Quest for the Holy Pint Glass: Northport Downhill Mile Race Recap

I guess it’s somewhat ironic that one of my shortest races has taken a heck of a long time to recap. This is partly because I’ve been so busy with photography work lately, for which I am grateful. I’ve also been focusing on some fun, new, creative upcoming projects that I’m SO excited about and will let everyone know about in time. But right now, let’s get this done. This was a super fun race!

Those who follow me in places other than this blog may have already heard the story of how I decided to skip this year’s Queens 10K and instead take a 5:55 am train to Northport, Long Island, to run its annual mile race. A brief backstory:

JUNE 2017

Two years ago, in my pre-blog era (P.B.E.), I decided on a whim to run the Northport Nautical Mile. A nautical mile is 1.15 land miles. Northport is a nautical town (meaning it’s on a bay that has boats parked in it) so I guess someone thought this would be cute.

The only recent race I had run was the 2016 Thanksgiving Day 4 miler in the neighboring town of Huntington – at a 9:15 pace. Ridiculously slow for me now, but that’s because I had just gotten back into racing and had no idea what I was capable of, so I played it safe.

I didn’t have high hopes for the 2017 Nautical Mile in terms of my time. I just thought it would be fun and maybe a nice way to distract myself from the fact that my mom had cancer. (I’d moved back to Northport six months earlier to help take care of her. By June, she had gotten worse but we still didn’t know she was dying.)

I surprised myself by running a 7:49 pace – incredibly fast for me at the time. I don’t know if I had ever run a pace faster than 8:00 before that. Still, it didn’t occur to me to go to the awards. Instead, I hung out with my sister and her family at the farmer’s market.

Later, I looked up the results. I was shocked to see that I’d come in third in my age group. Third out of only 19, but still. I had never placed in a race before. I was amazed. And also pissed, because apparently I had missed out on posing for an award pic and taking home a pint glass as a prize. I remember my mom being super proud of me. She told me not to worry about the pint glass.

That race led me to believe that maybe I could get even faster if I just – and this is nuts, but hear me out – put in the work.

JUNE 2018

Last year, the Nautical Mile was originally going to take place on June 9th. So I signed up for the Queens 10K on June 16th. Later, the Mile was changed to the 16th. Queens had cost me 40 bucks. I ran Queens.

By September, my work was starting to pay off: I ran the Fifth Avenue Mile in 6:47.

JUNE 2019

This year, I really wanted to run the Mile again. Like last year, it coincided with the Queens 10K. Unlike last year, I chose the Mile.

I have to admit, I did not love the Queens 10K. I love Queens and I love 10Ks. I don’t like the course. Yes, it’s flat. But there are also 874 right angle turns. It’s relentlessly sunny in most parts. It takes a very long time for me to get there and back on the subway – honestly, probably just as long a trip, if not longer, than getting from Penn Station to Northport, Long Island. I am not exaggerating.

I thought running the 2019 Mile would be a nice way to bookend the last two years. My love of racing – and belief in my running abilities – really started with the 2017 race. Also, this race would be the last I would run in the 40-44 age group. My decision was easy.

There were new race directors this year and they had decided to change the race from a Nautical Mile to a Plain Old Mile – officially now named the “Northport Downhill Mile.” There was a bit of grumbling on the race’s Facebook page about this, as some thought that the nautical mile distance was a quirky, unique tradition that honored Northport’s seafaring history. I didn’t care either way. If anything, I was curious to see what my mile race pace was, so the change was fine with me.

To get to Northport for a 9:00 am race start, I needed to wake up in NYC at 3:30. As in, A.M. I ate breakfast upon waking. Recently, I made the switch from oat bran to steel cut oats. I like Trader Joe’s 8-minute steel cut oats because they’re cheap and filling. I find it heartier than oat bran. I’ve been adding a teaspoon of chia seeds during cooking. I still top it with a salt & pepper fried egg.

