Saturday, September 21, 2013

Race report: 2013 Great Cow Harbor 10K

See, some people finished after me!
Today's race (Great Cow Harbor 10K): 6.2 mile - (9:53 pace)

Another Cow Harbor race has come and gone. Just like the three that I'd run prior to today, I'm incredibly impressed by both the effort and the execution. It's a massive undertaking, with many moving parts. Cow Harbor relies on a well organized army of dedicated volunteers at every stage, and they make it one of the greatest races in the country.

The flow of a Cow Harbor morning has a certain familiarity. First you have to find the high school (I often miss that tricky left on Old Pine lane), find a parking spot (easy at 7:00 AM) and get on a shuttle bus. The ride from there to the Laurel Ave school takes me back to junior high (do we have gym today? I hope we don't have to run!). The walk from the bus to the school provides time to evaluate your level of energy and to gauge weather conditions.

Starting line an hour before the race
Every time I've run Cow Harbor, the heat and humidity have been a factor. However, before the start, it can feel chilly. I usually head into the building to maintain warmth and people watch and then go outside to get in line for the Porto's before they stretch as far as the starting corrals. I ran into some friends this morning who were also running the race, although I didn't see everyone I'd hoped to see.

Elite runner registration desk
I found my place in the 9000 section and made small talk with my corral-mates while we waited. After the playing of the national anthem the announcer started the first wave, that consists of elite and semi-elite runners. A minute later the 1000's went, and eight minutes after that, my group was unleashed. I never really know how ready I am until I'm actually on my way. Those first few minutes told me that I might have some problems today.

Scudder Ave is the first main component of the course and everyone talks about the temptation to run it full tilt because it's pretty much down hill. What I always forget is that Scudder starts out with a noticeable uphill, and today it felt difficult just getting past it. Uh, oh. If that was hard, how would I do on Bayview and James?

Once Scudder began to slope down, I felt some rhythm return to my stride. We reached Woodbine and then passed Main Street to big crowds and bagpipers. Bayview is mostly uphill, but mildly so, and I was doing okay, although I definitely wasn't feeling my best. I was amused when a spectator yelled, "You guys look great!" and the runner behind me yelled back, "Thank you for lying!" We all knew what was in store for us in a couple of minutes.

As I rounded the corner onto James Street, I thought about whether I'd like Cow Harbor more if this hill wasn't part of the route. In that moment, I realized that "Widow Hill" was the defining element of the race. Today it defined me as well.

I've prided myself in races past, on my ability to take James Street at a steady pace and make it through, sweating but unscathed. I really struggled this morning and was tempted to walk, but I never had before and I wasn't going to today. I kind of wish that I had, because it took me another half mile before I felt my strength return. I lost at least a minute off my overall race time as I worked back to race pace.

Coming down Ocean near Eatons Neck turn
I was doing okay at three miles and was delighted to see an ex-work colleague at the point where Ocean Ave meets Eaton's Neck Rd. I told her that I'd be coming through around 9:15 but it was closer to 9:05. She yelled, "You're doing better than you predicted!" Sadly, no. I just got the math wrong.

The rest of the race was a puzzlement. While I wasn't feeling my best, I was running credibly and attacking every downhill I could find to make up some time. Waterside Rd, with its long uphill slope, can hit you hard in the later miles of the race. I felt that I was maintaining my targeted cadence and speed and the split announcements made me think I was tracking for a mid-9:00 time or better.

There was no point in the race where I felt overwhelmed by the effort and I remained hopeful that I'd match or exceed last year's time. The last big challenge of the race is Pumpernickel Hill and I found it slightly tougher (and seemingly longer) than in past years, but I got over it and put everything into the remaining distance (about .9 miles). I didn't back off the throttle until I crossed the finish line.

When I looked at my Garmin and saw that it took me 61 minutes to get through the course, I was a bit disappointed. I couldn't understand why I missed my target, especially after the speed, hill and base training I'd done. At the same time, I was thrilled to have completed the race and managed an average pace within the nine minute rage (if just barely).

The thing about racing is that you can do everything to support your success but it all comes down to how you feel on race day. I'll admit that I've been tired this week and, in retrospect, I may have been better off not walking the hilly Bethpage trail for 80 minutes yesterday (although I enjoyed spending that time with my wife). My taper-ending five mile run on Wednesday could also have contributed. Today's shortfall may have had to do with other factors, like not enough sleep. I really wanted to hit 58 minutes.

After the race, Cow Harbor puts on a great finish line festival. It's like Woodstock for sweaty, emaciated people. I skipped all the carb snacks and flavored juice bottles and went right to the banana truck and then over to the Poland Spring truck. The band they hire to play is really good and the crowds, energy, music and harbor view reinforce that you are participating in something special.

I happily avoided the baggage check this year
I may have placed mid-pack, but I was the first one on my bus!
I ran into a few people I know who had also raced, and then headed over to the bus line. The transportation process is well managed and, without a long wait, we were on board. A woman who'd run the race for the first time today sat next to me and we talked about our favorite races on Long Island. Her son won the 2K fun run! I don't know if her husband ran the 10K as well, but I'm guessing he did, because the whole family looked athletic. She was a really nice and funny person and it was a great way to cap off my Cow Harbor day.

