It requires a unique set of circumstances to have ‘disappointing’ and ‘PR’ (Personal Record) in the same sentence.
1) Break 40min X
2) Finish Top 15 ✓
3) Don’t aggravate injury ✓
I was pissed off before I even woke up. There was a full marathon and half-marathon happening alongside the 10K. No day-of race bib pickup. Okay, somewhat common for marathon events… they often start so early that morning-of race bib pickup is chaos. But when that happens, the organizers will typically mail your race bib for a small fee. This time… not an option. So we had to trek all the way out to Long Island straight from Virginia on Friday to pick up the bib between the designated hours of 3-8pm.
Side note: If anyone from the Long Island Marathon organizing committee is somehow reading this… you’re leaving a ton of revenue on the table. I would have easily paid $20+ to have my bib mailed. Over 5,000 entrants… let’s say 10% of them ask for bib mailing…. you do the math…
Day of – 5:30am – alarm goes off.
Breakfast, gear check, guzzle water, and my father and I are out the door by 6am.
Instructions when arriving as listed on website: “Follow the signs for race day parking”.
No signs. At least, not where we arrived. My father and I end up parking about a quarter-mile away from the start and head over to the nearby Marriott to try and use the facilities. (If you’re in public and need a clean restroom – look for a major hotel!).
We camp out inside the Marriott and there is plenty of indoor space to stretch and gear up. I jog about 1.5 miles of the course for a warmup and surprisingly find a few hills. Odd for Long Island.
Side note: Why does it sound like everyone with a Long Island accent is constantly hamming it up for effect? They’re not, it’s just the nature of the accent, but its odd.
My legs feel a little heavy but that’s okay. I have enough confidence to know that I’ve felt this way after a pre-race jog before and it didn’t impair me once the gun fired. I like that my racing experience is having a positive effect on my mindset.
I strip down into my race gear – half-tights and singlet – and head out to the start line for some strides.
3 minutes to go. Pop some Run Gum – one fruit and one mint – re-tie my shoes, and wait.
Gun goes. Well, not exactly. Someone shouts “go!” into a microphone. I think.
I am lined up near the front as there do not seem to be many competitive runners in the 10K. I’d rather be a few seconds behind the start line, but with this crew I would inevitably get stuck behind someone too slow.
I get off to a smooth start and am pleased with my pace. The leader takes off and he is just flying. Either this dude is crazy talented or crazy inexperienced (turns out to be the former). I am nestled in the top 20 after the first quarter-mile.
Suddenly, a woman flies past me. Woah. She is moving. Why wasn’t she at the front from the gun?
She has no idea what she’s doing, that’s why. She fades about a minute later and I don’t see her again.
We go over a bridge and head toward the first turn – I feel good and my pace feels right on. I’m shooting for about 6:35 for each of the first two miles.
Someone yells: “Come on, Jake!”
It’s Kelli Buck! She came all the way out to Long Island just to cheer me on. What a gal!
That makes me smile.
We hit the one mile mark and my watch beeps 6:24. Okay, that’s okay! I feel okay. I know I should slow down just a tad and I do. The second mile offers a straight shot, slight uphill. My feet show the typical signs of mid-run plantar fasciitis soreness, but no serious pain.
A group of two women and one guy are about 40 meters ahead – they seem like they’re going around 6:20/mile pace. I decide to let them go.
Then, two older guys and a kid wearing athletic capris (the kind of calf-length pants that Rafa Nadal wears playing tennis) pass me. I know that this kid isn’t going to keep up. But these older guys must have been easing into the race and are now picking it up.
Side note: This is a bit more maniacally-competitive than I typically am, but I kind of like running near people who seem to be laboring, especially early in a race. If I am feeling strong and keeping up, I know that I’ve got them. Later in the race, it’s a different story… their heavy breathing can make me feel tired too. But if someone running near me is breathing way too hard and their form is already deteriorating in the first 3/4 of a race… game over.
I decide to sit with these three guys – they seem to be striding around a 6:30-6:35 pace. I can tell they’re working harder than I am and that I’ll drop them eventually, but for now, this should keep me from going too fast too quickly.
This turns out to be a big mistake. Mile two rolls by and my watch beeps: 6:46.
That didn’t feel 20 seconds slower than mile one. Shoot. Okay, not too bad… I’m still on pace, I just need mile three to be under 6:30.
I drop the kid in the capris and soon the two guys with him.
That other group of three is far ahead and currently out of range.
I pass a water station staffed by some kids from a nearby high school (I think?) and in an effort to give myself a boost, I implore them to cheer. They laugh and cheer me on. I like doing this during distance races. Keeps me smiling.
Then, suddenly, I’m alone.
The course continues to wind along blocked-off roads next to a nearby park and golf course. I make an effort to pick it up a little. I don’t feel great, but I can keep this pace up for the rest of the way. I know I can.
I assume I’m moving at about 6:25/mile pace. My watch beeps again at mile three.
Third mile: 6:38.
What?! I only went six seconds faster than mile two? That felt much faster. Shit. No wonder I was so sure that I could keep that pace up.
My heart sinks. I’m now behind pace and I don’t feel great.
A thought enters my mind: “Just pack it in. You’re off pace. Pack it in and enjoy the run. Don’t kill yourself. You’re too far behind and you might hurt your foot.”
Side note: I wish I could say that I shook off the pessimism. I’d love to be one of those tough runners that simply doesn’t tolerate that negativity. The kind of athlete that says to themselves “eff that!” and puts it out of mind. But I’m not. In certain moments, I’m really tough and competitive. Something gets triggered and I’m as tough as anyone. But that’s rare. That’s 15% of the time. In general, I’m pretty soft. I make excuses and give myself outs.
