Climbing Back: 2021 Cow Harbor 10K Race Recap

I was thrilled to return to my hometown of Northport, Long Island for this year’s Cow Harbor 10K. I was thrilled my favorite in-person race was back. I was thrilled just to be able to run.

Given my recent bouts of foot pain, even just a week or two prior to the race, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to run Cow Harbor. I certainly would not PR this year – this I knew. I am far from the shape I need to be in to best my 2019 time of 48:22 (which, for the record, I ran with severe plantar fasciitis).

I figured I’d run somewhere between 51-54:00 this year. It’s funny how knowing you won’t PR immediately takes the pressure off.

For reference, here’s me and my mom before my first Cow Harbor in 1999, which I ran in 59:06. I had no idea about pacing back then and ran the race as an extremely cautious easy run.

First, shoutout to my brother-in-law for picking up my dog the day before the race and taking him to Connecticut, as well as my friend Deby who graciously let me stay overnight on Friday at her home in Northport. These were enormous helps to me, and ensured I wouldn’t have to hire a dog walker or take an early morning train from the city.

If you started reading this blog at the beginning, in the fall of 2017, you might remember that Northport is where I was living at the time. In early 2017, just months before she died of cancer, my mom encouraged me to start a blog. I started this one after running the 2017 Cow Harbor 10K at an 8:48 pace, hoping I could use it as a way to document my journey to the 2018 Cow Harbor 10K, which I’d hoped to be able to run at a 7:30 pace – a lofty goal that seems a bit laughable now given how difficult a leap that would prove to be within 12 months, or even over the course of several years.

Northport in 2017 was where my deep passion for running began to take hold. It’s not only where my mom grew up, where my parents met, where my father taught English, and (mostly) where I grew up – it’s where I started to become a decent runner. It’s where I stopped thinking of running as “exercise” and instead started to think of it as “training.” I was an athlete now.

This is all to say that I was super pumped to be in Northport again. It was also my first trip outside of NYC since the spring of 2020.

PRE-RACE

The evening before the race, Deby and I went out to a restaurant on Northport’s Main Street. We had crackers and hummus to start, followed by an absolutely enormous black bean veggie burger that came with so many fries that I had to pack up half of them in a takeout container. I drank water.

After dinner, we stopped at a candy shop and, just as I had many times while growing up in Northport, I bought a quarter pound of red and black licorice – probably not the smartest pre-race fuel, but I didn’t eat all of it that night. I ate some of it. Fine, most of it.

We drove to my old junior high – now a school administration building that sits next to the starting line of the race – to pick up our bibs. I was running the 10K and Deby was running the 2K, a race that covers the first part of the course and ends at the 10K finish, so participants can stay to watch the 10K runners complete the race.

They required masks inside and did a great job of getting everyone in and out quickly.

Fun fact: in the 1960s this was the high school, and it’s where my dad first taught
Another fun fact: this is where I used to have gym class

I spent the evening relaxing, reading the Cow Harbor newspaper about who was running the race (Steph Bruce!), and was in bed by 10pm.

RACE MORNING

Up at 5am, did some foam rolling (yes, I brought my foam roller on the Long Island Railroad) and warm ups, had an English muffin with peanut butter and Nuun. I did some light running up and down the street in the two pairs of shoes I brought, ultimately settling on the ultra lightweight Nike Free Flyknits (thank you for the recommendation, Jessica!).

I ran about 2.4 miles to the start, taking a slight detour just to see more of the roads I grew to love running on four years ago. I kept it nice and easy, although my adrenaline (or maybe the sugar from the licorice I’d also had as part of my breakfast) fueled me. I forced myself to hold back, a good feeling before a race.

I arrived with about 20 minutes to spare, met up with Deby, and took some pics.

As in 2018 and 2019, I was in wave 3 (bibs that start with the number 2), but because I knew I was probably not quite in wave 3 shape, I waited at the very back of the corral – a choice I later regretted because this made for a very slow start. Honestly, I probably should have just started at the front of wave 4.

The course

I’m not going to break down this race by mile splits because, unfortunately, I don’t have them. For some reason, my Garmin failed to record the first 1.42 miles! I’d been fiddling with the buttons before the start (the watch is still somewhat new to me), so I might have inadvertently done something weird that made it shut off after a short distance. Once I realized it wasn’t recording (along Bayview Avenue), I started a new run, and whatever had been recording earlier was gone. Only 4.78 miles of the 6.2 mile race was recorded by my Garmin.

So I’ll just write about how each mile felt and estimate my pace.

MILE 1

Runners start on Laurel Avenue and make a right at the library on Scudder, which starts with a slight uphill, followed by a nice flat section, followed by a steep downhill towards the harbor. This first mile was fun, as a lot of Northport residents were out in front of their homes cheering on the runners – something that would stay fairly consistent for the duration of the race, but was especially exciting in the first mile.

Mile 1 ends as the downhill ends and the runners approach Woodbine Avenue (the street my mom lived on when she was a kid!).

I felt pretty good here and from what I remember, I was going at about an 8:00 pace, sometimes faster.

MILE 2

The second mile ends at the base of Scudder, where runners make a right on Woodbine and run across Main Street where the road turns into Bayview. There’s a slight increase in elevation here, but the enthusiastic crowds helped take my attention off the hills. Besides, this was nothing – James Street was coming.

This is where I glanced at my watch and saw the time, which meant recording had stopped. I was so pissed and hoped whatever had recorded was still there (it was not).

