I firmly believe that, that if you step up to the line, and you start the race, you have to live with what happens. I was sick- I'm on antibiotics now, but that's not an excuse for why I ran slowly, and hey I had some fun along the way...
The last time I was tripped at the start of a race and went down was the Troy Turkey Trot in 1983. This was my first road race ever. I remember telling Rich Goyer that sometimes people get tangled up at the start and bam, someone tripped me coming off the line. I'd never been tripped since.
Well, I can't say that anymore. I ran a long warm-up before the race, almost two miles, because I was trying to get my adrenaline up. No excuses- but yes, I felt like someone had whooped me pretty good. My legs were dead, my head was fuzzy, and a long run was just the ticket to get some positive energy flowing again.
I got on the line with same goal I'd had last year. Negative split. Now, this wasn't going to be one of those glorious kick-ass splits. This was going to be one of those OMG I finished the race negative splits.
I snuck into the starting corral at the last minute, maybe 5 rows back, just about where I belong on a good day. this was a good day, but no one but Margit knew that, so I was was right where I wanted to be. JB started the race with a confusing two command start. We all reached down and started our watches, even me, because hey, negative split. I took maybe two steps before someone behind me clipped my foot, my right foot. Clipped it good. I went down, careful not to reach my arms out . I tucked my arms in and let myself hit the pavement. I've had a lot of practice as a ball sport athlete taking falls and after one dislocated wrist and one dislocated shoulder I got the message that the chance I was going to break my fall with my arms was not as good as the fall causing a serious injury. So I went down, sustaining only one set of cuts on my left hand below the pinky. I really do fall well.
The thing is, your instinct is to scramble immediately back to your feet. This is not the right thing to do. When you first go down, everyone else is as surprised as you and if you go to pop up you will likely only trip and stumble again and take out more people. Instead, give the people around you a second to adjust, then stand up.
This is the most scary moment. The New Haven Road Race is not a small race. It's a freaking national championship and there are literally thousands of athletes behind you, people who potentially could trample you. It takes discipline not to panic.
Of course, I like a little contact. I am, at heart a ball sport athlete. Getting dinged makes me feel more like 'yeah, now it's on'. Which doesn't explain why I hate being touched, much less hit, while swimming....
So I waited about one full second then I popped up and started running. No one else tripped over me. I had some cuts on my fingers, but other than that I was fine. It was on to the first mile of the race. Of all the first miles in races I run regularly, New Haven is at once one of the easiest- flat, flat, flat- and hardest, because the pace for the first mile of a 12.4 mile race tends to be overly aggressive. It's also a smorgasbord of everyone you know, running in front of you, behind you, past you, you past them...
I saw Dave Pantin and Maureen Terwilliger and a bunch of other people I knew and I went through a little over 6:00. For New Haven this is great. I've gone through the first mile under 5:45 and that is the set-up for disaster. Still, for the physical condition I was in, it was a fast mile, made harder by working my way up after going down. Still, my goal was to run the first three miles at a normal race pace, and to negative split, both of which I felt possible after this first mile. I ran a solid second mile, going back and forth with some people but Dave and Mo both started to pull away. We hit the hill by Southern and I tried not to run hard up it, because I knew digging into the energy stores this early on a short hill was bad. By the end of the third mile, I knew I was not running that well, and I was right in that area, between 3-4 miles, where if I continued to push too hard, I would end up completely spent by the time I hit the bridge.
I came off that hill, and we headed for Route 10, and as I got on route 10 I could feel the cord starting to snap and people getting away. I let them go. I knew better than to fight in here, but it was tough as people I knew that I should be showing my back went by. I was dumping lots of water on my head and at some of the intersections I was seeing people I knew. It's always disappointing when people call out your name while you are running slow. I feel embarrassed. I saw the one Milford Road runner guy that had passed me duck behind a pillar of a pedestrian overpass to pee, and despite that allowing me to gap him, he was quickly back on and then passed me. I was watching people's backs now. I hadn't given up or anything. I was trying to keep people close because in this race, I have come back on more people more often than any other race.
