Race Report: Fifth Avenue Mile

I waited three years for this race.

The last good race I had, meaning I made real progress in, was the Steamtown Marathon in October of 2008. That wasn’t even a particularly good race experience. But it was a huge leap forward in performance. From there I struggled to improve and in the process got overtrained, injured and extremely discouraged.

Had I looked into a crystal ball back then and seen the failure, pain and frustration that was waiting for me, I don’t know that I would have bothered to keep trying. But ignorance has its virtues sometimes. As does stubbornness.

I trained for this distance, and this particular race, for three months. This was coming off of four months of injury from a sacral stress fracture last August, followed by three months of just trying to run normally again, then a winter and spring that were filled with personal crises, more injury and not much running. More sub-par races. More questioning. Then a decision in May to shelve the marathon indefinitely and do something wild and crazy: focus on the Fifth Avenue Mile.

My goal was to break six minutes.

This goal wasn’t just ambitious from a pure clock time standpoint. It also represented a leap in relative racing quality. Since I started running seriously four years ago I’ve hovered in the low 70%s age graded. My best performance was a touch over 75%. A few weeks ago at Sunset & Suds I ran around 73%. Today I nearly touched 80% age graded. That had been my goal for sometime mid-2012.

But I’m there already. What’s this mean? It means I’m good at shorter distances. I’m better at running a mile after three months of specific training than I was ever running marathons with three years of specific training. I never thought I had raw speed. But I do. Now I just need to work on raw speed endurance and I can see about 3Ks and 5Ks, perhaps some track 800s. But I’m not done with the mile yet.

I trained using a plan out of Daniels’ Running Formula. I modified it and cut out one of his three workouts a week — because I’m old, and I break down if I do three hard workouts a week — and cut down the volume of his track workouts. That worked: I got faster and I didn’t get injured. I will keep doing that.

I also visualized the living daylights out of this race beforehand. I lay down quietly and envisioned everything: the warmup, standing at the start, the gun, and each quarter, then the finish. I imagined reading a clock at the halfway point that read 2:XX and a finish clock that read 5:XX. I visualized racing in high heat and humidity. I visualized racing in pouring rain. I even visualized falling down and getting back up.

Races never play out the way you imagine them, but this was pretty close. Here’s what happened:

I got to check-in early, well over an hour ahead of my 10:45 start. Checked my bag and did, as usual, a terrible warmup. I was hot, my legs felt heavy, I had a side stitch. Absolute shit. But that was okay, because that’s how I’d visualized it. It would be fine once I was racing.

It was very humid, with dewpoints in the upper 60s and a temperature in the low 70s. I told myself over and over and over again that not only had I been training in weather worse than this all summer, but some of my best workouts had been in these conditions. “Ignore the weather. Weather like this can destroy a marathon. In a mile it’s meaningless.”

Got to the start and we had to wait and wait and wait at a penultimate start line before lining up at the real start line. It was a mad dash from the first to the second and I didn’t want to get caught a few rows back. I was in the second row and ended up nicely asking the woman in front of me if I could move up beside her. She looked a little annoyed, pissed even. But I couldn’t afford to lose a second in a slow start or getting around someone, so I was pushy.

So I’m in front. I’m in the center, so I’m not running along cambered road. Then I heard three women behind me talking about their race last year: “Oh, we went out too fast. We ran like a 1:17 first quarter.” I turned around and asked, “What are you planning on running the first quarter in?” They replied, “Oh, around 90.” Good, because I’m going out at 86 or so, so I wouldn’t have to worry about being in their way.

Two of my Harrier teammates are also in front, but they’re leaving me alone. I probably look grim and stern. I’m repeating things to myself, nearly berating myself, “You came here to race this. Don’t look at your watch. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Don’t give up. You have to apply yourself the whole way and push.”

I’d lain on the couch before we left listening to the song I played while doing speedwork. I’ll admit it. It’s guilty pleasure. The song was Van Halen’s “Dance the Night Away.” I ran 100m in 17 to that song. It makes me run fast. So that was my brainwashing soundtrack, my cue for going postal. That and being hopped up on 150mg of caffeine.

