After a week of incredibly hot weather that saw temperatures in New York City reach the 100s (and saw me with my head stuck in the freezer), I have to admit, I'd been hoping for rain today. I'll take wet and cool over hot and sticky any day of the week (if we're talking running, that is). So, when I woke to pouring rain I thought my luck was in.
Unfortunately, my luck then decided to go out. By the time I'd reached Central Park the rain had cleared and left in its wake grey skies and humidity of 96%. 96 %! So just a tiny bit sticky then. Fortunately, it wasn't too hot, around 69 degrees (that's 20 centigrade to my metric friends), but the air was heavy and there was only the slightest breeze. Not the best running weather, but hey, at least I wasn't melting.
The race starts at Columbus Circle, at the south west corner of the park, so I made my way to join 4,750 other women in the starting corrals. After speeches from the race organisers and a rendition of the star spangled banner, we were off.
The first mile of the race is run down the middle of Central Park West, the roads having been closed to traffic. It's always difficult to get into a steady pace straight from the off, as you often find yourself caught up behind slower runners who have started closer to the front than their pace allows them. Within around half a mile the congestion eased off a bit and I was getting into a steady, although slowish pace. I've never raced a 10k before, and it's a tricky one for me to pace. You can't just go for it, as you can in a 5K or 4 miler, as you'll burn out too soon. And a half-marathon pace is too slow and considered, so finding a balance somewhere in between was the key, and I didn't want to go out too fast in the first mile.
The first mile marker appeared just after we passed the American Museum of Natural History, and a quick peek at my watch confirmed that I was as slow as I thought: a 9.47 mile. This was good though, the first mile needed to serve as a warm up, so I knew I could pick up some time later in the race. At this point I also had a quick look behind me to see Central Park West absolutely teeming with runners as far as the eye could see. It was an absolutely magnificent sight.
At 90th street we made a right into Central Park and continued in a clockwise direction around the loop. I started to get into my groove only to be met quite quickly by one hill and then just past the 2 mile mark, another, the infamous 'Harlem Hill' . I'd run Harlem Hill twice during the More/Fitness Magazine Half Marathon back in April, albeit from the other direction. It's a bugger of a climb, whichever way you take it on. The only good thing about running up it, is the downhill once you get to the top and with this in mind, I pushed on, trying to maintain my pace. As I reached its peak I was met with a rare, cool breeze on my face, a much welcome downhill stretch and a wicked Radiohead tune on my ipod. Cue me with a big, silly grin on my face as I came flying down the hill, attempting to make up a bit of time.
Unfortunately, my runner's high, was short lived. The course at Central Park is a series of 'rolling' hills, and you're never on the flat for very long. As I saw the next hill approach, my legs started to feel heavy and I toyed with the idea of taking a walk break. But before I had the chance, I was met at the foot of the hill by such a big, enthusiastic group of supporters, that their cheers gave me, and I'm sure many others, a bit of a second wind, and I managed to power up the last of the big hills without too much trouble.
At the peak of the hill we passed the 5k mark. Up until this point, I'd not been taking much notice of my time, and had resigned myself to a 'slow but fun' race, as the humidity was making it all so much more of an effort. However, as I ran past the marker, I realised that my time was around 29 minutes (which isn't bad for me), and I wasn't running as slow as i thought. Having run the park before, I knew that the east side of the course was generally flatter, so, what the hell, I pushed on and decided to go for a decent time.
As I reached the 4 mile mark, I suddenly hit a bit of a wall and my arms and legs felt like they had turned to lead. I just felt like all my energy had gone. I wondered what to do and quickly made an absolutely counter-intuitive decision: I decided that I had to go for it and shock my body back to life, so I picked up the pace and promised my legs a quick break at the 5 mile water station.
I made the 5 mile marker 9 minutes later, so had definitely increased my pace. I had a few gulps of water, dropped my head forward and threw the rest of the cup over the back of my neck. It was just so flippin' humid. At this point the Chemical Brothers had kicked in on my ipod and i ran on, trying to maintain my 9 minute mile pace.
The last mile of a race is always tough and this one was no exception. I was tired, hot and sticky and desperate to finish. I managed to keep my pace steady, but at around .2 of a mile from the finish line, I had to pull back a little, just to get a handle on my breathing. Whilst I was pretty happy with my overall pace, and had managed a negative split, I'd started my push for home too early and was in danger of crashing before I got there. At the '800 meters to go' mark, I'd recovered enough to dig deep one last time and push to the end. I managed to sprint the last 50 meters and it was all I could do not to fall over once I crossed the finish line.
I finished in 58.34 - a good time for me and as it was the first time I'd raced the distance, an automatic personal best! My overall pace was 9.26 per mile, which felt about right considering the distance (and the bloody humidity).
Once I had got my breath (and control of my legs) back, I walked through the throng of finshers to collect my runner's booty - food in the shape of bagels and pears, water, a pink carnation (bless) and a finisher's medal. And then it hit me, the combination of exhaustion, emotion, pride and adrenaline and suddenly I'm quietly crying big, stupid, happy tears (I did tell you I'm a bit of a cryer, right?). But you know what? It really was crying of the very best kind.
Check out the NYRR website for the full race report, winners, results, videos and photos plus more about the great Grete Waitz to whom today's race was dedicated.