On this warm, sunny but not too-hot Saturday morning I found myself standing on the Central Park Drive in a spot seemingly designed to maximize my exposure to the Sun. A little before 8, this was the Central Park Conservancy Four-Miler. A Club race.

I’d left home at about 6:30, encountered little traffic into Manhattan, and found a parking space on Fifth at 105th Street (on the marathon course). Having plenty of time to get to 72nd Street for my number, etc., I strolled south and jogged down from 90th, waving to the Cat and picking up my number and shirt. It’s a nice technical one.

With that bit of a jog in me and a Port-a-San stop, I hooked my bag onto the barrier marking “7” in baggage and headed over to the aforementioned sunny spot. I waited a few minutes across the Drive in the shade, had a quick chat with Urban Athletics’ Heriberto (who was sitting on the race truck), and headed in. It was more crowded than I am used to, and I decided to start farther back than I ever have. As with the Portugal 5-miler, I did not want to go out too fast. I was way back.

Mary Wittenberg extolled the work of the Central Park Conservancy. She noted that the Park is in far better shape, thanks to the Conservancy, than it was 30 years back. As one who frequented the Park back then, I can attest to the truth in this. The Park was never run-down. It was just a bit ragged around the edges. No more. It now fulfills the purpose of its makers, an oasis in a big city, open for everyone’s enjoyment.*

Back to the race. After the National Anthem (with “for the land of the free” substituting for “o’er the land of the free” (I was not alone in noticing)), the horn was sounded. We were off. I shuffled for about 10 seconds before starting to run, winding through bunches of people. Up Cat Hill — another wave — and feeling warm and relaxed. My approach today was “be one with the race”, i.e., let it happen.

So the first, hilly mile hit in 6:06. Felt fine. Now for the slightly downhill mile 2, up to the transverse, and came through that with a 6:00. (I thought it might be a misplaced marker, but a teammate with a Garmin said it was close).

Well, I thought the mile mark was too early when I got myself a 6:20 at mile 3. Granted, that has a series of rolling hills, but I normally don’t vary my pace that much. I grabbed water, dropped the cup, grabbed another, and held onto that for a drink. (This is right where I came into the Park those many years in which I lived on West 85th Street.)

I was really hurting now. I was not, though breathing too heavily. My legs were working hard. Through 3.5 is a nice downhill. I decided to just let things flow. I’d only been passed a couple of times in the race and had passed many. Now it was crunch time. A gray-haired guy from Witold’s Runners came by, but I’d also just passed VCTC’s Perry King.

For races that finish on the 72nd Street Transverse, one turns around the Daniel Webster statute but the finish comes pretty quickly after the turn. So once you hit it, you can just go hard. At the last race, Warren Street’s 50+ men were in third by 4 seconds. I’m determined not to let a couple of seconds slip away in the final stretch so I picked it up. I was tired but I was smooth and I went through the finish hard. It hurt.

I only saw a few folks after the race and ended up jogging north along the Park Drive on my own. It was a satisfying run. There were several times when I so much wanted to stop. Stop for a moment at two and go again. How can it hurt to stop at the mile 3 water station? But I soldiered on. Mile 3 to 3.5, largely downhill, did hurt. With the Lake on the left, I could see where the (many) runners ahead had turned. Almost there, I knew I was home free. And having made it and persevered, result: happiness.

Result: 24:25, 8th AG, 238th overall. 81.53 Age-Grade. I was our third man, behind Jim and Jonathan, and we were second in 50+.

A final note. On this hot day, NYRR did a good job. It had 3 water stops, one for each mile, and a sprinkler. The cones were set up properly — although a couple more would be good — to mark the course. I bent over and stopped shortly after the finish, and as I resumed walking, I was approached by volunteers making sure I was OK, and I assured them that I was.

* Wittenberg also plugged NYRR’s new marathon training programs. I’ve not seen the program, but after a bit of back-and-forth with John Honerkamp on Facebook — he appears to be affiliated with the plan — it seems that it’s major selling point: It Could Be Worse. (In addition to being only 16 weeks long and I don’t know why the brain-trust didn’t start it earlier, if only by saying weeks 17-20 should be spent gradually building up mileage so you have something to work with when week 16 begins, the plans are promoted as being personalized (which is fine) but also particularly useful for New York because of “unique” knowledge of the course (you run it once you pretty well know it) and access to the huge database of previous finishers, neither of which seems much value to me. Pricey, it seems an attempt by NYRR to drive business, and cash, to itself by leveraging the race. I’ve nothing against guys trying to make money on training expertise. NYRR seems to be taking advantage, in a Menkenian way.) Return