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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Cheating the System

Today was the ING NYC Marathon Tune-Up. An 18 miler around Central Park. I had some qualms about doing the race since my left leg was bothering me, but I decided to give it a shot. I probably shouldn’t have done the race since not only was my leg bothering me, but I also have a slightly pulled muscle in the left side of my back. I did that yesterday when I ran the 5th Avenue Mile.
I woke up at 5am to eat breakfast and then drove into the city. Miraculously I found a parking spot close to the start within a few minutes after pulling off of the FDR Drive. I even had time for a quick nap in my car before the race started. As I started to jog easily to the starting line, my leg felt a little stiff and my shin was hurting a bit. My shin pain always seems to flare up worse than usual after I take a couple of days off.

I started out the race feeling ok, definitely not great. I know I went out too fast and my leg was a bit painful. To compensate, I kind of just zoned out and ran. There were many runners around me but I put up a wall of space around me such that I didn’t see or hear anything except for the double while line passing beneath my feet. I was comfortable in this zone and ran like this for one complete loop though the park.

At the start of the second loop, Jay a fellow member of AGTC caught up to me (we met and spoke at the start) and we started chatting while we ran. This pulled me out of my reverie and got me thinking more about my pace and leg. It was probably just as well though as I noticed my leg was progressively starting to bother me more. I told Jay to go ahead since I could tell my pace would soon be slowing down considerably. By the time I got to approximately 8 miles I knew it was all over. I stopped to walk and began to look for a place to cut through the park so I could get back to the east side. I wandered around for a few minutes to rest and saw that I couldn’t cross where I was since a lake was in my way. I then continued south doing a slow trot hoping I was closer to the 72nd Street Transverse than I was to the 102nd. It was disconcerting seeing so many runners pass me as I was struggling along at such a slow pace. As it turned out I was only a few hundred yards from 72nd.

Once I was at the 72nd Street Transverse I decided to continue around the bottom of the park instead of cutting across. I did this for two reasons. The first was I started to feel a little better and the second and more important reason was I didn’t want to tempt myself into cutting the loop short by going across 72nd. I figured if I could continue at a slow pace, perhaps I could finish the race and get my Qualifier (I only have 3 of the required 9 for the NYC Marathon). By the time I got back around to 72nd on the east side I knew I was really done. I didn’t even think about continuing on and exited the park. I went to a cash machine and then grabbed a cab back uptown to my car. As I watched the streets go by I knew I made the right decision. It would have been very painful just to walk the distance back.

On the way home in my car, I realized why I had regrets about not finishing Lake Placid earlier this year. I know because while sitting in my car, I started to feel regrets about quitting the 18 miler. The reason for the regret is because after I stopped racing, I know longer felt any pain or discomfit. I was feeling ok, which gave me the illusion that if I kept going I could have finished it. If I am feeling ok now, shouldn’t I have been able to go on? Realizing this I quickly came to grips with the fact that sometimes stopping in a race is the correct decision. The ghosts that haunted me about stopping have been exorcised from my mind.

I also learned something else about myself today. I know I will never cheat in a race or when it comes to qualifying for the marathon. I was giving thought to how bad it would be to register for a race and have someone else run with my chip so I can be scored and get a NYC Marathon Qualifier. I never seriously considered it, but the thought did cross my mind. Today I could have sat in my car or in the park for a while and then made my way back onto the course and cross the finish line. It would have been easy to do. I know now that no matter how easy it may be to cheat like that, I won’t do it. I need to earn my place to the starting line and if quitting today means I won’t have enough qualifiers for next year’s marathon, then so be it. Better I make it there by earning that right than to get there by cheating the system.


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