It wasn’t like I needed to do another race this year. I’ve completed my 9+1. I’m a month away from the marathon. But I love racing and I love the 10K. And when I was looking for just one more race to do before marathon day, this one caught my eye.
I spent a lot of time over the summer watching 80s NYC marathon footage. Don’t worry, I’m working on a whole blog post about it. Although I knew who Grete Waitz was, I’m not sure I had ever actually seen her run. Unfortunately, I never will in person, as she passed away in 2011. But for the better part of 1978 to 1988, she dominated the NYC marathon in a way nobody had before or ever will again. She won the race nine times. Nine times. Even back then, they were saying her record would never be matched. So far, it hasn’t.
What I loved about watching Grete run was how smooth, calm, and collected she was. The epitome of cool. Her composed expression unchanging throughout each race, she never broke the tape with much more than a humble smile. She never boasted or did any kind of grandstanding. She didn’t want the attention. She didn’t even like the attention. She was immensely private; even after being diagnosed with cancer years later, she never revealed what kind she had. To this day, only her close friends, family, and former doctors have that knowledge. The public still doesn’t know and we don’t need to.
Which is all to say that I had come to greatly admire this great woman, so Grete’s Great Gallop seemed like a no-brainer. If I could run just one more race before the marathon, this would be it.
The race would be just over one loop in Central Park. Which was perfect, as that’s exactly where I do most of my running. And unlike the Mini 10K, this route would go counterclockwise – the direction in which 95% of runners, including myself, go every morning. All I’d have to do is run my usual Central Park route. Only faster.
The start was down at 72nd on the east side, so that would require a subway ride as opposed to a quick jog over, so I set my alarm for 4:30 to make sure I had enough time. My outer right calf had been a little stiff this week, and the night before I took a hot bath and did some extra foam rolling. I hoped for a pain-free race.
I had my usual oat bran breakfast as soon as I got up. I have this every morning and I’ve gotten so used to it. It’s perfect. I need to put the recipe up here and just link to it every time I mention it. I always add some chai seeds, rolled oats, and a dollup of peanut butter.
I wore my Harriers shirt (there weren’t many Harriers doing this race and I didn’t necessarily have to wear it but a lot of my other running shirts were dirty anyway) and a pair of Nike running shorts I bought a few months ago. The shorts are fitted, and my only fear was that I’d get super sweaty and look like I peed myself. This happened a few weeks ago on a humid day – getting super sweaty and looking like I peed myself, not actually peeing myself. But the temps were in the 60s this morning and it didn’t seem too humid. I decided to chance it.
There’s something fun about getting ready for a race before the sun comes up. I feel like I’m preparing for an adventure that nobody else knows about. Except for the other 6000 people running the race and the hundreds of volunteers, of course.
I subway’d down to 72nd and walked to Central Park, then jogged to the start at an easy 10:30 pace. My calf felt okay but not 100%. I kept stopping to massage it but I wasn’t sure if that was doing any good. I stopped on the grass outside my corral and went through my whole series of warm ups again. I figured I might as well – I got there kind of on the early side.
So, for the last few NYRR races, I kiiinda feel like I should be in the next corral up. I’ve been in D since last spring, and I’m constantly having to weave around people for the first half mile or so. This could just be me going out too fast like an asshole, but it always feels off in the beginning. I know it’s on me to run faster races to advance up the corral system, but until then, I just have to deal with it. I usually park myself right in the middle of the corral but, for today, I decided to get right up front. That way, once the corrals collapsed I’d pretty much be in the back of C. This makes no difference as far as our start time, as the chip on our bibs indicates that – I just want to start with slightly faster runners. Here’s hoping I move up to C one of these days.
As I stood in the corral, moving my feet a bit and trying to ignore the mosquito bites I had acquired while doing my warm ups on the grass, I told myself: “It’s just one loop. Just run it a little faster than normal.” That’s how I was thinking of this. Several years ago, one 6 mile loop around Central Park was my Sunday long run. Now? It’s a regular old weekday run. The distance is a lot “shorter” than it used to be.
We started on the east side of the loop, with Cat Hill greeting us right in mile 1. Cat Hill is about a quarter mile and not as steep as the north end’s Harlem Hill, but it’s a decent hill. It’s where I did that hill workout several weeks ago where I ran up it 8 times in a row, faster each time. Ever since that workout, I’ve tried running up Cat Hill as strongly as I could, even on easy runs. I think the practice has helped; I’ve also changed up my form on hills a bit, making my foot strike a lot lighter and my knees higher, which has made a huge difference. So I felt great getting up Cat Hill in this race, and I think I wound up passing everyone. Does this make me the smartest runner in the race? Nope! But it sure felt good.
