Race Recap: Round the Lake 5k

I love small races and, living in a rural area, I get an opportunity to run a lot of small races. Just a week post marathon, I was barely back into running when a friend suggested a local 5k with a “interesting” course. I wasn’t doing anything else and the weather was expected to be wonderful, so I committed to the race. The race in question was the Marlborough Lions Club Round the Lake 5k. Honestly, had my friend not told me about the race, I might never have found it. They don’t have the best website presence and what’s there leaves a lot to be desired in terms of information (Was there race-day registration? If sure hoped so!). The race application wasn’t much more helpful. I had no idea how much the race was and wether I might even be able to register, but I knew where the starting line was and crossed my fingers on the rest.

Race day was clear and bright and I headed over to the park at Lake Terramuggus for the 5k. There were a few people mingling around, runners on the road warming up, and no lines to speak of. I didn’t wait at all to register and walked right up to the table. There was indeed race day registration and it was a bargain price of $20. I gathered my number, my much too big tshirt, and some pins and set off to warm up. The setting was lovely for a spring race – the start and finish line were on the road in front of a small park on a lake.

Blish Park

It was a lovely view, and I kept my warm up to a minimum so I could spend more time enjoying the weather and the view. This would later turn out to be a mistake, but I wasn’t planning to race a week after a marathon.

I lined up with a few hundred others on the country road near the park for the race start. It was perfect weather – 68 degrees, sunny, and breezy. The race began and immediately runners were greeted by a hill. the course featured a significant hill in the first quarter mile. Not great for those of us who hadn’t really warmed up, but excellent for the hill runners in the group. Several speedy folks shot to the top of the hill. The course leveled out and wound through the countryside. It was well marked, but sparsely populated. There were plenty of runners, but few spectators. The road was either closed to traffic or such a small country road that no traffic needed to pass by during the race. In mile two, the course started a small descent and I picked up speed. I was running well, but getting quite hot in the warm air and sun. Volunteers called out mile splits and the course went on. Near the middle of the second mile, the course turned into town and began a long, steady climb up one of the gradual hills in town. At this point, the road was open to traffic and it got a little tricky thanks to sidewalk construction in the area.

5k construction

Despite some cars and bumpy footing, the runners made their way down the road and back towards the park. The views along the way were lovely, classic New England. I enjoyed looking at the lake and the small salt box cottages. There was one small, not that well organized race stop at mile 2.6, where a nice older couple passed out water in tiny paper cups (the kind my grandmother kept in her bathroom). I did take the water, a few sips worth, and it was warm and clumsily passed. Had there been a few more volunteers, the water stop might have been more effective. The race finished on a bit of an uphill on the road. There was chip timing, so there were timing mats and a small finish line area, but nothing else. Runners had to head back down the hill to get a bottle of water and a few orange slices.

There were few amenities at this race. Runners got a bottle of water and sliced oranges. What the race lacked in post-race food, it made up for in the view. A friend and I sat on the beach until it was time for the awards. It wasn’t a particularly fast race and my slow, post-marathon legs carried me to third place in my age group.

Round the Lake Prize

Overall, I would recommend the Round the Lake 5k for the runner looking for a no-frills, low key, local race. It was a fairly ordinary 5k with a nice lake view finish, but little else in terms of race support or amenities.

Planes, Training, and Automobiles

The last month or so has been crazy! I’ve been traveling all over and getting in lots of fabulous fall races. As my whirlwind month winds down, I’m reflecting on the good, the bad, and the training.

It all started the last week in September with the back-to-back races. On Saturday, I ran the West Hartford Relay. The West Hartford Relay is a local event that lets teams of runners run through the pretty neighborhoods is West Hartford. Never one to pass up an opportunity to run and hang out with my running friends, I happily joined team Lululemon Athletica. We had a great time and enjoyed some lovely fall weather. Sunday was the Rock N Roll Providence Half Marathon. I had a great time, got a shiny new PR, and enjoyed Providence. This was the race I had planned as my peak race, so I was thrilled to know that my training was successful. My race went well and I felt fit and strong throughout the race.

