Cranford Cougar Dash 5K Recap

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.

Cranford Cougar Dash
Ellie and me at the start! She didn’t run the race. Sorry, Ellie.

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.)

Cranford Cougar Dash
Ashley was holding Chris, so I decided to hold my baby.

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!

Cranford Cougar Dash

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.

Cranford Cougar Dash
Maybe I got lost because my eyes were on the ground. No way of knowing.

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.

Cranford Cougar Dash
LOVING LIFE because I had only been running for 4.5 seconds.

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.)

Cranford Cougar Dash
Glamour Shots

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.

Cranford Cougar Dash

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!

Cranford Cougar Dash
Ellie, R Ü proud of 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.

Cranford Cougar Dash
Jennie was super not impressed by our first and third place finishes.

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.

Cranford Cougar Dash
I got a medal and not just for participating! It’s bronze!

Good day? Great day.

Cranford Cougar Dash

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.




14 Responses

  1. I’m late, I’m late but woah, congratulations!!! SO exciting! And that lady’s blue hat is amazing!

    One of my friends was in a 10k recently and somehow the course crossed a road but she didn’t know and was nearly hit by a car. PR’d from the adrenaline 🙂

  2. Awesome job in the race!! I had a similar thing happen two weeks ago – I actually PRed in a 4 mile race BUT we had to stop for a train about a half mile in!!! I’m impressed that you’re able to ignore the possibilities, as I’m pretty caught up in wondering what my time could have been without that one minute stop 🙂

  3. As the race director for a small community race, just reading this gives me heart palpitations! I stay awake at night thinking through all these horror stories! ACK!! So glad you won your (deserved!) award! I echo the other comments – please don’t close your blog. I’m still slow to get on the podcast train, so written words are my jam. I love reading your blog!

  4. Congrats! 5ks scare me because they are fast and they hurt! You did awesome. I am hoping to break 20 minutes this year in a 5k…..if I have the balls to sign up for one:)

  5. Congrats on the race – for placing and for a cooperative stomach!I thought I may have “retired” from my very short running career but recently decided that I wanted to stay on top of my ability to “easily” run 5ks – and that training starts today – yikes! (Now I really have to do it because I wrote about it here.) I will echo Janice, I also panicked a little bit when I heard you talk about ending the blog. I know life will probably take you to that point some day, but please know that your blog is super appreciated and enjoyed, and I’ll be sad when it’s gone. I use Feedly to easily know when people have posted new blogs, but I always open the blog in another window to read it so it “counts” – I hope that helps a little 🙂

  6. I’m from Cranford! My parents still live there and I go back a few times a year. I used to do the Firecracker race with my dad every year when I was a kid. Awesome job with the 3rd place finish!

  7. Great job Ali! I’ve had recent races where we were misdirected too. One ended up too short (a 5k) and one was too long (a quarter marathon.) Super frustrating but what are ya gonna do? Yay for awesome weekends!

  8. PLS LET ME RUN WITH YOU!!! Already wanted to but wow after reading this sounds like it’d be the most fun event ever. Also I live in philly so if you actually DO want a buddy (who also has stomach shiz much less severe and not really a thing but still there) id love to run with ya!

  9. Oh. This is a great story. Thanks Ali. Just started listening to your PodCasts. You and SweatyEmily talked about the worth of keeping your blogs going. Please do. Both of you! Or at least post regularly to Instagram. Visuals are as important to keeping up positive connectedness as are words. On a side note: I found Emily’s blog — the woman who sweats — a few years ago when I started trail running. Then years later I discovered your blog. Wow. Kinda blew my mind when Emily was your first Podcast guest. Love ya both. And love reading your blogs. Stick with it Ladies, you’re both very inspiring.

  10. YAY ALI! This is a funny recap. I love small town races. I was the first woman once in a hometown race (shocking, because I am a slow runner). There were like 50 people running it, most of whom were children. My husband came in second overall; he let a kid win (which was so sweet).

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about ali

I’m the creator of the Ali on the Run blog and the host of the Ali on the Run Show podcast. I’m also a freelance writer and editor, a race announcer, a runner and marathoner, a mom, and a huge fan of Peanut M&Ms, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (way better than the first one!), and reliving my glory days as a competition dancer in the early 2000s. I’m really happy you’re here.
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