It wasn’t raining when I woke up.  But a quick check of the radar showed that it shortly would be and indeed the first drops hit my windshield as I drove to the train at about 8:15.

Today’s race was the Scottish 10K in Central Park. It started a bit south of Tavern on the Green so it could finish at the big-race finish line by Tavern. One full lap of the Park plus a wee bit more. I elected to drive to the train, take the train and subway, and jog to the start, having picked up my number, etc., yesterday. A number of other runners got on the train at Fleetwood.

The Great Lawn, April 11, 2009

The Great Lawn, April 11, 2009

The thing about NYRR races is that they are crowded. The crowd on the course doesn’t matter so much but there are thousands of people wandering around. One of the etc. above was a race parka, and they were in abundance near the finish. (During the race, I saw a woman and her black Lab wearing one (not in the race mind you).) NYRR has instituted a coral system, and numbers are assigned based on prior race performance. So I get a blue number, which gives me entry to the 1-999 coral at the front. It gets crowded in there, but nowhere near like it used to be. And you can walk up as far as you want because everyone respects everyone else and knows that guys don’t go to the front unless they belong there. There are exceptions, of course, but it works pretty well. [Edited to add: Apparently things are not so peachy behind us, per Cowboy Hazel]

But unlike the suburban races that spoil us, where you can put your stuff in your car five minutes before the start, for NYRR you have to get your stuff into the baggage area 10-15 mins. ahead of time and then head to the start, which in this case was 1/4 mile away. Which meant a slow walk in a crowd heading south until the freedom of the coral — and they check numbers — where you wait for 10 or 15 mins. Jack Daniels suggested that a good pre-race warm-up is 1-2 minute hard run 20 mins. before the start, so I try to do that and don’t worry about standing around waiting for the horn.

And it is a horn. After the murder of John Lennon in 1980, NYRR switched from a gun to an air horn. It still uses a Howitzer for the Marathon start, but otherwise it’s a horn, and when I hear a gun at track races it’s always a bit of a shock.

Pre-Start Shelter

Pre-Start Shelter

I see Jim Stemm right before we get to the coral. I met Jim at my very first Warren Street race, the New Rochelle half-marathon in 1983. He was 4th and I was 5th, as I recall. Our team jerseys then said “Manufacturers Hanover” on the front — it was a major bank known as Manny Hanny that sponsored the Marathon for years but was taken over by Chemical which was taken over by Chase. It’s president while I was in high school was the father of Sean McGillicuddy, a teammate in HS, and I stayed at their house when a fire left mine uninhabitable for a bit while I was in HS. When we were seniors at Iona Prep, we decided to get jerseys with our names on the back, but the cheap ones were blue with a white field and red lettering. The team colors were maroon and gold, so we didn’t quite fit. Nor did Sean’s last name, so on the back of his he simply had “Sean.” I still have mine, the oldest piece of running gear I have, from 1973.

Back to the race. In addition to Jim, I saw Paul Thompson, a Brit who is the best Masters runner in the NYC area and the rock on which our Masters team is built. He just flew in from a trip to Singapore. That was two, but Stéphane said he’d be running, so although I didn’t see him, I assumed he was there, which was important because it meant that I was at best our 4th Master, and only 3 score, so the pressure was off me.

This was my first mass race since my accident and I was nervous about being jostled. I’ve never fallen in a road race, but they can get pretty hairy, especially early on. For a moment, I started to panic that I was going to fall and break something and the masses would trample over me. Perhaps I should get off the course, but I was hemmed in with no place to go. And the moment passed.

Now it is raining, although not too hard. I had just my standard uniform, having elected not to wear arm warmers since it wasn’t that cold. I also had a hat on, brim turned back to prevent it from flying off, from a wind, not my speed. We have a number of speakers from Scotland, all noting that they had brought Scottish weather with them. The national anthem on bagpipes, leaving my head uncovered in the rain, and Mary W. telling us how wonderful running in the rain can be. Finally the order, “Runners Set,” and the horn.

Early Going. I didn’t know what to expect, and my plan was to go out easily, and that’s what I did, although dodging people left and right, always trying to make sure it was clear for me to change lanes. Greg D. came up to me after a race and said I was the politest runner he’d ever seen because I look and actually signal my lane changes in races. Hence I get pissed, and sometimes vocal, when people cut in front of me, especially when there’s no reason to.

The first mile passed in 5:51, a little quick. Stuart Calderwood of CPTC passes easily, and there goes first in 50-54. Stéphane also flies by early. He taps me as he passes and I call out, “Allez, Allez” and he waves. So I’m in the clear on team scoring. Relax a bit. That’s a hilly mile (which passes very close to where I lived for many years, at 23 West 85th Street). Recover a little on the down hill and up again. The crowd is thinning a bit and although I’m moving left and right to keep to the tangents, it’s pretty open. Mile 2 in 6:04. Now that’s a little too easy. It’s hard but comfortable. But 4+ miles to go.

Middle. Now it’s up the first Harlem Hill. Breathing hard, but moving well. Crest and head down, and people pass. 3rd mile at bottom of second Harlem Hill, 5:56. Just about half-way. Work up the hill, pass more folks. We’re now in the mode where most of the people around me will be around me for the duration, some increasing their leads or passing me, some falling back. Over the hill, and with 3 miles or so to go, the tough part of the course is gone. Get to 4 and it’ll be fine. Hit that, right at 90th Street, in 6:08, but it felt faster than that. That nice straight between 95th and 86th gives a chance to relax. [Edited to add: I saw several other race reports, and they all have a particularly slow mile 4. I think it was long and mile 3 a little short.]

Final Third. OK, once this next mile is done, I’m good. I’ve run many lower loops — we called the lower loops “death loops” in the old days and would do full laps at sub-5 pace three times with a full recovery — and there’s a nice downhill to get there. This is Cat Hill, and I wave to the Cat, as always. Hit 5 at 72nd Street, a 5:47. Feeling better, knowing I’ll finish, but still some doubts. I can see the markings every 1/8 mile on the lower loop now. 3/4 mile, not to the finish, but almost. 880 yards, by the Carousel but I’m beginning to wonder whether, in fact, I’ll make the final K.

Hit the bottom of the Park and head west, telling someone I pass and is struggling that we’re almost home. The sound of bagpipes, but it’s not the finish line, but along that westerly stretch. Damn. Turn north again, and now I know I’ll make it. Pass 6 miles, a 5:49, and ask a CPTC runner not to cut in front of me. Enough of that, I pass him and pick it up. I can see the finish and drive home. I hear the announcer say, “Warren Street, No. 227, well done.” Cross the finish.

It’s Over. I see Jim and Paul and head to get my baggage and some dry clothes. First I go to the last pair of folks who clip off the chip, and then Bill Allen of Urban Athletics says hello, and wonders why he hadn’t seen me at a Van Cortlandt race, and I tell him. I put on a relatively dry shirt, check my watch. If I hurry, perhaps I’ll catch an early train, but then I realize I’m too late, so I jog to Grand Central, through hordes of tourists on Fifth Avenue, and take a nice train home.

Stats: 36:47. 131 overall, 116th male. Age-graded: 84.8. Fifth in 50-54. Fifth for Warren Street (which means that I scored for the big club, but all scorers for the big club were Masters). Masters team (I didn’t score) first, and big club sixth.

Post-Mortem: A year ago I’d have been thrilled with this result, particularly the AG. Now I think it’s a good start and proof that I’m still in the early days of the season. My target race is Park-to-Park on June 13. That’s time enough to get the mix of mileage and speed I need.

The End.

Edited to add: Photos.

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