Instead of ridding myself of the negativity, I contemplate it for a good minute or so and decide to push on. There’s no triumphant moment where my eyes narrow and my teeth grind. Instead, I just sort of say “ehhhhhhh, might as well keep trying and see how you feel in a bit.”
Pretty inspiring shit.
At least, if I’m gonna stay with it, I should try and get back on pace. I pick it up.
The pack of three that was up in the distance has been strung out and one of the two women is struggling up ahead. I catch up to her and suddenly a thought occurs to me.
Backstory: Des Linden was thinking of dropping out of the Boston Marathon. Instead, she turned to her competitor, Shalane Flannigan, and offered to help her out. In helping Shalane, Des found her legs and went on to win the race.
I’m going to offer to help this runner.
Side note: I know it sounds a bit romantic, but I legitimately had that thought. I didn’t think that helping out this random runner would propel me to victory… simply that by investing my energy in helping her, it would be a useful distraction. It would be nice to feel useful.
“You got this!” I insist as I run up along side her.
“Okay,” she says, feigning self-confidence.
“Draft on me. Just stay with me!”
“Okay!…..I’ll try,” she manages to blurt out between breaths.
She tucks in behind me and I try and steady my stride. I can hear her breathing and working hard.
Come on, random lady, stay with me.
She lasts maybe a half-mile. Her footsteps and breathing fade.
Part of me wants to slow down… but that’s not the right thing to do. I don’t know this person – it might have seemed really condescending to wait. I truck on. Maybe she’ll get a second wind?
Fourth mile: 6:23.
Okay! Not bad. I think I’m close to pace? I don’t attempt to do the math… I just know I need to pick it up a little bit to get ahead of the 6:27/mile average I need over the 6.2 mile course to break 40min.
I am alone once again. I can see another runner ahead in the distance. He’s at least a minute ahead of me.
I think I am going a little faster. Maybe 6:15/mile pace?
Then – bad news. Something that hasn’t happened in quite some time. A stitch in my abdomen. Not quite a full cramp, but a solid ache. It’s noticeable. Damn.
I know that I have a little left in the tank… if I can hold this pace, I can pick it up the last mile.
The fifth mile marker arrives as the course turns off the roads onto a golf-cart path through the park. I think to myself that this race is one mile too long. My abs hurt.
I don’t get a good look at my watch. 6:25 I think? Either way, not great. But for some reason, I think I’m on pace.
Pick it up, Jake. Don’t have too much left in the tank later.
The guy ahead of me is now only about 200m ahead and I slowly start to reel him in. I gradually pick up the pace, fighting off my cramp and general weary. I know my form probably isn’t great so I remind myself to run tall and smooth. I spit out my gum as if to tell myself that I mean business.
The path continues to wind through the park as I glance at my watch. About 37 something on my watch with around 5.72 miles completed.
I still have a half mile left. I probably need to average about a five minute mile for the last half-mile to get under 40. I know I have a sprint in me, but I don’t want to go too soon. And 2:30 for a half-mile is really quick for me at the end of a 10K.
I focus on my competitors and pick up the pace. The guy in front of me is starting to fade and I am going to get him. I pass him with about 200m to go in the race.
Then, I see Kelli again on the course and her cheers lift me up.
(Kelli takes a photo just after I pass a competitor in the final stretch)
I glance at my watch. 39:40. I can see the finish. It’s going to be close.
My vision begins to blur as I try and get on my toes.
Just ahead of me is the lead woman accompanied by a course bicyclist. She is getting a well-deserved ovation from the crowd as she arrives at the finish line. I can catch her!
The bicyclist gets out of the way and I pass the lead female runner just as we round the final bend.
Right then, I glance up to see the finish line clock…. just as it ticks 40:03. My father seemed to photograph this precise moment:
Ahead at the finish line, they hustle to remove the Winner tape out of the way as I storm through and then quickly unfurl the banner behind me for the lead female runner.
Furious and exhausted from my final sprint, I lean against a barricade and catch my breath for a minute.
Dammit. I am furious. I ran a tactically awful race. I blew those early miles. I missed my main goal of sub-40 by a few seconds.
My approximate splits were:
Mile 1: 6:24
Mile 2: 6:46
Mile 3: 6:38
Mile 4: 6:23
Mile 5: 6:24
Mile 6: 6:12
Frustrated and tired, I meander around the finisher area and grab a water. I don’t even bother with an “official race photo”. I just want to find Kelli and my father and get out of here.
After a few minutes of wandering, I find them both and we head out. The point-to-point course means that our car is even further from the finish line than it was from the start. It takes about 30 minutes to hobble over there, adding insult to poor performance.
When we get to the car, it dawns on me that I might still have won an age group award. I pull up the race website on my phone and quickly find the text that says “NOTE: Awards must be picked up on race day. No awards will be mailed post race.”
Apparently they don’t have postage on Long Island.
We decide to drive back over to the finish and see if there’s any award worth grabbing. Amazingly, they did manage to quickly post the race results online, and I see that my time of 40:08 (6:28/mile pace) was good for 9th overall (out of 1,017 runners, 413 men) and 2nd in my age group. I get a nice little plaque, pose for a race photo, and we head home.
I did manage to finish top 15 thanks to a slower field (my time would have put me right about 15th in last year’s race), but my nine second miss weighs on me. It’s not a matter of fitness. Coach reminds me that my heavy negative splits mean that I’m running stupidly and not pushing hard enough early on.
Maybe if I had shaved? I should have shaved.
Breaking 40 was one of my toughest 30@30 goals… I didn’t think I’d be this close, but I clearly should have been there today.
I’ve made a strong improvement since my first 10K of the campaign, when I slugged through a 48:16. So that is solid progress. And 40:08 is a lifetime PR.
But still. Nine seconds.
This was the final 10K on my schedule. Maybe I need to schedule another one…