Grimace and Bear It: 2019 Great Cow Harbor 10K Race Recap

Hooo boy it’s been twelve years since I ran this race I’m about to recap! Wait, no… hold on… it’s been eight weeks. That’s it? It feels like twelve years. Weird.

I’ve apologized for being behind on this blog. I hope everyone knows how sorry I am by now. The funny thing is, once I start writing I LOVE it and I’m like, why did I not want to write? I love to write! What’s my problem? Still trying to figure that one out but I’ll be sure to update everyone once I do!

Anyway, let’s get to this favorite race of mine: The Great Cow Harbor 10 Kilometer Run in my lovely childhood hometown of Northport, Long Island.

If any race needs a backstory, it’s this one.

I first ran Cow Harbor as a 25-year-old in 1999 when I was a “3 days a week” runner and had only done a handful of casual 5Ks. My weekly long runs were an hour, which I thought was insanely long (these days, an hour run is a boring Tuesday). I ran that 1999 race in 59:06 (9:31 pace). That was good enough for 127th out of 203 in my age group.

After an 18-year absence, during most of which I thought I wasn’t much of a runner so why even try, I returned to the race as a 43-year-old newly-excited runner. I was living in Northport at the time with my mom, who was dying of cancer. This was only my second 10K since Cow Harbor 1999. I ran the 2017 race in 54:39 (8:48 pace) – 41st out of 259 in my age group. (The 2017 race is the race that inspired me to start this blog – initially, this blog was going to be my year-long “journey” to the 2018 Cow Harbor 10K, which I wanted to run at a 7:30 pace [LOL].)

That 2017 race was very special to me because it was the last race I was able to tell my mom about before she could no longer communicate. She died less than two months later. I don’t want to be a downer, but I do want to tell the full story of why this race means so much to me, and why it was important that I run it again.

One year later, I was back in NYC and returned to Northport for the 2018 race. I had trained a lot in the past year and made some big improvements in my speed – I was actually in the middle of training for my first marathon. I hadn’t done enough to average a 7:30 pace in a 10K (which I finally understood was an enormous jump to make in one year). Still, I was pleased with my results: I ran the 2018 race in 48:46 (7:52 pace). I came in 13th out of 222 in my age group.

This year, not too much has changed since last. I feel like I hit a speed plateau at some point and I’m not making the same big leaps I did from 2017 to 2018, which perhaps is to be expected at my age unless I make some massive changes in my training. But that’s okay. The biggest issue I was facing this year was the fact that I was going to run the race on sore heels.

Plantar fasciitis, baby. Hell yeah!

If you read my recap of weeks 10–12 of marathon training, you’ll see that this condition started a week before this race. And it didn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. I was bummed. I wasn’t even sure I was going to run the race until the night before and then I thought, hell, just go out there, get off the train, and see how you feel. I figured if I didn’t run I could always cheer on the sidelines and then go get some pancakes or something.

So I woke up Saturday morning and got ready to go.

I had to get up super early to get a 5:55 am train out to Northport. I think I woke up at 3:30 am. But I’m used to getting up early and this didn’t bother me. I was more concerned with my feet. I felt a little heel soreness as I walked my dog early that morning – more than I had the day before.

I’d decided if I was going to run, I would wear my plantar fasciitis inserts, tape my heels, and take ibuprofen. I don’t recommend doing any of the things in a race (let alone all three) but I was desperate. I should add, at the time I had not yet gone to see my PT or any other professional for advice. I was mostly getting by on YouTube videos and internet articles.

I spent a good amount of time on the train massaging my calves and feet. When I arrived in Northport, hopped up on caffeine and adrenaline, I stretched my feet on a curb as I waited for my car.

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The internet said this would help

I went to my friend Carrie’s house to get ready. She graciously allowed me to hang out and stash my stuff a convenient half mile from the start. She and her dad were also running the race. (Carrie is a badass strength training coach. If you are on Long Island you should hire her. She also has a killer home gym that’s nicer than most regular gyms.)

Carrie’s dad brought me Aleve, which I very much appreciated because I had totally forgotten to buy anything. I took two. I usually hate taking any kind of drug but I wanted to run as on as little pain as possible.

I taped up my heels, slipped on my trusty Kinvaras, and did a little jog in front of the house. I didn’t feel great, but I didn’t feel horrible. I could do this.

I jogged to the start.

