Monday, December 16, 2013

Winter Wipeout Wonderland

Admit it: You have probably wiped out at least once as a runner. It might have been a solo day on a trail when you slipped in the mud, or maybe it was like me in my first (2007) New York City Marathon. Back then, we came charging into Brooklyn for Mile 3 and someone clipped me from behind, and I did a front somersault in a sea of bodies and somehow sprung up with only pebbles to pick out of my hands.

Well, guess what. I just saw the most awesome wipeout EVER in running history. And amazingly, it involved an elite runner. This guy probably finished about 10th-ish in the #beastmode Ted Corbitt 15K that we ran Saturday at Central Park for the start of a big snowstorm. So far, I am still the only one apparently talking about it, and certain people are trying really, really hard to act like it didn't happen -- including the elite runner! But since it happened immediately in front of me, I can't get it out of my head.

In fact, I have to THANK the pavement crasher because he totally took my mind off everything in the second lap of our race, as I kept thinking about how freaking awesome it was that he did a complete whirlybird sideways wipeout and just bounced up and finished the damn race like PREFONTAINE.

OK, let me set the scene. For the Ted Corbitt 15K (9 miles), we start on the upper east side of the park, just under the 102nd Street Transverse on the East Drive. We do a four-mile interior loop first, then repeat it, except for the second loop we add the South end of the park, making it five more miles.

The snow was just starting as the race began at 8:30 am, so there was no need to make this a fun run. We were all there to #beastmode the hell out of this race. So as usual, I know that when I am finishing up my first lap, the elites have just started to pass me and are finishing the course. One by one they flew past me, and as usual I marvel at their forms and give shouts of encouragement as they go by. It's all good.

You have to understand that all the way up the East Drive, first-lap runners are hugging the inside lanes of the main running path, and the leaders are passing everyone on the outside. The lead runner has a truck with him, thanks to New York Road Runners. Then gradually the others come along to our right side and pass us.

With about 400 meters left, roughly near where this race started, there was a crisscross point. The leaders on the outside have to get over to the inside so they can make the left turn and cross the finish line, which is set up on the left side of the transverse. I don't really understand why they don't just make the finish line on the right side of the transverse, which would mean they don't need a crisscross. But it was there.

The crisscross sign said: FINISHING LANE | PASSING LANE. Arrows pointed clearly to either side. That sign was anchored to the roadway with two huge cinderblocks. All around the cinderblocks was thickening and glistening slush, as the snow fell amid freezing temps. It was more and more slippery.

One runner was just in front of me, approach that sign from the left. One of the elites was passing me to my right, and I mean he was flying like a Lamborghini. Then it all happened so suddenly. The slower runner got almost exactly to the cinderblocks, and the elite decided to try to slip right in between that runner and the blocks, worried about losing a millionth of a second in a non-Olympic Trial event.


The elite runner's right foot landed on its edge next to the cinderblock, and his leg went underneath him to the left. His momentum carried him around in a full 360 sideways whirlybird, so he was a human frisbee spinning through the cold Manhattan morning air, snow surrounding his spin, a sight that I so badly wanted to photograph or just sit down and start painting. In my mind, he is still spinning, spinning, spinning. Fortunately he did not hit his head on a cinderblock and die right there.

Then he inevitably landed on the slushy blacktop, sliding and skidding about 10 or 15 feet. He wore a singlet and shorts. His saving grace no doubt was the arm warmers he was wearing. I was expecting major roadrash. I have no idea if he bled. All I know is, the dude got up like he never fell in the first place, apparently determined not to lose his position among finishers, perhaps protecting an age-group prize.

I immediately stopped to tweet to #NYRR to please make sure that unsafe crisscross was tended to by more than an overmatched volunteer who is there to qualify as a 9+1 exemption for the next NYC Marathon. This required NYRR management presence. It was a bad place for a crisscross on this day, and what the hell are two giant cinderblocks doing there? They could be lethal.

But enough about all that. NYRR is awesome, and no one is perfect. The runner really lacked common sense and should have gone outside the crisscross and then merged over into his finish lane, and it was partly the weather. Instead, he thought he was Superman and his body failed him. Trust me, this much as no one wants to retweet it or find out who the injured runner was. I am just amazed at his level of #beastmode -- fucking awesome! What was your worst wipeout?

This was my 92nd overall race since I quit smoking in December 2006 and my last race of 2013. Checked a bag with warm gear, peeled it off and then set out at the start of a NYC snowstorm. The snow was coming sideways the whole time and we ran up Cat Hill each of the two loops. I tend to really love races like this, because I am driven to conquer and then get a warm bath. My finish time was 1:49, lost 5 or 10 minutes tweeting about the party crasher. It was my first "real" run since the NYC Marathon, having taken extra long time to replenish and get ready for a new marathon training program, with a spring race I am about to discuss!

This is what it felt like running the Ted Corbitt 15K -- video I took with my iPhone making the turn up East Drive on the south end by the horse carriages in mile 7.

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