I’m wearing my plain Jane Timex. While I’d love to have Garmina’s quarter (or even 200m) splits, the temptation to look at them will be too great. I need to just race and never look at my watch. The upshot is that I don’t know how fast I was running at any given point on the course.

FInally, we’re given our 30 second warning, then 10 seconds and “blam!” — off we go. I know I have to run harder than I did in Tuckahoe, and it will feel a lot harder because of the humidity. The first quarter is downhill and I fly. I’m running slightly too fast, but I’m banking time for the uphill second quarter. I’m in, like, fourth position (!), for that first quarter. Then fifth when we hit the little hill.

Sometime in the first quarter my left ear becomes completely blocked, like it’s full of water. I can’t hear anything except my own breathing, amplified to fill the entire left side of my head. It’s so fucking annoying, but I can’t do anything about it. It will stay blocked until about 10 minutes after the race. The second quarter is slower, I can just tell. But not that much slower. We crest the hill and I can hear my friend Amy Cooper screaming her lungs out at me. I’m touched but I know that if I do anything to acknowledge her it could steal from my time. I can’t afford it! I keep running.

Shortly beyond, I see a blur of bodies in black and I know they are Harriers. They are also screaming at me. I continue with my robotic running. I can be friendly later!

As is the case with track miles/1500s, the third lap was the hardest. That’s where I could feel a growing ache in my legs and the seeds of doubt really beginning to take root. I can see the pace car up ahead, and it says 3-something, but I’m fifty feet behind it and I don’t know where we are. I’m too much in tunnelvision to be able to look for the clocks along the course. Plus, I don’t really want to see them for the same reasons I don’t want to see what’s on my watch. It’s too much of a mindfuck risk.

I start to loose hope during that third quarter and I’m thinking all kinds of negative stuff: “I went out way too fast. People are passing me. I’m going to run something like a 6:10 today. This weather has wrecked my chances. I can’t run this hard alone.”

I can see the finish line. But it’s tiny. So far away in the distance. I was warned about this phenomenon. The moving mirage, like one of Zeno’s paradoxes, that tempts you with a big sign that says, “Finish!” — yet you can never seem to get to it.

I’ve one quarter to go. I have to push, just as I’m most tempted to give up. I can’t read what the finish clock says, so I’m just going with faith that I’ve raced hard enough. This is the hardest I’ve raced in recent memory. I see the 200m sign and then am able to make out the clock. It still says 5-something. But 5-what?!

As I’m about 50m out I can see it’s in the 5:40s. Okay, this is doable. I keep going. I cross. I hit STOP. It says 5:57.5. I can’t breathe. People come up and talk to me and I can’t speak. I’m drooling. This isn’t pretty.

Okay, I’m fine in half a minute. I chat with a few people, real friends and formerly those who I knew only in the virtual realm. I look around and realized that this was a competitive race. This is confirmed when I look at results — the 45-49 women were far harder to beat than were the 40-44 in terms of field depth. Where’d all these fast pre-menopausal women come from all of a sudden?

Six of them came in ahead of me. Another four in the 40-44 crowd beat me too. I was 11th masters.

I’m happy with this race, but I’m happier with what this race means: I have raw speed that I can develop; I have clues about how to train safely and effectively; but mostly, I feel as if I’ve discovered some kind of dust- and rust-covered treasure, lying in the corner, perhaps buried under all the piles of marathons. The Mile. The mile and its cousins.

Today’s race event featured two acts, actually. My race was Act 1. I’ll cover what happened in Act 2, the professionals’ races, in a post tomorrow.

Race Report: Sunset & Suds 5K

Racing a 5K while trying to peak for a road mile probably wasn’t the wisest move. Conventional training wisdom would probably dictate shorter, faster work in the weeks leading up to the Fifth Avenue Mile (which is next Saturday). But following conventional training wisdom has often been a crapshoot for me, so I figured I’d race it and get some fitness on the endurance end of the spectrum.

