Opening day

Having run through the worst of the winter, I figured I’d be thrilled by spring's arrival. And I am, I guess, although perhaps the late March sleet suckfest darkened my mood. I’ve trained for more than a year with this year’s racing season in mind. I did week after week of what felt like requisite base-building drudgery. I crept my mileage up over the summer into the fall before turning my thoughts towards 2011 racing. In January, I ran the Manhattan Half on a crazy cold day and turned in a respectable but restrained 1:35. I followed this with the icy Gridiron Classic in 26:08, and a rainy Coogan’s 5k in 19:23. All this felt like pre-season racing to me. Although it’s a funny distance (for me, anyway) this weekend’s Colon Cancer 15k feels like my 2011 opening day.

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I started the year running with a local club, the Inwood Hill Runners. They meet three days a week: Tuesdays are speedwork on the 561-meter lower fields perimeter path in Inwood Hill Park, Thursday is a four-mile loop through Washington Heights, and Saturday is a longer run that seems to vary between a Riverdale hills run and an upper Manhattan west-side/east-side loop. These are friendly, social workouts that are truly some of the friendliest runs I’ve ever done. Tamara oversees a strong community club that feels like a group of friends who run (as opposed to a group of runners who happen to be friendly).

My training often meant that they were the second run I did on their respective days, but these group runs became the social center of my running life and I hated to miss them. Sadly, I’ve recently started to miss them more often as my work and personal responsibilities have encroached a bit on my all-out training. I am committed to getting faster and stronger and this has meant trying to be more focused in the limited training time I have. To that end, I considered signing up for Bob Glover’s speed class in Central Park and toyed aloud with the idea of hiring a private coach. Neither of these seemed to fit perfectly with my needs (and resources).

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I live upstairs from a dedicated and fast runner who runs with Van Cortlandt Track Club. She and I have been meeting for weekly early morning runs and have occasionally managed weekend long runs together. She’s got a fierce (awesome) competitor’s streak; I think just talking to her about running makes me faster. From our first meeting in January, she encouraged me to come up to VCTC for a friendly run. I felt torn about this as my heart has been with Inwood Hill Runners, but I finally accepted her invitation to attend a Tuesday track workout a few weeks back.

From the start, being on the track made me smile. I haven’t done significant track work in twenty years, but just standing on the beautiful all-weather surface in Van Cortlandt Park brought back my fondest teenage running memories. Even though nothing really changed after that first track workout, I felt faster. I felt like a different kind of runner. I felt, I think, like a kid again. I loved the fact that there were two coaches leading the workout. I loved the overwhelmingly clear sense that this was a team—a team that trained and raced to win. I ran home after the workout and joined the club.

Since then, my training has been more closely aligned with VCTC’s schedule. Track workouts on Tuesday, tempo runs on Thursdays, and long runs on the weekend. I always add a 10 miler on Mondays and try to tack on a dozen or so extra miles here and there when possible. Much of my schedule is dictated by work and family duties, but I feel like I am doing what I need to be doing to improve. I know that the fruits of most of this work will come later in the season, but I already feel stronger and faster. Sunday’s race feels like an early test of these efforts. It's a test that I am happy to have. It's the first race I'll be running in the purple VCTC singlet and I'm excited to run with my team on Sunday morning.

I'll post a race report after I get settled back at home on Sunday. Good luck to all the runners who'll be in the park competing and raising money for colon cancer research.