Last night marked another first: my first track race.
The venue? Icahn Stadium on Randall’s Island.
The distance? The mile.
The goal? Break six minutes.
The reality? Not on this night.
Just getting to the stadium was a trial. Google Maps said “18 minutes, 40 in traffic.” I gave us 45. That still wasn’t enough. It was bumper to bumper for much of the way. We finally got onto the RFK (aka Triboro, for you old school New Yorkers) Bridge and got way the hell over to prepare to exit right for Randall’s Island. I learned this lesson before when we drove to the Reebok games. But as we neared the toll plazas we saw signs that said “New. Left Lane. Ward’s Island”? Wha?
Panic. Go left or go right? We decided to stick with what we knew, which was to go right.
Now this maneuver is not for the faint of heart. I learned to drive in New York, so I’m fairly fearless on the roads, but crossing four lanes of traffic on this bridge takes the hand-eye coordination of a 12 year old and the steely resolve of a mercenary, neither of which I possess.
Jonathan, who accompanied me on this trip as much for moral support as for the purpose of helping me to not get hopelessly lost (which I would have), rolled down the window in an attempt to help me navigate through the onrush of cars. Just as he did that a giant SUV came by, landed in a pothole and sent a wave of water through the passenger side window. I half expected to see a fish in Jonathan’s lap. He was soaked.
So things were starting off well.
We wended our way down to the stadium. The next problem was, where to park? Any lots nearby were blocked and the one just outside the stadium was charging $20 for “event parking.” Oh, right. This is New York. If someone can gouge you, they will. A bunch of random schlubs running round a track was considered an “event”? I paid $20 to park for the Reebok meet. I wasn’t paying it tonight. We circled back and found parking outside of some sort of tennis complex.
It was a quick jog over to the stadium. In the pouring rain. Yes. It was pouring. And very windy.
As was promised, this was a very low key affair. I paid my $10 and then prepared to wait. It was about 6:45 and the races were to start at 7:00, running the 400, 800, 3000 and, finally, my event. The mile.
Did you know that Icahn has an open wifi network? I used it to post morose Facebook updates.
Jonathan, wet, was getting hypothermic. I gave him my extra pair of warmup pants (actually, they’re his, but I’ve gradually claimed ownership by wearing them constantly) and that helped. With no body fat, he’s delicate in cold, wet conditions. While he was off getting changed I found myself in a battle of wills with a mangy squirrel that found my duffel bag worthy of fascination. I looked at the track, which was in a downpour. And the flags, which were horizontal. I felt bad for all of us. This was rapidly feeling like a total waste of time.
I went down to do a warmup when they started the 800. I probably jogged a half mile back and forth along the side of the track. Then I did four strides. I ran the second one so fast that I nearly fell down. That would have been a little embarrassing.
Midway through the 3000 I put on my spikes, which for the record are called Gel Dirt Divas. I am not happy with that name. But they cost $35 and they are light and comfortable as can be. The 3000 ended (I felt sorry for those people, 7.5 laps in this shit). The rain had actually started to let up a bit. It was now a light rain. The wind, however, had kicked up and was a steady 20-25 mph blowing straight down the home straightaway.
The mile group was big, maybe 40-50 people. They divided us up into two races: the fasties and slowies. The fasties were all men, except for one brave woman. I raced with the slowies.
I did have a pacing strategy for this race, which was to run 88-90 for the first lap, hold on at 90 for two and three, then do whatever I could for the last 409+ meters. Standing there in the wind, I was thinking I’d be lucky to run between 6:20 and 6:30.
We line up on the special white curvy line and, whee, we actually get a starter gun. I’m in lane 5 when we go. Coming around the curve I position myself in lane 3, where I am stuck for the first lap and a half. I actually manage a 90 second first lap and think, so far so good. But it won’t last. I come through lap two seven seconds slower. Although, on the bright side, I’m now in lane 2 and working to get into the inside lane by passing a few people.
Lap three is, as Coach Kevin promised, the hardest one. My legs feel okay but my lungs are feeling it and I have a pain forming in my throat and rising up my neck to the sides of my head. This is a completely foreign sensation. I have never run this hard, for this far, in my life. Lap 3 is a little slower still, maybe 98.
We round the first 100 of the last lap and I’m really feeling it now. But I only have to do this for another 300 meters, so I push. There’s one guy a couple meters ahead of me whom I’d love to catch, but I can’t. Still, he pulls me along and I manage a slightly faster last lap, despite the extra 9 meters — another 97.
There is no clock at the finish. I don’t know what my official time is because the results haven’t been posted yet. But my watch said 6:23. I ran 1.04 miles, due to being in the outer lanes for most of the way. Doing the math, had I been in lane 1 the whole way, I would have been good for around a 6:08. Without the wind, I know I would have broken 6:00. Oh, well. Oh, well.
Afterwards, I couldn’t speak. My jaws were stiff and I was wheezing. I’d also generated a tremendous amount of heat. Despite being in a tee shirt and shorts in a wind chill in the 40s, I was boiling.
Spotted Robert (and said hi to his girlfriend, Helen, before the race), but I honestly couldn’t talk to anyone. I was in something like mild shock from the race. It was the oddest sensation.
Despite the bad conditions, the crowded track and lack of amenities like a clock for splits, I enjoyed myself. It was a new experience and an intense one at that. Unfortunately, there are no more mile races scheduled this season. But there’s a 1500 on June 8 and I’ll take another crack at it then. My goal is the 1500 equivalent of a 6:00 mile, or 5:36. I hope it’s not windy.