In my relatively short time racing, I have had race days where nothing goes right. Start to finish. Top to bottom. From my rest, nutrition, race-prep to actual race execution….NOTHING went right.
Saturday was NOT one of those days.
In fact, it was the complete opposite.
Let me start from the beginning.
The trip up to NYC was blissfully uneventful as I rode up with my running buddy Nancy, her daughter and dog. We had a spectacular day as far as weather was concerned for the ride and for the pre-race party / packet pickup. The familiar view as we crossed the Verrazano Bridge from Staten Island into Brooklyn really struck me on this trip as I am usually driving up alone and focusing on driving safely. From the passenger’s seat, I got a chance to really stop and look at the bridge as we approached it and the sheer vastness of The Narrows. It’s refreshing to me to get a perspective on how small I am in the scope of everything else every once in a while.
Whoever at NYRR came up with the initial idea for the pre-race party at packet pickup made the company a LOT of money as it brings out a lot of people. It’s almost as much of a draw as the race itself for me. Vibes were breezy. Runners and partygoers laid out in chairs on the faux grass The sun warmed the pier and blue skies provided the perfect backdrop for the event along with the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance.
Picking up our race materials was as simple as showing a confirmation code on our phones to a volunteer who then scanned it, handed us our race bibs and directed us to t-shirt pickup. To be completely honest, the race t-shirt was the one thing that I had my reservation about in regards to the race this year. You see, beginning in 2016, the athletic apparel / shoe manufacturer, New Balance, has taken over primary sponsorship over the majority of the NYRR events to my knowledge with the AirBNB Brooklyn Half-Marathon and the Bronx 10-miler being immediately affected. Asics’ long-time contract as the official outfitter expires after this November’s running of the race with New Balance reportedly taking over directly afterwards. My initial reaction when I first read the news of the takeover a while ago was “meh.” When I saw that the this year’s race shirts were practically identical to last year’s save for the red stitching along the seams and the “New Balance” logo on the arm, my reaction was again “meh.” Upon finding out from my BMR Philadelphia brother who was standing outside the packet pickup tents that they were customizing race shirts at no additional cost???? My reaction was to run back into the tent to get my shirt customized with the quickness.
So…as for the actual race, as I said in the beginning, everything came together perfectly. The forecast for rain that any and everyone who was running this race had been kind of concerned about…never happened. For the majority of the time the skies were occasionally sunny but mostly overcast, which suits me fine as that keeps it nice and cool and I tend to do my best work when it’s cool; which for the most part we all do as runners.
The lines through security moved quickly on Eastern Parkway and Nancy and I ended up in a sea of runners bunched together. It was so crowded that we ended up waiting off to the side of the actual corral gates because it was damn near impossible to get in and I had ZERO intention of making the mistake of starting near the back of the field again. The race was run in two waves and we were in wave 2 which was slated to start around 7:45 so we played the usual “hurry up and wait”game that you end up being a captive participant in at most races with a large field. Surprisingly enough, the crowd moved fairly quickly, I as started my Garmin, wished Nancy a good race and set out to do my thing.
Miles 1-5 went by fairly quickly and without anything to write home about. I was holding around @ 10:30ish pace and felt comfortable enough to take in the sights and the cheering without having to stare at my watch every five seconds or stopping to walk. A few water / Gatorade stations came and went without much of a thought by me insofar as to stop at them since I had taken in some hydration directly before the race. My focus was on a PR and since I really didn’t feel overly thirsty, I didn’t want to lose any time I had banked with a stop at a crowded port-o-potty.
My thoughts and concerns were squarely on one particular section of the race: mile 6 which went uphill through Prospect Park. During my run here last year, this mile was the one that I ended up doing a good amount of walking…and complaining. Being over 50 pounds heavier than my current weight and not having done as many hills as I have now, I along with a bunch of other folks, struggled with that hill in the worst way that day. My focus was not on charging up the hill and bombing down the other side. Instead, what my plan was to do was to maintain a relatively even amount of exertion on either side of the hill, therefore keeping my times as short as possible.
When I felt the familiar shift in my level of effort not equalling to my output as far as my Garmin was concerned, I knew I was on the mile 6 hill. Same as last year, most people around me slowed their run to a walk as we ascended.
I kept running.
By this time I was thinking to myself “slow down….but don’t stop running.” Surprisingly enough to me, my body actually paid attention to the stuff my brain was ordering it to do! My pace slowed, but I knew that I had more than enough juice to get back on pace on the other side of the hill. This would actually prove to be the first of two watershed moments for me as a runner during the course of this race.
During the course of the race up to this point, I had greeted at lot of people. Some I knew, some just greeted me on GP and some folks acknowledged me because I was sporting my track club’s colors that day. (Prospect Park Track Club) Approaching the crest of that hill, I was getting mentally bored and was tuning out; giving myself excuses as to why I could walk for a bit. (“You’ve run all this way! So much faster than last year! You can walk! You DESERVE to walk for a bit! Take a break! You won’t lose any time that you won’t be able to get back!”) My focus was wavering…and just as it was, I saw a “Black Men Run” banner being held by a dude who was holding a camera in his other hand and cheering on runners as they went past. He was grinning widely and yelled”YEAH JIM!!! as I was running up to where he was standing. It was the Captain of BMR NYC, Kovon Flowers and seeing a familiar face at that point in time was JUST what I needed to get back on track. I yelled back “‘SUP KO!!!” as I smiled and ran past him while bumping fists. My back straightened up and my focus was back where it needed to be. Best part: it was downhill and out of Prospect Park from there. The most difficult part of my day was behind me.
Miles 7-8 were where I had my second watershed moment as a runner. When we dumped from the overpass onto Ocean Parkway, my pace returned just as I planned. A huge PR was in the cards for me if I just continued at the pace I was on. More importantly to me was the fact that I hadn’t stopped to walk…at all. At all previous races I have EVER run at ANY distance, I had taken at least one break to walk. Around mile eight I slowed down for some Gatorade but immediately dumped my cup and resumed running. Then the idea came: “you know what? You could actually run this whole thing. You have the power to run THIS ENTIRE RACE. You don’t have to walk ANY of it.” Once that thought popped into my head, it became my focus until the finish….which I did with a sprint onto the Coney Island boardwalk with a newfound confidence in my abilities as a runner and a new, 35-minute PR from my race in 2015.
The takeaway message from all of this: if the mind can conceive it…the body can achieve it.
To God Be The Glory.