We went up the 'hill' on Route 10, which is actually a bridge rather any kind of natural rise in the terrain. I took a cliff shot just before getting on the hill, not wanting to eat while on the climb but wanting to toss the wrapper as soon as I was done. I lost a little more ground in here but I watching two people's backs, Maureen and Dave. I was holding my own about 20 seconds behind them. As I got to the bottom of the hill and then the aid station, I saw one of the top runners walking. This would become a theme- attrition and plenty of it. It was hot and humid, but not that bad. as I went under the 95 ramp underpass and then turned the corner by those waterfront condos, I saw another person walking. He then started running again. As we hooked the next left, still short of six miles, yet another person was walking.
I found myself mostly running alone, in between groups, being passed and yes, now passing people. I was running alone and suddenly someone bumped my elbow. Now we were running up a four lane street, which was closed to traffic, and I was in the middle between the two travel lanes and a guy bumps my elbow as he goes by. Out loud I said 'How much f*cking room do you need ?' I mean, it was just a graze really. It's the concept. If you can't run by my when I am in the middle of the damned road running all by myself,and not touch me, there is just something wrong with you. I'm not a good luck charm or a leprechaun.
I went through the 10K, according to my watch, at 42:47. I have no explanation for my reported 10K split time except that it's wrong. Maybe I can't read, but I don't think so. Whatever.
Right after the split, you go under 95 and end up on Long Wharf. This is normally one of my favourite parts- bands, plenty of race support, you get a chance to gage the wind. However, the tide was max out and with all the nasty remains from the hurricane the low-tide smelled worse than I have ever smelled low tide there. It was nauseating. Chris Schulten ran up alongside me and we chatted about how we were both having poor races. I was really struggling, and then something happened. I hit a water station, dumped three waters over my head and the sun went under a cloud. I realize now I was running a fever at this point and couldn't really think straight, but as soon as my body temperature, and especially the temperature of my head, dropped, I felt great. I turned that corner off Long Wharf and started running, and I mean, really running. It was a completely different experience- people started coming back to me immediately. Dave and Maureen had gotten completely out of site but I was still looking for them, and I was no longer being passed by people- maybe one or two now and then, but not groups of three as had been the case before.
The course has a few short hills in here and then it gets flat again, and what I really took away from this section was how well I was running. Everything went pretty well until the water station between 8-9 miles. I was being tailed by a woman in black shorts and singlet/jog bra and just as I got to the water station she cut right in front of me and took the water I wanted and needed to knock back my fever. This was bad enough, but as went along the line of water bears I went straight for the last one, and she decided she wanted a second one and even though I was lunging for the cup she got there first. I was pissed off. I think she was so obliviously inconsiderate that it just never occurred to her that a) passing someone in the water stop is rude and b) after taking one cup of water away from me, she should have let me have the last one.
All I said was 'Really, really ?'
We kept running and I got ahead of her again and waited. The next rest area is just before the hill into East Rock. I had to work a little too hard to keep myself in front of her, but I had a plan.
This is a big water stop, with tables on both sides of the road, although the road is wide. you go for one side or the other. I was watching over my shoulder and once I was convinced I knew which way she was going, I broke that way. I let another lead into the water stop. He got the first cup. I slowed down just enough to take each of the next 6. I got them all and by the time I exited the station, I was literally dripping wet, since they all ended up on my head and chest.
It was petty, and probably wrong. But it felt good.
I got up the hill and then started down it, holding back. The girl in black started to pull away and I couldn't keep up. But I was still watching in front of me and both Maureen and Dave were just visible. I was holding my own and maybe clawing back a few seconds. I went by the bagpipers, then I was in the turn and running uphill slightly, looking for that final real turn in the race and the 11 mile mark.
Then you just run, and run and run. I was slowly closing on Dave, and Maureen was pulling away from him, and the people around me were coming back to me more than they were getting away. I finally forced myself to take a second cliff shot at about 10.7 miles, way too late, but still good experience for my next long race. Someone was handing ice out of a colander. I grabbed the colander, out it on my head and ran, then tossed the colander away.
It's such a struggle that last last section. I went through the bend and I was in the mix with four other guys and I was fading. And at about 12.1 miles there was Will Graustein and he was yelling 'Pump your arms alan.' And that was all I needed. I was fading, I was at the end of a long run that was never supposed to be anything but training and guys were going to beat me and then Will said pump my arms. So I pumped my goddamned arms.
I almost caught the guy in front of me, and I beat four other guys by 1-5 second. So instead of 180, I finished 175th.
But hey, I'll take it.
Another year, another New Haven.
Life is good.