I had no idea how I was going to get there, but I signed up for the Forest Park 4 Mile Classic as soon as Mr. Nycruns pointed it out to me. Details, schmetails–if there’s a footrace in Queens and I can get my calendar to oblige, I’m competing.
BJ (my fellow Media Challenge racer, co-panelist on the New York Running Show podcast, and writer at Turfcasts), tipped me off about Forest Park. It is untamed, he said, lush, with over 500 acres of deep forest with miles of trails. (OK, I looked up the part about the acres.) And indeed, as soon as I exited the Jackie Robinson Parkway (turns out the best way to get there from Astoria is to drive), the old-growth trees and formal brick houses that rimmed the park made the neighborhood seemed more like a Long Island suburb, or the ritzy Roland Park area of Baltimore, MD. I instantly tucked Forest Park into my Long Run Routes file, since it’s 5 miles there from my part of Queens. I hadn’t even yet experienced the trails and I’d already incorporated the park into my training schedule.
Another sign that Forest Park is my kind of place: when I parked in the lot, every other car was decorated with a NY Mets sticker. And, funnily enough, I found a spot right next to another blue Buick Le Sabre, identical to the one I was borrowing from my Nana! Clearly, Forest Park is where good barges go when they need some R&R. Giddiness ensued: I was excited to race this new location, excited to be free of the hamster wheel of the NYRR’s Central Park races, and excited for the opportunity to try and PR (I had to beat an 8:44 pace, which I felt pretty confident I could do).
The weather report had been promising thunderstorms during the race, but as the running gods would have it (for today, at least) all we had was humidity. Though this humidity must have been intensely needy, since it clung tightly to us all the entire race. BJ found me the second I queued up to get my race number, and we chatted about our summer and fall race plans as we warmed up with a few laps around the track. This track, by the by, is gorgeous–it might be tied with the track on the Lower East Side for best-looking. Its lanes are alternating blue and gray, bleachers line up along the whole near side of the track, and the other three sides are bordered by tall and interested trees (I swear they are fans of the sport). The race boasts a three-surface running experience–track, trail and road–which is as close as I ever want to get to competing in a triathlon. I admit it, being naturally clutzy I was nervous about the trail part of the race–if there was a rock or root for my shoe to snag, it surely would trip me up.
At two minutes to 10 (oh yes, this race had a mid-morning start time, amen sisters and brothers) all the racers mucked up around the start line on the far side of the track, the race organizer gave us the Ready and we were off! By “we,” I mean the approximately 300 runners who were competing–it was not a big race at all, which I absolutely loved. I started off way to fast, confused by the small crowd and unable to keep my speed in check. After half a lap around the track, we were directed out onto the sidewalk and then the road. this part was a short uphill–maybe a quarter of a mile–and then we hit the trails. These trails were beautiful, green tunnels with wide brown tracks that were so kind to my legs, and they were well-groomed so I saw right away I wouldn’t have problems with jutting roots or rocks. And best of all, the rest of Mile 1 was pretty much down hill.
Little G told me Mile 1 took me 7:57. Mile 2 and 3 were rolling hills through the trails and along some more roads. I was sweating from the humidity and could tell that I was at the beginning of a training cycle–my legs started to tucker out in the middle of Mile 2, a symptom of lack of strength. I just tried to hang on to the pace (unassisted by a lengthy downhill, Miles 2 and 3 hit at 8:30 and 8:26) so that I could crank it up again in the final mile. In the meantime, I was grateful to experience this new park, I felt like I’d just discovered a whole new runner’s playground for myself (oh alright I’ll share). By Mile 2, I’d settled in with a small pack of older men who were around my pace, as well as this one younger dude from the Hell Gate Harriers, a Queens club that trains in Astoria Park. He and I kept trading the lead on the other.
At the Mile 3 marker, I dug in to get my speed up. I had the idle thought that it would be cool to get back down to a sub-8 pace if I could bear the pain, but then when I realized that the race course was an out-and-back, I knew there was no chance of that. I had to run back up that nice long downhill I’d so enjoyed in Mile 1! So I frowned and used my arms. I kept my stride short, got onto the front of my feet, leaned forward and trucked up. By the time I made it up that hill I was in enough pain that I gave a little moan of relief as I crested it and gasping, I let my body slump into the downhill. I had to be careful to keep my feet under my body and not overstride, because that’s a surefire way to aggravated Betty. Then the volunteers were letting us know all we had left to go was less than a lap around the track. And wouldn’t you know it, the Hell Gate Harrier dude was behind me, and I thought, I’d like to keep it that way…. and so I did. Little G tells me I ran the 4 miles in 32:43–a definite PR–though I can’t tell you my official time as results haven’t been posted yet. My last mile took me 8:12, according to the Garmin.
The race was wonderfully organized. Apart from them running out of size S tee-shirts, I have nothing but positive things to say. Registration, check-in, volunteers directing us at every turn, people with stop watches calling out our splits at every mile marker, and the very diligent and thorough officials at the finish line–everything was great. I also loved how the Forest Park Running Club members were so welcoming and kept asking me (after I finished the race) what I thought, if I had fun, etc. And I did, I had a blast! I worked so hard, and the hills were challenging but kept things interesting. I loved running through the green tunnel, and the fact that the trails were muddy made me feel kind of badass (that, and the Bondi band I was wearing). There’s something, in this NYRR-enabled city, that feels slightly subversive about running a community-staged race in an outer boro, and I like that feeling too. Needless to say, I am already planning on making this race an annual one on my calendar.
After the race, I had a celebratory brunch at Penthouse808, on top of the Ravel Hotel in Long Island City. The food wasn’t so amazing, but the view made me deleriously happy. (There’s a life metaphor in there somewhere.) Run strong and beautiful, people!
UPDATE 5/19: My final results from the race were posted incorrectly by the Forest Park Running Club (the guy who finished right after me sprinted past me in the chute and the officials recorded him as crossing before me), but I sent an email the the club actually went to the video they had taken of the finish line and posted correct results last night! I love that! Official finishing time: 32:43, for a pace of 8:11, and I finished 8th in my age group of 30-39. In order to finish in the top three I’d have had to have beat a 30:24.