It seems like hardly a week goes by without someone or other on Poetic Feet having an interesting experience at a local race. I didn't know it when I got up this morning, but today was destined to be my turn.
I headed to Strafford for their annual 5K this morning. I'd never run it, but I was looking forward to this race. The last four 5Ks I've run have been, in order: 1.) ridiculously hilly, 2.) ridiculously hilly, 3.) 6 days after a marathon, and 4.) on a humid 85-degree afternoon after I ate way too big of a lunch a couple hours beforehand (long story). So really, it's been since late April that I feel like I've run a 5K that was a true test of my racing fitness. But I knew today was the day: Strafford is a pretty flat town and it was relatively cool and raining.
I didn't know until I got there that this race is a bit of an oddity by local standards. It's put on by the local high school, and they were also holding a middle-school and high-school cross-country meet on the same course with staggered starts. For some reason they decided to send off the middle-school kids off first, then us normal runners 5 minutes later, and the high-schoolers some time after that.
Our turn came up, and we were off. Three guys surged way ahead way quickly, and I fell in with a pack that I soon broke away from, leaving me all by myself as we wound around Strafford. By this point I was starting to catch up to the middle-school stragglers, and as I followed the winding course I weaved around groups of preteens jogging, or talking, or walking, or some combination of all three. I was in fourth place, feeling good, and quite probably on a PR pace.
After a couple of sharp turns I was back on Strafford's main street fairly near the start. The three lead runners had surged completely out of sight, and I all could see ahead of me in the rain was a confusing maze of middle school kids bobbing along with their parents milling around on both sides of the road cheering them on. Not knowing what else to do, I followed the middle-schoolers back behind the school to where we had started, thinking we had to loop back up there and turn around, or perhaps come out the other entrance at the far end of the campus. I knew I was still well short of 5K, but we hadn't been given directions at the start (at least that I heard), there were no other runners around to ask, and none of the spectators were there to watch our race.
As I got back near the start line, though, I began to realize something was awry. I spotted the coach/race director and as I ran up I held my arms up in the universal shrug/"huh?" motion. He yelled at me, "you were supposed to run two laps out there! Sorry."
To get from the main road to the start/finish line, I'd run behind the football practice field, the elementary school, and the middle school, so I was easily a good 300 yards off course by this point. I realized that even if I ran back out to the road, my PR and my decent finish were down the tubes, and in my frustration I simply walked to the car, took off my race number, and walked back over to the finish line to cheer on rslight.
He had a much better day, running to what unofficially seemed to be a PR time (and on the correct course, natch). Of course, given some of his recent misadventures, I think rslight was due a good PR or two.
I also learned the fascinating fact that the governor of Missouri is a fairly decent road racer, which was something I had been totally unaware of. I heard someone mutter something about him being there as I stood at the start line, and sure enough he crossed the finish line incognito in about 10th or 12th place, I would guess somewhere around 22:00 or so. I was fairly impressed that he had shown up not to cut a ribbon or seek publicity, but to anonymously gut it out for 3 miles on a rainy Saturday morning with the rest of us.
I was determined to salvage something out of the morning, so I drove back to Springfield and I did 15 more miles in the rain to bring me to about 18 for the day, which is what my long run was supposed to be this week. My legs were pretty dead by the end, considering I'd raced about 1/2- 2/3rds of a 5K to start the day, but it gave me plenty of time to stew. And I resolved that, barring injury, today was my first and last DNF, regardless of what my final time ends up being. As bl is fond of reminding us, it's supposed to be fun.