It snowed like crazy on Saturday morning. At least, crazy for NYC. Several inches coated the ground. It was the good kind of snow: soft, light, and dry. As it turned to city slush, running on the sidewalks was impossible. I ran a comically slow two miles in Riverside Park on unplowed pathways, lifting up my feet up on every step, essentially doing high knees for 26 minutes. Yes, my pace was 13:05 minutes a mile, the slowest it has ever been.
The next morning was a complete reversal of the day before. The snow had mostly melted, the sun was shining, and I ran the fastest 5K of my life. Would you like more details about this? Great, here are too many of them.
I was excited for Sunday’s 5K. This was the first in a series of NYRR races that counted for team points, a concept I am still in the process of wrapping my head around seeing as I am new to the whole running club scene. There are certain races throughout the year in which teams (i.e. my team, the New York Harriers) receive points depending on how well their runners do, and the Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K was the first such race of the year. (I will henceforth refer to this race as the Washington Heights 5K because, as much as I appreciate a well-placed Oxford comma, it’s a real mouthful.)
I was curious to find out how fast I could run a 5K. As some of you know, I’ve been after a faster 5K since last September when my 10K PR pace surpassed my 5K PR pace. I thought that last month’s Cupid’s Chase 5K would be my moment of redemption, but my loyal readers know how that turned out. (Still haven’t gotten that third place trophy!)
I hadn’t run the Washington Heights 5K before. I heard there were hills. This worried me a bit because I remember how last summer’s Percy Sutton 5K kind of bit me in the ass. Despite my PR at that race (24:00), I know I could have run it faster had I not slowed so much on those darn hills. Was I stronger now, six months later? I honestly wasn’t sure.
All I could do was study the elevation map, read through a detailed course strategy courtesy of the Harriers, and just work as hard as I could with the hills in mind. Obviously, I wasn’t planning on going full out, but at the same time I wanted to see what I was made of. A fine balance.
At 5 am on race morning, I was ready to rock. Somewhat. I had gotten up to pee at 2 and had the worst time getting back to sleep. I think I was awake until 3:45. I’m still not sure if the decaf Americano I’d had earlier that day was actually caffeinated or I was just super anxious about the race.
Either way, I was out of bed at 5 and had my usual breakfast of oat bran + fried egg (which I have recently been eating sunny-side up, salmonella scares be damned). I also made a cup of French Vanilla caffeinated coffee. My usual coffee blend is about 80% decaf and 20% caffeine (I grind two different beans together) because 100% caffeine usually makes me too loopy. But I thought for race morning, I might be able to convert the additional loopiness into speed, so I bought some caffeine beans.
I also decided to have a little something extra. This might look weird but it’s my favorite snack and I eat it after dinner just about every night: several pitted dates (cut in half), a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter, and a dash of cinnamon. I figured the sugar from the dates and the protein and fat from the small amount of peanut butter would be a little extra kick to help fuel me for the next few hours.
I also downed a big glass of water. Sorry, I did not take a picture of the big glass of water. You’ll just have to use your imagination.
After doing my daily Duolingo lessons (886 day streak, suckers), walking my dog, doing my warm-ups, taking too much time to pin my bib extremely straight even though literally nobody cares if it’s straight, and going to the bathroom no fewer than four times, I was ready to roll at 7:30. It was in the upper 30s and sunny so a tank and arm sleeves it was. I was on the fence about wearing shorts and, to be totally honest, the only reason I didn’t is because I didn’t feel like shaving my legs.
These leggings are from Moret Ultra. I bought them when I lived on Long Island, and while I like their look and they’re decent for running, they are not good for racing. More on that to come.
I walked up one subway stop for some more warming up and waited for the next train. It was only four stops away so I got there in no time. From there I did some light jogging up to the race start, about two thirds of a mile. This was my only running warm up. I usually do a little more than that but I felt pretty good. Maybe the caffeine helped. I can see why people like caffeine.
After checking my hoodie and stopping in a porta-potty for that morning’s sixth pee, I heard someone call my name. The Harriers were there! Even though I joined the club eight months ago, part of me is still surprised when any of them recognize me. I think I’m still haunted by that time in second grade when I wore two braids in my hair for the first time and my own bus driver didn’t know who I was and didn’t want to let me on the bus after school. I swear to god, I still think about that. Should I be in therapy?
