I said it last year, and I’ll say it again today: I love racing 5Ks. They’re short and fast and fun and the minute you’re ready to barf, you’re across the finish line — and at that point, it’s probably only like 9:30 AM.
Granted, I didn’t quite race a 5K this morning. But I did race a 5.3K! Let’s discuss.
A few days ago, my New Jersey buddy Ashley told me she was running a local 5K and bullied me into signing up with her. (“Bullied me into signing up” was basically her saying, “Hey, I’m going to do this race, you should do it!” And then me just forwarding her my registration confirmation. I’m a hard sell, clearly.)
So I signed up knowing nothing except that it was called the Cranford Cougar Dash 5K.
Small-town racing is great for many reasons. I’m used to these large-scale New York Road Runners races in New York City, which are so great and flawlessly executed. But it was kind of nice to just drive up to the start, find a parking spot no problem, and get to use heated, very clean public restrooms before the race. (Which I did. Twice.)
There’s not a whole lot to say about the pre-race shenanigans: I grabbed my bib, found Ashley, and set out on a two-mile warm-up jog around the park. I pretty immediately realized I was over-dressed, but chose to do nothing about it, even though I had a change of clothes in the car. YOLO!
Then it was time to line up at the start, which wasn’t so much a start line with a timing mat as it was just an actual crack in the sidewalk. No corrals, no suggested places to line up. Just “stand behind this crack.” So we did, and the race peoples explained that they’d had to make some last-minute changes to the course because of flooding, so NBD just follow the lead bicycle.
For what it’s worth, I never saw a lead bicycle. But there may have been one. I’ll never know! Until I see official race photos!
The race started and I was right at the front. There were lots of kids, and that’s cute, but I wanted to put forth a solid effort, so I dodged them while knowing not to try and keep up with Ashley. I knew I’d tap into that part of my brain early on that would say, “You can totally keep up with her,” but that part of my brain would be LOL-ing and crying .7 miles in. So I did my own thing.
I covered up my watch so I could run off effort, and it reminded me of how much I love running without numbers.
But then things got…confusing.
The lead “pack” was pretty spread out. There were two really fast dudes who were out of my sight immediately, then Ashley and another woman, then a few guys, and then me. I decided I would try to keep Tall Blue Shirt Guy in my sight, not for pacing but because I had no idea where I was going.
We were instructed to do a loop of the pond…and then another loop…and then a third loop. And that’s when I gathered that something wasn’t quite right. I was pretty sure we did one loop too many, because by the time we finished the third loop and were directed out onto the street for the rest of the race, I was in the middle of a massive pack of people who were not going my pace at all.
But I just kept running, because I was like, “Hey, maybe they’re doing the fun run,” which had started half an hour earlier. But really, I knew that we’d been told to do one loop too many, and those people were either doing the correct amount of loops or had only done one. We’ll never know.
This got me a little flustered, because I knew I had been the third woman up until this point and I was running as hard as I could, but now I was dodging people and running in the grass and the mud and was all over the place. It was kind of a mess. I just told myself not to care because, come on, Ali, this is a local 5K to support the schools, so chill and run and have fun.
And I did chill and run and have fun…when I wasn’t taking super wide turns to avoid people strolling six across.
I knew I probably went out too fast, and then I saw the Mile 2 marker, so I decided to reveal my little GPS watch and I was already at 2.4 miles. So yeah, confirmed that we were a little off. I was frustrated because I felt like I was running hard and might be close to a PR, but meh. (Ultimately I don’t think I would have PR’d, but again, we’ll never know.)
Soon the finish was in sight! (Ashley was not. She had already dropped me and was done before I rounded the not-final turn into the park.)
I came out from the little wooded part of the course, which I loved, and the finish line was right there to my left! But the race peoples told me to go to the right! I’m pretty sure I yelled, “Seriously?!” My watch was already at 3.1, but then I had to run a final loop of that damn pond. I think my pace slowed by at least a minute in that last stretch because, in my mind, I had run my 5K and was ready for breakfast.
Eventually I crossed the finish line, looking amazing.
And it was actually hilarious because everyone crossing the line around when I did was like, “Uhhhh, did we run an extra loop?” We all knew we’d been misdirected and it was fine because it happened to a bunch of us. I probably wouldn’t have PR’d, so it was NBD. I was only bummed because I knew I was the third female and that never happens to me, so I was going to be pisssssssed if that spot went to someone who ran the actual 3.1-mile distance and not me, the overachiever who ran like 3.3 miles. (People who ran extra got GPS reads anywhere from 3.2 miles to 3.4, so I don’t have a clue.)
But yay, I was still (somehow?) the third female of the day! Sure, there may have been only 200 runners, many of whom were third graders, but it still feels cool to me!
According to my GPS data, my average pace was a 7:29, which I’m pretty psyched about. Except that my splits were not great. I started with a 7:11 mile and finished with a 7:44. Not exactly proper pacing, but like I always say: Positive splits for positive people!
And Ashley won! She was the first female finisher of the day, because she’s a beast, and also her kids are cute.
Ultimately it was a super fun — if slightly confusing — race on a gorgeous (if a little too long) course. The race director lady was very apologetic about the course confusion, and she was wearing a fun blue fuzzy hat, so it was all good. Plus, this was the inaugural Cougar Dash 5K, and it happens. I get lost even when using the GPS on my car, so it’s cool.
We stayed for awards so I could get my lil’ bronze medal (I never stay for awards because they never affect me! Also they called me “Alison Feeler,” which is not quite my last name, but I don’t mind it), and then we took Ellie to the dog park and I ate a really good chocolate chip muffin.
Good day? Great day.
And seriously, I want to race 5Ks every weekend now. So come to New Jersey and run one with me. See you at the start line. Don’t get lost on the way to the finish.
ALSO PS I NEVER ONCE EVEN THOUGHT ABOUT MY STOMACH THE ENTIRE RACE. Healthy! Happy! Everything is rainbows.