A Weekend to Remember

Posted by on September 21, 2009 in Training

This past weekend was magical for me.  Two major happenings made it so; first was an incredible ending to my football game and the other was the Queens half-marathon.

Football first:  I play in a 6 on 6 co-ed football league (as well as an 8 on 8 football league, and a soccer league, and as a sub on a softball team).  We play mostly in Central Park and while it’s two-hand touch, blocking is allowed.  There are only 7 teams and mostly everyone knows each other, so the air of camaraderie is unavoidable.

On this 6 on 6 team, I play QB despite not having a ton of experience at that position.  I’ve played QB here and there over the last few years, and have had moderate success, but it’s obvious to me (and perhaps others) that I don’t have the world’s strongest arm.  I’m usually accurate but I can amaze myself with the inaccurate throws too.  What I lack in pure athleticism as QB, I make up for with good play calling, play design, strategy, time and player management, etc.  I think that being a great QB is probably 60/40 in favor of athleticism, so I’m not optimally designed therein but I get the job done… sometimes.  No matter what, it’s fun and that’s the mantra by which I live my life.

We had a double-header this past Saturday. I know most of the players on my team, but there were a few new faces too.  In the first game, we lost by one TD with the final score 27-20.  I had a pretty good game actually, but was frustrated that on a couple of critical plays, my receivers dropped the ball.  I mean, I had some good throws and landed the ball right in the numbers, but oh well.  It was still fun.

The real glory came in the second game against a very stacked team full of top athletes, most of whom I know intimately.  My strategy was to pick on the weaker defenders, as far as I could guess them to be, and managed to do so decently, until a couple of very poor throws resulted in interceptions.  I was upset with my decision making with those throws and began to write the game off as a loss.  I lost track of the score and seemingly, the other team did too.  Seems as if we both thought the game was a blowout.  They switched QBs, trying instead to get the ball to some of their weaker athletes so that everyone would have a few touches.  With about 2 minutes to go, we figured it was over and a couple of my teammates actually went to the sidelines and got changed out of their football gear.  Suddenly, we got the ball back with 17 seconds to go and the referee announced that the score was 25-18.  Holy cow, we had a chance!

I decided to give the ball to one of my teammates who can throw longer than I can.  Naturally, the defense played deep to protect against a hail mary type of pass, but the play I designed was to get a long pass thrown to either me or another guy purposely short of the end zone.  When he said hike, I ran on the left side about 25 yards up and then slanted to the left sideline.  He threw the ball unexpectedly to my right shoulder, so I had to turn around somewhat awkwardly.  I caught a glimpse of the ball at the last second and just threw out my hands… and the ball landed right in them!  A miracle!  It was something like a 35 yard pass that took us to within 10 yards of the goal line (we also play in a shorter field).  For some reason, the clock ticked a bunch and we called time out with 3 seconds to go.  I resumed the QB position, calling a play to the left once again where I had a receiver run to his right on a slant, then suddenly make a 90 degree turn to the left.  I fired the ball hard and got it right to him for the TD as time expired!!  Incredible!!  25-24 at that point.

Our extra point system is such that passing it in nets one point, and rushing it in nets two (no kicking in this league).  The QB can’t rush until a three mississippi count has expired or unless an offensive player “cuts the ribbon”, meaning that he or she runs between the snapper and the QB after the QB says hike.  I designed a play where I had my teammate do just that, and I positioned one of my taller, bulkier receivers on the left with the hope that I’d run hard to the left and have him block for me.  I said hike, jogged slowly to my left as if I was looking to throw, and that automatically brought the defenders into the backfield to chase me, thus opening up the end zone.  As soon as I recognized that the defense had committed to the chase, I ran hard to the front cone.  My receiver sealed his block perfectly, and against one of the top athletes in the league.    Thanks to the block, I sped into the end zone for the 2 point conversion and the win!!  Wow!  The sideline teammates came sprinting onto the field and one guy lifted me up in his arms as if I had won the super bowl!  People went nuts and our opponents, who again are a stacked and top team (and two time defending season champions), were totally dejected.  We shook hands to show sportsmanship, but after that, my guys went nuts again.  I can’t count how many high fives, butt slaps, hugs, etc. I got.  Incredible, simply incredible.  Even afterwards at the bar, the ten of us there were still abuzz about the ending.

