The O.K. Corral

I have been traveling quite a bit this past week but want to make it clear at the start I wasn’t anywhere near Tombstone Arizona.

Recent trips to NYC included packing boxes and helping my son Arron & daughter-in-law Amy move (still within NYC). Because they still live in the city, I was able to stay for a few days prior to the all women’s Oakley Mini 10k (same as the NYRR Women’s Mini 10k). It was my very first 10k in 2010 and I was thrilled to have finished it with thousands of other women as we ran though Central Park.

This is the only race I have been streaking since the first year I started to run. I bettered my time by only 2 seconds when I ran in 2011 but was in a lot of pain with plantar fasciitis. 2012 had me feeling victorious and pain-free as I bettered my time on the Central Park course by 3 whole minutes. The feeling of overcoming that foot pain and cruising at a faster pace at age 50 was intoxicating.

Arron backstage as Birbanto (putting up with my asking him to hold a photo of Punxy Phil for another project).

Arron backstage as Birbanto (putting up with my asking him to hold a photo of Punxy Phil for another project).

This year, Amy was not in the city but left me a great pair of cat socks for after my race. I had the chance to stay with Arron who treated me to my very first time viewing a ballet backstage at the Met Opera House. He has been with American Ballet Theatre for years but I have always viewed his performances from the seats in the house, as do most people. He took me into the backstage sections of the theater and I got to see him have his makeup applied as he prepared for a soloist role in the ballet Le Corsaire. Arron was the evil pirate Birbanto and he leaped, fought and turned and finally got shot center stage as I viewed from the stage right wing.

That was the first night I got into the city. Arron and I wound down at our favorite Harry’s Burritos and sipped mango margaritas. I didn’t get to sleep until well after midnight so my last little shakeout run before the race came way too early the next morning. As the East River landscape greeted me with a pretty sunrise, I smiled and knew that rising early was so worth it. I ran down to the 59th St. bridge as I did a few months before with Jim.

I’m not sure if it was lack of sleep or breathing city air but over the next few days I was starting to feel run down, like I might be catching something. I took some Emergen-C and grabbed a nap now and then as I unpacked a few boxes for Arron in his new place. Every time I napped I felt better but the run down feeling came back after a couple of hours.

2011 NYRR Mini 10k, proud to be starting in the Orange corral.

2011 NYRR Mini 10k, proud to be starting in the Orange corral.

I made time to pick up my race packet and was eager to see if I made it into the next color corral. Depending on the size of the race, geography of the start, or the quality of the field, NYRR has different corrals that put the faster paced runners at the front and slower paces at the back. Blue, Red, Yellow, Green, Orange, Aqua, 
Pink, Purple, Grey, Brown from fastest to slowest, I started in the pink corral in 2010.

Every year, I get a shot of me standing in front of my corral color. In 2011, I got bumped up 2 to the Orange corral, no surprise since the year before I had no idea what pace to put down on my application. 2012 had me at the same pace but, because the race was so large, I got bumped back to the Aqua corral. No worries, all of those corrals start so far back they even start to curve around on Central Park South as opposed to Central Park West where the actual start line is.

This year my hope was to have made it back into Orange since I bettered my pace to a 9:20 MM and it wasn’t a huge field like the 40th anniversary in 2012. I even dreamed I might be in Green and that I wanted to see 56:XX on the clock as I crossed the finish line. I knew it was unlikely but I had trained well (~9:10 MM) and I like to dream.

I don’t know if I was more amused or horrified to see that my bib was in the Yellow corral and instantly attributed it to the much smaller field. I did have some jitters when I saw they had my pace down as 8:50 MM and had no idea where they ever got that. Plenty of times I had seen the faster paced colors step back in the slower corrals so I would just bump myself back to Green.

Jim came to the city the night before the race and we had a pleasant meal with Arron. Still feeling like a cold was coming on I had a few naps that day and we were able to stay up and have a few laughs after Arron’s evening performance before I set the alarm for 5AM.

The start wasn’t until 8AM but that gave the rainy weather a chance to blow out of the area. The morning was beautiful and (thanks to seeing a random chicken nugget!! on the stairs) I was in a pretty good mood as we went to catch the subway down to Columbus Circle. As we entered the subway station, Jim and I saw that other women waiting on the platform were going to the race. Like myself, one woman was already wearing her racing bib (the timing chip is attached to it) and another was holding her bib. The woman who was holding her bib was close to me as I got to the platform and I glanced to see her corral color. Her corral was Blue, same as the elite runners.0

I recognized that she was a younger and probably much faster runner and felt nothing more than camaraderie upon seeing her. Not moving her head toward me, she pretended that she had no interest in me but was given away by her intense sideward stare at my bib. I just kept walking and positioned myself down the platform where I could talk to Jim without her hearing me, “Did you see that woman stare at my bib?” Jim answered, “Yeah, she looked just like the Dramatic Chipmunk!” It kept the mood light.

