I would not normally suggest racing a 5K only 13 days after one has run a marathon, unless the 5K is very special, and this one was, so I did. I wrote a whole post about why the 5K was important to me so I won’t rehash the whole thing here, only to say that it takes place in my hometown of Northport, Long Island and I had wanted to run it for the past two years but didn’t get to until this year.
The Run for the Health of It 5K was to take place on Mother’s Day weekend (good, mothers should get an entire weekend) through the streets I had so fondly run on during the year and a half I lived in Northport helping to take care of my mom Joan, and then, after she died, her dogs and her house. My sister’s family still lives there; my dad was planning to be at the race; I knew some people running it. Plus, the chance to meet 1970s NYC Marathon winners Nina Kuscsik and Gary Muhrcke – who would be honored at the race – was too good an opportunity to pass up.
I trained lightly for this race. On the Saturday after the New Jersey Marathon I felt good enough to run again. For the next week, I kept my runs on the short and slow side with the exception of Wednesday when I went to the track for an intervals workout to remind the old legs how to turn over. I kept it short and easy Thursday and Friday. By Saturday morning, I was ready for the 5K.
The race start was at 9 am. Since I was coming in from the city, I had my oat bran + egg breakfast and a cup of coffee at 4:15 so I could make a 5:55 train. I brought a thermos of Nuun water for the train ride out so I could get some electrolytes. I wanted just one more thing to eat so at Penn Station I went to Au Bon Pain (thankfully open at 5:45 am on a Saturday) and after looking over the tempting pastries I opted for just a banana and black coffee. I didn’t want a load of bread in my stomach, just some easy-to-digest calories. And more caffeine couldn’t hurt.
I finished everything by 7. The more I race, the more I’m learning about what works best for me, and I’ve decided I like to be done eating and drinking two hours before a race. I don’t want to be sipping water right up until the start. I’d honestly rather be slightly under-hydrated than feel the urge to pee.
My dad picked me up at the station and we went to my sister’s house where I got changed and did some warm ups. The kids’ fun run was to start at 8:30 and my two nephews were preparing to run that for the first time.
I had a strategy for this race, which was unusual because normally my 5K strategy is just “run fast but not too fast but also fast.” I have probably run more 5K races than any other distance and, for some reason, it is the distance I still haven’t truly learned how to race. Sometimes I start out too slow and then run a much faster second and third mile, or there’s some big hill that throws me off, or maybe it’s not entirely my fault because the course has too many icy potholes. There’s not a lot of room for error. You mess up a mile, that’s a whole third of your race.
I think I have yet to run a great 5K, despite my times improving over the last two years. I always seem to finish them with a feeling of regret or wish that I had done something differently.
Anyway, my strategy was to see if I could maintain a pace in the low 7:20s for 3.1 miles. The last 5K I ran (in 23:31) was an average 7:34 pace but included two miles in the 7:20s. Here was my shot at seeing if I could run a race with three of them.
We were fortunate to have a great weather day for running: low 60s, partly cloudy, hardly any wind. I wore an old tank top, a new pair of shorts, and my NJ Marathon Saucony Kinvara 10s. I felt really good. No weird muscle issues or anything. I was ready to destroy this 5K (meaning, perhaps place second in my age group).
I love racing in the crowds of NYC but I think I love small town races even more – you don’t need to show up an hour early, there’s no need for bag check, no long lines for the bathroom or the free coffee provided. I miss being able to race more frequently on Long Island and was so happy to be here today.
The kids’ fun run went off a little after 8:30. It was maybe a quarter of a mile, just down one block and then a left turn and through the finish line of the 5K.
Here’s a nice look at my nephews’ stellar running form. I think I could take some lessons from them.
They had a blast and were two of the top three kids who crossed the finish. I think they could easily run the entire 5K next year.
After a three-quarter-mile warm up jog, a quick stop in the indoor bathroom (ah, yet another reason to love small town races), I made my way to the start. I noticed there wasn’t a starting mat, which immediately made me a little anxious because that meant we’d all be timed from the gun, not our chips. Luckily, the field wasn’t that big so I could easily start near the front.
