The weather in Manhattan this past weekend was the type that makes me giddy with excitement for my favorite season: Fall. The temperature hovered in the low 70s, just a few degrees warmer than a perfect Fall day.
I slept for a blissful eleven hours and woke-up feeling energized Saturday morning. I headed out for a quick, 5 mile tempo run in my new running shoes. The weather was cool and the sunny spots were just right.
Later that afternoon I volunteered for the NYRR, handing out race numbers to those running the Queens Half-Marathon the following day. Volunteering was part of the requirement to qualify for the 2010 NYC Marathon and, while I would have preferred to be outdoors, I was situated next to a big window with lots of sunlight and breeze pouring in. The three hours passed quickly as another volunteer and I exchanged running stories during the slow moments.
Sunday morning arrived and it was time for my weekly long run. I slept for ten hours the night before, but I did not feel nearly as energetic as the morning before. I was groggy, but couldn't go back to sleep. I finally convinced myself to move, figuring that if I got it over with now, I could be propped up in bed for the Patriots game.
The morning was again beautiful as I made my way towards Central Park. When I arrived at the runner's loop, I started running in the opposite direction than my usual. During the previous week, the course map had been published for my upcoming half-marathon. The course is identical to what I ran in April.
In April I was completely unfamiliar with running the loop in the opposite direction and it is a surprisingly different course. So this time I wanted to have a better feel for the timing of the hills, flat portions and unshaded stretches of road.
The problem, I found, with running an unfamiliar direction is that all the turns you know like the back of your hand going the other way suddenly aren't so obvious. So when the loop split, for a second time, near the bottom of the park, I didn't know whether to go left or right. Every one was veering right, but I didn't think enough time had passed and assumed that was the 72nd Street Transverse. Since I wanted to go down to the very bottom of the loop, I figured I would go left.
Not correct. I wound up on the road with parked cars, one that I assume the carriages use as a turn-around point. There were a lonesome other two runners on the road, just enough to make me feel safe. I made my way out of the park, cut across the carriage path and began darting tourist groups (may I ask why tourists must walk as a wall) to make my way back into the park.
Back on safe, recognizable ground, I continued with my run.
Another adjustment this week was my hydration system. After my clip-on water bottle left a permanent scar on my back in April, I had been a little reluctant to try another one. I definitely did not want to strap on one of those ridiculous waist belts I see so many miserable marathoners-in-training wearing in Central Park. So I decided to try a handheld version, which strapped on tightly around my right hand and also, very conveniently, had a little pouch where I could store my electrolyte chews.
Proper hydration during long runs has been somewhat of a mystery to me. The hydration stations during the half-marathon in April were my first experience with such tables - and they were a mess of runners trying to grab-and-go. There was finally an article published on the correct timing and amounts of water needed on a long run: every fifteen minutes, two to four ounces.
Oh. Perhaps waiting an hour to indulge at a water fountain in Central Park was not proper hydration.
So, for this run, every fifteen minutes, I had a few gulps of water. And after an hour, I refueled with my electrolyte chews - I already knew this rule of thumb, but couldn't figure out why my stomach would cramp up, even when I took them with water.
What a difference! I was not doubled-over in pain after the first hour. I did not have to take a detour after consuming my chews because I thought they were going to reappear. I could just focus on running and learning the terrain.
It was the first long run that was actually enjoyable. I ran for the full hour, forty-one minutes and thirteen seconds with minimal pain.
After stretching, a shower, more stretching, an ice bath and breakfast, I sat down to calculate my pace. The run I had originally planned was just shy of 11.5 miles, which made my splits about 8 minutes 48 seconds per mile. But then I remembered my wrong turn and, although I didn't think it would make a difference, mapped out how much it had added on to my run.
It was almost a full mile - I had actually run 12.32 miles, making my splits about eight minutes 13 seconds per mile.
This surprised me - I didn't think I had been running that fast. The whole time I told myself to not to worry about the pace and save energy for the entire run. This was around the pace I was hoping to achieve in the half-marathon, just two weeks away (eek!).
A wrong turn ended up proving a few things to me. I have my endurance back; I will be able to handle the distance and I will probably do better than last time. I just need to remember not to go out too fast. I need to find the place again where everything is working in sync, my mind and body are working together and I am able to maintain a comfortable pace.
In a way, this is a nice realization: knowing that I can set my pace slower than what my legs will want to take in the beginning. On the other hand, it's a bit unsettling to think how race day nerves and adrenaline have a way of overtaking my logical thinking.