I also had a 16 oz. glass of water with a caffeinated Nuun tablet. I brought another caffeinated Nuun thermos of water for the ride and bought a small black coffee at Penn Station. I was set as far as caffeine. I brought a book for the train ride but it was hard to focus. Partly nerves, mostly caffeine.

My sister’s family in Northport live within walking distance of the train station. They weren’t home at the time but allowed me to use their back deck as a makeshift home base where I stored my bag and did my warm ups. The race start was two miles from the house. Perfect. That would be my running warm up.

The weather was without fault: low 70s and mostly sunny. I felt good. I’d gone to the bathroom on the Long Island Railroad so I was good on that front. I’d had about six times the amount of caffeine I have on a typical morning. I was pumped. It was hard keeping my pace down as I jogged to the start.

Running along the streets of Northport always brings back nice memories. Northport is lovely, quiet, and familiar. I love NYC but it is nice to run in other places sometimes, too.

The race start was in the same location as the Cow Harbor 10K start – another great Northport race I’m planning on doing again this fall. It’s right in front my old junior high, now a school administration office building. Decades ago, the building was the town’s high school. In fact, it’s where my father first taught as a 22-year-old high school English teacher.

IMG_7741
Fun fact: stretching on the left in preparation for the mile race is Long Island’s own Gary Muhrcke, winner of the first NYC Marathon in 1970

I picked up my bib, politely declining the free cooler bag they were offering as a gift this year, only because I had nowhere to put it. I did some high knee drills and tried to keep moving.

I noted that there was no starting mat. I had a feeling that would be the case; I don’t think there was one two years ago, either. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have cared. This year, I did. No starting mat means that the farther back from the starting line you are, the more you’re screwed. I was determined to start up front. From the number of runners milling around, it didn’t look like this would be a problem.

A few minutes to 9:00, one of the race organizers directed the women to line up. The women would run at 9:00, the men at 9:15. I liked this arrangement – not because I have anything against running with men (as I previously stated in my Mini 10K recap), but rather this would mean a less congested course.

2019NDM IMG_6954

We were treated to a beautiful rendition of “America the Beautiful” by a singer whose name I need to find out. She was great.

2019NDM IMG_6955

There were fewer women than I remember from two years ago. Elite Feats used to organize it and now they don’t. They’re pretty big; maybe their advertising back then had helped boost numbers? Not sure. But the lower turnout made me wonder what my chances were of not just age group placement – I was certain I’d place in the top three – but the more prestigious Master’s top three. Hmm. Was there a shot? Overall top three was not an option. Those ladies run paces in the 5:00s. My legs can’t do 5:00s.

2019NDM IMG_6956

I took my position at the front over on right side of the field. Ed Grenzig, the amazing photographer for Long Island Running Photos, got a nice pic of the start line. Naturally, I am looking at my phone.

2019NDM LIRP start
Pay attention, #129

I was looking at my phone for a good reason: I wanted to play a particular song. Did I really need to listen to music during a run that would most likely last less than seven minutes? No. But I wanted to. One of my favorite running playlist songs as of late has been Wolfsheim’s timeless “The Sparrows and the Nightingales.” When I realized the extended version I have is 6:45, I thought it’d be fun to see if I could finish the race before the song ended. A race within a race, if you will. Of course, I had to start the song before I began running as I didn’t want to be fumbling to put my phone away in my belt. So I was trying to time it perfectly.

Whether or not I would finish before Wolfsheim did, my main goal was to see if I could best my Fifth Avenue Mile time of 6:47. I was doubtful, as I haven’t exactly been training to run a mile race. But it wouldn’t hurt to try. Well, it might hurt a little.

Here is my only rant of this recap: This was, without a doubt, the messiest start of a race I have ever witnessed. No mat, as I said, and no actual starting line either. Also no horn, no gun, no loud sound to indicate the start. Just the race organizer counting down “Three, two–” and before his lips could even form the “o” sound in “two,” several women at the front started sprinting and that was that. We were off, I guess.