The heat in New York has finally broken (I hope) for the summer and we were given cool, overcast conditions on Thursday evening. Unfortunately, there was a hellacious NW to SE headwind (although it shifted around at times). I stupidly failed to heed it in the first half mile of the race and paid for that stubbornness later on.

Long story short, I finished in 21:46, which is 24 33 seconds off my PR at the 5K distance. I have a feeling that I might have been able to get closer to, or perhaps even best, that time had it not been so windy, but I’ll never know. The wind affected us for about half the race, which is run along a north-south path that runs along the Hudson in Riverside Park. I had a feeling that I was running slightly too fast in the beginning, but since this wasn’t a goal race I figured I could afford to experiment. I came through the first mile in 6:49. Yes, with that headwind, that was probably about 10 seconds too fast.

In the second mile we headed south, then turned around. But by this time the sun was down and we were running in the dark. Since was afraid of twisting an ankle on uneven pavement, I was somewhat cautious going under an overpass. Yeah, lost tons of time there. Sure. No, I was just tired during that mile. That one clocked in at 7:11.

Heading back north into the third mile I was feeling low energy. This was a good thing to experience because it convinced me that I need to lay off the calorie restriction in the days before the Fifth Avenue race. I was also incredibly thirsty and grabbed a bottle of water off the table, took a few sips and then — feeling awkward — dropped it off to the side. No one else was taking water and I hate throwing bottles on the ground. It seems so rude.

As we headed up toward the little loop that marks the northern end of the course I got some energy back, but, boy, was I sick of that full on headwind coming from the north by then. I will say that we had a lovely sunset over New Jersey (that’s the “sunset” part), although it’s hard to appreciate a sunset when you feel as if you’re about to puke up your spleen. We turned to head south and that was a relief, but I was feeling done. When the woman calling the splits at mile 3 said, “21:10,” I knew I’d blown a chance at a PR. And yet, in front of me was a woman with whom I’d been playing “Pass me! Now I’ll pass you!” throughout the entire race. I decided to try passing her, which I did, and found some speed for the last .1, which I ran at 6:22 pace.

The woman who won the race in just under 19 minutes is 39. So it’s a little hard to be proud of a “first master” status. I’ll take it, though. I was 7th female overall. The race field was probably under 100 total. I love small races. The post-race beer (that’s the “suds” part) and chitchat with teammates and others was a bonus.

What I learned, besides the fact that I need to eat more before racing, is that if you train for a mile it’s hard to pull off even a decent 5K. My endurance over anything longer than about 3K is not there anymore. That’s so odd to me. I’m so used to being able to sustain an effort over long (sometimes very long) distances. I wouldn’t dare enter even a 10K now.

Even though the mile race is next weekend, I’m already looking ahead. In some ways I feel that the Fifth Avenue race will take care of itself. There’s no workout I can do at this late stage that will get me any readier for it, and in fact doing too much will only detract. I have a little session planned for Tuesday, just 1-2 800s and a couple of 400s. But I may even skip that if I’m feeling at all tired or if anything anywhere hurts.

I’ll take a little down time in the week after that race and just run easy. Then I go straight into 5K training with one tempo run and one speed session every week, plus one longer recovery pace run. I think those will top out at 10 miles. Upper mileage limit will be around 55 or so.

My next planned race is a 5 miler in late October, the Poland Spring Marathon Kickoff (a raincheck for the cancelled Percy Sutton race). The last time I ran that race I suffered a violent hamstring pull. Good times. I did find another road mile in mid-October, the Harry Chapin Run Against Hunger. That’s billed as a “fun run.” But I am incapable of doing fun runs. I will be out for blood as usual.

Race Report: Tuckahoe Mile

Well, I won. I wish I could say this was a hard race to win, but it wasn’t. In some ways, winning was a drawback. Read on.

My winning time was not great, but it wasn’t terrible either. It’s about where I expected to be: 6:09.