The rest of mile 1 was relatively flat, my calf felt fine (which it usually does once I start running), and I felt strong, like I could probably keep up this pace for another 5 miles. Maybe.
MILE 1: 7:30
The second mile includes the easiest section of the loop: the ultra-flat stretch that runs along the east side around 90th Street. I knew I might not be able to maintain my pace here for the rest of the race, but I decided to push it a bit anyway. It’s always a gamble: do I push harder and pay for it later, or hold off and save my energy? I made the choice not to save my energy.
I had decided to do something else in this race: not look at my watch so much. During the Cow Harbor 10K three weeks ago, at one point I glanced at my pace and it read 7:20 or something, and I thought “shit, that’s too fast,” and I instinctively slowed down. Looking back, I’m not sure that was the best thing to do. Today, I didn’t want to be too in my head about pace. So although I did glance at my watch about once a mile, I wasn’t glued to it.
I think this helped. Mile 2 was the fastest mile I’ve ever run in a race longer than 3 miles.
MILE 2: 7:18
The third mile was at the north end of the loop: the first half down a steep hill followed by a flat stretch, then the second half going up Harlem Hill, the steepest one on the course. I didn’t attack Harlem Hill in the same way I had Cat Hill, but I’m proud to say I got up it much better than I have in previous races. I didn’t pass everyone, but I was okay with that. I slowed in this mile, as expected.
MILE 3: 7:43
Miles 4 and 5 went down the west side of the loop. There are a few rolling hills here, none of which are that big a deal on regular runs but are definitely more noticeable during races. I slowed a bit more in mile 4 as I caught my breath from Harlem Hill and went up one the rolling hills.
Although there were about 6000 runners in this race, I’m happy to say that there wasn’t really any crowding on the course, at least not around me. Often it seemed I was running alone, with a couple dozen feet in front of me completely empty. I felt like I had caught up to “my people,” and we were all going at similar paces at this point in the race.
But I was starting to feel depleted in this mile. I had gone out faster than I ever had in a 10K race, yet this “slow” mile – my slowest mile of the race – was still faster than the average pace of any 10K I’d ever done.
MILE 4: 7:49
Mile 5 continued down the west side, with more rolling hills, up and down, up and down. I pushed a little harder here, as I knew I only had two more miles to go. There’s something very short seeming about the idea of two miles. Three miles feels a little more substantial, but two feels like nothing. Whenever there’s two more miles to go in any run, I feel like it’s practically over.
I’d worn my headphones for this race, a last-minute decision due to the low humidity and my whole “why not” feel about it. Anne Clark’s “Our Darkness” came up on my playlist around here, a song from the 80s that I only recently discovered because somehow I had not heard every single song ever recorded in the 1980s. These lyrics struck a chord:
There has to be passion
A passion for living, surviving
And that means detachment
The song is not about running. But I like to take non-running lyrics and apply them to running. I think running is a combination of both passion and detachment. You need a bit of both in order to run well. And maybe, in a weird way, they’re good words to describe Grete Waitz. Thinking about this helped pass the time.
I went a little faster in mile 5.
MILE 5: 7:33
Mile 6 was mostly around the south loop of the park, a relatively flat stretch. By now, I knew I wouldn’t be negative-splitting in this race – I’d gone out too fast in the beginning. I had no kick at the end. I held on and did fine compared to my past races, but I didn’t knock it out of the park or anything. Once we approached 72nd, where we were to turn left toward the finish, I was relieved it was almost over. I wouldn’t have been able to hold on much longer at this pace.
MILE 6: 7:43
For the last 0.2 miles, I did manage to push it a bit more, squeaking by at a 7:20 pace.
These paces are all courtesy of my Garmin, which says I ran 6:32 miles. So the official results will differ a bit.
This is right after I crossed the finish. Hey look, I beat two guys from Corral C. I’m not going to say I told you so, but…
As always, the NYRR volunteers rocked the apples and bagels.
Ah, my favorite part of NYRR races!
And lo and behold… the dreaded “it’s not pee I swear” sweat stain. I KNEW this would happen. I should have bought these in black. Or just not sweat so damn much.
I got my picture taken with the 9+1 Qualifier sign. I even rang the bell, which felt weirdly obnoxious.
The crazy thing is, my pace for this 10K was faster than my pace for the Percy Sutton 5K I ran last month. This makes absolutely no sense and is just further proof than I am running 5Ks way too slow. I am itching to sign up for another, just so I can prove this to myself. But it’ll have to wait until after the marathon, and then at least a month after that.
I walked home after the race, completely forgetting to do a cool down run. Ah well. I’m really happy with my results:
– Time: 47:53 (PR)
– Pace: 7:43/m
– Age Group: 14/372
– Women: 123/3160
– Overall: 736/6065
And now, for a little taste of my playlist: