2013 Road Race Roundup

Next year, I’ll resolve to get race recaps and reviews up sooner, but in the meantime, here are my thoughts on three road races I did at various points this year that were never fully written up: The Boston Irish Festival 5k, Finish at the 50 10k and the Angel Run 5k.

Boston Irish Festival 5k – June 9
The Boston Irish Festival, despite its name, was held south of Boston in Canton. It’s a music, food, and cultural carnival held on the sprawling grounds of the Irish Cultural Center (conveniently hidden inside an anonymous office park). At the start of the second day of the festival, they held a 5k road race and bib allowed you and your family free entry to the festival grounds. Plus, post race refreshment included Guinness. Nothing beats a dark pint at 9:30 AM after a 5k. I was in!

I think this was only the first or second time they ran this race, which had the advantage of keeping the crowds down (more beer for me) but the disadvantage of race organizers that were a bit green (more on this below). Signing up and getting a number was no problem, but once inside the Culture Center grounds they sort of left you to fend for yourself in finding the starting line. No signs. No additional volunteers. We meandered with the scattered groups and eventually found the starting line a good half mile from the sign up table.

No real plan for this one. It was more of a lark. The goal was to get into the festival and occupy the kids for part of the day. I’d done very little anaerobic training, instead focusing on a lot of low heart-rate zone 2 stuff in the prior two months in prep for marathon training kicking in.

My second clue that this was less than a well-oiled race operation was the 10 minute delay in the start as the young kid tried to set up the timing system. I was glad to be wearing my Garmin. Eventually they let us go with some confusing instructions to be sure to step on both mats.

The course itself started on a pretty narrow dirt path behind some bleachers (luckily the field was small enough that there weren’t too many elbows or obnoxious jockeying for position) before hitting the paved roads that led to the surrounding industrial park. The rest of the race was an out and back among scenic beige buildings, loading docks and cracked asphalt of the American office park.

The lone water stop was pretty ill-conceived and understaffed. The table was placed in the middle of a T intersection that wasn’t convenient for the runners coming in either direction and ended up resembling an I Love Lucy sketch as the poor women tried to carry small Dixie cups of water to runners coming in three directions.

I must not have done the correct two-step jig required on the mats at the finish because, though I came in 9th with a 20:13, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at the official results as my chip never registered. Overall, I was quite happy given my level of prep for a 5k. I was running at probably 90% effort and was still in the ballpark of the 20 minute mark.

I was a little less psyched when I noticed my (pretty precise) Garmin measured my run at 3.07. That shouldn’t be possible. I was running the tangents, but not all that carefully. I’m guessing the course was measured by car, and there was no way it was certified (on any certified course you will almost always run longer – see here for some great in-depth detail on how USATF courses are measured).

Now, for all my complaining, it was a perfectly enjoyable Sunday morning and any shortcomings in the race itself were adequately made up for with the post-race concessions. They did not skimp on the beer. They actually had the taps flowing free for two and half hours after the race with ample other carb, potassium and water stores to help you re-fuel.

The festival itself opened to the general public at 11 and it was quite a strange, but fun mix of activities. There was the old fashioned, is-this-ride-going-fall-apart carnival rides. There were also multiple music stages, a genealogy tent, an Irish wolfhound tent, food trucks, an Irish tea tent, plus a number of others we didn’t get a chance to visit.

Verdict: Despite some of the shortcomings of the race itself, it’s balanced by a great post-race (alcohol) spread. Treat it as a catered, sprint training day and you’ll have no complaints. If the weather is nice, it has the added bonus of a good size festival with enough varied entertainment for the whole family. Not a bad way to spend a spring Sunday.


Race Report: Finish at the 50 (10k) – July 3rd
Almost six months later and I’m still doing my best to forget this race happened. The weather was very hot and there was little shade, but I also didn’t do myself any favors. Not a combo for a great, or even decent race.

