By Paul Thompson
For runners, New York without Central Park would be unthinkable or, more accurately, unliveable. Its 800 plus acres is a runner’s smorgasbord, a place to train, play and race. So today was special. It was a day to pay tribute to the organization that looks after it in the way that runners know best – by racing.
The starter’s gun went at 8am sharp, like most New York Road Runner races in the summer. This early start time plays havoc with my sleep. And Sham’s as she usually joins me. Based in Peekskill, an hour by train to the north, we have to get the 6:14am train. Arriving at Grand Central Terminal at 7:25am I then do a warm-up jog up Fifth Avenue, an anxious ‘will I or won’t I’ visit to the portable toilets, and then 5-10 minutes waiting in the starting corral.
This race started on the East Drive. Within 400 metres we were climbing Cat Hill , the biggest climb of the race. A dozen Ethiopians from the West Side packed the sharp end. My plan was to aim for 20:30 (my best is 20:16 and worst 21:00 on this course) with even splits. This would mean starting slower than my usual irrationally exuberant start. At mile one I was on right on cue – passing in 5:08 with team mate Sebastien B just ahead.
Now the problem with plans is that they are there to be broken. And today was no different. Passing Engineers’ Gate I latched onto a small group who pulled me through the 2nd mile in 5:05. Passing the 2nd mile mark on the 102nd Street Transverse in 10:13 the group, without consideration for the old fella in tow, accelerated. One runner dropped off. No prizes for guessing who.
The 3rd mile is often the slowest in a 4 mile race. It’s a neither here nor there mile sandwiched in between the fast start and, you hope, a fast finish. This course exacerbates this. Sweeping south down the West Drive it includes three small climbs. And for me I also had to pay for a fast 2nd mile. So it was no surprise to see the clock reading 15:30 at mile three, making it a 5:17 3rd mile.
The great thing about this course is the fourth and final mile. It’s the fastest one as it drops for some 600 metres before making a 300 degree left hand turn and then a slightly inclined 200 metre finishing straight. My usual masters rivals were absent which took the edge off my motivation. I crossed the finish line in 20:42, 26th overall, 1st masters and 4th best age grade (90.2%).
Warren Street posted 6th place in the Open Mens and 2nd in the Masters Mens (Jeremy Johnson, Antonio Nebres and I being the scoring three). We gathered for a post race warm-down and ran on the bridle path. Stephane Bois, a masters team mate who had spectated, saw us and shouted: “why are you naked?”. Girls you did not miss much. We only had our tops off.