2013 - Freaked out by the Yellow corral.

2013 – Freaked out by the Yellow corral.

All of my light spirits took a turn during the hour leading to the start. I started to feel tired and dizzy again. Just looking at the women starting to enter the Yellow corral made me feel woozy; they were all tough looking and very fit. The Yellow corral was 3rd and on Central Park West, you could actually see the starting line from this corral! I felt totally out of my league and I decided to warm up and hit the toilet before coming back to decide which corral to get into.

I felt better once I was moving and I returned to find Jim waiting to take my annual corral photo. I decided to get into the back of the Yellow corral and when they took down the tapes that allowed the corrals to blend I would let the eager Green runners step by me. I stood listening to Mary Wittenberg and Nina Kuscsik wish all of us luck and soon the Star Spangled Banner was being sung. The wheelchair athlete was started and the crowd moved toward the start.

I started my music at the “gun” and got my hat and sun glasses into place. It still took me about a minute until I made it under the starting canopy and I waved to the famous people. I started my watch as I crossed the start line and made my way up Central Park West.

67th and Central Park West, arms raised under the red arrow.

67th and Central Park West, arms raised under the red arrow.

I yelled to Jim where we agreed he would be standing, near 67th St. This is one spot that parked cars make it difficult for runners staying to the right. I was glad to have run this race a few times before. The first mile I felt pinned in as usual but, very unlike me, I also felt held back. I had expected the women around me to be stepping down the heals of my Brooks Ghosts. I found myself looking at the ground in front of me waiting for openings. As we entered Central Park, things opened up just enough to run the tangents pretty well and I could stop being so boxed in.

The first mile clock said 10:00, it certainly had felt like a 10MM. I heard some runner around me say, “I have 9:00,” but I refused to look at my watch to see exactly how far off gun time I was. When I fixate on my watch I can sometimes get depressed or start to panic so I just focused on how I felt.

Also near mile 1 was the first water stop and I was angry at myself for not remembering it was there and to steer clear of it. I had to put on the brakes for women stopping dead in front of me to get water and then those who stopped to drink after the table. I vowed to watch for the rest of the stops and planned to give them all an ample berth.

Harlem Hills usually finds me light-hearted and chatty but I noticed the group I was running with was very different. We were all practically silent since we had entered Central Park. I was keeping pace just fine and, though I was pushing hard, it didn’t feel much different from my hardest training runs. I think it was about then that I realized I had chosen the correct corral.

200 meters to go!

200 meters to go!

Miles 2, 3 and 4 had me passing more women than passed me. I usually lagged a bit on the uphills but tore it up on the downhills and tangents.

Successfully bypassing the next hydration stations reminded me of last year when I had gagged on some Endurolyte tablets near mile 4 or 5 and peed myself. That marked where, in 2012, I started struggling and my mind started playing games with me. No gagging or peeing this year but close to mile 5 I could feel the pace starting to wear me down.

I took a mental inventory, I wasn’t injured, sick, nor faint. Even though my brain was asking me why I would ever want to train for a marathon again, I pushed the negative aside and focused on getting the final miles done. “The slower you go, the longer it will take,” I told myself. I may have eased up just a bit but kept powering on strongly toward raised voices and a cheering crowd. I guessed we were running pretty much on the opposite side of the park as the finish line and could hear the hoopla.

Dashing Whippets!

Dashing Whippets!

At mile 5, we twisted around another bend to face a huge group of cheering spectators. What I had heard wasn’t the finish line, it was the male contingent of the local Dashing Whippets Running Team cheering. They had great signs like, “Did you just Fartlek?” and were all wearing huge blue and yellow handlebar moustaches! Their spirit kept me going.

During the last mile I was fatigued but was pleased to be handling it better than I had the year before when I was doing everything in my power to not stop for a walking break. I knew to not bear too far to the right or I would be running on sewer grates and up onto the heals of those who needed to slow down. This year I kept right on plowing up those little rises on the final 800 meters. I can’t say that I “dropped the hammer” but I think I picked up my pace as I neared the finish line.

I saw Jim at the 200 meter mark and happily yelled to get his attention. Then I focused on the finish line and clock. I didn’t have my glasses on but yes indeed it displayed 56:XX. As I got closer I saw it was going to be easy to get across before it turned 57:00! I finished with a meek rage pose and clicked off my watch.

After the finish I was so tired I can’t remember if next I saw that my watch displayed 55:44 first or if I saw Arron cheering for me. Both made me so happy because they were unexpected bonuses. My son woke up extra early to see me set a PR. Even catching a cold, my actual finish time was 55:40, a 8:58 MM! I guess the Yellow corral was okay for me after all!Oakley-Mini

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5 thoughts on “The O.K. Corral

  1. Pingback: PR to DNF and Great Stuff in Between | See Jain Run

  2. Pingback: Regrets and Regards | See Jain Run

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