I’ll keep this short and sweet. It’s not often that I write about races — feats of speed or distance — on my blog. Over the last several years, while I’ve completed a handful of half marathons and a few shorter races, I’ve found that my love of running is really rooted in the freedom afforded by leisurely morning adventures without crowds, timers or water stations.
For the hippies of the running world, races can sometimes take away from that, I’ve found. It’s not that I don’t enjoy them. It’s just that I’d rather log miles without the pressure of a finish line, as much as I enjoy the camaraderie of race day morning.
Then a few weeks ago, a coworker convinced me to sign up for a winter race — the Joe Kleinerman 10k. The race itself is pretty straight forward: one lap of Central Park, beginning at 102nd street just beneath Harlem Hill and ending back uptown. 6.3 miles. A lot of hills. Unruly — and unpredictable — January weather. The last time I ran a race during the winter, it snowed. Uncooperative weather would be far from a surprise.
On the Friday before the race, my plan was to pick up my race bib after work on the Upper East Side, followed by dinner with a friend and an early bedtime. I didn’t have any specific goals for Saturday’s race other than to beat 10-minute miles, but I nevertheless knew that I needed to get a good night’s rest. My alarm would wake me from my slumber at 6:30AM, after all.
Naturally, none of that happened (except for the buzzing alarm clock) — which is one of the reasons why I hardly ever set race goals. Rather than that single glass of wine I proposed, my friend and I drank about a bottle each (we knew the owner of the restaurant; a perk I couldn’t resist!), ate way too much South African-inspired food and cake (squash, lentils and kale galore!), dropped my earring down the sink drain once back at my apartment (I spent about an hour trying to retrieve it) and went to sleep at midnight. Six-and-a-half hours later, we were up and ready to run — albeit slightly (re: very) dehydrated and in need of another three hours of sleep (and one earring).
On top of all that, it was foggy and misty and gross out, but at least the air was a warm 50 degrees. I’d take a rainy 50-degree rainy run over a sunny 15-degree run any day.
So that brings us to Central Park, 8AM, the starting line. Like I said, I didn’t have many expectations besides logging 6.3 miles before 9AM on a Saturday. If that’s all I accomplished, I’d have been happy, because in the city that never sleeps, I guarantee you most everyone was sleeping at that hour.
Instead, I broke 9-minute miles — something I’d never achieved before — and set a shiny new PR: 53:52.
Despite setting minimal race goals, during the Joe Kleinerman 10k, I ran harder than I have in a long time; I’m not sure why. Noah and I started off together and ran for about a mile side by side (or as close to side by side as possible in a race day setting). I had a lot going on in my head between miles 2 and 6 though, once he started to pull away. The thoughts were many and varied, ranging from:
- Holy crap my head feels like it’s going to explode to…
- You leave for Miami in a week, Stacy, step up your game, to…
- I wonder if I should run more races before the wedding?
The clocks weren’t working as I passed by the markers for miles one and two, and so with no watch and no way to feel out my time, like the great Forrest Gump, I just kept on running. By the time I got to the halfway point, I could see that I was way ahead of my usual pace: 3 miles in 26 minutes (minus a 1:30 start delay). 9-minute miles? I could really do this!
Despite a particularly slippery Harlem Hill and a brutal final mile that included Cat Hill, I managed to shock myself — and Noah! I finished just 40 seconds behind him. And even though I didn’t approach the race with any goals or expectations, I managed to walk away incredibly proud of my accomplishment, which if you ask me is the most important outcome of it anyway.
When’s the last time you were pleasantly surprised with your performance during a race?