Big Apple Win
I'm standing in the middle of the street, looking down Manhattan's stick straight avenue as far as I can, and all I see is... open. No cars, no congestion. It's a runner’s fantasy. Mine, at least, since first fighting with clogged sidewalks and busy streets in search of Central Park. Except, this is no dream. This is Saturday, me, standing at the start of New York Road Runner's annual 5th Avenue Mile. And, in a slightly nightmarish twist, all the lights are red.
"Will the signals change when we start the race?" I ask Sam Grotewold, NYRR Manager.
"For you, of course." *
Reassuring. I don't have to worry about breaking the law in my first road race.
Path to the start
Yep, this was competitive road race numero uno. It only took me nine years of track to get here. I won't recount that whole story, just some summer recap to catch you up.
I took a break from training early this summer, to allow a needed mental break from the frantic build up to the trials. Then I started back for a long base-building phase (another first). In that time, I was able to review and distill a lot of the advice I'm been getting over the past months.
The biggest thing to remember, as Gags reminds us every time he emails, texts, or calls: NO INTENSITY. Upping intensity and volume at the same time just increases chances of illness and injury. If the only thing I do this fall is stay healthy, I will have put myself in a better position than any season since high school. Easier said than done. Especially coming off a short season, feeling like I have more to prove. It really is necessary for Gags to include that reminder in every bit of correspondence. Patience seems to be the difference, the key that transforms the science of training into the art of self-awareness.
How to run a road mile
Clearly, I am still mastering the art of patience, as I find myself racing not two months into training. Being in the NYRR Road Mile Championship heat was great. Competitive, yet not the ball-busting times of the pros who followed us. More than a race, this was a reunion. A way to reconnect with the east and the running community. When I heard about the event, it seemed too cool to pass up. And too cool it was. Over 5,000 people competed, in heats that went all morning. There were DJs spinning every quarter mile, a troop of dancers with about 200 to go, and people lining the street to watch.
Despite the activity, I also felt a tinge of loneliness at showing up solo. Which is why the NYC Oiselle meet-up came at the perfect time. We sat and chatted in Le Pain Quotidien for about thirty minutes. Relaxed and comforting, it was a great way to forget about nerves.
Talking with distance-oriented runners, I was asked a few times how to prep for a road mile. (My first reaction: eek! I don't know!). But upon reflection, it mimicked my familiar track training. Gags gave me a few faster workouts in the weeks leading up. In addition to normal summer tempos and fartleks, I had some 800s and 400s at race speed.
As for the race itself, the biggest difference between the road and the track, is the lack of game playing. On the road, there are fewer changes of pace, and really one chance to make your move. Be patient! (Again, from Gags). We could see the finish as soon as cresting the hill at 800 meters, with half the race remaining. Not the time for a kick.
Things to work on
Peter Walsh, of Coogan's, famed track bar, approached me after the race - eyes gleaming. He had been riding in the lead car. They made a game of choosing the winner right at the start. And I had been his lucky pick for my heat. "It was in your eyes, I could tell you wanted it most." Then, lest he boost my ego too much, "the other girls had smoother, prettier strides, but I just knew." Mmm... okay? Net compliment? I'll take it for now. And get back to my drills, core, and runner curls to buff up that stride.
Looking ahead: Patience!
I got a small dose of celebrity post-race: camera and stage interviews. But Gags was sure to put me in my place, remind me not to get too excited over this, it's only September, and what I need is focus and training. Really, watching Brenda Martinez kill it in the pro heat, with a time of 4:24, was enough to sober me up. There is hard work ahead.
And still, hope. At a catered dinner at Coogan's later that night, the same Peter recounted Brenda's first appearance at 5th Ave, two years ago. She had come in last in the pro section, discouraged at a time that was slower than the B heat. After a great first experience, with support from friends lining the street, and across the country, I am so excited to return next year. I can't wait to find how my story will have developed between now and then. Stay tuned!
*Note: In fact, the stoplights did not turn green at the gun. My thought that NYC DOT would change coordinated timing to accommodate a group of runners for 20 blocks may have been a bit presumptuous. We started to the sight of only red. Then, a few hundred meters in, all changed to green. Then, I stopped noticing. Could that be an analogy to the mind over matter, make your own destiny, mentality of racing? I’ll take it.
It reminds me of a personal favorite track quote, from Danny Harris:
"No negative thoughts cross my mind on race day. When I look into their eyes, I know I'm going to beat them."