Race report: Cow Harbor 2012

Crossing the line (in white, directly right of tree)
Today’s run (Great Cow Harbor 10K): 6.2 miles
58:32 (9:26 pace)

Despite concerns about a rain-soaked start to the 35th running of the Cow Harbor 10K, we ended up having near perfect weather for the race. At the start it was overcast, and by the end it was sunny, but temperatures and humidity remained moderate. I didn’t achieve a PR or even a PB for the race, but I was happy with my results that fell right in the middle of my prior two Cow Harbor efforts.

Team Emerging Runner arrived at Northport high school about ten minutes before 7:00 AM and we caught one of the shuttle buses that take runners and their crew to the Laurel Avenue school. This school is ground zero for the race and I made my way to numbers pickup before the lines got too long. I saw that I was assigned a 9000 series number, based on my predicted finish time.

The trick to managing 5,000+ runners is to put them into corrals with a staggered start every minute to spread out the field. It works extremely well but you need to do a little math every time they call a mile split, backing out the number of minutes based on your bib number. So if your bib starts with a 4, and the first mile split is called at 11 minutes, you’d subtract 4 minutes to get your pace of 7 minutes per mile. Easy right?

Dave 2.0, on left

We saw a lot of friends while we waited for the race to begin, including Dave who had suffered a heart attack at a race in February. He has recovered impressively well and it looks like he had a great race this morning, beating my time by over a minute. We had a mini reunion with a group of teachers from our kid’s elementary school, and I saw my my work colleague Bill, who was running Cow Harbor for the first time. He was concerned about the James Street hill, but he ended up running a great race.

I didn’t train intensely for the race this year and my only goal was to finish under an hour (mission accomplished). I was caught by surprise when it came time to release my start group. Due to the number of people in front of me, I thought there was still another flight in front of ours. That worked out well because I didn’t experience the countdown jitters that I normally get.

Off to a good start on Laurel Ave.

I took an Accel Gel 2nd Surge twenty minutes before the start, and I felt good coming off the line. I was concerned that I’d have a repeat of the New Hyde Park 8K start, when I found it difficult to keep up with the crowd. Unlike that race, I wasn’t fighting a cold, and I moved along well through the up and down (and then mostly downhill) Scudder Avenue. The crowds were out in force to cheer us on.

A little after the first mile, we turned onto Woodbine and ran near the water where the crowds were even larger. Between the noise, the people, and a large group of bagpipers, it felt surreal to be part of the entertainment. We quickly passed Main Street and reached Bayview Ave with a rise that only hints at what’s to come 3/4 of a mile later. And by that I mean James Street – AKA, “Widow Hill.”

Starting point of the dreaded “Widow Hill”

There are many ways to approach James Street in this race and I watched that play out once again as I began to take on the hill. Some runners attacked it and others chose to walk it. Like I did the previous two times, I accepted the challenge and adopted a steady pace that I felt I could sustain throughout the half mile of steep road.

I refused to look ahead lest I’d be discouraged by the amount of hill that was left to climb. When the road became even steeper I knew I was near the top. When it leveled out I felt great relief, but tried to increase my pace. The post hill section doesn’t provide much recovery time as the road rises once again before leading to a lengthy downhill span between the 2.8 and 3.75 mile points.

Just after the 5K mark I spotted a work colleague who told me she’d be standing on the corner of Eaton’s Neck Rd. and Ocean Ave. We tried to coordinate last year but I just missed her. It was great to see her and her dog at the halfway point of the race.

I felt remarkably good at that point, with the trauma of Widow Hill behind me and a stretch of downhill road in front of me. I wasn’t monitoring my pace, but my heart rate was holding steady in zone 4, as I’d planned. I felt good but I knew I’d soon need to switch gears and take on the long climb up Waterside Ave.

Waterside Ave goes on for over a mile and it’s mostly uphill. Some say this section is worse than James Street, but I disagree. Both require patience and an acceptance of the elevation, but Waterside’s grade is far more subtle. I kept a pace that made sense and allowed me to stay with the crowd. I began to fatigue around the five mile point but I never had concerns about bonking. I’d filled my gel flask with two Accel Gels with the 4:1 formulation (carbs/protein) and I sampled it through the last few miles.

