My first 5K race since last fall took place yesterday, and what a day, and what a race! Beautiful weather, grueling course, and I got to see someone I hadn’t seen in over 25 years – but first, the race.
The run took place on the grounds of the Makamah Nature Preserve, which is just south of Crab Meadow Beach (which I’ve run to a few times) and right in Northport, where I live, so I couldn’t not do this race. The shorter I have to travel for a race, the more likely I am to do it. And this was about an 8 minute drive.
The trail run – named for Doug Wood, a Northport Running Club member who passed away in 2003 – started at 9 am, so I set my alarm for 6, and of course woke up at 5:45 because I had to pee. Speaking of which, hey guys, hey, can I be frank? Can I “keep it 100” here? (For the record, I still have not said the phrase “keep it 100” out loud.)
My biggest concern the morning of the race was that I went to the bathroom. As in, pooped. I wanted to poop. It was important. That I poop.
So while I don’t normally start the day out with coffee, I did, thinking, hoping, it would do the trick. I walked the dogs for half an hour, which is always a good way to start the day – it loosens up my muscles and gives me the opportunity to make note of any weird pains or soreness (of which that morning I luckily had none).
I did some foam rolling, had some more coffee, and, thank the heavens, I pooped.
Sorry if this is too much information, but if you’re interested in running (and by the fact that you’re reading this blog, I assume that you have at least a passing interest in it), you have to understand that pooping is a popular subject among runners. It is of vital importance to us. And I imagine, if others are like me, it weighs heavy on our minds the morning of a race.
Okay, glad I got that out of the way. Now for some less poop-related details.
I ate breakfast at 7, which I kept simple:
- 1 serving oat bran – Bob’s Red Mill makes a great one
- 1 tbsp. raisins
- 1 chopped up medjool date
- 1/2 banana
- 1 tsp. maple syrup
That was about 300 calories – for me, the perfect amount to eat 2-3 hours before a race. If this were a normal 3-6 mile training run, I wouldn’t eat that much before (maybe only 30-75 calories, if that), but on race days, I’m up a few hours before the start and need extra fuel. Every runner does this differently – some might eat a lot more, some run best with nothing at all.
Race central was Norwood Avenue School, an elementary school my two youngest sisters attended (and a different school that I and second-oldest sister attended, as we moved within Northport at one point). I usually run past it on my long runs.
I got there early enough to snag a parking spot in the lot, got my bib, and headed to the t-shirt table. The shirts were not only nicely cut, but my favorite color: gray! I LOVE when race shirts are cut for women as opposed to large, box-shaped men. The nice shirts I wear as regular shirts and take care of them. The not nice shirts I wear to bed and eventually give away.
I went back and forth between the small and medium sizes for a minute, eventually settling on medium. And I am very glad I did, because this is the medium. Please note that I am a dress size 4.
A small would have basically been a crop top.
It was an hour before the start, so I decided to do a light jog. I ran down the street, turning down a dead end at one point. The houses are really nice around here, wow. I guess homes on quiet cul-de-sacs close to the beach are like, good or something.
I jogged for 1.25 miles, about 15 minutes. Slow, easy. Just to loosen things up. I was feeling good. The oat bran had moved out of my stomach by this point, I was hydrated but not overly so, my quads were still a teensy bit sore from a squats & deadlifts workout the other day, but nothing I couldn’t power through. All good. I was ready to tackle this trail.
But first, another bathroom stop.
By far the best thing about race central being in an elementary school? The bathrooms built for teeny tiny people.
It was all very adorable.
Outside, the weather could not have been more perfect: sunny and low 60s. I was honestly surprised to see anyone in long sleeves. Haven’t they all been running outside all winter in teens and 20 degree temps? This felt like summer. I almost felt overdressed.
The kids’ fun run started at 8:30. I think they ran half a mile. Again – adorable.
I kept walking around the grounds. I don’t like to sit or stand still before a race. Eventually, everyone made their way to the start. I took a pic before everyone was assembled – it doesn’t look like a lot here but the field wound up being 409 strong.
I settled in around the 6th row for the start. Which, looking back, was a mistake. I should have just been in the front line. See, the starting line wasn’t just crammed into that balloon arch – it was a long line in front of it. And I had forgotten the very thing I told myself to do the last time I ran a trail race, which was to get ahead of as much of the pack as possible before entering the woods.
This just completely escaped me at the moment. It wasn’t until halfway down the field that I realized, shit, the trail is probably going to be narrow, which means single file most of the way. And if I don’t get out ahead now, I’ll be stuck behind clumps of people.
So I booked it over the grass, managing to get ahead of a bunch of people, but not as many as if I’d just started in the front line. Ah well.
The woods were… very woodsy. They started with a super steep downhill covered in rocks, leaves, and, thankfully, some worn wooden steps that helped us not tumble head over heels to our deaths. The woods were less dense than I had pictured them, and the trail was easy to follow – clearly it was an established trail, run over many times before. Still, there were a bunch of rocks and twigs and the occasional fallen tree to hop over.
There were a couple of straight paths, but for the most part, inside the woods, it was all twists and turns. And hills. Twists, turns, uphills, downhills – these woods had it all. As expected, it was a hell of a lot more tiring than a typical road race.
