The race director for the Red White and Blue Mountain 5K minced no words as we all lined up at the start.
This is one of our toughest 5Ks, he said. It might even be the hardest one we have. If this is your first 5K, well, hopefully this doesn’t scare you away.
This race, held over Fourth of July weekend at the Blue Mountain Vineyards in New Tripoli, Pennsylvania, was hardly my first 5K– I’m guessing I’ve run upwards of two dozen 5Ks at this point in my life, maybe more. And I was still a little intimidated by his warning, especially since I had hoped to run somewhere in the 21-minute range. I’d spent the last two months working more on my speed, going to the track every Wednesday night to grind out 200- and 400-meter repeats. 5Ks are tough for me, and I’d like to be able to pump out 21:xx 5K times more consistently.
This was not the race for such a lofty goal. Far from it.
And I came nowhere close to that goal. In fact, I ran my slowest 5K time — 25:26 — in at LEAST five years, maybe longer!
Shockingly, I was still fast enough to win my age group. I also finished fourth female and missed out on an overall award (which was a bottle of wine!) by nine seconds.
I still got a complimentary glass of wine afterwards, so I’d call that a win regardless of how I placed or what my time was!
The race was organized by a company called Good Day For A Run, which puts on a lot of races at wineries and breweries, as well as numerous holiday-themed races. My good friend Staci, who lives about 45 minutes away from the vineyard, found out about the race several months ago and asked if I wanted to come up and run it with her. I love races, I love wine and I love hanging out with Staci, so of course I was sold.
What made this 5K so hard? It was in a vineyard, that sounds really cool!
Sure, running through a vineyard does sound like fun — in theory! In reality, the terrain is uneven and it’s hilly as all hell. I did not look up the course ahead of time (I rarely do that with races anyway) so I didn’t realize quite how hilly it was going to be. I haven’t done one bit of hill training since Boston, and while I’m sure my track work helped a little, doing some dedicated hill work would have been much more beneficial!
There were very few flat stretches in this race, and most of the course involved weaving in and out of the rows of grapevines. So you’d run down one row, then make a very sharp turn, then run up the next row — and so on and so forth. I’ve never done a race with so many switchbacks, which basically force you to slow down or else you’ll slip and fall turning the corners. It was also tough to make up time on the downhills, because the ground was uneven and I was a little afraid of falling.
But the uphills were brutal. Brutal! Running uphill is always a challenge, but the heat and the humidity added an extra layer of difficulty. The race started at 9 am, and it was in the low 80s with high humidity. There was also zero shade and every uphill on the course was directly into the blazing sun. I said to Staci afterwards that it would have been better had the race started at 7 — of course, then we would have had to get up super early, so that would have sucked.
I knew after about a half of a mile that this was going to be a rough race. I rarely stop and walk in 5Ks, but toward the end, I was stopping for a few seconds at a time, then running again. Fun fact, my average race pace was 8:12/mile. That was the same pace I ran in the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon, when I qualified for Boston. And I ran the last mile in this 5K at an 8:42/mile pace. My average pace in the Boston Marathon was 8:41/mile. Speed is all relative, of course, but it’s pretty clear that this race really chewed me up and spit me out.
One great thing about it — it finished on a downhill! However, it was a steep enough downhill that sprinting down it didn’t seem like the best idea. I was so happy to cross that finish line and grab a bottle of water from a volunteer (I was not ready to think about wine quite then, haha!) then I stood at the finish line and waited for Staci and got a video of her crossing the finish. She also thought the race was an ass kicker and we talked about doing it again …. If the weather was around 60 degrees!
In the future, if I am going to choose a “goal” 5K, I need to look at the course first and also consider the weather! It’s not like I’m incapable of running well on hills or in the heat, but I think the combination of the two really did me in.
What’s next for me?
Well, this weekend I’m running the Seashore 5 Mile Run in Rehoboth with my brother-in-law Justin. I ran this race last year and know it’s pancake flat (as are all races at the beach!) so I’m hoping my track workouts pay off. I finished in 40:08 last year and won my age group, but was annoyed that I wasn’t under 40 minutes. I’d like to be around 38ish minutes this year, but if it’s hot as Hades, who knows what I can pull off.
Then on July 21, I’m running the Ellicott City 5K with Rip It Events. This race is another hilly one– the second half of it is basically all uphill. I ran the 10K version of the race last year and finished third overall, so we’ll see what I can do in the 5K. I’ll be happy with any time in the 23-24 minute range, but maybe I’ll surprise myself!