Back At It: 2021 Retro 4-Miler Race Recap

I have not written a race recap since April 2020. Remember April 2020? Let’s not try.

Thankfully, NYRR is doing in-person races again – initially following strict protocol with a two-at-a-time, staggered start, eventually allowing runners to start in larger groups, one corral at a time.

The Retro 4-Miler (at some point downgraded from its previous incarnation as the Retro 5-Miler) takes place each summer. Runners are encouraged, though not required, to dress up in some kind of retro fashion. I did this myself in 2018 because I thought it would be fun, not realizing how annoying it is to run in summer heat while wearing extra clothing and accessories. This year, I decided against wearing anything weird.

…unless you count a ghostly white midriff as “weird

This race was also the first team points race of the year, meaning that NYC running clubs gain points via their fastest runners – typically, the fastest five male and female runners on each team. These points are tracked throughout the year as a way for clubs to compete against each other.

I didn’t think I’d be getting any points for this race since my speed is still not where it was compared to years past, and I am on a pretty fast team. I’m still struggling to run consistently, some kind of foot issue popping up here and there since last spring. It’s been frustrating.

Still, I wanted to do my best and try to have fun with it.

I intended to incorporate this race as part of my long run for the weekend, so I ran an easy 3 miles to the start line.

THE RACE

My friend and fellow Harrier, Mirjam, offered to run alongside me since we were planning on running at about the same pace. I wanted to see if I could beat my 8:22 pace from the Achilles 4-Miler in July, and based on my recent weeks of tempo training runs, thought I might be able to.

The course was the same as the Achilles race, beginning just south of the bottom of Cat Hill, north along the east side, crossing the 102nd Street transverse, back down the west side and over the dreaded Three Sisters hills, ending in front of Tavern on the Green.

For some reason, NYRR was still not separating runners into smaller corrals according to letters (which run from AA to L), but instead, four or five larger corrals. These corrals seemed pointlessly huge and crowded – especially with this pandemic still very much a thing, one would think there would be more of an effort to spread out the runners. (NYRR’s next race, the Harlem 5K, would see a return to smaller, lettered corrals.)

A few minutes before 8:00 AM, Mirjam and I headed toward the back of our corral, knowing there were much faster runners up ahead. Most other Harriers were also in this corral, most of them up front.

Our goal was to keep it somewhere between an 8:00 and 8:30 pace the whole time. My 4-mile PR is about a 7:30 pace, a fact I tried not to think about as I hoped my legs could maintain about an 8:15 today.

MILE 1

Cat Hill in mile 1 of a race is always a blessing. This isn’t a long hill, but it’s fairly steep. On fresh legs, with the adrenaline of a race to bolster you, it’s very doable. We got up this hill with little problem.

There was some crowding before and on the hill, a result of the pointlessly big corrals. Even though each corral is supposed to contain runners of relatively similar paces, there was clearly a wide range of abilities in this one. At one point, a super fast Harrier blazed past us and I said to Mirjam, “There is no way Matt Coneybeare and I should be in the same corral,” which is simply a fact.

I hadn’t really been looking at my watch, but a glance every now and then told me we were hovering right around an 8:00 pace, dipping into the 7’s here and there, speeds that have felt super fast for me lately but felt more relaxed today. Maybe there is something to race adrenaline.

After a few tiny rolling hills, the course flattens out as it approaches the reservoir, the easiest mile coming up next.

Mile 1: 8:05

MILE 2

This is the flattest section of the Central Park loop, where it’s easy to get carried away and run too fast. I started to run a little faster than planned here: according to my Garmin data it looks like we were around a 7:30 pace for a stretch. At one point, Mirjam reminded that we had some hills coming up and I was like “Oh, right,” and slowed down a bit.

As we made a left onto the 102nd Street transverse, my legs started feeling tired. I try – I really try – not to compare myself now to myself at any point in the past, but it’s always so emotionally crushing to feel fatigue coming on at a pace and distance that used to be easy for me. I’ve run half marathons at this pace, and here I was, not even two miles into a 4-mile race, starting to tire.

I tried not to think about this as I approached the first of the Three Sisters hills.

Mile 2: 8:10

MILE 3

We knew we were going to slow going up the first hill, and we did. Mirjam is usually a lot faster than I am, but she’s been having some foot issues of her own, lately. While I knew she was okay with going my pace today, I also knew she could be going faster.

I think more than once I told her to go on and leave me behind. She said “No, I’m staying with you,” and I was secretly grateful for it.

My breathing got much more labored going up the Three Sisters hills, but the downhills were always a relief. Hills have been really hard for me lately. I probably just need to run more of them, and more often.

By the time we got to the third hill, I had a cramp in my left side and was gasping for breath. Mirjam suggested walking and I refused. Eventually, I gave in, and we walked for about 30 seconds to the top of the hill. I felt so guilty walking but knew that being able to catch my breath might help me run a faster last mile. The cramp went away.

This third mile was much slower than the same mile in the Achilles race (where I didn’t stop to walk) so I had a feeling it was going to be hard to make up the time.

Mile 3: 9:08

MILE 4

The benefit of the last mile, besides it being the last mile, is that it’s mostly downhill and flat.

So we went for it, as hard as I could stand, crossing over the 72nd Street transverse and making our way down to Tavern. The terrain wasn’t difficult in mile 4, I was mostly just trying to maintain my stamina.

At one point I spotted Sam LaFata, a stalwart NYC race photographer present at seemingly hundreds of races a year. I pointed him out to Mirjam and smiled – not so much because I felt great but because I knew this photo would get out there and I didn’t want to look like death.

I ran as hard as I could to the finish. I noted that I felt much stronger here than I had at last month’s race, and was able to cross the finish at a faster pace.

Mile 4: 8:10

My overall average pace according to Garmin: 8:22. Same pace as my Achilles race. (The official results have it as 8:30 because I guess I actually ran more than 4 miles.) But factoring in the walking this time, my 4-mile running pace had improved in a month. So I felt good about that.

We met up with some other Harriers, ate a popsicle, took some photos, and I solo-jogged another 5 miles, feeling good but spent. (See some photos and read the Retro 4-Miler race report I wrote for the Harriers!)

I’m still not sure doing my long run the same day as the race was the right call. The next morning, as I set out to run an easy recovery run, the outside of my right heel was so painful that I didn’t even make it ten seconds.

I’m suspecting that I’m trying to run too fast too often at the same time I’m increasing my mileage, and my body just isn’t able to handle it. I’m working on getting it figured out.

I’m not sure when my next race is now, as I’m not sure I’ll be able to run very fast soon. We’ll see. In the meantime, it was fun to write one of these again.

MY OFFICIAL RESULTS
Time: 33:57
Pace: 8:30/m
Age Group: 23/192
Women: 320/1582
Overall: 1216/3299

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