It’s nice to be the hero.  It’s not often in one’s life that one can experience this, whether on a large or small scale.  I fully recognize the place this should take in the scheme of things; it’s a co-ed, recreational league with a bunch of regular folks who like to play sports.  This victory is a great thing for my self-esteem, but only insofar as I remain grounded in how it should be measured.

The Queens Half-Marathon:  I had to get up at 5 a.m. on Sunday for this event.  After such an amazing Saturday, I slept like a rock, so it wasn’t a big deal.  I picked up my close friend Danielle and we made it out there with very little time to spare.  Parking was a bear.

I didn’t have a defined goal for the day.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure how fresh my legs would be after two games of football the day before. So, I decided to make decisions based on how I felt on the course.

The NY Road Running Club has instituted a “corral” system that categorizes runners by speed, based either on past results or on what they indicated on the race application.  I’ve been doing fairly well this season, so my position was close to the front.  When the starting gun went off, I surprised at how many runners were actually slow.  There were even a few race-walkers!  See, the whole idea of the corral system is to make it efficient for runners so that they don’t have to navigate around throngs of slower folks.  Seems as if a number of these slower runners decided to do their own thing to the detriment of the faster people.  I found that annoying and frankly, a little selfish.  The net effect on me was a slow first mile.  I had previously figured that I needed to average eight minutes per mile to break one hour and 45 minutes.  My previous personal record, set at the NYC Half-Marathon (see previous post on that event) was 1:45:50, so the eight minute/mile goal was a wish list type of thing and not something I truly believed I’d achieve.  So, when that first mile reflected a time of 8:17, I immediately said to myself that this would just be a training day, not a PR day.

Mile two reflected a time of 7:37.  Suddenly, I was fast!  I figured that I’d run the third mile at the same level of intensity and see how the time was before making a decision to try for a PR.  That third mile came in at 7:54 and the fourth at 7:55.  With consistent mile splits under eight minutes, I knew that I’d just have to push things a little and that a PR was definitely possible.

The course is a little strange.  There were a couple of dozen (if not more) right angle turns and lots of little one-block long climbs.  It was hard naturally to find a good rhythm, so I found myself focusing harder on long loping strides on the downhills to bring the heart rate down and on shorter, more frequent strides on the uphills.  Mile after mile, my splits were good and I remained entirely focused and comfortable.

At the mile nine marker, my time reflected 9:10.  I couldn’t believe my eyes!  How was that possible?  My stride hadn’t changed, my heart rate was consistent, I felt like I was putting out a steady effort, etc.  I was convinced that the mile marker was improperly placed by perhaps one-tenth of a mile.  To be safe though, I decided to really pick up the pace to get to the ten mile marker as fast as I could to make up some of that time.  Sure enough, the time at the ten mile mark was 6:45, thus proving true that the mile nine marker was off.  Whew!

I got to the 12 mile marker feeling tired, but with enough energy to push hard for the final 1.1 miles.  To my chagrin, that last mile featured two steep climbs, one of which was two or three blocks long.  Again, I couldn’t believe my eyes.  I did this event in 2007 but totally forgot about these climbs.  My technique suffered as I was hunched over and all, but once I crested that second longer hill, I put on the gas.  My stride length was long and I made each one count.  As I rounded the corner for the final straight, I put on a sprint to the finish line and finished with everything I had.  I knew that I was close to not only getting a PR, not only beating 1:45, but possibly to beating 1:44.  Turns out that my final time was 1:44:04 and while I’m a little disappointed in not breaking 1:44, I’m absolutely ecstatic over the PR, and to have done so by a minute and 46 seconds.  That’s a lot actually.  I couldn’t help but exhibit a huge smile for a good ten minutes!

Danielle and I eventually found each after the race and we headed back to the city for a post-race brunch.  As I got up from the table to say goodbye and head back to the car, I found that I could hardly walk.  Seems as if the origin of the IT band on my right side was super sore, so much so that I had to limp and with a wince every time I took a step with the right leg.  For me, that’s very uncommon.  I got home, took a shower and plopped down on my bed so that the advil could take effect.  Within a couple of hours, I was back to normal (relatively speaking) and walking without an issue.  I got to spend the rest of the day horizontal watching football on TV, but unlike those days when being a couch potato feels like a guilty pleasure, it was a very well-earned treat.

What a weekend.  If ever I need a reminder of how great life is, I’ll just have to re-read the above to remember.

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