Sandy Hook 5K Race Recap

I was up super early this morning to run the Sandy Hook 5K.   I worried that the event, which caps its participants to 1500, plus a kids’ fun run, would be crowded and parking would be sparse. Every single time I do this, I’m always wrong.  This time was no exception.

Yes, it was not quite light out and there wasn't a soul around when I arrived at the race site.

Yes, it was not quite light out and there wasn’t a soul around when I arrived at the race site.

It was MUCH colder than I had planned on.  I had looked at the forecast carefully, which had said it would be in the upper 20s/low 30s at race time.  Normally this would allow me a base layer, a hoodie or fleece on top, a light headband and convertible mittens to stay plenty warm.  What I hadn’t counted on was the wind.  It was whipping up like crazy and the skies were starting to slowly release flakes of snow.

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This grass is about to turn white and crunchy.

I wandered around for a bit, but even vendors were still setting up, so I went back to my car and warmed up a bit.  Before long I was getting antsy again.  I visited the portapotties, where the few of us partaking all wondered aloud to each other about whether it was gross to linger in them because they really were quite toasty warm. Fortunately, about this time a girlfriend of mine showed up.  Her daughter plays tennis at the athletic facility in the area of the race, so I hopped in her warm car and spent some time with her in the warm gym before heading out to the frozen tundra again. By now the few random flakes I’d seen before had turned into a full fledged snow shower.  Snow was covering and sticking to everything, including the roads.  My hoodie quickly became covered with the big, wet flakes.

Snow had been in and out of the forecast leading up to the race, but no one had anticipated a full on snow event.  This changed everything.  Now it would be more of a matter of getting through the course without falling than running for speed or time.

I went to find the Race4Chase tent.  I am friendly with the family of Chase Kowalski, one of the victims of Sandy Hook.  This race was part of the “Birthday Challenge”, his mother Rebecca set up to get healthy and honor him.  Ten races in the twelve months leading up to what would have been his tenth birthday.  This race, the official Sandy Hook race, would be my fifth.

I met up with everyone at the tent, who were all huddled under it trying to stay warm.  The snow somehow made everything seem colder.  I’ve never been so bundled up for an event; usually I get hot and need to shed layers.  This time, I just hoped I could make it to the start line with some semblance of feeling in my fingers and toes.

Not exactly my usual race attire.

Not exactly my usual race attire.

We finally went out to the start line, where I dutifully made my way to the nearest slow looking person with a stroller.  They’re usually my speed (or sadly, faster).  After a beautiful speech by Father Bob (you probably saw him on the news in the weeks after Sandy Hook; he’s the pastor of the local Catholic church), a haunting rendition of our national anthem, and a few announcements, we were blessedly on the move. It took me a bit to get the to the start pad, and even then things were fairly congested for a bit.  Plenty of walkers were in my area, so I started to bob and weave around them.

The start of the race (it says start on the other side where we are).  I'm in here somewhere, jumping up and down to stay warm.

The start of the race (it says start on the other side where we are). I’m in here somewhere, jumping up and down to stay warm.

The roads were slippery so I had already given up my thoughts of a really fast race (I had so wanted to see what my half marathon trained legs could do) so I settled in to find a pace that I could stay upright in. The first mile passed easily, a few hills here and there, nothing significant.  I was really surprised at how much the snow was sticking to the road, and stinging my face and eyes; I’ve never raced in snow before (and to be honest, have never run in snow this heavy….I would have totally treadmilled this if it were a training run!).  But I quickly warmed up (my hands and feet had started out the race mostly numb) and before long I hardly even noticed it. The miles weren’t marked, but I started to see people coming back towards us somewhere around mile 1 or so, which meant an out and back.  It was pretty narrow there and I felt badly for the few making their way back; they didn’t have a lot of room.  I realized at some point we were on a nice little downhill, and with a bit of dread realized that this meant we were going to have to go back up it.  Ugh.  I knew that wasn’t going to be fun, so I tried to pick up the pace going down to make up for the walking I knew I would have to do. Sure enough, as soon as we turned around it was time to trudge back up.  As I had predicted, it was less than fun.  I did my same strategy that I’d used on the big hills in Central Park; run until I couldn’t stand it, walk a bit, rinse, repeat.  I passed my friend Rebecca at one point and high fived her, only to have her catch back up with me during another walk break.  We stayed together for a bit until I was ready to run again and she still needed more time to catch her breath.

My friend Rebecca on the dreaded hill.  This photo shows the weather conditions pretty well.

My friend Rebecca on the dreaded hill. This photo shows the weather conditions pretty well.

I skipped the water station on the way back and just concentrated on trying to finish as fast as I could.  I had no idea where I was time wise, because I’d turned on RunKeeper at the start of the race, not as I’d crossed start.  But I could hear that my pacing was getting faster so I started thinking again about my goals for this race: Goal A:  PR (I figured this was unlikely even if it hadn’t started snowing, but it’s always in there) Goal B:  Sub 36 Goal C:  Sub 37  (I usually do hilly courses somewhere between 37-38) The snow was still coming down now, sticking to the grass and some areas of the roads, so I tried to stay aware of my footing.  I heard RunKeeper go off for the 30 minute mark and it said I was at mile 2.5.  This was good news.  But I was definitely starting to feel tired, the cold weighing down my legs, and the second cup of coffee not sitting well in my stomach.  I took another twenty second walk break before turning the corner towards the finish. I didn’t have a lot left, but I ran with everything I had towards the finish line, seeing the clock turn over 37 and change as I did.  I had no idea what my time was, but I knew that I had performed better than usual on a hilly course.

Ben's Bells Kindness Coins.

Ben’s Bells Kindness Coins.

I grabbed the Ben’s Bells Kindness Coin that they were handing out as pseudo race medals to everyone and walked out of the finish area. I ran into my friend Rebecca within a minute and discovered she’d been right behind me the whole way after I’d left her.  She finished just thirty seconds after me.  We waited in the very long water line, sweaty and warm and satisfied. The cold quickly took its toll on us after we stopped moving though, while I had planned on staying afterwards to enjoy the post race fun, I made a quick decision to head home.  I was cold and getting colder every second, and while most of what they were doing was indoors, I just really wanted to change and shower and eat. After I got home I discovered that my final time was 36:19.   I’m pleased with it.  It’s not a PR, or sub 36, but considering the course and conditions, it’s a win for me.  Had the course been flat and clearer (there were a lot of spots where the snow was sticking) I would have certainly gotten sub 36, and even possibly a PR.  So I’ll take it.

A beautiful race for the angels.

A beautiful race for the angels.

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About mostlyforward

Somewhere on the journey to a better life, depending on the day...moving (mostly) forward.

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