My training plan called for a 15k race this past weekend. Now, 15ks are not a particularly common race distance. They pop up now and again, but it’s not like a 5k or 10k where there will almost certainly be one within driving distance on any given weekend during the summer. So when I started looking for a race, I figured I’d find a 10k to do and supplement that 10k with an extra three miles or so on my own.
However, to my surprise, I found an even stranger distance than a 15k. There was a 12k being put on by the South Davis Recovery Club. The Cell to Well 12k is a fundraiser that the club puts on every summer to help raise money. It starts at the Davis County Jail to represent the (literal or figurative) imprisonment of addiction and finishes at the club’s headquarters to symbolize their journey to and through recovery. It’s always nice when selfish interests (i.e. racing) line up with charitable causes.
12k is just under 7.5 miles. Looking at my paces in my two most recent timed runs (my half marathon and the 5k in my sprint triathlon), I decided on my goals for the race. I knew that I wouldn’t be performing at my best because I’m in the middle of a hard training cycle focused on very long distances. However, I knew I had retained at least some speed based on my performance in my sprint triathlon a couple of weeks ago.
A-goal—57:00 (7:38/mile pace)
B-goal—58:30 (7:50/mile pace)
I didn’t know what to expect for this race. I guessed that it would be quite small, and with small races, things like course length accuracy, course marking, and aid stations can be quite spotty. However, since it was only about 7.5 miles and I was racing for a workout, I wasn’t too worried about these aspects of it and decided to just play it by ear.
Rob and I got to the start a little before 7:00am. They didn’t have any bathrooms there (oops!). Fortunately, there was a grocery store just a quarter mile or so away, so Rob and I walked over there so I could use their bathroom. After we got back, I picked up my t-shirt and number and asked a few logistical questions about the course. The woman told me that there would be mile markers, aid stations every two miles, and that the course was well-marked. I took a look at a sketched map of the course route, and it was blessedly simple. I took note of the two roads that I would turn onto (Jennings and 400 West) and then headed out for a jog to warm up. I actually ran back over to the grocery store to use the bathroom again. I tried to warm up longer than usual for this race. It was still probably only a ten minute jog and a few build-ups, but that’s more than I usually do.
Everyone at the start was very friendly and welcoming. There were probably only 20-30 people doing the 12k option (the 5k option started elsewhere). Rob and I discussed who the winners would be. I thought Tattoo Guy looked really strong, but Rob thought America (a guy with flag running shorts) was going to take it easily. I chatted a bit with a girl who was going into 10th grade and getting ready to run cross-country for the first time. It was fun to see someone right at the beginning of their running career, excited and still a little unsure of how everything worked.
The race start was very low-key. We gathered up in a group and one of the volunteers counted down and then said “GO!” We took off. I focused on taking it easy at first. I was running by feel, and I know that I tend to go out to fast when I start a race. A few guys shot ahead of me, including Tattoo Guy and America. I was lead woman from the start which I kind of expected. Most of the folks at the start were casual runners (or, rather, more casual than I am), and while I try not to take someone’s appearance as the end-all assumption for how they will perform, in this case, it turned out to be accurate. I focused on my body for the first part of the race—staying on my toes, thinking about my breathing, being conscious of my arm position. The guys ahead of me continued to open the gap, and I was essentially running alone after the first half mile or so (though I could still see the guys in the distance). Once my watch hit 7:00, I started keeping an eye out for the first mile marker. I didn’t see it. Finally, after my watch hit 8:30, I knew I had either missed it or it hadn’t existed. I suspect the latter, and the fact that I didn’t see a mile marker the entire race lends credence to that suspicion. So I decided to run by time. I knew I wanted to finish in 57 minutes. I knew it wouldn’t take me much longer than an hour, even if I totally blew up. So I used that as my measure of how much further I had to run and how close I was to the finish. (I did see an aid station at what was probably the two-mile mark. I hit it right about 15 minutes in so, although I didn’t know exactly how accurate the aid station placement was, I knew I was close to pace and was reassured that I hadn’t started off way too fast.)
Around twenty minutes into the race, I approached what looked like a long, steep hill. Looking back at the course profile after mapping it out, I suspect that this hill was partly an optical illusion. It turns out, I had been running downhill, so the sudden uphill that I was approaching appeared that much steeper in contrast. I didn’t want to burn myself out on the hill, so I took it slow and steady. I dropped my speed a bit but focused on my arms and on staying on my toes. The climb was over before I knew it.
I was just getting into a groove after climbing the hill when I glanced up and noticed the street name for the street I was crossing: Jennings! I was supposed to turn here! I looked over and did see a poster with an arrow pointed to the right. Not exactly what I would consider “well-marked,” but it was marked. I veered to the right to make the turn. Up until that point, I had been able to see one lone male runner in front of me. I was almost certain he hadn’t made the turn. I was on the lookout for the next (and last) turn because I knew it happened pretty quickly. Sure enough, I saw the road easily and turned onto the “homestretch.” (I was only about halfway through the race at this point).
