Two days, two races and two personal bests; April has certainly been worth the wait.
This weekend marked the first time I had run back-to-back Saturday-Sunday races. Early to bed and early to rise left me feeling excited for both Saturday’s Scotland Run10K and Sunday’s Run for the Parks 4-miler. Going into each race I had a simple goal: keep shaving time off my distance bests. As fate would have it, this was also the perfect weekend to achieve a personal milestone: finish a race at a sub-8 pace!
Saturday’s Scotland-themed 10K provided for a festive April morning, with authentic bagpipe music serving as the day’s official soundtrack. I had no idea that so many runners kept old kilts around the house for just the right occasion! Despite the brisk morning air, I joined the many who had decided that this first April race was the perfect time to pull out the shorts that had been tucked away all winter.
Most of the Central Park races I’ve participated in follow a counterclockwise track, but the Scotland Run reversed the direction for the full park loop. I’ve always found this course the most challenging. The West Side’s rolling hills, immediately followed by the first Harlem Hill and accompanied by the second Harlem Hill redefines the term “hilly.” My trepidation for this particular course also stemmed from my experience during last year’s Scotland Run, which concluded with a bout of exercise-induced nausea immediately after crossing the finish line. I did not want to repeat that embarrassment!
With more than 8,000 finishers, this popular event certainly brought out the crowds and made for a rather congested course for the first mile. Initially I was a bit frustrated, as I felt the slow start must have been eclipsing a 9:00 to 9:15 mile per minute pace. Interestingly, my splits later showed an 8:45 pace. I’m really not sure why, but lately I’ve found that my mental pace estimates are much slower than reality. Is it because my mental estimates, based on effort, are lagging my increasing level of fitness?
Crossing the finish brought an instant smile, as my Garmin showed that t I had easily bettered my previous distance best set in January. Finishing in 51:39, I had clipped more than a minute off my time in a matter of months and improved my 2013 event time by about three minutes.
While my 8:20 average pace was satisfying, the splits provided reason for even greater enthusiasm. For three of the miles my pace had hovered not far above the 8:00 minute mark. While heading home I had visions of a lumberjack chipping away at a large tree, with the tree getting closer and closer to its tipping point after each stroke. It is so intrinsically rewarding to similarly see, across distances, progress at chipping away my pace times. I figured this was a great metaphor for the deliberate work that must come before a milestone breakthrough.
After Saturday’s effort, I wondered whether Sunday’s 4-miler might be just the race to crack the sub-8 barrier and a quiet determination began to set in.
Since becoming a runner, my appreciation for New York City’s parks has truly blossomed into a love affair. Thus, it had been an easy decision to register for the “City Parks Foundation Run for the Parks” 4-miler.
I am rarely anxious before a race, but this was an exception. I really wanted to run sub-8. My mind vacillated between confidence and doubt. Would I be able to run as hard today as I had yesterday? What kind of a wimp am I for thinking a 10K would impact a 4-miler a day later? What if the start is overly congested? What if I don’t achieve my goal today? If not, when the heck would I? Should I have eaten that corn muffin this morning? Why didn’t I bring a kleenex, my nose is a bit runny at the moment? Am I breathing too hard for it being so early in the race? I’d have better control over my breathing if I had a brought a kleenex.
After crossing the finish I didn’t pass go, I didn’t collect $200, I just looked at my Garmin. Under 32:00 by several seconds. I prayed the official time would match. I gulped a water, grabbed an apple and bagel and headed home to await the posting of the results.
31:54, a 7:59 pace. I’ll take it!
Phew, mission accomplished. The most surprising piece of data, however, was found in my splits. During the final mile my watch recorded a 7:38 split. Where the heck did that come from?! Presently an aberration, but perhaps a sign that there’s more potential for improvement within me. In the meantime, I’m going to keep calm and keep chipping away at my times.