I think that “Races” might be the least used category on this blog. I don’t really write race reports, because I haven’t really run many races in the last year. I checked, and there are seven posts categorized under “races.” Two of those are about races I didn’t run, one was about a race I ran 5 years ago, two were posts about the same race, and one was about the NYC Barefoot Run, which qualifies as a run about as much as a tossing a Nerf ball around during a BBQ qualifies as a football game. Really, the Coogan’s 5K and the Muddy Marathon are the only two races I’ve run since I’ve started writing about running.
I used to run a lot of races: in ’07 I ran 16, and in ’08 I ran 14, including 5 half-marathons and a marathon. In ’09 I ran none, and last year I ran 4. There are two major factors that changed. First, we had Nat, and suddenly my running at all, let alone racing, came to a screeching halt. In ’09 I basically stopped running altogether, and in ’10 I started again just in time to put in some basic level of training for the NYC Marathon. When I did start running, it was much harder to figure out when to fit in runs at all, without the logistics of getting to a race at a certain time and date, and of course not being able to push Nat in the stroller meant having to make sure one of us wanted to sit out the run and take care of a kid instead.
Second, but more importantly really, is that my thinking about running started to change. Not that I was ever a very competitive runner before, but I got tired of the crowded, shoulder-to-shoulder jostle of New York Road Runner’s events — the corrals, the pace groups, the same loops of Central Park again and again. My partner and I also got into running right at the start of a massive boom in local running. In 2007, 2,800 people ran the Coogan’s 5K. In 2008, it was up to 3,200. This year when we ran it, the total was over 5,400! All the people and energy can be fun, but it can also be really annoying to have thousands and thousands of other runners to shuffle past at the start, crowding the narrow race route, then jostle again just to fit into the chute leading to the finish line.
For the last year, I’ve been just running on my own, not seeking any PR’s or gauging myself against anyone else. I haven’t trained for any time or distance, so there’s been no schedule, no set long runs, no required tapering. I’ve run when I wanted to run, for as long and as fast as I’ve wanted to run, and taken time off when I needed a rest. It’s been great. On the other hand, I haven’t had a reason to push myself; its great to talk about internal motivation and all, but sometimes the external forces of competition and an actual event are positive. I’ve written a lot about running with joy and am a fully devoted member of the Run Smiley collective, but joy and smiling and pushing oneself to the point of collapse aren’t always exclusive.
All this to say that I’ve been really looking forward to the Bed-Stuy 10K. It isn’t just a race, its a race in my neighborhood! Which meant that this morning it was about a 10 minute walk to the number pick-up and starting line, and the race course literally went down the street in front of our house. I briefly contemplated making this my first barefoot race, or my first race in hauraches, but I decided that I actually wanted to go fast; after all, I can run any time, but a race gives me the focus and motivation to see what I’ve got in terms of speed. So this morning I laced up my yellow Inov8 155’s, the shoes that make me feel like I’m an elite runner (rather than a mid-pack hoofer) before heading out the door with Nat, Angelica, and M.
The 10K is part of an entire week celebrating Bed-Stuy. Friday night, Mos Def, who grew up in the neighborhood, gave a free concert, and there are various events highlighting the food, culture, and business of Bed-Stuy going on all week. So the 10K really felt less like a race and more like what it is officially titled: a community run. Before the race there were a kids runs, and Nat had a blast running with the 4-6 age group (he was a good year younger than any other kid running), though sadly I couldn’t find my camera so there’s no video. The YMCA and other local groups had tables with information and refreshments, and a DJ blasted classic R&B and Hip Hop while an MC lead the runners in warm-ups: high leg kicks, stretching, and of course, the traditional pre-race electric slide. Just before 10 we all headed over to Fulton and milled around near Nostrand for a few minutes, until a police sergeant with a bull-horn told us to line up by the balloons tied to the Dunkin Donuts. The sergeant made a valiant effort at sorting the different pace groups, but really there was just a massive mob of runners crowded onto Fulton when he sounded the air-horn and we took off.
For the last few weeks, I’d been looking forward to racing in the cool, autumn weather. Unfortunately, this weekend was unseasonably hot, with a high today in the 80’s, so it felt a bit more like an early summer run than a fall race. I have not been training for speed at all, and do somewhere around a 9-9:30 mile during my commute, so I went into the race with no expectations or goals other than to push myself as hard as I could while still being able to run fast at the end. I didn’t wear my Garmin, and the course has no timers at the miles, so I had nothing to gauge my speed other than how I felt and whether or not the effort felt sustainable. During the race, I went through a few phases:
1. I CAN push myself hard! The first mile I felt nice and strong, going hard without straining and keeping good form. The sun was hot, but I kept up with some pretty good looking runners, and put some distance between myself and the bulk of the pack. I was sort of working off the assumption that since I’ve been running so much lately, I can handle going hard for a short race.
2. Whoah, I really CAN’T push myself that hard! A little past mile 2, I realized I couldn’t keep up the pace I was on — seemed casually running half-marathon distances for fun isn’t training for a fast 10K. I pulled back a little, while still running hard. I slipped back a few spots, but clung on to the tail end of the lead pack. In front of me was a pretty unbroken string of runners to the front-runner, while behind me was about a fifty-yard no-man’s land to the next guy.
3. Okay, I can keep THIS up. It wasn’t as hard or as fast as I had hoped, but settling into my second gear was sustainable, and I started passing a few people who were flagging. Not many, and this race is pretty sparsely populated, so for most of the second half of the run I was by myself, with a good number of yards between the runners in font and in back of me.
4. Oh, I really DID push myself that hard! I made the final turn at Thompkins onto Fulton, then did the last quarter mile at a dead-sprint. Crossed the finish line panting but erect, and as soon as I was out of the chute asked a woman who had finished just a few second a head of me what her time was. 45:20. Which beat my former 10K PR of 51:06 at the Health Kidney run in ’08 by almost 6 minutes! So maybe my assumption that just “running a lot for fun” would work wasn’t so crazy after all . . .
That’s the numbers of it. The race itself was great, though about half-way through I remembered that 6 miles isn’t long when you’re doing a 9 minute mile, but it feels a LOT longer when you’re doing what turns out to be a 7:20 mile. The course is flat, and weaves its way through my neighborhood, down streets and up avenues I know very well, so I had a lot of fun. Bed-Stuy isn’t exactly downtown or Central Park, so there were no throngs or crowds of onlookers, but every block there would be one or two people on their stoops or standing on the sidewalk cheering us on, and the personal nature of it felt great. As I ran past, I said thank you to everyone who was cheering, and tried to high-five every kid who was holding up a sign at a turn or giving out water. When I got to our block, I hopped up on the sidewalk so I could high-five Nat, who was waiting to watch me run past with M and Angelica in our stoop.
All in all, it was a great race. I got to smile and say hi to a lot of people, and I got to push myself hard and crush my previous 10K p.r. all in one race. The official times aren’t posted yet, but I’m sort of interested in where I fell — near the start of the last mile, some lady yelled: “Keep it up, you’re in the top sixty!” Since there were close to 800 runners last year, and it seemed like there were a LOT more this year, if she was right, that would be pretty cool. I’ve spent the rest of my days stretching my legs and being reminded that running really hard takes as much out of you as running a long ways. Since I run 7 miles every day, I guess I sort of thought 6.2 wouldn’t have much an effect, but I’ve been hungry, thirsty, and a bit tired all day.
Which, I suppose, is a perfect time to wrap this up and head to bed.