When I started running 5 years ago in the late Spring of 2009, I decided that my first attempt at a race would be the Cranford Jaycees Firecracker 4 miler. I was nervous, ran in a pair of three-year-old Nike Shox sneakers and a cotton t-shirt, but made it to the finish line in 36:26. By that point I was hooked on running, and wanted to make this race a yearly tradition… and on Friday I ran my 6th Firecracker 4 miler!
It works out that this is the only four mile race that I do each year, so it’s a great way for me to see the progress I’ve made from year to year. When I signed up for the race this year, I was excited to see what I was capable of, especially after a big half marathon PR and my recent attempt at the mile. After talking with my coach about time goals, we settled on a time, which I of course thought was a little on the faster side. Jason has been really good at knowing my ability better than I do, so I trusted his suggestion and decided I’d go for it.
I woke up on Friday morning not sure what to expect outside. It had stormed pretty heavily the two nights before, and there was a pretty good chance that it would be raining for the race. I was happy to see that it wasn’t raining, but was instead overcast and in the upper 60s. Of course I scrolled right to the humidity section of the weather app on my phone, and wasn’t surprised to see 90%. I had my normal pre-race breakfast (picky bar, half a peanut butter sandwich, and a lot of water), and was out the door by 7am for the 9am race start. I packed a few different options for the run (hat? headband? sunglasses? shirt?), but after my 2 mile warm-up I knew exactly what I’d have to wear: a hat to keep the sweat from my eyes, and no shirt to keep me as cool as possible. Sure, it was “only” in the upper 60’s, but the 90% humidity made it a typical July sweat-fest.
When it was time to line up for the race, I put myself right up front. I knew that if I didn’t, I’d spend the next mile or so wasting energy weaving in and out of the crowds of people who are somehow overly confident with their expected finish times. Despite being right up front, I didn’t hear a countdown. The next thing I knew the starting cannon sounded, and everyone surged forward. I was swept up in the crowd for a moment and glanced down at my watch and saw my pace flash as 6:20. I knew at that moment I had a decision to make: fool myself into thinking I could hold onto it and fight through later, or slow down slightly and save a little for later. I pulled back ever so slightly, and settled in to a 6:50/6:55 pace as we rounded the first corner. I was able to count the women in front of me, and found myself running as the 6th woman. We passed the first mile marker and I clocked a 6:42, according to my Garmin. The next mile or so is straight down a main road, and I spent most of it jockeying back and forth with another woman and man. I could tell the woman was doing everything in her power not to let me pass her, and I think the guy was too – I even got an elbow a few times, despite the road being plenty wide enough for three, even four runners to run next to each other.
The third mile starts right after a turn onto a post-winter potholed road with a water stop, which is where I was able to shake the girl and guy I had been running with. I ran the second mile in 6:54, and started to worry that I wasn’t going to hit the time I was hoping for. I was getting tired, and bargained with myself that I could ease off just a bit to save some energy for the fourth mile. Slowing down a little helped (7:03), and by the time I hit the third mile clock I realized that I was about to hit a small 5k PR (clocked 21:23 according to the Garmin), and I knew it was time to try my best and hammer home. The last mile includes a path in a bit of a wooded area, and as I looked down at my Garmin and saw my pace listed as 10:00, I realized I’d just have to push it without really knowing my current pace. We looped into the park, and as I passed a spectator he yelled, “Just a quarter to go!” and what I thought was, “alright, 11th female!” I gave myself an imaginary pat on the back, and focused on the 12 year old boy in front of me that I just couldn’t seem to reel in (6:34).
I pushed it to puke pace like I do every time I enter that park, and I crossed the finish in 27:18. I made my way right over to the water truck and tried to walk as best as I could to prevent actually puking. I noticed they had a results table, so I made a beeline over to see if I was in fact the 11th female like I thought I heard the spectator yell. While they didn’t have overall placing listed quite yet, I caught my name on the scrolling computer screen to see that I had placed first in the 25-29 age group! Since I knew it would be awhile before they presented the awards, I took the opportunity to jog back to my car to grab my water bottle and a shirt. I made sure to run away from the course, because there’s nothing worse than seeing someone that’s already done jogging back towards you as you’re killing yourself to get to the finish line.
This race always provides free snow cones, popcorn, yogurt, and ice cream at the end of the race, so I was excited to grab a free Yasso frozen Greek yogurt bar to help cool me off as I waited for the awards and chatted with some hometown friends. Before I knew it they were starting the awards, and I scored a sweet little medal and a t-shirt! I should note, though, that the t-shirt says “2014 RACE WINNER” on the back which is just a little deceptive… since I won my age group, but not the race! It turns out, though, that I misheard that spectator as I was coming down the home stretch and I was actually the 7th woman overall, which was a nice surprise! (But again, does not warrant a “race winner” t-shirt).
Overall, I’m really happy with this race. Originally I went into it thinking I would run around a 28, but after Jason’s suggestion to go for a 27, of course, I hoped I would run slightly faster… internal competition is fierce. My 6:50 per mile average is the fastest I’ve averaged in a race, ever (aside from my road mile), so it was a big boost of confidence. I’m looking forward to a few 5k’s this month before really starting to marathon train.
Did you race over the weekend? How did it go?!