This article was originally posted by Ryan at the original HillRunner.com Blogs.
I first ran this event two years ago. It happened to be its first year but I was just looking for an early year (it was in April at that time) 5K to shake the rust out. The following year, it moved to a location just a few miles from my home and I couldn’t pass up a race so close to home.
This year, again, I wanted a race ideally this weekend and this one so close to home was too hard to pass up. My goal for this was mostly just to test my fitness. I feel like I’m rounding into sub-17:30 shape but am I really in that area? If so, how far sub-17:30?
The week was pretty uneventful this time, thankfully. I didn’t back off the training in the early week quite as much as I would for a goal race but I did do what has become my standard race week workout on Tuesday, then cut the bottom out of my training for the rest of the week. I went in thinking that, in ideal conditions and running the perfect race, I could probably run in the low 17s. I was sure I was at least in mid-17 shape.
Knowing this race, my biggest challenge was likely to be walkers. This is a 3 lap race around the county fairgrounds, which has its pros and cons. #1 pro: you get crowd support twice mid-race. #1 con: without good crowd control, it can be a challenge to get around walkers. I talked with the race director last year about the idea of giving the runners a dedicated lane that would funnel into the finish line on the last lap. That year, she attempted to tell the runners to stay to the left and the walkers to stay to the right. The walkers didn’t listen, though, and the finish line was on the right so the runners had to cross the walkers to finish. I thought the plan this year would be runners stay to the right, walkers stay to the left.
As I arrived, I noticed the crowd was good. I registered, pinned my number on my singlet, then got ready to warm up. As I was warming up, I noticed how tough the back side of the course would be. It holds the only incline, hardly worth calling a hill, but this year it was accompanied by a stiff direct headwind. This spot was out in the wide open and was getting all of the wind. The other side, with the tailwind, was unfortunately around buildings and not going to get the same wind. Oh well, you just make the most of the day. Other than the wind, the conditions were perfect. I can deal with the wind better than early season heat so I’m not complaining.
I finished my warmup and the director announced that runners should stay to the right, walkers to the left, as you finish. I almost jumped in to ask if that instruction should be throughout the course, not just as finishing, but for some reason didn’t. This was the first sign that things would not go as smoothly as hoped for. This was a race where I went in hoping for the best, a clear path and some people to cheer me in along the way, but expecting some traffic issues.
For the first lap, obviously, the coast was clear. I went straight into the lead and found a nice rhythm. I felt like I was moving very well, probably low 17 pace if not flirting with sub-17 pace. Then I hit the back side with the headwind. I felt like I slowed to a jog but I just pushed through. Around a corner into the park and I was out of the wind and rolling again. I went around a few turns and to the start/finish area, where some late starting walkers were still just getting going.
Pretty quickly in the second lap, I started hitting packs of walkers. At first, small enough to weave around without losing too much momentum or adding too much distance. Then the bigger packs started hitting. I began trying to take the inside line (the right, as I hoped walkers would be instructed to avoid throughout) but quickly found it far too congested. After a few close calls with dogs, including one I had to dodge and another I actually had to hurdle, and other close calls with people, I made my way to try the outside. I actually ended up off the pavement of the road and on the gravel shoulder. This went pretty well for a while, until crowds started appearing out there. Then I cut across to the inside and ran along the gravel shoulder on the inside. People were everywhere and it was hard to find a path. I added quite a bit of distance and spent quite a bit of energy weaving in and out but, not more than about a minute before hitting the start finish area, someone said I was just over 10 minutes. To me, this was a good sign. Somehow I was holding probably low 17 pace or I had gone out actually at sub-17 pace and didn’t lose too much.
By the end of lap 2, I was getting to the point where the walkers were spread out more, some jogging, and there was a little more space to maneuver. Lap 3 definitely began that way and I was largely able to use the inside shoulder to get a mostly clear path. Then I started getting back into the back of the walkers. This time, with joggers mixed in. The walkers were spread out a little more but there were others trying to pass them, complicating the situation. Fortunately, there weren’t any incidents but I did have to run on the grass a few times to avoid incidents.
As we entered the park again, the crowd was again thinning. I managed to weave through and use the grass at a few points to get through, then in the final straight I shot a gap to get to the right side and to the finish line.
As I crossed the line, I heard 17:50. To be honest, I’m happy with this. I figure the crowds cost me at least 20 seconds and the weather probably another 10 or so seconds so it was probably a 17:20 or better kind of effort and I didn’t finish completely wasted.
I came into this knowing the potential traffic issues so I hold no grievances over that. It was a little worse than expected but I knew there would be potential problems going in. Actually, to be honest, I offered to work with the race director on ideas to resolve the traffic issues for next year. I’m even considering volunteering instead of running to help resolve these issues. This event has potential and I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, for this race director.