I’m definitely not in a place where I feel comfortable starting right up front, but I think in a field of about 300 I’ve earned my place in the 6th or 7th row. I was never sure exactly where the start line was (there was no mark on the road, I think it was probably lined up with a telephone pole or something). I figured if anything, not starting via chip might have thrown off my time by a second or two. I wasn’t going to stress too much about it.
After all, I reminded myself that this was a fun race, and one of the reasons I had wanted to run it was so I could help raise money for Visiting Nurse Service’s Hospice House. This race wasn’t going to determine which NYRR corral I would be placed in or be a time qualifier for a marathon. I wanted to run a respectable time for me, but that wasn’t the only reason I was there.
After a music playlist helped get me through the NJ Marathon, I decided to do the same today. Looking back, I probably could have done without it and eliminated the need for my phone and headphones, but at the time I wanted the mental boost.
With my playlist on and just two fields showing on my Garmin – pace and distance – I started the race.
Although I hadn’t run this 5K before, I knew the course well. I’d looked it up online weeks ago and had it memorized. When I lived in Northport, many of my morning runs took me down Waterside (relatively flat), then up Norwood (an incline for the first half) and a left on Main. This race would have us going in the other direction: down Norwood for the first mile and a right on Waterside. In this direction, Norwood had a lovely downhill in mile 1, but we’d be coming back up that same hill in mile 3.
After rounding the crowded corner onto Norwood, I found my groove. There was a slight uphill here, but my legs were so fresh I easily crested it. I decided not to look at my watch too much. This might have been a mistake. Remember my strategy? I had planned on running in the 7:20s the whole time. I knew I was running much faster than that here. Maybe around a 7:00. At one point, I peeked at my watch: 6:50. Okay, yep, too fast. Did I slow down? Not yet. In the heat of the moment, I decided to throw my plan out the window. To hell with it. I was going to see just how long I could hold onto this pace.
The answer came soon: not long.
MILE 1: 6:55
This was very fast.
Just how fast is this for me? With the exception of the 5th Avenue Mile (a race that, as evident from its name, is only one mile long), this was the fastest mile I had ever run in a race. Ever. I had never run a faster mile in a race longer than a mile. In my life.
This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Because, you see – and I absolutely knew this as fact – this was not a pace I would be able to sustain for the entirety of the race. In fact, this pace was going to make me feel very tired, very soon.
Mile 2 took us along the stretch of Waterside that looks flat but is deceptively not flat. In fact, from my stats I can see that the second part of Waterside goes uphill, slowly, about 100 feet. This stretch of Waterside is also part of mile 5 in the Cow Harbor 10K, and one of the most tiring parts of that race.
There were a few spectators out watching and a water table along the road, but I kept my eyes fixed ahead. I could see a few runners up ahead of me who had been closer at one point – they were getting farther and farther away. I knew I was up front relative to the whole field, but there were definitely at least ten women in front of me. A few runners passed me on this road, and I passed a few others with great effort. My legs were not feeling so fresh anymore.
Every so often I would focus on my form, and that usually helped propel me a bit until I got winded and had to slow down. I glanced at my watch here and there, mostly seeing paces between 7:05 and 7:15. Still faster than I had anticipated running this. Apparently this would not be the day to stick to a plan.
Predictably, my pace slowed in the last part of mile 2 when we made a right onto Main. This is an uphill. It’s not super long, but at this point in the race, especially after the way I had gone out, it was painful. I slowed to what felt like a crawl – by the time we made a right onto Burr, I was running in the 8s, more along the lines of my half marathon pace. Oof.
MILE 2: 7:30
Burr started with a nice downhill and then what seemed mostly flat, but I couldn’t turn my legs over fast enough. What the hell had I been thinking going out at what was basically a mile pace? I took solace in the fact that we only had a mile to go. I was barely paying attention to my music. Looking back now, I’m thinking music might be more suited to half and full marathons, when you can kind of relax into a groove as opposed to going all out into heart attack territory.
A left onto Doris led to a steep downhill I had to be careful not to blast down, and then: the dreaded left onto Norwood. The hill.
I’d normally not even call this a “hill” but an incline. Jogging up it, it’s not much of anything – certainly not anything near the steepness of Harlem Hill or Cat Hill of Central Park. But in mile 3 of a 5K when you went out too fast? It was hell. It was hill hell.
