So THAT’s what it feels like for the rest of the country who run races outside of New York City…
This three-loop race around Prospect Park piqued my interest because it represented a bunch of firsts for me. For starters, it was the first time I’d ever run a ten-miler. Secondly, it was the first time I’d ever run in the Brooklyn, and by extension, Prospect Park. Thirdly, until today, I’d never participated in a race within the five boroughs that wasn’t sponsored by New York Road Runners (this one was set up locally by the Prospect Park Track Club). Given all of these unknowns, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I boarded the 6 and then the F train when my Flyer friend BS over to the race this morning.
Due to some unusual luck with the NY subway system, we arrived at the 14th Street station about an hour ahead of the scheduled start. It was fortuitous too because it took us about half that time to find the appropriate entrance to the park. On the way, we met a group of Flyers who had driven there and realized that this was going to be a much bigger showing for our club than what we had expected. Once we located the park and found the staging area, I quickly realized how different this race was going to be then any of the NY road races I’d been accustomed to running in. First, the baggage area was located only in a small tent a few steps away from the 2 port-a-potties that were located at the start. Second, instead of giant displays signifying the start and end of the race, there was but lines drawn on the pavement with chalk and one digital clock next to the finish line. Finally, we didn’t even receive a timing chip for this race, just a bib with a race number on it. Although none of these minor inconveniences affected my race for better or worse (except maybe for the chip thing), it made me realize just what running smaller races was all about.
After exchanging pleasantries with other Flyers who had shown up for the race (there were in excess of 20), we moved over to the starting line, awaited the brief race instructions announced over a megaphone too softly for anybody to hear, heard the race director shout “Go!” and we were off!
It was drizzling ever so slightly by the time I started running. The temperature was a seasonable 42° and although it felt about five degrees colder in the early morning dampness and humidity, I was actually quite comfortable racing in my bandana, two thin technical layers and thicker tights. I had warned myself not to start too fast given my unfamiliarity with the race distance, the park course, and the voluminous hills that I had heard so much about the night before (thanks Irish), but given all the pre-race excitement, my secret desire to leave a good mark in Brooklyn, and the fact that the first mile was entirely downhill, it was really more than I can do to contain myself as I blistered through Mile 1 in 5:51.
Omigosh, I told myself, we’re doing a 10-miler not a 5-K, slow down! I listened to myself, but more out of necessity than discipline as we made the first ascension into the hilly section of the park (I’m posting the elevation profile of the race so you can follow along…) I move through Mile 2 slowly and cautiously, not knowing what lies behind the next turn. In my mind, I’m picturing myself moving through the bottom of Harlem Hill in Central Park, which put my mind a bit more at ease. Mile 2 (in 6:26) ended just as the hill crests and the course moves into a series of smaller rollers. I surge forward and extend my stride to reclaim some of my speed. After holding off a relay-er (there was a 3-team relay option for this race) who would purposely slow down during the uphill and speed up again on the downhill, I pass Mile 3 in 6:16. Loop 1 almost done.
I was pretty excited when I passed by the staging area, signifying the end of Loop 1. My expectations for this race was predicated on what the various race calculators predicted I’d do based on my half-marathon result from 2 weeks ago. McMillian, Runner’s World, Riegel, Cameron, Purdy all predicted I’d run 1:04:09-1:04:54 for the 10 miles, so I arbitrarily set my goal for this race at 1:40:30. Since that comes out to 6:27 average pace, I had made up my mind before the race to marry myself to that pace. Now that Loop 1 was over and I was comfortably below my target pace, I relaxed a bit and dialed in mentally to the tougher middle portions of the race.
Because Mile 4 was straight downhill, almost in a complete contrast to Mile 2, I took it easy and still found myself passing the marker at 6:12. Mile 5 and 6 were exactly the opposite and it took all my focus and concentration to power through in 6:28 and 6:32 respectively. At times during this long uphill climb, when I’d find my thoughts gradually succumbing to the pain, I’d imagine myself at the Newton Hills battling through the toughest stretches of the Boston Marathon, and telling myself that this was my test, my chance to prove that I’m worthy of the challenge that will surely await in miles 17-20 less than 2 months away. Will I be able to handle it…the pace, the climb, the pain? I didn’t dare answer myself but it did the trick as I emerged somewhat victoriously, passing through a handful of runners during this stretch.
After surviving the tough climbs, I took the next downhill mile as recovery. I glanced at the surrounding scenery and suddenly remembered how thoroughly excited I was to be racing and doing well again. You see, I had locked my running shoes in the closet the past few days sort of as a punishment for running too many miles earlier in the week. I had a lot of hospital work to catch up on in the interim and took the rest time to rededicate myself to patient care. As a result of my self-imposed sabbatical, I developed a deep yearning to run and run really fast! For almost the entire mile, I was able to separate myself mentally from the race and just enjoy the fact that I was running again. It was completely exhilarating, so much so that I almost forgot to hit the lap button when I passed by all the people and the Mile 7 marker at 6:10.
Wow, another unbelievably fast mile. By this time, I knew 1:04:30 was pretty much in the bag and dared to wonder if I’d be able to do sub 1:04:00. But of course just like in any life situation when your sentiments of luck and good fortune rise to the level of consciousness, they quickly disappear and you’re stuck like I was, on the foot of another mountainous climb with no end in sight. Might 8 and 9 were just complete struggles for me, as my feelings of good will and redemption dissipated and gave way to fatigue and exhaustion. Plus I was getting passed left and right by runners surging through the anchor legs of their relay race! It was completely demoralizing to say the least as I huffed and puffed through every foot of elevation, not daring to look at my Garmin again until I had crested the final hill. Mile 8 in 6:22 and Mile 9 in 6:34 weren’t reminiscent of how awful I felt during those final miles. Not only did I feel extremely slow running next to the relay racers pushing to the finish, but I felt as if I had given all my cushion time back for even a 1:04:30 finish. Almost instinctively, during the last mile through rolling hills, I got really annoyed and forced myself to increase my stride and turnover as if I were approaching the end of a 5K. Eventually, I surged through the last downhill portion of the course and redeemed myself with a 6:04 final mile for a (unconfirmed) finishing time of 1:03:00 (6:20 pace)!
Since it was the first time I’d done the distance, I can’t clam this as a PR for me. Still, I’m pretty excited that I exceeded my own expectations for this race. I didn’t go to Brooklyn today thinking I’d be any good, given that I knew the course was hilly and I was totally unfamiliar with the terrain and the course layout. Considering all of that, I’m ecstatic that I was able to run so well and set myself up for a good run at Boston!
After the race, a bunch of Flyers and I went to a local restaurant for brunch. We had a delicious meal and I for one replenished all the calories I had expended and then some. As I’m sitting in the subway on the way home, it finally dawned on me that I should have stuck around or at least asked to see the list of the age group award winners. Now, as I’m sitting at my computer and looking over the results of last year’s race, I see that my time today would’ve earned me first place in my age group! Damn! I should’ve checked. It’s just that I’ve never run in a small enough race where the potential of winning something, anything, was even a possibility. Now, I’m resorting to clicking and refreshing the race results website hoping to find out if I had placed and wondering if they would hold the award for me or if they’d just chuck it in the garbage. I really am an idiot, aren’t I?
Well, at least I’m an idiot that for one day ran pretty fast! Hope everyone had a nice running weekend as well.
(Will give an update once the race result and my idiot status is confirmed!)