One of my goals for 2022 is to run one race a month. I did something like this in 2018 (16 races) and had a really good year.
Did I think I would PR in the Joe Kleinerman 10K? I did not.
That’s okay, though. My goal of running one race a month is not to PR every month. That would be a ridiculous goal.
Still, I thought this could be a good chance to see what I could do given where I was. I had a small goal to run faster than 8:00 min/mile overall. That was about it.
The course was the familiar Central Park loop, something I run all the time. I’ve actually been running in Central Park more often than I used to, as I’m trying to run more on hills rather than the flatlands adjacent to the West Side Highway. It’s also close to home.
I picked up my race shirt early in the week, ensuring a low number – don’t ask me why I like the low numbers. It’s a silly thing to like.
Here’s a photo of the shirt I took for my running club’s Instagram stories.
That’s about all I have to show of the shirt, since I wore a singlet for the race.
I should mention that it was 22 degrees Farenheit on race morning.
I debated wearing just a singlet with nothing underneath but a sports bra in such cold weather. I’d done this before: I wore a singlet and shorts for the 2020 Washington Heights 5K, with temps in the mid 20s. I remembered being okay with this, even in the start corrals. I’ve noticed that I don’t register cold that much on race mornings. It must have something to do with energy and where it flows and focus and blood or plasma or something.
The forecast of 10 mph winds added to my internal debate over apparel. Ultimately, I decided to wear leggings, a singlet, and arm warmers. This way, the only skin exposed would be my shoulders and armpits. I could deal with that.
The start line is only a mile from my apartment, so on the morning of Saturday, January 8 at 7:30, after some black coffee and cold sweet potato chunks, I jogged to the park wearing a running hoodie over my singlet. I would leave the hoodie with bag check.
Given the weather, many others had the same idea. The line for bag check:
Fortunately, the line moved quickly and I got my hoodie checked in time to run to the start corrals.
For some reason a whole bunch of people hadn’t picked up their bibs during the week (clearly not everyone cares about the aesthetics of low bib numbers), so the line for race-day registration was even longer than the bag check line. I think quite a few runners didn’t make it to their corrals in time (which would be fine, as they could just start whenever, the only drawback being having to weave through slower runners).
I ran over to good old corral D – my start corral since 2018 and one I am hoping to leave behind in 2022 – and waited outside of it since it was packed.
The crowd behind me…
…and up ahead:
I guess it is kind of funny to see all of that clothing, knowing I looked like this:
I was surprisingly not cold. I honestly don’t think shoulders and armpits register cold. I’m not even kidding. Please give it a try at your next frigid race and let me know how it goes.
After a bit of milling around (I think it started a few minutes late due to officials waiting for stragglers), we were off.
The course started on the east side, just south of the 102nd transverse, and would continue counterclockwise around the entire loop. I run this route all the time and know it like the back of my hand.
It took about a tenth to a quarter of a mile to get going – either I was too fast for this corral D, or this corral D was too slow for me – but once we were on our way down Harlem Hill, I didn’t have to weave as much.
Going counterclockwise, Harlem Hill is a steep downhill, a flat section, and then a long uphill – the longest of the loop. Getting these hills out of the way in miles 1-2 was good news to all.
My nose was the only cold body part. Thank goodness I’d had the foresight to bring my headband, which was now covering my ears, but my nose was so cold. There were a couple of times I had to hold my nose with a mittened hand for a few seconds. Could a nose fall off in 22ºF? Maybe? I tried not picturing what that would be like.
Mile 1 ended as we ascended the hill on the west side.
So far, so good.
MILE 1: 8:10
Mile 2 started on the long stretch up Harlem Hill and I guessed it would be my slowest part of the race. I had wanted to run faster in mile 1, so with that mile plus this one, I’d have a lot of work to do to get my sub-8:00 pace goal.
I stayed mostly to the right of the field here, and throughout the race, as it seemed to be an easier path. I silently thanked all of my Harlem Hill repeat days; I’d had a lot of hill practice these past few months and felt pretty good.
After we crested the top of the hill, I heard a male voice next to me say, “You win diehard of the day.” I thought the guy was talking to a friend next to him or something. He said, “You get that award. Good luck.” And he sped off. It was only then I realized he had been talking to me, I assume a reaction to my attire. I had almost forgotten about my clothes (or lack thereof). I looked around and realized I was the only person with bare shoulders. I would see two or three more singlet guys throughout the morning, but no other women.
So thanks, guy, whoever you are. I humbly accept the Diehard (Die Hard?) Award.
After Harlem Hill, there are the smaller Three Sisters hills to contend with on the west side. Mile 2 ended on the uphill of the second of these.
MILE 2: 8:09
Okay, time to get to work. If I wanted to break 8:00 pace, I needed to step it up.
I ran as fast as I could knowing there were still four miles to go, and luckily the second and third Three Sisters hills didn’t feel as hard as the first. After that, there’s a nice downhill and flat section.
I hadn’t worn headphones because for some bizarre reason they stopped pairing with my phone and my watch for a day or two. So I just ran without music. This was surprisingly fine. I was in tune with the sounds of footsteps, breathing, and the occasional cheer from people on the side of the road brave enough to venture outside to stand around in sub-freezing weather.
Mile 3 ended right before the slight uphill that runs across the 72nd transverse. For the record, I absolutely hate this hill. It’s my least favorite hill on the loop, and that includes Harlem and Cat.
