Saturday, July 26, 2014

Lifetime Torchlight 5K race report

This week I ran the Life Time Torchlight 5K race in Minneapolis - for the first time in 12 years!

During the summer after I graduated from high school, I was building up to my first half-marathon and logging more mileage than previous summers. I remember doing a handful of races around town, including the Life Time Torchlight 5K. I have happy memories from this race but didn't make a point to register again over the years, mostly because the weeknight July evening is usually hot and the race-day logistics on the point-to-point course in downtown Minneapolis are trickier than the Saturday morning races I like. Then my friend Kate invited me to run this year's race with her, with her employer offering discounted registration for staff and their friends and family. I don't have much structure in my running this summer but still wanted to run a few fun races, and all of a sudden, this 5K sounded great!

Now that I've run it again—especially because I attended the event with a friend instead of solo—I see that the reasons I've ducked this race are actually what make it such a fun event (well, except for the summer evening temperatures). With races so rarely held on weeknights, running a 5K on a Wednesday night instead of the usual weekend morning felt novel. The point-to-point course was neat, especially because the finish line was across the (oft-mentioned lately on this blog) Stone Arch Bridge. And the logistics did require more planning, but it was easier and more fun to coordinate with a friend (and especially nice that her employer distributed bibs and t-shirts well in advance!).

I drove over to Minneapolis and parked near the finish line at about 6 p.m., then met Kate a few blocks away from the starting line. Because of how the course was mapped, I couldn't cut too much off the 5K distance and ended up running a little over two miles, meandering over to downtown Minneapolis for an early warmup.

Kate and I walked over to the starting area and hung out until race organizers started sending everyone into the start corrals. The start was at the Basilica of St. Mary, and there were a lot of people milling around.

When we lined up in the start corrals, we learned via the loudspeakers that 6,000 runners were registered for this race. That's why it felt so crowded!

The race began one wave at a time, the starts staggered to avoid the new Green Line trains crossing the course.

I loved the first few blocks. The first part of the course went straight down Hennepin Avenue, matching the route for the Aquatennial festival's parade that started just after the 5K. Crowds were lining Hennepin even when we arrived in the early evening, which also meant great spectator support. The early blocks must have been a gradual downhill, the runners spread out across all four lanes of Hennepin, the pavement was so smooth, and it felt like my feet were barely touching the ground. 

It was so easy to start out too fast. I tried to hold back the way I had at the Pork Chop Trot a few weeks earlier, keeping my pace at what felt like a hard but sustainable effort, and I was happy with that plan. The temperatures were in the low 80s and the sunshine was really warm, but the humidity was amazingly low for July in Minnesota. I wasn't aiming for a PR, but my hope was to run faster than I had at Pork Chop Trot. Like that race, I had intentionally left my watch at home so I could run by effort.

We ran down Hennepin, then turned on 3rd Street to start heading toward the Stone Arch Bridge. I really liked the whole course: there were a couple of short segments, then a loop around Gold Medal Park by the Guthrie Theatre before heading down the West River Parkway hill and turning onto the Stone Arch Bridge for the finish. My personal strategy to break up a 5K race is to get a few minutes past the first mile marker and note that I'm about halfway done, get to the second mile marker and know there's less than 10 minutes left, and then try to hang on with a steady pace to the finish. This race fit very nicely into that approach: there was nearly a full mile on Hennepin, then I just had to work my way toward the West River Parkway downhill and the Stone Arch Bridge's long finishing stretch. My mistake in previewing the course map was not noting whether the finish was right at the end of the bridge or slightly beyond, but I figured out early enough on the bridge that there was still a little stretch past the bridge (not very far, though).

(I did not take this picture during the race but instead doubled back afterward to catch another wave approaching the finish line.)

What happened next was a funny little challenge that I don't remember happening to me at a race before and now wish would happen more often. I glimpsed a couple of different times on the finish line clock because of the wave starts, and with no watch on my wrist, I didn't have any idea of my finish time for two hours afterward. (The actual and accurate results, adjusted for each runner's chip, were already online when I got home.) So I had to make an early conclusion about how the race went for me without the one piece of data that, for better or worse, so often guides our entire reaction to our race efforts. My approach to racing has varied tremendously—I've raced many times entirely by feel and many times aiming for a precise time goal—but this experience was a new one and a healthy one. I decided I was happy with my pacing and happy with my effort on a warm evening run, and I felt really good about how it went.

Later that night, I saw the results and learned that my Torchlight 5K time was five seconds slower than my Pork Chop Trot time. My snap reaction went along the lines of "Argh!" - until I remembered how positively I felt about my race effort before I knew my finish time. That time is a key piece of feedback, but it need not dictate entirely how I feel about my 5K that night. A few days later, I'm more tickled that I ran two 5Ks this month, on very different courses, at different times of day and in different weather conditions, within five seconds of each other. How does that happen!?

At the finish line, I was excited to see some of my favorite post-race treats: pretzels, Salted Nut Rolls, and popsicles! But that wasn't even the end of the refreshments. I found Kate, and we got to visit the Allina tent for refreshing pasta salad, wraps, cheese and fruit—another much-appreciated perk connected to our registration.

I give the Life Time Torchlight 5K high marks. The course and crowds were fun, the t-shirt is really lovely, and it was a fun evening with Kate. My 5K races this month are a benchmark for what I hope is more structured 5K training in August and September. And I won't wait 12 years before running this race again!

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