The very next weekend I paced the Wineglass Half Marathon in upstate New York. I had an amazing time, met fun new running friends, and drove 12 hours in a 2-day period. I tried Air BnB for the first time (cool, I recommend it), and even ran in an impromptu local 5k.

Columbus Day weekend in Connecticut means Hartford Marathon. Cementing my crazy-lady status with non-running friends, I changed my registration at the expo from half marathon to marathon (!).

Marathon upgrade

I made the change for lots of reasons. Mostly, I just wanted to run the marathon. I had been considering it since I decided to train with a friend running it as her first marathon. I went through the 16/17 mile run with her in my prep for Providence and felt fit. I knew that I could finish the marathon and, in a fit of impulse, signed up for it. I had so much fun that I was probably bordering on manic. I was the runner no one wants to be with at mile 20 (“we’re running a marathon – how amazing is that?!!?!?!?!?!?”). Everything I said and did had lots of extra exclamation points. I joyfully trotted across the finish line and felt so amazing I annoyed those around me (“aren’t marathons amazing!!”) for days to come.

Hartford Marathon 2013 finish

The next week it was off to Portland, Oregon for a work trip. Portland was lovely and a true running city, so I got in lots of miles and some good recovery/training for my next events.

After a few days at home, it was off to Florida for mom’s first half marathon – an adventure and a great experience. I ran a few miles, but mostly walked with mom. I enjoy every moment we spend exercising together and considered all the miles of walking great time on my feet training. I made it home in time to celebrate Halloween and worked on getting organized again.

Halloween dog costume

Last weekend, I ran the Commercial Services by Glass America Half Marathon put on by my friend at Ocean State Multisport. It was my first real fall race, with temperatures in the low 40s and a steady, chilling mist. Having just returned from Florida, I was frozen throughout the race. It was a the first hint that my racing season might be coming to a close. That motivated me to enjoy the race and the New England scenery. As usual, the event was well organized, and carefully planned. The course wound through neighborhoods and farmland, over bridges, and past fields cleared for winter. Gary and his team always do a great job – the volunteers are plentiful and friendly and the race course is well marked and nicely planned. Local police drive the route repeatedly, keeping motorists attentive. I struggled in the race, but had fun and was fairly pleased with my finish. Gary greeted finishers with pizza, fruit, and Kind bars (my favorite!).

For those of you keeping track that’s 7 races in 5 weeks. I admit it, it’s crazy. There’s just one more to go. When I get back from this work trip (yes, I’m on a plane as I write this), I will run the Harrisburg Marathon to close my season. It’s been a great season, but I think I’m ready for some rest, time at home, and a return to normal training.

Race Review: The Brooklyn Fair 5k

I love a fair! Particularly if it’s a good, old fashioned country fair. Last weekend, I had the opportunity to participate in a 5k road race as part of the longest-runnning fair in Connecticut. How perfect! A 5k, fair food, and livestock.

I signed up for the fair late, but early enough to get the early bird pricing. It was a great bargain – the race and fair were just under $20. We showed up on race morning and were ushered into a dirt parking lot. We were a little surprised to have to pay for parking. Another $5 cash allowed us entry into the parking area. Immediately across the street was a very long line, the line for pre-registered runners.

Brooklyn 5kAfter waiting some time in the line, we got our t-shirts (a surprise since we didn’t expect them having signed up so late), our fair entry wristbands, and race numbers. The t-shirts are attractive – yellow with a cowboy and some cattle printed on the shirt. We milled around the fair until the race start. The race began about five minutes late. This was, in part, due to the long lines at packet pick up.

