I got some inkling that this 5K was not going to be just another little local race (where there are 12 women in my division and I therefore win an age group award) when I got an "urgent" email on Friday that 1200 people had signed up for the race, they would cap admission at 1500, and if you arrived after 7:45 you might not find parking. For a 9:00 race. That starts in a major shopping center.
So, a quick change to my departure plans was in order and I planned to leave home at 6:45 a.m. on Saturday. I added a little extra lead time just in case we were late getting going (as we were). But even with a stop at Starbucks on the way, we got to Mill Creek Town Center before 7:30. After a rather long delay getting into the parking lot due to all the vendors arriving, we parked behind Pier One Imports with plenty of room to spare. The lot did fill up eventually, though.
It was really quiet and dead back where we were parked, and since check-in didn't even start until 7:30, I sat in the car drinking my latte and reading Oprah while I waited. Finally at about 7:45 I got out of the car and ambled into the Main Street area... where I was overwhelmed by the mobs of people! So that's where all those 1200 registrants got to!
And there were lines. I bypassed the shirt pickup line to go directly to the pre-registered line. Which was long. Ironically, the day of race registration line was very short, no wait at all. And as far as I can tell they never went over capacity.
I managed to drink most of my latte while waiting to pick up my race packet. Often I only drink part of my pre-race latte and save the rest for after; but this time I filled my stomach with milk. (Always a good pre-race strategy, right?)
Despite the ridiculous lines (get more volunteers, people!), I only had to stand in line about 15 minutes or so before I finally got to the front. There I learned that the race was chip timed! Thank goodness for that; in such a large crowd the times would be totally skewed if they went by gun time only. (Take that, Jingle Bell Run! Get a chip!)
Next I stood in the shirt pickup line. By this time I was accustomed to waiting and it didn't seem long at all before I was walking away with my black and lime shirt in hand.
That's when I ran into Rachel and Erin from work, who had told me about this race and inspired me to sign up. (Okay, it doesn't take a whole lot of convincing to get me to sign up for a short race.) Thanks girls! We chit-chatted for a bit before I decided I'd better get to my warmup run quickly before it was too late.
Newish runners like Erin and Rachel probably have a hard time fathoming running a mile or two or more before the actual race. There's the concept that "I have 5K in me and if I do any of it in advance, I'll get worn out," or something like that. I didn't start doing warmup runs until I was training for my first half marathon. Hal Higdon told me to do a warmup run before the race, and I took his advice and have never looked back.
The length of my warmup run varies, partly based on the length of the race and partly on just how much extra time I have. I would say that a couple miles would be great for any race. If I have the opportunity to do more for a 5K, I like to do three miles or more, because I generally believe it takes me the first three miles to get into the groove. In a 5K you don't have time to get in the groove while you're doing the race, you need to get there beforehand!
I generally do my warmup at a slow jog. It really is meant to warm me up and work out the kinks in my legs. Better runners than me like to do sprints to fire up the fast twitch muscles... I would if I actually had any fast twitch muscles!
But on this Saturday I really didn't have enough time left to do an extended warmup run. I figure I did about a mile and a half, around one end of the shopping center and back up and around the other end, finishing off in the starting area.
For a race with so many participants, there were no porta-potty issues. I was able to stop three times pre-race (almost more than I needed to), and I never had to wait for more than one or two people ahead of me. What a luxury!
In the starting area signs divided runners into four general groups: Elite; Runners; Joggers; Walkers. I'm pretty sure than anyone who was either an "Elite" or a "Walker" would know it. The designation between Runners and Joggers was less clear, and thankfully so, I think. It allowed each of us to make our own decision whether we were a runner or a jogger. If there was a arbitrary designation of time to qualify as a runner, the cut-off would probably be below an eight-minute mile, and I refuse to accept that my eight to nine-minute pace (depending on conditions) would classify me as a jogger.
From the crowds around me, I assume there were a lot of people in the same position as me. We are runners, darnit! And don't try to tell us any different.
(This segregation did help, actually. I don't recall any great problem with trying to pass people, once we got out of the starting crush, and I don't remember people weaving around me in any way that would suggest I was out of my element.)
One of the groups of "runners" near me in the pre-race crowd consisted of a group of teenage boys, either young high school or even junior high, who I presume were on the swim team, if the rubber caps they kept pulling on and off their heads were any indication. Not only were they young and loud, they were extremely verbose. In fact, they did not shut up for one minute until the race started. I really wanted to get away from them, but there were too many people around me to move. As I edged away (creating a gap), they would morph in my direction (filling the gap). Mostly they yapped about what good runners they were, how fast they would be, and how to wear the swim caps on their heads. One young man, who seemed to be the most vocal (loudest), proclaimed that in school he had run a mile and a half in nine minutes.
