This morning’s assignment was “racing” the Scarsdale 15K. It is the oldest, continuously run race in Westchester, run on a nice, somewhat challenging course. Indeed, I wish it were to again be among the premier races in the County. (To me, the only race that qualifies currently is the Rye Derby five-miler.)

This would be my first race since shattering my elbow back in August. I’ve been running consistently since then, with breaks for a few operations, but have not gotten much mileage in (my longest so far is 12.2 in 1:27) and have only recently begun speedwork.

So this was a test as much as anything. I ran 54:26 in 2007 and 54:28 last year. But those were not in play this time around. The plan was to go out relaxed and pick it up.

I was disappointed that TK of PigtailsFlying could not come because she’s nursing a sore hamstring and heading to London, so her absence was understandable. On the positive side, I needn’t compete with her description of the course and the race.

The weather forecast was for rain, and it rained before I got up. But a quick check of the radar showed that the heavy clouds were passing and in the event there was at most a slight drizzle. Heading up, I realized that I had forgotten my Garmin, perhaps for my refusal to give it a name. I had enough time, so I headed back home. I thought it important to monitor how I was doing in the race and I had no other watch. (I still haven’t had the watch whose band broke when I fell fixed.)

I arrived in plenty of time for the 9:15 start. I ran into Manhattanville Coach Mike Owens — with whom I’d run last Sunday — at check-in, and I knew he’d beat me. There’s a 4 miler that went off at 9:00. Light warm-up, head to start in singlet, arm warmers, Asics hat, and racing flats. There are a couple of New York Harriers in their black and a couple of Greater New Yorkers in their bright yellow at the start.

Off we go. One guy takes off, one of the GNYers, but he looks like he’s going to one of those first half-mile wonders. But he’ll keep going and never look back. He’d win in a quite respectable 50 and change. Mike goes with him and they’re gone. The two Harriers pulled ahead as well. I’m in a group with the other GNYer and a couple of local-looking guys.

The course takes a sharp right. I look at the Garmin. 5:38 and that’s way too quick, so I ease off. Now some WTC guy whizzes by; obviously he started late. This road is rolling. No serious hills but enough to test slightly on the way up but give relief on the down. Through the mile in 5:55. (I’m using my Garmin splits, but they are likely a little fast because the Garmin would have the race distance a little long at 9.44 miles.)

But in my rhythm, the guys with me fall away. By 1.5 miles I will neither pass nor be passed for the duration. There’s a steep-but-short hill right at 2, and I’m up it. Split of 6:12. After the hill a left turn and nice slight downhill to another left and a sharp, steep downhill (which we’ll hit going the other direction at 6.5). Past the fireman manning the water station and I think of poor TK.

From this point I’m beginning to hurt. I am running a little faster than intended, and I’m, as I say, in a rhythm. Mile 3: 6:01. Mile 4: 5:58. Still a good mix of ups and recovery-allowing downs.

Now things begin to get dicey. “Just get to half-way.” I am straining through 5, another 5:58. “Just get to Fenimore Road.” Right onto that with an up and then a down and then, nothing. I stop. I simply can’t hold this pace. 12 seconds and run again, but only briefly. I’m thinking, “What’ll I say about this on my blog? Gotta get going.” So I get going. “Just get to 7.” 6: 6:29.

Trouble is, that steep downhill noted earlier is between me and 7. So 3/4 up, I stop again, but briefly. Then the fireman-manned water station. I’ve never stopped at a water station in my life. Until today. Little cup; savor it. But now I really can’t stop again. Through 7: 6:28. Course rolling and start to relax. Pull off arm warmers and hold them in left hand.

For a bit, I think I might be lost. There’s no one anywhere. But, no, I’m good. Keep at it. Still hurting, but I’m past the toughest part, the notorious three-quarters mark. 8: 6:02. 9: 6:03. Finish on the track, for about 300 meters. Seems a long ways. But I’m through. 57:31. 5th overall (although it was really 6th since the guy who whizzed by got lost and finished 6th).

Chatted with a bunch of folks afterwards, including Frank Colella of the Rundangerously blog (who’s about to do a 100 miler, which I find beyond amazing) and the two Harriers. Got my age-group bowl. Headed home.

Lesson. While I pointed out the lack of much speedwork, I think the main lesson here is the lack of longer runs. At this level — by which I mean redlining it — you need a store of strength and stamina to hold it. I am, dare I say it, “soft.” Last year I came into the race with a bunch of 2 hour/17-18 milers under my belt. So I could keep going at a hard rhythm. That’s the main thing lacking right now.

I can’t complain about the time; for a while I wondered whether I could break an hour. This was a test meant to assess things. It exposed a glaring weakness. I need to slowly and steadily increase the weekly long run. And get in some nice speedwork. To some extent I can “race myself into shape” in races to come, but without the miles, it won’t get me where I want to go.

Edited to add: I neglected to mention Herb C. He’s a guy I brought into my old club after I had seen his posts on the essentially defunct CoolRunning site. He’s a hard worker who I saw before and after the start, and he was quite pleased with a PR after a long stretch, longer than mine, of non-racing, in his case due to some running injuries. It was good to see him after about a year.