The first one’s in the books.
I’m not sure exactly how, but I came in under 31 minutes (30:49.9 if we want to be specific; 9:55 pace). I even got sixth in my age group, though I would have done much worse in every other age group near me; turns out men 20-29 don’t do 5Ks like other demographic groups. I’m optimistic that I’ll get to steal a medal because there’s no one else competing. I have zero shame about winning stuff.
So yeah, the actual run turned out about as well as I could expect. I honestly was just hoping to break 35 minutes, for many reasons. One, my training runs haven’t gone well enough for me to think I had a 10-minute mile pace in me. Two, I wasn’t feeling great in the days leading up to race; probably just jitters, but I had no energy. Three, I knew I was going to have walk large chunks, so that meant the actual running had to be faster than a 10-minute mile pace, but I’ll go into the more in-depth later. I thought 35 would be difficult enough. 31 minutes seemed like a pipe dream.
There’s a lot to cover, so sorry if this goes a bit overboard. If you want to stop now: it was cold, I ran, and I drank the second-best hot chocolate I’ve ever had in my life. I also wore a Punisher shirt (turns out I’ve decided to try to wear a different superhero shirt for each race; this is going to end up being a very expensive joke.).
The weather is the natural starting point. As soon as my weather app was making predictions, I was watching like a hawk. Leading up to today, there was rain in the area, but luckily it cleared. Unfortunately, when it cleared, the overnight lows dropped about 10 degrees, so the race was going to start near the freezing mark. The last little hiccup was the warning from the weather channel to watch out for black ice. The run is on a bridge. Bridges ice before roads. And there would be cars on the bridge with the runners. Nice.
When I stepped out of my hotel to make the drive, I was already running a bit later than I’d planned, though I knew I was probably ok as long as I was there by 8. I looked at my car, and it was covered in ice. So much so that the door was a bit stiff in opening. Luckily, I have an ice scraper, so I cranked the car, started blasting the defroster, and went to town with the ice scraper so that I wasn’t a complete hazard on the road.
That said, it really wasn’t that bad. It was very cold. But it was also sunny, and by the time that 8 a.m. rolled around, it was above freezing (by 2 degrees, but I’ll take it). Ice wasn’t an issue. It’s a busy enough road that traffic would have melted any, and they had salted the spillway. Again, it was cold, but it was manageable. More annoying was going across the spillway and the water spray that was coming up. Not pleasant in the low 30s. I still don’t know if it was on the road and picked up by the cars or if the wind was picking it up from the spillway.
Putting the Ducks in a Row
Segueing from the weather, we’ll turn our attention to the organization of the event. All in all, it was fairly well run. The biggest issues were in the promotion of the event.
I guess they assumed people doing the event would be local and know where things were (you know, as opposed to driving 2 hours to run for 30 minutes). The info said it was at Ranking Landing at the Barnett Reservoir. That’s nice except you can’t find info on where this place is located. I think I’ve got some decent googling skills, and I got nothing. It wasn’t until I ran across the people who were actually running the race (the people being paid to do timing, setting up the route, etc.) that I saw the route. They used a google map (or some lesser competitor’s) image, and so I was able to work backward from there to find where the race started. This at least gave me an idea of the direction I was going. I never actually had an address to go to.
I was able to come into town the night before early enough to pick up my materials early, so in those materials was parking information because it turns out you can’t park at Rankin Landing during the event; you actually have to park somewhere else (it was basically some abandoned parking lot that I can’t remember the name of). But if you didn’t pick up your packet early, which many didn’t, you wouldn’t know this. You would just show up and there would be cops directing traffic. There wasn’t any signage, so it wasn’t the best planning for directing runners to the right parking. Knowing where I was supposed to park based on an educated guess from Google Maps, I still had a bit of trouble getting where I was supposed. I feel bad for people just trying to pass through.