The sports tape helped; my heels didn’t feel as much of an impact. I need to stop heel striking. Clearly, I heel strike (not massively, but enough) and that’s probably what led to this problem. I know there are things I need to change about the way I run. But for today, I just wanted to get through this race.

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Sizing up the competition

One thing I like about Cow Harbor is the staggered start: there are about 15 waves of runners, each starting one minute after the next. This not only ensures runners start with people around the same pace, it makes for a less crowded course. I was in wave 3 again this year. I just hoped I could keep up with them.

I saw my high school friend Matt and that was fun. We were officers in high school marching band together, which made us very cool.

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I had a Gu and waited. I didn’t need to pee. I just wanted to get this race over with. It’s not a great feeling when you’re not anticipating the race itself, but after the race. I knew I didn’t have to run this at all. But something inside me said I had to do it and I listened to that voice, even if it was wrong. Story of my life, ha ha… ha.

I had a small hope I could beat my time from last year but was also at peace with not. I wasn’t at my most fit, my feet hurt, and I knew nobody would care either way. I had memorized my splits from the year before and planned on only looking at my watch once each mile to see how I was comparing.

I don’t have family in Northport anymore, so there are no photos of me on the course until the very end. That’s okay, as I probably didn’t look too great out there this year. I probably did a lot of grimacing.

Cow Harbor 10K map

The course

The first part of the race is flat, then up a short a hill next to the library, then flat again. I worked my way up to about a 7:30 pace and by the time we reached the top of Scudder Avenue – a gentle, long downhill that is very nice on easy runs but not so much when you’re running fast and your heels hurt – I was at about a 6:40 pace. I actually slowed a bit on the downhill, making my way back to the low 7s. This was all very fast for me, and I knew it.

(For comparison, I’ll include my mile paces from last year’s race and the year before. I always think that’s fun. I wish I had my splits from my 1999 race, but alas, I do not.)

MILE 1: 7:13
2018: 7:30
2017: 8:15

Well ahead of last year’s race so far, although I’d definitely gone out too fast. A 7:13 pace 10K is not happening for me anytime soon, so I knew some slowing was ahead. Especially in mile 2. The beast.

Mile 2 includes the infamous James Street hill, which, importantly, goes up and not down. Before that it’s flat-ish and I had steadied out at about a 7:40 pace, the pace I probably should have been doing from the start.

James Street is a lovely street with some beautiful homes on it. I used to run up it in my weekly long runs when I lived in Northport. Even at an easy pace, it was hard to get up without stopping to walk. The first time running up James without stopping, sometime in the late spring or early summer of 2017, I came home and immediately told my mom. I was so proud of myself. I never stopped to walk on it again.

The hill is about 0.4 mile – not horrible but not wonderful. It’s always longer than you want it to be. My pace slowed to 10:10 in the middle of it, and then I managed to pick it back up to the 9s. But I stopped to walk at the top of it! I had no choice. I was breathing so hard. I walked for maybe a tenth of a mile. I felt super out of shape walking but knew this was better than having a heart attack.

MILE 2: 8:15
2018: 8:16
2017: 8:52

Only one second faster than last year. I should mention that I did no walking in last year’s race. But hey, well ahead of 2017.

Mile 3 began on the James Street hill, then eventually flattens out to a lovely stretch on Ocean Avenue, a long road that looks out onto the Long Island Sound. I picked up the pace.

My heels were sore the entire time, by the way. Not enough for me to stop, but enough that running was not enjoyable. Racing is always hard (if you’re doing it right) but this was hard in a not fun way. I was wondering if I had made the right choice. Too late now.

This was a decent mile. I saw Erica Fraiberg a few feet ahead of me. She’s a track coach, in my age group, super nice, and super fast. I wanted so badly to catch her. But she was too fast for me today. The distance between us continued to grow.

Mile 3 ended on Ocean before we made a right turn onto Eaton’s Neck Road, a very steep downhill I was not looking forward to.

MILE 3: 7:40
2018: 7:52
2017: 8:54

Mile 4 covers the Eaton’s Neck Road downhill. It’s steep. Again, nice when you’re doing an easy run but torture when trying to go fast. At least, for me. I’ve never been one to blast down hills. Not only is it not comfortable, I don’t think I even know how. I kept my pace around 7:30 down the hill, then when the road flattened out into a very slight incline on Waterside Avenue, I slowed to between 8:00 and 8:30.

