It doesn’t matter if it’s mid-January or mid-June, one thing I love about New England and it’s running culture is that you can find a road race every weekend of the year and New Year’s Day, with sun, but negative wind chills, is no exception.
It was really cold, but the anticipation and waiting was worse than the actual running. Yes, your feet felt like rocks, the sweat froze to your face and your nose hairs rattled with each breath, but you were moving and it was only 3 miles so the cold was more motivation to go faster and get back inside than actual hinderance. Mostly….
For the second time in three years, I was stupid/crazy/silly enough to sign up for a new year’s day 5k race. In fairness, I had ample peer pressure from the local running group. I wasn’t the only crazy person. I had a whole tribe at my back.
This race was held at the Eagle Brook Saloon in the next town over and was put on by the local Lion’s Club. It’s very much a small, local, no-fuss race, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun or well run. With some winter running swag, a breakfast buffet and the bar open early, you definitely get you money’s worth.
In year’s past, the field has been over a 100 people which is pretty solid for New Year’s morning in the middle of winter. This year, the extreme cold limited the field to just over 60 hardy/insane souls.
I think the smaller field actually was a blessing this time. Everyone could fit comfortably inside the restaurant and shelter from the wind and cold until the last minute and there were enough bathrooms that I barely noticed any lines.
I was keeping my options open, so I didn’t pre-register but the small crowd made the lines short and the race day registration pretty painless.
Another bonus, instead of having to choose between gloves or a buff as our swag, they were giving each runner both as they likely ordered enough for way more runners than would be showing up.
I pinned on my bib through my six layers and then waited inside until the last possible moment to go outside and do something that resembled a warm up.
Nothing fancy about this race. No chips. No corrals. No closed roads. We did have a cop to stop traffic at the start as we wandered into the road to a short spray painted line. A quick, “Set, go” and we were off. Pretty sure the race director wanted to get back inside, too.
I go back and forth on whether to look at the course for a new race. Sometimes, I think, not knowing makes you go faster as you don’t mentally pace yourself knowing where the hills or tough parts are. You just run. This might be a silly strategy on longer courses, but short distances, I think it can help. Don’t think, just go.
But I looked.
And I learned that this course started with a good, almost mile long climb, starting at the half mile mark, but that back half was also almost all downhill, so I could grind pretty hard on the hill knowing I wouldn’t need the power once I was up on top.
After the initial sprint off the line, I settled into fifth. There was a group of 3 guys that separated right away and then a woman just ahead and then me and I could hear at least a few people huffing behind me. The woman had that type of pounding foot strike that made me wince and worry about shin splits. I passed her at the base of the hill and spent most of the climb closing and then running off the shoulder of the fourth place man.
Mile 1: 6:58 / 4th place
The second mile had a mild incline and I used it to put some separation on the third place guy and then used the downhill to close on the, still significant, gap on second. The first place man was long gone. I steadily reeled in the second place guy throughout the second mile until I was about ten feet back starting the third mile. It was pretty windy on the back half and I wonder if the guy could hear me getting closer.
Mile 2: 6:33 / 3rd place
At 2.5 miles, right before a decent downhill I went past the second place guy and tried to put a little gap on him. I didn’t look back, but I knew, even if he was fading, he wasn’t going down easy. I could hear him, not right behind me, but close enough. Right before the 3 mile mark there was a left turn. I didn’t glance back, but could hear the volunteer talk to him. It gave me enough motivation to put on a little speed to the finish.
Mile 3: 6:41 / 2nd place
Results: 20:56, 2nd overall of 64. 1st AG.
Nowhere close to my 5k PR (19:15), but I was pretty happy with the time and the performance in the race given the injuries this year and the frigid conditions.
One interesting note on the finishing time. My new Garmin (the 935) has a race prediction screen based on your VO2 max estimates from past workouts. Prior to this race, my expected best 5k effort was 20:50. I’d say that was a pretty good estimate.
My knee on the other hand was actually pretty sore. With the holidays, I actually didn’t run much at all in the week leading up to the race. With the family visits and travel, I didn’t do much at all and I wonder if that was more the problem than working out too much. This will be the year of shorter races, so the best way to prepare with the knee arthritis will be a learning experience.
After the race the restaurant put on a pretty solid breakfast buffet for participants: coffee, juice, eggs, potatoes, bacon, and french toast. Oh, and the bar opened early and Eagle Brook has a great selection of beers.
It was also really nice to have somewhere to get warm and thaw out. And I mean that literally.
There were awards and a raffle and again, with the limited field, lots of folks got medals and running related raffle prizes. My second place prize was a gift certificate to a local running store.
For a small, local race, I had a great time and will likely run it again in the future. It’s easy to get to (for me), plenty of parking, well run, good charity, plus breakfast buffet and beer.
You could do a lot worse logging your first miles of the year.