Over the Hill: 2022 Washington Heights Salsa, Blues, and Shamrocks 5K Race Recap

It’s been a month since I’ve run this race and I’m finally getting this recap up. I’ve had a busy month and unfortunately this blog has not been a priority as of late. If you’re a faithful reader, apologies!

The 2022 Washington Heights 5K (sorry, I don’t have time to write out the full name more than once) was my first 5K since the 2020 race of the same name, a.k.a. the last race many of us ran before the world as we knew it changed. I remember that day in 2020 as being very cold. The hills felt especially difficult. I was still dealing with plantar fasciitis and had been for about six months. I did okay but came 23 seconds short of my course PR from 2019.

This year, my feet were better, temps were in the 40s with a little rain in the forecast, and I was really looking forward to seeing what I could do in my first short race in a long time.

It was also the first team points race of the year, always an exciting day for club members.

In 2020, I had run the three miles up to the race start as my warm-up. This year, I’ve reached the point where I don’t think more than two miles is necessary as a warm-up, even if it means paying for a subway ride. So I spent $2.75 to go from 110th to 145th, hopped out of the train, and ran up to the start at 172nd through mostly empty sidewalks.

After I left my thin outer layer at bag check, I ran another few minutes to make the warm-up two full miles and then headed over to my start corral. I saw a few fellow Harriers and we chatted a bit.

The course was the same as I remembered. I’ve written before about how I sometimes confuse this race with the Harlem 5K and have to remember which is the one with the steep hill headed west (Harlem) and which is the one with the ups and downs inside Fort Tryon Park (Washington Heights). I think I get them confused because they both start with a trip north followed by a trip back south along the same route (as does the Bronx 10M).

Either way, chances are if you’re running a race somewhere inside Manhattan, there are going to be hills.

My goal for the race was to run strong but I wasn’t sure a PR would happen. I didn’t think I was quite yet in that kind of shape. It’s been a long, slow, and often bumpy road back from when I first experienced plantar fasciitis in September 2019. After taking off the summer of 2020 from running, it took another full year to get back to a place where I truly felt comfortable, and even good, running. I feel like I’m almost out of the hole. Not quite back to PR shape, but close enough that I was looking forward to this race.

As always, I secretly thought most runners were overdressed. Doesn’t anyone’s armpits sweat? Come on, let ’em breathe! Maybe I’m just a very sweaty lady but long sleeves in the 40s sounds like a nightmare.

So far, the rain had held off. Until now.

While still in the corrals, it began to lightly rain, and then rain harder. This was the worst part of the entire morning. Not even because of the rain, but the wait. I was dressed in a singlet and shorts, perfectly fine for running fast, less so for standing still. I just wanted to go. Announcements, national anthem, more announcements, yeah yeah yeah let’s go!!!

Finally, it was corral D’s turn to cross the start.

One of my big goals is to get into corral C, but for today, I was still in good old D, the corral I’ve been in for four years. For the record, it will take a 7:14 pace in a 5K to get into C.

So I still have some work to do, because that was not going to happen today.

My Garmin’s GPS had timed out by the time we crossed the start, so I had to go through a frustrating several seconds of getting it to reset again, losing a few seconds at the start of the race.

As always, the first mile was slow-going, relatively speaking. It’s hard to say how much of this is to be blamed on bottlenecking due to narrower parts of streets, or runners who are slower than they should be for the corral they’re in. I found myself dodging around runners here and there, squeezing myself between groups, swerving around others. I know weaving is a waste of energy, but I also knew I could run faster than 8:00 a mile for this race and was not going to hold myself back more than I had to.

There are some little hills along Fort Washington Avenue, and I was delighted and surprised that I didn’t find these to be much of an issue this year. In fact, on the first big hill in this first mile, I sped past a lot of runners. I wondered if I was overestimating my abilities only to have it come back to bite me in the ass later, but I had a pretty good feel of how much I could handle. I felt great after getting over this hill. What a confidence booster.