I was incredibly nervous before this race for some reason. My heart was pounding right before the horn sounded. I’m not sure why. I suppose one possible reason is that it’s been so long since I raced a mile that I wasn’t sure what the right effort would be, so I was afraid of blowing it by running either way too fast or way too slow. But I think most of my nervousness had to do with the fact that this was my one chance to evaluate how I would do in a road mile prior to the Fifth Avenue Mile. What I was most worried about happening was that I would race my hardest and steadiest, yet bomb and run something like a 6:30. What would I do with that? Give up? I wasn’t sure.

Fortunately, not only did I not bomb, but I could have raced harder. This was a good realization to have today, two weeks before the day on which I need to race race. I am confident that I can run a bit harder than I did today. If conditions are right, that could get me below 6:00.

With my handy Garmin set to record 200m splits, here’s how I made out (splits are rounded up or down from the hundredths):

200: 43
400: 45
600: 48
800: 48
— 3:04 at the halfway, hairpin U-turn –
1000: 48
1200: 46
1400: 45
1600: 46

I started in the second row, since I did not want to battle the likes of Joe Garland (Warren Street) and Kevin Shelton-Smith (Van Cortlandt Track Club) from the gun. The first 200 was a little “fast”* because I was somewhat crazed with trying to not get trapped by slower runners. For the first 400 I was feeling a sharp pain in whatever the smaller quad is in the front of my left thigh. That was worrisome and partially responsible for my lowering the effort a little. But that pain ebbed in short order.

For most of the race there was just one woman ahead of me (and I’m pretty sure I was well inside the top 10 overall). She was running a steady pace so I thought I’d have trouble catching her. But I passed her at about the 1300 mark, and as that happened I kind of settled mentally and didn’t kill myself in the last few hundred meters.

I had hoped to run even 45s and then pick it up for the last 400m. But I got freaked out by a headwind for the first half that, while not strong, was still noticeable. In my last few track workouts I’ve seen how quickly — instantly! — I can go from redlining to running out of air and/or muscle strength. I did not want that to happen in the first half mile. So I held back a little more than I needed to. That U-turn stole some time too, something that will not be an issue in two weeks.

I didn’t go into this race with a goal to win, but when I realized I was going to win my competitive instincts took a quick nosedive. I should have run harder those last few hundred meters, but I’m not going to beat myself up over that too much. This was a time trial and opportunity to make some experiential observations. The race was a success in those regards.

With the information gathered, I’ll have a few more specific training goals over the next few weeks. My pace sagged in the middle, which I suspect is a confidence issue and not a physical one. I need to focus on keeping up a constant effort without being afraid of a blowup in the second half. I have two more speed sessions. In those I’ll focus on running 800s in around 2:55 and doing some 400s in the 84-86 range.

There were some familiar faces in Tuckahoe today. As previously mentioned, Joe was there to run both the mile and 5 mile races, but suffered a pull early on in the mile race. I am hoping that it’s a big nothing like some other recent twinges he’s had. Joe has some video of today’s 5 miler up, including some of me, sitting (not running, thank goodness) and receiving Fifth Avenue Mile strategy tips from VCTC’s Ken Rolston.

Taconic’s Frank Colella and Emmy Stocker also turned up, and Emmy won the 5 Miler, despite protestations that she was tired. She’s not fooling me with this sandbagging act anymore, though!

Other random details: I was the only New York Harrier there, not surprisingly. But VCTC had a sizeable contingent — around six runners. Also, I wore my New Balance Minimus 10 Road racers. They were good to race in. I will probably try them for the 5K on Thursday. I discovered that one of the race’s sponsors is Hector’s Auto Repair, the scene of many repairs to our aging Toyota. Hector is a good mechanic — and by that I mean honest, accommodating and reasonably priced. The fact that he sponsored this race did not surprise me.

And, finally, here’s an idea for you race directors out there: pin one tee shirt of each size to the wall next to the registration table. That way, runners can evaluate way ahead of time what size shirt they will want. It’s so simple and obvious, yet I’ve never seen this done anywhere else.

