A Tale of Two Sundays

The mid-May Brooklyn Half marked the completion of my 13th race for 2014. In the weeks since Brooklyn, however, my training lagged. I rarely ran, and instead focused my attention on strength training at the gym. With three races on the calendar for June, another July 12th and then marathon training beginning on July 14th, I wanted a mini “reset.” Alas, the Father’s Day Portugal Day 5-miler signaled the end of my brief running respite.

The Portugal Day-themed race is one of my favorites. The crowd always seems to cheer a little bit louder, the post-race entertainment is enjoyable and the clockwise course route, minus the Harlem Hills, is a nice change. Despite the jubilant atmosphere, on this occasion my mood was anything but festive following my finish. While I wouldn’t consider my performance abysmal, it was certainly suboptimal.

20140615_092731_resized_1The first two miles seemed rather routine, but somewhere along the third mile I began to struggle. With each and every step my mind began to fixate on the mounting unpleasantness. Later I’d learn that my perceptions were seriously divorced from reality, but in those moments I had somehow convinced myself that it was the warmest day of the year, the humidity was nearly 100%, my body wasn’t made to run in this heat, I was running the slowest I had all year, and I may have to crawl across the finish to make it. For some bizarre reason I found myself adopting the most bizarre mantra, “a body in motion stays in motion,” for the final miles. Hardly a motivating incantation. Yes, it was one of those races.

When reality set in, I quickly discovered that my mind had gotten the best of me. The temperature was no higher than it had been during my early May outings and the humidity was negligible; while I didn’t set a PR, I hadn’t succumbed to a complete physical meltdown- finishing in 41:18 (8:16 pace).

Had my brief running respite impacted my fitness, halted my body’s acclimation to summer running, played with my confidence? All of the above? Or had I just experienced an “off” day? The following week I returned to a more productive training schedule and tried not to jump to any quick conclusions – or excuses – for why my Portugal Day effort had been subpar. Instead, I wisely chose to focus on this weekend’s Queens 10K.

The Queens 10K, one of NYRR’s “5-Borough Series” of races, follows a generally flat course through Flushing Meadows Corona Park. With last year’s event occurring in July, I gladly welcomed the June calendar change. Of course, traveling to races in Brooklyn and Queens always presents a nice test of basic arithmetic, as I calculated and recalculated exactly what time I would need to wake up in order to make it to the train and arrive at the start on time. This particular equation would require a 4:45 AM alarm. Maybe not “Brooklyn Half early,” but early nonetheless.

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 8.21.29 PMWith transit running ahead of schedule, I arrived in Flushing Meadows more than an hour early, with plenty of time to spare. As I sat on a park bench and caught the beginning of what appeared to be a locally organized soccer game, I sought to center my thoughts. I prepared myself to just run and let the chips fall where they may, no pressure. With this being my third race at this particular park, I summoned the confidence that I knew what was ahead. I broke the course down into quarters – a trek to the lake, a trip around the lake, an out and back passing Citi Field and then the final stretch to the finish. As I awaited the start, the air seemed a bit cool in my tank top. Compared to the 80 degree temperatures I had trained in during the week, it seemed like a perfect June morning.

My pre-race preparation paid off. By the half way mark I was trekking right along. It was getting pretty warm, and the Gatorade was a nice energizer. More water at miles 4 and 5, and before I knew it I was rounding the famed Unisphere and heading for the final stretch. As I rounded the Unisphere someone running ahead of me hollered at a spectator that he was going to PR. At that point I decided to steal a glance at my Garmin; I let out an audible gasp as I realized I just might break my own 10K PR- a feat I hadn’t even considered as realistic. Unless I slowed in dramatic fashion, I figured it was quite probable.

Screen Shot 2014-06-23 at 8.22.32 PMSince I began racing, I’ve noticed that there are two types of finishers: those who begin a full-on sprint at the sight of the finish and line and those who don’t. I fall into the latter category. By the time I reach the finish I’m generally spent, having already left everything I had on the course. I’ve always taken the viewpoint that if one has that much energy left at the end of a distance outing, their overall time could have been even better had that effort been spread throughout the course. As was typical, a number of speed demons sprinted past as I concentrated on just finishing strong.

Parched and drenched with sweat, I felt like a “comeback kid” after achieving an unexpected 10K PR with a 50:57 (8:13 pace). After learning that the temperature was 67 at the start with 70% humidity, I gleaned a true appreciation for the perspective that a week of solid training coupled with a proper mental attitude can provide.

Two weekends and two dramatically different races. For me, this tale of two Sundays served as a poignant reminder of why running is a lot like life: there’s no substitute for preparation, never underestimate the impact of one’s mental state and always remember that perseverance is the key to unlocking reward.

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