This past weekend was a jam-packed race weekend! On Saturday we had the Walk for Wishes 5K and yesterday we completed the Paine to Pain Trail Half Marathon. Ben has done Walk for Wishes before and he warned me that it was going to be a mess. This is the only 5K race the Make-a-Wish New Jersey organizes, so they’re overwhelmed by the logistics.
The 5K is held at Liberty State Park in Jersey City, which is Ben’s favorite course. He knows the course very well because he races on it several times a year. It’s a simple out and back. Last year the course was a little long, despite being USATF certified, because the start line was placed much farther behind its usual place. This year Ben ensured that wouldn’t happen because he insisted that we stand where the start line should be. Otherwise he feared that if we stood with all the other runners, once again, the course will be long because the race director won’t correctly point to the right starting point. For a few minutes he and I were the only ones at the start line, while all the other runners were clustered behind us. Then they milled toward us, as he had predicted.
The race was scheduled to start at 10 am. At 10:09, we still hadn’t started. At 10:15, we saw all the middle schoolers who were part of the fundraising finally come out and make their way toward the start area. At 10:20, Ben muttered that he would be done by now if we had started on time. At sometime around 10:30, we finally began. The start was a little abrupt. A portly man walked to the front, apologized for the late start, and then yelled, “Go!” I was completely unprepared because I had no idea that we were starting right then and there after such a long delay. I didn’t have time to set up RunKeeper, so unfortunately I have no splits for this race.
As usual, Ben warned me to not start too fast. He told me stay behind Camille who had told us that she wanted to run a sub-23 5K. As usual, I didn’t listen and I sprinted along with the front pack for a quarter mile. I was, however, smart enough to not sprint along side Ben, so he had no idea that I was going so fast for the first mile. My goal was to do a sub-25 5K. My last 5K was the Fit & Healthy Mamas, where my official time was 25:31 because the race clock started too early. I’m positive that I actually ran much closer to 25 minutes. I slowed down some and people began passing me.
On Saturday there was no real wind, but at the normally windy stretch of the course, a girl tried to draft behind me. I purposely slowed down so that she would leave me behind. It quickly became clear to the both of us that she was a much better and stronger runner than I, so in a matter of moments, she picked up her speed and left me behind. For most of the race I ran alone, which is how I like to run. I don’t like running in packs. Ben has the opposite preference. He loves being in the middle of a group. Although I prefer running in a loop to running an out-and-back, the nice thing about it is that I get to see Ben when he’s headed back to the finish line. It’s something he and I look forward to while racing.
There was a water stop at the turn around point, which is a great place to have it because you need to slow down to turn around anyway. I didn’t need the water stop because I’ve recently discovered that I like running with a small hand water bottle. This way I can take sips of water whenever I wish. I know you’re supposed to crush the cup a bit so that it forms a little funnel and that makes it easier to drink the water while running, but I still find it too difficult.
Running back to the finish line, I knew I wasn’t running as fast as I had started, but I still ran as fast I could. I was in pain and thought the entire time that I don’t like running 5Ks anymore because it’s so painful. I’m beginning to be more and more convinced that longer slower runs are more my speed. Another girl had passed me and I was using her to prevent me from slowing down too much. I knew I couldn’t catch up nor keep up with the front pack, but I didn’t want to drift too far back. The turn around point also gave me a good opportunity to see how far back the closest female competitor was. I saw that I had at least a minute on a pair of female runners and there was another minute to maybe a minute and half on the female runner ahead of me. Once again, I was a nomad in this empty space of female runners. Running back was a bit of a chaotic mess because of all the walkers. We were told that we needed to stick to the left side coming back, but that turned out to be impossible. I ran on whichever side didn’t have walkers.
In the final stretch, I could see the race clock declaring 24:40. I panicked a little and feared that I wouldn’t make my goal at the current speed that I was running. So with the unknown kick that I had left in me, I sprinted pell mell for the finish line and along the way, I chicked a male runner. Ben was yelling his head off in excitement because I crossed the finish line just a few steps ahead of the male runner. He asked me if I had noticed him yelling at me to go faster. I confessed that until I saw him after the finish line, I had no idea where he was. My only concern was beating the clock and I wasn’t really thinking of beating the other runner except for the panicked fear that he was in my way of beating the clock. In that state of mind, I was willing to mow him down. Much to my happiness, I crossed the line at 24:52. Yay! I ran my first sub-25 5K.
Ben won the race! He ran a slow, but tactical, race in order to maximize his chances of winning the race outright. During the entire race (except for the first quarter mile where an overly-enthusiastic beginner led), Ben and another male runner led the entire race. Ben prefers to run just behind the leader, but the other runner took that tactic. Ben tried to slow down just a bit to force the other runner to take the lead, but he refused to take the bait. So uncharacteristically, Ben led the entire way. He ran a conservative race, so that in the end he could break away. In the final stretch, he broke the other runner by suddenly taking off. He handily won in 20:05.
The awards ceremony was an utter mess and fiasco. Walk for Wishes doesn’t use chip timing. I’m guessing because it’s too expensive for them. Instead they rely on the old fashioned there’s someone who manually hits a button every time a racer crosses the finish line and another person tears off the bottom portion of the bib. The bibs that Walk for Wishes used were constructed in a way made tearing off the bottom portion cleanly impossible. Many people ended up being unrecorded because the last two numbers of your race number was left on your main bib instead of being ripped off with the rest of the bottom portion. This is what happened to me. Also not all of the runners were aware that the bottom portion had to be taken by a race official.
At the awards ceremony, when they were naming the top three male winners, the guy who won second place was left out all together. Ben suspected that there were problems and tried to intervene. The woman handling the names and the awards said that they would take care of it later. When they announced the winner of my age group, another woman was given the medal. I was really startled because I saw all the women ahead of me and I did not recognize her as one of the women who had passed me. They continued announcing names and the “winning times”, but soon the racers realized that there was a huge problem. With a swarm of people forming around them and complaining that they should have been the one given that medal, the award ceremony came to a halt. Many racers were unrecorded because of the bib problem, which could have prevented had a different type of bib been used or if they had printed the racer’s name on the bottom portion as well as having the number.
I was eventually given my 1st place AG medal and had my time manually recorded. I’m happy about meeting my goal and winning my age group, but I wish I hadn’t been denied the fun of being recognized in front of an audience. A part of the fun of winning is the award ceremony, hearing your name announced, and having people clap for you.
Walk for Wishes is a charity event, but so are many of the races. The race director meant well, but it’s clear that they need to work on being more organized if they wish to put on a better event. I hope they learn from this year’s race. Ben did note that they did fix the major problems from last year’s race and the race director was receptive about hearing from the racers about their experience.
Ben made it into the Star Ledger for winning Walk for Wishes! Yes, he’s wearing a cotton t-shirt. No, we have no idea what he was thinking.