Coogan’s 5K: Watch out Ryan Hall, Nat’s right behind you! (3.1 miles)

Back when M and ran together all the time, the Coogan’s 5K was one of our favorite races.  For one, the NYRR don’t put on many 5K’s (Coogan’s might be the only one at the moment), and its a really fun distance to run, since its so short and fast; if nothing else, its a change in pace and strategy from the the regular 4 and 5 mile races.  For another reason, the course is lined with bands playing everything from Celtic folk and mariachi to salsa and the blues.  The real selling point, however, was until we moved to Brooklyn last year, the starting line was a seven block walk from our apartment.  Today was the first time we had to commute all the way on the A train to run the race, but this year we had an extra incentive to sign up:  the 5K is followed by kids races, and Nat is just old enough to join the 2-3 age run, which promised to be an insane orgy of cuteness.  Nat was almost as excited as we were, and spent the morning saying, “Run with kids, run with kids,” and helpfully repeating our advice: “Don’t push the kids!”

Today was also our first race for 2011, and we don’t get to run many races these days, let alone run them together.  Back in 2007, we ran 16; in 2008, we ran 14 races, 5 of which were half-marathons. Last year, including the marathon, I ran four, only two of them with M.  A former student of mine, B, had agreed to show up and watch Nat while we ran, so we got to run together.

Unfortunately, after a week of brilliant warm weather and clear, blue spring skies, today’s forecast was for rain, and indeed we woke up to grey skies and wet sidewalks.  After a somewhat frantic breakfast we were out the door by 7:20, and while the overcast looked somewhat ominous, there wasn’t any actual precipitation.  When we got off the train at 168th street, however, it had started to drizzle; to make matters worse, my student was no where in sight, or answering her phone.  Since I’ve been running a lot lately, I told M to head to the starting line, and if needs be I’d sit this one out.  Not that I wanted to, obviously, but I was honestly okay with the prospect if it meant she could run.  So at 8:55 she kissed us both goodbye and jogged off, while Nat and I took refuge under an awning at the Ju-Ju cafe.  At 9:05, I thought I’d try calling her one last time, since the race directors always give runners a 10-15 minute window to cross the starting mat, and when I looked up, B was on the corner with her phone.  I frantically waved to her, stripped off my sweat-pants, hugged Nat, and sprinted off.  I crossed the start mat almost 8 minutes after the race had started and just as the director was announcing that they would be pulling up the mat in two minutes.

I’ve started a few races late before (thanks to parking issues, M and I crossed the mat at the Queen’s Half in 2008 with about 30 seconds to spare), and there are actually a few advantages: not only is there a bit of an adrenaline rush at the prospect of missing the start, but instead of the dreadful shuffle that accompanies most of these insanely over-crowded NYRR runs, you get to start on an empty course going full-speed.  There’s also a bit of a phycological boost from spending the entire length of the race passing other runners.  The down side to that is that you start to catch large packs of slower runners, as nearly every one is slower than you, and that can make passing people and moving at a good pace rather tricky.

After a half-mile or so I stripped off my jacket, as the light drizzle was actually very refreshing as long as one was moving and not standing around soaking wet.  Coogan’s is a pretty challenging 5K, as being in Washinton-Heights the course is quite hilly, with a few rather long, steep slopes.  It’s a straight shot up Ft. Washington Avenue, past the George Washington Bridge, up the steep climb to the entrance to Ft. Tryon Park, before dropping sharply down to do a loop around the Cloisters to head back to the start.  Out and back races can make passing more difficult, as half the road is reserved for the retuning runners, but its a also pretty cool to see the lead runners sprinting towards the final stretch just as you make the one-mile marker.

I really had no idea what to expect from today’s race, because I haven’t been working on speed at all recently.  I’m much more of a distance runner in general, and with my heel out of commission I’ve been even more focused on just easing into my milage.  Today felt great, however — my heel has been consistently better and better, and I felt light on my feet and full of energy.  I pushed myself to keep moving as fast as I could while still moving comfortably, and the crowded course forced me to into not going full out for too long of stretches.  Still, I felt pretty fast (and not just because my late start helped me pass other runners), though I didn’t want to test my heel and so didn’t sprint the very end, just pushed myself not to slow down.  I was pleasantly surprised to finish in 23:08, which is a 7:27 mile.  Not a PR (I ran Coogan’s in 22:14 back in ’07, and the Met’s Run to Home Plate in 22:12), but my fastest race in nearly 4 years, and with my lack of speed-work these days, not something I thought I was possible of right now.  And even better, my foot is feeling fine, so I didn’t accidently screw it up.

My race over, I met up with B and Nat at Ju-Ju, where M found us as well.  We were also joined by our friend’s Dave and Kelly, who have recently taken up running as well.  They are both doing the Manhattan Half-Marathon next week, and are as unlikely as runners as M and I.  Had you bet me a million dollars back in college that Dave and I would someday ever be runners, let alone run the same race, I would have hurt myself laughing before taking you up on the bet.  But here we were, soaking wet and having just run the same 5K.

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After getting coffee, it was time for the real highlight: the kids races!  The rain let up just in time, and M took Nat over the the starting line.  Nothing is cuter than waves of toddlers running with their parents, as its a complete toss up as to whether they will run, look around in confusion, or burst into tears.  At the finish line, each kid was given a medal by either a fire-fighter or a police officer, which was just adorable frosting on the cuteness cake.  Nat had a great time, and started saying “Run again, run again!”  But in the meantime, enjoy out pint-sized Usain Bolt:

(p.s. the Garmin map is really messed up, since I accidentally hit the “start” button back in Brooklyn, so it shows the course a 3.1 miles in Washinton-Heights and .00 miles back in Bed-Stuy.  If you want to see what I ran, you have to zoom into the northern part of the run).

Distance: 3.1 miles          Time: 23:08

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About Chris Van Dyke

I am a 33 year-old high school English teacher and long-distance runner. I live in Brooklyn with my partner, our 3 year-old son and 1 year-old daughter and a growing collection of muppets and trains. Besides running and teaching I like to draw, read, write, cook, and play the harmonica. While I didn't get to run my first ultra-marathon on my birthday, I've got a few more I've set my sights on. You can follow my (seldom updated) twitter feed @aboutrunning. I also blog as part of the Run Smiley Collective.
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