Ridgewood 5K: A mitigated disaster

Today we headed out to Ridgewood, NJ to race a 5K or 10K. I was undecided and for $10 extra I could register for both (and even run both if I was feeling in a particularly self-hating mood today — which I was, but not to the level required to double). So I registered for both.

After a terrible night’s sleep, which is par for the course for me prior to any race, no matter how inconsequential, we got up and it didn’t seem that bad out. A little warm, a little humid, but not oppressively so. At least not at 5:15AM.

As we would discover, it was about 10 degrees hotter in New Jersey. But it still didn’t feel that bad. Yet.

Jonathan was committed to doing the 10K and race it he did. He was 30 seconds off his last one, felled by the heat, which by the 8:45 start had become a factor. In the shade, it was warm. In the sun, it was baking, maybe high 70s at the start.

Still, he looked pretty good when he whizzed by on his way to the finish, well behind a gaggle of Africans (it was a money race: a whopping $200 for the winners) and some young skinny guys, but coming in 18th overall. He got second in the 50-54 AG.

I met up with him, supplied water and food and got him back to the car for a change of clothes. Then it was my turn to get ready. Now it was hot. I went off to do a warmup: half a mile jog around a parking lot followed by some short strides on a baseball field. Running at 9:00, I was out of breath. The strides were even worse. And so commenced a cascading crisis of confidence.

Frequent readers and other shut-ins will recall that I suck as a hot weather racer. My ideal racing conditions are right around the freezing mark, in which I will happily wear a tee shirt. I’ve also run some of my best races with windchills in the low teens. But put me in the heat and I melt. Or do I? Today I learned a big, painful (yet very encouraging) lesson about making assumptions.

By the 10:15 start, the sun was over the trees and the course was maybe 20% shaded. I was thinking someone should at least sprinkle me with cheese to benefit from my state of being. Can I find other ways to say that I was really, really hot? Probably. But I’ll go on.

Here are the lessons I learned today:

1. Commit or don’t bother. I screwed myself during the warmup, all of it mentally. I was afraid of the heat and didn’t want to race. Yet I’d driven all the way out here and felt obligated to. I was completely conflicted at the start, having convinced myself already that I’d have a bad race, yet struggling with a sense of obligation to bludgeon my way through the experience anyway. And the mindset that said, “I can’t race well in the heat.”

2. You can’t spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S with the letters C-R-A-P-P-Y-A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E. You can’t. I’ve had several runners whom I respect tell me recently that my attitude sucks and I need to work on it. You know who you are. Okay, I’m listening now.

3. Look at the damned watch, and look at it early. Here was the most interesting aspect of this race. I went out fast. I may not have had my head in the race, but my body was going full bore. But I’d told myself not to look at my watch, since when I’m having a bad race, looking at my watch will only make things worse.

Here’s how the first mile played out: I was running what I thought was a reasonable, but conservative, effort for the first half mile or so. My original goal pace for the race (earlier in the week, when it didn’t look like it would be so hot) was 6:39. I “knew” that wasn’t possible today. So I thought I was taking it easy in the first mile.

I knew we were coming up on the 1 mile mark and I felt shitty. I was thinking I was probably running well over 7:00 and decided to drop out and walk back. Pull over to the sidewalk, hit the watch and turn around and start walking. For the hell of it, I thought, “Well, since I’ve just bailed, I may as well see just how slow I was going.”

I had been running a 6:20 pace.

Well, fuck me gently. Turn the watch back on, turn around and start running again. But by that time I’d lost all momentum, physical and otherwise. I only lost 7 seconds on my abortive abortion, but the damage was done. I’d run too fast and now the heat was getting to me. The next mile was a full minute per mile slower. I bailed again for good at the 1.8 mark and jogged in the rest of the way.

4. Look where you’re walking. Post jog, while attempting to secure a banana, I bashed my left shin into a metal tent stake. That hurt. I’ve got a goose egg on my leg now and will have an impressive bruise in a few hours. Fortunately, my bones (and this includes my skull) are thick and not prone to breakage, a lucky state of affairs considering how gravity challenged I am. But the children nearby certainly got an earful of nasty.

Denouement: This was my third DNF. All three have had distinctively different causes. The first was a dropout at mile 18 of a marathon when I knew something was physiologically wrong with me, something that was pointless to fight. The second was a violent hamstring pull that put the kibosh on a 5 mile race in mid stride. Today was a DNF that didn’t have to happen.

Still life with trophy and contusion.

Had I looked at my watch and slowed down to my intended pace in the first mile, I probably could have run a decent race. Having a positive, or even neutral, outlook going in would have helped too. I will not do this again.

But I’m glad that this happened. The Mini 10K in less than two weeks is an important race for me. It will probably be hot and/or humid. I need to go in with a positive attitude or I’m going to screw myself again.

The best thing about today was the fact that I ran 6:20 for a mile in poor conditions at an effort that I thought was conservative. The hills of Central Park and the winds of Icahn Stadium have served to mask my level of fitness. I believe I am in better shape than I’d previously thought.

I have well over a dozen races scheduled between now and December. Please, let me have decent weather at just one. I will work on the attitude if the weather gods will work with me on everything else.