The sun rolled out from behind the clouds for a mid-morning (10:30am!) start time out in Maryland at the Package-Handler-That-Supports-The-NRA Field, home of the Washington They-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named Professional Football Team. Murat, Nick, Steven, and Geordie gave a reprise of their bachelor party 5K performance and joined me for the race!
Still dealing with my foot injuries, I wasn’t sure what to expect for this race. My fitness doesn’t feel great, but I hoped I could surprise myself run around a 6:15/mile pace.
The race was a small part of a much larger event to celebrate the NFL Draft. Why that is an event worth celebrating is beyond me.
That meant that there would be a lot of non-runners there and given last year’s slow finish times, a 6:15/mile pace could make for a Top 5 Overall finish. Last year’s winning time was peculiarly slow for a 5K….. I wonder why…..
1) Don’t reaggravate injury ✓/X
2) Run a 6:15/mile pace X/?
3) Finish top 5 X
Nick, Murat, and I arrived with plenty of time to check in. We knew that the course was an odd one, featuring a handful of switchbacks through the stadium parking lot before entering the stadium itself and finishing on the field:
What we didn’t expect? The hilliest parking lot ever. Apparently, this part of Maryland borders the Eastern Himalayas because there was not a single part of the race that was not on some sort of incline and sideways slope.
Murat would be be going for the win… this threw him off.
We were soon joined by Geordie and Steven and had a good chunk of time to warm up. Nick enjoyed a carb-laden waffle and Steven pounded some Run Gum while we got on our gear and stretched.
We headed to the start… where we met our first obstacle. The start of the race funneled everyone through a giant inflatable football helmet. The 20-foot-wide starting line widdled down to about five feet wide. Great.
Couple that with a handful of overly-ambitious youngsters who jumped to the very front of the start line and it was a bit of a mess…. but wait! There’s more!
Just before the start, the wife of the Washington They-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named Professional Football Team’s terrific owner, Dan Snyder, and a few of her friends (?) were placed in the very front to create a photo opportunity. It was decided that they would start the race too before trying to jet off to the side. Awesome.
The gun fired, everyone crashed through the helmet and almost into a photographer who decided it would be a useful/safe idea to camp out in the very middle of the road just beyond the helmet-funnel, and finally we were off.
Murat jumped out with a pack at the front while I did my best not to trample any children and also not go out too fast. After a few too-tight turns, I saw about 12 folks ahead of me. I knew I could take a chunk of them who had definitely gone out too quickly.
It was clear that this course was going to be a mess. Several runners almost took a wrong turn early. It was unclear whether or not we were supposed to run inside or outside a set of cones. (Usually, you run outside).
At about a half-mile, a few runners faded.
I kept cruising. My GPS watched beeped one-mile a good deal ahead of where the 1-mile marker was placed: 5:58.
Much quicker than I had wanted… but I didn’t feel too bad. Maybe I could chase a six-minute pace?
Mile two was hilly and I focused on using the uphill zigzags to pass runners who were fading. I tried to maintain a similar pace and did pretty well… at least, I thought I did. My watched beeped again: Mile two was 6:14. Okay, so there was a good deal of uphill there, not too bad.
….but the second mile marker was positioned a solid 30 seconds later. Maybe my GPS is just being screwy because of all the zigzagging?
One nice thing about the course was that I could see the entire field of runners. Murat was trading the lead with another runner and then left him behind a little ways into mile three. That fired me up.
I was feeling tired but reasonably strong. My foot was a bit uncomfortable but the pain was manageable at that pace.
I passed a few more runners, now knowing I was comfortably in the top 10. I felt like I could chase a sub-19min 5K (about 6:07/mile pace) as we approached the entrance to the stadium.
I look at my watch: 18:24. Hmm. That’s slow.
Nobody is within 40m of me and I’m a good 30m behind the nearest runner. I have some energy and can pick it up for a final kick, perhaps enough to catch that runner if he begins to show sign of fatigue. We must be near the finish line, right?
We navigate through the stadium and I assume we’ll soon turn onto the turf for a final sprint. We keep going. This isn’t what it said on the course map…
Instead, we have to loop down and around several long walking-ramps underneath the stadium. My watch says I’ve passed the 19min barrier and there is definitely quite a bit left to run. Suddenly dawns on me: This course has been measured wrong.
Knowing that I can’t break 19 minutes, I focus on not getting passed and I cruise through the last bit of the race. We finally emerge through the tunnel and onto the field. The finish line is just ahead and the clock ticks past 20 minutes.
I’m tried, clearly. But not exhausted.
I see Murat ahead: he won!
He is pleased with the win but understandably frustrated. “That course was definitely long.”
I look at my watch: it confirms our suspicions. We calculate that the course was potentially as much as one-fifth of a mile too long.
Well, that sucks.
Still – I’m pretty pleased with how I ran and insanely psyched that Murat was finally the Overall First Male! He ran a tactically perfect race – not letting the leader get ahead, not letting the hills get to him, and taking off when the time was right before shutting it down with plenty of room to spare.
My finish was good for 6th/1742! Steven and Geordie ran strong, tough races and finished within striking distance of one another at 28th/29th in the men’s category (out of 843 men, 34/36 overall out of 1742). Nick started out too fast but still managed to hang on for a solid 28:50 (equivalent to a 13:21 for an actual 5K distance…).
We stuck around for a bit to watch Murat collect his award and snap some photos.
Overall, we were quite annoyed with the course (even if it had been the correct distance, the course was miserable). Still, the event was a decent sign for my fitness and goal of running next week’s 10K in sub-40 and it was all worth it to see Murat crash the tape.
Very pleased that Nick, Geordie, Steven, and Murat were able to join me… but I probably won’t be running this race again.