Sunday, January 12, 2014

(Re)-setting the Bar-Speedy

Team Bar-Speedy

Today I ran the New York City Hot Chocolate 10 mile Run in Central Park. For most, it was their first race of 2014. For me, it was my first race since 2011. Fittingly, my last race was also a 10-miler. Unfortunately the list of similarities ends there, as everything besides the total distance travelled stand in stark contrast to each other (and even that is arguable!). In 2011 I ran a disappointing 1:00:59, missing my goal time by several minutes. Today I ran 1:09:25. And guess what, this was also very disappointing! I am sure everyone cannot figure out for the life of them why this is the case so I will continue on with a riveting race recap!

Let’s backtrack. What happened between 2011 and 2014? Well a lot happened. And I’m not just talking major injury that ended up with me taking 1 year off, followed by 8 months of sporadic bursts of motivation to get back in the running scene, followed by 4 months of flat-out laziness in which I did no exercise at all for no reason really (…except waitressing, that counts right?). I also finished my PhD (fun!), got divorced (really fun!), moved back home with my parents in Vancouver and worked as a waitress (really really fun!), then moved to New York to pursue a postdoc in cancer research (I think this wins the fun award :). Suffice to say, the last couple years was a period of transition in many ways and I actually enjoyed putting running on the backburner. It doesn’t mean, however, that I ever lost my love of running and my desire to do well at it. I knew it would happen at some point.

It will happen at some point. Right?

I’ve been running consistently for the past 6 months, albeit the LSD approach with no speed added in until about 4 weeks ago (and lab peeps, NO that does not mean running while on LSD!). Things have been progressing, and most of all I’m really enjoying getting back into the running groove. Sore muscles, early bedtimes, a low tolerance and an even bigger sweet-tooth have never been so enjoyable. Of course, having joined a new lab with new non-runners to convert, what was my first order of business? You guessed it: start a Bar-Sagi lab run club: The Bar-Speedies! It would be an undoubted success! I have to admit my confidence was particularly strengthened by a certain Ethiopian graduate student whose lab bench is beside mine. People might think I am being racist but I am most certainly am not. OK maybe I am. I think the only question I asked him in my interview was if he ran. Or maybe it was him who first emphasized to me that ‘NO, BEFORE YOU ASK, I have NEVER RUN, do NOT WANT TO RUN and NEVER WILL RUN.’ Of course I am not one to be dissuaded easily and one of my 5-year postdoc objectives includes getting Eyoel to the podium of the NYC marathon. Not only would it be incredible to track the progression of a sedentary Ethiopian deciding to pick up running in their mid-twenties, it could be my first New York Times Bestseller: How to make an Olympian in 5 years. As usual, tangents always get me...

Fast forward several months, and I’ve got three lab members committed to run a race in January. Unfortunately that doesn’t include Eyoel, but nothing worthwhile comes easy right? At least I persuaded him to partake in the post-race festivities! Unfortunately after congratulating us on our lung-buster he went to Brooklyn to smoke Hookah in a lung-busting session of his own. One step at a time, one step at a time…

Going into this race I had a very simple game plan: finish! And maybe try and push the pace a little. This was a major testing grounds operation here. Fortunately the New York City Runs races are pretty low key and not nearly as serious (or organized) as the New York Road Runners races. I headed to the front of the crowd in my usual way and stopped when I overhead a woman ahead of me say ‘I am running 6-minute miles. If I blow up then I blow up, but I am running 6-minuters.’ OK! I said to myself. ‘Don’t run with her!’ Then I looked to my right and saw a woman decked out in fluorescent green from top to bottom and thought she must also be pretty fast. Either that, or be really into the fluorescent green. I wasn’t sure. My deeply perceptive thoughts were interrupted by the voice of what appeared to be the race director who was approaching us: “So you all must be the FAST people!’ We all looked to the person next to us. ‘Are you waiting for the middle-of-the-pack runners to approach the mat or are you guys actually going to go for this?!’ We all shuffled forward as he continued with his ramble ‘So we have lead bikes today, hurray! The woman’s lead cyclist is not wearing a helmet, so don’t run too fast, OK? You wouldn’t want him to get into an accident, now would you.’ He then stepped onto a small stool with his loudspeaker in order to address the crowd, promptly slamming it into a race post, which toppled over and onto one of the front-runners. ‘Woops, sorry about that!’ He chuckled. ‘When was the last time you saw Mary Wittenberg do that?’ Luckily the runner brushed it off (and I mean literally brushed the post off of himself) and (at least pretended to) laughed with the crowd. The director then proceeded to conduct his own personal offbeat countdown, and after hearing a random noise that sounded nothing like a gun, we were off!

