I love pleasant surprises. Who does not? I signed up for the NYRR Jingle Bell Jog only because it was in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, my home borough. Something like supporting the home team. No other reason, at least when I signed up for it. I got something out of it and it was pleasant.
The day started, sadly, with the usual switching of subway lines. I live near the D train but on this weekend, like many previous weekends, it runs on the N line out to Manhattan. The N itself runs on the D line to Coney Island, which works for me, but the trip to Prospect Park requires allocating extra time to go to the N station further away. Actually, the F and G trains would supposedly drop me off closer to the race's start line but getting to the F is a bit far for me, too. What's more, there is construction on the F line as well. It is more straightforward to just take the D or N to 4th Avenue and walk to 11th Avenue, to pick up the bib and souvenirs, then onward to the start line. It was a 6K race but with all the extra walking because of lousy weekend subway service I might have covered twice that amount today. Good thing I am a runner and do not mind long walks. Do not get me started about my attempt to get to the NYRR office yesterday evening to pick up the bib etc. Yes, lousy subway service then, too.
It was a long walk to the school where bibs and such were distributed, but there was no line at all. Just in and out. A volunteer helpfully directed me to the entrance. In one side, pick up your stuff, and out the other side of the building. No two-way traffic, no collisions. I wish life is always that simple. In addition to the long-sleeve tech shirt there was also a pair of silver bells and strings (?) to tie them to sneakers. Tech shirt, woohoo! First pleasant surprise of the day! I thought we got tech shirt for the NYRR Brooklyn Half Mary because there were many sponsors. The back of the shirt for that race was filled with sponsor names, typical of an NYRR race, which is a good thing, a win-win situation. But the Jingle Bell Jog shirt's back has only the new NYRR logo and that for NYC Parks Department.
A year ago I would be somewhat clueless about what's where in Prospect Park. I do not go there that often, being so far south of it near Coney Island. Today, having run the Brooklyn Marathon, with six big loops and more within the park, I knew exactly where I needed to go. Even without the runners before me leading the way, I knew that to get to Center Drive I would go north, or left, of the lake. I now recall that for the Brooklyn Half Mary, just this year in May, I actually made a whole loop of the lake, from an entrance on the West Drive, to get to the beginning corrals, but only to squeeze in the back in my higher corral, almost back on West Drive again. Knowledge is power, really, knowing where you are and where to go, it is a good feeling.
I had much free time before the 9 A.M. race. I looked around a bit for anyone I know from DailyMile.com but could not find any. After taking a GU energy gel, which I considered my breakfast for the day, I decided to explore Prospect Park, the off-the-trail part. There is much more to Prospect Park besides the big loop and the lower loop. On Center Drive, I discovered some big yellow fruits that from far away I thought were rocks that were painted on. Close-up they have patterns on them that look like brain lobes. Interesting. A bit north of Center Drive I discovered a smaller lake. Half of the lake had dead/brown algae that some passerby told me is unusual. Normally they should be gone by this time of the year and something must be wrong. Too bad the battery on my cell phone almost drained so I could not take a photo of the lake. From far away I thought the algae-covered part was part of the shore.
Eventually, it was time to get into the corral. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I can use today's race to beat my own pace. Up to today, each time I sign up for an NYRR race, my pace is listed as 10:22 minutes per mile. It is from the shortest NYRR race I ever had, the 5K Coogan in March. It was somewhat cold then and rainy and the distance was short so that was when I ran the fastest. Jingle Bell Jog was supposed to be a 4-mile race but because of some construction work in the park, got shortened to a 6K, or 3.75-mile, race. A tad longer than a 5K (3.1-mile) race, but with the training I have gone through, plus the power of the GU, maybe I can pull it off? At Mile #1, my Garmin said it was 10 minutes into the race, for me. At Mile #2, 20+ . The race course was not even a full big loop but just around the lake, from Center Drive, up West Drive and the dreaded hill, past Grand Army Arch, then down East Drive and back into Center Drive. Again, with the knowledge of what to expect along the course of the race, I took things slow in the beginning. There were many people anyway, better to go slow and let the crowd thin out. At the intersection of Center Drive and West Drive was the first water station. I had no plan to stop for water, as I can survive perfectly fine without any water on these short races. From my almost-daily runs, I can tell at some point that I have had enough of the warm-up and can speed up. It could have been after the water station but the big hill came soon so I decided to climb the hill slowly. After Grand Army Plaza, it was time to kick into high gear. I started to try pass slower runners. Not far from the turn to Center Drive I could not help notice a big guy in front of me, with visible love handles. Fit or not, he was still ahead of me and I could not keep up. But then once we entered Center Drive, I called up some reserve energy somehow and made for the sprint to the finish line. I finally passed the big guy and used the mostly empty left side of the finish chute to complete the race. The Garmin said my time was 37:43 but I am not good at mental division so I still did not know if I outdid myself or not. On the subway ride home, even with a calculator I was not that sure how I fared, since it is kinda hard to divide things into .75 . Even after NYRR posted the result online, I could not view the result page on my Android phone. Trying to view the result page, after finding myself, would only take me back to the NYRR home page. Weird. Only much later in the afternoon, when I finally had a quiet moment to check out the result on the iPad, that I knew my time was 37:41 minutes, or 10:07 minutes per mile. Yippee, P.R. (personal record), baby! Next record to outdo myself - 2:23:40 for a Half Marathon.