As starting time approached, somebody with a microphone gave us last minute instructions. (Same guy who had warned us not to get into the elite group unless we planned to run sub-16 minutes for males and sub-20 for females.) He was right in the middle of a sentence when the gun went off and the crowd surged forward. He shouted "No, wait!" but it was too late. There was no stopping us now. I said "are we stopping?" to the air around me, but no one did, and so I ran too.
Luckily I was far enough behind the start line that I was able to get myself together from the fast start before I got to the blue mats. I hit "start" on my Garmin the second I touched a blue mat.
I think the first quarter mile or so was sluggish from the crowdedness, and I didn't feel like I hit a reasonable pace until after that. In the beginning we were running north on Main Street through Mill Creek Town Center. We veered onto North Creek Drive, which took us through a residential neighborhood. Then about halfway through we turned onto a very nice paved running/walking trail, which went through the woods and was pleasantly shady. In the last mile or so, though, we turned back onto a street (153rd), which took us up and back a moderately killer hill. The race ended back in the center of Mill Creek Town Center. (We went nowhere near the mill.)
I will be the first to admit that I, and probably most of the people around here, am a weather wimp. We might say we want warm sunny weather (and we do want it), but when it does get hot we are the first to complain about the heat! I am used to running in the coldness of winter and spring, or at least the cool early morning summer days (when I usually wear a light jacket anyway), and generally try to avoid the heat of the day for running.
And Saturday was a gorgeous day. Sunny, blue sky, and... hot. Compared to what I've been used to, it was hot. Okay, maybe it wasn't much over 70 at 9:00 in the morning, but in the unshaded parts of the course, with the sun beating on the roadway, it felt very hot.
As I pounded along, I found myself thinking, "Okay, a 27 minute 5K wouldn't really be that bad." While I still had hopes of beating 25 minutes, I didn't think it was too likely. (And it wasn't.)
After I had punched the start button on the Garmin, I told myself I would not look at it until the end of the race. Ha! Good luck with that. I started glancing before the first mile was up. All I could manage to see was how far I'd gone. I didn't know how to view the time, and the pace it displays never seems to be related in any way to my actual pace at the end of the run.
There was a woman running near me at about my pace—sometimes I was ahead and sometimes she was—and I took it upon myself to shout updates to her. At 1.5 miles I yelled "halfway there" and at 2 miles "only one mile left" (conveniently disregarding the final .1 mile). As we started up the hill in the last mile she asked me what the time was, but I had no idea how to display it.
My body was suffering through my efforts. I could hear myself breathing heavily, and at one point I wondered, "what if I throw up?" (I didn't.)
The reward for the uphill was coming back down. Knowing that this was almost my last opportunity to improve my time, I picked up the pace a bit (at least I believe that I did). I threw out my last scrap of energy as I entered the .1 mile stretch at the end and pounded across the finish line (and punched stop on the Garmin). I thought the clock said 26:30-something as I crossed. When I checked my Garmin it said 26:18 (later adjusted to 26:16 on the computer).
After grabbing some water I saw the woman I had been "competing" with during the run. I'm pretty sure she had pulled ahead and finished before me, although she thought she hadn't. We chatted a bit about races and half-marathons (she's doing her first, in San Diego, in the fall). I don't know why I didn't take note of her number so I could look her up (I like to know how much I'm beaten by, so I can dwell on it morosely). Then I saw Rachel and Erin and visited with them until my mother came and took our picture.
That was pretty much the end of it. They went on their way, my mother went to the car to get out of the sun, and I walked down to Jamba Juice to get us smoothies. (Berry Delicious with whey protein, excellent post-race fuel!) No cinnamon roll today. Not after a 5K, and especially not with a wedding shower and cake on the schedule for Sunday!
Oh yeah, I said I was going to theorize why I didn't break 25 minutes. Well... I guess I didn't run fast enough (duh). Since I haven't yet gone under 25, there's no guarantee that I ever will, but still, this run was 45+ seconds slower than my last 5K. Why? It could have been the heat; that definitely played a part. It is possible that my 9½ mile run on Friday left me a little less fresh than I might have been. And in the end it always comes down to the same thing—the luck of the day. And that you can't control.
Oh yeah part 2—those boys from the beginning of the race? At the one-mile mark they were still traveling in my vicinity. Wonder when the six-minute pace kicked in??
Next race—the Anacortes Half-Marathon on July 26.