Somewhere in my subconscious an alarm was ringing. Loudly. I bolted up worried that I had missed the race. My alarm clock read 2:57am, I still had another 1 hour 33 minutes until I needed to get out of bed for the race this morning. That’s right, I got up at 4:30am for a race in Brooklyn. It was one of those moments when you say to yourself “Wow, I didn’t know they made a 4:30am too!”. I think I only had to get up at 4am for Big Sur and that race started at 7am and required a 27 mile drive in the dark. Anyway, living out in Westchester has lots of advantages, 10 minute commute to the office, much cheaper rent, peace and quiet. One of them most certainly is not how early I need to get up to make it to a race in Brooklyn. Hello 5:10am Metro North trains!
The Al Gordon 4M is a pretty simple loop race in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. The course is the exact same as the Jingle Bell Jog. Start out on the transverse drive, go for a short downhill, then an uphill for mile 1, roughly level for mile 2, quick downhill, level for 3 and most of 4, and a short uphill to the finish. The maximum elevation change between the high point in mile 2 and low point in mile 3 is about 100 feet.
This is also the first New York Road Runners race that I’ve done more than once, having done it in February 2010 and finished in 30:19 (7:35min/mi pace). I distinctly remember having to wander around and freeze before the race because of the non-ideal timing of trains. Today was no different. Especially because I got there earlier than predicted, almost an hour and a half early. Bag check wasn’t even open for another 45 minutes. I took a brief walk around the park for about 2.5 miles to look at the condition of the course. Dropped my bag off at bag check, and proceeded to do a nice quick 1.6 mile warmup at a little over 9 minute miles. Apparently stretching doesn’t make you run faster, but warmup runs do. Anecdotally, my fastest runs usually have had short warmup runs before them.
The warmup also had the benefit of finishing right at the time I needed to be in the corrals. Rather than standing around and freezing in the corral, I was able to dart right in. Mary Wittenberg took some time to herald all the things that Al Gordon did, both in life and for the Road Runners (more info here from Forbes and The New York Times). I’m in awe of his accomplishments and am truly thankful for the ways that he helped clear the way for the Road Runners and also promoted physical fitness in his life. After the final instructions, including a warning about ice on the path, we were off.
As usual, I started RunKeeper way too early. I would love to have an overhead camera to study the physics and packing of runners at the start of a race as they run for brief bits toward the start, then have to walk, then run, then walk. It’s a little like waves on a slinky. At 42 seconds post-gun and 30 seconds after my start on RunKeeper I crossed the starting line. As has become routine, a bunch of yellow bibs were passing me at the start. I said that I wanted to do the run in about 8:00/mi, which would put me 14 seconds faster than the Jingle Jog, but still about 30 seconds slower than last year. When RunKeeper chirped up at five minutes I was annoyed, it said I was doing about 8:30 minute miles. That couldn’t be right — then I remembered that I had covered those 0.59 miles in 4:30, not 5:00. To keep myself occupied I did the translation to mile distance in my head, 7:38/mi. My legs seemed to be working.
I crossed the 1 milie marker at exactly 8:30 gun time for a 7:48 mile. I had slowed down some, but it was an uphill. After the relatively flat mile 2 I was averaging about 7:37 a mile. Mile 3 is where the downhill is. Even if you wanted to slow down here, it’s tough. It’s a great downhill. I had brought my mile average down to 7:32. My mind started to occupy itself with math…7:22 for the third mile? Wow. Yay for negative splits? I starting to get tired and over heated at this point. The b-tag meant that I couldn’t shed layers, suck it up and deal. The uphill was going to be hard, and it was. Coming around the corner to the finish I could see the clock ticking. “Damnit, this has been a good race, can I finish in under 30 minutes chip time?” My legs ached and I pushed. 30:42 would be the magic time I needed to beat to get a 30 minute chip time. The clock kept pushing and so did my legs. In the end, I wasn’t quite fast enough. the clock was 30:48 when I crossed. I managed to push it home at almost my exact average pace despite it being an uphill and me being exhausted.
I really enjoy running in Prospect Park. As opposed to Central Park where you’re dodging other runners, cyclists, and clueless tourists, the only obstacle in Prospect Park is dog owners who don’t realize that a 30ft extendable lead is actually a bad idea for a dog. It’s a beautiful and serene course. If you’re only in Central Park, I highly recommend getting off Manhattan for a race once in a while. Or heck, even a simple little training run.
So, despite the 4:30am wakeup time, the day was a success. I managed to fall asleep on the train back home but magically wake up right before my stop. Maybe my internal alarm clock still works.