How to Get First Place at Walk for Wishes 5K

Walk_for_WishesName of the race: Walk for Wishes 5K

Where: Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ

Date: Oct 20, 2013

Time: 10:00 am

Distance: 3.1 miles

Terrain: Flat road race through the paths of Liberty State Park

Entry fee:
Early Registration – $25 by 10/11
USATF-NJ Member –$20 by 10/11
Walk up registration – $30

Swag: Cotton t-shirt

Post-race Food: Bagles, cream cheese, kettle potato chips, and granola/cereal bars

Time: 24:22

Performance:Overall 31/251; Age (F 30-39) 1/22 — 1st AG place

Weather: 54 degrees and 54% humidity

Last Sunday’s race was the second race of that weekend. I did a 10K on Saturday and then did this 5K on Sunday. I would have pictures of this event, but my IPhone is thoroughly dead. Walk for Wishes 5K was the first race since Pain to Paine last year where my main goal wasn’t time-based. Normally I race to PR, however, this time my A goal was to finish without throwing up at the end and my B goal was to PR by breaking 24 minutes. I accomplished the A goal!

We did Walk for Wishes last year, which was a big mess because of the bib/timing problems. We approached this year’s race wondering what we would find. Much to our relief and surprise, big improvements! Because of the damage from Hurricane Sandy, the 5K route in Liberty State Park goes through the park on different pathways, rather than the straight out-and-back along the water that we did last year.

There was a little bit of excitement before the race. It was supposed to start at 10 am, but it was delayed. It wasn’t as bad as last year, but we weren’t sure when the race was actually going to start. This made warming up a bit difficult. When it finally looked like the race was starting relatively soon, Ben and I started our warm ups. I was more conservative  and went back and forth for some yards in front of the start line. Ben went out farther to do our usual warm up. It was a good thing that I stuck close to the start line, because as soon as Ben was out of ear shot, a guy walked up and announced the race was about to start. I panicked because Ben was nowhere near us and was still running OUT. I frantically yelled out, “No! No! You can’t start. Ben is still out warming up.” Ben and I race frequently in and around Jersey City, so several runners recognized us from previous races. They recognized that Ben often places in these races, so they helped me out by yelling that the race had to be delayed for another few minutes. Finally Ben leisurely returned (he had no idea that we were holding the race for him until I told him) and we were off!

The only thing that I don’t like about this 5K route in Liberty State Park is the small gravel section. When I was slower, the gravel path didn’t bother me. Now that I’m faster, I find the softer and more moveable surface slows me down more. I moved over to the side to run on the trampled grass.

I know that most people don’t run with water for a 5K. It’s a short distance. There’s a water stop halfway through the course. There’s really no need to carry water. But I like carrying a small bottle (I take a small bottle from an unused fuel belt) because my mouth tends to dry out when I’m running really hard. I like to take small sips to moisten my mouth, which psychologically makes running at a fast pace more comfortable for me. It turned out that it was a good thing that I carried by small water bottle because the water stop had only unopened bottles of water. All the runners in front of me stared incredulously and ignored the bottles being held out by volunteers. When you’re running quickly, trying to to open a bottle is ludicrous.

Nell was out doing a long run, but she stopped for a half hour to cheer for us and our friends at a few different locations on the course. It was a really lovely surprise hearing my name being called out during the race.

I found the organization of the race much better this year. There were several volunteers to direct the runners at each turn. I never felt confused or lost. Finally I made the last turn and I saw the finish line. There were a couple women in front of me, but I didn’t have it in me to chase them down. My official time was 24:22, which is the second fastest 5K time. I didn’t throw up in the end, and you have no idea how happy I was about that. And it turned out to be good enough for first place in my age group.

Ben met up with me and told me about the excitement surrounding the top three runners, which included him. Ben’s usual race strategy in races where he has a good chance of winning outright is to hang back a bit and draft off the front runners. He was running in third position. The two forerunners accidentally missed a sign on the course and turned early. Ben knows the course and knew they were now off-course. He yelled at them, but they didn’t hear him and continued running on. He chased them down and informed them that they were off course. The question is at this point what do you do? You don’t have much time to think about to do.

