I signed up for this race back on November 11, which may as well have been 2016 considering how long ago it now feels. It was not a NYRR race but organized by Elite Feats, the same company that does the Huntington Thanksgiving Day 4 Miler and a bunch of other Long Island races I’ve run. I found the race through some site, I forget which, or maybe an email, it doesn’t matter. It was a 5K, it had a flat course, and the start and finish were literally a 5 minute jog from my front door.
Also, the race was to benefit Community Options, an organization that helps people with disabilities, which seemed like a good cause.
So of course I signed up. This was going to be great!!!
I really, really, *REALLY* wanted to run a fast 5K. My last few 5K races have been either on trails or had long, steep hills in them, so I haven’t been able to run one as fast as I know I should be able to. Like, according to hard data I should be able to run 5Ks faster. When my 10K PR pace is 7:43 and my 5K PR pace is 7:44, something is off – and I don’t think it’s that I should be running slower 10Ks.
So this was going to be my big redemption. Heck, I ran that Thanksgiving 4 miler at a 7:32 pace. Surely I could best that on a flat 3.1 mile course!
I had studied the Riverside Park course map and run along sections of it many times. I knew it like the back of my hand. I also knew there were some stretches on the northern end with a few potholes but didn’t think much of it until two days before the race when I was walking my dog along the course and saw this:
To be clear, that is part of the race course.
I was mildly worried. I don’t care about having wet feet or stepping in puddles. I happily ran 13.1 miles through Brooklyn last May in the rain and barely noticed my wet feet. My worry was more of the safety hazard nature. How deep were those potholes? How slippery were those mud pits? How many millions of dollars can one sue for in the state of New York for a broken neck?
I even went so far as to email the race organizers to ask if there were any tentative plans to slightly alter the race course in the event of unsafe conditions. I included the photo. I did not get a response.
Even MacGregor looked worried.
As race morning grew closer, the forecast was predicting temps in the 20s. This could be both good and bad – it would mean the mud on the course would not be quicksand, but it would also mean those puddles would now become mini ice rinks.
The morning of the race (which was to begin at a very late-seeming 10 am), I woke up around 6, ate my standard oat bran + fried egg breakfast and walked my dog in Riverside Park along those potholes. I wanted to see up close what was in store for us runners.
Sure enough, the mud was hardened over. And the puddles had indeed turned to ice. I thought about taking a picture but honestly my hands were too cold to take off my mittens.
I didn’t want to immediately throw away my hopes of a 5K PR, but I also had to prepare myself for not a PR. It would be what it would be. And hopefully I wouldn’t break any bones. Maybe it would just be a nice, brisk run through the park followed by some free snacks.
Despite mid 20s temps, I decided to just wear one layer on top, plus leggings, my hat, and big-ass mittens. I might have worn an extra layer had the race been farther from home, but I was so close I figured I wouldn’t be suffering for long. I started jogging to the start as soon as I left my front door.
There were some people milling around, a few warming up. This wasn’t going to be a huge race. Maybe just over a hundred people. I saw one runner wrapped in a blanket shivering on a bench. Frankly, I thought that was a bit overkill.
The starting line was actually right next to the dog park I used to bring MacGregor to until I started getting too embarrassed that he tried humping every dog he saw so now I avoid it.
There were a couple of DJs playing a song that required people to do steps… or something. Like “turn to the left, now turn to the right.” I don’t know. I have always been the person at weddings who has never heard of a song to which everyone else is doing a coordinated dance. But it was a good way for people to try to stay warm.
I had jogged about a mile and three quarters to warm up – probably more than I needed to, but I was trying to stay warm myself. It was fucking cold. Did I mention that? Even my eyeballs were cold.
At a few minutes to 10, someone made an announcement and everyone sort of clumped up around the start line. I noticed there was no starting mat, only a finish mat. Weird, considering we were all wearing chips. I mean, I have absolutely no idea what goes into organizing a race, but does it actually cost more money to have both a finish mat and a starting mat? Was it too much to fit in the van? Why not just have it – especially since we’re all chipped anyway? Anyway, seeing that start times were just going to be measured by the gun, I situated myself as close to the front as possible without being in the first couple of rows, mainly out of respect for the runners who would be going out faster than me.
Something else that bugged me was the lack of warning about Ice Puddle Hell. There was no “hey, careful of the ice out there, you may want to run around it” sort of thing. Maybe they assumed we knew? Or… maybe they didn’t know themselves? Did I know more than they did? Possibly.
A woman counted down, and then we were off, headed north through Riverside Park. For once, I was at the front of a pack. A few runners passed me in that first mile, but not many. I saw one woman ahead of me. Maybe two.