Pumpernickel Hill isn’t as bad as James Street, but it comes near the end, after 1+ miles of fun on Waterside. I was up and over it fairly quickly. As I got to the top, a spectator was screaming, “A 77 year old man just took the hill!, a 77 year old man just took the hill!” over and over. Impressive yes, but enough already. And not in my ear please.

Encouraging message near the end of the race

I always expect the last part of the race to be triumphant, with a predominantly downhill section that leads to Main Street and the finish line. But after everything that comes before that point, it’s hard to exploit the opportunity to push hard. It’s basically a matter of holding the gains and pouring it on with whatever is left at the end. The finish chutes appear when there’s about a fifth of a mile left in the race. Like an oasis, they seem to remain out of reach despite moving relentlessly toward the line.

I crossed the line 58 minutes after I started, though I didn’t check the clock when I came through the finish. I saw my wife and kids and that made me happy. They are a great support team. I had to look up my results later, and they closely matched my Garmin’s time.

After the race we headed to the crowded waterfront festival where I was able to get Gatorade and a couple of bananas that helped restore my electrolytes. There was a great band playing and lots of booths showing products and services. We ran into Bill and one of my daughter’s teachers before getting back on the bus that took us to where we parked the car.

So one more Cow Harbor race is on the books. Mohamed Trafeh won the race today for the fourth time and Alisha Williams was the first woman to finish. I know there are bigger races with many more participants and more features, but on Long Island, (giving due respect to the LI Marathon Festival of Races) nothing quite compares.

Cow Harbor 2012: rain or shine (but please shine!)

Not what I’m hoping to see tomorrow

Today is rest day number two, prior to the Cow Harbor 10K. The weather report for tomorrow is slightly discouraging due to some bad timing. They are saying that both Friday and the weekend will be beautiful, except for some rain that will sweep through between 7:00 and 9:00 AM. If that’s accurate, we could be in for a soggy start.

I won’t worry about the weather because there’s nothing I can do about it. I don’t enjoy running in the rain because it can cause some annoying visibility problems for me (glasses). Worse, I really dislike the feel of moisture permeating my socks and sloshing around my running shoes. On the bright side, if it’s raining we won’t have to deal with the hot baking sun. I hope it doesn’t rain, but if it does I’ll deal with it.

In terms of my readiness for tomorrow, I don’t think I’m at the same level of conditioning as I was a year ago. I looked at Daily Mile and saw that I’ve only done four runs longer than 6 miles since the beginning of August. Half of those happened in the last two weeks, so it isn’t like I’ve ignored distances altogether. But even with those workouts, my base isn’t really optimal for a hard 6.2 mile run.

I’m still debating whether to do numbers pickup later today, or get them tomorrow before the race. I haven’t chosen my race day gear but I have my nutrition figured out. I’m excited to be running Cow Harbor once again and I hope conditions are good. I’m also hoping my colleague FS also has a great race this weekend when she runs the Dutchess County Half Marathon.

Red Bull’s Cow Harbor sample

One way to moo-ve faster on race day

As a blogger who reviews running related products, I occasionally receive interesting items in the mail. When I came home on Tuesday night, my wife handed me a small cylindrical package and asked if I was expecting something. I looked at the return address and saw it was  from Red Bull North America. I wondered what they sent me and why they sent it.

The package contained a can of Red Bull, accompanied by a printed note that thanked me for being part of the Great Cow Harbor 10K. I thought that was a great marketing idea. It probably cost a lot more to mail these cans than simply include them in race goody bags. However, this certainly got my full attention and it tied the product directly to the race.

Will I use this can of Red Bull on Saturday morning to kick-start my run? Not a chance. I still have trust issues with energy drinks and I would never use a supplement for the first time on race day. Still, I give Red Bull credit for their smart approach to demographic targeting and I appreciate their support and sponsorship of Cow Harbor and other races on Long Island.