Afterwards I decided to take advantage of Bicycle Sunday — the closure of a 7 mile stretch of the Bronx River Parkway on Sundays in September and October, along which bicyclists, rollerbladers (remember them?) and “joggers” are free to traverse between the hours of 10am and 2pm. I had a lot of life left in my legs because after a first mile at 9:20 I was cruising along in the low 8:00s, finishing up with a final mile at 7:44, for 6 miles at average 8:28 pace.

Good. Now I can eat.

*I use quotations around “fast” because ~44 is what I need to run my splits in for Fifth Avenue if I want to break 6:00. But let’s not think about that just yet.

Sunset & Suds 5K

Free beer. A lovely view. And running. What’s not to like?

If you’re looking for a fast, flat and accurately measured 5K, consider running September 15th’s Sunset & Suds. That’s a Thursday evening. The race starts at 7 pm. This race is a fundraiser for my team, the New York Harriers, and for your registration fee you’ll get the alcoholic version of the Olive Garden’s Neverending Pasta Bowl: a free beer mug and unlimited refills (or at least that’s what I’m told). I’m thinking it will be a lot less revolting than what Olive Garden gives you. That’s a good thing.

Here are details. You can register in person (or by mail, although you’re cutting it a little close at this point) at Urban Athletics’ uptown store or on race evening near the start at Hudson Beach Cafe on 105th and Riverside. Here’s the flyer (PDF).

So come on down, run with me, and then get totally ripped on a school night.

Race Report: NYRR Club Championships

Yesterday I was reminded of several things:

  • How daunting a prospect it is to excel in the NYRR club series when so many of the points races seem to fall in the summer
  • What a thrill it is to watch the faster local runners coming over the finish line
  • How many new people I’ve met in the past year since joining the New York Harriers, and how many new people I continue to meet
  • When it’s very hot and humid, it pays to be conservative in the early miles

Using my dad’s pied-à-terre on the west side as a home base, it was easy to get to the start area on 102nd Street, a 10 minute jog at most. Which makes the fact that I woke up at 4:15am even more irritating. But I can’t say I was surprised by this, since after three months of waking up at 5am to run before my commute (this fact amazed a coworker on Friday), I can’t sleep in no matter how late I go to bed.

But anyway. So we had a leisurely (very leisurely) breakfast and hopped over for number pickup with plenty of time for Jonathan to warm up for the men’s start at 8am. I bade him adieu, went to the start and shot video showing almost every single starter. I say almost because then I went to bag dropoff, used a portapotty and as I was heading over toward the ball fields to do a warmup two guys were frantically running toward the start. “It’s our first race!” they screamed (which didn’t make sense to me because you have to have run in at least two club points races previously this year in order to compete in the championships, but whatever). Even though they were 10 minutes after the start (the usual cutoff), they were allowed to go. All I can say is that I’m glad they weren’t Harriers. So embarrassing! (Just kidding; I once started the Bronx Half 10 minutes late).

Here’s the men’s start.

Speaking of Harriers, I saw shitloads of them. They were everywhere. I was saying “Hi!” right and left before the race, during the race and after the race. Harriers in the corrals, Harriers running on the course, Harriers screaming from the sidelines, exhausted Harriers wandering over to Harrier Rock in search of post-race alcohol and corn dogs, or whatever it is that Harriers eat when they socialize. It was a Harrier frenzy.

Unfortunately, we missed both the Harrier post-race gathering (the annual picnic, in fact) as well as the Warren Street post-race fete because we’d scheduled a Saturday afternoon soiree at our place (one runner, two non-runners, if you must know) since it was the only date available for everyone. We had to dash back home, as there was wine to be chilled and food to be prepared. But I’ll check out the picnic(s) next summer.

Hokay. So, Julie, how was the race?