Anyway, after talking to fellow Harrier Donna about the merits of tank top vs. long sleeves, she decided to join me in freeing the armpit and took off her long sleeved shirt. Even though it was in the upper 30s, the sun and lack of wind made it feel comfortable to me. As usual, only my fingers were a bit cold.
Soon we headed to the start corrals. So happy that there were a few of us Harrier ladies in corral D!
I also saw my friend Elle, runner and author of the great blog A Fast Paced Life, also assigned to corral D. Elle is a member of the Prospect Park Track Club. She wore one of her husband’s old jackets to stay warm and discarded it minutes before the start – although this would have been a hilarious race outfit for someone who just QUALIFIED FOR THE BOSTON MARATHON, HELLO.
The D was ready to rock.
After a wonderfully off-key rendition of the national anthem courtesy of what I can only assume was an adorable child, the race began. We had to wait a few minutes before D crossed the start, but in no time it was go time.
Even with the hills, I already knew I liked this course: there were no hard turns. It was a straight shot up Fort Washington Avenue, into Fort Tryon Park, around a wide loop, and then back down the same road we came up. No right angles. Unlike some races.
One thing I did in this race I don’t think I’ve done since Grete’s Great Gallop: I listened to music. I didn’t bring music to the NYC Marathon, nor to any race since. Lately, my audio of choice on runs are podcasts. But a couple of weeks ago, I decided to switch it up for a track workout and listen to some tunes. I think this actually helped push me, and made me more focused on my pace. So I thought I would try it again today.
I have an ever-evolving race playlist that I modified the night before. It’s not super long, as I hoped to only be running this race for about 24 minutes (or less, if all went well). I just picked a bunch of songs that I love to run to – some I chose for the music alone, and some for the music and the lyrics. It’s impossible to slow down while listening to songs with titles like “Work B**ch,” “Discipline,” “The Warrior,” and “Legs.” She’s got legs. She knows how to use them. I mean, that song is a no-brainer.
So I started off with the driving MBM song “God O.D., Pt. 1” as I made my way up Fort Washington Avenue. The course started off fairly flat, then a couple hills in the second half of mile 1. To my great relief, unlike the Percy Sutton 5K, the hills did not last very long. Hooray!
As usual, I had to do a bit of weaving in and out of people in that first mile. I’m still not sure if NYRR reevaluates runners each year to make sure they’re in the corral that best corresponds to their running abilities, but in every race I feel like there are a handful of runners who are… not. I don’t really understand why. But this is part of why my first mile is always my slowest.
The crowds along the sidelines were great. I’m so used to races in Central Park, but running along roads where people actually live seem to make a big difference – it’s a lot easier to cheer on runners when they are literally running outside your apartment building. This was cool and made the race more fun.
What was not fun were my damn leggings. They have this annoying habit of riding low, and apparently the faster I run, the more this happens. I kept having to hike them up. Worse, I wore “low rider” underpants that kept feeling like they were slipping down off my butt. After several awkward attempts at adjusting myself, I had to make peace with the fact that my underwear and pants both felt like they were falling off. I just accepted it and kept going. But I am never wearing these leggings again in a race.
Still in mile 1, I was happy to hear one of my favorite songs from the 80s, Patty Smyth’s “The Warrior” start playing. What’s not to love about this song? Today’s audiences may know this song best from the opening of GLOW, but I remember this song from growing up because I am old.
How could these lyrics not make you run faster?
Shooting at the walls of heartache
Bang, bang, I am the warrior
Well, I am the warrior and heart to heart you’ll win
If you survive the warrior, the warrior
Although I didn’t feel much like a warrior when I heard my first mile pace.
MILE 1: 7:54
Oof, this was slower than my average 10K pace and not at all where I wanted to be for this race. Time to get to work.
Luckily, the start of mile 2 came with a beautiful downhill section. Ah, lovely downhills. I picked up the pace here. I’m trying to remember anything at all besides what was in front me, but I was so focused. I was aware that there was some live music along the course – I can only assume, from the race’s full name, that one was a salsa band and one was a blues band. Was there also a shamrocks band? I don’t know. Actually, I’m not sure what shamrocks had to do with any of this.
These out and back type courses are fun because you get to see runners on the other side: the ones ahead of you going up, and the ones behind you going down. I don’t normally get to see the lead men’s pack coming right at me. How fast were they running, I wondered? Could I keep up with them for even ten seconds? I concluded that no, I could not.
