Another DNF. So why am I smiling?

This morning I experienced the second DNF of my brief competitive racing career. Loyal readers will recall the first, earlier this year, as the debacle known as the Newport Marathon. That experience made me want to stick pins in my eyes in true tragic fashion. Today’s DNF, while a bummer, was a whole different story. And, as the title of this post implies, not without its bright spots.

The site of my latest incomplete was the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff Five Miler in Central Park this morning. It was to be the centerpiece of a total run of 15 miles: 10 easy around a 5 mile race. I’d been advised by Coach Kevin to not plan to run it all out, but that if I felt good to go ahead and feel free to turn on the turbochargers. Well, dang, but I felt good today. I did a 3 mile warmup, mostly easy running but with a couple 45 second repeats at 6:30-7:00 to get my legs ready to go fast, along with my little dynamic stretching routine

Then I lined up in the second corral of runners who’ve managed a previous NYRR race over 1 mile of between 7:00-7:59 average pace. I mention this seemingly unnecessary and wonky detail because I had one goal and one desire for this race today. The goal was to simply run it as hard as I could, with the constant reminder to myself that I need to keep running hard. I don’t race shorter distances because they are so difficult for me to run, as I’m all slowtwitch muscle fibers. The desire was to finally run a NYRR race under 7:00 pace so I can start races in the first corral.

The race started and I was again reminded of why I need to get out of that stupid second corral. Despite starting nearly at the front of my corral this time, I was still stuck in a mob running 7:20 at the start. Midway through the first mile I managed to latch myself onto a guy who I only knew in my own mind as “Lurch.” He was enormous and running fast. So I hung right behind him as he muscled his way through the throngs. We picked it up and I managed a 7:01 for mile 1. Happy with that progress, I vowed not to look at the watch again. Just run fast.

Mile 2 was faster. I could feel that it was a lot faster. That turned out to have been a 6:40. Then mile 3 had some hills and I knew I’d give back some of the time gained in the previous mile, but not all of it. The remaining hills ended at the 3.5 mile mark and then things flattened out as we approached the start of Cat Hill. I was picking up the pace, passing women, and looking forward to the last 1.5 miles, most of which would be either downhill or flat. I’d saved some energy and was getting ready to take flight.

Then, coming down Cat Hill, someone shot me in the back of my right leg. Or at least that’s what it felt like. Hamstring pull. Just like that, my race was over. One loud utterance of “Fuck!” Two hops to get off the course. Three minutes massaging my hamstring and wondering if I would be kissing my fall marathon goodbye and writing off the entire year. To distract myself, I looked at my watch, which I’d turned off the moment I stopped running, since I knew I wouldn’t be running anymore today.

The watch was stopped at mile 3.71. My average pace at that point was 6:54. Hey, wait! This was good news! Had my hamstring not turned into a shrieking diva today, I was certain I could have brought that average down to the high 6:40s and just broken 34:00. Once I managed to skip awkwardly across the wall of runners, I was able to do some walking across the park to Baggage and then another quarter mile or so to the car. While the hamstring certainly hurt, my limp was slight and it became less pronounced the farther I walked.

I’ve spent the last few hours babying it with rest, ice, compression, elevation (otherwise known as the acronym RICE), some industrial strength anti-inflammatories — and it feels better. I’m fairly certain this was a freakish event tied to coming off of two big weeks (and a hard half) as well as the fact that I never run downhills fast. I’d been vaguely aware of some tightness in the right hamstring somewhere during mile 2. But it’s a rare race when something isn’t complaining, so I didn’t worry about it. I guess today’s faster running was one straw too many on the camel’s back and something quite literally had to give.

I get to try again for the coveted blue bib in about a month, when I’ll run a 4 miler in the park. If I could run this well for 5 miles, I’ve no doubt I’ll get that bib before the year is out. But for now, I’m focused on getting my right leg back online.