September 14, 2008

View From the Back

I had an interesting race experience today. I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and was out the door by 5 for the Queens Half Marathon. I figured there was no reason to buy the "special" race transportation since it was easy enough to take the subway to Queens and there were free buses to the race start. I took a short cab ride to Times Square to spare myself the agony of waiting for two early morning trains. I got down to the 7 platform and there were several runners already waiting.

The train ride was long, all the way to the end of the 7 line in Flushing. Queens is by far one of the lesser visited boroughs for me so I was completely unfamiliar with the area. The last bus was supposed to be at 6:15 for a 7:00 race start, but at 6:15, the bus was full so they sent it on. We were told there would be a couple more, no big deal. There were runners lined up all the way down the block and still no bus. I think it finally showed up around 6:45, which still seemed like plenty of time.

But then the bus dropped us off and it was clear there was a bit of a walk to the start. We walked and walked and walked with no end (or start) in sight. Then suddenly there were thousands of runners heading our way. The race had started. We figured we must be close at this point, so we kept walking. To our dismay, we walked for over two miles before reaching the start. Almost the entire race had gone by at this point and they threatened to pack up the chip mats if we didn't hurry. Give me a break! They couldn't get the logistics straight and then gave us a hard time? I didn't particularly care if I had an official time since this was purely a training run for me, but it was still unpleasant to be screamed at by race officials after their big screw up.

When I finally started, I was in the last 20 people or so. The race had started over 20 minutes earlier. I resisted the urge to catch up and kept to an easy pace, which was incredibly disappointing since I did the race to have the benefit of others pacing me. It is a completely different experience to run a race in the very back of the pack. There were points where there were no other runners and I could hear every breath I took and every foot strike. If I had known I would be running alone for so long, I could have just slept in and ran in Central Park.

To add to the fun, it was pretty hot - 78 degrees at the start - and humid - 86% - so that created challenges as well. And I was surprised that the course was as hilly as it was. But I felt great for 8-9 miles before the pain hit. It started with the usual nagging side stitch, which has been a permanent fixture this season. I tried to breathe it out but it hung on. Then came the rib pain from my bike crash. It started in the front and radiated to the back. Next up, my shoulder. I had sharp pain from my shoulder across my collarbone. Good times.

I was feeling pretty low when a guy ran up and said hello. We had met on the walk to the start because he was wearing a New York City Triathlon jersey. He was a lymphoma survivor running with Team in Training. He was in an incredibly chipper mood and I was suffering in misery. At first I hoped he would just move on because I couldn't talk and I was in my own private hell. Then he started a very long story, something about dogs wearing sweaters. I faded in and out of actually being able to listen and the story lasted about 1.5 miles so when it ended, we were already to 11.5 and heading into the home stretch. We talked as much as my body would allow and finished the race together. I thanked him at the end for pulling me through those last few miles. That's the great thing about races. You never know who you will meet.

After the race, I had some water and changed into dry clothes. I was feeling pretty good and then I noticed the water source. But when you're that thirsty, who cares.

Then on the way out, I saw something pretty funny. A guy had been to medical to get some ice for his knees, only instead of bags, they filled blue rubber gloves with ice and taped them to his legs. Now that's resourcefulness.

Distance - 13.1 miles
Time - 1:57:39

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