In my last post I detailed my obsession with the cross country course at Van Cortlandt Park. Year after year, even after many years of being away, I can drive up to Broadway and 242nd street and see the same scene. Nothing has changed over the years. It beautiful that with so much technology and with New York City constantly developing park space, that they have left Vannie alone. But one thing I don’t ever remember, is being at Van Cortlandt Park in such cold weather in early November Man was it cold on Saturday. It was 32 degrees when I arrived and thank God the winds decided to calm down otherwise it would have been colder! I arrived to my race with about 30 minutes before the start of the race. That was just enough time to check in, stretch and say hi to alot of former coaches and other alumni from my school that I knew were there. Needless to say, there wasn’t alot of time to do all of this but I made the best of it.
Surprisingly at the starting line, I felt good. I am sure it was the adrenalin. Once the race started I resisted the temptation to go out faster than I should. There were guys in this race that had graduated high school last May and were pretty much still in great shape. They took the pace out fast! Going over the flats and into the cow path, I could tell the cold weather was going to play a factor. I wasn’t going fast and my breathing was accelerated. Oh boy this was going to be an adventure. Once we entered the “cow path” or the woods, my breathing started to normalize some what. That is until we got to what some call” freshman hill”. This was the first of many hills to overcome. This is also where I started to pass people. Many alumni that casually run on their spare time, aren’t ready for hills. Getting over freshman hill gave me a little pep in my step. Next up, was going over the bridge and into the “back woods”!
Let me just say once again, these back woods are just brutal. You enter them making a slow gradual climb. As I completed that slow gradual climb, my first mile split came into my ears from my running app. Mile 1 came in at 7:35. Not bad considering I didn’t have time to stretch and it was taking me a while to get going! Unlike many of the races I ran this year however, this race was only 2.5 miles and I had zero time to get going because this race was going to be over soon!
Continuing in the back hills, the uphill climbs continue. It seemed like the few down hills that existed were short and steep but the uphills seemed longer. It continued like this for the next half mile. As I got into the second half of the back hills there were longer down hills and I felt myself just flying down these hills. Some of these were winding down hills and I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t worried about crashing and falling. In my high school days, I would wear spikes on this course. Today I had my typical road running sneakers with now spikes! Flying down these hills I will say that I passed a number of people during this portion of the race. As I came to the final portion of the back hills my second mile split came in and it was a 7:33. I was hoping it would have been faster but oh well- I’ll blame those uphills for that!
When I finally came back across the runners bridge, there was a little less than a half mile left in the race which included a very long flat straight away many folks like to just kick in all the way to the finish line. But before that straight there is one massive down hill that can propel you into the start of that straight away. I let it all hang out on that down hill. I literally went arms out to help keep my balance and just let the down hill take me and pray I didn’t go down. By the time I turned onto the final straight away I could see a 3-4 runners in front of me. Knowing the straight away was about 400-500 meters in length, I didn’t want to start kicking too early. More important than catching those 3-4 runners in front of my was not letting anyone pass me on that straight away. My “kick” kicked in once I could see the finish line which was with about 200 meters left. I could see the clock was in “18s”. I thought to myself “I would love to finish under 19 minutes!”. The mind went blank after that and those next 200 or so meters were a forced sprint because I was toast. I thought it was a sprint but to spectators it probably looked like a jog! At the end, no one passed me on that final straight, so I was pumped about that. I didn’t catch those 4 runners in front of me but when I crossed the finish line, my time was 18:55. That means my final half mile was 3:47. At the end I ran a pretty steady pace throughout and I ran a PERSONAL RECORD by 35 seconds from my previous best!
In looking back, I wish I did more hill work in my workouts leading up to this race. I need to find a place however close to where I live that has hills to work on. I know that the key to running even faster on this course, is mastering the hills. That has always been the secret. For now, I will walk away with a faster time but I look forward to running Vanny once again in the near future. One side note on the day, in the alumni race, my school took the team title. Not bad for a bunch of old guys!
Until next time Vanny!