Today was the second club race of the year, but it was the first for me since I joined the Van Cortlandt Track Club in March. A New York Road Runners club race is an altogether different animal from a standard race: they are much larger events, and all those additional runners comprise some of the most competitive athletes in the NYC area.
My express purpose in joining VCTC was to get faster and prepare for racing. And I'm working on it. I know the effort I've put in at each of the club workouts has improved some critical aspects of my running. Mostly though, it's just helped me feel comfortable running faster. As this point for me getting faster is chiefly about believing I can safely run at higher speeds without getting injured. My greatest fear remains being sidelined because I pushed just beyond what's safe for me at this stage. Speed seems as much about patience as fitness, and I'm working at finding that balance each time I go out.
Saturday's club workout was a nice and easy 5 miler in Van Cortlandt Park followed by some sprints on the track. I think I accumulated 11 or so miles when you include the run up to the track and back home. I suppose it would have been better planning to do some miles on Friday and stick to the minimal club workout yesterday, but it was such easy running that I don't think it greatly affected my performance in the race this morning.
For the Scotland Day 10k, I started the morning about halfway up in the first corral next to a couple of my teammates and behind the folks I knew would outpace me. I felt the regular pre-race adrenaline building in my system and watched my heart rate start to climb as the start approached. When the horn finally sounded, I probably could have run a sub-five minute mile (before collapsing in a quivering heap). I resolved to hold my shit together and let as many people go as necessary to run a smart race.
The first few miles running up the westside were all about this self restraint at 6:09 and 6:12 respectively. I allowed myself to try to find a faster, comfortable rhythm in the third mile and put down a solid 6:05, feeling good as we attacked the hills a the north end of the park. At mile four, my mid-race second guessing and fatigue bit me hard enough to drop me to 6:20 and I had to collect myself to focus on the finish that was quickly sneaking up on me. Speaking of sneaking, I'd been hanging with a younger guy from Dashing Whippets and a woman from North Brooklyn. Now, tired of the company and boosted by VCTC coach Ken Rolston yelling "nice and easy," I cut to the inside on East Drive and consciously increased my turnover. Dashing Whippet hung with me without comment and pushed me harder since I was determined to drop him. Mile five was a reasonable 6:12. We got passed by fellow VCTC runner, Chris Ekstrom, who gave some encouragement as he accelerated past on his way to a solid 37:43. Yeah, Chris dusted me, but at least my splits were going in the right direction at this point!
My friend the Whippet was gone as we approached the turn at the south side of the park. The finish seemed too far away to take off at this point, but I also realized my race thinking had broken down. I tried to calculate my time if I continued at my current pace and failed utterly. At least my clumsy math helped me kill a few minutes. I started looking and hoping for that damned mile 6 marker as I approached the west side of the park, and passed it at a satisfying 6:09.
The short uphill finish wasn't a surprise, but it still managed to ding my spirits as I scanned ahead to try to spot the clock. I was determined to hold my pace steady and not break too fast, but I probably could have (and should have!) taken off as soon as we passed the 6 mile marker. There was a significant presence along the final quarter mile shouting their support. I was especially helped by the admonition from an unknown VCTC booster yelling at me to kick it in at the end because "They're coming! They're coming!" It was the best boost I could have to end the race and I managed to accelerate through the finish with a 5:45 pace for my final .2 and an overall time of 39:08.
Plenty of second guessing for me: I blew the tangents and ran 6.35 rather than 6.2. I'm usually quite smart about my angles through the turns, but the race was crowded today with some pretty steady runners and I felt unusually distracted. More racing means more comfort and racing smarts and I'm looking forward to both of those. I have little doubt that I was too conservative down East Drive. It wasn't until I decided to drop my NBR and DWRT companions that I really felt like I was racing. All running includes a significant mental element, but racing means pushing yourself harder than you want to for longer than you want you and I need more practice at it before I'll feel truly adept.
All that said, I had a solid race on a cool spring day with some great folks. I am excited and proud to be part of the Van Cortlandt Track Club. Looking forward to the training that will allow me to push my times lower and lower and hopefully get me into position to score some points for my team.
Big thanks to Kevin Shelton-Smith, Ken Rolston, and Glen Shane for the help and encouragement to a new team member!