This is me and my friend, Keith on Sunday.
http://wdieb.tumblr.com/ (For his take on the day.)
What a beautiful morning it was. A little spring nip in the air but great weather for a NYRR race. This particular race was to highlight the fight against lung cancer. 4 miles in the park, an inner loop, a simple course, but at the end of it, the test of how far I can go was laid bare.
Run As One was one of the races I had signed up for once I heard about my cousin Elaine’s diagnosis of breast cancer. With the same dedication that I applied towards the 15K Colon Cancer Awareness Run, I wanted to put in my best effort. If there was a pr in it, so be it, but that wasn’t the top priority. What ever the time read after I crossed the mat, I wanted no doubt in my mind that I left everything out there on the asphalt.
On Sunday morning, I got up and had my coffee and a slice of bread with peanut butter, the usual race day breakfast. My mind was clear. I felt as ready as I would ever be for a race. I walked to the 4 train at Borough Hall to get my legs warmed up instead of taking the closer F train. Once on the 4, I decided to switch to the 6 train at Brooklyn Bridge. I wanted to sit a bit so that I could close my eyes and find that relaxed state. As the doors opened and closed at each stop, I could sense the car filling up with passengers. When I opened my eyes at 42nd street, a mix of regulars and runners (wearing their race day D-tags) occupied the car. The runners got off at 68th street to the delight of the regulars who wanted the now available seats.
Once I got to the Park, I walked to the area where I thought baggage would be. Instead I found port-o-potties galore. Hmmm. Perplexed by the absence, another thought occurred to me, well better go now before it is too late. After the business was done, I headed toward the Bandshell, the next logical area where baggage could be. Looking ahead but not seeing anything before me, it took Keith waving at me to snap me back to real time.
A few days before Keith had mentioned he wanted to run this race and asked if I minded company. Of course not, I told him. We didn’t have the chance to work out the logistics of meeting up the day before during the Nike ONTHECLOCK Run. The thing about NYRR races, somehow you always find the person you want to meet up with one way or the other. How true that was when there was Keith right in front of me.
Baggage was located in the area behind the Bandshell. Due to the large number of participants (over 8,000 runners), NYRR needed more room to accommodate the number of bags and this was a perfect spot. Finding a spot to take off my outer layers, I pinned my bib to my singlet, retied my shoes, put the gum in my inner pocket, and made sure my shades were on my head. I was ready.
Keith and I handed our cameras to a random woman next to us to take a pre-race photo. As we stood there laughing for the camera, I thought how rare it was for only me and Keith to be in shot together. Usually one of us is behind the camera or we are surrounded by a sea of faces during a group picture.
Once we put our bags away, we had a slow walk to the corrals. We talked and enjoyed that simple pleasure of having company. One of those walk and talks where so many things are said in a short period but seemingly profound at the same time. I reflected on certain things that have been on my mind lately as well as trying to impress upon him to enjoy the run and not overdo it. Keith is recovering from a knee issue and the last thing I wanted for him was to have an awful time out there. The day was too beautiful for that. But I know Keith and knew that he would give it go no matter what I said. He asked me about what time I was shooting for. I told him if I could land in the 24 minute zone, I would be happy with that. If I clocked 25 minutes, I was okay with that too. All I wanted to do was to run to the best of my ability, where ever that put me…
While this went on, I found that relaxation state. Any anxiety was subsumed by all that was going around me; walking with Keith, runners stretching, runners munching on their gels, the sunlight coming through the trees, the slight breeze, so all the thoughts about time and pr’s and what not, well they took a number in my consciousness.
Keith’s corral was two behind mine. We had a final parting. My plans were to leave right after the race (There was a MS Walk at the Seaport I promised to be at). The chances of us meeting afterwards were slim. Walking away, a part of me said Keith was going to be alright. His mind was in the right place which usually leads to a good run.
The blue corral. Yup, exactly how I remembered it. A ton of very fast runners jockeying around for position. Scanning for familiar faces proved fruitless. Then Mike appeared before me. He was not planning to race but the day was proving to tempting not to. Absolutely perfect conditions for a race. If Mike raced, chances were that his backside would be my target.
The horn sounded. Off we went, pelting down to 72nd street and up Cat Hill. That first mile went by too fast. “Save up for the end, save up for end”, that was the mantra. Mile 2 marker had me flying past wondering how to sustain all the way to the end knowing the toughest part was coming up, the rolling hills of the West Drive.
The first set of 2 hills, were done in decent shape. There was a slight drop off at the apex of the 2nd that pissed me off which led to a faster downhill than I wanted. The 3rd hill was the most difficult requiring every ounce of core power to get through while maintaining pace. After that it was a charge to the finish about a half a mile away.
There was a runner right next to me. We had gone up and down the hills together and we were still stuck to each other heading towards Strawberry Fields. That’s when I heard my name. “Come on, Tony! Stay strong!” Mark was out there as the one man cheering section. He had said he was going to come out and support and there he was giving me that shot of adrenaline. I surged forward. The runner next to me? He fell behind. I never looked back. Barreling to the 72nd transverse, I could see Angela (course marshal), but since yelling at her required too much energy, my fingers moved slightly while passing right in front her. Then she noticed me, “GO TONYYY!!!!!” Once again lifted by the sound of a voice, the legs gave it one more go. Eyes locked on the finish line. “Move your ass!”, was all I could think to do.
With 20 meters to go, the announcer called out my name. Well that’s nice, too bad I can’t enjoy it right now. I hit the mat and thought my heart was somewhere 20 yards in back of me. Holy crap, that was hard. The clock time read over 25 minutes , net time would be different. My watch had it over 25 as well but I had forgotten to stop it once I crossed the finish line. The initial thought was probably under 25 minutes. No way to be sure until the results were posted.
Dismissing it from my mind, I went straight to baggage and headed to join team Tracey and Marie for the MS Walk where I spent the rest of the morning amongst friends for another great cause.
When I finally got home and checked the results, the time was 24 minutes 56 seconds or 6:14 pace per mile. ????? 6:14 ppm? What? That number jumped out at me. The previous best for me ppm was 6:34. 20 seconds? No fuckin’ way! Reality was a bit difficult to grasp. Somehow this happened. Then I looked up Keith’s time and said to myself, “Well he didn’t listen to me. He ran the shit of the course. 26 minutes! Good for Keith.” Mike? Mike blistered the 4 miles coming in under 24 minutes.
I can’t say that my time was all about me. So many things went into it from the moment a commitment was made to having no regrets to having Keith with me there before the race. It would be hard to attempt to do these things alone, and I have been extremely fortunate so many have become part of this running life, making the sacrifices and rewards all the more sweeter.