The race exited the fairgrounds and moved to country roads. The course was really lovely. The race was run primarily along country roads with rolling hills and pastoral scenes. After about two miles on country roads, the race moved towards the fair. We entered the fair and wound through the fairgrounds. Turns were tight and the course on the fairground was  confusing. We made many, many turns and wound all around. It wasn’t my favorite part of the course and I lost a lot of time making all the turns. The course ended right in front of the bandstand. It was great to have the crowd support and the big bandstand feel. It’s worth note that this course was a fast course and a competitive group, but there were lots of walkers and walkers were welcomed. The race was professionally timed by The Last Mile Timing.

Brooklyn Fair Bandstand

After the race, we enjoyed the fair. This was a proper country fair, with livestock, canning and flower arranging, and critters of all kinds. The fair was good fun! We enjoyed the country fair.

Brooklyn livestock

Brooklyn cows

Plus, there was fair food! What’s not to love.

Fair food

All in all, I enjoyed the Brooklyn Fair 5k. It was a great course, and most of my group got PRs. We enjoyed the fair and had a great day!



It’s been a while since I’ve posted. Not for lack of ideas, but for lack of time, energy, motivation…I don’t know what. Things have been a little extra crazy at work, but that isn’t it. I was sick for a while, but that isn’t it, either. I think that it’s one of those perfect storm situations – everything was a little off for a while, making my schedule a mess and throwing off my usual flow. But, I’m back, and hopefully more organized. So, here’s a little post about what I’ve been thinking about lately.

Did you see this amazing Running Times article? In “An Elite State of Mind”, David Alm writes about what he learned from his foray into the ranks of elite runners. While running as an elite is something I can only dream about, the ideas David presents really resonated with me. I loved it so much I read it three times. In a row. David says there are four keys to an elite attitude: 1) Don’t treat training runs or race times as indications of your self-worth, 2) Value every runner’s efforts, success and potential, 3) Don’t beat yourself up in training or in evaluating your workouts and racing, and 4) Recognize that your running ability is a result of many factors, not just how serious you are or how hard you push. It was two and four that really got me. Every runner deserves recognition for her efforts, success, and potential, with the recognition that any success is the result of a combination of factors. Too often, at the slower end of the spectrum, I see runners devalue other runners for any number of ridiculous reasons. So often, it’s because of speed. Now that I’m in the mid-pack, I’ve written about my thoughts on back of the pack life. It isn’t always friendly. Why does this happen? As runners, we should build each other up, support each other, and value each other. Speed isn’t the most important thing, nor is your training log, your PRs, or any other marker of running “success”. What’s important is how running makes you feel. If you love it, and I love it, that’s enough for me.

Want to be inspired by the power of running to give back to a community? Check out the write ups (here and here for good ones) of the Hartford Marathon Foundation’s Sandy Hook Run for the Families 5k. The inaugural event raised over $40,000 for charities associated with the Newtown shooting tragedy. What’s even more wonderful than the huge response and the fundraising was the spirit of the race. Thousands of runners and spectators, all wearing green, holding hands, running together, and being with the families of the Newtown tragedy in spirit. It was a great event, and one that made me proud to be a runner.

Sandy Hook Run

Race Recap: Gasparilla Day 1

Last week, mom and I had a wonderful time at the Gasparilla Distance Classic. Our path to Gasparilla fun started last year. Last year, mom and I did the 5k and immediately after the 5k, mom said she had a great time and wanted to participate in 2013. Soon enough, registration day rolled around. I called mom to confirm that she wanted to run in the 5+3k (the Gasparilla version of a 5 miler) and she surprised me by suggesting that we both sign up for challenges. Gasparilla offers three challenges – events in which one runs multiple races during the two-day festival. Mom signed up for the Mini Challenge and I signed up for the Ultra Challenge. Mom would do the 15k and 5+3k and I would do all four races – the 15k, 5k, half marathon, and 5+3k. Yay!

After quickly and easily getting our gear at the race expo, we explored the shops. Everything at the expo was well organized and helpful volunteers were everywhere. We got some super cute loot.

