Unless you're Jay Holder or Caitlin Chrisman or Danielle Walther or Bill Shires -- i.e., unless you're among the fastest runners in Charlotte -- most of us aren't racing 5Ks because we think we have a shot at a piece of shiny hardware or a gift certificate to some nice restaurant.
Most of us are racing 5Ks because we think we have a shot at beating ourselves. At breaking some time/pace barrier we've been fantasizing about breaking. At setting a personal standard that ... well, that we'll want to bust up at the next 5K.
And at 7:30 a.m. today, on a humid but not-too-hot morning, about 1,300 runners were lined up in front of Dilworth's Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church for the Yiasou Greek Festival 5K, the majority with their eyes on the same two-letter prize: a PR.
The main reason many participants probably felt personal bests were so attainable they could taste them? Because when runners talk about the Greek Fest race around these parts, they can't seem to focus on anything but how flat it is.
Of course, when you're in Charlotte, you know that "flat" is a relative term. The Yiasou route would certainly not be considered flat by someone from, say, Indiana. (For a pancake-flat 5K, consider the Runway 5K set for Oct. 31 out at the airport; I've run it, and it's a faster course.) There's even a bonafide climb: At least a couple of people mentioned, afterward, their surprise about the third-of-a-mile-long riser on Kingston Avenue in the middle of Mile 2.
So ... while there were a lot of PRs out there today (the only word I heard tossed around more than "PR" after the race was "free beer"), there were some near-misses for a number of folks, too.
I think in some cases, overanxiousness or overconfidence could have been a factor. I mean, for days, even weeks, it kept getting drilled into our heads how flat and fast the course is. Those things get in there and stick, and by the time you get to the line, it's easy to either psych yourself out or to think it's gonna be easier than it actually will be.
Then the horn sounds and you take off like a rocket. Too fast, in a lot of cases. Plus, what you might not have expected was the size of the field; the number of turns (10 in all), or the bunching on those turns; the amount of parked cars on certain stretches, which occasionally made passing a challenge; that riser on Kingston; or the loooooong homestretch on East Boulevard (just shy of a half-mile).
It's enough to make you panic a little bit mid-race -- like, "Omigod, is this maybe not happening? After all this?"
That feeling hit me as I charged up East Blvd., as the numbers on the clock came into focus ahead: 21:21, 21:22, 21:23, 21:24. My PR (from China Grove in June) was 21:39, and of course, with all the "flat" talk, I was seriously thinking I could make a run at breaking 21. So seeing the timer tick off 21:25, 21:26, 21:27, 21:28 snapped me back to reality.
Sorry. Maybe I'm being a little overdramatic here. I'll just tell ya: Most of us know there's gun time, then there's chip time, and while the gun-time clock had me worried a little bit, my chip time ultimately wound up being 21:26. So I claimed my PR by a relatively healthy margin.
Yet the experience reminded me that while beating Jay or Caitlin or Danielle or Bill is impossible for most us, beating yourself ain't no walk in the park either. And the thing about setting a new PR? Means the next time out, it'll be even tougher.
Congrats to those who PR'd today. To those who didn't, remember the immortal words of John "The Penguin" Bingham: "The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start."
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A few completely random observations before checking out:
1. Though the course (designed by Run For Your Life owner Tim Rhodes) is rather turn-heavy and repeats itself in parts, I liked that spectators could easily drift a block or two each way and catch their favorite runners multiple times over the course of a short race.
2. Were there porta-potties out there anywhere? Being able to use the church's indoor facilities was nice, but it seemed like an awfully small number of toilets for an awfully large number of runners.
3. Could those of you who use the water stations and who drop your cups straight down on the ground (you know who you are) at least try to toss them to the side?
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BTW, Caitlin Chrisman was the top overall female finisher in 17:18 (a post-college PR for her). Alana Hadley placed second in 18:03. Danielle Walther rocked an 18:20 to finish third. Among the men, Ryan Bender won the overall title in 15:41; Jonathon Sunde and Greg Isaacs placed two-three in 16:01 and 16:12, respectively. (Jay Holder was fourth in 16:18.)
Also, Bill Shires smoked the course in 16:58 to claim the No. 2 masters spot (David Dye beat him by 18 seconds). Complete results are here.
How'd it go for you??