It’s not like my overall placement was going to be affected by a few women getting a split second head start, but man, that start was a mess. I think if they keep doing this race they need to figure out a way to clean it up. My two li’l cents.

I’d decided to program my Garmin to indicate quarter mile splits. This way I could get a sense of how I was doing throughout the race.

IMG_7810

The first almost quarter mile took us down Laurel, at which point we would turn left for a mostly straight shot down Main, ending at the harbor. Only one right angle turn (#blessed). I was toward the front of the pack for this stretch, maybe in the top 15. I noticed two little girls ahead of me. Damn, I was being beaten by kids! But right before the turn, they faded and I passed them. I tried not to feel too smug.

1st QUARTER MILE: 1:29.0

So… this didn’t exactly register with me at the time. I’m used to seeing mile paces, not quarter mile paces. For some dumb reason I thought it might tell me my mile pace at this point but instead, obviously, it displayed the time it had taken me to run a quarter mile. If my brain had been fully functioning at the time, I would have realized something truly incredible: a sub-1:30 quarter mile is a sub-6:00 mile pace.

In other words, I had just run a quarter mile at a pace starting with the number “5.” I didn’t fully realize this until later. When I did, my jaw dropped.

Believe it or not, my goal had been to “take it easy” in the first quarter. Clearly, I had not done this. I slowed in the second quarter. Fortunately, the race was true to its name and it was all on a slight downhill. All I had to do was keep moving my legs as fast as I could without going all out. I passed another woman. Maybe two.

2nd QUARTER MILE: 1:38.7

Almost ten seconds slower than the first quarter. Not terrible, but naturally I was not able to keep up a sub-6:00 pace for a whole mile. So, expected. Wolfsheim still blasted in my ears.

It was fun running this fast. I’m not used to it. I’m still trying to figure it out. Obviously I can’t SPRINT like it’s the 100 yard dash in 5th grade field day, but at the same time, it’s only one mile. I felt like I was fairly consistent.

3rd QUARTER MILE: 1:38.1

And consistent I was, running the third quarter less than one second faster than the one before.

The last quarter mile had us going down Main Street, the busiest part of the course, meaning instead of two or three spectators, there were maybe 20? I wasn’t really paying attention. My eyes were fixated on the finish. I tried moving my legs faster, but my legs were like “screw you, you told us you were going to hold back in the beginning” and I was like “I know, I’m sorry” and they were not having it.

Wolfsheim stopped playing before I hit the finish. This was fine. I had started it too soon anyway.

2019NDM LIRP2

4th QUARTER MILE: 1:44.3

Six seconds slower than the third quarter mile, but that’s okay, because I was done. Oh, almost.

LAST 0.01 MILE: 0:03.9

Okay, now I was done.

 

2019NDM LIRP3

I stopped my Garmin. I’d run 1.01 miles. In 6:34. Wait, 6:34? As in… faster than 6:47?

I PR’d?

I did make note of the fact that I’d run slightly longer than 1.00 mile, so maybe my pace would slow down a hair. Maybe 6:35. Was that possible?

It was. My official pace was 6:35. I finished 9th.

I knew I’d be getting an age group award, but now, seeing my time, I got greedy and decided I wanted the FIRST PLACE age group award. I still wasn’t sure about the Master’s top three. This race was known for having several female top finishers in their 40s. I was certain that one of them had finished well ahead of me.

I strolled through the farmer’s market a bit but didn’t want anything too heavy, as I had three more miles to run to get back to my sister’s.

2019NDM IMG_6959

Although it was tempting.

2019NDM IMG_6962

In the meantime, I watched this 80-something woman cross the finish. She walked the whole way. So inspiring. I sincerely hope that when I can no longer run, I will still be able to walk races.

2019NDM IMG_6963

I watched the first man cross the finish. Only 4:13? Pssh, I can do that. I just held back today.

2019NDM IMG_6964

Finally, I went over to the awards area. Ooh, a snack I can still run three miles on. Yes please. Thanks Copenhagen Bakery!

