CVS 5K race -- 09/20/10

Sunday brought the CVS 5K race in Providence

The races began at 8:00 a.m. with 50 meter races for girls ages 1 to 3, followed by 50 meters for boys ages 1 to 3, followed by more races throughout the morning up through a 1500 meter run for 8th grade girls and then one for 8th grade boys.

The start of the 5K race was at 11:15 but they began the process of getting people to line up for the race half an hour before the scheduled start time. The entry forms asked for your expected finish time and race numbers were assigned based on that data. (It was obvious at race time that a lot of people who intended to walk the course did not have a clue and put down any wild guess and thus ended up with race numbers that had them lined up with runners who expected to run the race in around twenty minute... and others just ignored their assigned numbers and started in some random spot that appealed to them. The organization was much better this year -- they have become quite professionally organized -- but some people just cannot seem to understand simple directions and there were probably two thousand more people than in past years.)

In our cases, Jill was number 2469 and I was number 4169. We were assigned to groups that were lined up on different streets.

The above picture shows people in my starting group (yellow number bibs with numbers from 4001 to 5000). This is facing backwards: these are the people who will be following me toward the starting line. Further uphill (just a slight grade at this point) are the folks with numbers 5001 and higher (into the seven thousands). Uh, as you can see, even this far back there are people who should be further back based on their expected finish time.

And below, facing the other way, towards the start line -- which is almost 500 feet in front of where I am standing to take this picture (holding my camera high over my head). People in the 2000 and 3000 range are coming in from the left, from a cross street down by where those signs are sticking up on the left. We won't get to start until they have started. As you can see, the streets are solidly filled with people all the way down to the starting line (which, of course, is where the elite runners are).

I didn't cross the start line until 2 minutes and 39 seconds after the starting gun -- and even then I scarcely able to move at more than a brisk walk for another couple hundred feet. The number bibs have an RFID chip in them that tells the race computer what time you crossed the start line and what time you crossed the finish line so your actual time on the course is known precisely. In previous years these chips had to be tied to your shoes and you had to turn them in at the end of the race or be charged a $35 penalty. Now the technology has moved on to the point where these chips are so inexpensive that they are disposable. (More and more races are using them, not just big ones like the CVS 5K -- that local 4 mile race that Jill ran in early August used the chip in the number bib technology.)

One of the special features of the CVS run is that there are bands all along the race course playing music for the runners (and spectators). Given that there were more than seven thousand entrants (including walkers), plus all of the kids in the morning runs and the teenagers in the 3K run that followed the 5K -- well, you can just imagine how many friends and family members plus just plain interested spectators there were all along the course. (Providence has a population of just over 175,000 but it is the center of a metropolitan area with more than one and a half million people -- so there are lots of potential spectators.)

The race was not quite as fast as it was two years ago when the winning time was 13:41 (a 4:25 per mile pace) but at 14 minutes exactly (4:31 per mile) it was certainly faster than I could ever dream of doing it. There was a bit of a battle for first place, the difference between first and second was only a few steps. Joan Benoit Samuelson runs this race. She may be retired from marathons, but she just burns up this race. Two years ago she set an American age group record (female 50-54) for the 5K here in Providence (17:24 -- a 5:36 per mile pace) and this year she won her age group (in 17:39 -- 5:41 pace).

I was a little bit slower than that.

Jill ran it in 24:27 (7:53 pace), slower than last week's 5K and slower than she had wanted to run, but if you are not one of those front starting elite runners, this race is more to have a good time and enjoy the experience of running with thousands of other than it is to set a blistering fast time -- conditions for at least the first half mile (and perhaps more, depending on the crowd running around you) is just too filled with other runners (and even walkers) forcing you to have to zig zag around people and go slower than you want, etc.

Oh, and have I mentioned that the start of the race is downhill (although you are too crowded in to take advantage of it) and that means that since the start line and the finish line are at the same place, the finish is an uphill run -- you turn a corner and there is a hill and the finish line is somewhere around four hundred feet up that hill. I wanted to pick up the pace on the hill but I was lucky just to be able to keep going without slowing down. However, I did do the entire race without walking except when getting water (at two of the water water stops; I was not dehydrated so I passed the third without getting a drink). I had wanted to improve on my time from last weekend's 5K and I did -- okay, so it was only by eleven seconds, but I'll take what I can get. (35:51 -- 11:33 pace -- compared with 36:02 and 11:36 per mile -- and last week was a flat course, no hill at the end).

And there we are, posing for a picture after the race. That is the State House behind us. That's where the state Senate and General Assembly meet (where Nancy was shaking hands with the governor, etc. a few years ago). The State House is a movie star: it played the part of the U.S. Capitol Building in Amistad and played a state capitol building in Underdog, among other films. The chain link fence behind us is because the plaza in front of the building is undergoing repair.

And as for this last photo... well, I just couldn't resist. Jill and I were on our way back to the parking ramp where we had left my car when I suddenly realized we were walking along a street that was totally lined with port-a-potties and I just had to stop and take a picture.

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