Gasparilla shirts

Race day dawned bright, sunny, and humid. It was a hazy start to the day with high humidity and warm temperatures expected. We had stayed in a nearby hotel and were ready to go bright at early. We did have a few challenges with the water situation – the city of Tampa was in a boil water advisory thanks to a mischievous squirrel gnawing through a power line. Undeterred, we used our bottled water and headed to the starting line. As usual, everything at Gasparilla was exceptionally well organized. We easily made our way to the start line. There were rows of port-potties, helpful volunteers, and clear signage.

The 15k was really fun. The course was lovely. It was an easy down and back on Bayshore Boulevard – gorgeous homes on one side, the river on the other side, and the city of Tampa in clear view. The course was well supported, with aid stations every mile and a half. There were cheering fans, friendly volunteers, and clear course markings. I loved the course.

Bayshore scenery

Mom had this to say about her first 15k:

The first race on Saturday morning was a 15 K, Rachel and I were doing it together dressed in matching Lululemon shirts.  Usually I’m a person who likes to check out the route and the maps so I know where to go but this isn’t necessary at Gasparilla .  We followed the crowd, stood around people who were weren’t wearing a Garmin, looking as if they might’ve dressed without looking in the mirror that morning (the back of the pack). A roar and we were off shuffling slowly to the front and then finally the pack opened up and Bayshore was before us.  The Boulevard is lined with huge homes that overlook Tampa Bay making it a beautiful route.  There was music and people cheering, encouraging those of us at the back of the pack. It seemed a long time to get to the turn around and then suddenly we were on our way back towards the finish line.  Rachel kept me on my goal pace as my legs got tired and I began to wonder where the finish line went. People were cheering louder as we neared the finish. Rachel and I made the short dash and it was fantastic!  I did a 15K! A finishers medal was mine and I wore it proudly.

Here’s what I learned:

1. Don’t sweat, there’s always someone to direct people.
2. You can pretty much tell just by looking, where you should be in the starting lineup.
3. Make use of the bathroom before the race and the water stops during the race.
4. Take time to look at the view, the race is over before you know it.
5. Have someone take your picture after you cross the finish line.  There’s  a certain smile that comes from people who successfully cross that line.

I had such a good time I’m already signed up for my next race. It’s in  October, a half marathon. Let the training begin! (Go Mom!!)

Mom in Gasparilla

Mom and I finished the 15k with smiles on our faces and I immediately lined up for the 5k. The 5k course was the same as the 15k course, just shorter. So, I headed back out, passing the same homes and scenery as the first race. I hadn’t made it back for the start of the wave of the 5 I was supposed to be in, so I trotted along in a much slower wave. I enjoyed the chance to take it slow and enjoy the view.

Both races were wave start, with very well organized starting lines and plenty of volunteers to ensure things went smoothly. The courses were well marked, properly supported, and extremely scenic. Overall, I loved Gasparilla Day 1. Stay tuned for my recap of Day 2!

Top 12 of 2012

2012 has been a busy year and it’s been the first full year of the existence of DrRachelRuns. This New Year’s Eve, I decided to reflect on some of the highs and lows of the year. My running life has been an adventure deserving of its own retrospective.  Here are my top twelve running memories of 2012:

