In March 2012, I ran my first race, the Austin Capitol Statesman 10K in Austin, Texas. Having been overweight all of my life, I was amazed that I survived such an incredible ordeal. When the race was over, I wanted to know how my time compared to the world’s record. As soon as I got home, I googled “world record for 10K race.” The Wikipedia article for the “World’s Best 10K race in Puerto Rico” came up in the search results. As a junkie for random and useless information, I had to click on that link. After reading about the race, it had been my dream to run it ever since.
The “World’s Best 10K” is in the top 20 most competitive races in the world, and the prize for first place is $25,000. The prize for achieving a world record is $100,000. In 2003, Paula Radcliffe of the United Kingdom achieved the women’s world record in 30 minutes and 21 seconds. Her record has never been broken ever since. I was not really aiming for a world record given that my finish time was 59:20 in my first 10K race. Any professional runner could probably run two 10K races in less time than that. However, I wasn’t discouraged. I decided that I had to participate in something so special. After all, wouldn’t it be great to say, “Before that guy achieved the world record, he had to pass me first!”
After two years of running in different races, my dream finally came true on Sunday, February 23rd, 2014. Running alongside some of the fastest runners in the world, I placed 613 out of 9,052 runners. Though I must admit that there were some hurdles in the beginning, my overall race experience was positive.
If you decide to run the World’s Best 10K next year, I would encourage you to do your homework. As long as you book your flight a few months in advance, you could probably buy round-trip airfare to San Juan for under $250. The hotels are pricy, but it’s not impossible to find a room for under $100, especially with a group discount. If you are not afraid of some heavy traffic and aggressive driving, renting a car in Puerto Rico for a few days could save you the cost of taking a taxi to get around the island.
The race started sharply at 5:25 p.m. This was different from any other race I ran. All of my previous races started in the morning. I couldn’t just leave my car in a parking lot next to the start line and run the race. The race took place in the middle of a freeway behind the Puente Teodoro Moscoso toll bridge. All the surrounding neighborhoods are guarded off by electric, barbed-wire fences. Visiting those neighborhoods is not a good idea if you don’t live there.
I stayed in the Condado district in San Juan, which is located about six miles northwest of the starting line. My friend Hector picked me up at 3:30 pm and we drove to a train station in Bayamon, which is about 6 miles southeast of where the race started. The cost of the roundtrip ticket was $3 per person. We took the train to the Hato Rey station. From there, we waited for a “guagua,” which is the Puerto Rican word for bus. Puerto Rican Spanish is somewhat different from Castilian Spanish since some words have different meanings. The guagua took probably 30 minutes to go two miles on that Sunday afternoon because of heavy traffic. When I got to the race, it was already 5:10 pm.
With over 9,000 people in attendance, I wanted to be closer to the front based on my experience at the San Antonio Half Marathon. However, I had no idea that in order to get to the front, I had to start all the way in the back. I also didn’t realize that I wouldn’t even get to the front no matter how hard I tried. The crowd stretched the length of two football fields and the width of a four lane highway. Somehow, I managed to make my way about three fourths of the way to the front before the Puerto Rican national anthem started. It seemed that everyone around me knew the lyrics, and they were all singing along.
At 5:25p.m., the gun went off, and the crowd started moving very slowly. Even though I was in the section for a finish time of approximately 45 minutes, most runners around me seemed reluctant to go anywhere. I felt like the further I ran, the slower everyone got. By the time I reached the start line of the race, there were lines of people just walking in front of me, and I felt like my cloisterphobia was kicking in. At that point, I just wanted to escape the crowd and get some fresh air.
Luckily, I spotted a few runners who were running at approximately an 8:00 minute per mile pace. They knew exactly where to go since they were dodging the crowd in all the right places. I didn’t think twice before starting to follow right behind them. About 10 minutes into the race, I saw the group of elite athletes coming back from the bridge. I’ve never seen anybody running so fast. Sure, I’ve seen videos on Youtube of professional runners, but it’s a lot more real when they are doing it right in front of you. They were running with speeds close to 15 miles per hour. About 15 minutes later, I saw the runners a second time around as they were heading full-speed towards the finish line. By then, they were already a good deal apart from each other, and I could tell who would probably win the race.
In the last half mile of the race, I doused myself completely with a cup of ice-cold, water and ran as hard as I could to the finish line. According to the race clock, 50 minutes had gone by since the gun went off. That meant that it took me 5 minutes to get to the start of the race. I still can’t describe the sheer feeling of exhilaration and excitement when I was crossing the finish line.
A few runners who kept up with me most of the race, stopped by to congratulate me. After that, I met up with Hector, and we headed back to the train station. A word of caution: if you ask for directions after a race make sure you ask several people. We went the wrong way to the bus stop until we finally made it to the train station. On the train, everybody was talking to each other and sharing their running experiences. One runner told me that she ran half-marathons all over the world, and she didn’t run them for time. Rather, she ran for the pure joy of running. At first, I was unhappy with a chip time of 45:50. After four months of training and running around twenty miles per week, I expected to do better.
However, the conversation on the train helped me realize that running the race is an incredible achievement in itself, and I should be happy with what I achieved. After all, I bet Bidan Michiri of Kenya was pretty happy having won first place in the race. Sure, he didn’t break the 10K world record of 26:51. Still, he ran the race in 28:35, which is also an achievement for him. The most important thing is that it’s a personal achievement. The fact that I ran the race and did my best is my personal achievement, and I am proud of it now.
Miles From Last Week
Sunday: 3.5 miles
Tuesday: 3.5 miles
Friday: 5 miles
Saturday 7.5 miles
Total: 19.5 miles
Miles Ran in February: 84.2
Ideas for Future Posts
No pain, no gain: My top running injuries
Let’s do some cross-training
Running in Different Cultures
Best Running Movie Scenes Ever
How Running relates to Other Sports
What do I think about while I’m running?
How I Started Running
Old School vs. New School Runners
Time for New Shoes
Move your feet to the beat of your heart: Tunes for Runners
Gear up for Running
Let’s go Grocery Shopping!
Physics of Running