The weather has been bipolar the past few weeks here in Philadelphia. A few weeks ago, the daffodils and some fruit trees were blooming. Now, they're all frozen. One day, you're running in a singlet and shorts. They next day, you're freezing your assets off. You never know what to expect, and your body can't adjust either way.
I had been watching the forecast all week. Saturday, the day I was scheduled to race my first 5K of the season, the temperature was scheduled to be 22 degrees at gun time. Thanks to 15 MPH winds, it would feel like 17 degrees.
More than anything in the world, I hate to feel cold and I seem to feel it more deeply than most people. I get cold very easily. I've even experienced body-shaking and shivers after snorkeling in 80-degree Caribbean waters – while wearing a long-sleeved rash guard. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to this bitter-cold race. I dreaded the icy temps much more than the burn I would feel while racing.
Because of the conditions, I knew I needed to adjust my expectations. I decided I would just use it as speed work and not worry about a fast time.
Lately for some reason, I've been waking up around 2AM and tossing and turning for 2-3 hours. The night before the race was no exception: I only got about 5 hours of sleep. but luckily, they were quality hours.
The race had an unusually late start time: 2:15PM – so I slept in until 7am. Since the race was out in the 'burbs and conditions were so cruelly cold and windy, I was seriously tempted to skip the 5K and go back to bed. But after a warm, tall soy latte and a piece of toast, I was ready to get my workout in. Not exactly enthused, but ready.
It's hard to figure out what to wear when you are racing in the cold. I decided on light tights, a hat, gloves, a buff and a roubaix compression shirt. Not the most attractive get-up but staying warm while feeling light was my priority. I am still loving my Nike Air Zoom Elites – light but supportive. I also packed plenty of warm-up clothing – including a puffer jacket, GoreTex shell, sweatshirt and sweat pants, plus a fresh hat and mittens to change into after the race.
I parked in a cul-de-sac as requested by the race directors. By this time, my tummy was rumbling so I ate a banana in the car. It was a 10-minute walk to the race. Luckily, the start was at a strip mall, so I wandered in and out of some shops to keep warm and even used the Trader Joe's rest room.
I had planned on taking more photos for this post. I took 1 photo then my phone died from the cold. I decided earlier in the week to run this race without music – and it was a good decision since my phone went kaput. Immediately after, the strong winds blew over a vendor's large tent, and it started careening into the road, heading for cars and people. Luckily no one was hurt.
Since it was so cold, warm-up time couldn't come soon enough. I ran 3 slow miles in the parking area behind the strip mall and threw in some strides at the end. Then I did dynamic warm ups – leg kicks, cariocas, etc. The first warm-up mile was worrying. My muscles felt incredibly tight, almost as if they would snap. Of course, this was due to the extreme cold, so I just kept telling myself to have patience and keep moving. By the second mile, I felt a little looser, and by mile 3, looser still but nowhere near normal. Luckily there was a gear check nearby, so I kept dropping off layers as I warmed up.
I was not feeling optimistic about the impending race. I stood with a few other runners behind a building in the sun, which provided a bit of shelter from the blasting-cold winds. We made small talk and joked about the weather.
"Definitely not a PR day," I said. "More like a BRrrrrr day."
Pretty soon it was time to line up.
I chose this race because I wanted to run a low-key 5K and because the course description said it was "fast and mostly flat." There was no elevation map on the site, but I took their word for it. An 8K started 5 minutes before the 5K, and then inexplicably, just 1 minute before the 5K start, a bunch of runners with strollers went off. I still don't understand the logic of the stroller placement.
The 5K started right on time. (And if it hadn't, I think all of the chilly runners would have staged a revolution!)
Mile 1 took us through a development with plenty of room to run the tangents. It was a marked downhill. Since it was an out-and-back course, I made a mental note about encountering the uphill on the final mile. I decided negative splits were not an appropriate tactic and hit the gas. Mile 1 split: 6:52
Around the beginning of mile 2, the course proceeded uphill, narrowed and became super clogged as the front-of-packers caught up with the slower 8K runners and stroller runners. It was like an obstacle course: super-difficult to navigate when you're going at a fast clip. I threaded the needle between runners when I could, shouting "Coming through!" before doing so. In some places, the path was so backed up that I had no choice but to run around the clusters of runners. So much for running the tangents.
After the turnaround, navigating this crowded segment of the course was even trickier because hoards of slower runners were running toward you, and not yet fully realizing the front-of-packers were about to plow through at a fast clip. The path was probably 5-feet wide at its biggest point. Runners were all over and not sticking to one side. Eventually, two distinct paths developed but it was dicey for awhile. Mile 2 split: 6:58
Mile 3 included a bit of downhill but I was started to feel tired. Plus, since I was running sans headphones, I could hear my labored breathing which always sounds worse than hearing someone else's. Just as the final uphill started, I passed a girl with gorgeous red, curly hair. She yelled "good job!" as I passed her which I thought was so sweet. It made up for the lady who elbowed me and many others in the last race I ran. I managed a breathless, "You, too!" back at her.
As I turned the corner to the finish, I tried to kick it home but was spent. Literally just as I was about to cross the line, the redhead passed me and beat me by 1 second. Doh! That's the 5K for you – seconds count. We crossed the line then we hugged, congratulated each other and caught our breath. Then she hugged me again. The fact that she was only 16 and was so damn sweet took some of the sting out of her beating me. Mile 3 split: 6:59
I finished in 21:36/6:56 pace, 6th woman overall, 14th runner overall of 307; first in my 50-54 age group (by more than 4 minutes) and first master's woman. Somehow, I managed to squeak out a 5-second PR, totally unexpected and a nice surprise.
So much for my proclamation about it not being a PR day. In this case, I think my lackadaisical attitude actually helped me run calmly in the cold. I'm so glad that I got out of my warm bed to run this very cold race.
Race review: The good
- Well organized race. Great volunteers.
- Option to pick up your bib the night before. Though, I picked mine up on race day without a hitch
- Well-marked course. Extra signage alerted runners to several bright yellow speed bumps on the course unlike other races I've run.
- Interesting post-race grub – way beyond your usual bananas and soft pretzels. They offered beer (which I didn't drink; not a fan), Clif and Luna bars, hot chocolate (which I grabbed just to keep my hands warm), thin-crust pizza, a whole-grain health salad, a decadent dessert parfait, popcorn, and of course, water.
- T shirts came in women's sizes and cuts (but alas, still no elusive XS)
- Fun St Patrick's Day theme race: Prizes were offered for best costumes and many runners participated. One guy ran in a kilt (Brrr!). Many ladies work tutus and clover antenna headbands.
- Unique clover medal: in line with the St. Patrick's Day theme
- Great prizes. Cash prizes and gift cards for top 3 winners; green pint glasses for age group winners.
- Gear check courtesy of Nolan Painting. Always a positive thing. The guys who manned it were super nice.
- Clean porta potties. I didn't see any lines until right before the start, which is normal.
Race review: The not-so-good
- Ridiculously clogged course. The fact that the 8K runners and stroller runners went off just minutes before the 5K runners made for an unnecessarily crowded course. This could have been remedied simply adding more time between the respective start times. Dodging all those runners and strollers was challenging, dangerous, and, to be frank, annoying.
- Misleading description. This course is neither mostly flat nor fast.