Running a 5k at the end of July on a Wednesday night takes strategy. You have to know what to eat throughout the day and when, how much water to drink so you’re well hydrated but not bursting, and you have to be able to mentally push yourself while also knowing when you need to take it easy because of the heat. Those three things seem easy enough, but as race day progresses it becomes more important… and annoying.
Going in to Wednesday night’s run, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. My runs at home had been feeling less than stellar thanks to the heat and humidity, but while I was up in Rochester visiting my sister over the weekend, my runs felt great in the cooler and less humid temperatures. I talked with Jason, and he said I really had two options: run hard and maybe feel like crap at the end, or take it a little easier knowing that I am faster than my finish time. I figured I would play it by ear, since I really didn’t know how it would feel until I started running, and making a decision while sitting on my couch in air conditioning seemed silly.
Since the race started at 7pm, I arrived in Westfield at around 5:30pm. This gave me enough time to grab my bib and t-shirt (and snazzy bright red hat since I was one of the first pre-registered runners) and get in a warm-up. I was supposed to do a 3 mile warm-up, but felt lethargic and was covered in sweat within a mile, so I called it at 2. Being the smart cookie I am, I brought three different shirts: one for warm-up, one for the race, and one for afterwards. After making a pit-stop at the port-o-potties they have set up by the train station, I made my way over to the starting line. Since the race starts right in the middle of downtown, they leave the traffic open until the very last minute. Being the good citizen that I am, I waited patiently on the sidewalk, while I watched runners haphazardly walk in the street. At one point a cop yelled “GET OUT OF MY STREET!” to which I laughed. Isn’t it the tax payer’s street? But anyway…
After waiting for a few minutes (finally in the street), it was go time. As usual, it was a crowded and bunched up start. So much so, that at one point someone must have tripped over someone else’s feet and a whole slew of people were almost taken down. I don’t think anyone actually fell, but I was pushed and slammed into quite a few people. I’m not sure how I didn’t get taken down, but I managed to stay upright and get away from the mess. The first half mile felt decent, but the second half is all uphill. That’s when I realized the race wouldn’t be anywhere near what I had hoped it would be back when I signed up, so I resolved to just try my best, but not push it too much because of the weather.
The second mile has a lot of turns and a few more hills and, by this point the heat was starting to get to me. I wound up slowing down a lot in the second mile, but I still felt like I was working hard. It’s amazing how deceiving hot weather and humidity can be while running! There were plenty of residents outside cheering, a lot with hoses spraying out into the street and I made sure to take advantage of any cool drops of water coming my way. Despite slowing down, I was able to pass a lot of people during the second mile. I knew that if I could just save a little energy I would be able to pick it up for the last mile, especially because the majority of it is downhill.
As we started the third mile, I tried to dig down as best as I could to finish strong. I reminded myself what Jason had said to me when we were making a race plan – it’s just a mile. I picked it up as best as I could in the first half, and then let the final hill carry me down the last half. I usually pick it up too early on the home stretch and wind up getting re-passed by people I’ve passed on the downhill, but I managed to hold my ground and even pass a few more people in the final quarter. I got myself across the finish line in 21:38, which turned out to be a 19 second PR from my last 5k in December. Considering the weather, I’m quite pleased. Originally I was bummed, knowing that I have a much faster 5k in me (my 4 miler’s average pace was 9 seconds per mile faster), but then came to my senses and realized that even the slightest PR in the heat and humidity would have been impressive.
After I finished, I immediately grabbed two water bottles and made my way back towards the finish so I could watch other runners. Unfortunately, I made it back just in time to see a girl start to really struggle, and then almost collapse about 200 feet from the finish. Thankfully a spectator ran out into the street and eventually a cop and race official grabbed her too. Understanding the drive and determination of a runner, the cop actually picked her up and hurried across the finish with her in his arms. I cheered for a few more minutes, and then made my way over to get some pizza!
After enjoying a slice, I figured I would check the posted results to see if I placed. The race is pretty big for a local week night 5k, and it attracts a lot of fast runners (especially high school and college runners getting ready to start XC season). Assuming I didn’t place, I quickly scanned the results. WRONG. I wound up coming in 3rd in my age group! So I took some time to grab another water and wander around the different vendor tables. As I was waiting for the awards, I noticed the sky getting darker and darker, and the deep gray clouds moving at a rapid speed. I knew it was only a matter of minutes before a serious storm started. Since the race started at 7pm, they wanted to wait until 8pm to do the awards. Under normal circumstances this would have been fine, but by 8pm the lightening had arrived, and I was watching it flash across the sky as I stood in the middle of the street hoping not to get struck. They got through about 5 age groups before they called it, because the lightening had moved to being right over us, and rain drops were starting to fall. I ran up to the table to grab my medal and just like that, the sky opened. It started to torrential downpour, so hard and fast that I couldn’t see in front of me. I laughed that I had finally dried off, knowing that a cool-down wasn’t going to happen. So instead, I sprinted (probably just as fast as during the race, if not faster) to my car, which was just under a mile away. I let that count as my cool-down.
I made it back to the car safely, tried to towel off as best I could, and made a beeline to Chipotle to pick up dinner. While eating dinner at 9:30pm on a Wednesday night isn’t ideal, it was a fun evening. I whine about the race every year and swear I won’t sign up the following year, but do anyway. I used to be envious of everyone in my hometown that could run, so when I finally started running this was a race I knew I had to do. I mean, it was my first 5k back in 2009! Even though I missed the last two years due to injury, I’m probably going to keep doing this race for as long as I can. And I’ll probably keep complaining about it, too.