Here it is: an overview of my summer 2016 racing season, presented chronologically. Since I’ve fallen so hopelessly behind on race reports, I’ve stinted on the usual copious detail and tried to tease out broad themes instead.
NYRR Retro 4 Miler (June 4). The official theme of this race was running “old-school.” Sweat bands, “Stop Pre” t-shirts and pscychedelia abounded (kudos to the PPTC teammate who wore a vintage team singlet picked up at the Beacon’s Closet resale shop). Of course, there were still plenty of decidedly non-retro touches, like GPS watches (ubiquitous, producing a chorus of out-of-sync beeps at each mile), iPhones (nearly as ubiquitous) and fuel belts (lest you hit the wall at 3.5 miles, I guess). And much to my disappointment, we were not timed with popsicle sticks, or even tear-off bib tags, but by the latest in B-tag technology.
My personal theme for the race was “things to work on.” I’ve gotten better at not going out too fast – not necessarily because I’m any smarter than I used to be, but because these old legs take longer to warm up. My attitude has also improved. No longer do I fume and rage at other runners for their obliviousness, poor manners, and lack of knowledge of the sport – i.e., for being in front of me while running more slowly than I wish to be running. I would like to think that this is evidence of a generally kinder and gentler outlook on life, but it may also have something to do with NYRR’s continuing faith that I’m capable of running a 45:40 10K (a standardized 10K time being the benchmark for corral assignment), despite a heap of evidence to the contrary. As a consequence, my corral placement puts me in with much faster runners. I love letting them fume and curse and dodge as I trot zenly along.
That said, I still have a problem with running potty-mouth. I realized this when I fumbled a water cup at the first fluid station (yes, it was just a 4 miler, but the day was muggy and, well, I have a history) and unleashed a string of profanities. Not at anyone, mind you – I was just sending it out to the universe. But it’s still unbecoming to link God with sexual acts, and I really need to knock it off.
So even if I can’t improve on my 30:13 finish time, I can at least work on swearing less.
Al Goldstein Speed Series 5K (July 6). Run in sweltering heat, my goal was not to require medical attention. And I achieved it, but only just – and only after stopping (once? twice? the fact that I couldn’t remember was not a good sign) at drinking fountains along the course. My finishing time was an embarrassing 24:10, with mile splits of 7:37, 7:11 and (gulp) 8:37. Afterwards I closeted myself in the LeFrak Center bathroom, heaving.
This was not a good race.
Al Goldstein Speed Series 5K (July 20). Another steamy evening, another 5K. There are more important things in this world than 5K times, I told myself. Your time does not equate to your value as a human being.
I know these things, and yet I often act as though I don’t know them. On this evening, I decided to act as though I genuinely believed my own tiresome, platitude-spouting self. I started toward the back of the pack, where I chatted and joked with friends as we shuffled across the start. I jogged along, falling in step with other runners, gradually picking up the pace as we climbed Zoo Hill, striding easily to the first mile mark (7:59), flying through the downhill second mile (7:20), maintaining through mile three (7:15), and then mustering a sprint to the finish (0:43) for a time of 23:18. “Felt great!” I wrote in my log afterwards –
And it did. This was a good race.
Brooklyn Cyclones “Take Your Base” 5K (July 23). What could be better than running 3.1 miles on the entirely unshaded Coney Island boardwalk when the city is under a heat advisory? When you are someone who hates, hates, hates the heat, and has a history of collapsing in hot weather races (and even not-such-hot-weather races)?
Not. Fucking. Much.
Attitude, it turns out, is everything. Flush from my experience at the Al Goldstein race a few nights before (“Your time does not equate to your value as a human being!”), I gave myself permission to just have fun. A few teammates showed up, as did a young woman who’s a college friend of my daughter’s, and a friend of hers – not to mention the local book club that pulled together friends and family members to run as one big team. We chatted, sought out shade, mugged with the Cyclones’ seagull* mascot, commiserated, hydrated, promised each other not to die, and then – we were off.
My first mile, headed out on the boardwalk, was a comparatively leisurely 8:12; the second, including a 180 degree turnaround, a surprisingly zippy 7:25; the third, an I-could-run-faster-than-this-if-I-wanted-to-but-I-don’t-want-to 7:56.
Shortly before the 3-mile mark, we turned in to the MCU stadium and (true to the race’s name) rounded the bases. If my watch is to be believed, I sprinted the last tenth of a mile in 0:37. (More likely, I hit my watch a bit after the actual three-mile mark.)
My finish time of 24:10 was exactly the same as my time at Al Goldstein two weeks earlier, but felt worlds better. I wasn’t embarrassed, I wasn’t heaving, there was beer for the finishers (who cared if it was 9:30 in the morning?), and burgers, and (even better than the beer and burgers) pickles.
Why don’t more races offer pickles at the finish, I wondered?
And so, my stomach full of beer and burger and my heart full of tenderness for the college runner on his hands and knees vomiting up Gatorade (oh, how I felt for him!), I collected my age group trophy and then took off my shoes and waded into the Atlantic up to my knees.
This is summer racing at its finest.
NYRR Team Championships (July 30). This is the race I planned to plan my summer around. And I kinda sorta did, pushing back vacation plans and other commitments so that I could run it.
But actually train to peak for a 5-mile race at the end of July? Sorry, no.