Toward the end of mile 2, runners make a right on James Street. This is A Hill. Like, a Very Big Hill. When I used to live in Northport and train, I would often run up James Street and, for a long time, had to take walking breaks. The first time I was able to run up the entire thing without stopping was sometime in 2017, and I remember going back to my mom’s place and telling her. I was so proud. I never took another walking break going up James Street.

Until today.

MILE 3

I am not good on hills. I know it’s normal to slow uphill, but I swear I seem to slow more severely than most. Case in point: every single runner in my vicinity passed me going up James Street. I stayed to the far right to be out of everyone’s way.

Toward the top, I saw some runners had stopped to walk. Maybe this gave me permission to stop and walk myself, so I did. I was running so slowly that it felt like I’d cover more ground if I walked.

Looking at my stats, I spent almost two minutes at a 10:40 pace or slower, my slowest pace 13:31. This was really going to put a damper in my final time, but oh well. Clearly, I hadn’t been prepared for James Street.

Fortunately, at the top of the hill the course levels out and remains nice and flat for the rest of the mile. My first recorded mile (mile 1.42 to 2.42 of the race) was 9:01. Oof.

MILE 4

This is a good mile: it starts off flat, overlooking the Long Island Sound and “The Pit” (the unofficial nickname for the neighborhood where the rich people live), and then makes a turn onto Eatons Neck Road, a downhill similar to Scudder, only shorter. I relaxed here, picking up the pace to around 7:45.

The end of mile 4 turns onto Waterside Avenue, a long stretch of road that is deceptive in that it appears to be flat, but is not flat. Over the course of 1.6 miles, the road ever so slowly increases in elevation. I usually slow down here.

Recorded miles 2.42 to 3.42 of the race: 7:53 pace. Not too bad.

MILE 5

Mile 5 of the race is entirely on Waterside, this insidious uphill that makes you wonder “Why do I suddenly feel so tired?” which, in a way, is worse than an obvious uphill like James Street, Harlem Hill, or Cat Hill. At least with those, you know why you feel tired.

The one saving grace to Waterside were the spectators: families lined the curbs, handing out water, holding up signs, cheering on the runners. It was really nice and kept me distracted enough that this mile was over before I knew it.

I ran Waterside in roughly an 8:10-8:25 pace.

MILE 6 (+ 0.2)

The final mile starts on Waterside before making one last turn onto Main Street. There is one small uphill here that doesn’t feel all that bad during a regular training run, but is just brutal at this point in the race. I massively slowed down here to about a 9:50 pace. Luckily, the hill is short.

As Main Street flattens out, it’s a huge relief because from here to the finish, the course is all flat and/or slightly downhill. Time to let loose!

I picked up the pace and started running 7:10-7:40 paces. After I crossed Church Street to run the final stretch of Main, I was somehow able to hit the 6:50s. A far cry from my slog on James.

I felt really good through the finish. My final 0.77 miles was at a 7:16 pace.

Deby snapped a pic of me after I crossed the finish and realized I had run the race in under 51 minutes.

POST-RACE

An added bonus to this year’s race is that several members of my running club ran it! I was so happy about this. Two of them, David and Luke, are from Northport, and through them, a few other New York Harriers came out to race that morning. It was really cool to see all of them.

They all ran amazing races, some of them even PR’ing. Yes, they are all faster than I am.

I always love Cow Harbor’s post-race festivities. They have a ton of free food, snacks, beer, and there’s always a band playing the hottest cover songs from the 80s and 90s (the only kind of band that should be permitted at any Long Island post-race party).

At one point, one of my teammates Luke called me over to go look at something. I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to see until I realized that just on the other side of a hedge was Steph Bruce and her family! We introduced ourselves, asked how she did (“I came in second”), and asked for a photo with her. Her family stepped in, too. They couldn’t have been more gracious and nice.

Steph did indeed come in second place in the women’s race, which is impressive. However, as she wrote on her Instagram and Facebook pages, this was a bit of a disappointment to her – she had come to Northport to win. Still, Steph’s 32:36 is now the third-fastest women’s Cow Harbor 10K ever, an astounding feat considering the race’s 44-year history.

Her husband, Ben Bruce, isn’t too shabby a runner himself, finishing the race in 32:06, good enough for 9th place.

Deby and I took another photo because why not?

After the festivities, I spent some time at Deby’s editing photos and posting the Bruce family pic to the Harriers’ Instagram. I also ate the leftover fries from the night before, heated in a pan along with two scrambled eggs. Topped with ketchup, this was a remarkably good post-race meal.

Later that day, I took the Long Island Railroad back home, foam roller and all.

While I didn’t PR this year, since I hadn’t expected to anyway, I don’t feel any kind of disappointment. I’m actually really happy with how the race turned out. I love that I got to hang with some Harriers, meet Steph, and spend time with Deby. I wound up running my own third-fastest Cow Harbor ever, finishing in 50:54, fast enough for 15th place out of the 187 women in my age group.

I’ll take it.

See you next year, Cow Harbor. I can’t predict exactly how I’ll do, but one thing is for certain: I will run up James Street without stopping.

MY OFFICIAL RESULTS
Time: 50:53.7
Pace: 8:11/m
Age Group: 15/187
Overall: 655/3378

1999: 59:06
2017: 54:39
2018: 48:46
2019: 48:22
2021: 50:54

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