Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The New Haven Road Race

This article ran in Today's Record-Journal:

For a guy who's never run a race before, and who hasn't engaged in a serious athletic competition since high school, I was pretty pleased when I crossed the finish line of the New Haven Road Race ahead of my goal time and in front of more than half of the other runners.

You might have seen me running around Meriden, Cheshire and Wallingford over the past few months as I prepare for the Hartford Marathon on Oct. 11. The 12-mile New Haven race was my first taste of actually being completely surrounded by a sea of runners, and it was a good way to see if I could hold my marathon pace with the press of bodies and the adrenaline of competition to deal with.

People - the ones I ran with and the ones on the sidelines- made the run equal parts worthwhile and frustrating.

When the starting gun echoed, I was ready to go. But, trapped at the far back of the surging mass of contestants, there wasn't really any place I could go. Three minutes after that I was still running way below my goal pace of nine minutes per mile. I weaved through runners for what seemed like forever. When there was space I would hop up onto a sidewalk and sprint by as many as I could.

Finally I was out of the press and away, but I was convinced that I was lagging quite a bit, so I really picked up my pace. My GPS watch was not cooperating and I had no time to stop and adjust it, so I was pretty much left guessing as to how fast I was going.

Convinced that I was going to miss my goal, I eventually just settled into a nice pace and zoned out. My breath went in and out, the scenery rolled by, and everything seemed OK.

Runners are a funny group, I observed.

Unless you're an elite runner, the only person you have to compete against is yourself, so none of the rivalry of other sports shows during a race.

Some run in solitude, but others use the run as a social event, gabbing like there's no tomorrow.

From epic tales of a dog's bravery in foiling a robbery to feisty debate over proper interpretation of Franz Kafka's "The Metamorphosis," I heard it all. I mentally dubbed the later the most intellectual conversation ever to take place between athletes during a sporting event.

Especially at the beginning of the race, I saw runners bolt by me. I was impressed by their speed until I passed a number of them three-quarters through the race. Anyone in reasonably good shape can run a few sixminute miles, but if you're walking at mile 10 with a stitch on your side, you've wasted your time.

I never expected to say this, but I really liked the cheering fans. I didn't imagine running to be a spectator sport, but in periodic clumps, the denizens of New Haven were out there cheering for us with surprising gusto.

I especially liked the rather plump old woman in a lawn chair who had rigged her garden hose up to spray the runners as they went by.

"Come cool off, honey," she told me as I splashed through.

A few movements after my "thank you," a runner behind me actually stopped running to get soaked. "This ain't a shower, skinny," she told him. "There's lots of ya that want water, and you gotta get back on the road if you're ever gonna finish this thing."

After a few seconds of chuckling, I took her advice as well, and picked up my pace.

From the New Haven Green, the 12-mile course took us past Yale University, numerous residential neighborhoods, the waterfront and several large parks. By the time I was on mile 10, I was pretty tired, but determined to make up for lost time, I speeded up a bit. We rounded the final bend and it was a straight shoot down Whitney Avenue Whoever had the idea to blast Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" around mile 11, I can only say thanks. You just can't

Please see Running /8

From Page 7 ~ Running Raw: 12 miles done

run slowly with that song ringing through the air.

At one point, the top of my water bottle flew off and went rolling back the way I had come. I sprinted after it with a curse. I secured it before long and started sprinting to get back to my old position, which very nearly exhausted me. I got back into a steady rhythm just before the finish line came in sight.

Along the final stretch, the crowd was thick along the sidewalk, and everyone was cheering loudly or calling out encouragement. It made for a pretty memorable finish.

When I finally saw my official time, I was pretty surprised. I had managed to overcompensate for my earlier delay and finished in 1 hour, 46 minutes, and 16 seconds. I'd averaged an 8:33 pace, and came in 923rd of the 2,090 runners who finished the race.

The winner, James Carney, finished in 59 minutes and 11 seconds. The last runner to cross the finish line clocked in at two hours, 56 minutes, and 34 seconds.

I'll grant that my diet of only raw fruits and vegetables gives me a slightly different view on things, but I found it hilarious that beer and doughnuts were served at the after party. My ability to recover from exercise seems to be based on how quickly after lengthy exertion I take in simple sugars from fruit, so to see beer and doughnuts as recovery food seems a bit off.

It was a good run, and I'm glad I did it. Now I just need to figure out how to run 26.2 miles at about the same pace.

One thing that I need to change is my stride. I've been working on it with the goal of making it more efficient and reducing wear and tear, but over the last week I've been feeling some pain from the bone or cartilage on the inside of my feet. I'm hoping that the guys who have been helping me at Omni Physical Therapy in Wallingford can assist me in fixing I up before it turns into an injury.

Edward Bellows over at Innovative Massage Therapy LLC, in Wallingford, has also been a big help. Massage probably isn't the right word for what he does, which is to help people with severe muscular pain to find relief without surgery. He uses a technique called pain reflex release to push into knotted muscle and get it to smooth itself out. The technique is slightly unpleasant, but effective.

I have no chronic problems, but he's been working out on numerous knotted muscles that I've built up. He also does this amazing thing to completely clear my head. He just pushes into the back of my neck in a couple of spots. It's surprisingly effective.

I'm creeping closer to the Hartford Marathon, and I've still got a lot of training to do, so I will heed the advice of the old woman with the sprayer and get back on the road.


Penne said...

WAY TO GO, AMIGO!! You have entered the real runners zone... Not joggers, not charity walkers, just you and the road and that finish line chip fastened to your shoe :-)

Can't wait to read the 26.2 mile sequel -- you have quite a way with words. Remember, your 811 crew is cheering you on from afar! Kudos, bro' ~ Your pal, Pen

Frank said...

did you see a crazy group of cyclists cheering the runners on?? I was in that group. Great race.

2 years ago, I use New Haven as my major prep for the Hartford Marathon.

Keep up the good work!

Andrew said...

I did see two groups of cyclists (same group, two spots?) really cheering us on. Thanks for being out there.