Keep Fit: On Running, Golfing and The Great Cow Harbor 10K

Corrine Gandolfi, Michael Unterstein and Kelly Laffey at The Great Cow Harbor 10K
Corrine Gandolfi, Michael Unterstein and Kelly Laffey at The Great Cow Harbor 10K, Photo: C. Laffey

Here’s something I don’t understand: the golf handicap.

As far as I can tell, the golf handicap is like this: It allows you to measure yourself against “par.” So if you shoot 18 over but have a +18 handicap, you still technically made par?

More importantly, the handicap allows you to stay competitive with someone who’s decidedly better at the game than you. So I, having never played golf before, can go head-to-head with Webb Simpson (2012 U.S. Open winner and Wake Forest alum), give myself a +100 handicap, and later post on Facebook that I just beat a pro golfer at his own game.

Why does no other sport have a similar handicap system in place? Think of the possibilities: I can walk up to home plate with a seven-strike handicap, stare down Mariano Rivera, and wait until he throws 10 perfect pitches before I strike out. Making it on base doesn’t even seem outside of the realm of possibilities.

Or, I can enter a 10K with a 20-minute handicap, start the race before everyone, and have a chance at crossing the finish line first. Though my time may still reflect my slower pace, crossing the finish line first is important for a number of reasons, mostly because it allows you to enter the post-race party first. I ran The Great Cow Harbor 10K this past weekend in Northport, without the aforementioned handicap. The race course is full of hills. Growing up on the East End, my running routes are flat, flat, flat. A one-minute handicap could have been very beneficial. Fair is fair, right?

Even without the “advantage,” the Cow Harbor 10K, which has been run annually since 1977, is a bucket list race that every runner should try. It even seems to be on non-runners’ radars, as evidenced by my cousin’s competing for Team NARP. NARP = “Non Athletic Running Person.”

The race kicked off at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, and just shy of 5,000 runners from across the country toed the line. The 10K weaves through the streets of Northport village, and the entire town comes out to support it. The smattering of official water stops are almost indistinguishable from the residents who come out to hand runners cups from their homes. Speakers blasting the Rocky soundtrack and people dressed as cows (of course) are fixtures along the 6.2 mile route. The race ends in downtown Northport, and runners and spectators indulge in an epic post-race party with snacks, water, live music and running camaraderie.

The race was a great way to kick off my weekend of 25th birthday celebrations. And later, in indulging my quarter-life crisis, I took to Googling “turning 25.” Lest there is some vital piece of information that I’m supposed to know but somehow missed. Most of the results were the generic “25 pieces of advice” lists that included the usual parade of inspirational quotes. Good, but a little been there, done that. So, to give a more practical fitness application, here is a fifth of that traditional quarter-life guidance:

1. If you plan to run a race, sign up before the day of.

2. The post-race beer is a romantic, unpractical notion that’s still a welcome presence at all races.

3. In fact, chocolate milk has been proven time and time again to be the best post-race recovery drink.

4. Invest money in your running shoes. Having a proper pair that fits your needs makes all the difference.

5. Don’t be intimidated to start running. Without that “handicap,” you may never be able to cross the finish line first. Or even in the first half of runners. But if you love coffee, beer, conversations, wearing brightly colored clothes, frozen yogurt and/or Taylor Swift, you’re already one of us. You can keep up, no handicap required.

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