  1. Hood to Coast – Hood to Coast has to be the best thing I’ve ever done as a runner. It was amazing. Challenging, crazy, hilarious, and downright unforgettable. Read all about it here and here.
  2. Gasparilla with my mom – I’m March, I participated in the Gasparilla Distance Classic with my mom. It was her first real race and doing it with her was something I’ll always treasure. We had so much fun that we signed up for the 2013 races on opening day – and we’re both doing multiple-race challenges!
  3. Fleet Feet coaching – This fall, I had the amazing opportunity to coach for Fleet Feet Sport’s half marathon training program. I loved my team, and I loved seeing new half marathoners succeed. The best part of the whole experience was pacing some of my team through a great first half marathon.
  4. Lucy started running – Lucy, my non-running dog became my running companion. I am delighted to have her as a running friend and I’ve loved seeing how much she enjoys running.
  5. First triathlon – In August, I completed my first triathlon. It was a wonderful experience. After nearly dying on the swim, and suffering from swim-related exhaustion the rest of the race, I learned that I could endure a surprising amount of pain and still run well. Triathlon has made me a better runner.
  6. Dartfish analysis – In January, I had professional gait analysis. It was one of the best things I could have done as a runner. I saw imbalances and potential for injury. I also saw what I was doing well. Learning more about my running, and working with my trainer on improving in key areas, has been wonderful. I’ve been healthy – thanks to catching problems before they were problems.
  7. I’ve traveled a lot! Which means I’ve run a lot, all over the country.
    1. Salt Lake City  – where I ran “at altitude” for the first time
    2. DC – once to run the Rock N Roll DC with a friend, and once for work
    3. Michigan in July
    4. North Carolina for work
    5. And I’ve been to Florida (where my parents live) a lot!
  8. Running with friends – I have some really wonderful running friends and I’ve had a chance to run all over with them. We’ve done quarter marathons, runs in dresses and skirts, relays, and races.
  9. I passed my two year knee surgery anniversary – I’m not sure why this felt like such a huge landmark, but it was. Hooray!
  10. Accidental PRs – It happened once at Rock N Roll Providence (August), and then again when I was sick at Cape Cod (October). Surely there’s a lesson to be learned in my habit of accidentally running well.
  11. Becoming president of a running club – I haven’t blogged about this one yet, but I was elected president of a running club. I feel so honored to have been trusted to lead, and revive, a club that’s faded in recent years.
  12. And, finally, growing as a runner. As I read through old posts and looked at old pictures, I saw how much I have grown as a runner this year. Not only am I inching toward my pre-surgery speeds, but I’ve tried new things (triathlon and overnight relays), and shared my love of running with my mom and true running friends. This year has been a wonderful year and I’m so grateful for the amazing things that running has brought into my life.

Tips for New Runners

My sister in law recently started running and I couldn’t be happier. Dreams of family races are dancing in my head. Yay! Last week, she called me to get some running advice. Turns out she was struggling with running, and, most of the reasons were completely preventable. Inspired by her questions, I submit to you my best advice for new runners, including you Couch to 5k runners in training.

Q&A for New Runners

Why are my toenails bruised?

The short answer – your shoes are too tight. Most new runners start running in old trainers (probably the ones used for mowing the lawn, or going to the gym) and it’s an important rite of passage to buy proper running shoes. If your nails are bruising, your shoes are likely too small. Most runners like shoes at least a size larger than their shoe size (ladies – a size larger than flats, at least a half size larger than pumps). Another common culprit of bruised toenails is bad socks. Socks are largely an issue of personal preference and most runners are quite passionate about socks. Synthetic, wool, or blended socks are your best bet. I’ve written about a few different kinds of socks in my reviews. It’s a good idea to buy socks specific for running that are made from high quality materials. Wicking socks will also help prevent blisters. If new socks and the proper shoes don’t help, bruised toenails may be the fault of your running form or where you run. Downhill running can increase the likelihood of bruising. Consider consulting a running coach or staff at a running specialty store for more help.

How do you tell what pace you’re running and how do you run a consistent pace?

There are lots of great apps and devices for keeping track of pace, but that’s just numeric pace. I think the best way to manage pace when starting as a new runner is by feel. Runners and running coaches often talk about “conversation pace” runs, or the “talk test”. This means that you should run most of your runs at a pace at which you can have an intelligent conversation with a running partner. If you’re panting and can only sputter out phrases, slow down. You’ll be more comfortable, and build fitness faster, if you run most of your runs at a conversation pace. Once you have a good foundation of running, you can increase speed and challenge your fitness with different runs. If you want to keep track of numeric pace, consider downloading a free or low cost app for your phone (RunKeeper, Endomodo, MapMyRun), investing in the Nike+ system (its has an app, too), or making the larger investment in a Garmin Forerunner. The Forerunner line has a GPS-enabled running watch for everyone. Keep track of your runs and pace, using any method that works for you, in a running log. Then, you can review your log to learn more about what works for you as a runner. It also feels great to see evidence of your improvement.

