Saturday, May 4, 2013

Another 5k race mess

Dallas is a great place to live as a runner as there are tons of different race series and training programs to choose from.  Most weekends there are at least half a dozen area 5ks to choose from.  Sometimes you choose well, sometimes not. 

I've said it before, I'm not sure why I do any races in the Mellew series any more. 

The last one in that series I did was a donut themed run earlier this year that delayed the start by more than 20 minutes just because they wanted to maximize their profits.  It was very frustrating.  I wasn't going for a PR, since I wasn't in shape for it, I was running with a friend, and I was stopping at all 5 donut stations on the course.  But still, you plan what and when you eat, when you pee, when you warm-up, everything, based on an on-time start.  When they screw with that, nothing good comes of it. 

And you can read about what happened a couple weeks ago at the series' full and half marathon this year here according to Kim -- the lead car took an early wrong turn, adding about a mile to both the half and full courses.  I had a friend who was pacing the 3:45 group and he ended up with 27.36 miles in 3:48.  He threw in a few miles around a 7:55-8:00 pace to attempt to make up for the extra distance, but it wasn't enough.  So frustrating. 

And those are just from two of their three local races so far this year.  I've done their races other years and experienced other past disasters -- last minute course changes, starts delayed more than an hour, 50% unstaffed water stops in a full marathon because most volunteers didn't show (that was maybe 2008?), and just a general lack of organization.  But sometimes I go back to these races -- either they have good calendar spots when I need a race, or a friend really wants to do it, or something sounds like a fun theme.  But there is nearly always some issue with the race that makes me regret it. 

Given that history, I had low expectations for the series' 5k vineyard run that was set for this weekend. 

But personally, I had relatively high expectations.  Last weekend's 5k was 30 seconds off a PR and it was in the mid- to upper-60s and humid, and the course was pretty hilly.  And this week, I had a personal record on my commute to work, but aside from that, I took it easy on my legs and slept in a couple days.  And most of all, there is a freak cold front in town.  Yesterday was into the 40s, and the race start was going to be in the 40s (or so I thought, it was actually 54, but still 10 degrees better than last weekend). 

I got there early and got my packet, met some friends, and warmed up.  For my warmup, I like to run the last mile or so of the race so I know what to expect. 

This course is best summarized in two words:  u-turns and hills.  Neither of those are good words to be associated with a 5k. 

In attempting to run the last mile, because of the course design, I also ran about the first half of the second mile (there was a lot of overlap).  So at least I knew what to expect:

An incline of about 55 feet in less than a quarter mile right at the start of mile 2.  And then another 65 feet in a less than a quarter mile mid-way through mile 3. 

I didn't know what the rest of the course held, but those two things made me fairly certain I couldn't expect much from my performance.  I am very strong on downhills and very weak on uphills.  Most runners are average on both, or at least average on downhills.  But I think I am exceedingly strong and weak at hills. 

After my warm-up, I realized it was substantially warmer than I expected. 

I'd decided to wear my running skirt (only second time since I got it for Christmas, and I still feel totally ridiculous when I wear it), and my sleeveless team running shirt, along with arm-warmers and gloves.  I had an earband in the car, but I figured that wouldn't be necessary.

After the warm-up, I ditched the arm sleeves.  And then in line to start, I realized we still had a few minutes (assuming an on-time start, which I was reluctant to do), I decided I didn't need the gloves.  One great thing about the race was that I'd gotten there early to get my packet (the packet pick-up options were only on Friday and horribly inconvenient), so I'd gotten great parking.  I decided to dart over to my car and ditch my gloves.  Very smart! 

I lined up fairly near the front and to my surprise, we started right on time! 

If that picture works, we started at the green dot, turned west, u-turned, ran southeast, u-turned, then made a turn back onto the street where we'd started.  We ran past the starting line on the other side of the street, then we made a right turn. 
That was the first big hill.  Up until that point, the course had been amazingly flat -- but with two u-turns, still not exactly fast. 
We made the right turn onto Hughes Rd, ran up and down the hill, then we made a right to run south again.  Pretty flat but we were running toward another u-turn.  Enough already! 
We turned around and ran north, passing mile marker 2 and then hitting a couple smaller hills.  At the very top of the map, we made a left turn to go south again.  We were running in a neighborhood and we hit the most bizarre part of the course -- we essentially ran on a sidewalk between two houses and into a parking lot that was basically in their backyard.  It was so strange!  A bit more of a hill, then a right turn back onto Hughes Rd -- which meant up the big hill again.  Then it was all downhill to the finish line. 
My first flat mile was 4 seconds ahead of PR pace.  My second mile with the first steep hill (about 55 feet in a quarter mile) was 4 seconds slower than PR pace.  So at that point, I was right on track. 
But I didn't have enough left in the tank.  Mile 3 had a couple hills, including the steep hill again (65 feet in a quarter mile going up the back of it and a bit in the neighborhood), so I was about 25 seconds slower than PR pace.  Even with an awesome downhill last half mile, I couldn't pull it together.
This is what my pace data looked like (higher is faster, lower is slower):
You can see that the pace takes a sharp dip pretty early, at a u-turn, and then there's another V at the second u-turn.  Then it gradually goes slower and slower approaching the first third or so climbing the hill, but then I pick it up and stay steady.  There's a sharp drop toward the middle for the last u-turn, and again, it stays relatively steady until I hit the cliff right around 3/4 of the way done -- that was that final 65 foot climb and the pace was sad, sad, sad...
I think I ended up finishing about 3 seconds faster than last weekend, but that's still nearly 30 seconds off my 5k PR, which is now getting very old! 
But hmm, there's something weird about that last sentence, particularly given that the race was this morning and it's now after 2:00.  Why on earth would I say I "think" I ended up about 3 seconds faster?
Oh yeah, because it's a Mellew race.  Turns out that all those u-turns weren't a good idea not just because they slow you down so much.  The course design meant we ran back past the starting line about .8 miles after we'd started.  Well, the timing device somehow picked us up again at that point.
So I hung out with friends after the race.  They had a really fun jazz band playing and there were 4 different kinds of wine to taste.  We were taking pictures and just enjoying ourselves.  I was a little puzzled they hadn't posted results yet, but I wasn't worried.  
But I definitely wanted to stay -- the AG awards were wine glasses, and I thought that was kind of unique and fun.  And I thought I had a decent chance of placing in my age group.  Finally about 2 hours after the race had started, they made the annoucement about the timing system malfunction.  So apparently, they're going to sort it out, will post the results when they can, and will mail the AG awards. 
Again, why would I have expected anything else with one of these races?  If the race logistics are okay through the race, of course there would be a problem after the race.  And I definitely didn't love the hills, but it's not really fair to complain about that just because I'm a sucky hill runner. 
But this time, I really swear off these races!   


  1. Typical Mellew! :( All those U-turns sound horrific! And I can't believe they messed up yet another race. So disappointing! I have two more races with them this summer and then I'm swearing Mellew off too! Despite it all, congrats on your race! Fingers crossed that you placed!

  2. I'm frustrated just reading your race report. What a horrible experience for you. I live in a very hilly area which definitely helps me during races. Congratulations on your race anyway. I'm curious to know if you placed in your age group even with all the confusion.