and even learned to gulp some gatorade without slowing down too much through the aid stations. I noted that the chocolate-flavored PowerGels give me mild discomfort and that I should stick to the vanilla or orange. I was excited that in my second half in a week, I was still running stronger than many others.
Alas, by the final mile I was spent. I felt as though I was significantly slowing down, even though my splits showed I had maintained a consistent effort. I’m not sure I’ve ever been happier to make it to the finish!
I crossed the finish line in 1:55:03 (8:47 pace), despite the ridiculous start, and just 30 seconds slower than my time at last Sunday’s NYC Half. I was pleased with the effort. Frankly, I was rather surprised.
Upon reflection, the Michelob Ultra 13.1 served as a poignant reminder that a race is what you make of it. Remarkably, my body feels better today than the day after the NYC Half. I can’t pretend to understand why that may be, but I’ll take it! Though the most salient takeaway from this race has nothing to do with my physical performance. As I continue my running journey, I have a sneaking suspicion the lesson in mental fortitude provided by the day’s experience will prove invaluable.