Cow Harbor training dissonance

After Bayview, the nightmare begins

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

This morning’s run was my last before Saturday’s Cow Harbor 10K. As I worked my way through my daily route, I thought about the luxury of waking up tomorrow without the obligation of a run. I pushed myself to a reasonable level, mostly after the first mile, and completed the run close to my normal time. I was happy with the workout but, almost immediately afterward, I started to question whether I’ve properly trained for the race.

James Street in Northport, otherwise known as “Widow Hill”, is Cow Harbor’s vindicetis maximus. It’s a half mile of steep road that starts close to the two-mile point in the race. In the past two years I’ve trained on the Cow Harbor course to ready myself for that hill. It’s helpful to know at the start of the race that I’ve run that monster in recent weeks. This year, my training has been less focused. Though I did run some hills over the past few weekends, they pale in comparison to what I’ll face on Saturday.

I’m also thinking about my taper. Some might think it’s overkill to rest two full days before a 10K. But I like  knowing (even if it’s just psychological) that my body is using that downtime to repair and strengthen my leg muscles. I’m debating whether to run through core exercises on Thursday and Friday to give my glutes, quads and hamstrings some extra conditioning. That’s an impact free workout that just might make me feel better about my training so far.

For Cow Harbor, it may all come down to this

My running experience this weekend varied greatly, with Saturday’s humidity restricting my progress and Sunday’s cool, dry conditions providing an energizing atmosphere. I don’t have much to say about Saturday except that I knew from the start that it would be a tough run. I covered more distance than the three miles I’d originally targeted, so I was pleased with that small victory. Sometimes you need to give due respect to the heat and try your best, even if you don’t run very long.

Yesterday’s experience was much different and I knew from the start that I would have a better time on the Bethpage trail. I’m not sure how much credit I should give to the Accel Gel, but both times I’ve used it I’ve liked the results. The big hill at Bethpage is no James Street monster, but it’s the best I could do as a training resource. It was nice to come up and over the top without feeling like I had nothing left, as I often do when finishing long runs there.

More than once I’ve had terrible runs on Saturday, followed by a really good run on Sunday. This coming weekend I’m hoping I peak early and feel race ready on the 15th. The two days that I’ll rest prior to Saturday may improve my chances, but it doesn’t guarantee I’ll be at my best. I really hope we have great weather like last year on race day rather than the stifling heat and humidity of the year before. Above all else, weather can make the difference between a good or difficult race experience.

The significance of breaking a 9 minute mile

Cow Harbor aspiration

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

I had two reactions after I finished today’s run. The first was the happy acknowledgement that I’d completed three consective runs under 9:00 a mile (8:55, 8:50,  8:57). Not so hard for many, but a big deal for me. The second reaction related to how hard I’d worked to barely break nine minutes today.

I remember reading a post on the Runner’s World Loop a few years ago that defined a “runner” as a person who paced below 9:00/mile. This person declared anyone who ran slower than that to be a “jogger.” I rejected that assertion, as did many others through their comments. But since then I’ve always thought about sub-9:00 runs as a validation of my running fitness. A high percentage of my runs fall into jogger territory, so I feel encouraged with this week’s performance.

The reason why I’ve put more attention toward my speed is that Cow Harbor is weeks away and I want to be prepared to run it competitively. My PR pace for a 10K is 8:48 but that race was run on the flat roads and boardwalk of Long Beach. My hope is to beat my PB for Cow Harbor, which means a pace of 9:12 or better. If it wasn’t for the James Street hill, I’d be feeling confident about my chances for doing that. As long as I’m beating 9:00 on my training runs, I know I’ll have that possibility.

Successful start to Cow Harbor training

Once again, it’s about speed

Today’s run (street): 2.5 miles

Nothing forces a runner to pay attention to their performance as much as a race. Once the registration is completed, the clock begins its countdown to the starting gun. A good outcome is never assured, but preparation is always key. With a click of the submit button on Active.com, I’ve once again committed to training for the Great Cow Harbor race.

Every race I run fits within an easy/hard continuum. On the easy end are 5K’s that are run fast but over within a short time. The hardest effort I’ve experienced over the last couple of years has been the half marathon, mostly due to covering so much distance with race pace urgency. In between are runs between 4 and 6.2 miles, some harder than others.

