Nov. 21, 2009, today, was the Knickerbocker 60K, a race in Central Park that was sponsored by the New York Road Runners and worked by John Garlepp and Millrose AA. This race had its first running in 1978 (I'm told), and was conceived as a distance roughly halfway between a marathon and 50 miles.
Having run the New York Marathon three weeks ago, a 6-hour two weeks before that and a 24-hour two weeks before that, I wasn't sure I was up for another ultra just yet, but I was feeling good this week so I signed up. I thought I might have a chance at a win, depending on the competition. With this race being in Central Park and on the NYRR calendar, it has lately had a large turnout, and mostly runners who don't regularly run ultras, including a lot of first-timers. Possibly a lot of marathoners looking for another challenge. This is exciting, since it could be a start to a long-term ultra career for some of them, and it was a similar race back in 2002 (Kurt Steiner 50K) that served as my introduction to ultrarunning.
At the start, I said my hellos to some of my friends, and it was good to see them all there. One of them, Kevin Shelton-Smith, I thought could be a contender for the win, and I knew he'd be one to keep an eye on. But with so many new face (new to me), you never know who might pop up and have an incredible race.
At the start at the Engineer's Gate at 90th St., the runners take a 1.5 mile out-and-back to 102nd St., then return to the start to begin the first of 9 4-mile clockwise loops on the park road to 72nd St., to the west drive, up to 102nd St., across to the east drive and back to 90th. After the turnaround, I was surprised to see the number of runners. I'm told there were about 200!
Soon after the start, a group of four runners pulled ahead of me, including Kevin, two men I didn't know, and one man with "Dominguez" on the back of his shirt. I'd say I ddin't know him either, but I think I remember running behind him for a while towards the end of the Queens Half Marathon in September. I think I eventually passed hime there, but I'm not sure. (After the race, I learned his name is Jesus.) I felt like I was on a good pace, so I didn't chase, and sure enough, my first 4-mile loop was about 27:30, faster than I would be able to maintain, but it was feeling pretty comfortable, so I stuck with it.
I passed one of the lead group after a few laps, and back at the start was told I was in 3rd place. I don't remember passing anyone else, but it would turn out that I passed Kevin while he was taking a pit stop. After a couple more laps, I passed one of the other leaders, putting me in 2nd behind Dominguez, who I was told was moving at quite a speed. Thinking back to Queens, I was hoping I could just wait him out till he slowed.
At the middle of the race, I saw my cousin Kirstin and her boyfriend Sal (both marathoners themselves from New Jersey), who were lending me support and cheering for me. It was real nice hearing that in the middle of the race. This would also be a good time to mention all the great volunteers. No doubt most of them were there to fulfill their volunteer requirement for automatic entry to the NY Marathon, and at first it seemed like there were a lot more course marshalls than necessary, but boy, a lot of them were really cheering, and it felt great! There were three really great clusters, one at 72nd St., just before and at the turn north on the west side, a group at the turn onto 102nd St. on the west side, and especially a great bunch of people on the west side at 95th St. If any of you are reading this, thank you!
One volunteer on 72nd St. kept me apprised of the lead of Dominguez. On the 5th lap he was 7 minutes ahead of me, and on the 6th 5 1/2 minutes, so I was hopeful my patience would pay off. Then at the turn onto 102nd St., I was passed by a runner I didn't know who said "You can do it" as he passed me. Nice words, but not nice to pass me! (After the race he told me his name was Sebastian.) I trie dnot to let him get far ahead, and I kept him within 10 seconds, my pace now being about 28:15 per lap. On the 7th lap, I was told Dominguez was now just four minutes ahead, and at a point I passed Sebastian but he passed me back again. He was only about 7 seconds ahead when at the start/finish aid station he stopped to drink. I don't know why he stopped, but I saw my chance to move ahead at the start of the 8th lap. But I was worried this could come down to a sprint to the finish.
About halfway around on the 8th lap I passed Dominguez who was not crashing but not moving at his old speed. I felt conifdent, and was still moving at a good speed, but couldn't take any chances. On my final lap, I felt myself tighten up a little, but figured this was the final push, no reason to save anything. I finished first with a time of 4:22 and change, and had my first Central Park victory. I was very happy about winning, not just for the win itself, but because this is a historic race that speaks to the history of ultrarunning itself in the US. And it was a beautiful day, upper 50's, and lots of people in the park, who might not be classified as spectators as much as curious observers.
But a good day overall. Great to see my friends Frank C., Frank D., Emmy, Rob, Tony, Sal (another Sal), Kevin, Tony, Wayne, Harry, Lucimar, Shishaldin, my friend Ralph who came by, and of course Kirstin and Sal, and a few others I'm sure I'm forgetting, and to make some new friends. And of course, Richie, our regular MC. Special kudos go to Nick Palazzo, who Emmy told me ran his 200th ultra today!!! Congrats Nick! Nice hanging out with the terrible trio of Frank C., Emmy and Rob afterwards for burgers and beer. Thanks for the ride home!