This weekend saw the NYRR Spring Classic 10k in Central Park, bringing the first race of spring and my first 10k of the year. There really is something magic about running in Central Park, especially when the weather is fresh, the sky is blue and the energy among the runners is high. This run was extra special too, because my dad was visiting from Scotland for the weekend and he ran the race too!
It was a very fresh 38F / 3C, so chilly in the shade but feeling very pleasant in the sun. The Spring Classic 10k is a members-only ‘Classic Race’, which means it’s not a marathon qualifier, smaller capacity and no finisher t-shirt, but the race has a much lower entry fee – and let’s face it, you’re still running in Central Park!
Crowds warming up for the race. Photo from NYRR.com
The course started at the top of the park on the East side, just south of the 102nd Street Transverse and then heading around anti-clockwise, running down the West side and then back up again just past the start line to a sprint finish. As always when running in Central Park, there are a few rolling hills to contend with along the way, and the dreaded Harlem Hill at the top of the park, a hill not to be trifled with. It’s defeated many a runner, and certainly defeated me in the past!
There were around 2,000 runners ready for this race, so smaller than the usual 5000+ runners at NYRR races – but definitely still enough runners to provide a great atmosphere! My dad and I arrived very close to the race start time, due to my inability to find street parking in NYC! So we made it into the park with 10 minutes to pick up race bibs and reach our starting corrals. Thankfully the bib pickup process is like a well-oiled machine in NYRR races, you simply scan your QR code at the registration tent, pick up your bib and your safety pins and off you go!
My dad and I were in different starting corrals, him being a LOT faster at running than me, so we parted ways just before the race start. Then we were off!
Weaving, sprinting and that god damn hill
So normally in races, I’m perfectly comfortable at the back of the pack. However, as I’ve been running so much recently I must admit that it’s getting easier to run – and I have been running a little faster. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still towards the back of the crowd, but I’ve progressed a little further up the pack. This means that for the first half mile of the race I found it quite frustrating, as I spent a lot of time weaving round people. I also went out a little too fast, I was close to 10 minute miles which is closer to my 5k pace than 10k!
However, at the mile marker that all changed. I hit THE DREADED HARLEM HILL. The hill that everyone hates while running in Central Park. I started feeling fairly confident, but that confidence quickly faded as I continued up the hill. I saw other runners start to drop off, either slowing their running pace to a gentle crawl, taking walking breaks or just stopping completely to catch their breath. My running pace slowed down considerably, so slowly that I probably would have been quicker to walk!
I made it ALMOST to the top of the hill, but at just over 3/4 of the way up it got too much for me and I had to walk for 30 seconds or so and catch my breath. Same with the next hill crest, so I was disappointed at that – but I’ll get all the way up next time!
The next 2 miles were fairly uneventful, with some rolling hills but nothing as steep as in mile 2. I stopped at every water station for 10 seconds or so to have a quick drink of water, there was a station approximately every mile along the course.
By mile 4, I’d been keeping track of my pace and was seeing roughly 10:30 min/mi averages, with the exception of the Harlem Hill mile which was closer to 11:30. I started doing runner math in my head (yes, it’s a thing!), and worked out that if I could keep up the 10:30 pace then I’d finish in around 1 hour and 5 minutes – 4 minutes faster than my previous 10k PR. It was then that I really started pushing to keep my pace up, despite 10:30 being quite an uncomfortable pace for me. There’s a big difference for me between 10:30 and 11:00 min/miles – it’s the difference between a comfortable run and a run where my legs are very aware (and resistant!) of what I’m asking them to do. The thought of that PR, though, was too much to resist and I really started to push myself.
By the time I was into mile 5, I was really going for it. There were another few hills to climb and I definitely lost some time, but a few downhills made up for it! I did have to take another walking break after one of the bigger hills though, so my time was starting to suffer for it.
I told myself to keep going, and stay out of my comfort zone, keep trying to run just a little bit faster. Every time I felt like pulling back, I told myself that I was less than 10 minutes away from finishing, what’s ten minutes? Ten minutes is nothing. I’ve spent much longer than ten minutes sitting on my arse writing this blog post. I spent 60 minutes playing games on my phone earlier. If I can spend all this time lying on my couch, I can certainly keep an uncomfortable pace going for ten measly minutes!
I hit 6 miles, with my last mile time coming in at under 10 min/mi! Just the last 0.2 miles to go, I was on the home stretch. Then, it was there, right in front of me. The finish line. I could see my dad waiting for me (because of course he finished a long time before me), and I put my last bit of energy into a sprint finish. I didn’t dare look at my watch for that last 0.2 miles, I didn’t think I’d made 1:05, but I knew I’d ran a PR so I was ecstatic!
I was excited to check my finishing time…..
- Mile 1: 10:26
- Mile 2: 10:53
- Mile 3: 10:33
- Mile 4: 10:34
- Mile 5: 11:11
- Mile 6: 9:57
- Last 0.2: 9:40
I am so happy with this result! My last PR was 1:09:09 in June 2014 on the GW Bridge 10k, so it’s been a long time coming. It really makes a difference when you start training properly, it’s only March this year and I’m already seeing a huge difference in my performance. Almost 3 minutes of improvement made a very happy Saturday!!
Running in Central Park
I do a lot of the NYRR races – last year I did 9 in a year, this year I’ll have done 9 by June, and at least half of these have taken place inside Central Park. I must say, I LOVE running in Central Park, it really is the best place to run. If you get the chance then you should definitely plan to do it! There’s such an active, supportive running community there, whether through the NYRR races or just as a casual runner – you will always see people out running who won’t hesitate to give you an encouraging smile as you go past.
There are several places to run in the park, the Central Park website has a great article with some ideas for running routes in the park. The two I’d recommend are:
- The big loop – basically the same thing that I’ve run this weekend! Whether you run clockwise or anticlockwise, there will be some rolling hills, some challenging uphills and some lovely downhills, as well as prolonged areas of flat ground for you to really hit your stride. It’s roughly a 10k around, but you can shorten this by taking one of the transverses that cut across the park, and create your own route at whichever distance you choose!
- The reservoir – This is a great, short loop for smaller runs, running round the resevoir in the middle of the park. It’s 1.5 miles around, so this is ideal for a 5k run as you can do two complete loops of the reservoir. It’s got great views too!
All in all, I’d say running in Central Park should be one for everyone’s bucket list! If you decide to run it, let me know and I’ll be sure to join you!
Have a great week everyone!