Saturday, March 13, 2010

Lots of rears are now in gear

It really is a minor miracle that Charlotte's inaugural Get Your Rear in Gear 5K went off without a major hitch this morning.

Organizers -- who five months ago would have considered 500 participants a successful event -- realized this week they might have more than 1,000 people on their hands. The forecast had been looking dicey for days, and at 8 o'clock Friday night, there was a downpour, thunder and lightning the likes of which we haven't seen here in Charlotte in months.

But by the time the gun went off at precisely 8:01 a.m. today at Independence Park in the Elizabeth area, the sun was shining, the poster women for the race (colorectal cancer survivors Sue Falco and Mary-Karen Bierman) were smiling, and ... did I mention the sun was shining?

The good news about the first mile was that it was mostly downhill; the bad news -- well, in addition to knowing I'd eventually have to go back up -- was that we were running down Elizabeth Avenue, which is an imperfect running surface because of the train tracks built into the street. (Race director Paige Hauff told me afterward that next year they'll probably adjust the course to avoid Elizabeth.)

After the turn onto Kings Drive, the pack faced a half-mile-plus climb with the sun in our faces as Kings became Central Avenue heading up toward Plaza Midwood (about 135 feet of ascent, according to my GPS).

Those were the two most memorable parts of the course. The rest of it was mainly residential -- along Hawthorne, Eighth, Ridgeway, and Greenway -- and not too taxing, although it's worth mentioning the short, steep hill just before the second mile marker on Hawthorne. I haven't run either CPCC's Charlotte Skyline Run or the Elizabeth 8K, so I appreciated the opportunity to race in a new-to-me area of town.

Oh, I should also note that I struck up a conversation early in the race with a guy who was just starting to get back out on the roads after a quasi-break due to the birth of his twins 4-1/2 months ago. He asked me what my PR was and went on to try to coax/cheer/talk me through the last mile or so. I ran splits of roughly 6:30, 6:45, 6:35 and finished in 20:41, missing a personal 5K best by just four seconds. Anyway, he was a big help -- I think I would have barely slipped in under 21 if not for him. (His name was either Seth or Tim; process of elimination using the results doesn't help because he finished at the exact same time as a buddy of his! Oh well.)

Anyway, to my surprise, I placed 18th overall out of 854 official finishers. But -- and this is by no means a slight to the race, the other runners, or the winners -- the field was, overall, slower than average. For comparison's sake, at the Cupid's Cup last month, 1,004 times were recorded (150 more than at GYRIG). More than half the runners -- 534 -- ran sub-10-minute miles. At GYRIG, only 258 ran sub-10-minute miles. Also, today's winner would have placed 14th at Cupid's Cup.

There are a couple likely explanations: 1) As with October's Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, a large number of the participants today seemed to be running or walking for the cause, not for a fast time. 2) Many serious local runners were probably saving themselves for next Saturday's Shamrock Four-Miler, or one the several big half-marathons and marathons scheduled for the Southeast U.S. next weekend.

As a result, non-elite runners who normally are gone by the time the awards ceremony takes place at other events found themselves sticking around and collecting hardware this morning. So ... slow field, yes, but I'm not complaining: Eighteenth place looks great on my resume! I talked afterward with overall runner-up Chad Crockford, and he wasn't complaining either -- Chad PR'd and missed winning his first race ever by just one second.

In fact, I heard very little complaining this morning. Because there was a greater percentage of slower runners, the atmosphere was exceedingly casual and friendly. And because the atmosphere was exceedingly casual and friendly, this was a great way for first-timers to be introduced to the 5K experience: solid course; good vendors; live entertainment from the David Michael Band; and a fantastic post-race spread from Manhattan Bagel of healthy-looking bagels, bananas, oranges, along with granola bars and other prepackaged snacks.

Sue and Mary-Karen did a nice job at the closing ceremonies, sharing their personal stories about beating colorectal cancer but also moving things along at a reasonable pace. That's a tough balance that I've seen screwed up at other events. The awards were a mixed bag: It was nice that overall and age-group winners got Omega Sports gift certificates, but I thought the medals for other top age-group finishers were a little disappointing. They basically were like your typical low-end finisher's medal -- you know, the ones you get just for completing a medium-sized half-marathon. I definitely would have preferred a trophy. (Sue did indicate to me that there was a problem with the awards they were supposed to get and that these were the compromise.)

Only other problem was beyond organizers' control: Leftover from the rain were some rather significant mud puddles where most of the pre- and post-race tables and vendors were set up in Hawthorne Park. And unfortunately, two of the biggest ones were on the path to two key areas -- registration/packet pick-up and the results board. I wish someone had run an audible and moved those two stations to paved (or at least drier) ground; I saw a lot of very dirty shoes. I feel sorry for anyone who was wearing new-ish sneaks.

But all in all this was a pretty remarkable event for one in its first year. The odds were stacked against Sue and Mary-Karen, given the weather forecasts and the overwhelming size of the turnout. But they beat the odds when they had cancer, and they beat them again today.


Tesfom Mehari, 20, of Wingate was the overall winner in 17:27. The runner-up, 28-year-old Chad Crockford of Charlotte, finished just one second slower. Ryan Burris, 20, of New Lexington, Ohio, was third place, in 17:55.

The top three women were: Nelly Anderson, 21, of Staunton, Va. (20:23); and a pair of Matthews 16-year-olds, Arden Mattachini and Emily Costa (both 20:48).

For full results, click here.


Anonymous said...

I think Tim Church is your man.

Deb said...

I'd have to say, I prefer medals to trophies. They take up less room in the house! What what you ask for. At the rate your going, you'll have a houseful of trophies and no where to put them all!

Anonymous said...

Excellent race. The goodies and the snacks were some of the best I have seen! Can't wait to run it next year this one will definately be on my race schedule.

Thomas said...

It sounds like the race organizers did a really good job with their first race. (Although that train track street sounds like it was a bit tricky - it's good to hear that an adjustment will be considered for next year.) As far as you time Theoden - you're running'll crash through 20 soon.


Anonymous said...

This was my first 5K and I had a wonderful time! I was a little nervous, going into it and not knowing what to expect. It was such a welcoming environment, great volunteers and the residents cheering the runners on was very encouraging.

Elizabeth Street (I think it is with the train tracks) was ironically one of my favorite parts with the view of uptown right in front of you but that hill right after was killer.

Great job ladie on organizing this--it was a wonderful and memorable experience!