To explain a little about Team Champs: this race is special because entry is limited to members of NYC-area running clubs. For the handful of us who follow team rankings – determined by clubs’ top finishers in designated “team points” races – it’s a big deal. The top ten runners are scored, instead of just the top five, and clubs receive double the usual number of points for their finish place.
I really wanted to run well for the glory of PPTC – but not, evidently, enough to train for it. The problem with the healthy, carefree, I’m-just-running-for-the-love-of-it attitude I’d been cultivating at other summer races is that it’s hard to turn it off. Could I still be competitive? How aggressively could I run? How aggressively should I run?
What was the dew point, again?
Humidity was a particular concern because a 5-mile race is at the edge of my personal danger zone: short enough to run hard, long enough to get in bad trouble. And because I’d been too healthy and carefree to obsess over race details, I hadn’t known until the day of the race that this year’s course was the tougher 5-mile Central Park loop, the one that includes the hills at the north end.
I’d run by feel, I decided . . . whatever that means.
And so, for the first two hilly miles, I felt like running at a steady pace of just under 7:50/mile. In the third mile, which rolls downhill, I felt like picking it up; that mile was 7:27. In the fourth mile, which includes Cat Hill on the eastern side of the park, I felt like giving up – but instead, I slowed to just under 8:00 pace. And in the final mile, to my surprise, I felt like finishing strong with a 7:23 mile.
My time of 38:25 was over a minute slower than my 2014 finish time, but (a) I’m two years older, (b) this was on a harder course and (c) I finished and did not require medical attention (neither of which was the case in 2013).
Brooklyn Mile (August 14). This was my revelation race, my have-I-been-all-wrong-about-running-all-these-years race. My entire running life, I have always considered myself more of a “strength” runner than a speedster. I start slow. Oh, sure, I’m capable of running a too-fast first mile, and often have (less lately, though), but I have never, ever been fast out of the (figurative) starting blocks. My all-out 400m intervals are barely faster than my all-out mile pace. And a few isolated performances at 5K-8K to the contrary notwithstanding, my most competitive results have come at distances in the 10 mile to half marathon range. What I’m best at is holding on, and suffering.
Nonetheless, I wanted to race a mile to see what I was capable of. Specifically, I wanted to see if I could run faster than a 7:00 mile (7:00 being the new 6:00). Since I got back into running after breast cancer, I’ve only managed to get under 7:00 a handful of times – and those were flying down hills (probably with the wind at my back). Over the last couple of years, even those downhill miles slowed . . . to 7:05, 7:10, 7:15.
A little over a year ago, I raced a mile on the McCarren Park track (on a windy night) and managed 7:01:97. Now the Brooklyn Running Company was giving me another chance, with a straight shot down Kent Avenue from just south of the Williamsburg Bridge to just north of East River State Park.
With good conditions, and decent training, and a whole lot of luck, I figured I had a shot at breaking 7:00 on a road course. But with a heat advisory on? And just back from a week of lazy lakeside vacation jogging? And no 200s on the track, because it’s summer and it’s hot and I’m healthy and carefree and just running for the love of it these days?
Slim to none: that’s how I figured my chances.
I lined up near the front of the Masters Women’s field (but stayed respectfully behind the two lithe women in bun hugger shorts whom I had pegged, accurately, as the winners) and, when the horn sounded, everybody whizzed past me. I knew I was a slow starter, but this was humiliating. I just might be the worst runner ever.
And then, what do you know? I was passing people. In fact, I was passing a lot of people. My quarter-mile split was 1:40. At the half mile mark (1:43), a spectator fired a confetti gun – I doubt it was for my benefit, but I still appreciated it. Another quarter mile, another 1:44. A North Brooklyn Runners woman I had passed earlier caught up with me and we ran almost side by side, one of us drawing ahead by a stride or two, then the other, back and forth. This was her turf we were running on, and her NBR teammates made sure we both knew that. “Colleen!” they screamed. Or was it “Pauline”? Or “Carly”? Something like that. (Her name, I learned later, was Polly.)
She outsprinted me to the line (as I said, I’ve never been a speedster), but our race-within-the-race pushed me to a 1:37 final quarter, and a 6:44 finish.
Not only did I far exceed my goal – in age-graded terms, this was my most competitive performance at any distance in almost ten years. And instead of feeling spent at the end, I felt exhilarated. Bring on the Blue Bottle cold brewed coffee! Bring on the artisanal poptarts! Ah, Williamsburg, you aren’t annoying and pretentious at all!
This race changed my attitude toward Williamsburg, and it also changed – or at least called into question – my self-image as a runner. Have I turned into a miler? Is it possible that I’ve secretly been one all along?
What I do know for certain is that I’ll be looking to jump into more track meets in the future.
Al Goldstein Speed Series 5K (August 17). Fresh off my Brooklyn Mile triumph, with nothing to prove, I showed up at the final race of the series prepared to not-race. “Just have fun,” I told myself. “Do what you did the last time.”
And so I did – just a little faster. First mile 7:49, second mile 7:11, third mile 7:08, sprint to the finish 0:43 for a time of 22:52, my fastest 5K in a summer of admittedly not-very-fast 5Ks. But, you know, I’m cool with that.
. . .
The summer running season wraps up tomorrow with another go at the 5K distance, at the NYRR’s Percy Sutton Harlem run. Separate race report to follow.
*With apologies to my birding friends; I’m merely using the Cyclones’ terminology, ornithologically incorrect as it may be.