Oh, happy day. I feel like little Charlie Bucket, having at last found the special, golden-ticketed chocolate bar. Sure, it’s not exactly a candy-filled wonderland with Gene Wilder and a cabal of singing and dancing orange dwarves. But it’s the next best thing: entrance to Corral 1 in NYRR races for the foreseeable future.
After my recent good two miler and Thursday’s fabulous track session, I was feeling pretty good about my chances today. The one worry that I couldn’t do anything about was the wind. Everything else that I had control over, I took care of.
I got to the park ridiculously early: at 8:40 for a 10:00 o’clock race. I did not want to get stuck in the back of Corral 2 again and have to spend the first mile fighting crowds. So I found Baggage, wandered around, did a 1 mile warmup, peed about nine times, and then headed to the corral at 9:30. With a magazine. A guy in Corral 1 teased me about bringing a magazine to the race, and I realized it probably was a bit weird. But it was either that or stand there and be nervous.
It was cold today, but the windchill was above freezing, which helped. I wore a disposable long sleeve race shirt and some disposable gloves, my lightest tights and a short sleeve tee. And my new favorite racers, the Asics Hyperspeeds. I was situated in the front of Corral 2, although Corral 1 was barely a third full. Once they removed the tape separating the corrals and we moved up, I was for all intents and purposes starting in Corral 1 anyway, maybe 5 seconds from the start mat.
Horn blows and I remember my mantra: “Just keeping running hard.” I have my watch set to show average pace. That’s all I need to see. In the first half mile my average pace is 6:36. Probably too fast, but whereas trying to bank time in a 10 miler and up is foolish, I’ve learned recently that you can get away with this in shorter races.
Then, at about the .75 mark, potential disaster strikes. Two giant black trucks are pulling out of a side driveway directly into our path. The first is stretched nearly across the course area, perpendicular to runners. A cop yells, “Hold up! Stop!” Yeah. Uh, huh. That’s going to happen.
This unexpected turn of events greatly displeases those of us who are approaching at approximately 9MPH. We swear at the cops. We call them idiots. I don’t know what’s happening behind me after I veer 90 degrees to go around their vehicles, but I hear a lot of yelling.
I’m so angry and freaked out that my heart rate has soared. I have to calm down. We’re turning onto Museum Mile and I remind myself that this is always a great stretch to regroup, since it’s the closest to flat you’ll get on that course. It’s also a long straightaway. So I cruise it, trying to relax a little and prepare for the hills that are coming in the second half.
I come through mile 1 in 6:47. Good. I have a 12 second credit in my account.
We hit the 102nd Street Transverse. My hands are boiling, so I dump the gloves along the side of the road, just before the turn onto West Side Drive. Second mile split is 6:48. Credit is now 25 seconds.
The worst part of the course is coming, a series of rolling hills, most of them up, that always both slows and wears me down. I know I will give back some seconds here; the question is how many.
Oh, it’s windy now too. There’s a brisk headwind coming from the E/SE. NYRR always underreports the wind in their stats: they say 6MPH. It was more like 10MPH steady with gusts.
Mile three sucks: 7:06. Credit has reduced to 19 seconds. One mile to go, much of it downhill. I do not want this to be a squeaker. But unless I blow up I think I’ve got this. Finally.
But now the wind is making me nervous. Was that last mile so slow because of the wind rather than the hills? If I ran 18 seconds slower in mile 3 than in miles 1 and 2, I could just lose this by a hair again. So I start running a little harder. I focus on hitting the tangents. I am passing people, people who are dying because they ran too hard up those hills. My legs are really starting to hurt. But I know this will be over with soon.
I also don’t see that many women. I see two a ways ahead of me. None are with me. It’s not a huge race, but, still, I’m surprised at how few of us there are. I’m not racing anyone else anyway, just the clock. I don’t give a shit about finishing position or awards or anything today. I just want to be wearing a fucking blue bib when I come back here next weekend.
We pass the Delacorte and the flat bit is in sight. If I can continue to motor along this I’ll be fine. I know it’s less than half a mile. I keep running hard. There’s the turn for the finish. In a final fit of obsessive-compulsive overachievement I decide that I won’t be happy unless I finish with a clock time of well under 28:00. I cross the mat with the clock reading 27:43.
Mile 4 was 6:42. Apparently I didn’t hit the tangents perfectly because my watch read 4.02. The .02 was run at 6:11 pace. Whee!
I was in such a good mood that I decided to get the 5 mile recovery run out of the way then and there. So after some water and an energy bar I was back out on the course, headed up to the transverse where, to my mild surprise, my gloves were still lying. A retrieved them, turned around, and headed back down the east side. Toward the 4.5 mile mark the 15K race leaders started coming through. I was glad I wasn’t running that race since the wind had picked up and it felt like the temperature had dropped.
By the time I got back to Baggage they’d posted the results. Well. To make a good day better, I discovered that not only had I won my first ever award in a NYRR race, but I’d done it with style: 1st in the 40-44 women’s AG. It’s a good thing my birthday is a week away because the 45-49 winner beat me by 16 seconds. I was 12th overall, out of over 1,300 women. I’m still in somewhat of a state of disbelief.
Manning the awards table was an elderly gentleman named Al Goldstein (not to be confused with the Al Goldstein of Screw Magazine fame). He gave me a congratulatory hug and told me that hugging attractive women on Sundays was the biggest fringe benefit of his volunteer job, which NYRR founding member Kurt Steiner gave to him in 1992.
While I was standing there chatting with him, I had a quintessential New York City moment. A woman came up to the awards table and picked up one of the awards, which are all the same: half inch thick blocks of plexiglass with the award details engraved on the back, so they show through the surface of the plastic (they make good paperweights). Al said, in a friendly yet firm voice, “Please don’t handle the awards.” To which the woman replied, “I was just trying to see if they were glass or plastic.”
Al said, “They’re plastic.”
To which she testily replied, “Well, this is a race to fight colon cancer. They shouldn’t be made of plastic since that causes cancer.”
Al gave her a look that I can only describe as withering. I was somewhat tempted to ask her if she was concerned that runners would insert the awards into their asses. Otherwise, what was the issue? But I decided against it.
So one of my unwritten goals for this season has been met: I’m now a blue bib girl. Next week I do my longest race yet this year, the Scotland 10K, back on those hills. I have no goals, although it would be nice to break 7:00 again.