It’s worth noting that I’ve done a lot of hill work these past six months – way more than I ever have in the past. I make a point to do Harlem Hills repeats once a week if I can. Elevation is an important factor in my training.

It wasn’t until this race that I realized all the hill work might actually be paying off.

For funsies, I thought I’d list each mile pace along with my 2020 and 2019 paces.

MILE 1: 7:50
2020: 7:23
2019: 7:54

I remember that mile 1 in 2019: I had been holding back out of fear. In 2020, I made a point not to. This year, I didn’t necessarily hold back out of fear but more, I think, due to crowding.

Mile 2 is almost entirely inside Fort Tryon Park, a long oval loop that goes up and down a series of rolling hills. I felt like I was flying on the first downhill. I was actually a little nervous I’d slip, as the ground was wet from the rain, which I think at this point might have let up a bit. I had to focus. Don’t slip, don’t slip.

I was wearing Saucony Endorphin Speed 2s, which I think are going to replace Kinvaras as my go-to race shoes. I really love them.

I glanced at my watch and saw that, at my fastest, I was going about a 6:45 pace. This is close to my mile PR and much faster than I can sustain for a 5K right now, but I decided to keep it up for as long as I could.

Fortunately, I didn’t slow all that much going back uphill. In 2020, I remember this uphill being incredibly difficult. This year, it was fine.

Finally, we were out of the park and headed back down Fort Washington Avenue.

MILE 2: 7:28
2020: 7:49
2019: 7:27

So funny to see that massive mile 2 slow down in 2020. This year, mile 2 was almost identical to the 2019 race.

One thing I like about out-and-back courses is seeing everyone on the other side of the road. On the way up, we had the front runners flying back at their 4:50 paces; now, we got to see everyone who started after us. I always want to shout encouraging words to all of them but I’m generally too out of breath for that.

I managed to hold what felt about the same pace I’d be running, right around 7:30. At times I’d be at 7:15 or so, but the occasional uphill would slow me a bit. Still, I felt so much stronger than I did two years ago.

Somewhere in mile 3, I saw the Harriers cheering on the right side of the road. My teammates Hannah and Kiran were snapping a ton of photos. I believe it was Hannah who got this one of me making “rock” hands, for some reason my go-to hand gesture when I’m too tired to speak.

Oh, good time to mention my belt. I decided not to wear my running shorts with pockets and instead wear my little running belt, but honestly I don’t want to do this ever again in a fast race. It wouldn’t stay in place and kept riding up. I wonder how much faster I could have run had I not adjusted it every so often. (This is why the bottom of my singlet looks so bunched up.)

I ran as fast as I could through this final mile, and came pretty close to my 2019 mile 3.

MILE 3: 7:27
2020: 7:40
2019: 7:23

Here’s a photo by Sam LaFata, a stalwart NYC race photographer who posted this to my team’s Facebook page. This was about three blocks before the finish – no wonder I’m so happy.

The last stretch of this course is great: downhill, baby! I moved my legs as fast as I could. Much to my delight, I beat my 2019 kick pace.

LAST .09: 6:29 pace
2020 (0.16): 6:46 pace
2019 (0.12): 6:34 pace

Technically, this should have been slightly longer than 3.09 miles, but I blame the late start to my GPS.

Comparing the three Washington Heights 5Ks I’ve run, they’re pretty close! Although I didn’t PR today, I’m thrilled to be closer to my 2019 time than I was two years ago.

2020: 23:54
2019: 23:31

Can I pull off a course record in next year’s race? Let’s see.


More Harriers!

After the race, some of the team headed to brunch but I wanted to get back home. I had a photoshoot scheduled for the early afternoon and I just wanted to walk my dog, shower, and eat.

I decided to do a nice little cool-down: the three miles back home. By now, it was raining. That was okay. It felt good to run easy. The rain wasn’t even that bad. I thought about how easy the hills were this year and looked forward to running this race again in 2023. Maybe by then I’ll have managed to finally claw my way into corral C.

Time: 23:37
Pace: 7:37/m
Age Group: 24/282
Women: 237/2520
Overall: 1250/5201

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