2019NDM IMG_6960

I’ll take one of those, too.2019NDM IMG_6966

I waited anxiously as they announced the award winners. I did not place in the top three Master’s. But that was okay. There was still a chance of first place age group.

And guess what? I got it!

2019NDM LIRP top 3 AG award

Thank you again to Long Island Running Photos for these great pics, by the way! As a photographer and as a runner, I was really impressed with them.

IMG_6864

After I got my glass, I jogged three miles back to my sister’s, exactly the same way I’d come. It was a little weird running with a pint glass in my hand, but not only did it have a handy indentation where I could hold it securely, I was just so happy to have it that I didn’t even mind.

Look mom, I got my pint glass.

OFFICIAL RESULTS:

– Time: 6:35
– Age Group: 1/11
– Women: 9/89

Goodbye, 40-44 Age Group

It’s official. I am 45 years old. I am very happy about this, the reason being that turning 45 means that I have not died yet. And I don’t know about you, but I am very pro not dying.

IMG_7058_literalbirthday
My literal birthday

For a long time, I felt a little self-conscious revealing my age. Partly because I wanted to work in television and I assumed there was some sort of bias with anyone over a certain age (and let’s be honest: there is). But now that I’ve embraced the idea of not working in television, I feel a sense of relief about many things – one of which is my age. I love being in my 40s. I’ve honestly never been happier and healthier.

Since I didn’t get bitten seriously with the running bug until 40, this is the first time I’ve experienced the thrill of entering a new age group for races. There are still plenty of fast women in their late 40s and beyond, so it will be interesting to see how I stack up against them.

IMG_7068_Hellgate5K_shirt
Three days before my 26th birthday, I ran a 5K almost a minute per mile slower than I would run a marathon at age 44

One thing I’ve noticed with just about every race I’ve done is the number of women 45-49 is almost always fewer than the number of women 40-44. The largest groups tend to be in their 30s, and then each 5-year group declines from there. Less competition –> more chances of snagging trophies. 😛

Speaking of which, one of my goals over the next few years is to place in the top three of my age group in a NYRR race. I’ve been able to do this in smaller, local races where there might be 15-20 women in my age group. NYRR races are much larger and might have anywhere from 200 to 1200 runners in a 40-something age group (or more, if you’re talking about the marathon). I’m not sure I could ever place top three in a larger race like the marathon or even the Mini 10K (especially when Deena Kastor is running it), but perhaps races like the Pride Run, where last year there were only about 200 women aged 45-49 might there be a possibility of top three placement.

Even then, I still have a lot of work to do. Those top ladies are still super fast.

The closest I’ve come to an NYRR age group top 3 was this past New Year’s Eve Midnight Run when I placed 4th out of 207. But I don’t really count that as an actual race, since the majority of runners – many faster than me – run it casually for fun. Knowing this, I ran it not casually for fun to see how high I could place. I almost made it.

By the way, placing is never my ultimate goal, just a nice icing-on-the-cake goal. And who doesn’t like cake icing?

IMG_7067_25thbirthdaycake
Enjoying cake icing on my 25th birthday

This is one of the things I love about running: you might not be in direct competition with the front runners and elites, but you can still compete within your age group, no matter how old you are. Thank you, Ted Corbitt!

I thought I would write a brief summary of things I’ve learned over the last five years of running in the form of an advice list. This is for everyone, whether you’ve hit 40 or not. It seems like a fun way to get this new age group thing started. Let’s go.

06.19.04-32_daybefore30thbirthday
The day before I turned 30 and clearly thrilled about it

ADVICE BASED ON MY LAST 5 YEARS OF RUNNING

Be patient. Everything will happen when it happens. I mean, nothing ever happens before it happens, am I right? This includes getting stronger, getting faster, and feeling better when you’re not. Don’t try to do too much too soon. You’ll get there. And don’t run on pain. Do that and you’ll set yourself back more than you would if you rested.

