I rolled up to the packet pick-up table of this morning’s 5K with exactly one piece of information about the course:
“Wow, the second mile is really going to suck,” one of my friends had mused, reflecting on the route. “And the first mile too.”
He didn’t say anything about the third mile, which lead me to vaguely hope that perhaps golf cart would be coming to pick us up after the second mile marker and escort us to the finish.
(Spoiler: no such luck, of course.)
But even without the pre-race chatter, I could have guessed that this course would be a doozy. I had skirted around the neighborhood on occasional training runs and knew that it was notorious for long climbers. I was prepared to face a race where there would be zero flat terrain.
Just for funsies, I left my Garmin at home and tossed my watch in the car at the last minute, too. Because I kind of wanted to actually race this. Not that I was going to set any PRs today; but I wanted to force myself to engage and compete with the runners around me, rather than focusing on my shitty splits.
I mean…that’s what you pay the twenty bucks for, right? Because it’s not for the ugly t-shirt.
Anyway. It was a rather frigid morning for Raleigh when, after a 25-minute warm-up, I forced myself to peel off my jacket and line up at the start. The starters jabbered and stalled. I shivered and did a few strides. The front of the corral was packed with teenage boys. (Side note: this Justin Bieber hair is a trend gone completely out of control.) There were very few women near the front. Odd.
Finally, we were off. A half mile or so of rolling descent. As the lead pack thinned and spread out I scanned the vicinity for ponytails. There were three in front of me. We turned and headed straight uphill. One ponytail faded quickly and I cruised past her easily.
The steep hill flattened for about thirty feet before another turn, which dumped us on to a main road and a slightly more gentle incline. It was a road I’d run on before. I knew we were going to be climbing for several minutes. I set my jaw and passed the first mile marker.
Two chicks still in front of me: third place isn’t a bad place to be! I’m trying to give myself a pep talk. I’m sure I’ve probably gone out a little too fast (I always do) but I really have no idea what pace I’m running. That’s kind of refreshing, actually. Climb, climb, climb. Finally, in the distance, I see the lead pack turn off on a side street. Thank freaking jeebus, we’re not taking this thing to its crest.
Just as I’m feeling slightly optimistic about my situation, two ponytails pass me. One is wearing yoga pants. I scowl. Number five. I speed up a bit and fall in to step with them, determined to keep their pace. We run for a couple of minutes in a little triangle. We pick off one of the chicks who started in front of me. Number four.
I start wondering when the second mile marker will pop up. Because it feels like it should be soon.
We exit the long hill and I see that there’s a turnaround a few blocks away. I see the lead guys coming back. I immediately jump to a depressing conclusion: this must be an out-and-back course. That means as we hit this turnaround, we are halfway done. That means I’ve run approximately 1.55 miles instead of two. F. M. L.
And that’s when I feel myself go flat. My shoulders slump a bit; my feet stay a little closer to the ground. I can feel that I’m giving up, but the indignant part of my psyche justifies it: this is ridiculous, that we’ve only gone a mile and a freaking half. What a stupid race. What a horrible course.
I swing around the turn and realize: the next turn is not back on to the main road. We’re heading somewhere else. It’s not out and back. Just as I’m processing this, I spot the two mile marker. I feel a little revived.
And then I get passed by an older woman with a gym-teacher haircut. I’ve seen her before: I know she’s a good runner – consistently better than me, anyway. Honestly, I’m surprised she was behind me. I let it go and try to focus on coaxing my flat legs and noodle arms back in to a decent cadence.
I’m in position number five and we are going downhill – dropping all of that elevation we gained in the last mile and a half. Gym teacher is quickly picking folks off; I let her go. I can see yoga pants in the pack ahead of me and try to focus on bringing her closer. Chug, chug, chug.
A few minutes elapse and I start a finish line vigil. It has to be close. The course is turning all over the place, which makes it difficult to gauge. I note to myself that no one has passed me – male or female – since we started our descent. Finally, we hang a right and I see the balloon arch about 200M away. I have no idea what kind of time I’m looking at, and unfortunately yoga pants and the other ponytails are far off targets, but I pick it up and give it as much of a kick as I can. I take a couple of guys, which is fun.
When I can finally decipher the clock, I determine that I’m definitely coming in at 21:XX, which feels about right. I’m not elated, but I’m not depressed either.
Official finish time: 21:48.
I won my age group. Which is kind of funny. Weak field? Definitely, but…eh, whatever. A win is a win.
At the end of the day, I feel neither good nor bad about this one. The time isn’t anything spectacular, but it was a tough course, and I’d like to think that if I’d done my homework a bit I would have played it a bit differently. Oh well.
I will say that I am very much looking forward to a FLAT course at the Shamrock Half next month. Hills are obnoxious.
After a 40-minute cool-down, I collected my swag and headed home for some coffee and a warm shower. I came home to an unimpressed crowd:
Someone forgot to feed them breakfast before leaving for her race.
And now, for something completely different, I’m packing for a little trip out west. I leave tomorrow morning. Here’s a hint…
I’m spoiled, I know. Feel free to leave hateful comments. It would amuse me.
See y’all from Mountain Standard Time…