Running is a cruel and fickle mistress. Some days it’s all clicking and you feel like a thousand winged seraphs are carrying you on a satin lined cloud. Your feet merely grace the ground and you’re being pulled forward by a mysterious and unearthly force.Other days you think everything is clicking and all of a sudden your legs feel like you were trying to count cards at the Bellagio and the pit boss hit you with a cattle prod and brought you into the back room where neckless thugs took turns beating you with bats. No fun.
The former is the reason I love running. There are few things that compare to the feeling of effortless speed. But it’s fear of the later that makes me a runner. If you think about it it’s really the reason anyone runs – or at least trains. Why else would you pound through long runs, exhaust yourself in a tempo, or do the extra interval when you’ve promised yourself you’d quit after the last three? It’s not simply because runners love pain. There are plenty of less strenuous ways to fill that fetish, (many that involve leather, ballgags, and Mistress Stephana the Goddess of Pain). At the end of the day we’re more than willing to torchure ourselves for the promise that one day we’ll be rewarded, even ever so briefly, by the run.
None of that has anything to do with my Brooklyn Half Marathon last weekend other than the fact that in all of my years of running; grueling workouts in 100 degree weather, miserable long runs in windy snain, painful intervals and hill workouts, vomit inducing races, and the like, nothing (NOTHING) has ever compared to the misery I felt in the last five miles of this race. Awful. It was not just the worst race of my life, or run of my life, it was up there with one of the worst experiences of my life – a hellacious 13.1 mile journey that brought me to the depths of insanity and perhaps beyond.
Yes, I am being a little dramatic, but it really fucking sucked.
Not that I didn’t know that going in. Two days before the race I went to the track to feel out a comfortable pace and turning a 7:00 mile was a chore. But stranger things have happened. I was better trained than now before my 3:24 marathon, and racing and running are different animals. Things could still click. They didn’t.
It started OK. My first eight miles were pretty respectable. Much slower than last year when I left the park on pace for a 1:20, but much better than I had expected. Take out mile six and I was averaging a 6:40 and change. Plus I felt good doing it. There were no satin lined clouds, but it wasn’t like I was pushing it like I was trying to break the tape in a 10K. But at the same time I knew better. This isn’t my first rodeo and there was no doubt in my mind after I rocked a 6:26 mile four that there was going to be a crash and it was going to be ugly. So I kept trying to take my foot off the gas and just settle into a reasonable pace. But there’s no mistaken – leaving the Park I felt good.
Mile 1 - 6:50
Mile 2 - 6:43
Mile 3 - 6:37
Mile 4 - 6:26
Mile 5 - 7:12
Mile 6 - 7:21
Mile 7 - 6:55
Mile 8 - 7:08
Then came mile nine. 8:00.
Let’s take a brief sidebar to discuss the difference between running and racing.
Most people run. Even when they race what they’re really doing is running. I’ve even made the argument that most people never actually run, only jog. Pearl had a great ad campaign that I’ve posted about that said something to the effect of – “If you’ve just run without sacrifice, congratulations you just jogged.” Most joggers see this as elitist hyperbole but I firmly believe that if it doesn’t hurt then you’re doing it wrong. That’s part of the beauty of a distance like 5K. No matter how stupid your first half of the race is you can gut out the rest. In my mind that’s what racing has always been about. You get as close to your threshold as you can stand and you toe that line through the finish. You leave everything on the course. But as I’ve repeatedly been taught, there is no gutting out a poorly run half marathon - lesson that was painfully driven home yet again this day.
After mile nine I started fading fast. And I couldn’t have been passed by more people if I turned around and tried to plow up the course like a salmon going to spawn.
Mile 10 - 8:39
Mile 11 - 8:24
Mile 12 - 9:26
Over these three miles, the three most miserable miles of my life I was passed by dudes in basketball shorts, fat people, possibly even Team in Training people – it was that bad. I was even passed by a dude with one leg. ONE LEG. Granted, this dude was beyond a rock star and I have absolutely nothing but respect for anyone who even thinks about competing a distance race with a prosthetic because I’m incapable of fathoming the extra degree of pain he must be plowing through, but he had one fucking leg man. Think of what that did to my self esteem.
Unfortunately it did noting for my next mile and I limped into the finish just barely getting under 1:40.
Mile 13 - 8:31
Mile 13.1 - 1:05
How about some perspective. Well, it’s about 12 minutes off my PR from last year. No biggie though because I was in much better shape. I ran the Gasparilla Half Marathon with a full sized American flag and ran about the same time. Ouch. In the NYC Marathon my second half would have probably beaten me. Double ouch.
In the end what did I learn? Bring a Metro Card? When in doubt carry an excuse flag? Realistically, I learned nothing. I’ll likely do the same thing again down the road, and likely post about how much that experience sucked as well. But at very least it’s imprinted a memory of pain that I’ll carry with me into my training – which at least on the short term is geared at finding my satin lined cloud, picking another race, and trying to escape the neckless dudes with bats. In short, Paul Leone will rise again! Take that one legged man!