Even though I’m relatively new to the Whippets, I’m definitely not new to racing, and especially not new to the NYRR Team Championships. This has been a must-do on my race calendar every year since 2004-only missing it in 2005 (injury) and 2014 (unaffiliated.) It’s no secret that I love this race. Yeah, it’s a 5-miler in August. The weather is a wild card. But thanks to the local teams-only factor and the gender-split starts, we only have to race with 600 others as opposed to 6,000. And the split starts mean that the men get to cheer like crazy for the women, and vice versa-definitely helps you up your game, especially at the end. So even though this race was familiar territory, in a way this was going to be a brand new experience as this time around I’d be wearing the Whippets blue. Was excited to represent!
As for time goals for this particular race, I’ve been riding a recent streak of good races and was hoping to take a shot at my 5-mile PR of 36 minutes (set at the 2011 Team Champs). And also wanted to better my NYRR bib pace under their new guidelines. But in the week leading up to the race, I had my doubts. First-I struggled majorly in the workout on Tuesday-the legs and the head were just not in it, to the point that I had to cut it short. Although if I were to have an off day, better it be in the workout than the actual race? Then…the weather, all signs were pointing to a hot day on Saturday. On one hand, I felt I ran a really smart race at the Mini 10K given the tough conditions then. On the other hand, the Mini started at 8 AM. The women weren’t going to race until 9:30 AM…just an hour and a half for it to get even hotter. Later in the week, I felt I got my groove back-especially after getting my bib for the race…blue corral? Wait, what? That’s at least a good 2 corrals ahead of where I’m normally seeded in this race! Maybe it was a mistake, maybe it wasn’t…either way I was blessed with a great start for this race-gotta own it.
Saturday morning. I didn’t even bother looking at the weather-at this point, it was what it was and checking it every 15 minutes wasn’t gonna make the temps magically drop. Had MTV or VH1 (or one of those music channels that play actual music videos sometimes) on the TV in the background while getting ready and one song that came up was titled “Go Big or Go Home.” Perfect. Decided then and there that was gonna be my theme for this race. Go big or go home.
Headed to the park-with a bit more walking than I wanted (thanks so much MTA for having the uptown C trains run express this weekend!)…just tried to chill out and listen to my pre-gaming playlist (I may or may not have had “Uptown Funk” and “Shut Up and Dance” on repeat 😉 ) The men’s race was well underway by the time I got to the East Drive, but I spotted the DWRT cheering zone/picnic area expertly set up by Sarah and the rest of the social committee!! I dropped my stuff off with seemingly only a few minutes to spare (ok maybe it was longer, but it went by fast!) as we heard/saw the lead bikes/pace vehicles. Cowbells, pompoms, feather boas, signs, whatever other cheering materials in hand, we were ready. The first men finished under 24 minutes-unreal!! But wasn’t long before we’d start seeing the Whippets men, finishing very strong en route to their 7th-place finish (GREAT job, guys!! and to the masters who took 5th and vets who took 8th!) But some guys looked like they were struggling-moreso than the usual “it’s the last half-mile of a race.” And I pondered if I was crazy for still wanting to really go for it, given the conditions. Thankfully, Elizabeth took care of that by giving me a “Believe in yourself like Kara Goucher!” mini-pep talk. 🙂 Alright-twisted my arm. Original goals still on.
Got a quick warmup in with a few of the other Whippet ladies before heading over to the corrals. Even though the officials were trying to get some of the women to get on the line…I stayed put in the middle of the corral. Though it would have been a really cool photo op-I knew I didn’t belong there, and just had to keep the overall goal in mind and not risk getting caught up with a too-fast start. With a few minutes to go, Jonathan sings “God Bless America” to kick off the ladies’ race-and did great (I meant it when I said the Yankees should play your version during the 7th inning stretch!) A few deep breaths while Peter Ciaccia gave us our final instructions and asked if there was clearance on the roadway. And it was go time.
Mile 1-A relatively clean start (love the smaller field!) and the cheers from the guys sending us off helped me start strong-but controlled, knowing I’d have to deal with the West Side rollers in this mile and didn’t want to waste too much energy on those. I treat my Garmin as a watch during races (turn off the distance/pace fields) so I didn’t know how I was doing in terms of pace, but I was sticking with teammates who’d be around my pace in the workouts, so I figured I was doing fine. And for at least a half-mile, if not more, I could still see the lead vehicle up ahead…that was just surreal-I’m never this far up!. Handled the hills relatively well…up that last one to 84th and hit mile 1 in 6:47. My first thought: “Off to a good start.” Second thought: “In this weather? You’re asking for trouble.” Third thought: “Shut up and run.
