Gridiron Classic Recap or: Why I’m a Terrible New Yorker

Today, Ron Burgundy and I are finding ourselves in a glass case of (mixed) emotions. On one hand, I dominated the NYRR Gridiron Classic (4M) this morning and – despite what I thought would be a detrimentally slow first mile – crossed the finish line at 31:36 and knocked my expected 8:30 race pace out of the park. (Baseball analogies on Super Bowl Sunday? That just came out of left field!)

But while I’m proud beyond belief of my unexpected 7:54 pace, I’m not proud of what I did to achieve it. Is everyone sitting down? Good. To log my new personal best, I had to do the unthinkable. I had to pretend to be a Patriots fan.

Holy Benedict Arnold! – You say. – How did such a thing ever come to pass?

Let’s backtrack to the race’s 9 a.m. kickoff.  (Here I am in the minutes before with my girl Lindsay and a row of porta-pots. They gave us the option of choosing the 1990s laser background, but we went with this one.)

Indisputable fact: this morning’s race was packed. While I loved the rampant crowd camaraderie in the minutes leading up to the starting gun, I quickly found myself cursing the multitude of participants as I tried – and failed – to begin the race at a sub-9:00 pace. I know some degree of foot traffic is to be expected in the first quarter mile of any race, but this morning felt like Times Square gridlock. On New Year’s Eve. In the foyer of Applebee’s.

According to New York Road Runners’ race statistics, 6,058 runners came out to compete this morning, and I estimate about 6,052 of them were running abreast in an impenetrable wall one step ahead of me. Wove as I may, I found myself boxed in from all sides, much like this gratuitous puppy photo. I thought the crowd might start to thin on Cat Hill, or perhaps at the first water station (here’s a course map for you kids following along at home), but as I rounded the 102nd St. Traverse, we were still elbow to elbow to five thousand other elbows. My dreams of a new PR were quickly slipping out of reach.

For all you non-New Yorkers out there, the Gridiron Classic is a football-themed race that encourages participants to wear their team jerseys/heckle each other. As runners make their way across the 102nd St. Traverse before beginning their final descent down the West Side, they’re told to divide themselves by team allegiance and run in the lane designated for their favorite franchise playing in the Big Game. Last year, I imagine Steelers and Packers fans divided themselves pretty equally between the two chutes, making for a steady flow of traffic. This year, Big Blue’s designated lane looked like the 4/5/6 at rush hour, so in the spirit of competition, I squared up my shoulders, lowered my gaze and barreled my way down the desolate Patriots lane.

I’m not proud, but those 60 seconds of uncongested roadway gave me the boost I needed to push myself hard to the finish line, allowing me to make up some lost time and secure myself a new personal best. In fact, it was fast enough that – for the very first time  – an online race calculator predicted I’d be able to finish a sub-4:00 marathon with these legs! If you don’t believe me, here’s a screen shot of my very scientific race log:

There you have it, folks. When it came to this morning’s fan breakdown, I took the racing lane less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

What did you do this weekend that left you feeling proud? How about ashamed? Those usually make for the better stories anyways.


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