Saturday, September 17, 2011

Race report: 2011 Cow Harbor 10K

Hooray, I beat my predicted finish time!
Today's run (Great Cow Harbor 10K): 6.2 miles - 9:13 pace

The 34st running of the Great Cow Harbor 10K was a great experience and I was thrilled to have beaten last year's time by three minutes and 43 seconds. But as great as it was to improve on finish time, the story of the day (for me) was running the race feeling strong the entire way through. This experience, unlike last year when I was tunnel-visioned toward just finishing, allowed me the opportunity to take in the details that make this such a great race.

Cow Harbor actually started for me last night with numbers pick-up, when I did the long drive to the Laurel Avenue school where the race begins. I arrived earlier than last year and found parking right away. As I walked the grounds of the school and went in to pick up my race bib, I was reminded again of the scale of this event. I had predicted a finish time of 57:30 and was surprised to see that I was assigned an 8000 series number that meant I would be starting in the 9th Wave.

Last year my number was in the 11000 series and I started in the 12th Wave. I worried that I had overestimated my performance potential but I figured, at worst, that my Wave mates would leave me in the dust. Happily, that wasn't the case.

I headed to Northport this morning at about 6:30 AM and arrived at Northport HS at 7:00. I took one of the shuttle buses that delivers runners close to the starting area. I decided not to carry a bag (although they do have UPS trucks that transport gear from the start to the finish area) so I left my extra layers, smartphone and towel in my car. I made my way indoors because the temperature, helpfully cool during the race, was a little too chilly for standing around.

Many others had the same thought and as I looked around I noticed many very fit looking runners with race numbers starting with 9, 10, 11 and on. Again I worried that I'd planned incorrectly. I chatted with a few other runners to pass the time and around 8:20 I made my way to the Wave area. I ran into Paul and Beth who were standing nearby, getting ready to move into position. Paul reminded me to subtract nine minutes from the quoted split times, which was a good thing to know. We bade each other good luck and I'm guessing that they both did well today.

I saw Brian a few rows ahead of me but I couldn't get his attention. I thought I'd catch up to Brian on Scudder Avenue but he took off faster than I was willing to run. I held my speed in check for the first mile, resisting the temptation to fly down the mostly downhill section. My split on mile 1 was 8:53 - brisk but not too fast. Last year I was feeling draggy almost from the start but this morning I felt like a V-8 with a tank full of gas. I prepared myself for the rise near the end of Woodbine and the big hill on James Street.

I was stunned by how quickly we'd passed through the cheering crowds by the harbor even though the running pack had yet to thin out in a noticeable way. I paced myself behind four giant bananas who were having a great time running the race, and before I knew it, I was taking my first steps onto Widow Hill. I knew from last year to be wary of hill walkers who stay in the middle of the road and obstruct those who are running. I didn't love the uphill effort but I felt far stronger through that span than I did last year.

At the top of the hill I focused on my breathing and used the more level roadway to recover my aerobic rhythm. It took a few minutes, but soon I was back in race mode. I passed mile three feeling remarkably good. I remembered that at the three mile point last year I was desperate for water and feeling very weak from the heat and humidity. The dry, cool weather helped greatly today and I'd brought a hand bottle with a mix of G2 and water to ensure ready hydration.

Near mile 4 the course goes steadily uphill along Waterside Drive. I moved along well, focusing on form, breathing and stride and I still felt strong through mile 5. Shortly after this split we turned toward Main Street and sped up Pumpernickel Hill which, on balance, is far less intimidating than the James Street monster. The top of this hill signals the beginning of the end and the start of a mostly downhill stretch leading to the finish line.

Usually at this point in a race (certainly the case at last year's Cow Harbor) I'm in survival mode, just holding on until the end. When I began the descent towards the finish I said to myself, "All it takes is all you got" and called upon whatever I had left. I came through the finish in 57:12 feeling great about the race I'd run.

I'm really pleased that this year I've achieved PB times on the NHP 8K, the Dirty Sock 10K and, today, the Great Cow Harbor 10K. The weather certainly helped, but I feel really good about my margin of improvement. I ran into Brian at the post-race festival and he was happy to have made it through another Cow Harbor race.

This a great race and spectator event, and with so many elite runners on the course, it feels special to participate. The race volunteers are universally kind and patient and the organizers don't miss a trick. I guess after 34 years they've figured out how to make it all work. Can't wait to do it next year.


  1. nice race on a tough course!

  2. Thank you! What a difference a year makes : )

  3. Nice job on your time improvement! It is always amazing how much easier it is to run in cooler weather even if the course has hills.

  4. Thanks - I went with your method of starting moderately and it helped get me through the big hill. I'm guessing you rocked it yesterday as well. You're right about the cooler weather, it made such a difference.

  5. Wow, congrats! What a huge improvement!

  6. Thanks Bill. It was a blast. Nice to be able to rest today...

  7. Thanks Adam. It helped to have Minnesota-like weather on Sunday...


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