I noticed no one was around me here. I was pretty much running alone. The leaders were up ahead and the rest of the pack was behind me. I wonder if I could have sped up if I’d had a competitor in sight.
My pace was firmly in the 8s here, slower than I ran my last two half marathons. Honestly, I’m not sure I could have done much better had I paced myself better in the beginning. I doubt I could have maintained a 7:20 on this stretch. I guess I’ll never know.
MILE 3: 7:53
The incline only lasted a quarter of a mile but felt like an eternity. Finally, it leveled out and we were flat. A beautiful downhill would lead to the finish.
At this point, I would have been happy with an average 7:30 pace.
Strangely, just as when I approached the NJ Marathon finish, a guy in a gray t-shirt on my left raced alongside me for a bit until he surged ahead. I sped up to my fastest pace of the race but still, I was too tired to catch him.
As the finish line grew closer, I saw a “22” on the clock. Would I actually finish a 5K in under 23 minutes?! I gave it all I had.
LAST 0.12 MILE: 6:15 pace
The answer would come from ubiquitous race announcer Terry Bisogno, who proclaimed “Ari Scott, New York City, at twenty-three.” So, 23 minutes. I had a quick flashback to last summer when I PR’d in a 5K in exactly 24 minutes. Here I was now, on a similar precipice, but a full minute faster.
My official finish time was actually 23:02. Average pace: 7:25 min/mile. Not the steady 7:20s pace I’d set out to achieve, but I got there in my own dumb way. That’s the fastest I’ve ever run a 5K and my fastest race pace ever outside of the 5th Avenue Mile. I’m pretty happy with it, even if I got it by being reckless in the beginning.
After I caught my breath, got a bottle of water, found my family and bitched to them about that last mile, my goal was to find Gary Muhrcke and Nina Kuscsik. I quickly found Gary, who had finished the race a few minutes after I had. (Gary finished the inaugural NYC Marathon in 1970 in first place with a time of 2:31:39, so I think we can all agree that he’ll always be faster than I am.)
Gary was SO NICE. Holy cow. So friendly and sweet. As my dad took our picture, Gary asked me how I did in the NYC Marathon, as I had told him I’d run my first last fall. I told him my goal had been to break 4 hours but I’d finished in 4:00:07. When his daughter heard me say that, she gasped. See? I knew it was a funny finish time. I assured Gary that I’d finished another marathon two weeks ago in 3:48:05 and he seemed happy about that.
Gary also talked to my dad and made my nephew laugh. Did I mention he also started Super Runners Shop? I’ve shopped there a bunch, but now I want to always shop there. In fact, I have to buy more Gu soon and I think that’s where I’ll go because last time they let me buy it in bulk. (By the way, I’d forgotten to bring my Gu to the race and didn’t take any before the start as planned. I wonder if that would have made a difference.)
Next, I wanted to meet Nina Kuscsik, but she was still running the race. At 80, Nina is a running legend: she was the first woman to officially win the Boston Marathon (after women were formally accepted as participants) and the co-founder with Kathrine Switzer of the Mini 10K, the oldest all-female road race in the country. Another thing I only recently learned: I knew that a sole female runner dropped out of that first NYC Marathon in 1970. I hadn’t known it was Nina. Her luck turned around two years later: she returned to win the race in both 1972 and 1973.
As they began the awards ceremony, I met Nina and talked with her a bit. What a sweetheart! I couldn’t believe I was standing next to such a legend. (And as a bonus, there’s Gary in the background.)
I also love this pic I snapped when they announced Nina’s name because she’s making almost the same expression as when she crossed the NYC Marathon finish in 1972. HOW CUTE IS THIS?
I won second place in my age group, and they awarded us Amazon gift cards which was super nice. Actually, I prefer that to a medal. Here is a pic my dad took of the top three 40-44 ladies. For some reason it looks like I am trying to shield my belly button with the envelope.
Despite my terrible race strategy, this was such a fun race and great morning. I’m so glad I was able to be there. I’m already looking forward to next year’s race. Maybe I’ll have learned how to run a 5K by then.
– Time: 23:02
– Pace: 7:25/m
– Age Group: 2/16
– Women: 13/140
– Overall: 57/285