MILE 3: 7:42
Hell yes! This was more like it. I was actually shocked with how easy the 7:30-7:50 paces were feeling right now. I was definitely running with effort, but I wasn’t dying. I could keep this up for a while.
The southern part of the loop is relatively flat, with mile 4 ending just after we entered the east side. Cat Hill was still to come, but after that, the course would mostly be flat. I still wondered if I could average faster than an 8:00.
MILE 4: 7:54
Good, good. This was good. Of course, I wished I could run closer to a 7:30 pace, but this was all I could do for now.
My nose no longer felt like it was going to fall off, but it was running pretty constantly – a normal occurrence for most runners in this weather. I was relieved to be wearing cloth mittens and wiped my nose with them every so often. I didn’t dare blow my nose into the road.
I knew I’d slow down going up Cat Hill; fortunately it’s only a quarter of a mile. My pace slowed to about a 9:30 going up the hill. Ugh. If this had been a normal run or hill workout, I’m sure I could’ve run it faster. But my legs were getting tired. I wasn’t used to running this fast for this long.
Mile 5 ended a little after the top of Cat Hill. Once back on flat ground, I did my best to get my speed back. This mile was a little slower overall, but not as slow as the first two miles.
MILE 5: 8:05
I still wasn’t sure I could average a sub-8:00 pace in this race. It was going to be close.
There are a few little dips and inclines following Cat Hill, and then once the reservoir approaches on the left, the road flattens out. It’s the straightest and fastest part of the loop. If I was going to go for it, this was the place.
I passed some runners along this stretch. Others passed me as well. Clearly, there had been quite a few fast runners who started late. As they sped past me, I watched their legs: high cadence, long stride. Amazing. How do they do that, and how can I get my legs to do that, too? Running can be a mystery sometimes.
Despite the flatness of the course here, I was starting to fatigue, and I wasn’t able to best my mile 3 pace.
MILE 6: 7:45
Honestly, given where I had been last spring and summer, the fact that I was able to run three of these miles at a sub-8:00 pace, and three other miles not too far from that, was pretty good. There is no way I would have been able to do this even just a few months ago.
In this last stretch, some front-runners were already jogging back with their plastic bags (this is where I saw one of the singlet guys). A few of them yelled words of encouragement to the runners. One of them said something like “Give it all you’ve got!” and I swear just hearing that put a little pep in my step. I ran my fastest stretch of the race here. I turned onto the 102nd transverse and ran as hard as I could toward the finish.
FINAL 0.32: 7:24
Dang, a 7:24 pace for my last third of a mile? I truly hadn’t known I could do that.
Yes, I ran 6.32 miles instead of 6.2. I chalk this up to the fact that I stayed mostly on the outside of the course in an attempt to bypass runners instead of weaving through them. Although I don’t have hard evidence for this, I’ve concluded that this method increased my speed more than the increased distance slowed me down, if that makes sense (don’t worry if it doesn’t, just move on).
As far as my sub-8:00 pace goal: according to my Garmin, I ran an overall 7:56 pace. I did it! Sort of. Since I ran more than the official course length of 6.2 miles, my pace according to NYRR is 8:04.
Either way, even though this race wasn’t a PR for me (that would be a 7:43 pace), it’s the closest I’ve gotten to my PR since I PR’d.
I had three fun interactions after I crossed the finish.
First, as soon as I stopped running, a guy right behind me thanked me. “I was trying to keep up with you the whole time.” This doesn’t happen to me often, but I love when someone says this to me – it can be hard to remember that there’s more going on beyond your field of vision, and as much as you’re trying to keep up with runners ahead of you, someone behind you may be viewing you in the same way.
Then I got a second remark about my singlet when a guy said, “Tank top, eh?” and I was like “Yeah, I don’t feel cold up here,” and we laughed and I think I said something about being numb.
Finally, a woman came up to me and told me she liked my blog! WHAT?! Was I… known? Am I famous? This was such a fun moment. I realized she must have seen the H on my back and just recognized me from the photos I’ve posted of myself. I thanked her and she walked away. (I was sad not to have gotten her name, but as luck would have it, she showed up to my running club’s next workout, and we’ve since run a couple of workouts together!)
I said to a volunteer about the cups of water, “I’m surprised these aren’t all ice,” and they were like, “Oh, they are.” Sure enough:
A few seconds after I took that picture, I accidentally squeezed the cup, and freezing water shot out and covered my already freezing legs. Only the top layer of the cup had been frozen. I think I drank some, but honest to goodness I can’t remember whether I did or not. My hands, even under the thick mittens, had lost feeling.
But before I could make my way back to my warm apartment, I knew I wanted a pic of my race outfit so I asked a very nice man to take it. Thank you, very nice man!
I gathered my hoodie from bag check and decided against putting it on right away. This would involve removing my mittens and I didn’t want to do that. I was numb anyway. Plus, I was going to jog home.
I started running slowly up the west side of the loop and by the time I reached the exit of the park, my fingers were so utterly frozen that I stopped to put on my hoodie, although I didn’t have the finger strength to zip it up. I decided to walk the rest of the way home so I could stick my hands under my armpits and warm them that way.
It was only a 10-minute walk, so it wasn’t all that bad.
The race went as well as I had hoped. I ran a sub-8:00 pace (let’s just go by Garmin instead of NYRR, shall we?), I proved to myself that it’s possible to wear a singlet in 22ºF, I didn’t need music to race, I made a new fan/friend, I placed 12th in my age group (not bad for me), and – perhaps most importantly – I won the Diehard Award.
Age Group: 12/219