Now that I’ve completed a whopping two 5Ks, I’m pretty sure that I know everything there is to know about running and it’s probably time that I share the wealth of my knowledge with the hoards of people that read this blog. Of course I’m kidding. But I have picked up a few tid-bits of information that might help some other aspiring runners that are just starting out.ONE: Know where you belong at the start of a race. I’ve messed this up both times. It is not unrecoverable, but why waste time “recovering” when you can just start in the right place and enjoy your run?
In my first race, there were thousands of runners separated into corrals. Corrals, as I understand it, are organized with the fastest runners starting in the earlier corrals and the slower runners in the later groups. Makes sense, right? Those groupings are made based upon the projected finishing times provided by each runner as he/she registers for the race. People are going to be wrong. I was.
I hadn’t been running very long when I registered for my first event, and I had no idea what my pace would be so I provided an estimated finish time of 30 minutes (approximately 9:40 min/mile pace). By race day that ended up being over a minute slower than my pace, so even if everyone else was accurate, I was still likely to be grouped into a corral with some amount of people who were going to run at a slower pace than me. Oops.
But really, how was I supposed to know? Newbie mistake.
Because I’m not a aggressively competitive person at all, and because the race was chip-timed, I also assumed that it didn’t matter very much where I positioned myself within the corral. I was wrong again. I entered the corral in the back and after the start, it took me ¼ of a mile to navigate my way through the group and get to a place where I could settle into my normal pace; the pace that I was confident I could maintain throughout the run.
This past weekend, I erred in the other direction. It was a smaller, more casually ordered race (Only 1509 total finishers), and therefore did not separate runners into individual corrals. Because of the lesson I thought I learned the previous week, I positioned myself near the front of the group. That just set me up for a different kind of failure.
I was able to immediately start at whatever pace I wanted, but because the front of the pack was predominantly made up of faster runners, it was almost unavoidable to take off at a similar pace as those around me. And that was a much much faster pace than I could’ve ever kept. It took me almost half of a mile to settle myself down into a pace that I could maintain through to the finish. And because I started too fast instead of too slow, I ended up experiencing muscle fatigue faster and had to battle through that in order to finish without walking.
It resulted in a new PR for the 5K (24:53 with 8:02 pace per mile), but was more valuable in making it totally clear to me how important it is to know my pace as well as how diligent I have to be to set myself up properly to achieve it. I’m still a novice runner, no matter what my times may be or how awesome I look in running tights. My body’s current abilities are still very limited, and to allow myself to forget it for too long will only increase the possibility of injury. That is not an option. I need this shit.
TWO: If you’re running with three or four friends and decide to run together shoulder-to-shoulder, you have just built a moving fence that is difficult for other runners to get through or around. Be aware of what’s going on around you and maybe line up behind each other at least until the crowd of runners spreads out a bit. Luckily I run alone and a moving fence post isn’t much of an obstacle. But I have had to run from one side of the street all the way to the other to get around a running roadblock of similarly dressed runners. I can imagine a more aggressive person being pretty annoyed with that sort of thing.
THREE: Even thirty minutes of running in an improperly fitting polyester tech shirt is enough to make you aware of the sensitive nature of your nipples. Yep. If you’re going to run any longer than that, you may want to use some kind of anti-chafe balm, or maybe a better fitting shirt will help. Saturday, I used body glide and wore a compression shirt so I’m not sure which one was more effective. But I had no issues. Sorry for that visual. I’m a jerk.
FOUR: After you finish the race, go back to the finish line and cheer on the other runners. After my first race, I wandered over to the finish line a few short times in my uneasy laps around the event’s after-party, and was lucky enough to see a five year old crush her own 5K with a good time and in better form than I did. But I didn’t really hang out there long enough to fully appreciate everything that was really happening.
On Saturday, after I finished the race, I grabbed a banana, went to my car for a protein drink, and then headed back to the finish line to watch the other runners come across. Standing there, I noticed something that I thought was somewhat unfortunate. As more and more racers came in, fewer and fewer people remained at the finish line. As many spectators’ friends or family members crossed the finish line, they would greet them and too often disappear together never to return. So in essence, as the crowd dwindled with each in-coming runner, the people that probably needed the encouragement the least received the largest reception. And the runners who might’ve appreciated it the most finished to a much smaller fanfare.
I’m not saying that the guy that finished in less than 18 minutes didn’t fully appreciate the warm welcome of all of those people. I’m sure he did. But he never had a doubt that he was going to finish, or even that he wouldn’t finish well. The cheering crowd was just icing on the cake. And the cake was never in question.
I finished the race in 100th place out of approximately 1500 total runners and was greeted with a very energetic crowd of cheering spectators lined up along both sides of the street approximately 100-150 feet outside of the finish, all the way through the finish line, and beyond. And it is impossible not to feel a little chirp of gratitude and pride in that moment. It feels good to finish strong and be blindly supported by so many strangers. I imagine that the 99 people ahead of me had a similar experience.
I didn’t have to be anywhere for a couple of hours, so I decided to stay at the finish line and welcome in the later runners and I feel like I got to see so much more than a few super athletes killing a three mile run for the umpteenth time. Along with all of the simple runners like myself slogging across the line, I got to see the people that were winning something more important than a medal or a gift certificate to a local running store. I got to see people giving a lot more of themselves too. I saw people winning internal battles against obesity, or aging, or low self esteem, or any combination of things, people who were maybe a little less confident that they could even do it. And witnessing Team Hoyt members pushing handicapped young people along the course in both events in which I’ve participated just makes me feel good.
And I try to tell them so as I pass…IF i pass. They’re not slow.
I clapped for a woman with severe obesity who was walking and running and walking again as she came up the street, but forced herself to run and keep running through the last stretch and across the finish line. I saw another much older woman muster the same last minute strength and will of spirit to force herself to cross the finish line running. I saw a few people with minor disabilities light up with joy as they finished the race to the sounds of a small but supportive crowd. There were several similar finishes, each just as meaningful as the one before to those runners. It felt really good to witness these winning moments. Hell, it felt good to smile at all that particular morning.
Don’t get me wrong now. I don’t want to portray the finish line atmosphere after the first 30 minutes of a 5K as some sympathy parade of broken people struggling against life. It’s not at all. It’s a happy time for everyone and most people are just running for the fun of it anyway. There was a local chapter of Girls On The Run participating and they provided continuous entertainment watching each of those young ladies come in at varying degrees of speed and enthusiasm, especially when the super energetic among them would charge back into the street laughing to drag their less enthusiastic friends by the arms fast across the finish line. There was also parents running with their kids, people in costumes, and a lot of generally happy people enjoying a morning run along the river. And of course Santa was there too…a few of them in fact. It was a good way to start the day.
If you want to mill around watching strangers eat bananas and drink bottled water, hang out anywhere after the race. If you want to see a perfect mix of silly innocence, good-natured fun, and true personal achievement, go back to the finish line.