My next race will be the Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor's run in October. It's a 5K and the first half is a steady incline while the second half is equally downhill. The challenge doesn't match James Street, but I'll still have to train. In the meantime, I'll be taking a couple of days to recover from Cow Harbor. I hope my friends who ran it had good experiences today. No matter what, it's hard not to have a good time at this race.


  1. It was pretty humid out there this morning. I'm very happy with my time, but I'm certain that that I could have shaved a minute off but for the humidity. Waterside got to me today, more so than usual. But I had enough left in the tank to make it up pumpernickel and then keep the garmin at 735 for the final downhill sprint to the finish. After bonking at the LI Half, im more concerned with finishing strong than with my time. Great race. Great party. Really glad I did it, especially since I did it with friends.

    And thanks for the tips and inspiration.

    1. Wow - congratulations on a great race and thanks for being a friend of the blog. How did you do on James St?

    2. James street isn't that bad. It's waterside that gets me. Such a grueling mile to pumpernickels and I didn't want to burn myself out, knowing that pumpernickel hill was still ahead and wanting to have enough left in tank to finish strong. My mile two split was 835. Mile five was 859. Without the humidity, those miles would have been much closer, and you would have come closer to your goal. We'll beat it next year!

    3. I totally agree that Waterside is more grueling than James. It seems to never end.

    4. I may have been hallucinating by that point, but Waterside seemed to have some downhill spots that I hadn't noticed before. I also saw a giant banana drinking beer in front of a house and I spotted the Pillsbury dough boy among the crowd of spectators. I am not kidding BTW.

  2. Oh, ER... your recaps are SO awesome..

    "It's like Woodstock for sweaty, emaciated people."

    That's just great writing!

    I felt things were off today too. I should have been able to cut another minute or two. I also missed Running on Candy.. she was there today.

    -anonymous, what a great pace to the finish! Since training with a lower heart rate, I love the feeling of finishing strong. But, I did not run that way today.

    and thanks to both of you for your support! That is, if your the same anonymous with whom I've been sharing comments with all along. Can we at least get a letter or number set or something for ID? :)

    1. It's me. My name is Karl. I commented on your vote earlier.

    2. Vote? Damn iPhone. Blog of course

    3. TPP - I was hoping to find you today but I found it especially difficult to locate people this year. You did great and obviously ran a smart race.

      I haven't given up on getting a PR this year. Maybe a 5K...

  3. Ok Karl, sorry.

    Cooler weather will keep us running sharp! I'm looking forward to your PR! I've never run the Supervisor's. I have to see if I'm working that Saturday. The hill on that one looks brutal.

  4. "It's like Woodstock for sweaty, emaciated people." Thanks for a great chuckle. Congratulations on finishing on this hot, humid morning I totally wimped out on any kind of run today and have been feeling the guilts all day. I can live vicariously through you guys.

    1. Thanks - I hope you can run CH with us next year. Can you use this race as a training tool for the NY marathon?

    2. If I get into NY next year, CH would be a great training run. Even if I don't get in (which is the more likely scenario), I think I'm going to do it. It really is a beautiful, fun, challenging course!

  5. Great recap, and it sounds like you had a solid race on a day that may have been so-so regardless of the activity of choice.

    So much discussion of Cow Harbor makes me want to try my hand! Ha!

    1. Come run it next year! It's not just about the race, it's about the before, the during and what comes after - all great.

  6. Congratulations, sounds like a challenging course! Good on you for powering through in spite of not feeling your best. A lot of runners I work with have been saying the up and down weather has been messing with their training/running rhythm.

    1. Thanks Bill. I'm not sure what the issue was, but I suspect it had mostly to do with a lack of true rest.

      How's your race training going?

  7. Thank you for the excellent post.
    I feel better today as you've put things in perspective for me.

    I was with you when that guy yelled out "Your lying".

    Also, that may be me in your photo at Eatons Neck in the red shirt at the
    Call me re: Oyster Bay....I'm back!

    1. I looked at every runner with a red shirt but I couldn't find you. Sounds like we started in the same group.

      Maybe we can plan a training run next weekend. I'll send you an email...

  8. (from your post-run bus partner)
    Dropped in on your blog and was so excited to see you mention me (and my neighbor's son : ) ) in your cow harbor recap. I am so glad I finally made it out to cow harbor to run. I think it is an amazing race- challenging, well organized and festive. I look forward to running next year.
    Remember to check out the Rockville Centre 5/10K in November- a flat, fast course.

  9. Thanks for writing! Sorry about the identity error. You'd mentioned your son, so I (mis)connected the dots : )

    The Run for Warriors I'd mentioned is on Nov 10, same day as the Rockville Center 5/10K. That's probably why I never noticed it was being held.

    Let's hope for a fully restored boardwalk for the Long Beach Turkey Trot!

  10. The race videos are now up online at News12 Interactive.


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