In Praise Of Random Races
So I'm not even sure why I signed up for today's 4 miler in the park. I've never done it before and it doesn't count towards club team points. Maybe because it was sponsored by the Japanese government so I thought the t-shirts might be pretty, with cherry blossoms or some such? At any rate they were, but they also handed over some really nice race loot at the number pickup including a pretty blue water bottle, an energy bar, a big pouch of energy gel, a cool rotating pen with 8 different color inks - all in a nylon laptop bag. So I was already pleased that I'd signed up, even though I was a little worried about running the race too aggressively when I've still got two more races to come this week.
I decided to bag the two track workouts and just count the races as speed work. Today was also supposed to be a longish run, so I did a three mile warm up and planned on getting in about seven more miles after the race.
After finishing up those early, easy miles, I went straight to the start chute with about 10 minutes before the gun went off. I was already dripping with sweat by this point, so I figured this would be the first race of the season where heat was any kind of a factor. My very vague plan was to aim for 6:30s to start with and then see what I had left for the last couple of miles.
Once the race started, it was clear that the usual crowd of 20-something former track stars had not come out for this race. The only women I could see ahead of me were the NY Road Runners' special guests for this race, elite marathon star and Beijing medal hopeful Reiko Tosa and another Japanese distance superstar, Chisato Osaki, jogging along at a pedestrian (for them) pace and then further up ahead, one of our top local masters runners.
I tucked in behind the two Japanese runners, getting a contact high from being so close to world class runners, but still recognizing clearly that while I was working pretty hard, they were essentially strolling around Central Park checking out the sights.
A little after the halfway point, Reiko and Chisato must have decided the were getting bored, because they did that little thing like in the cartoons where they take off and leave a little puff of smoke behind them. The motivating thing though, was that I could see the local runner slowly coming back to me.
I forgot to hit my watch for the first mile split, but I hit the half in 12:44, so 6:22 pace. I tried to relax and just slowly reel in the woman ahead of me for the third mile and hit that in 6:32. I finally passed her with about three-quarters of a mile to go, but started to get paranoid that there was someone else right behind me so I really concentrated on breathing more deeply and "making it hurt".
I blazed through that last mile in 6:07 and no one caught me, but here's where it gets confusing. A race marshal handed me a 3rd-place woman card, which made sense, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. But then they had a little awards ceremony and second place turned out to be a nice, cornfed white girl from Nebraska. What happened to Chisato and where was this girl during the race??
It gets more surreal though...they announced that my prize was a silver Tiffany's frame, which was lovely. Then Miss Cornhusker got two plane tickets to Japan and before I could even register any kind of twinge of jealousy over that, they announced that Reiko was donating her prize, a flat screen TV, to the third place finisher....aka me.
All I can think is that because they're NYRRC guests and distance running celebrities, they just decided to leave the prizes and most of the glory to local runners? I don't honestly think I would be that noble, but then again, I'm not really sure what life is like as 2:22 marathoner or a 1:09 half-marathoner.
|The last time I raced this distance I actually finished with the same time as Reiko today....that put me in 28th place that day! So today, with a time 39 seconds slower, I'm walking away with an expensive piece of electronics. Go figure.|
Oh, and the last part of the finishing-place mystery, where did the "second" woman come from...she actually started further back in the corral than I did so her chip time was three seconds faster than mine. If I could have somehow known that I was in a sprint for a the finish there, would I have been able to come up with another gear at the end? There's really no way to know that, but all in all, if I even hint at complaining about how things turned out, somebody should slap me...and hard.