Running on Tilt

Two laps of heaven, six laps of hell

The McCarren Park Track Classic

Listen | Time: 3:08 · Format: mp3

I ran the 3200 at the inaugural McCarren Park Track Classic in Williamsburg last Saturday. It was a bright and chilly morning, with a spiteful little headwind on the backstretch. Behind me at the starting line of the men’s heat was a guy named Misha. Wearing a pale pink North Brooklyn Runners shirt and designer sunglasses, he could have been prepping his canvas for a day of painting on the Mediterranean, or awaiting brunch with Adrien Brody. He seemed completely unbothered by the task at hand: eight laps in the freezing cold, as fast as you can go. The disconnect permeated the meet itself, an NBR production in which the brilliant sunshine and positive vibes made an afterthought of the pain involved in the actual running.

I had never raced a 3200 on an outdoor track, though in high school I raced the 1600 a number of times. The starts and finishes of those races – the first and fourth laps – went by quickly. The problem was the middle. And in a 3200, the middle isn’t just the second and third laps, it’s the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh laps.

My goal for the race was to break eleven minutes, and to do so I’d need to run quarters averaging 82.5 seconds, and then shave off a second somewhere. I took an inside lane and got off the line well, though I was quickly swallowed and then dropped by the front pack before I could properly tuck in and draft. Regardless, my quarter split was 79 seconds, ahead of the goal pace.

I’ve had luck with round-number goals in 2012, running 17:59 at the Armory to slip under 18 minutes in the 5,000, and 4:59 in the mile, also at the Armory, running the last quarter in 71 seconds to sneak under 5.

Though the initial 79 second lap didn’t feel strained, I was discouraged to see from the clock at the finish line that the pace for the ensuing laps had deteriorated to 84 or 85 seconds per. At the 1600 mark I was at 5:33. I picked up my cadence but the results were the same. Then I got confused, as one does in the late stages of a marathon. I didn’t know whether I had two or three laps to go. I thought the guy passing me was lapping me, but he was just passing, as it turned out, and I veered into lane 2 to let him by. With a lap and a half left, I then was indeed lapped by the two leaders. There’s nothing like being lapped to put you in your place.

I saw the leaders finish as I steeled myself for my own final quarter, needing to clock 71 seconds to go sub 11. In my deluded state, I thought this possible. The guy who had passed me was 10 meters ahead and speeding up. I focused on reining him in, visualizing what Bernard Lagat does to his prey. With 150 meters to go my mind told my body to commit and pass him. The body obliged, and I beat that guy, though at 11:05, I was six seconds off the goal pace. I had run the final quarter in 77.

Next up is the New York City half this weekend, and, if training goes well, an attempt to crack three hours at the Boston marathon.