I ran the New York Road Runners Gridiron 4-Miler in 2011 as the first of my nine races to qualify for the New York City Marathon. I had barely been racing at the time, and I remember loving it. I felt fast, I enjoyed every mile, and I was really into the four-mile distance.
Turns out, five years later, the Gridiron is still a great race, and I’m still really into the four-mile distance.
A bit about the race:
- It’s a four-mile loop in Central Park.
- The first mile is rolling hills, the second mile has a decent amount of downhill, the third mile has Cat Hill, and the final mile is flat and downhill.
- After the two-mile mark, the course splits and — because it’s Super Bowl Sunday — you run under the sign belonging to the team you want to win. A pre-race Google search taught me that the Panthers were playing the Broncos. Good to know. (I ran under the Broncos sign not because I care, but because I was running the tangents and the Broncos were on the inside.)
A bit about my pre-race “training”:
- My last race was in August. Since then, my running was as lazy as possible.
- I took almost four weeks off from running on account of an achy-but-not-quite-injured knee. Preventative! I did not do a whole lot of cross-training during that time.
- I started running again two weeks ago, and declared I would do so without goals, plans, or a watch. I would take my mileage way down, and run for fun and quality rather than quantity.
And with that, my race goals:
- Run all four miles without stopping. No walking up hills. No walking through water stops. No walking on account of laziness or “I need to check Snapchat real quick.”
- Run without a watch. Run by feel. See what happens.
- Have fun! Yay!
There’s not a whole lot more to say except that I loved racing again, I loved being out in the park on a gorgeous Sunday morning, and I loved running without any data. But let’s see how much I can write about a four-mile run in my backyard…
My day started by spending the entire morning going to and from the bathroom (in true Feller style), and trying to remember what I usually eat before a race. I decided a bowl of dry cereal (“Honey Nut Cheerios,” but whatever Whole Foods calls them) and chocolate chips would be my key to success.
I gave Ellie a kiss goodbye (I may have given Brian one, too — our goodbyes for Ellie are far more endearing) and slow-jogged to the start area, where I met up with my November Project teammates.
We group photo-ed, scurried into our corrals (I was Corral D), listened to the National Anthem, and took off.
The great thing about no-pressure racing is that I was never nervous. The gun sounded, the race started, and I ran with the pack.
The rolling hills during the first mile were fine. I don’t really remember the second mile. The Cat Hill incline was barely noticeable. And then, during the fourth mile, I just kept running. WHAT A GREAT RACE RECAP, I KNOW. SO VIVID! SUCH DETAILS!
I felt comfortable the whole time. I never felt like I was gasping for air, but it didn’t quite feel like an easy jog either. I didn’t know if I was running 9:30s or 8-minute-miles, and I kept forgetting to check the clocks at each mile so I could attempt math. It didn’t matter and I didn’t care. (Why haven’t I been running like this all along? Why did I spend so long caught up in all those numbers?)
Within 800m of the finish, I decided I could probably pass the girl with the nice bum I’d been trailing the entire time (hi, girl in a jersey and black shorts and black compression socks — thanks for the pacing and PS you have nice legs!), so I pushed a little harder and it was the first time I really felt like I was working hard and breathing heavily.
Up ahead, I saw Brian and Ellie cheering for me! Brian was yelling, “Ellie look, it’s Mom!” but she didn’t care and I could tell she was focused on a pigeon, squirrel, or piece of trash in the distance.
So I set my laser-like focus, Ellie-style, on the finish line, and just kept running. I heard my November Project teammates cheering and then I crossed the finish line.
My official finish time was 30:34, which is a 7:39/mile pace. I am mighty happy with that. If I had worn a watch, I never would have run that pace. I would’ve seen sub-8s and backed off, and I would’ve doubted myself, and I would’ve been annoying. Instead, I just got to cruise. I’m completely pro-watchless running now.
Turns out, I was only 10 seconds off my PR, and I beat my previous Gridiron time. And I ran the whole race! I wasn’t even tempted to Snapchat my way up Cat Hill!
YAY RUNNING. YAY EVERYTHING.