Unlike most things in adulthood that I look forward to, this weekend actually exceeded my expectations. Saturday the Caveboy, Long Run Buddy, and I met up at Grand Central and headed north on MetroNorth to Tarrytown. It was a beautiful day for a trail run, and though the leaves haven’t really started to change yet, it definitely felt like fall was in the air. Running southward, as we were, the trail is slightly down hill and it made for a perfect easy run to just put on the cruise control and enjoy the scenery. The Old Crotan Aqueduct trail is now part of the state park system and is wooded for most of the section we ran, but there were a few clearings that overlook the Hudson as well. After just about 8 miles we reached the northern end of Yonkers and turned off the trail at the Greystone train station on MetroNorth. One the way back I stopped at NYRR headquarters at 89th St. and I picked up my Tune-Up race number in the hopes of buying myself a little extra time and sleep in the morning. The race started at 7 AM at the northern end of Central Park, so a few extra minutes of sleep was a precious commodity on Sunday. I was up at 4:30, at the park before 6:30, and still had to rush to my corral thanks to extra long lines at the porta potties.
My approach for the Tune-Up was to really use it as a dry run for the marathon and approximate as many conditions of race day as I could. I planned to run at goal pace, wear my race day gear, and not to carry my own fluids and test out how I did with Gatorade. I’ve written before about my struggle with pre-race anxiety, and I fully expected to feel the pressure to perform on Sunday in all its shaky, stomach-churning splendor. I slept surprisingly well the night before, but I told myself that I wouldn’t try to talk myself out of any anxiety I felt before the Tune-Up, as I knew it would be there on marathon day, too. At the starting line I did feel some jitters, but they were mostly physical and not the Plague of Doubts that I’ve struggled with in the past. Mentally I was actually incredibly calm and clear on what needed to be done. I would simply go run around Central Park three times at an 8:50 pace. No drama.
My legs did feel a little tight and nervous for the first few miles of the race, but I figured that was to be expected and so it didn’t concern me. The course started just before the Harlem Hills, so each loop began with a short downhill followed by the longest climb of the circuit. I spent the first lap finding my pace, trying not to charge the hills too much, and making mental notes about where the aid stations were located. As I passed the starting line for the second time, I really settled in and relaxed. I figured that if I could turn in a solid second loop, even if I got tired, I could take the third lap one hill and mile at a time and just focus on holding my pace. The amazing thing was, I wasn’t getting tired. The hills just came and went. It wasn’t that it was effortless, it was just unencumbered by worry, second-guessing, and emotional baggage. It was actually fun. The last lap felt no harder than the first miraculously, and I finished right on target at 8:51 pace.
I think the biggest factor, though, may actually have been my attitude about pre-race nerves this time. I didn’t fight it and actually welcomed it as a training tool. I’ve always read that the secret to beating anxiety is just to accept it will be there and do whatever you want anyway. It’s much more easily said than done, but I think I actually did it this time.