Now all that being said, the actual event was run pretty well. I knew where I was going, so that wasn’t an issue. The cops that were directing traffic were awesome at what they were doing, and surprisingly cheery considering it was early on a Saturday and close to freezing. The route went over the reservoir’s spillway, with one lane of traffic blocked off and the shoulder acting as the route. It was a pure straight shot up one way and back. I wasn’t sure how I would react to this, and I’m still not sure how I’d react in a situation when I wasn’t freezing my ass off. We were just running in a straight line, reached the end, and they literally had someone holding a sign that said, “Turn around.”
It was a little funny. The oddest part is that there wasn’t a real point to go to and then turn around, like a cone to run around. People were just running up the edge and turning around when they wanted. It was a weird moment of having to police yourself. Maybe if you didn’t go far enough the people making sure you didn’t go too far would heckle. Who knows.
And then you run back. Between the sun coming up and the reflection off the wet road, it was hard to see the other people, which worked, though I did see at least two of the walkers wearing tutus.
And now we’re at the actual run. It’s amazing how much more time is spent on the other stuff instead of, you know, the run.
I will be eternally grateful to organizers for starting on time. I was scared to death they would start late to accommodate anyone running behind because of the cold. But they started right at 8, and I wanted to buy them a cake for that.
The start was a bit odd, but they always seem to be a bit odd. There was a decent enough number of people (a bit more than 300 including runners and walkers, though I was afraid more would be there because a news story on last year’s said more than 800; I’m guessing that was a mistake, but still it was a decent crowd.). So they have all us kind of crowd around, and it would appear that no one is going to obey the courtesy of fast in front and slow in back, including me.
We start as basically a waterfall, funneling from the parking lot to the roadway. This would be fine if people were obeying common courtesy. Near the very front, there was one of the power walkers. Now, I respect their right to walk instead of run. That said, don’t get in front of everyone. I was running with a friend of mine, and even though we weren’t intending to run together, we were immediately split because I got caught behind a hypercompetitive power walker.
It took enough time for me to get around her and similar folks that by the time everyone’s paces had evened out after race jitters settled, my friend was about 30-60 seconds ahead of me. Don’t get me wrong, my friend finished a solid 3 minutes ahead of me, and I wasn’t going to catch her, but it’s still rude to get in people’s way.
Once everything settled down, it was down to running. Not exactly the easy part, but it’s at least the simple part. I’m a big wuss when it comes to running in the cold, in large part because the cold air is hard to breathe, but luckily, that wasn’t really a problem (I have no idea why; it usually is).
My feet on the other hand didn’t do so well. I was wearing the same shoes and socks I wear in the summer. I had seen recommendations to adjust for cold weather, but I thought my feet would warm up soon enough. I was wrong. It took about half the race before my feet and toes were no longer frozen (or they were so frozen I no longer noticed; either way, I stopped noticing them, so it was a win).
As I said earlier, I knew I was going to have to walk large chunks of the run; I just didn’t know how long it would take before that process started. And so around eight and half minutes in, I had to start mixing in walking. And this means I started yo-yoing my pace and I became THAT guy.
Everyone hates that guy. The one whom you’re about to catch and then they start running again. Or they pass you and start walking. And repeat. For 3 miles.
I’m not intentionally that guy, but I know other people could easily think of me as that guy. I feel bad for the first person I was yo-yoing with. It was a larger guy who wasn’t jogging quick at all. What ended up happening is that I caught him and not long after, I hit my first walk. So when I walk, I count off 60 seconds, and I start running again. I do this for a couple of reasons. One, it’s enough time for me to catch my breath. Two, it sets a limit that keeps me from getting lazy. Three, it gives me less guild about being that guy. I know that I’ll run at 60 seconds, regardless of who’s around.
Problem is about 5-10 seconds before I’m going to start running, the guy passes me, still jogging. And then I start jogging, and I pass him. And then I start walking, and right before I’m going to start running again, he passes me. It only happened two or three times, but I really wanted to apologize just so he knew I wasn’t doing it on purpose.
