When I saw this one advertised, I knew I would sign up because I was going to the fest afterward. So why not? I also knew it would be a challenging course, despite being a 5k. The fairgrounds and the area surrounding the fairgrounds is hilly, so a month out, I started doing weekly hill repeats. I've been kind of lax about hills lately because I find them annoying.
The day of the race was perfect. 50 degrees, some wind, a little overcast---you couldn't ask for better running weather. And the best part? Barb was also running, which meant I had someone to chat with before the race. Shane was there, also, but it's funny to have a running buddy, too. The second best part is that instead of a t-shirt, you got a pint glass. I will use this much more than t-shirt. The race was small, only 110 people. When it comes to 5ks, I really prefer small, local 5ks. In a half marathon, if it's big, eventually you start to spread out. In a big 5k, you never spread out from the crowds of people and end up hopping around until the very end.
It was also very casual. We grouped up at the starting line, the director said, "On your marks, get set, go!" and we were off. I started out at the back of the crowd, but dodged my way to the back of the front pack pretty quickly. I wondered if this was a mistake, but I felt good, so why not? The cool thing about the course is that even though I'd just seen the course map that day, I knew exactly where it went because it was an out and back in Barb's neighborhood (past her house, actually). I liked this because I could visualize the course in my mind the entire time. Now, when Barb and I looked at the course map, it became quickly apparent that the course was going to take us on a gravel trail by her house. I've run this trail before--several times--but obviously never during a race. Gravel makes me nervous because I'm afraid I'm going to turn an ankle, so between the gravel and the hills, I could just see myself strolling across the finish line in last place.
Once I settled into my pace, I felt pretty good, although my legs were starting to protest early on in the race. Possibly at the upcoming hills. There was a short hill out of the fairgrounds, then it was across the street and into the subdivision. Now, we got to go down a really big hill, one that I sometimes do repeats on, but I knew we had to go back up it at the end, so I wasn't too excited. After going down that hill, there was a minor uphill, then we were on to the gravel path. I thought I would need to slow for the gravel, but it was pretty well packed down from all the rain we've had. I eyeballed the guy who was about 100 yards in front me and kept the same distance between us the whole time. Because of all the rain, one part of the path had water moving across it. The tall guy in front of me leapt it pretty well, but I splashed right through. It was cold. A benefit of knowing the course is that I knew that after the 1/4 mile on the gravel path, I would have to go uphill. I mentally prepared myself, but it was straight uphill on gravel and I was not feeling it, so I walked halfway up. At this point, I was at the back of the front pack where I would stay the whole time, and except for one girl pretty far back, I couldn't see any other runners. I felt like I was pretty safe to walk.
After this, I saw Barb's husband and son in her front yard. I shouted that the hill sucked, but it was really nice to see friendly faces halfway through the course. After this, we looped around and went uphill a little, then thankfully down a big, brutal hill.
When I got down a hill, I couldn't believe that we were about to loop back toward the fairgrounds. I still felt pretty good, no side stitch or anything, and it didn't seem like I was about to hit the two mile mark. Or what I assumed was the two mile mark because I didn't see any course markers out there there anywhere. After this, it was time to go back up the big hill. I made it about halfway up, then my legs started to cramp. Once again, there was no one behind me, so I figured, why not conserve my energy for the end? Although I walked part of the two hills, I started running as soon as I got to the top. After that, it was quickly back into the fairgrounds for a loop around the pond and back to the finish line. I didn't push while I was running around, but when the finish line was in sight, I could tell there was a low 28 on the screen and I wanted to end before 29. I reached down deep and pushed myself to crank forward as hard as I could. Some guy standing about 200 yards in front of the finish line shouted, "Good push!! Looking good!" which pushed me to move more. I ended up crossing at 28:32 and was the 10th female overall. Most people finished in under 40, so I feel pretty good about my place and definitely felt that if it was a flat 5k without gravel, I probably could've shaved off those 32 seconds. But for not doing any speed work and not monitoring my pace in… months? I'm thrilled with how I did. It is amazing to me how well watchless running works. I ditched my watch months ago because my feet were in a bad spot, but I'm not eager to go back to it. Last summer's 5k without a watch for two months before earned me an AG award. Last fall's half marathon without a watch earned me a 7 minute PR. I just do better without the technology weighing on my wrist. I feel better. I'm running. I don't know how fast or slow I'm running, I just know that I'm getting from point A to point B and I'm leaving all the pace obsession behind and that seems to work.
After finishing, Shane and I hung by the finish line and walked down a bit to wait for Barb to come in. I had Shane ready to get a picture of her crossing the finish line, too. The best part is that as I walked down to cheer her on, the same guy who cheered for me said, "Go Barb! Which one is Barb?" and started cheering and clapping for her, too. I love nice spectators.
Would I do this race next year? YES!! It was so much fun. Small, good crowd at the end, well organized, great swag, and a course that really made me push myself. I loved all of it.