I started struggling to keep my pace up fairly early on, around forty minutes in. I had been expecting to see an aid station around four miles in, and not having that marker of my progress was a big disappointing. Also, looking at the course profile after the fact reveals that the final miles of the race were uphill on a false flat. At this point, I was just focusing on keeping my pace steady and was looking forward to hitting that 57-58 minute mark that would bring about the end of the race. I knew I had slowed down some, but I felt like I was still keeping a solid pace. I received some encouragement when I passed the group of runners getting ready to start the 5k option in the park. It was a pleasant surprise to suddenly hear people cheering for me (and to get confirmation I was going in the right direction!). My watch said I was closer than three miles to the finish, so I suspected the 5kers looped around the park a bit before heading to the finish line (I’m pretty sure I was right on this). However, there was a bit of confusing signage, so I had to double back ten yards or so to make sure I was going in the right direction.
Around 45 minutes, I was struck with a great fear. What if the course was long?! I balanced that out by reminding myself that it was equally likely the course was short. I knew that in either case, I couldn’t control it, so I just kept running. I was running through city streets now, and it was getting warmer. For the next ten minutes, I just kept running. I finally saw another aid station and did take a little water from this one. My body didn’t need it, but I was feeling thirsty and knew I’d be a bit more comfortable after some water.
Since I was on a straight stretch, I knew I’d be able to see the finish at any minute. I saw some orange up ahead. I thought it might be finish line stuff, and I was disappointed as it came into focus and I saw it was simply construction. Then, right past the construction, I thought I saw some red and bright yellow shirts. There had been a large group of folks wearing red shirts at the start, and the race t-shirts were yellow, so I was hopeful that I was approaching the finish. I picked it up and I wasn’t disappointed. I was nearing the finish, and I was pleased to be well under 57 minutes. I was almost certain I’d finish just under 57, so I kept the pace up and did my best to sprint into the parking lot where the finish was located.
When I ran into the parking lot, though, I didn’t see anything that looked like a finish line. I yelled out, “Where’s the finish?!” but I didn’t get an answer. Since I had entered the parking lot and passed the “chute” of caution tape, I assumed I was done, so I stopped my watch and slowed to a stop. Then someone yelled, “You need to run to the trucks!” I looked up and saw a couple of trucks set up. So I ran to them instead… for an “official” finish time of 57:03, just shy of my A-goal. I lost at least 5 seconds from the false finish and probably 30 when I had to backtrack to make sure I was still on the (not well-marked!) course. Needless to say, as casual as this race was for me, I was frustrated about missing out on my A-goal because of organizational efforts. But because it was such a casual race, I was able to put it behind me pretty quickly.
I was the first woman (and the third person) to finish the 12k. Tattoo Guy won, and America did indeed miss the turn. He came in quite a while later going quite slowly. I’m not sure if he blew up or just ended up running a lot of extra distance. I think the second place guy also missed the turn, but he came back on course by taking a later turn without running (much?) extra. For what it’s worth, when I mapped out the course at home later, it came up a little long at 7.52 miles. That doesn’t take into account tangents, of course, but considering this race was mostly a straight-shot, I wouldn’t be surprised if the course was a bit long, even if I ran the tangents perfectly. So, for a (possibly) slightly long course, a few time penalties because of organizational issues, and a net elevation gain, I think I did alright.
I stuck around, and they actually had some good food at the finish. They had a large selection of fruit and some sandwiches. I wasn’t feeling up to eating the sandwiches, but I really enjoyed the fruit. They waited a long time to hand out awards, but hanging out wasn’t too bad, even for someone anti-social like myself. Since it was a fundraiser for a recovery club, I knew that there were a lot of changed lives in that parking lot, and it was uplifting to see that group celebrating their own recoveries and raising funds to help others recover as well.
Since I finished third overall, I won a pretty sweet gift basket. The basket had quite a few gift certificates amounting up to approximately $60-$75 dollars. Most of those were to stores or restaurants up in Bountiful which is 20-30 minutes away from Salt Lake City, but I will take the time to go up and redeem those within the next couple of months or so.
Overall, this was a fun race and well worth running. Based on this report, it’s probably obvious that it did fall prey to some of the typical issues with small races, such as a poorly marked course and some questionable organization (no bathrooms at the start and no clearly marked finish line). That’s the risk you take with small races, though, and I think as long as you know to expect that, it’s not a problem. I went into this race looking for an opportunity to push myself hard at a specific distance, and that’s exactly what I got, so my experience with it was definitely positive. Had I wanted to PR at a distance or achieve some other important mark, I would have signed up for a larger race that I knew would have mile markers, an easy-to-follow course, etc.
Place: 1st woman, 3rd overall