Saturday, September 15, 2012

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.

4 comments:

  1. Nice race report! It sure was a beautiful day to run. My wife Beth thought she saw you lined up in your wave but she was not sure.

    Just for clarification, you subtract the number your bib starts with from the time on the clock. So, if your bib starts with 4 (even though that is wave 5) you only subtract 4 minutes from your time.

    See you at next race.

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  2. Hi Paul - I looked for you guys but with that crowd I was surprised to find anyone I knew. I hope you had a great race. Did you run it together?

    Thanks for the clarification on the wave timing process. I've made the correction on the post.

    I'm thinking I'll do the Town Of Oyster Bay Supervisor's race next. Do you ever run that? That long hill at the start is something, but it pays you back on the second half!

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  3. The crowd was huge. I have been running the Cow Harbor since 2005 and in that short time it seems the count has increased by a 1000+. I think race participation has gone up in general. Sure is a good thing with people wanting to get/stay in shape.

    My wife and daughter started in wave 14 and I started in wave 3. We find the wave system an excellent idea. Makes for a much safer and enjoyable start.

    We have done the Oyster Bay 5k in the past. Has a hill in the beginning and then downhill after that, if I remember correctly. We are running a Marathon in early October, so no more races for us until then.

    Good luck in your training and races. Keep running!

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  4. Best of luck on the marathon! See you soon I hope.

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