I’m going to sound like a Buzzfeed article for a second here, but I’m going to say it anyways: the best thing about being in my 30s is allowing myself to outgrow the things I no longer like.
From wearing uncomfortable shoes to staying up late to RSVPing yes to social engagements that simply don’t interest me, the list of things I’ve (largely) freed myself of since coming into my own has been lengthy and rewarding.
And now I think it comes time for me to outgrow something else that in my 20s I’d never have imagined: the New York Road Runners.
Don’t get me wrong: NYRR is an excellent running club with organized and professional racing events, well-priced membership fees and awe-inspiring charities intended to bring no- and low-cost fitness to at-risk students who might otherwise get zero access to athletics. NYRR is wonderful for so many reasons — they put on the unparalleled NYC marathon, they gave me my new half marathon PR at the excellent NYC half this past March, they have bagel distribution down to a science — but unfortunately their competence has become their downfall.
Their races have gotten too damn big.
I know, I know, large races are inherently good, because they mean lots of people are able to register and train and compete, which is good for both the cohesion and the health of a community. But when a race is so big the runners have to spend the first half of a race inching along at almost twice their expected race pace, that’s congestion that’s gotten out of hand.
At least, that was my feeling at Saturday’s UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, a NYRR event in Central Park with more finishers (8,033) than citizens in some island nations. To be fair, I was coming off a tiny 10K the previous week with less than 250 participants, but still: the Central Park loop was so crowded Saturday that we might as well have been sardines (mmm, sardines, my delicious Whole30 discovery) making our way up the west side.
I had hoped to run another sub-50 10K coming off last week’s surprise 7:45/mile pace — or maybe even a PR? dare I be so optimistic? — but I instead found myself stuck at an average 10:30 pace all the way to Harlem. It was so crowded I wasn’t even able to get to two of the water stations, despite needing the hydration in Saturday’s surprise heat. I’m sure many of those runners around me were also annoyed; we had, after all, paced into one of the first corrals but instead found ourselves boxed in on all sides by walkers, joggers and a sheer sea of humanity collectively unable to pick up speed.
The race thinned out around the Harlem hills and I was able to regain some lost ground, but at that point, I knew a PR wasn’t even close to in the cards. I didn’t quit the race early and turn off for home at the Engineers Gate like I was tempted to do, but I never really dropped the hammer speedwise either, finishing at a perfectly decent but several-minutes-too-slow-for-a-personal-record 53:20 time, or an average 8:35 pace. Meh. At least NYRR co-president Peter Ciaccia was giving high-fives at the finish line.
So have I outgrown NYRR races, much like I’ve outgrown Bolt buses and ending every Saturday night with a slice of pizza? I’m not sure, but I’m certainly less interested these days in traveling to a far corner of Central Park at an inconvenient hour to pay money to run slowly in a mass of strangers.
Of course, maybe this whole “I’m so done with NYRR!” thing is just a defense mechanism, since I know I’ll be moving out of Manhattan in two short weeks and my ability to roll out of bed and make my way to a Central Park race start is going to be diminished indeed. I know I’m going to miss the ease of these races, even if I don’t miss the crowds, and you never really forget your first (running club) love.
Or maybe I haven’t outgrown NYRR at all; I’ve just outgrown crowded Central Park 10Ks. Which is why I’ve just signed up for a new NYRR race altogether — a June 5K … in Queens. Hello, new neighborhood. May your NYRR races be less populous but as bagel-filled as the Manhattan ones I’ve come to love, then hate, but mostly still love.
How do you manage a crowded race course?