But the first half goes fairly quick. I check my watch, and I’m only at about 15 or so minutes at the turnaround. This is good and bad. It means I’m on pace for a good time (one that I’m happy with, anyway), but it also means I’m running faster than I meant to because I walked at least twice on the first part for a minute each time.
The way back was a much more frequent mix of running and walking. I walked at least 4 times, but it could have been more.
The strangest thing that happened during the race (keep in mind that I saw people walking in tutus) was when I started to walk one time right after passing this lady in her 40s or 50s (again, I’m sorry about being that guy. I’m not doing it on purpose; I swear). She turned around and kind of grabbed me, and told me she’s not running that fast and that I could run with her. I was so tired at that point that I barely knew how to react. I’m sure she was just being nice/encouraging, but I just kind of smiled (or at least tried to; again, very tired. Facial expressions aren’t my specialty even when I’m not cold and tired), and shook my head. She kept going, and I didn’t see her again. I’d kind of like to think she was someone I knew in the future who traveled back in time just to mess with me knowing that would bug the crap out of me.
But I kept going. I was still yo-yoing, but I think I might have accidentally picked up my running pace on the way back (seems like a good guess given I arrived at the finish at about the same pace I hit the halfway point, despite walking at least twice as much). I never saw the guy I was yo-yoing with on the way out, but I found new people to do this to (I realize there is some sort of runners’ hell where I’m going to pay for doing this, even if it was an accident).
The last 3 times, a teenage girl was one of the people I was doing this to. I know it’s obnoxious, so on the second time, she turned around and said something, so naturally knowing I was doing something people consider obnoxious and I already had someone unexpectedly interact with me, I thought she was heckling. I had an earbud in and music going, so I didn’t know what she said. The third time it happened, she said something, but this time I heard it. She was asking if I had the time. I really should stop thinking the worst of people. At least at 5Ks. It was 28:30 into the race once I realized what she’d asked. Of course, she was running ahead of me and I was walking, so I had to shout it.
And then this is where I became a competitive jerk (though I’d like to think I would have done the same had there been no one around).
On my next to last walk, I could see the landing and the finish line, so I thought I’d just run the rest of the way. Early in the next running segment, I knew that wasn’t going to happen, so I started walking (this is when I got asked the time) so that I wouldn’t have walk so close the finish line or risk puking. After my last walking segment was done, I started running again. And because I knew how close I was, I picked up the pace a little. My lungs are what fail me, not my legs, so I know I can get away with going anaerobic at the end like this. As I got in the last couple hundred yards, I started lengthening my stride and pushing the pace. The girl was picking up her pace too, so as we’re coming to the finish line, I’m basically doing my best to beat a teenage girl to the finish line. And I did. By a bit more than a second. I really should stop doing things like that.
But I made it, somehow, someway.
After the End
There was a lot of walking after the finish line so that I could catch my breath. Because it was cold, a lot people had already cleared out, but the ones that stuck around seemed a bit too cheery. I kind of hated them. I was not cheery. Not at all. I was exhausted. And hungry.
So I grabbed snacks and drinks and talked to my friend as we came down from the rush of the race. She was excited and had a great time. I kind of hated her too, but it was good to have a friend there. Made dealing with a crowd of strangers easier.
And the snacks were delicious. That may be the best part of races. The food and drinks always taste like ambrosia and nectar afterward. I inhaled a half-sized bottle of water, stole a Dr. Pepper for my morning caffeine fix, and grabbed a cup of hot chocolate. That was the second-best hot chocolate I’ve ever had, right behind the one I had after wading into a freezing cold river for class in high school.
And I survived. I went to the hotel, made the mistake of sitting down, eventually stood back up, got cleaned up, and then made the drive home.
And I wrote this. It may not be very coherent. I’m still tired. It could be in Klingon for all I know, but I ran the first 5K of the Super Awesome Year of the 5K. And now I get to recuperate for a week.