I started off at a ‘hard-tempo’ effort and before I knew it a few girls passed me and I was in at least 4th or 5th place. I tried to keep pace with the woman in front of me but after 2 hilly miles I told myself to forget it and just focus on running a steady pace. It didn’t help that Central Park Road wasn’t closed off and there were non-racing runners infiltrating every corner of the street, sending race cones flying all over the place. I weaved around people ahead of me and - being the gentle Canadian I am – excused myself and apologized when I cut people off. That is, until the New Yorker that has clearly been brewing inside of me over the last three months suddenly exploded. It was my second loop of the park and I was doing my usual run-around-the-rec-runner when I heard a voice behind me thunder: “Woman, YOU ARE RUNNING IN THE BIKE LANE! GET OUT!’ I rolled my eyes and moved to the pedestrian lane for about 5 seconds until I was forced outwards once again. ‘YOU ARE DOING IT AGAIN. WOMAN! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT’S CALLED? IT’S CALLED CHEATING!’ I fumed. Before I knew it my right hand lifted up, my fist facing behind me, and my middle finger shot straight up. Silence ensued. I nearly let out a sigh of relief until I realized what I had just done. I had fingered someone in a road race! Heck, I had fingered a hundred New Yorkers who were also running innocently behind me. Who was I becoming and what was this city doing to me?!

I spent the next several miles feeling ashamed and glad that I wasn’t leading the race behind a biker with no helmet on or we might both be in trouble. Or perhaps the lead cyclist would have also yelled at me for creeping into his territory. In this city, you never know. I was just relieved I was running in relative anonymity. But really, who calls someone a cheater for navigating crowds on the OUTSIDE of the course, thereby making the race longer?

Fortunately this episode offered a welcome distraction from the mounting fatigue in my legs and shortness in my breath. Before I knew it I had 3 miles to go and I could see a woman about 50 meters ahead of me. My only goal for the remainder of the race was to try and catch her. Luckily she was slowing down more than I was and I passed her at mile 9. I tried to mask my labored gasps for air by holding my breath for 5 seconds and sprinting by her. I am clearly not at the stage of being able to feign freshness (or sprint), however, as I got two steps ahead of her before I let out a massive groan and slowed down. This made fighting her off for the last mile more work than I would have liked. Fortunately I was ultimately successful, making for a surprising 3rd place overall finish.

While I was pretty demoralized by my time, I was pumped to get an overall award. ‘Money! I need money!’ I exclaimed. I should have known the prize would be more like this (still pretty awesome):

Now this is a female trophy.
It is popular amongst the ladies.

My labmate Jesse ran his longest road race yet in an impressive 1:19 and is well on his way to a fabulous half-ironman debut in the summer. Despina and Ahu ran the 5-miler and did incredibly, dipping under 1hr (58min) in their first race ever! I was very proud of team Bar-Speedy today. And even though my bar of speediness needs to be reset a little lower for the moment, I am positive that after more months of consistent training, some speedwork and more races, the bar will slowly be raised.

Ahu and Despina killing it.

(And if Bar-Speedy is not met, there is always a Bar of some sort ready and waiting.)

Team Bar-Speedy at the Bar.
(Note the jealousy in Eyoel's eyes)

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