I guess it’s somewhat ironic that one of my shortest races has taken a heck of a long time to recap. This is partly because I’ve been so busy with photography work lately, for which I am grateful. I’ve also been focusing on some fun, new, creative upcoming projects that I’m SO excited about and will let everyone know about in time. But right now, let’s get this done. This was a super fun race!
Those who follow me in places other than this blog may have already heard the story of how I decided to skip this year’s Queens 10K and instead take a 5:55 am train to Northport, Long Island, to run its annual mile race. A brief backstory:
Two years ago, in my pre-blog era (P.B.E.), I decided on a whim to run the Northport Nautical Mile. A nautical mile is 1.15 land miles. Northport is a nautical town (meaning it’s on a bay that has boats parked in it) so I guess someone thought this would be cute.
The only recent race I had run was the 2016 Thanksgiving Day 4 miler in the neighboring town of Huntington – at a 9:15 pace. Ridiculously slow for me now, but that’s because I had just gotten back into racing and had no idea what I was capable of, so I played it safe.
I didn’t have high hopes for the 2017 Nautical Mile in terms of my time. I just thought it would be fun and maybe a nice way to distract myself from the fact that my mom had cancer. (I’d moved back to Northport six months earlier to help take care of her. By June, she had gotten worse but we still didn’t know she was dying.)
I surprised myself by running a 7:49 pace – incredibly fast for me at the time. I don’t know if I had ever run a pace faster than 8:00 before that. Still, it didn’t occur to me to go to the awards. Instead, I hung out with my sister and her family at the farmer’s market.
Later, I looked up the results. I was shocked to see that I’d come in third in my age group. Third out of only 19, but still. I had never placed in a race before. I was amazed. And also pissed, because apparently I had missed out on posing for an award pic and taking home a pint glass as a prize. I remember my mom being super proud of me. She told me not to worry about the pint glass.
That race led me to believe that maybe I could get even faster if I just – and this is nuts, but hear me out – put in the work.
Last year, the Nautical Mile was originally going to take place on June 9th. So I signed up for the Queens 10K on June 16th. Later, the Mile was changed to the 16th. Queens had cost me 40 bucks. I ran Queens.
By September, my work was starting to pay off: I ran the Fifth Avenue Mile in 6:47.
This year, I really wanted to run the Mile again. Like last year, it coincided with the Queens 10K. Unlike last year, I chose the Mile.
I have to admit, I did not love the Queens 10K. I love Queens and I love 10Ks. I don’t like the course. Yes, it’s flat. But there are also 874 right angle turns. It’s relentlessly sunny in most parts. It takes a very long time for me to get there and back on the subway – honestly, probably just as long a trip, if not longer, than getting from Penn Station to Northport, Long Island. I am not exaggerating.
I thought running the 2019 Mile would be a nice way to bookend the last two years. My love of racing – and belief in my running abilities – really started with the 2017 race. Also, this race would be the last I would run in the 40-44 age group. My decision was easy.
There were new race directors this year and they had decided to change the race from a Nautical Mile to a Plain Old Mile – officially now named the “Northport Downhill Mile.” There was a bit of grumbling on the race’s Facebook page about this, as some thought that the nautical mile distance was a quirky, unique tradition that honored Northport’s seafaring history. I didn’t care either way. If anything, I was curious to see what my mile race pace was, so the change was fine with me.
To get to Northport for a 9:00 am race start, I needed to wake up in NYC at 3:30. As in, A.M. I ate breakfast upon waking. Recently, I made the switch from oat bran to steel cut oats. I like Trader Joe’s 8-minute steel cut oats because they’re cheap and filling. I find it heartier than oat bran. I’ve been adding a teaspoon of chia seeds during cooking. I still top it with a salt & pepper fried egg.
I also had a 16 oz. glass of water with a caffeinated Nuun tablet. I brought another caffeinated Nuun thermos of water for the ride and bought a small black coffee at Penn Station. I was set as far as caffeine. I brought a book for the train ride but it was hard to focus. Partly nerves, mostly caffeine.
