I've been nervously anticipating the Colon Cancer 15k for several weeks. It was my first 15k and my first race as a member of Van Cortlandt Track Club. I'd been pushing my training pretty hard through most of March to try to tune myself for the race, but my running still felt more aligned with shorter and longer events. Through all that training I had only a vague notion of what my goal should be. I knew I could hold 7 minutes throughout and I suspected I could reasonably run it faster, but my most recent "fast" runs were either on extremely flat courses or were only about six-miles. As I dressed on Sunday morning for the race, I did some rough math and decided I wanted to break 1:03.
My own goofy mind-games aside, the Colon Cancer 15k was a strange affair. Given the multiple races as part of this event (and the early-morning duathlon in the park) NYRR did a great job staging things yesterday. The 11:15 start was strange and it made for a jittery morning for me, but at least it allowed my wife and daughter to cheer me on at the start and finish. I woke early (as I think most of us do on race days) and made my typical mug of rooibos and cinnamon tea and bowl of oatmeal. I did some extra stretching to try to appease my crazy-taught hamstrings and slowly geared up for what looked like a chilly morning.
I headed out much earlier than necessary to meet up with an out-of-town running friend and we casually made our way down to Columbus Circle. It was still only about 10:30 when we arrived, so I headed up towards the boat house at a reasonable warm up pace. I saw cyclists getting ticketed and pedicabs getting lectured by Parks and Rec staff. (Central Park has always seemed like a strange place to me for serious training rides; I think the Parks Department must have decided that it will no longer be available for that purpose since the new enforcement makes training there impossible.) I took advantage of the heated, clean, and empty bathroom at the Boathouse restaurant and headed back to the start.
Fortunately, just as I started to slide into a pre-race funk, I ran into fellow Inwood Hill Runner Amy Cooper @runamyswim warming up. I tagged along as she completed her own warm up and got into the corral with plenty of time to spare. Having recently run a couple races that seemed packed, this race seemed empty. The blue corral looked smaller and although it was pretty full, there were probably fewer than two hundred runners in the group. I was surprised to hear that the race had sold out and that the line of runners stretched all that way to Central Park South. My nervous energy was on the rise again and the requisite pre-race chatter seemed to drag. When the horn sounded, I was more than ready to make a run for it.
I started in the back of the first corral to play it safe (and avoid being the obnoxious guy elbowing his way forward for no good reason), but I quickly slid to the inside and started putting some runners behind me. I was thrilled at the quarter mile mark to pass my wife and daughter standing on the inside rail cheering with great enthusiasm. I blew past a Mile 1 sign and thought I'd gone mad before realizing the marker was still standing from an earlier race (not cool NYRR, not cool) and started to climb the gradual hills on the east side. My tight hamstring made its presence known, but I felt confident as I held my 6:31 pace and continued to put guys behind me. 6:31 was decidedly too fast, but it took real effort not to be running faster at this point. In fact, I fell in with a small group in mile two and picked my pace up slightly to 6:28 as we cruised past the reservoir up to the 102nd Street Transverse. The group dissolved as we made the turn and I eased back to a more reasonable 6:46 for the hilly third mile along the west side.
After 6:37 for the fourth mile, I felt unsure how to proceed. My legs were strong and my breathing was even and relaxed. My heart rate was steady and reasonable. And yet I knew I had more than a full loop ahead of me and was unsure if I'd be able to hold my ambitious 6:35 average for the remaining miles. I'd been trailing my VCTC teammate Carlos Lopez (who I met for the first time on the course) for the last mile and I elected to let him pull away as we began the fifth mile. I choked down a couple Cliff Blocks and concentrated on steady sub-7:00 running for the next few miles. Mid-race was mentally tough for me. I was trying to run a smart race, but I also felt I could reasonably be pushing harder. I struggled (as I always do) on the downhills and felt strong pulling myself up the hills.
After mile 8, I knew I could safely open things up without fear of crashing. I waited until my watch showed 8.3 miles and focused on a runner at the horizon to try to reel in. I passed a lead woman with her bicycle escort and continued accelerating through the very sharp turn onto the 72nd Street transverse. I spotted some friends in the crowd before noticing the 1:02:30 clock ticking away in the distance. I had just enough juice left to close on and pass two more runners and crossed the line at 1:02:46 smiling to the announcer's "Van Cortlandt Track Club runner Jonathan Stenger."
My mile splits for the day were a bit wonky and I know my pace was adversely affected by my lack of mental training for this distance. That said, finishing 78th overall and 14th in my age was satisfying. My next race is the Scotland 10k on April 10. Plenty of time to focus on a sub-6:30 10k pace and try for something a bit faster. I felt good out there yesterday. I feel good today without any marked soreness or tight spots. And I'm feeling good as we head into spring racing in earnest. Happy to be on VCTC. Happy to be training. Happy to be mumbling, "more training, more racing, more training, more racing...."