Sometimes, I think there must be something wrong with me. Upstairs, you know.
You see, I have certain trigger words that will make me do things that otherwise, when I’m thinking clearly, I would realize are DUMB. Such as, for instance, the words “long-sleeved t-shirt.” If you promise me a long-sleeved t-shirt, evidently, I will check my sanity at the door and decide that it sounds perfectly reasonable, even fun, to run a 5K ten days before Christmas. All I can say for myself is, I was seduced by the words “flat” and “fast” that the race organizers used to describe the course. And, of course, the prospect of a long-sleeved t-shirt. So, naturally, on a beautiful clear fall day, I decided this would be a good idea and signed up.
The word “misguided” comes to mind. So does the word “idiot.”
Over the past few days, Mother Nature has dumped on us repeatedly. I’m told that this isn’t even that bad and it will get worse. But it was bad enough that hubby had me checking my email constantly for notification that the race was being cancelled. No such notification came, though, so on Sunday I dressed in my warmest running clothes and my Smartwool socks and headed down to the Cobblestone District for the Freezer 5K.
I knew immediately that I was in for an interesting race. The roads on the way downtown were covered in slush and I had to steer around several big piles of snow (and I was driving on a major thoroughfare). This was no Turkey Trot – just a small, informal, laid-back local race – so I didn’t have any delusions about major efforts to clear the course. I knew that the course would get the same treatment the other roads got, and we’d have to be content with that. And it was going to be slick. I arrived at the race hub – a downtown bar where the race organizers were coordinating packet pick-up and the start – grabbed my bib, my packet and my t-shirt, and headed back to the car to drop off my stuff. Picking my way through the parking lot, I heard someone calling to me. A couple sitting in their car to warm up (just what I was on my way to do) asked me if I knew anything about whether there would be chips.
“That’s an excellent question,” I said, realizing that I hadn’t gotten a chip for my shoe and that there was nothing on the back of my bib, and feeling pretty stupid for not even thinking about it while I was picking up my race packet. “Maybe it’s gun time?”
We chatted for a few minutes and agreed to fill each other in if any of us got an answer (and if I found them again, or vice versa). I headed to my car and sat with the heaters on full blast, reading blogs until it was time to head to the start. On my way back into the race hub, I heard “That’s the girl! Hey!” Turning around, I saw my new friends from the parking lot, who told me that there were no chips and we were just supposed to hand in a tear-off segment of our bib at the finish. Not sure how that was supposed to work, and wondering how we’d have official finishing times without chips, I shrugged, thanked them and wished them good luck, and headed off to wait for the start. Just as I was getting ready to leave the comparative warmth of the bar and venture outside to the start line, the race organizers made a disconcerting announcement:
Part of the course was completely impassible, so there would be a course change. We were supposed to run by the waterfront, but the area was so socked in with snow that we couldn’t get through. Instead, we’d be running to a turnaround point and then making an extra lap around First Niagara Center (the local NHL team’s arena). The course would be a little long as a result, but it was the best they could do. It didn’t make much difference to me, since I had no time goals and was just there for fun (and obviously, for the t-shirt). I joined the crowd of runners streaming to the start line, where I took this picture:
That, in general, was what the course looked like. There was one short stretch that was clear, and there were a few drifts that we had to run through, but pretty much, this was what we were going to be dealing with. It got progressively slushier and slicker as the morning went on. I steeled myself and reminded myself of my only goal for the day: not to break my ankle. I really didn’t care if it took me 40 minutes – or longer – to finish. Just as long as I finished without breaking any bones, I was going to consider the morning a wild success. After all, I already had the t-shirt we’ve established I will go to ridiculous lengths to get.
The Abominable Snowman fired the gun, and we were off. I followed the crowd and just tried to stay upright. As we rounded the first corner, a guy shouted out, “It’s just like running on the beach in the Bahamas! C’mon, gang! Let’s have fun!” He got a few cheers in response, and then we all buckled in for the ride.
After my first pass by First Niagara Center, I saw the leaders coming back from the turnaround. They were hauling the mail, despite the slushy conditions. I cheered for them inwardly, although I was still trying to focus most of my attention on not falling down. (That’s also why there are no pictures from this race: I kept my phone in my pocket and my eyes on the road.) I passed the finish line, noticing that it read just about 20 minutes, and headed out for my second loop around the arena, high-fiving the Abominable Snowman as I settled into the lap. Before long, I realized my shoe was untied. Ugh. I knelt down, tied it, and continued on my way… for about two blocks, before it came untied again – the first and second times I’ve had to stop during a race to tie my shoe.
The Finish Line: Final Time 32:10
As we completed our second lap, I knew I had some gas left, so I made a play to pass a few people. I hopped over to a relatively clear patch of pavement and just started running as fast as I could. I pounded my way to the finish line and, just before I tore across, realized that the clock read 32:10.
WHAT? 32:10 is fast for me, even under the best conditions. My 5K PR is 32:04 – only six seconds faster than I ran this race, in the slush – and this was a long course (although I don’t know how much past the 3.1 miles it actually went). I was absolutely shocked at my time. I’d expected to run closer to 36 minutes and would have been thrilled with that time; the last time I ran a 5K race in the snow I finished in a frustrating 37 minutes (I was pregnant at the time, but didn’t know it yet).
Honestly, I’m not sure how I pulled out this race. I’m well-conditioned, thanks to Turkey Trot training. This was also a smaller race, so I didn’t really spend any time weaving around other runners. But still. To run 32:10, in the snow, on roads so slippery that I wasn’t sure I’d finish the race upright? Yeah, I’m a little baffled by that, but also really proud. Makes me wonder what I could have done under ideal racing conditions… guess I’ll have to look for a spring 5K to find out.
Will I run this race again? Not sure. It was fun, and I definitely admire the race organizers for being able to work with the snowy conditions. But man alive, it was COLD. Right now, still thawing out, I am inclined to ask hubby to chase me away from the computer if I try to sign up for another December race, long-sleeved t-shirt or no. But ask me again in October, when I’ll probably think that a holiday race sounds “fun.” Like I said, misguided.
Edited: The official results are up and it appears the course ended up being short, not long. My time was 32:11 for 2.76 miles. So, not a PR, or even close to one, but I still can’t complain – it was slushy and slick and I’m proud to have gotten out there, run in the muck and finished it!