Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Van Cortlandt Track Club 5K series, 2013 Ed.

It's a summer tradition, get outside every other Thursday between late May and August, often in the pouring rain, and run your heart out on the trails of Van Cortland Park for 3.1 miles. The goal: walk away with a fat, warm carrot cake muffin from Lloyd's bakery as your prize for nearly suffocating from the heat and hills.   I'm happy and proud to say that I walk away with a muffin for my efforts more often than not. I try to race hard in VCP, I love the challenge and I enjoy the friendly competition that fuels the  runners across the bridge, up and down the back hills and back to the flats. Oh the flats...the bloody 800m stretch from the moment you exit the woods until you cross the finish line. When the race is over, perhaps because the pain is fresh, we all grumble that the flats are the hardest part of the race, not the series of 5 back hills, but that dash to the finish where you can see the little red finish clock mocking you the entire time. It might take you a few times before you figure out not to loosen the reins entirely when you turn onto the flats, if you're like most of us. No, you'll try it once and perhaps make it to the northern curve before wanting to die (or walk) and realize just how much is left. You might even skip a few weeks and do it all over again the second time. Eventually though, you'll let that guy next to you take off with a smirk because you know what he doesn't. Well, you hope. I have a similar method for taking off at the start where you also run a long section of the flats before entering the trail. Yesterday was my first 5k of this season and I forgot my own advice and took off like a rookie on some  already sore legs. In the first 1/4mile The burning sensation in my quads, hamstrings and calves was so intense that I wasn't sure if. I'd be able to even run the whole thing. I'd definitely taken off quickly, but I typically run the first mile in the low 7:1x range, but a million thoughts were going through my head as a trampled over the grass towards the cow path. The thought that stuck was definitely "I didn't warm up nearly enough." Live and learn..and relearn. Oops. I was passed by a few women during my struggle with the first 1/2 mile and while I wasn't able to respond right there, I was banking on the idea that not a lot of runners are strong on hills and I often assume the runners I don't recognize are not familiar with the course and will die off after the first hill. I'm usually right for a lot of them. Yes, it's cocky, I know, but the competitive thoughts fuel me along. Some people have their music or mantras, I have my thoughts of crushing the women ahead of me. To each her own. 
While the first mile last night was one of the most painful I can remember, my legs (very) gradually loosened on the hills and I was able to pass a few women and really open up on the downhills and power uphill, though it still felt pretty gruesome. The beauty of the VCP course is that once you rest the biggest hill, you get a beautiful, rewarding downhill that lasts for ages. It can be really fun to let yourself scramble down those twists and turns like a crazy mountain goat. There was a guy huffing along behind me on the downhills last night who finally caught and passed me on the last little hill, but I couldn't care less about racing men in this race. 
I felt pretty terrible about the race when I finished, annoyed that it felt so hard and uncomfortable, but I was happy to see that my 23:42 was right on par with my average times on that course. Not bad, after all. I know it's just a small race and you're thinking "who is that hard on themselves at a tiny 5k?" But I like to use these as a fitness gauge from year to year and I get cranky if I feel like I'm slowing down. Luckily, I ran well enough for 4th female overall and 1st in my new age group! Yay. The woman I couldn't catch on the hills turned out to be 23, which gave me a little comfort. She's probably fresh out of college track, right? Anyway, there was a time when top 5 female would have sent me over the moon, but right now I feel like I've trained enough for top 3. Greedy, I know. The pain during and after that race has reminded me to get my ass in gear and get back to strengthening my lower body in ways other than running. 
On Sunday I ran another 5K in Ocean County, NJ and pulled off a very similar race. It had a ton of turns through a small neighborhood and I ran 22:07 or so, also good enough for 1st in my AG and $50 prize! I don't think I've ever actually won money before. I'm practically a pro now, right? Haha...no. I got beat by the lead woman by almost 5 minutes. Daaamn. It was a small race (~250 runners) and it was my Aunt's very first race. She's been training for a few months and I'm so proud of her- she ran the entire time and enjoyed herself! I love watching people discover the joy of running! Maybe someday I'll take down my mileage and actually train specifically for the 5K to see if I can break 20:00. I do feel like I'm on a 5K splurge right now- my next 2 goal races end with 5K's. the Aquathlon is in 2 weeks and consists of a 1500m open water swim followed by a 5K and the NJ Sprint Tri also ends with 5K. I guess I will keep up the 800 repeats for another couple of weeks, as painful as they can be. 
This week is all about recovery and strength, I have a twinge in my left hamstring that I babied yesterday and I'm still battling thoracic spine, lower rib and hip pain with weekly PT. I did some yoga this morning on Yogaglo.com (awesome site) and my body feels energized, though my arms feel noodly. Tomorrow I ride my bike to and from work with a stop on the way home to work with one of my young patients in a playground that's on the way home. I love the idea of getting around the city entirely on my own two legs instead of via bus/train at least once a week this summer. 
Stay tuned for more racing in the weeks to come. 

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