Be consistent. I ran fairly consistently, although not intensely, throughout my 20s. I ran much less throughout my 30s, and not consistently – I’d run regularly for a few weeks or months and then… not. I’d find reasons not to run. I’d make excuses. I was busy. I was tired. I didn’t care. I was never going to be fast or be able to run longer than an hour, so why bother?

Right before I hit 40, I was 25 pounds heavier than I’d been in my 20s and tired of feeling crappy all the time. I decided to commit to running regularly, no matter what. I had concluded that the feeling of guilt from not taking care of myself was greater than any feeling of discomfort I might experience while exercising. This worked. Five years later, I’m still taking care of myself because I love how it makes me feel, I’m happy with how I look now, and I am a thousand times happier. I will never go back.

This also means you have to run in the rain. Don’t argue with me. Just do it.

Set ambitious but realistic goals. I like to have big goals that are within reach – maybe ones that feel just outside reach, but not entirely impossible. Having A, B, & C goals with varying outcomes is a great idea. For example, in my next marathon, I’d like to:

  • A: Finish in under 3:38 so I can time qualify for the 2020 NYC Marathon
  • B: Finish in under 3:48 to set a new PR
  • C: Finish in one piece and not dead

That first goal is fairly ambitious for me. It would require running an average 8:18 pace or faster. But it’s within reach, I think. It is not physically possible for me to set a new world record or qualify for the Olympics or even run under three hours at this point, so those are not options. But running a marathon in 3:37? Possible.

Don’t up your mileage too fast. Those who have been following this blog for a while may remember that last summer I always had calf issues, my lower legs forever in calf sleeves. This is because I upped my weekly mileage too fast and ran on sore legs. Don’t do this. Increase mileage slowly and be sure to take it down every 3-4 weeks.

Keep track of your workouts. I do this in a spreadsheet because I am anal and I love spreadsheets. You might be fine using Strava, Garmin, Map My Run, or any other type of athletic record-keeping device. This is a great way to see your progress over time, keep an eye on your mileage, and stay motivated. Who wants a bunch of blank spaces on a calendar, anyway?

You are stronger than you might think. Even just two years ago, I had doubts as to whether I could run 26.2 miles. Today, I have no doubts that I can, seeing as I have done it twice. I never imagined that all it would take was time, effort, and proper training. If I can do it, so can you.

You are faster than you might think. Races have been the absolute best way for me to test this theory on myself. RUN RACES! You don’t have to run as many as I do (so far I have… damn, 20 races on my calendar for 2019) but having a goal race is a great way to stay motivated as well as see what you are capable of when given a little extra push. You might surprise yourself.

Get some damn sleep. I know this is hard for some people based on their jobs, schedules, families, and more. But please try. You will feel so much better and you will run so much better.

Eat breakfast before you run. Fueling is always subjective and what works for one may not work for another, but after years of trying different things I’ve found that, for me, eating breakfast (and not just a handful of nuts or dried fruit) about 90 minutes to two hours before I run makes me feel way better. Lately I’ve been loving steel cut oats topped with a fried egg. Find what works for you!

Eat more whole foods and less junk. Good nutrition is key to feeling good and running well. Over the years, my meals have consisted more and more of whole foods – the fewer ingredients, the better. Lately, my diet is 99% vegetables, fruit, rice, beans, lentils, oats, and eggs. One ingredient stuff. Do I still have chocolate and donuts and cookies every now and then? Sure. I save that stuff for special occasions like parties, holidays, and Global Running Day. It’s not about calories, either. I just feel better when I eat better.

Be thankful for your life, your health, and your body. Not a day goes by that I’m not thankful for the ability to run. I don’t have to run. I get to run. Sometimes I can’t believe how lucky I am. I have a healthy body and it works the way I want it to. How amazing is that? As the title of this blog suggests, I do think of my body as a machine. I know it’s the only one I’ll ever get, so I better take care of it; the more I do this, the more it will give back to me.