My sister’s family in Northport live within walking distance of the train station. They weren’t home at the time but allowed me to use their back deck as a makeshift home base where I stored my bag and did my warm ups. The race start was two miles from the house. Perfect. That would be my running warm up.
The weather was without fault: low 70s and mostly sunny. I felt good. I’d gone to the bathroom on the Long Island Railroad so I was good on that front. I’d had about six times the amount of caffeine I have on a typical morning. I was pumped. It was hard keeping my pace down as I jogged to the start.
Running along the streets of Northport always brings back nice memories. Northport is lovely, quiet, and familiar. I love NYC but it is nice to run in other places sometimes, too.
The race start was in the same location as the Cow Harbor 10K start – another great Northport race I’m planning on doing again this fall. It’s right in front my old junior high, now a school administration office building. Decades ago, the building was the town’s high school. In fact, it’s where my father first taught as a 22-year-old high school English teacher.
I picked up my bib, politely declining the free cooler bag they were offering as a gift this year, only because I had nowhere to put it. I did some high knee drills and tried to keep moving.
I noted that there was no starting mat. I had a feeling that would be the case; I don’t think there was one two years ago, either. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have cared. This year, I did. No starting mat means that the farther back from the starting line you are, the more you’re screwed. I was determined to start up front. From the number of runners milling around, it didn’t look like this would be a problem.
A few minutes to 9:00, one of the race organizers directed the women to line up. The women would run at 9:00, the men at 9:15. I liked this arrangement – not because I have anything against running with men (as I previously stated in my Mini 10K recap), but rather this would mean a less congested course.
We were treated to a beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful” by a singer whose name I need to find out. She was great.
There were fewer women than I remember from two years ago. Elite Feats used to organize it and now they don’t. They’re pretty big; maybe their advertising back then had helped boost numbers? Not sure. But the lower turnout made me wonder what my chances were of not just age group placement – I was certain I’d place in the top three – but the more prestigious Master’s top three. Hmm. Was there a shot? Overall top three was not an option. Those ladies run paces in the 5:00s. My legs can’t do 5:00s.
I took my position at the front over on right side of the field. Ed Grenzig, the amazing photographer for Long Island Running Photos, got a nice pic of the start line. Naturally, I am looking at my phone.
I was looking at my phone for a good reason: I wanted to play a particular song. Did I really need to listen to music during a run that would most likely last less than seven minutes? No. But I wanted to. One of my favorite running playlist songs as of late has been Wolfsheim’s timeless “The Sparrows and the Nightingales.” When I realized the extended version I have is 6:45, I thought it’d be fun to see if I could finish the race before the song ended. A race within a race, if you will. Of course, I had to start the song before I began running as I didn’t want to be fumbling to put my phone away in my belt. So I was trying to time it perfectly.
Whether or not I would finish before Wolfsheim did, my main goal was to see if I could best my Fifth Avenue Mile time of 6:47. I was doubtful, as I haven’t exactly been training to run a mile race. But it wouldn’t hurt to try. Well, it might hurt a little.
Here is my only rant of this recap: This was, without a doubt, the messiest start of a race I have ever witnessed. No mat, as I said, and no actual starting line either. Also no horn, no gun, no loud sound to indicate the start. Just the race organizer counting down “Three, two–” and before his lips could even form the “o” sound in “two,” several women at the front started sprinting and that was that. We were off, I guess.
It’s not like my overall placement was going to be affected by a few women getting a split second head start, but man, that start was a mess. I think if they keep doing this race they need to figure out a way to clean it up. My two li’l cents.
I’d decided to program my Garmin to indicate quarter mile splits. This way I could get a sense of how I was doing throughout the race.
The first almost quarter mile took us down Laurel, at which point we would turn left for a mostly straight shot down Main, ending at the harbor. Only one right angle turn (#blessed). I was toward the front of the pack for this stretch, maybe in the top 15. I noticed two little girls ahead of me. Damn, I was being beaten by kids! But right before the turn, they faded and I passed them. I tried not to feel too smug.