It was pretty good, for such a hot and humid day. My time of 36:54 was nothing to write home about for a 5 miler normally, but I was happy with the way I ran yesterday. Jonathan’s advice was, “Keep some energy in reserve to get through mile 4 and you’ll be passing people like crazy in mile 5.” This turned out to be wise advice, although not always easy to follow. It took much patience, grasshopper.

I started at the front of the second corral, but the race was so small (around 500 women) that I was only about 8 rows back anyway. We started running and immediately there was a problem in front of me: a near pile up, with no apparent source, starring one of my favorite local bloggers, Washington Ran Here. Women were stopping, swerving, gasping in surprise. I was looking for a runner on the ground, but didn’t see anyone down when I ran by. Fortunately, everyone was okay.

We cleared that mess and then I spotted Emmy Stocker — outstanding Taconic Road Runners masters queen (she’s in the 50+ group) and sometime guest on the New York Running Show — just in front of me. Emmy always beats me. I caught up with her and said as much to her as we made our way west along the transverse toward West Side Drive.

“Hi, Emmy. You’re going to beat me again today.”

“Well, I don’t know. I ran an ultra last weekend.”

“You’ll beat me anyway. But if you don’t for some reason, you’ll have a great excuse.”

“Yeah. It’s called ‘old age.'”

I was going to reply that age seems to have no effect on her performances, but it took me a few seconds to formulate that thought into a coherent sentence. By then she’d taken off and was quickly headed out of earshot. That was last I saw of her.

Heeding Jonathan’s advice, I decided to run the first two miles like a hard tempo effort. No racing yet. The first mile is a rough one with lots of rolling hills, mostly up. I got passed sometimes, but was basically running with the same people for that mile. During mile 2 people really started to pass me. That was difficult to accept, but I was thinking a fair number of them would regret taking off so early on. The heat was rapidly becoming oppressive, especially in sunny spots. First two splits were 7:21 and 7:14. Breathing was one breath for every three footfalls. Not very high effort yet.

As we rounded the bottom of the park, people were still passing me and I was beginning to question this strategy. It was dispiriting, to say the least. But I kept at the same effort, passing mile 3 in 7:21. Now we were headed back uphill in that steady slog up the east side, culminating in Cat Hill. This is where the strategy started to pay off. I passed a few people on Cat Hill. Mile 4 was a not-terrible 7:53, meaning I lost about 30 seconds on the hills.

By this point I was breathing once every two footfalls. That was okay. It was time to race. We made the turn onto the straightaway that parallels Fifth Avenue. I love this part because I can recover a little from the hills and get ready to motor to the finish. There was a phalanx of people cheering on both sides near Engineer’s Gate. That was a boost. Then, beyond that, pockets of Harriers. One of them yelled, “Go, Jules!” which made me giggle, and a little sad, since my only friend who calls me that has moved away and I miss hearing that from her.

The last half mile was where the earlier miles’ discipline paid off. I overtook a few people as we made our way up toward the transverse, and nipped a few as we came around the turn toward the finish. Mile 5 was a solid 7:05.

Average pace was 7:23, which I’m pleased with considering that it was 73 degrees, 81% humidity and sunny.

Like an idiot, I wore black.

Race Report: Central Park Conservancy Run for Central Park

Well, I had a better race here than I did last year when it was, apparently, hot. Last year it was 82 degrees and 53% humidity. This year it was 72 degrees and 68% humidity. I don’t know what’s worse. Last year? Although I was verging on injury at this time last year. I ran this race three weeks before I’d suffer a pelvic stress fracture in the club championships that would sideline me totally for 3+ months, then take another 4 after that to run normally again. I was also fatter then. Fat is a great insulator, which is not so great in the summer in New York City.

So. Let’s move on.

At this point, I’m happy just to be racing, so I don’t go in with any goals other than to emerge at the finish without a new and exotic injury. A decent time is a cherry on top. But I’m not trained yet, so I’m not expecting PRs at this point. I came in at 29:16, which is better than last year’s 30:05 but well off my best on this course of 27:34. I am a winter racer, that much is clear.