Imagine getting a car the day you’re born and it will be the only car you’ll ever be allowed to have. Ever. Wouldn’t you rotate the tires, have the oil changed regularly, and… whatever else people with cars do with their cars? That’s how I think of the human body. You get one. That’s it. Treat it well.

And with that…

Hello, 45-49 age group.

40sBirthdays
Birthday selfies: ages 40 through 45. I started making them post-run selfies on my 42nd.

Thirst Trap: 2019 New York Mini 10K Race Recap

I was excited to run the Mini 10K again this year. First of all, it’s a 10K. I like 10Ks. I like them better than 5Ks and I think I like them better than 15Ks, although I have only ever run a 15K twice. My “regular” route is seven miles, so 6.2 feels not only doable, but short.

There’s a lot of cool history surrounding the Mini. It’s the world’s oldest all-female road race, created in 1972 by Kathrine Switzer and my close personal friend Nina Kuscsik, with the help of then NYRR president Fred Lebow. That inaugural race in 1972 had just 78 runners. Over the years, there have been some legendary competitors: both Grete Waitz and Tegla Loroupe have won it five times each. The fastest female marathoner in history, Paula Radcliffe, won in 2001. Deena Kastor won it in 2004, the last American winner for a decade until Molly Huddle claimed that honor for herself in 2014. Mary Keitany, a four-time winner of the NYC Marathon, won the Mini in 2015, 2017, and 2018.

This year’s Mini had 8886 runners. We’ve come a long way, baby.

Continue reading “Thirst Trap: 2019 New York Mini 10K Race Recap”

Hard Reset: My Convenient Cold, Global Running Day, and Meeting Deena Kastor

I took a break! More from blogging than from running. But now I’m back. Hello!

I wasn’t planning on running the week after the hot ‘n hellish Brooklyn Half (which I can’t believe was only four weeks ago). Last year, I think I took two days off from running after the half. This year, this ol’ body needed more. I needed a reset.

Continue reading “Hard Reset: My Convenient Cold, Global Running Day, and Meeting Deena Kastor”

Is This Hell?: 2019 Popular Brooklyn Half Race Recap

The 2019 Popular Brooklyn Half was my fourth race in four weeks. As I get to the end of this recap, you will see that this is a lot of races to run in four weeks, and perhaps too many races to run in four weeks.

This fourth race was a good learning experience. I was tired in ways I had never felt. It was by far the hardest race I’ve ever run, including both of my marathons (one of which, by the way, was one of the four races I ran in this four week period).

Continue reading “Is This Hell?: 2019 Popular Brooklyn Half Race Recap”

Caution to the Wind: 2019 Run for the Health of It 5K Race Recap

I would not normally suggest racing a 5K only 13 days after one has run a marathon, unless the 5K is very special, and this one was, so I did. I wrote a whole post about why the 5K was important to me so I won’t rehash the whole thing here, only to say that it takes place in my hometown of Northport, Long Island and I had wanted to run it for the past two years but didn’t get to until this year.

Continue reading “Caution to the Wind: 2019 Run for the Health of It 5K Race Recap”

A Tale of Two Marathons: How I PR’d by 12 Minutes (with a BQ!)

Now that I have run two (2) whole marathons, I am a qualified marathon expert. Or at least, somewhat knowledgeable. Okay, I am still an idiot who doesn’t know anything. But now that I have run two marathons, I can at least compare them. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how to run an Olympic qualifying marathon. Also, if you’re looking to run an Olympic qualifying marathon, you are very much on the wrong blog.

In this post, I’m going to take a close look at the two 26.2-mile races I’ve run in my very short life as a marathon runner: the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon and the 2019 Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon. I’m kind of a numbers nerd, and I thought this could be a fun way of comparing the two training cycles and races – examining what I did better, what I could still do better, and how luck and life circumstances played a role. Let’s have some fun! Or maybe it’ll just be me who has fun!

Continue reading “A Tale of Two Marathons: How I PR’d by 12 Minutes (with a BQ!)”