And, as I’d feared, the dreaded single file clumps happened. I mean, it wasn’t horrible – it wasn’t like there was anyone directly in front of me doing a 12:00 pace or anything, but I have to admit, a lot of times the pace felt way too comfortable. I looked at my watch at one point and I was doing a 9:35, which is my easy pace. So I just maneuvered around people when I could, and when I couldn’t, I didn’t. I did what I could. But damn, if I’d only started in the front line instead of the 6th. Who knows.
I wish I had some pictures of the path or of me in the woods, but I have none! I don’t exactly take pictures during races and I don’t think the official photographer got any of me until the end.
There was one surprising moment in the race, maybe around the start of mile 3. A woman was standing at a bend in the path, clapping and cheering on the runners. I figured she was one of the volunteers (who were great, by the way). But as I got closer, I realized it was masters superstar runner Kathy Martin! I wasn’t shocked to see her, because I know she’s from Northport. But there she was. Kathy Martin.
And because I am very, very cool, as I ran by her I said, “I’m a big fan of yours.” A beat, then a “Thank you,” which faded in volume from syllable to syllable as I continued on the path out of earshot.
Kathy has been an inspiration to me, as she only began running seriously in her 40s. Now in her 60s, she’s considered one of the world’s best masters runners. Here’s a great article about her from 2012.
For a moment I assumed she had run the race, finished, and made her way back to the 3 mile mark (or thereabouts) to cheer on the remaining runners. But then I realized that would be impossible: there’s no way she’d have had time to run a full mile back to inside the course, and also, why would she when she could just stand near the finish line? At some point I realized she hadn’t run the race at all – she was just there to cheer people on. Which is very cool of Kathy Martin.
Anyway, it felt like the trail would never end. More twists, turns, hills, rocks, twigs, branches that jutted out into the path and whipped me on the ankles. At one point it occurred to me that I really need to be doing more speed work. I haven’t, and it was obvious to me that I hadn’t. My lungs should be in better shape.
Eventually, the woods seemed to be coming to an end, but not before everyone had to make their way up the steepest hill I have ever run up – in fact, I physically couldn’t even run up it. I had to kind of lunge up it. But once up, we were in the clear: it was all flat grass for the last half mile.
And one final challenge was waiting for us in the final stretch: the haystack jump! Here’s a photo of me that Jack McCoy, the official photog, snapped. Thanks Jack McCoy!
I ran as fast as I could in that final few moments, crossing the finish at 27:18. Slower than my road 5Ks, but that’s okay. Road 5Ks are not trail 5Ks. I was happy with my time and glad to be done.
Then it was onto the bathroom again, and this time we used the WOMEN’S ROOM. What a difference. Rolls of paper instead of squares and mirrors you could see your head in! Although, I have to admit: less adorable.
My official results:
- Chip time: 27:18
- Pace: 8:47/m
- Overall: 85/409
So I haven’t even gotten to the exciting part of this post and it’s already 18 chapters long but hell, you’ve gotten this far, let’s just hold on ’til the end at this point, am I right?
Before I knew the results, I was pretty sure I hadn’t won an age group award – I didn’t know my official pace but my Garmin said it was 9:09, which I didn’t think would make me a contender. Still, I figured I’d stick around. I like seeing other people win, and just being around other runners, even if I don’t interact with them, is honestly comforting.
I was leaning against a wall near the front of the room when they began calling the age group winners. They started from oldest and were making their way down. I was half listening and politely clapping for all the winners, when, in the men’s 60-something category, I heard a familiar name.
It was my 6th grade teacher.
Now, I need to explain: this was not just any teacher. This is, quite literally, my favorite teacher. Someone who I’ve spent the last 25 years or so wondering what he was up to, hoping I could see him again at one point and tell him how much his class and his teaching meant to me. In fact, only a few months ago, I posted on Facebook asking my hometown friends if they knew what happened to him. If I’d had the chance to meet just one former teacher again, it would have been him.
And I’d just heard his name.
Could it be him? I saw a man in a backwards baseball hat and sunglasses collect his award and head out the door, which was directly on the other side of the room from me. I didn’t even think before crossing the room, not realizing I walked right through the area where they were handing out awards before I was halfway through it.
I stepped into the hallway and looked toward the exit. He was on his way out. I said “Doug?” – his first name, which felt weird on my tongue, but again, I wasn’t 100% sure it was him and saying “Mr. O’Loughlin?” to a man who was not my former teacher also felt weird. Either way, this was all very weird.
He turned toward me, took off his glasses, and before I could finish asking “Did you teach at Ocean Avenue?” he said “Are you Ari Scott?”
Folks. My heart nearly exploded.
It turned out he had seen my name on some other local race results lists, and thought it might be the same Ari Scott he’d taught. He remembered me: that my dad taught at the high school, that I’d been a “delightful student,” that I had good penmanship. All true things, by the way.
We talked for a good half hour, and in between, I won an age group award! Third place. Although, I found out later, I came in 5th out of 31, but I believe two of the women in the top 5 in my age group also won masters awards, which removes them from age group awards. Or something. I don’t know. Whatever. The point is, I saw Mr. O’Loughlin again, and I was so happy to see him again.
Mr. O’Loughlin really was the best. I seriously want to write an entire post about him. And maybe I will. After all, it’s my blog and I’ll write what I want to.
So altogether, I had a challenging, grueling, fun, surprising, incredible day. And it was only 11 am.