Of these races, Cow Harbor is the biggest event by far. With over 5,000 runners invading Northport, NY, on a Saturday morning, it’s a race experience that stands out above all others. The energy of the morning, as runners gather at the Laurel Avenue school, grows by the minute as participants move into their designated wave sections. The chill in the air gives no clue to the scorching heat we’ll experience along the course.

This morning’s chilly air gave me the spark to start my run fast and keep the pedal down until I’d finished. Everything clicked and, despite my harder than usual effort, I felt completely comfortable pushing my speed. I ended up finishing my run three minutes faster than I did last Friday. It was the first time I broke 9:00 per mile in months and I can’t remember the last time I did it at 4:00 AM.

One run doesn’t make me ready for Cow Harbor, but I’m happy with my performance on Day One of training. I have three weeks until I taper and rest and I’m hoping to continue to perform like this. Lots to do before September 15th, but I’m off to a good start.

Committed to Cow Harbor 2012

What made skipping Dirty Sock so easy for me this year was that I put off registering until it was one week before the race. Since I had no financial obligation, I made my decision to stand down without needing to consider that I’d already spent the money. That worked great for this past weekend, and I’m still happy with my decision. Still, I didn’t want the same thing to happen next month so I signed up for Cow Harbor this morning.

With so many people running this race, the Cow Harbor organizers ask registrants to list their expected finish time. This is so runners can be placed into appropriate pace groups, called waves, at the start. It makes perfect sense and I always wonder if I’m under or overestimating my performance when I do that. Last year I finished in around 57 minutes and I’m hoping to do as well this year. I’ve run 10Ks faster than that, but not ones that have a hill as challenging as James Street.

Dirty Sock and Great Cow Harbor are coming…

It’s not yet the end of July and I’m already thinking about the two late-summer races that I look forward to each year: the Dirty Sock and the Great Cow Harbor runs. Both races are 10K’s but that’s where their similarities begin and end.

Dirty Sock is a trail race that begins at a small park close to Southard’s Pond. The course takes runners north around Belmont Lake and then back down again. If it’s raining, your socks will get dirty, and it has rained two out of three times I’ve run it. The race is held on the third weekend in August and conditions are usually hot and humid. I like this race a lot, but the last 1.2 miles always seem as long as the first 5.

This morning I got an email from the Cow Harbor race organizers saying that the 2012 event is 8 weeks away. The message was all caps and it carried some amusing urgency, especially this line that I pasted from the email: DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE.  THERE MAY BE NO ROOM FOR YOU! This race is run through and around the town of Northport, NY, and attracts over 5,000 people. The course isn’t as tough as Dirty Sock, except for the James Street Hill that looms like a mountain at mile 2.

I’m hoping we’ll catch another break in the weather (as we did last year) when conditions on both race days were considerably cooler and drier than the prior year. Speaking of weather, the forecasts are still calling for tomorrow to be the best day of the week. I’m hoping for low humidity when we line up at 6:00. THAT WOULD BE GREAT!

Wearing the seagull proudly

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt

Today’s run (street): 3.9 miles

The rain stopped this morning, so I took advantage of the clearing skies and went out for my run. I had no plan except to cover more miles than I normally do on weekdays, when I’m constrained for time. I was feeling slightly sluggish on my first steps out the door — I think it had more to do with the humidity than my physical condition.

I ran easy for the most part, not minding my pace or even looking at my overall time. There were a few other runners out at the same time and I crossed paths with a young woman who appeared to be struggling with her workout. The weather was taking its toll on everyone. I completed my run feeling like I’d worked harder than my numbers showed. If it’s more about perceived effort than actual pace then I did well today.

After my run I went for my six month checkup at the dentist. I was wearing my 2011 Cow Harbor t-shirt and my dentist (who is 8 months pregnant) joked that she’d skipped Cow Harbor this year because she’d gained too much weight. One of my daughter’s teachers mentioned last week that he’d ran it on Saturday. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, around here, Cow Harbor is the race to run.