It was cold. Not sure if I’ve mentioned that. It was borderline hard-to-breathe cold. Despite it being a few degrees warmer than the temps I ran in on Thanksgiving, I was finding it hard to gather momentum. I’ve gone out in plenty of races at a 7:30 mile – maybe not maintained it the entire time, but I’ve done 7:30s. I can do a 7:30. Yet even before we reached the ice, I knew I wasn’t going to hit 7:30.
Sure enough, the ice was a pain in the ass. Fortunately, there weren’t too many runners around me, so I could stay on the thin stretches of asphalt between and around the puddles. But I absolutely slowed down here. I tried not looking at my watch all that much. I didn’t want to get depressed.
The ice section was over by the half mile mark. Runners had to continue north for a tiny bit longer, then make a turn around a series of orange cones and head back down south, running through the finish line after the 1st mile mark. We’d continue south until another, more gradual, turnaround. We would then run through the start line again around the end of mile 2, repeating the northern half of the loop.
I noticed there was no one manning the turnaround point up north. Race staff surrounded the start and finish, but nobody was at the cones. Runners were pretty much on an honor system to round those cones. I can’t imagine anyone cheating at a small, local 5K, and I’m happy to say I did not see anyone cutting any part of the course.
MILE 1: 7:51
Jesus Christ. 7:51? It sure as hell felt more of an effort than that. I ran my last 10K in hilly Central Park at a 7:43 pace. Granted, there were no ICE POTHOLES on that course.
The second mile would be nice and ice-free. And mostly straight. I kicked it up a notch. At this point, I felt like I was running totally alone. There were a handful of people up ahead and then… everyone else behind me. It kind of felt like I was just doing a fast run on my own through Riverside Park. I think one guy passed me in the second mile. That’s it. Nobody else passed me again. I gained some momentum in mile 2, but nothing drastic.
MILE 2: 7:41
Better. But it was clear I would not be PR’ing today.
Maybe I could have run faster? I don’t know. Technically, I guess I could have, but could I have maintained it? It occurred to me during the race: I have not been training for a 5K. Last summer, my NYRR training plan had me doing some faster intervals in the low 7s and even 6s. The training plan I’m following now has me doing mostly marathon pace and half marathon pace intervals, which I am grateful for (because the NYRR plan didn’t have enough of those), but nothing faster than that. So maybe I really wasn’t in the best shape to run a fast 5K after all.
Mile 3 included the Great Ice Lakes once again. I was running totally alone so I didn’t have to worry about bumping anyone, at least. It still slowed me down. Again. I made the turnaround and tried to pick it up for the last stretch.
MILE 3: 7:49
Yeah, it wasn’t happening today. Although somehow, from somewhere, I found the strength to run a 7:00 pace for the last 0.16 mile. (My Garmin had me running a total of 3.16.) As always, I tried to smile as I approached the finish as I knew there’d be photographers and also I was just happy to be done.
Overall pace: 7:45 (according to my Garmin).
That’s one second per mile slower than I ran the Percy Sutton 5K with its crazy first mile incline and steep hill.
Elite Feats always send a text with your results following the race, and I was pleased to see that I won the 40-44 age group (which I assumed was probably very small to begin with) and was the 4th woman overall. That was cool. It looked like I’d be getting an age group medal in addition to the finisher’s medal. By the way, the finisher’s medal was cute and looked like this:
I never expect medals for 5Ks, but sure, I’ll take it.
So now began the long wait in the cold with my one layer for the age group medal. Why didn’t I just wear my winter coat there, use the bag check to stash it, and then do my warm up, you ask? Well, you see, it is because I am a fucking moron.
I saw the top finishers with their trophies gathering for a photograph. Not all of them, just the top three men and the top woman – I wasn’t sure where the others were. I congratulated the first place woman, Sibel, afterward. She was super nice. She finished in 21:18, a 6:51 pace, which is very impressive to me. I can only dream of running that pace for more than a mile (as I know I can manage it for one single mile). We made small talk about the race, the ice, where we lived, etc.
Then they formally announced the top three men and top three women, each photographed with their trophy. Strangely, the third place woman didn’t show up when her name was called. I guessed she had gotten cold and left. I was hoping the age group awards would be next but they said there would be a little more of a wait for those.
Ugh. Why didn’t I bring my coat?
I will say, they had awesome snacks, and staff members were encouraging people to take as much as they wanted, which I did without being too greedy.