What should I do about post-run soreness?

Rest, ice, and stretch. Self massage also helps. I love my foam roller and The Stick for self massage. Foam rollers are available everywhere and using them is easy. Basically, you lay on top of it and roll your body across it. It’s great for large muscle groups like quads and hamstrings. Google foam roller for instructional videos, helpful tips, and shopping. The Stick is an innovative self massage tool that has rolling washers attached to a longer post. Using it is simple – roll the Stick across sore muscles. Self massage is wonderful for post run soreness.

Are walk breaks ok?

Of course! There are a number of popular methods of running that include planned walk breaks, including the super popular Hal Higdon method. There is no shame in taking a break to walk, stretch, or lower your heart rate to maintain a comfortable pace. Running should be fun and if talking a walk break makes it more comfortable and fun, then do it! There’s also no shame in stopping at stop lights and standing still. Don’t feel compelled to run in place or dance around. Rest is good.

What can I do to control skin breakouts?

My best advice is to change out of sweaty running clothes as soon as possible, but I know that doesn’t always work. Running in sweat-wicking clothing helps. Running clothes that are primarily cotton trap sweat and dirt and that contribute to breakouts. I find it also helps to exfoliate frequently and to wash my face and skin with products that contain salycilic acid. I love the Neutrogena pink grapefruit line and the St. Ives skin clearing line (for a slightly less girly smell). Neutrogena makes skin and body wipes in the pink grapefruit line and they’re wonderful.

What stuff do I really need to make running more comfortable?

You don’t need much to run, but a few small things can make your running life much more comfortable. Invest in quality shoes. They are the most important part of your running life. Clothing that’s made specifically for exercise and has wicking material will make your runs significantly more comfortable. Target has a low cost line, RoadRunnerSports.com carries everything you could imagine, and specialty retailers like Lululemon, Lucy, Oiselle, and Athleta make great products for women. Don’t run in cotton if you can help it and select seamless or flat seam garments. Body Glide is  a wonderful invention that prevents chafing. I slather it on my feet in wet weather, on seams, and on any body parts that might touch and chafe. Buy some immediately. Purchase some nice socks, particularly if you’re prone to blisters. The blister-prone should also consider getting a box or two of Band Aid Brand Blister bandages. They’re specially made, cushioned bandages that last a long time, are impervious to sweat, and heal blisters. Finally, get a nice water bottle and keep it full. Be sure to hydrate enough, particularly if you live in a hot climate. Some people prefer a handheld bottle (I love mine and wrote about them on the blog), others prefer to stash a bottle mid-run. Either way, a nice bottle helps.

(And one from my brother) How do I stop my nipples from bleeding?

Two words. Nipple Guards. They’re nifty little yellow caps for the nipples. They really help (or so I’m told). Band aids are good (and much less expensive), and, in lower sweat conditions, Body Glide can help. Bloody nipples happen when the water and salt in sweat chafe the sensitive nipples, rubbing the skin off and making them bleed. Protect the nipples with a topical guard and wear proper fitting, wicking shirts.

Tips for New Runners

There you have it. My best advice for new runners, couch to 5kers, and everyone else who’s new to running and has questions. Have a question I didn’t address? No problem! Contact me using the handy link above, tweet me, or find me on Facebook. I’m happy to help.

Connecticut Race Report – December 2012

It’s winter in Connecticut, and though we don’t have snow right now, the cold temperatures and threats of bad weather mean that racing season is coming to an end. There aren’t many upcoming races, but there are opportunities to save on great spring events. I will highlight a few great events in this short Connecticut Race Report.

December Events

Hartford Track Club Indoor Track Meet, “Bring Back the Mile”, December 9, 2012, 7-10pm – The HTC is holding an indoor track meet at Weslyean University in Middlet5own, CT.  Events include the mile and 5k. Races will be organized by age in the mile and by pace in the 5k. There is a youth quarter mile event for children.  More information can be found on the Hartford Track Club website and the listing for the event on Active.com.

