Central Park – home to thousands of runners every day and an essential park of the running culture of this city. So it stands to reason then, that each year New York Road Runners and it’s members celebrate the park and contribute to it’s maintenance by supporting a run in aid of the park’s conservancy organization. This year the four mile race was scheduled for Saturday, July 14 and encompassed a loop of the inner circuit – between 72nd street transverse and the 102nd street transverse. Without the strength sapping Harlem Hill to slow the pack down, and with some fine weather forecast for that morning, the race held the promise of some fast times for those in the right frame of mind.
I considered myself one of those people – I had been back running for about a month following my knee injury and everything was going fine. I had eased myself back my slowly increasing my weekly distances and there were no issues to report with my patella. I felt no pain or discomfort, and I was back up to my pre-injury running pace. Physically, I felt in good shape and if the weather cooperated (i.e. not too hot or humid), I thought that I might be able to take advantage of the relatively flat course to put in a good time. Maybe even a personal best!
The race started well for me. Making my way up the east side of the park, I was in a groove as we struck Cat Hill and motored up the incline with little trouble. By the first mile marker I was clocking just over an eight minute pace. The rest of the east side was familiar territory, and I used my experience on the roads to manage my output until rounding the bend at the 102nd street transverse. Crossing the two mile marker, I was still on pace for a personal best, coming in around 16:30. However, my excitement was quickly tamed as I started down the west side and the notorious three sisters hills. I must have been going too strong too soon, because half way up the second hill I felt my legs turn to solid weights and had to slow down to a walk for about 30 seconds. Similarly, cresting the third hill and the water station, I had to take a walk break because I was overheating and feeling tightness in my legs.
I kept going though, because my time was around 25 minutes and there was still the potential for a personal best. Unfortunately, my average pace had slowed too much because of that third mile, and even though I covered the last mile in just over eight minutes, the combined time as I cross the line was 33:15 – 21 seconds slower than my personal best. Slightly disappointed to have missed out by such a slim margin, I made my way to the baggage area to collect my gear and head home. As I sat on the subway going back to Brooklyn, I reflected on what might have been. Did I really need to take those two walk breaks? What would my time have been had I kept going?
Of course, I’ll never know the answers to those questions but I did come away from the experience knowing that I had come so close to a personal best on a bad day. The next time out, if it’s a good day, I have it in me to shatter my fastest time. Roll on September 15. that