Jonathan and I stayed at my dad’s place on 92nd, which was a good call. We could have a fairly relaxed breakfast (especially since I woke up 45 minutes early), then jog the 1.5 miles to the start. After that we parted ways and went to do our little warmups. To be honest, I felt like crap. My freelance gig has been exhausting and a daily three hour commute through heat has taken its toll. I also wondered if my legs were still beaten up from the Van Cortlandt race nine days ago. My strides sucked. So I stopped doing them and just figured I’d run within whatever the conditions (the weather and my own) would dictate.

On the way to the corral I ran into teammate Joni, whom I’d met just once before, way back in December at the Harriers’ holiday bash and had since picked his brain via email for an article I did about cross-training (he generously shared his yoga knowledge). It turns out he’s been injured since then. I empathized with his tale of woe. We chatted in the corral for a while and then fell silent to listen to what was one of the most honest renditions of the Star Spangled Banner I’ve heard in a while. The singer was having some throat problems and, midway through the song, she audibly cleared her throat. I thought that was great. You do what you need to do, sister. Then she finished up in full form, no longer held back by the frog in her throat.

The race started and, since we were toward the back of corral 2, it was a walk-stop-jog-stop affair as we made our way up to the start mats. As always, it was pretty crowded, but I was able to weave through people.

Going out too fast. Dammit.

I pride myself on being a runner who does not normally go out too fast. But when you race after a layoff, it’s impossible to know how fast to run. You never want to run too slow. Oh, no. Never. Not that. So this happens sometimes. What I don’t like is how long it takes to realize I’ve made the mistake and then the sense of trepidation that accompanies the realization. Oh, I’m gonna pay for this.

I felt great during the first mile. Of course. I even felt pretty good through most of mile 2. But as we rounded the turn on to the 102nd St. Transverse, my legs were not happy. So they went on strike. I must have lost about 15 seconds on that mile, plodding along. Joni passed me. “Good for him,” I thought. “At least he’s having a good comeback race.” Then, into mile 3 (which is always a bad mile, what with the rolling hills), teammate Becky appeared beside me and said “Hi.” That was nice. But she passed me, which wasn’t. Lots of people were passing me. Now I was getting mad at myself.

It was fucking hot, especially in the sun. Here is where I regretted joining a team whose colors are black and black. I made a mental note to keep bugging the management to give us a white option.

At a crest of a hill, four Harriers were out cheering. I’d seen them earlier, when I was running my folly pace. Now I just felt ashamed. But it was good to see them anyway. Being cheered at always helps, even as it brings up complicated emotions.

Toward the end of mile 3 I rallied. I enjoy the last mile of this course. It’s either downhill or flat and I always pick off shitloads of people in this stretch. It’s usually my fastest mile of the race. I picked out a bunch of Ponytail Girls and gradually ran them all down. Go, me.

Make the turn on to the 72nd St. Transverse. I like this stretch too, because I can make a wide turn (“Slingshot the turn!” in Larry Rawson parlance), pick it up and feel like a rock star. The finish is pretty close. The clock’s approaching 30:00, but I know I lost time in the start mat clog. It’s lying to me.

Cross the mat in 29:16.

Considering the crap pacing, I’ll take it.

Race Report: Van Cortlandt Park 2×2 Relay

On Thursday evening I cajoled Jonathan into joining me for a race in Van Cortlandt Park. It was an evening of firsts: my first joint race with Jonathan; my first cross-country race ever; my first time on the Van Cortlandt course; my first time running in new, strange shoes; my first experience of winning baked goods.

It was also the first real race I’ve done since the Scotland Run 10K way back in April. That was a good race but since then my racing and running have left lots to be desired. A boatload of stress, travel and disaster in my personal life curtailed training for most of May. Then in the first week of June I suffered a calf injury that took a month to sort itself out. Since I have a few races coming up, I wanted to test out my calf to see if it could handle faster running on hills. I figured that if I was going to test it out, I may as well go for broke and run it up and down some serious hills. So Van Cortlandt it was.

