Race Report: Pete McArdle 15K Cross-Country Race
After an uneventful race on Saturday, I went to bed quite nervous about the next day’s race for several reasons. First, I’m a runner who almost never runs two days in a row. I’m incredibly injury prone and need my rest days. My right knee, right hip and left shin had been bothering me for the past few weeks and I was nervous how they were going to hold up. Second, it was a really small race; only about 250 runners had showed up at last year’s. I was scared it was going to be a lot of hard-core, fast runners…and me. Yikes! Also, trail race=harder and freezing rain in the forecast=not fun. I was honestly thinking about skipping. I fell asleep feeling sick to my stomach.
I woke up the next morning to sun, so I just sucked it up and got going. The race didn’t start till 11:30, so I had some time. It was in Van Cortlandt Park though, which is in the Riverdale area of the Bronx, which is a bit of a trek from my apartment, about 1.5 hours. The cross-country course, though, in Vanny is, interestingly enough, the most used in the country. I left my apartment at 9:15 and took the long subway ride up. The park is incredibly close to my job so I’ve done this subway ride plenty of times; I knew how long it was going to take me down to the second. I went into the subway with cloudy skies (rain was forecast, but wasn’t supposed to start until 2 or so, I thought I was in the clear), and when we emerged at Dykeman Street (about 200th) about an hour later, I noticed it was drizzling. DAMN!!! I didn’t have a rain jacket or much extra gear. I was going to be wet.
When I got to the park, I picked up my bib and pinned it on, standing under a bodega awning, while surveying the scene.
It was a much different feeling than normal NYRR races (although this was still a NYRR race). Very small group, lots of chattiness, a generally relaxed feeling. And rain. The rain started getting heavier and steadier. This was not a rain that was going to let up. As I was standing there, biding my time before I had to go into the rain, I was thinking to myself “what is wrong with me!? Why am I here about to run 9.3 muddy miles in freezing rain!? Should I just leave!?” I almost did. I almost left and went to work. No joke. But then I just stopped thinking, and crossed the street. I got my bag into the plastic garbage bag that was the bag drop and headed to the start about 10 minutes before the gun.
The course was a 15k, and three laps of their trails, each about a 5k. We started at one end with no timing mat, no clock, nothing, except a NYRR official. It was such a small group, we didn’t need all that. While waiting, it really started to rain, and people really started to talk to each other. It was great. I’m normally so focused before races that I’m in my own world, but I was oddly really relaxed, although I was slowly getting wetter, and loved talking to people.
A few things with this race: first, I was running without music. I had my ipod with me and my head phones in my pocket, but I wanted to see how I would do without music. Also, I wanted to pay more attention to the more-treacherous-than-normal course and having no music would be the best way to do that. Second, I had no time goal for this race. I had my Garmin, Javier, on to keep my time and a vague idea of my pace (as well as my distance as there were no mile markers), but I just wanted to enjoy the race and finish.
Gun went off and we were off running! It’s amazing how you can be standing still in the rain and feel every single rain drop that hits you. The second you start running, you forget it’s raining. I love running in the rain for some reason. The course (which I’ve actually run before) was about 1/3rd on the flats, a gravel/dirt track thing as well as grass, and 2/3rds on the trails. The flats are, obviously flat, and the trails are basically constantly hilly. Lots and lots of hills. Lots of steep uphills, lots of steep downhills. I always feel like the uphills are murder on my lungs and the downhills are murder on my legs. The first lap felt good. The crowd thinned out pretty fast and I ran with a group of four or five people for most of the lap, and stayed on an even, 8:45 minute pace pretty well.
And I realized I loved running without my headphones. I could hear the rain falling, the leaves crunching, and my breath. It was fascinating listening to myself breath while running. It was almost a spiritual experience.
Lap 2 was harder. The rain was harder and I was finally cold. Lap 1 I was not cold at all. And all of a sudden I was. Shiverrrrr. During the flats, which is the only point there were puddles, I did my best to avoid them. My feet were damp, but as long as I avoided stepping in a puddle, I was good. Also, along the grassy parts of the flats, there was a lot of ice, which was quite treacherous. I slipped and slid around quite a bit. And I was fairly tired. I wasn’t sure if I could do 2 more laps. But, I just kept on going. The uphills were harder and the downhills were more painful. And the rain kept going to it was more slippery. My hat (thank god for a rimmed hat) was dripping water on me and my gloves were soaked. It was hard. But, I just kept on going. That was kinda my mantra in this race…just keep going. I settled into a group of about 4 guys. We all hung with each other, talking a little bit, and passing each other here and there. The 5 of us stuck with each other till the very end, which was fun. There was no one behind me that I could see (although there were…I finished in the middle of the pack), so it felt pretty solitary.
Lap 3 was it. Knowing I was on my final lap felt great. Although I kept getting wetter and colder, I had the motivation to finish. No matter how ridiculous these conditions were, stopping was never an option for me. The uphills were killer this time. I actually said f*** out loud during one of the uphills, losing my footing a little on rocks and wet leaves. The downhills were downright scary. These are steep, sudden and short and people really fly down them. And when it’s wet, it’s frightening. But still fun! It’s a blast to spring down these hills, letting gravity get the best of you, like a kid. You don’t get to do that very often. I was having a blast. And before I knew it, we were on the final stretch and I was done.
Final time: 1:22:24. 150 out of 274 runners, 41 out of 100 women.
When I finished, I stopped my watch, which was the first time I took my eyes off the course. And stepped in the biggest puddle ever. Damn! I didn’t have sopping feet during the race, but I was going to have them on my long trek home. Sad.
I finished the race feeling great. Freezing, soaked the bone and exhausted. Is that my new definition of feeling great? It was a hard race, one of the hardest I’ve run, but it was one of the most fun I’ve ever had during a race. I felt tired, but not beat. I love running on trails (something I want to do more of), I loved running in the rain, I loved running without my music. Being outdoors and in nature, pushing my body was a great feeling. I felt so freaking hard core. This was, without a doubt, one of my favorite, yet hardest, races I’ve run.
I left the course, stopped in a Burger King by the subway to change. There were a lot of runners in there eating burgers and fries. I honestly almost got some fries. Kinda regret that…they would have tasted sooo good. I opted for coffee and a bagel at the Dunkin’ Donuts next door which tasted better than anything ever (and then proceeded to get hit on by a 70 year old man. No thanks.).
The trip home was long and cold, and I took a 45 minute shower when I got home. Best shower ever. And one of the best races ever. Now I’ve got to find some more trail races stat.