Running on Tilt
Hare & Hounds club, beach at St. Andrews
A cold rain fell as runners braved a chaotic pre-race registration for the Scotland 10K in Central Park on Saturday. The grounds were muddy, the lines were long, and with chilly fingers, safety-pinning the bib to the singlet and threading the chip onto the shoelace were like tasks on a winter camping expedition. Being a Scotland themed race, there were bagpipers, and the Saint Andrew’s cross was visible on hats, giveaway blue ponchos and flags. There was even a haggis cart. Robert Burns was featured on the race’s tee-shirts and on promotional banners. With a blanched face, blackened eyes and the smear of color across his lips, the illustration made the Scottish poet look a bit like Heath Ledger’s Joker in Batman. Amid all the promos and giveaways, the one thing that harkened back Scotland for me was just beyond reach: across the fenced off registration area was an expanse of Sheep Meadow with grass that couldn’t have been greener.
After struggling in the bag drop area, I made haste for the starting line. I spotted a garbage can overflowing with the blue ponchos and added mine to the pile before wedging into an opening at the back of the first corral. Over the loudspeakers a Scottish representative told us that though the weather wasn’t as nice as it had been for the last year’s race, today’s harsh conditions were truly Scottish. “We could use a bit more wind,” said one runner.
One reason I wanted to try this race was that I spent my junior year abroad in Scotland. I studied at the University of Edinburgh and ran with the university’s Hare and Hounds club. In retrospect, the Hare and Hounds club was more like an adult running club than a college cross country team. Instead of practices every day, there were several loosely organized workouts per week. You paid for your own uniform, which they called a “kit,” and for access to the track. After races there were dances, or Celeidhs.
On the team I befriended an older Japanese linguist named Susumu who didn’t have great speed but whose forever-pace was faster than mine. During one of our long runs over the Braid Hills the topic of girls came up, and I confessed to him that I fancied one of the lasses on the team. As it turned out, he fancied that same one. “Great minds think alike,” I said. The next time we ran together he told me that he looked up that expression in a book of idioms. “Great minds think alike,” he said, “but small ones never differ.”
I was assured before the Scotland 10K that foregoing the orange Central Park Track Club singlet for this race wouldn’t be such a big deal—many runners, after all, wore kilts—so I donned my green University of Edinburgh top. When I wore it at the 2002 New York City marathon, I heard a hearty “Go Edinburrra” cheer from a Scot or two. This time nobody seemed to notice.
Despite the inclement conditions, the race was twice as crowded as usual. The first mile was an exercise in darting around runners, and once again I started slower than I had hoped—I was about twenty-five seconds off my 6:20 goal pace. My strategy for this race was to mimic the 10-10-10 strategy that my track club coach has been recommending for the marathon. Take the first 10 miles at 5-10 seconds slower per mile than the target pace, run the next 10 miles at target pace, and the final 10K a little faster than the target pace. The logic is that a slightly slower start will prevent the runner from blowing up and giving away much more time toward the end. Given that this was my last prep race before Big Sur, I took a 2-2-2 approach for this run.
My second mile was a little faster than my first, and at the two-mile mark I consciously picked it up. From mile three to the finish went something like this: Through the Harlem Hills I passed runners whose soaked kilts were slapping the backs of their legs as if in a carwash. I passed a cluster of Central Park Track Club members, none of whom I recognized. Shortly after the four mile mark there was a water station, and usually I grab a cup, but this time I skipped it. I focused on catching a Central Park track club runner with colored strands in her braided hair, then once I passed her with about a mile to go I focused on catching a small man who was wearing one of those blue ponchos. Shortly before Columbus Circle I started my finishing kick. I’m not sure whether I caught the blue poncho guy.
At the end of the race I knew I had finished in about 38:45—as it turned out, it was 38:42—but given the complexity of dividing 38:42 by 6.2 I initially thought that I had not met my goal, so it was a pleasant surprise to check the results later and see that I had run 6:14 per mile. It was faster per mile than my 8k a month prior, which itself was faster per mile than a 4-miler in December. To continue that trend over 26.2 miles next week would be asking a bit much, wouldn’t it?
As Central Park celebrated Scotland in miserable Scottish weather, those in Scotland enjoyed unseasonably blue skies and warm temperatures. ”It was hot,” reported my British correspondent. “The gingers didn't know what that yellow thing in the sky was.” In Edinburgh, the zoo was frequented by ten times the number of guests than had visited over Easter weekend last year.
Toward the end of my stay in Scotland back in college, Susumu and I ventured up to St. Andrews to run on the beach that is the setting to the opening of the film Chariots of Fire. Though the Old Course at St. Andrews is a mecca for golfers, the adjacent beach is no less glorious a place to run—it is just as magnificent as it appears in the film. The sand stretches for miles, the sky is limitless, and the sound and the sight of the waves heighten the emotions to such an extent as to render Vingelas’ soundtrack unnecessary, though upon returning to the bed-and-breakfast where Susumu and I were staying, our hostess made a point to play it for us.