Since I’m presently working in Manhattan, I had to drag my running gear into the city and dash off to the office bathroom to change into my superhero custume after work. Once in the bathroom stall, I discovered to my horror that I’d forgotten to pack a running bra. If you’ve seen me run (or just stand there, for that matter), you’ll know that this is an essential piece of running equipment for me. A quick, panicky call to Jonathan — complete with his wandering through the house, digging through drawers and laundry baskets — headed off this potential disaster.

The next order of business was getting up to the park. Fortunately, I work near Penn Station, so I hopped on the 2 express, transferred to the 1 local at 72nd Street, and snoozed through the 400+ stops up to end of the line in the Bronx. From there it was a quick walk up to race registration (at the Tortoise and Hare statue, directly opposite the sponsoring bakery, Lloyd’s Carrot Cake), where I met up with Jonathan, surreptitiously grabbed my bra for swap in the portapotty, and got ready to rock The Hill.

Side note: these races are bargains at $5. But, alas, this year they did not allow us to pick team names. Which is too bad because a lot of thought was put into our candidates: “We’re, Like, 100 Years Old,” “Amygdala Hijack,” and “Me Love You Long Time.”

The Trail Minimus 10

Before the race I experienced extreme indecision about what shoes to wear. I’d worn my new shoes: the New Balance Minimum 10s (trail), but so far I’ve just used them for walking around. For racing, I’d brought my Asics Dirt Devil Divas (I hate that shoe name), and had swapped the nub/cleaty things for the spikes. But after warming up in them along the gravel path that makes up about a third of the course, I was thinking those would drive me crazy. Every step was a hard shock to my feet. So I threw caution to the wind and strapped on the New Balance shoes. I’m happy to report that they are fantastic racers. Lots of grip, even on gravel, and they were great on the dirt hills.

I saw fellow podcast hosts and friends Joe Garland and Steve Lastoe and met a few people who were new to me. The race started a little late, but that was fine. I decided to let Jonathan run the first leg just in case my calf decided to rebel. That way, he’d at least get a good race in even if I didn’t. It was exciting to line up and wait for him. What happens is that the first runners start, running along the gravel path that will take them up into the hills of the park, then they come back along the path back to the start (so it’s a “lollipop” course). At that point we’re all waiting to hear their number called (and we can see them heading toward us). Once our partner reaches the start line, we give them a hand slap (or a nod or verbal attaboy or whatever) and start racing north ourselves.

The course is brutal, especially under Summer in New York conditions, which on Thursday were, as one Facebook friend called it, “Mombasa like.” But I raced at as high an effort as possible, perhaps holding back a little in the first half since I didn’t know how bad “the hill” would be. It was bad. I got passed by a few guys. But no women. Coming downhill was also a challenge, as light was fading and the path is quite rutted in spots, plus there’s a 90 degree left turn to make at the bottom. I was not about to blow the rest of my summer racing season by falling on my ass in the throwaway race. So I came down on the cautious side.

We finished in 28:20 by my watch, with Jonathan running a 13:04 and I a 15:16. That was good enough to get us first in the 100+ mixed couples category, which yielded two really good carrot cake muffins and two Barefoot Contessa-sized shirt tents. It was fun. I’ll go back for more races there, probably as early as July 21.

Us. I'm almost certainly saying something rude and/or smartassed to Jonathan.

While we were milling around afterwards someone came up and asked me about the Sunset and Suds 5K, which I remembered that my team, the New York Harriers, is involved with. I didn’t know much, although I told him where to go get information. Then he asked me lots of questions about the Harriers. It was then that I realized that when you wear a team shirt, this will happen. I extolled the club’s virtues (wild sex parties, free acid and discounts at Staples) and may have recruited a new member in the process.

Best of all, I didn’t get reinjured or even have any hints of a problem with the calf. Plus I enjoyed myself. Good race. I feel pretty confident going into the Central Park 4 Miler in a couple of weeks.

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