Thursday, July 5, 2012

Race Report: Finish at the 50 10K

Tuesday marked the third consecutive year that Harvard Pilgrim has hosted a race at Gillette Stadium.  In the first two years, the race was a 10K on the morning of July 4th.  This year they made a drastic change by adding a 5K option and scheduling the race for the evening of July 3rd instead.  I had a hunch this would change the feel of the race, and that hunch was spot on.
The 10K is a weird distance that I don't have a lot of experience with.  In looking back at my race calendars, I've run a lot of 5 milers and a bunch of half marathons, but nothing in between.  The distance is short enough that you have to keep your speed up, but long enough that you have to reserve enough energy or you'll fizzle out at the end.  It requires strategy, and this is a great course to practice that strategy.  It's a very comfortable course, and doesn't get much flatter.  In fact, I felt like I was running downhill a lot. That's the good part about this race.  The bad part is that it takes place in July, and whether the race takes place at 10am or 6pm, either way it's still hot.  
This year, the race not only expanded to include a 5K option  but also added fireworks afterwards, making it an all night affair and encouraging a lot more participants.  In fact, participation more than doubled with over 7,000 entrants.  Seems that quite a few people wanted a chance to run across the field at Gillette Stadium and meet Jerod Mayo at the finish line.  And why not?  A 5K is a doable distance for runners and walkers alike and a much less intimidating distance than the 10K.  The result of this was, let's call it... "growing pains".

As mentioned, the course itself is great.  The volunteers at the water stops were efficient, and there were plenty of water stops.  I heard some folks complain that there weren't enough water stops, but I disagree.  There were stops at the 1.5 mile, 3 mile, 4 mile, and 5 mile marks.  As always, it's fun running across the field at Gillette Stadium.  And the fireworks were a blast!

As mentioned, the theme of this year was growing pains.  I'm all for encouraging maximum participation but it shouldn't come at the expense of the entrant's experience. Both the 5K and the 10K races started at the same time, which caused overcrowding in the starting chute.  The chute was poorly designed, with the entry points to the chute blocked in several areas by large towers of water bottles.  Because of this, many runners were unable to enter the chutes and masses of people spilled out onto the sidewalks.  I could have lived with this, except...
Runners were self seeded, with the understanding that you line up in your pace category.  There are always going to be exceptions to this, but for the most part in most of the races I've participated in, runners do a pretty good and honest job at this.  I believe part of the problem in this race is that many of the participants were not avid racers, but instead local folks that wanted a chance to tour the stadium and used the 5K as a way to leisurely stroll the property.  And since they were just walking, heck why not start in front to get a head start!  The result was a bottleneck of runners trying to skirt around walkers and very slow joggers during the first mile.  I very much believe in running a smart race and avoiding jockeying for position at the beginning, which generally only results in wasted energy.  In this case it couldn't be helped, and it was very frustrating to me.
A similar frustration bubbled up in the final moments of the race, where the 5K and 10K routes merged shortly before entering the stadium.  It appears that someone had the foresight to realize this might become a problem, and had cones up to separate the two divisions.  Guess what runners do with cones...They run in between them!  If you really want to keep the two divisions separate, put up a solid barrier.  Here's the issue.  I'm a moderately paced 10K runner.  I'm not super fast, but I finished in the top 30% at a time of 54:45.  All of the folks finishing the 10K at this time are fairly strong runners looking for a good solid kick at the end.  Instead, we were finishing simultaneously with 5K entrants who were walking a 5K with a 54 minute finish time.  That's snail's pace.  The result: Log jam at the end in which I was barely able to jog around people up to the finish line.  Don't get me wrong, I am by no means a snobby runner.  I'm not breaking records or doing anything outstanding, but I have a strategy that really came unraveled because of the poor logistics.  My main strategy at the end of that race was "get me to a bottle of water as quickly as possible!", which leads me to my next gripe.  The water was all located outside the stadium, with signs posted everywhere that there was "NO RE-ENTRY!"  No one read those signs.  There were massive amounts of people standing, sitting, stretching, and drinking lots of water.  When I crossed that finish line I was lightheaded and nauseous, and knocked into people like a pinball trying to get off the field for water.  Literally, I would have failed a field sobriety test.  I'm not saying people shouldn't be able to hang out on the field, but if the "no re-entry" thing can't be enforced, then at least make it easier for finishers to get to the water before they pass out (which I nearly did).  

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't publicly humiliate the people that took advantage of the post-race snacks, hoarding them as if they were preparing for Armageddon.  This was an issue last year as well, when people were taking entire cases of granola bars instead of taking a single granola bar out of the case.  Seems that the race officials tried to prevent this by handing out pre-stuffed bags with goodies.  But these clever doomsday'ers found a work around, by stuffing tote bags with literally dozens of these pre-filled bags.  Not only does this represent heinous greed, but we can't even say it's impulsive.  Because really, what are you doing on the field of Gillette Stadium, after a 10K race, with several large empty tote bags?  Shame on you, sloths, for robbing the people that were still out on the course, working harder than you did.  

I'm always going to run this race, because despite everything I just said, I really enjoy it. This race is put on by DMSE (Dave McGillivray Sports Enterprises, a top notch racing outfit) and I'm confident they will continue to fine tune this young event. The bottom line is that if they are going to continue drawing big-league numbers of participants, they are going to have to treat it like a big-league race.

But anyways, back to me...
Logistics aside, I still had a great time.  I stuck to my plan and ran conservatively in the first couple of miles, and even managed to move to the side of the road to wave to my son Andrew and Ronnie's wife Donna who were cheering for us.  Well, Donna was cheering for us.  Andrew was chatting on the phone, and holding a bag of Subway sandwiches.  I must say even though I was aggravated at all the people that lined up too far ahead, the benefit of this was that I felt like a rock star the entire race.  I literally passed people constantly for 6 miles, and had very few people pass me.  That was psychologically motivating, and although I got caught in a lot of traffic where it was difficult to pass, I felt relatively strong throughout the race.  My only hiccup was at the final water stop, where I slowed to walk, drank a sip of water and poured the rest over myself.  When I went to run again, my legs were spent and I found it very difficult to get back up to speed.  In the future, it seems that maybe I'm better off carrying my own water to avoid interrupting my legs' rhythm.  Once in the stadium, I was overwhelmed with thirst, crowds, and the feeling of any-minute-now-I'm-going-to-pass-out-or-vomit-or-both.  I pinballed my way to the water, grabbed a chunk of ice and stuck it under my hat, and downed a couple bottles of water.  Whereas the first two years I savored every moment of the experience of being on the field, looking for celebrities, seeing myself on the jumbotron, on this day it was more about survival.  Once I came back to life we headed back to the car, changed into dry clothes, and set up a great spread for tailgating.

Bragging rights...
As mentioned, my finishing time was 54:45.  Although I had a time goal of low 50's, I had modified that due to the heat.  Not only is that a new PR for me at that distance, but it's also a whopping six minutes faster than last year!

1 comment:

  1. Congrats Jill!! I have to say I took a bit less aggressive approach (had a coaching session last Sat) and tried to focus on form /rhythm while hoping my friend whom I lost in the chutes might catch up. He is recovering from a broken rib after a bicycle accident.

    I agree with your comments and hope they split the starts next year.

    I've run it all 3 years and will be back next year as well. Love that helmet... :0) . Congrats on your time