My brother and father joined me for race #21 of the campaign: A four-mile trek through the streets of Scarsdale, NY, (pronounced “Scaaarhzzzz-daaaaaale” – be sure to adjust an imaginary necktie while you draw out the pronunciation).
Clear skies and temperatures in the low 30s made for decent – albeit brisk – racing conditions. After a week of tough workouts, I had low-moderate expectations for my race… further proof that I still have minimal understanding of my readiness.
1) Break 26min (6:30/mile pace) ✓✓✓
2) Increase the pace at the midway point ✓✓✓
3) Finish top 10 overall ✓✓✓
4) Stretch goal: Break 25:30 (6:22/mile pace) ✓✓✓!
Why was I nervous? Because this would be another good fitness test. I should be able to run four miles at a 6:30/mile pace… but could I? I’d be running without my rabbits, on an unknown course, and coming off a challenging week.
Either way, I woke up at 5:30 and couldn’t fall back asleep. Oh well. I paced around anxiously until we headed off to the race.
After arriving at Scarsdale High School nice and early to register and get in a good warmup, I snuck up to the second floor and conducted my dynamic stretching routine in a dark, quiet hallway. There was something oddly comforting about the beige/red/green square tile patterns on the floor – just like the ones that used to line the corridors of my own nearby high school.
Next, I jogged part of the course for about 1.5 miles… at least, I thought I did. I couldn’t find the start line – I expected to see a large setup – but there was nothing. More on that later…
Feeling warmer but a bit stiff, I headed over to the track to stretch for a bit longer and do some drills. After applying some arnica to my sore legs, I ran a bit farther and made sure to do some strides at race pace. My legs felt tired… I was beginning to doubt myself. It’s a a common, unsophisticated psychological trick I play on myself: I lower my expectations to alleviate the self-made pressure. It really doesn’t work.
With five minutes to go, I changed out of my Vomeros into my Hyperions and popped two pieces of fruit Run Gum. I was considering leaving a piece for mid-race… but running in tights, I had no pockets!
Why couldn’t I find the start line earlier? Because it was faintly painted on an inconspicuous part of the road.
Our racing bibs had chips, so I expected an RFID-laden start line. Nope. Just a narrow stripe of blue spray paint. That meant a gun-to-chip race: our final times would be based on the when the gun sounded – not when our bib crossed the start line – I had to start as close to the front as possible.
A handful of competitors wearing athletic gear that screams “I’m not really a runner” have bunched up at the front of the pack. I wiggle through a few folks who stare angrily at me for asserting myself. I shoot back at them a look that says “I can either pass you now or pass you in 20ft., your call.”
The Mayor of Scaaarhzzzz-daaaaaale sounds an air-horn. I start my watch. Off we go.
I was eager to keep an honest pace of 6:30 through the first mile, which featured a series of ups and downs but had an overall gain in elevation. I wanted to cruise the flat sections and not lose speed on the hills. I was setting myself up to have energy during the second mile when the big hills hit and I could try to muster the strength to pass nearby runners.
A handful of folks ran out in front and after a quarter-mile, I counted nine people in front of me. Okay, don’t let anyone pass me and that top-10 goal is locked up.
We hit the mile mark in exactly 6:30 and I feel good. I chew down on my Run Gum as if I’m trying to squeeze out every last drop of caffeine before the big hill. I decide that’s where I’m going to try and pick up the pace.
Check out the course map and elevation profile:
We hit the big hill and I hit it hard, leaving a pair of runners behind. I move well but this section of the course is still challenging. I am feeling pretty strong, but annoyed when I hit the halfway point and see that I ran 6:46 for the second mile.
But I feel pretty good. Okay, here come the easy parts. Pick it up on the downhills and sub-26 is no problem. You got this.
With a handful of runners chasing the lead car about quarter-mile ahead and nobody close behind, I am alone.
However, I am now re-running part of the course and there are plenty of runners still heading out. A few of them cheer me on as I pass them in the other direction which gives me a nice boost.
I cruise through the third mile and my watch beeps at the mile three marker: 6:09 for that third mile. Some quick math (that even I can do) tells me that I’m back under 6:30/mile average. I feel really strong and I know I can attack the easier, final mile and get under 26 minutes.
Early into the last mile I reach what I know must be the final uphill section and I go for it. I mean, really go for it. I know I can catch my breath a bit on the downhill slope.
I have about a half-mile to go and feel great. I look at my watch and it says just over 22 minutes. I am going to break 26 minutes – it’s just a question of by how much?
25:30 is in play, I tell myself.
I take a quick look backwards and nobody is in sight. I spit out my gum. Game on.
I am running strong and smooth as I turn into the high school parking lot with about a quarter-mile to go. The race finishes on the high school track – after entering through the parking lot, we have about 250 meters around the track to the finish line.
I step onto the springy rubber track and look at my watch: it says about 24:11. Knowing that I couldn’t catch anyone else and nobody was going to catch me, I had planned to maintain my speed and cruise to a strong finish… but a thought occurs to me…
If I really open it up, I can break 25.
I’m going for it.
I break into an accelerated stride and feel like I’m bouncing nicely with the wind at my back. Thank goodness the wind is at my back. With 100 meters to go, I peek at my watch – I think it says 24:38.
I think to myself: “You have more in the tank. If you miss sub-25 by a few seconds, you’re going to be so angry.”
I lean into the turn and I am in a full sprint. I imagine myself running the final turn of a tough 400m race – I’ve been here before. I drive my arms and make a every effort to bounce forward off of my toes with every step. Don’t let your heels touch the ground.
I hit the line: 24:56!
My last mile: 5:31.
For a moment I am tired, but I am so thrilled that I recover quickly.
An older guy comes over to me and says: “You’re the first finisher over the age of 17!”
“How many were ahead of me?”
“Just three kids.”
One off the overall podium! Damn. But that’s a massive Age Group victory and a surprisingly good time!
I feel great. I feel like I could run another race.
I head over toward the parking lot/track entrance to wait for Savi and Steve to come through. Savi has been pacing my dad and decides to take off and sprint the track section, blowing by a half-dozen runners on the back-stretch in a strong finish. My dad follows right behind and I join him on the track for the final 250 meters.
Both finished top five in their age groups!
We head back to the school cafeteria to grab bagels and pose for a photo.
I am astonished by how strong and smooth I felt late in the race. Very pleased and surprised. Coach Matt worked me hard this week and I thought my body wasn’t ready to sustain this speed.
My time of 24:56 (6:14/mile) was good for 4th place overall (165 total, 97 men) and first in my Age Group of 30-39! Definitely one my best races so far.
Next up: My bachelor party 5K. Let’s just say I don’t expect to be running a PR….