We soon entered Fort Tryon Park. Here, I turned another gear. I’m not sure exactly what shifted or how, but I had a surge of energy. The road narrowed here and I found myself frustrated at clumps of runners in front of me who weren’t going as fast as I wanted to. I wasn’t about to let them damage a potential PR, so I found myself weaving in and out, much like I do in the race’s first half mile. Weave, surge. Weave, surge. I kept moving up, moving forward, and getting faster. Every time I surged up out of a clump, I’d find another one right in front of me. I kept pushing. Before I knew it, we had made it around the bend and were headed out of the park.
ZZ Top’s “Legs” had begun in the park, which was fitting.
I had decided not to look at my watch. At all. I’d hear each mile’s pace in my headphones, but that’s it. No looking. It wouldn’t make a difference. I was just going as fast as I knew I could given the distance remaining.
MILE 2: 7:27
There we go. That was more of the kind of pace I’d wanted to run. Now to see if I could keep it up for another mile.
Mile 3 was just straight back down Fort Washington Avenue. At this point, we were passing all of the runners behind us on the other side of the road. I wanted to shout “It gets better in the park!” But I didn’t have any spare breath. What had been the lovely downhills were now the grueling uphills. I stayed focused, and tried looking up and ahead and not down. I knew any picture of me here would not make the cut for NYRR’s photo albums because I was not smiling. I was gritting my teeth. Not in pain, but in determination. I remembered the wise words of something one of the Harriers had said about the course: “Let the hills do the work.” I’m not sure what this advice did, but it worked. I felt myself lower to the ground, my cadence quickening. I made it up the final hill with half a mile to go, and ran even faster.
I felt great. I was doing it. I was running as fast as I physically could, and I had a good feeling I might PR today.
MILE 3: 7:23
I am pretty sure that’s the second fastest mile I’ve ever run in a race longer than a mile. I think my fastest is still 7:18 during the flattest part of Grete’s Great Gallop. But for me, a 7:23 mile is nothing to sneeze at.
From maybe 400 yards to the finish, I had the biggest smile on my face. As I whizzed past the crowds I actually heard a woman say “Harriers… look at that big smile” and I thought “Hey, I think that’s me!”
I was flying. I might have pumped the air with my fist as I crossed the finish.
MILE 0.12: 6:34
As I crossed the finish, I looked at the time on my Garmin and saw the number 23. Holy shit. Well under 24 minutes. I had PR’d. I was so happy. I was gasping for air and practically crying. Crasping?
You can actually see one of my tears in this one (and look, Donna right behind me! She actually finished 20 seconds ahead of me). Man, I felt so good.
I checked my unofficial time on NYRR’s app. Sure enough: 23:31. A 29-second PR. Overall 7:34 pace. Finally! A 5K pace that is faster than my 10K pace!
As always, I picked up my NYRR Apple & Bagel™ – the apple to inhale ASAP and the bagel to save for later.
Many of the Harriers headed north to Le Chéile for brunch, a charming restaurant on 181st Street that was not French, as I had assumed from the name, but Irish. (Le Chéile is a Gaelic phrase that I just learned means “together.”)
Eggs Benedict, sauce on the side so I could drizzle it myself (some places literally drown the eggs so I don’t like to chance it), with an additional treat: my first ever taste of black pudding courtesy of fellow Harrier and new friend Maura.
Brunch was great and the place was lovely – they let us all have the upstairs of the restaurant and everything was quick and good. We were all checking the app for the official results and they came in sooner than they usually do. I was thrilled to see that I had finished in second place for the Harriers’ masters (40+) women!
This really hit home for me. Suddenly, not only is improving my own time an incentive for doing well in races, but contributing to getting points for my team is something to strive for. Before this moment, I don’t think this had fully occurred to me as a possibility, because I still have trouble believing that I am fast.
By the time I got home, I was ready to eat again so I toasted my bagel and put some peanut butter on it. I really love eating.
What a great morning. So happy I joined the Harriers, and so proud of myself that I am still improving at age 44. What should my next 5K goal be? Breaking 23:00? Sure, why not?
– Time: 23:31
– Pace: 7:34/m
– Age Group: 19/374
– Women: 213/2528
– Overall: 1144/5129