Save on Registration for Spring Events

Want to get a jump start on that New Year’s Resolution? Consider signing up for one of these great spring events today. Need a training plan or a coach to help you get (and stay) motivated? Check out my coaching information.

Bolton Road Race, Sunday, March 10, 2013, 1pm, Bolton, CT – Featuring both a 5 mile and 5k distance for the second year, the Bolton Road Race has something for everyone. The 5 mile race features a challenging hill at mile 4 and both races have lovely, rural loop courses. The race is well organized thanks to a great race director. Advance registration in the month of December is only $15 online.

Hartford Quarter Marathon, Saturday, March 30, 2013, 10am, West Hartford, CT – This annual event is a favorite of local runners. The unique distance, great finisher’s buffet (with homemade food!), and friendly crowd make it a fun event. Advance registration, before January 1, is a bargain at $25.

I Love To Trot

That’s right. I confess. I love Turkey Trots. And Santa Shuffles, Reindeer Runs, Resolution Runs, and Fair 5ks. I love every possible iteration of holiday running event. If it has a cutesy name, all the better. I love a theme race, and a race that involves a costume contest, turkey calling competition, or watermelon seed spitting. The kookier the better. What I love most about these special holiday races is that they always seem to bring out the best of the running community. If it’s done right, a holiday race will have great competition for speedier runners, fun for kids of all ages, and opportunities for new runners and walkers to participate.

Today, I ran in the Seniors First Turkey Trot in Orlando, Florida. It had everything a great holiday race should have – great cause (including a donation drive), costume contest, turkey calling competition, and a division for walkers. It even had an interesting course – weaving through downtown Orlando and along Lake Eola. I wore my turkey hat.

Here’s what I love about holiday races – you see the good in people and get to witness people experiencing the joy of running. I saw people finishing their first 5k, hugging and giving high fives. I saw a woman who had clearly lost a great deal of weight cry when she crossed the finish line. I saw a runner in a head scarf, wearing a sign that said she finished chemo yesterday. I saw hundreds of families, many running hand in hand. Adorable moms and dads were cheering for and encouraging their children, who positively glowed with pride wearing their new 5k t-shirts. I saw runners encouraging other runners. I saw a fit man in his 30s pushing a man who must have been his grandfather in a regular, not racing, wheelchair. Grandpa was wearing a race number and had his hands held high in triumph as he crossed the finish line. There’s something wonderful about the way everyone comes together and supports one another and instant friendships are formed. And, today, all these people are runners. Runners who got to experience the joy of accomplishing something special. It’s that joy that makes running special. Today, I am thankful for running and for all the joy that running has brought to my life.

Race Recap: Monson Memorial Classic

On November 11, 2012, several members of my running club and I ran in the Monson Memorial Classic. The Monson Memorial Classic features three events – a half marathon, a 5k run, and a 2 mile walk. Monson Mass. was devastated by a huge tornado a few years ago and since then it’s become a popular running spot thanks to several benefit races. The Memorial Classic benefits a number of cancer awareness causes.

This wasn’t my first time running Monson, but several teammates were there for the first time. It was great fun to run the races as a team. Six members of our crew ran the half marathon and five members of our crew (plus one junior member) ran the 5k. I ran the half marathon last year, and decided this was the year to try the 5k. This review will focus on the 5k, but I’ve included some tidbits about the half marathon since I ran that last year and had some spies who could report on this year’s event.

The race begins and ends near the town hall, a lovely historic building. Race day was warm, about 60 degrees, and partly cloudy. The race got off to a rocky start. Packet pick up began just an hour before the race, and race day registration was available. A combination of a late start, plus no discernible organization to the check in/packet pick up area led to really long, disorganized lines.