1st QUARTER MILE: 1:29.0
So… this didn’t exactly register with me at the time. I’m used to seeing mile paces, not quarter mile paces. For some dumb reason I thought it might tell me my mile pace at this point but instead, obviously, it displayed the time it had taken me to run a quarter mile. If my brain had been fully functioning at the time, I would have realized something truly incredible: a sub-1:30 quarter mile is a sub-6:00 mile pace.
In other words, I had just run a quarter mile at a pace starting with the number “5.” I didn’t fully realize this until later. When I did, my jaw dropped.
Believe it or not, my goal had been to “take it easy” in the first quarter. Clearly, I had not done this. I slowed in the second quarter. Fortunately, the race was true to its name and it was all on a slight downhill. All I had to do was keep moving my legs as fast as I could without going all out. I passed another woman. Maybe two.
2nd QUARTER MILE: 1:38.7
Almost ten seconds slower than the first quarter. Not terrible, but naturally I was not able to keep up a sub-6:00 pace for a whole mile. So, expected. Wolfsheim still blasted in my ears.
It was fun running this fast. I’m not used to it. I’m still trying to figure it out. Obviously I can’t SPRINT like it’s the 100 yard dash in 5th grade field day, but at the same time, it’s only one mile. I felt like I was fairly consistent.
3rd QUARTER MILE: 1:38.1
And consistent I was, running the third quarter less than one second faster than the one before.
The last quarter mile had us going down Main Street, the busiest part of the course, meaning instead of two or three spectators, there were maybe 20? I wasn’t really paying attention. My eyes were fixated on the finish. I tried moving my legs faster, but my legs were like “screw you, you told us you were going to hold back in the beginning” and I was like “I know, I’m sorry” and they were not having it.
Wolfsheim stopped playing before I hit the finish. This was fine. I had started it too soon anyway.
4th QUARTER MILE: 1:44.3
Six seconds slower than the third quarter mile, but that’s okay, because I was done. Oh, almost.
LAST 0.01 MILE: 0:03.9
Okay, now I was done.
I stopped my Garmin. I’d run 1.01 miles. In 6:34. Wait, 6:34? As in… faster than 6:47?
I did make note of the fact that I’d run slightly longer than 1.00 mile, so maybe my pace would slow down a hair. Maybe 6:35. Was that possible?
It was. My official pace was 6:35. I finished 9th.
I knew I’d be getting an age group award, but now, seeing my time, I got greedy and decided I wanted the FIRST PLACE age group award. I still wasn’t sure about the Master’s top three. This race was known for having several female top finishers in their 40s. I was certain that one of them had finished well ahead of me.
I strolled through the farmer’s market a bit but didn’t want anything too heavy, as I had three more miles to run to get back to my sister’s.
Although it was tempting.
In the meantime, I watched this 80-something woman cross the finish. She walked the whole way. So inspiring. I sincerely hope that when I can no longer run, I will still be able to walk races.
I watched the first man cross the finish. Only 4:13? Pssh, I can do that. I just held back today.
Finally, I went over to the awards area. Ooh, a snack I can still run three miles on. Yes please. Thanks Copenhagen Bakery!
I’ll take one of those, too.
I waited anxiously as they announced the award winners. I did not place in the top three Master’s. But that was okay. There was still a chance of first place age group.
And guess what? I got it!
Thank you again to Long Island Running Photos for these great pics, by the way! As a photographer and as a runner, I was really impressed with them.
After I got my glass, I jogged three miles back to my sister’s, exactly the same way I’d come. It was a little weird running with a pint glass in my hand, but not only did it have a handy indentation where I could hold it securely, I was just so happy to have it that I didn’t even mind.
Look mom, I got my pint glass.
– Time: 6:35
– Age Group: 1/11
– Women: 9/89
3 thoughts on “Quest for the Holy Pint Glass: Northport Downhill Mile Race Recap”
Hey! Just wanted to say that I’ve been reading your blog lately and really like it. Good luck in the future!
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