This race (if the name didn’t give it away) is held at Gillette Stadium (home of the Patriots and Revs) in Foxboro, MA with the finish line of both the 5 and 10k’s being inside the stadium at, you guessed it, the 50 yard line.
It’s usually held in the evening near July 4th and (at least the past two years) and is followed by a massive fireworks display.

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I actually set my 10k PR here two years ago. Part of that was the course, you almost get a literal running start with the first 3/4 of a mile downhill and was looking forward to trying to top it this year.

Turns out they changed the course for the 10k. So long downhill start. The one change broadcast loud and clear on the event website was that, like the 5k in past years, the 10k would now include a run up the stadium ramps, around the upper level, before coming back down and finishing on the field. Ok, sort of different and cool. What they failed to mention was the absolute diabolical hill they also added into the middle of the race.

I’ll admit I didn’t pace well, and it was brutally hot that day, but that hill, with a false flat in the middle, before continuing even higher, absolutely destroyed my legs (and most of my will to live at the moment).

The key to most races is not usually the fitness, but much more the mental game. Once that cracks, it’s over. That hill didn’t crack it, but it put a serious dent in me and a seemingly innocent to the stadium ramps a mile later finished me.

I struggled on to the finish but had to walk in parts (on yet another hill) before crossing the line in 46:24, almost 5 minutes slower than in previous years and with a hugely positive split on the back half.

Being down on the field is fun, but I hardly noticed the way I was suffering. Post race snacks and drinks were plentiful, but the volunteers were brutally efficient moving you through so if you missed anything, good luck! Once outside the field, you couldn’t go back. So if you are waiting for family or friends to finish after you, make do with the water near the finish until everyone is done before heading to the larger refreshment spread.

Verdict: If the weather is bearable, this race offers a challenging course and the novelty of running inside the stadium. If you plan ahead and bring a tailgate spread, you can get prime seating/parking for fireworks (but leave a little early or risk the wrath of Route 1 traffic on the way home.)


Angel Run 5K(ish) – December 8th
Last race of my season, typically held in early December. This a non-certified course that runs a bit over 5k (about 3.25-3.30). The Angel Run is primarily a community, kid oriented race that typically features lots of tripping hazards at the start (kids) and more walkers than runners. There is some speed at the pointy end of the race, but it drops off quickly. It’s a fun family activity and I use it primarily for a last outdoor speed workout before heading inside for a winter of the treadmill.

This year the weather cooperated, as much as it can in December, and it was overcast and cold (low 30s) but little wind or biting cold. Once I got moving, I was okay in shorts and long-sleeved top.

The race is $30 for day-of registration (proceeds benefit a variety of local charities) and there were plenty of volunteers to help. No swag bag or extras (you get a long-sleeve tee if you register in advance) other than a jingle bell to attach to your shoe. I declined. I’m pretty sure it would drive me insane even over a short distance. On the other hand, maybe it would even out my cadence.

The course is a big loop, starting and ending at a local elementary school, mostly on secondary, neighborhood roads. The vast majority of the course is closed to traffic during the race (the one open part has ample sidewalks). The course is mostly gently rolling hills, with the exception of a short, sharp uphill about halfway and then a gradual climb to the finish.

The post-race spread has the usual water and various fruits, but also includes a staggering amount of hot chocolate and baked goods. Not great for running recovery but great for my cheering section.

Coach Laura targeted this last outdoor 5k as my initial baseline run test so the only plan was really to run like hell and let the chips fall where they may. I finished with an official time of 21:09 for 3.3 miles. First, this was 1:11 faster than last year. Not too shabby, all of that cycling and swimming recently must be helping my run fitness. Digging deeper, that actually gave me an (un)official 5k (3.1 miles) PR of 19:58. The first time I’ve ever actually gone under 20 minutes. I’d still like to log that on a certified course, but it’s a nice way to end the year!

Verdict: Worth the time if you live close-by and/or have lots of young fans in your cheering section. Plus, copious free cookies/sweets.

Next up: Two sprint triathlon recaps