I ran mile 4 a little faster than last year.

MILE 4: 7:37
2018: 7:43
2017: 8:17

It looked like I was on course to beat my 2018 time, although I still had mile 5 to get through. In a weird way, I think this stretch is harder than James Street.

Waterside Avenue is a long stretch and it looks flat, but is not. The lowest part of it is 30-40 feet above sea level, and it eventually rises to 145 feet above sea level (according to Map My Run). So, a very gradual rise of 100 feet. It’s deceiving – it doesn’t look like it would be, but it’s one of the hardest parts of the race.

Spectators lined the course, which was fun. It’s one of the largest races on Long Island and the biggest day of the year in Northport by far (which, I probably should have mentioned, was called Great Cow Harbour until 1837). Families were out in full force, dogs who didn’t know what the hell was going on, kids handing out cups of water, police and firefighters watching. I ran along streets I’d run on (and driven on) hundreds of times. It was nice to be back.

That part of the race was cool.

The mile 5 incline was not.

MILE 5: 7:59
2018: 7:59
2017: 9:07

I laughed when I looked at my watch. I ran mile 5 in the same amount of time as last year, right down to the second. Was I slowing? This did not bode well for mile 6.

Mile 6 starts right before we turn off Waterside and onto Main Street, which begins with a short and steep uphill. After the long incline of mile 5, this uphill is never welcome. I’d been around a 7:50/8:00 pace, and I slowed to 8:30 here, pretty much marathon pace. I was tired.

The road flattens out quickly and then the best stretch is the rest of the race because it’s flat or a gradual downhill. Last year, I remember really picking it up here, passing my sister and her family with less than a mile to go; I’d felt great. This year, my legs didn’t have the same energy. It was tough. Somehow, I found the strength to pick my pace up into the low 7s, and then high 6s.

MILE 6: 7:44
2018: 7:32
2017: 8:39

Finally, a slower mile than last year. Expected.

I gave it all I had at the finish.

MILE 0.27: 6:45
2018: (0.28) 6:40
2017: (0.39) 8:14

I was DONE. Ugh. I have never been so happy to stop running.

Amazingly, I did beat my time from last year: by 24 seconds. I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t help but wonder how much faster I might have been able to run had my feet felt good. I guess I will never know.

Here’s a photo of me right before the finish. (I know it’s crappy of me to use a photo proof but I briefly worked for this company and they should have paid me more, so it all evens out, right?)

2019 CH10K island photo proof

Grimace and bear it

After the race I headed to the park. Ah, the part I had been waiting for: FOOD!

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Another thing I love about this race is there is no swag bag at the finish: you just TAKE WHATEVER FOOD YOU WANT. Amazing. I ate all of it and then some.

I stopped by a physical therapy booth and got a free massage. It felt… good?

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I headed into the park to see if the official results were up. This is a larger race but still small enough that they hang up pieces of paper with finishing times and people crowd around them like students finding out which part they got in the school play.

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I wasn’t as interested in my finishing time as I was age group placement. I was certain I hadn’t placed in the top 3 but was curious if I’d placed in the top 10. I hung around and stretched my limbs as the overall and age group winners were awarded prizes.

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Eventually, the updated results were posted. I placed 11th in my age group (note: this would later be changed to 12th). Ah well, not top 10 but still a little better than last year! Given how I felt, I will happily take it.

In 20 years I’d gone from 127th to 41st to 13th to 12th. Not too bad. Maybe I can crack the top 10 next year.

I asked a nice woman to take my picture. Thanks, nice woman.

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I decided to jog back to Carrie’s – slowly and lightly. On my forefeet, too. I didn’t really want to jog but I was beat and I just wanted to get back and this was faster than walking.

Thank you so much, Carrie! I don’t know what I would have done without you and your lovely home. Don’t ever move!

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I stopped by a deli and got an amazing turkey BLT on a bagel which I ate in the Long Island Rail Road waiting room. I headed back to the city, grateful to have been able to get through this race. I hope to return next year, plantar fasciitis free this time.

By the way, here’s the adorable finisher’s shirt. I love this one. I wore it the following day while playing with my nephews in Central Park.

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Time: 48:22
Pace: 7:48/m
Age Group: 12/208
Women: 124/1794
Overall: 538/3862


Before the 1999 Cow Harbor 10K

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