After waiting about 10 minutes in line, someone came out and began trying to convince 5k runners to go inside. We went inside and found more people. I would say that there were lines, but it was really more a gathering of people standing in an area. No one seemed to know what was going on. We persevered and got packets. There was nice race swag. Everyone got a long sleeve technical t-shirt and a water bottle. Half marathoners got a pint glass with the race logo. In a somewhat odd move, the race organizers passed out finishers’ medals for the half marathon at race check in. I thought it was very strange (and anti-climactic) to get the finishers’ medal at the same time as the race number. It wouldn’t have taken much extra work to pass the medals out at the finish line and I’m sorry that the race organizers didn’t do this. The large crowds at check in were encouraging. I like seeing lots of runners come out for charity races, particularly challenging ones. I really had the sense that the organizers were surprised by the number of registrants.

Due to the chaos of packet pick up, the race started about 20 minutes late. At start time, a bagpiping duo led runners to the half marathon start in the middle of route 32. Traffic was temporarily suspended. The half marathon got started and the remaining runners voyaged to the nearby start of the 5k run and 2 mile walk. Several minutes later, traffic was held and the 5k began.

The 5k course starts on Route 32, the main roadway in the area, and proceeds about 1 mile up Route 32. Then, the race turned right on Route 32, and took another right onto a back road. It was a relief to be on the back road. Traffic was not stopped, there were no cones, and there were no race marshals or volunteers, so traffic was zipping by the runners. Given that Route 32 is a main road, there were a lot of cars. The back roads were lovely, slightly hilly, and scenic. One of the roads was in the path of the tornado that devastated the town a couple years ago, and it was nice to see the rebuilding in progress.

At mile 2, there was what I assume was meant to be a water stop. It was a folding table with several cups of water on it. It was totally unattended and on the opposite side of the road from the race. I wish the race organizers had secured a volunteer to hand out the water, or at least put the table on the right side of the road so runners actually passed it. By the time I realize that it was actually a water stop, I was past it. But, for a 5k, water isn’t essential for me so I didn’t mind.

Unfortunately, the 5k race course is not well marked, nor are there volunteers on course. There are no marshals, and very few signs. The signs that do exist are small pink papers attached to the odd pole. I counted just 4 signs. The course was overall very poorly identified and marked. Two members of my team got lost on the course, adding on a quarter of a mile. There were no marshals to direct them and they were lucky to have found their way back to the course. The making of the course could really be improved and marshals to help ensure the safety of runners and help with directions would have been helpful.

At the finish, there was professional timing and a small crowd. Runners were treated to a wonderful buffet post-race.

The food is really a highlight of this race. The Women’s Auxillary creates an amazing spread of all home cooked food. There were several gluten free and vegetarian options, and, what can only be described as the best minestrone soup ever. Ever. I got the recipe from the nice woman who makes it (that’s her in the blue shirt on the right). It’s that good. They also have a huge selection of drinks, both hot and cold, bagels and donuts, ice cream, apples, and the best non-pasteurized apple cider ever. Seriously. The food is amazing. It’s worth running just to get the cider. Despite the number of runners exceeding what was anticipated, there was plenty of food and portions were large. Complimentary post-race sports massage was available and a blue grass/folk band entertained everyone in the town hall.

Overall, Monson is a decent little race. The RD could make some small, simple improvements that would dramatically improve the overall quality of the race. But, the race experience is saved by the great food, nice amenities, and good race environment.

A few notes on the half marathon – my spies reported that the course was the same as last year, VERY hilly, scenic, and shaded. The first 8 miles are uphill and the race has a somewhat unpleasant finish. The last 3.5 miles are run on Route 32 and there is no effort to  control traffic. The shoulder is very, very slim and non-existant in some areas. Runners who are up to the challenge of the hills should use caution in the final miles as cars are definitely present. Despite this, I like the half marathon course. It goes through some lovely countryside. And, what runner doesn’t like a challenge? My spies also reported that there were water stops every mile and a half or so (though some were unattended) and had nice, full cups of water. Chip timing was a huge improvement to the half marathon this year, and made times reliable. Overall, everyone who ran the half marathon reported that they had a good experience. And everyone enjoyed the post-race massage.