So this is what it looks like my Saturdays will be from here to the middle of June: a grumbling, stumbling early wake-up, followed by a long, satisfying run, then a big pile of yummy food (eaten sans guilt), a shower, a long nap, then a party.

Today’s long run, instead of taking place as usual in Prospect Park at 8:30, was the New York Road Runners’ (of whom I am now a proud member) Central Park 8K race. This race also happened to start at 8:30, but the starting spot was way, way up on the Upper East Side—E. 102nd Street, to be exact, meaning I had to get up at 6 am and out the door before 7, in order to trudge sleepily through the housing projects of Spanish Harlem by 7:45 so I could check my bag and find my teammates and my starting corral.

One thing that has really surprised me about this process is how much I enjoy races. I’ve been running for about 10 years, but was always far too insecure to enter a race until a month ago, when it was required of me. I like the elementary-school field day atmosphere pre-race, the sloooow start (with a running pack of 5,000 people, it takes several minutes just to cross the starting line), and then weaving through the throng of runners as the pack thins out during the first mile so I can reach my race pace.

[As an aside on race pace, I have a new pet peeve: people who have clearly lied about their per-mile pace on their entry forms in order to get a starting corral closer to the front of the pack, then trot along at maddening leisure and slow down the much faster runners behind them. My elbows are sharp and I’m not afraid to use them, you weekend warriors!]

I like how I’ve become much faster than I aways assumed I’d be. I entered today’s race with an estimated per-mile pace of 9:20, which a few months ago would have been a stretch for me, but ended up averaging 8:50/mile today, and that was with being slowed down by fighting my way through the crowd. I also didn’t run full-out (my best per-mile pace, at a 5K, is actually about 8:15) because at this point in our team’s training, a 5-mile race isn’t enough for our long run. So I met up with a teammate on the other side of the finish line and we ran another 4 1/2 miles or so, down the west side, around the reservoir, down the west side again, and then to W. 52nd, where a mountain of free bagels and Gatorade juice boxes awaited us along with the combined forces of the Brooklyn and Manhattan race teams. Then home for shower, nap, etc.

Now that I’m starting to regard this pattern, which includes nearly 10 miles of running early in the morning, as a lazy Saturday, it seems like 2009 will be the year I finally transition from being someone who runs to being a runner. Next race: Scotland Run 10K, April 11.