riday, October 12th, was my 70th birthday. Yes, 70! At one time it was almost scary to say that number, but not anymore. I'm on track, moving along and doing fine — after all, that is what this blog is all about.
My son Peter came down for the weekend and together with my wife Joy, we had a nice quiet celebration at a fine local restaurant. But Sunday had been reserved months before for my birthday race, the first in my new age group. And I made sure it was the kind of race I have grown to love over the last decade or so: a true small town race held in beautiful environs. And even better, it was close by, a mere 35 minutes by car on a traffic-free Sunday Morning. Here's the web page: . This was the fifth running of the race, but if you read through the history of the race on the web site, you'll see establishing the race was a labor of love stretching back over a decade.
I'm especially impressed by a couple of sentences from this history: "On
May 18, 2008, 20+ runners met at the Thomas Paine Cottage in New Rochelle and had a “soft opening” of the trail. In a June meeting of local officials,
an official dedication date was set for September 28th. Our little running club had three months to put together a half-marathon trail race that no one
had ever heard of on a trail system that had not previously existed.
And on September 28th we did just that, with the help of dozens of volunteers and the assistance of the local municipalities. Despite several days of inclement weather, 50 hearty souls toed the start line at the base of Broadview Avenue in New Rochelle. And with a gunshot from a colonial musket, we started down the trail to what we hope will grow into a signature event for the County of Westchester." And it did!
The race is a true trail race, mostly on one-track trails and is laid out over town and county parks in New Rochelle (the start and finish), Mamaroneck, Scarsdale and Eastchester. There's a few sections on roads, mainly to get on and off the route and to connect the segments together. Considering these upscale towns, which epitomize suburban living, you might ask "where would you find 12 or 13 miles of trails in that area?" Well, you can. Look at the following map (click for the full size map):
We got to the start area near the Thomas Paine Cottage in New Rochelle a little before 8:00 AM and got a good parking spot in the lower parking lot off of North Avenue. The sky was cloudy with just a hint of sprinkles and with temperatures in the 60°s — perfect running weather! Peter and I walked over and I picked up my stuff at the registration table. As we walked back to the car, I met up with Gabby, an old friend whom I had not seen in years. We both reminisced about the 2000 Vermont City Marathon where she qualified for Boston. I ran the last 5 miles with her to give her encouragement ("Am I going to make it?" "YES", "Can I slow down?" NO!). I ditched my extra clothes in the car and took a brisk walk of about a mile along the park on North Avenue. It never ceases to amaze me how awesome the New Rochelle High School is, seen across that lake. They certainly don't have high schools like that where I come from.
The race start was in waves, which means the runners were divided into groups of a little over 200 runners each. The waves went off at 5 minute intervals, and yes, the starting gun was really a colonial musket! I was in wave 2. Using waves reduces congestion, important at the start and even more so on the trails. Along with me and Gabby, Tim was also in wave 2 so we started together. The other member of the Flyers, Deanna, was in wave 1. I thought she had a shot a winning the race so she belonged in the front.
The starting musket went off at 9:05, exactly on time and we all headed up Broadview Avenue. This is a long hill which rises about 100 feet in a half mile and is ideal for spreading out the pack. The worst thing they could do would be to dump the whole throng onto the trail at the start. Soon after we crested the hill we hit the trail. This first trail section goes through a long linear park (I've read it was destined to become a highway but that plan was scrapped). There's about 3 miles of rocky ups and downs interspersed with boggy areas bridged by long sinewy "cat walks". This is the most technical section of the route. Don't trip!
Next came the steepest section. A short road section with an 8% grade (or so I'm told)! Then, after a water stop, we entered the large Saxon Woods Park, partly in Mamaroneck and partly in Scarsdale. The two sections are separated by a tunnel under the Hutchinson River Parkway. This tunnel was very roughly the mid point of the race. The southern section is not too tough, but the northern section, in Scarsdale, although not as technical, is actually the hilliest section of the race. The section ends as we pass along the outskirts of a golf course.
Next comes the longest and I would say easiest portion of the race — along an overgrown bridle path which follows along the south bound lanes of the "Hutch". This is the least "wild" of any section and occasionally goes along the verge of the highway and crosses a few entrance/exit ramps. Some of the motorists were not amused. Unfortunately for myself, although the going got easier, I didn't pick up much speed as I felt pretty worn down from the prior sections of the race. The occasional walking I did on a few inclines were disheartening (although my friend Susan pointed out that occasionally walking may actually speed up your overall pace).
The last section of the race goes through two parks which contain reservoirs for some of the surrounding towns. In Eastchester it's called Twin Lakes County Park and back in New Rochelle it's called Nature Study Woods. These are quite beautiful with wooded sections and a section that follows a stream. If your legs had some power left, this is where you could really cruise. Well, mine didn't and I couldn't. I barely averted a disaster near mile 12 when I tripped and nearly fell. I staggered for about 6 or 8 steps trying to get my feet under my body, which I just barely managed. I really needed a breather there so I walked and got both my breath and wits back.
Then it was out of the park, along a short section of a city street, onto the high school track and across the finish. I surprised myself that my finish
time was actually slightly better than when I ran the race 2 years ago. What with my walking and my near fall, to say nothing of the fact that I was
less well trained, I hardly expected that.
My finish time was 2:14:17, which got me 2nd place in the 60+ year old group. 60+ year old group? What happened to 70? Well, most races have few or no 70 year olds, so most just go with 60 and up. But it was an accomplishment that of the 10 men in this group, almost all in their 60s, I was second. Both the number 1 guy and the number 3 were just 60. I got a nice glass mug (and a fancy water bottle that I don't know what to do with). And I got a nice bit of recognition from the crowd when the announcer gave me the award and said "Richard is the oldest runner in the race, 70 years old".
Sure enough, Deanna was first woman overall and demolished the course record by over 7 minutes. Way to go Deanna! Meanwhile, we were all getting cold waiting around so after the final awards we were off to the car.
A word about the race folks: from the race director and the timing crew, down to the myriad volunteers, and to the New Rochelle pep squad which cheered us on, they were spectacular! You would do well to find a race with half this amount of enthusiasm and support.
My son was heading back to Massachusetts, so we had a nice lunch in the diner on North Avenue. And then Joy and I got dropped off at the train station after we said goodbye to Peter. And to complete the picture, the sky had cleared and the sun was warming us up. A great start to my new decade!