Well, this race is a bit special from a technology standpoint. I couldn't find a list of entrants but I was welcomed this Sunday morning by the ultra legend Roy Pirrung who was surprised to see me as he hadn't seen me on 'the' entrant list. But he was working the race so that may be the reason he had special access. With that though, I had no idea who entered and who will be the competition but, in town for a few customer meetings on the East Coast, I registered on Friday evening.
The first time I participated in this race and championship was 2 years ago, the day I became a Senior (USATF speaking). It was cold and grey but I enjoyed getting my first age group National title in addition of placing in the top 10. I had a minor injury during the winter so I wasn't well prepared and not even looking at the age group record back then. Last year was even colder, with some patches of snow and ice on the course and, that time, I was already obsessed by our age group record which had stand for 33 years but missed it by 1 minute and 42 seconds, which was understandable given the conditions and that I do much better in the heat than the cold. I knew I had a very small window of opportunity before Rich Hanna gave it a try and, surely enough, Rich lowered the record from 3:19:33 to 3:17:48 at Jed Smith, and I was 2 minutes behind... Rich is so much faster anyway, that made complete sense, he deserved the record.
I was here this weekend to support a major production go-live at one of our clients and, although it ended up being successful by the end of the weekend, we were off a bad start during Friday night. I had been asleep for less than 2 hours when the team woke me to get some help, I was on the phone and chat from midnight to 5 am, went to bed again for 1.5 hours then on the phone again from 6:45 am onwards. I like getting a good sleep 2 nights before a big race, that sucked. But running is only my second job, work takes precedence. Needless to say, I crashed at 9 pm on Saturday night and, this time, got 8 uninterrupted hours, phew!
While it snowed on Friday morning in New York City, the weather turned sunny in the afternoon and Saturday wasn't too bad either. The forecast for Sunday was good, still freezing temperatures in the early morning but some sun and light clouds expected afterwards. Finally, we were going to have decent conditions to race hard. I didn't have much expectations for today with all the travels, and I didn't feel I could give another shot to the record, now under 1:18 (my PR at the distance is 3:19:09 but it was 4 years ago and it's hard to get faster with age, isn't it?). Besides, I didn't know who was going to be upfront so I had to have flexible plans and improvise...
2:43:45, Josh Cox, 2011). And here is the classical thought which came to mind: "darn, this isn't going ot be good for my UltraSignup ranking..." ;-) Oh, and I can resist: between Zach Ornelas, Zach Bitter and Zach Miller, future parents, if you want to have a world class runner boy, you know which first name to pick...!
Surely enough, Zach quickly disappeared after the first mile although I managed to see him at the out and back before the mile 3 mark (but not in the subsequent laps). On the start line, one M40-45 runner introduced him, saying that he was shooting for my time of last year, when I won the Masters division. But then I got confused when he added he was planning for laps at 6:22 pace, which is actually the average pace of Rich's M50-54 record (3:17:48), quite different! His first name was Boyd as I figured out on the course as so many people running or spectating knew him. That triggered some nostalgia of my local races in California! :-) Getting the engines roaring (photo credit We Are Athletes Racing Team, WAART):
The course has been designed and certified to be exactly a 5K loop so it's easy to know where you stand: 10 times 20 minutes and that's 3:20:00 for 50K. At best I was hoping to shave 1 or 2 minutes out of this, so I just needed to run each lap 10 seconds faster. Well, our first lap was 19:28 then it became worse: 19:10, 19:06 so I felt better when I got back to 19:28 for the 4th lap and 19:33 in the 5th. Still, by 25K, I was 3 minutes too fast, I started worrying. I actually caught up with Boyd and Patrick in the 6th lap and passed them although Boyd looked really strong and Patrick managed to stay not far behind for the next few laps. At the end of lap 2 (photo credit WAART):
I started feeling some cramps coming in my calves in the 7th lap, but kept pushing as much as I could, still clocking a 19:48 lap. I missed 20 minutes in the 8th lap by 7 seconds, so I was slowing down but things were still under control. In the 9th lap I passed the marathon mark in 2:45:15 which gives me a great Boston qualifier if I wanted to get back there (3:30 was the M50-54 qualifying standard for 2016). If I recall, it's where Boyd put an acceleration which I wasn't able to respond to. I completed that loop in a respectable 20:40 and the clock was right on 2:57:00 so that meant I still had a shot at the record if I could do the same time (I thought Rich's record was 3:17:48 but it's actually 3:17:44). Of course, I was tired so it was far from being a done deal but I threw my bottle on the side to run lighter. I still had a great 28th mile but started seeing stars all over, oops... But I had no other choice than keeping pushing to the max. As I was approaching the end of the 29th mile, things worsen and I could barely see the other runners on the course, then stating losing balance. That scared me and I stopped, putting my feet far apart to increase stability and holding my head which was hurting so much. I thought I had stopped for 30 seconds but my Garmin and Strava indicate it was more like 10 seconds. I thought how pitiful it would be to end that way, just a mile from such an amazing performance, looked behind to see if Patrick was closing on me but, again, couldn't see a thing, and decided to resume running. It was super hard to go straight, or around the other runners and I'm amazed to see on Strava that I ran 6:39 for that last mile. Half a mile after the incident, I could see better and even start reading my watch again to find out that the clock was 3:17:10 with 0.1 mile to go. And that got me to the finish line with a time of... 3:18:06.
I was feeling so weak, I fell in the arms of Paul Kentor who was here after guiding an autistic runner in the 25K (photo credit: WAART).
Paul found me a chair the brought cups of Coke, water, soup and hot chocolate, what a crew! Roy also stopped by to check on me and I asked for his advice on my conditions: he diagnosed some dehydration. Surely enough, I had drunk only one bottle of GU2O instead of my usual 2 for such a distance, and half a water of bottle instead of 2. I must admit that I find it hard to drink while running at that pace...
Then, in my classic fashion, I got cold and started shivering so Paul helped me change in the race tent. With Paul:
the link to the Strava flyover for those who uploaded their tracks (it's such a cool feature, click on the orange arrow to see everyone moving. Now, it's such a short course that it's becoming quite confusing after a few laps, between the faster and slower runners. But still, worth it! And then you can imagine how spectating would be if (when...!) there would be a live GPS tracking of all the runners).
I'm glad Boyd won the Masters division, he really looked strong and clocked 3:17:12, also a PR for him! He certainly contributed a lot to my own performance with a great and friendly emulation, as well as Patrick.
On the front, Zach had a tough finish: while he passed the marathon mark in a blazing 2:24, he faltered in the 10th lap and only finished 3rd overall. The winner's time was 2:58, so at least it won't be too bad for my UltraSignup ranking after all... Here is the podium, photographed by Roy:
Thank you to the Greater Long Island Running Club (GLIRC) for hosting this event, getting us a great weather this year and also, the super smooth paving of the out-and-back which was so bad last year. That made a huge difference!