by Paul Thompson
This was my third time of running this race around Harlem. The great support from local residents and the rich flavor of the race atmosphere is a big attraction. Indeed it was such a draw that even Mayor Bill de Blasio turned out – to speak and spectate rather than run. The race is also one of the highlights of Harlem Week.
I first ran it back in 2012, missed it in 2013 due to an accident, and returned last year.This one proved to be my slowest effort. But I had the consolation of being top masters runner and $120 ahead (prize purse net of entry fees). Until a traffic violation wiped out the profit and left Sham and I quietly stewing.
Until we’d gotten the ticket it had been a great day out. Sham drove in and we jogged to the start area. The race conditions were near perfect – middling temperatures, relatively low humidity though a headwind in the final half mile – and the course reasonably fast once the long uphill drag in the first mile is done.
On the start line I was on the third row, deeper than usual but then I wanted to avoid getting pulled into a fast opening mile and in any case I’m no spring chicken anymore. My aim was to better my season’s best of 16:19 from my last race.
As we turned left at the one mile mark I saw the clock reading 5:12, two seconds shy of 2014 and on track for my target. I soon found myself isolated with no runners to trade strides with. I passed the two mile mark, the highest point of the course, in around 10:27. The nearest runner was 20m ahead of me and showing no signs of conveniently slowing for me.
Soon after the two mile mark the course descends precipitously before taking two 90 degree left hand turns to set runners up for the long flat finishing straight. This straight starts at 127th Street and ends at the finish line on 138th Street. I started counting down the streets left – 11, 10, 9….
The finish line comes tantalizingly into view at around 131st Street. What followed felt like the longest, but one of the more painful, two minutes of my life. These ‘runners’ minutes’ are slower than regular minutes. They’re accompanied by a sensation similar to that experienced when having one of those nightmares – the ones where you’re running flat out on the spot in a vain attempt to escape. Your whole life passes by. Slowly. Twice.
I breasted the line in 16:16. I was happy with that. I was top masters and 2nd best age grade just under 90%. My main rivals – Peter Brady (17:04), last year’s masters winner who’d recently ran 8:52 for 3000m but blood donor a few days before (New York masters runner donate rather than dope) and Matt Chaston (16:43), the last masters runner to beat me – were comfortably behind me. Other fast improving masters runners in the shape of Urban Athletics’ Javier Rodriguez (16:28) and team mate Aaron Mendelsohn (16:38) were uncomfortably much closer than usual.
On the warm down with team mates and friends it was encouraging to learn that team mates Aaron and Carlo Agostinetto (16:25) and Henwood Hounds’ craft beer connoisseur Antony Scott (17:44) had set PRs. Sham and I jogged back to Antony’s place to savor some of his booty from a recent raid on some of Vermont’s breweries including The Alchemist.
From Antony’s we drove to Urban Athletics’ Madison Ave. store for more beer and nibbles. The beer fast tracked our recovery and oiled the conversation. But a parking fine made for a less than jovial trip home.