As fas as the long-sleeved tech shirt, I initially had planned on picking up my shirt after the race. There were two color shirts, white and red. At first I thought they were the same shirt and you just chose whatever color you wanted – and I would have chosen white because colorful clothing isn’t really my “thing.” But before the race, I noticed that the back of the white shirt said “AVAILABLE” and the back of the red shirt said “UNAVAILABLE.” I remembered this race was a Valentine’s Day thing. Cupid’s Chase. Of course. Apparently, if you were available for romance, you declared that on the white shirt. Unavailable, on the red.
I am definitely in the “unavailable” camp, as I have no desire to date or be in a relationship. However, I did not want a red shirt. So I decided not to get a shirt. It’s fine. I have too many as it is. Marie Kondo would be proud.
FINALLY, they were ready to announce the age group awards. Many winners had already left – it was just too cold to stand around for that long. But I happily accepted my medal and posed for a photo with the executive director of Community Options. The race wasn’t big enough to award the top three in each age group, which made it feel extra special to get the sole age group award.
I gathered my bag of snacks, threw the medals in it, and ran home where I could finally be warm. I had MacGregor pose with my age group medal. He was thrilled for me!!!
As far as snacks, I think I made out pretty good.
There is an interesting aftermath to this race recap, if you’ve managed to stick with it for this long.
Back at home, I was looking at the results page – the age groups, the top finishers, the splits, everything. Just casually browsing. I like stats and poring over results is always fun to me.
I noticed the third place woman, Lucy, who hadn’t shown up for her trophy, was in her late 40s. I always love when older runners are fast so I took a closer look at her splits. That’s when I noticed something odd.
Since runners had to pass over the finish mat slightly after the 1st mile mark, “Lap 1” and “Lap 2” splits were recorded. Obviously, most runners had lap paces that matched their overall paces. My own lap 1 pace was 7:52, as was my lap 2.
Lucy’s lap 1 pace was 12:06.
That couldn’t be right. The third place woman ran her first lap at a 12:06 pace and her overall pace was 7:43? I had to read it over and over again to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. If she ran her first mile at a 12:06 pace and went on to run an overall 7:43 pace for 3.1 miles… well, that’s not humanly possible. Unless she ran two 5-minute miles. Which, I promise, nobody there had.
Something was not right. So I opened up a chat window with Elite Feats to ask them to take a closer look at Lucy’s splits. This was out of sheer curiosity, as well as a bit of selfishness – if Lucy wasn’t the third place woman, that meant I was. They replied right away, quickly explaining that “the split distances from this morning are approximate – we weren’t provided actual measurements” (very cool, very cool) but said they were still on site and would look into it when they got back to the office.
Then I decided to look for photos of Lucy at the finish. There were none. She was supposedly the 14th runner to cross the finish. The photos clearly showed the 13th place runner followed immediately by the 15th place runner. No Lucy.
Elite Feats got back to me a few hours later while I was at the Millrose Games with some fellow Harriers, and sure enough, they had made an error. Lucy had started the race late, and her first pass over the finish mat after lap 1 was counted as her actual finish. They apologized, said I had in fact placed third overall, and suggested I contact Community Options for my rightful trophy.
And this is all because there was no starting mat to actually record runners’ start times. As a result, someone had to be sitting there with some kind of clipboard, writing things down. Not one person noticed that I was the third woman to cross the finish mat to finish the race.
Mistakes happen. I realize this is not a huge deal in the grand scheme of things. I will not remember this on my deathbed. But it’s frustrating when problems could easily be avoided with small tweaks, slight adjustments. Like, I don’t know, a starting mat.
I have since left a voicemail and sent an email inquiring whether or not I can get my trophy sent to me. I’ll be totally honest, I don’t even really care about the actual trophy. But the way I see it is if I went through all the trouble of determining a race results error, then I might as well see this all the way through. Plus, what a nice follow up photo it would make with MacGregor.
Also, despite not PR’ing, this was somewhat of a milestone race for me. It’s the first time I’ve ever placed in the top three of a race. I know it was a small field – 126 runners total including 71 women – but this is still cool to see on a (now fixed) results page:
So in conclusion, it was cold, there was ice, I ran as well as I could under the conditions, I got some good snacks, I would have made a kickass detective, and I placed third in a race.
I will update this post if I ever get that trophy.
UPDATE: As of February 24th I have not received the trophy and probably never will. It’s fine. I don’t really care. But I let Elite Feats know about what happened and I mentioned the lack of a starting mat. I was told that wouldn’t have made much of a difference – it was the “system” that had screwed up the times regardless. So that’s the update.
– Time: 24:27.96
– Pace: 7:52/m
– Age Group: n/a (3rd place open)
– Women: 3/71
– Overall: 16/126