Ben decided that they were far enough off-course at this point that it didn’t make sense to go back on course. He decided that they should just run to the finish line and have their times adjusted for the shortened distance. So the three of them fought it out for first place and Ben was the first to cross the finish line. The runner who came in fourth (on the full course) came in over 20 minutes, which made it clear that the first three runners would have handily beaten him on the full course. Ben won Walk for Wishes for the second year in a row.

Our friend Ilya’s daughter entered her first race and ended up winning first for her age group (under 14)! Not to mention, she ran an incredible time of just over 25 minutes. She’s an amazing athlete and we were all so proud of her.

After the race, several of us discussed what we would have done if we had been in that position of seeing runners go off-course and we were part of the lead pack. I would have yelled at the racers who were off-course that they were off-course and continued running on the correct course without waiting for them. One of our friends thought that it was the racers’ responsibility to stay on-course and he wouldn’t have bothered to let them know. Ben didn’t want to be a jerk and complain to the race director that the other two racers should have been disqualified for running off course when it was clear that it was an unintended mistake. One of the guys was far more magnanimous than us. He said that he would have let the forerunners know that they were off-course and then he would have waited for them to come back and get back in front of him before continuing the race. This is Tour de France race ethics. It’s not clear what the right thing to do is, especially in the heat of the moment.

What would you have done if you had been in Ben’s position?

8 thoughts on “How to Get First Place at Walk for Wishes 5K

  1. Ben did the right thing. He certainly didn’t have an obligation to let them know they were off course, but it was the right thing to do for sure. It’s the race director’s responsibility to have the course clearly marked and make sure runners know where they’re going–not the runners responsibility. Especially since many small 5Ks don’t publish the course ahead of time. I’ve run some where I show up having no idea what the course is going to look like. Phil has had this issue too at small local races. He’s often the first or second runner going out and is always afraid that he’ll make a wrong turn. Kudos to Ben. I hope you gave him a pat on the back! And congrats on your great run too!

    • Thanks! Ben appreciates your support.

      Not being fast enough to be ever have the problem of worrying about getting lost is one of the few blessings of being a slower runner compared to our speedy partners.

      The race director did his best to have everything clearly marked and he had a ton of volunteers directing us. He actually went over the course several times the day before to figure out where people needed to be. Still the best laid plans and all that . . .

  2. Hi afastpacedlife,

    I enjoy reading your blog but I respectfully disagree with the way this was handled. As a participant, I want to point out some facts that were left out of the original post (some of these items were addressed as an added comment but may be missed by those who do not look at the comment section).

    1) All registered participants were emailed the race map a few days before the race.
    2) There were volunteers guiding the runners through the course at all turns
    3) Out of 251 runners, only 4 did not run the official course

    I was with a bunch of runners who thought that Ben, along with the other 3 runners would not be placed in the overall standings. This was our rationale:

    The top 4 runners “completed” the race in under 10 minutes. We were told as a group that they ran only half the course and the other half would be estimated to give them an overall time. As runners, we knew this was an inaccurate way of estimating total time. An example: I can run a 6 minute mile for one mile and use up all my energy but I cannot do that for 3 miles – (which is about an 18 minute 5k).

    The 5th place runner ran the full course in 20 minutes. You say that Ben and the other runners who did not run the official course would have finished in under 20 minutes. I don’t think you would lie about that but the majority of the other runners don’t know that. It is just as likely that Ben and others could have used up all their energy in the 1.5 miles that they ran. We cannot “assume” based on half the information.

    At the end of the day, it is a local charity race and it does not matter much. However, to those who compete and are looking for a fair competition, this was not handled fairly as in the top 4 runners, who did not run the entire course, placed 1-4. No penalization for not running the entire course.

    • Thanks for writing your concerns. Different people would have handled the situation differently. I wrote in my post that I would have handled it differently from Ben. The race director was aware of the situation and it was his call on how to handle it. I hope you expressed your concern and opinion to him.

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