Ya know, you’d think I’d learn my lesson about signing up for long races! 🙂
Back in June, I’d gotten wind of the 2015 Hot Chocolate race series. I’d pondered running this one before, but at the 5k distance, you get a bib, and that’s about it. And anyone who’s followed this blog for a while knows that this kid gets paid to run — I want a medal!
So, to get a medal, it’s a 15k race. And with that, I also got a nice bowl of chocolate (more on that later) and a comfy running jacket. One nice perk was that by signing up early, the jacket would have city-specific stuff embroidered on it. I’m a sucker for swag, so that just made the decision easier. I signed up.
One of the things that really had me questioning my running this race was the pace. The race organizers were advertising that you had a keep a minimum 15min/mi pace. That’s right where I live on a 5k, but across 15k, I wasn’t confident I could keep that up. However, I signed up anyway, figuring that they could sweep me up, or hustle me to the sidewalk. As long as they were still handing out medals and chocolate, I’d get finished, albeit a little behind their desired pace.
In fact, a couple of nights before the race, I got an email from the race folks, titled “A Note About Pace”. They mentioned my slow expected pace, and reminded me that I was projecting to be right at the limit of the course. They weren’t worried, but reminded me that I might not have support on the course at some point, including road closures evaporating, and possibly having to move to the sidewalk. No pressure, eh?
All week, the weather prognosticators had predicted monsoon-like weather… in early December. As it ends up, the big rains held off, although it drizzled and sprinkled through the whole race. However, the temps were in the low 60s, which made for perfect conditions for me.
I did my normal downtown race day routine — up early, drive to the Brentwood MetroLink station, and arrive downtown about 6:30am. There weren’t a lot of folks there, but it did fill in pretty quick. As I was standing in the back of my corral (Corral H — with a sign for No Walkers!), I found someone I’d run with years ago in Fleet Feet’s NoBo program. It was great to catch up, and chit-chat before the race.
The corrals started moving toward the start line, and about twenty minutes after the speed demons hit the course, I was on it as well!
I’d decided to break this course up mentally into 5k segments, much like I did the Route 66 Half last month. I knew if I hit 45 minutes per segment, I’d be right at the course limit. I also recognized that I’d probably slow down during the race, so I targeted about 2:30, thinking that would be close enough to the course limit that I wouldn’t get swept up or have to move to the sidewalks.
I started the first 5k, and kept up with the pack — well, I could see them in front of me. I got passed by a lot of folks in the first mile or so, but I kept running my race. If I were to get caught up in the speed, I’d be setting myself up for some pain down the road. The first 5k was much of the same course I’d run for the Go Halloween race in October, so it was familiar territory, including an incredibly mean run past Pappy’s Smokehouse. Frankly, if you’re gonna have the BBQ pits fired up that early, you should be handing out samples as the runners go by!
I got to the first “sweet station”, and had a couple of chocolate chips and a cup of Gatorade. I suspected that in the Route 66 Half, I drink plenty of water, but wasn’t replenishing my electrolytes. I made a mental note to grab Gatorade wherever I could in this race, knowing that I had plenty of water on my hydration belt.
I got to the split for the 5k course and the 15k course. I’m sure there were plenty of folks that made a game time decision to finish at 5k instead of 15k, but I wanted to do this distance. When the 5k folks peeled off, the course got very lonely, with few people around me.
My first 5k was completed at 49:44, which was about 80 seconds faster than my first 5k in the half. So far, so good.
The second 5k proceeded through downtown, hitting another sweet station. This time, it was strawberry marshmallows and Gatorade… and the place looked like it’d been hit by a swarm of locusts. There were cups and dead marshmallows all over the ground. But, there were people still there, handing out goodies, and I took that to be a good sign, knowing that at some point, I’d likely run past a sweet station with no goodies to hand out, and no one home to cheer us on.
I got to the halfway point, and pretty well on target for the time I wanted to see. It was then that the 15min/mi pacer passed me, followed shortly after by the pacer carrying the “sweeper” sign. I figured my time on the course was about to come to an end, either by moving to the sidewalk so the roads could reopen, or by being picked up in a SAG wagon. I kept trudging on, thinking that if I looked like I was running more than walking, they’d leave me alone.
And every intersection I passed through after that point still had barricades up, and race volunteers cheering me on. It’d stay that way the rest of the race.
I got to the third sweet station, fully expecting them to be exhausted of everything. They weren’t! They must’ve held back some goodies for us slow folks, so I grabbed a handful of M&M’s, some Gatorade, and headed back out.
The course dropped south into Soulard, on roads I’ve never driven before, much less run on. I kept chugging toward the 10k point, which was the turn around to head back toward downtown. I hit that at 1:41:14, a full two minutes faster that the same point in the half, with my time for that 5k only about 51:30. Again, good news.
Once I made the turnaround, I could see the folks that were behind me — and there weren’t many. I saw the running friend from the start of the race, and farther behind, a police escort for the last two folks on the course. It became clear to me that the race organizers were doing their best to keep the course open for the slower runners. This was fantastic to see, and really put a little extra spring in my step.
The chug back toward downtown had one more sweet station — this time chocolate marshmallows and Gatorade — with plenty of folks around cheering us on. The volunteers really made this race special, and they were there all the way to the finish.
My speed was starting to wane, and I walked more than I ran of the last third of the race. I kept getting closer and closer, and made the turn toward the finish line, triumphantly crossing! My time was 2:35 — about five minutes slower than I’d hoped for, which was fine with me. And I was a full five minutes faster than I was at 15k in the half. I was really happy with how I’d run my race, and how well I felt afterwards. I was annihilated after the half, but this time, I was back to “functional” pretty quickly. I have no idea how that would’ve been had I continued on for another 5k, but I suspect it would’ve been better than I felt after Tulsa.
I got my medal — a big one! — and walked toward the chocolate tents to get my bowl of goodies. The custom bowl had a cup of hot chocolate, and a compartment of melted chocolate, along with a banana, Rice Krispie treat, pretzels and a candy cane to dunk in it. This was a great treat, and I gobbled it all down!
All in all, this race was really successful for me. I took some of the things I learned from Tulsa, applied them here, and found some improvement as a result. I don’t know that I’d sign up for another 15k tomorrow, but I can definitely be comfortable knowing that I can tackle that distance, with the right weather and a flat-ish course, and come home a finisher!
This race benefitted Ronald McDonald House Charities of St. Louis.