Mile 2 brings that nice downhill, so was hoping to make up some time here like I usually do. And was also hoping to make it past 72nd without getting sideswiped by people crossing the west drive. The end of this mile brought a much needed misting station and water tables-I grabbed a cup, knowing I might regret it later if I didn’t. This mile was 6:45-actually slower than I would have liked, given the downhill. Don’t know if I lost time grabbing a drink (though I didn’t stop) or if I played this mile too safe…or maybe I started too aggressively and was paying for it. Just tried to put it behind me and keep going.
Mile 3-while technically, the Cat Hill mile should be the toughest mile of the race, I actually find this one to be mentally toughest. Unshaded, the least crowd support…while you have a good chunk of the race behind you, there’s still a good chunk ahead of you as well. And in past years, I’ve struggled with keeping my head in the game in mile 3. But I did have a little help this time around, I spotted a couple of my friends who were Team For Kids coaches out cheering…Simon was one of those TFK-ers cheering, and he specifically told me to “keep those yellow singlets in your sights!”-referring to 2 or 3 women just in front of me. And that’s just what I’m gonna do. That helped to not let the momentum slip, and I was rewarded with a 6:41-probably the strongest I’ve ever run this mile (normally I slow down on mile 3). Maybe mile 2 being a little slower than normal helped as well? Either way, now I knew this race was legit-game on.
Mile 4-it may sound crazy, but I really don’t dread this mile. By now, I accept that Cat Hill is gonna do damage, and it’s just a matter of minimizing it. When I’m having a decent-to-good day for this race, I can usually maintain my position or even pass others on the hill. (That said, I have had years where I’m the one getting passed…) The crowd support did seem to increase here…spotted one of my friends cheering in the midst of what was probably a 30 mile long run for her 😛 Daniela was cheering near the foot of Cat Hill…and while I was climbing the hill, Chris was yelling at me to run the tangents. Dammit-should have listened, at 1.02 miles this was my longest mile of the race. 🙂 Anyway-I think I handled Cat Hill fine, I was able to pass one or 2 women there, as well as on the flats afterwards. I felt like I was in a whole other world today-being able to mix it up with those who would normally be quite a bit ahead of me! So almost through this mile and not too bad…til I tried to grab another cup of water only to drop it moments later. I definitely could have used it, but too late now, not gonna try and backtrack. With the cup mishap and the hill, I was content with the 6:59 for this mile. Could have been better, but definitely could have been worse.
Mile 5-It’s this last mile that always makes this race so damn worth it, why Team Champs, I just cannot quit you. Especially the “tunnels of cheering” (as it was called several years ago) from 96th to the end-both sides of the running lane surrounded by cheering team members. Regardless of what team colors they’re wearing, they’ll still make you feel like a rockstar-just one of those nice “we’re all in this together” moments.
Anyway, one mile to go and I knew it was all downhill (or flat) from here. No holding back now. Time to fly. And boy, did I feel like I was flying this entire mile.
Just left playing it safe behind and gave it everything. I knew I had a PR at this point, now it was just a matter of how far under I was gonna go. I might have passed others, others may have passed me, I didn’t care, the real race was between me and the clock. Got in my zone and stayed there. After passing the reservoir, I did hear the cheers from other teams…and then from the awesome yellow and blue of the Whippets’ cheer zone! Even though I may not have been able to show it at the time, just know I heard you and I appreciated and loved it, and it encouraged me to give that little something extra from there until I made that last turn onto 102nd and hit the finish line. And that last mile split showed that I indeed gave it everything-6:26! (Strangely enough, that is actually a mile PR for me.)
And I couldn’t believe what I saw when I looked at my final time on the Garmin. 33:39. Holy sh!t, I PRed-by a LOT. In 80 degree weather. Even now I am still shocked that I pulled that one off.
So after my mind kinda came back to reality, I grabbed some much-needed water and Gatorade, said “great job” to other women who finished around me, did a nice easy cooldown with a few other Whippet ladies, and then headed back to our East Drive area for some FUN. The picnic was just a great time-high spirits, good company, music, eats, drinks, team photo taking, chatting, dancing (oh wait-that last one was just me, haha.) And finally the final results were posted and the Whippet women took THIRD (for both open and masters!)-and I was very proud to have been one of those 10 who made it happen. If there was a day for everything to just come together-was glad today was it.
So thank you, Whippets! Thank you for making my first Team Champs with you guys an epic one. See you on the roads (or at the bar!)