Tuesday, September 20, 2016

U.S. Air Force 5K Race Recap

So let me just start this recap by saying that I really do love this race, but I had a better experience when I ran the 5K and half marathon in 2011.

Registration was a breeze and the pre-race communication was excellent.  The expo was packed with unique vendors and other races that I would not have heard about or been interested in had I not interacted with them in person.  Picking up my packets, since I had registered for both the 5k and the half marathon, was quick and easy.

After packet pick-up, we checked into our hotel and relaxed before the 5k that evening.  This downtime gave me an opportunity to look through my goodie bags.  Included in our bags were our race shirts that were a different color for each race, iron-on race patches, race hats, and a race weekend booklet.

I didn't post pictures of the 5k and half marathon shirts above because I wanted to mention that my half marathon shirt from the 2011 race is one of my absolute favorite race shirts.  I still have it and have worn it in so many races through the years.  That year, we received gender-specific New Balance shirts that were 100% polyester, but had a jersey texture and a breathable feel.

Then this year, we received my absolute least favorite shirt, also 100% polyester.  The shirts came in bags and were folded with tissue paper so that the screen print would not transfer to the folded part of the shirt.  They feel awful and not breathable at all.  In fact, the care tag says "professional dry clean recommended."  Are you kidding me?  A race shirt recommending dry cleaning, that's crazy!

Needless to say, I am very disappointing in the shirts this year.  So much so, that I probably will never wear them.

The 5k was scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. but due to road and parking lot closures, we decided to leave at 5:15 p.m. in order to arrive well before the start.  We arrived with plenty of time to relax, people watch, and snap a photo of the post-race food.  There were at least two more rows of food not shown in the photo below, so there was plenty!

As the minutes passed, I noticed that the sky to the West was looking dark and ominous, so I opted to run our phones back to the car just in case.  Then as the start time drew closer, the announcer mentioned that they were monitoring the bad weather heading our way and they may start the race early as a result.

There were no corrals, just a wheelchair start that took place a few minutes before the rest of us were released.  The waiting area for the start was cramped between the start line and the finishing line.  My guess is that the course would either be slightly too short or too long if they just used the same spot for the start and the finish line, but the placement was awkward and wouldn't have allowed for a corral start anyway.

We were underway at 6:30 p.m. and the first mile was fine.  Then as we looped back towards the main part of campus, I could see lightning.  You may remember that I ran my last half marathon in the rain, so I knew they would let us continue to run if it started to rain while we were on the course.  But when I saw lightning, I began to wonder if we would be pulled off the course for our safety.  Everyone just kept running and the volunteers didn't seem concerned, so I just followed the crowd.  I think we had just hit mile two when we moved from the road to sidewalks on campus that were only two, maybe three runners wide at most.  This was not a small 5k, so this area quickly became congested with runners and you couldn't really pass in certain areas because of the congestion.  Luckily, the further we went on campus, the more the runners were able to spread out once again.  As we continued running, the sky got darker and the lightning became more frequent and I think this made me run faster than I would have otherwise.

I ended up finishing just before my step-dad and just before the rain started, but my mom was still on the course.  After my step-dad and I grabbed our post-race snacks, we started hearing announcements that lightning was in the area (obviously) and we were to take shelter either in our cars or in the Nutter Center, but there was NO mention about the runners still on the course or the volunteers during any of those announcements.  What were they supposed to do?  Since volunteers were still waiting at the finish line and more runners kept coming, we just waited in the rain and lightning until we saw my mom in the distance.  There were still other runners behind her, which seemed so strange since they kept telling the rest of us to seek shelter. Aren't they supposed to pick up runners off of the course when bad weather threatens their safety?  I know they have for other races.  It was just bizarre.

My mom was clearly in pain as she finished.  She had just had a knee replacement last Fall and her bad knee really bothered her during this race, but she finished.  She received her medal from a high-ranking Air Force member (I couldn't tell you his rank) and we finally headed to the safety of our car.  Between the sweat and the rain, we all were soaked!

We decided to grab a light, post-race dinner at Panera (a.k.a. St. Louis Bread Company as we call it in St. Louis) since we received coupons in our virtual race packet, and we recapped our individual race experiences.  All three of us were surprised by the fact that they were telling finishers and their families to take shelter, yet they weren't pulling volunteers or the remaining runners off the course.  We also don't remember there being as many strollers in the 2011 5k.  It's great that parents of young children are active, but the course became so congested with runners in some areas that it caused issues when the runners with strollers would try to pass and there just wasn't that much room.  In fact, my mom was hit by strollers multiple times during the race.

Since my mom was clearly in pain post-race and Saturday's race would require quite a bit of walking and standing for both runners and spectators, I opted to sleep in and just workout at the hotel instead of running the half.  I had planned on walking the entire half anyway since my spring back injury still haunts me at times, my training was not where it needed to be, and the race was also walker-friendly (I would have had 6 hours to finish).   But during one of my training walks, it took me roughly three hours to go 10 miles and I just didn't want my parents to have to kill time and wait on me that long, especially since my mom was in pain.  I do remember reading about runner only shuttles to the start from the Nutter Center, so I probably could have gotten to the race on my own, but I really wanted my family to be there so I didn't explore this option any further.  Maybe I will keep that in mind for next time.

Needless to say, the weekend did not turn out as we had originally planned and I can honestly say that my 2011 experience was far better.  The medals were still nice and I enjoyed my weekend in Dayton seeing family and Wright Brothers sights, so it was still worth the nearly 6 hour journey.  I will likely do this race again, but want to wait a few years before I make the trek again.

Some areas for improvement that I saw for the 5K:
  • Corral start needed since there are so many runners
  • Select your "category" at registration like they do at the Indianapolis 500 Festival 5K and potentially have a "stroller" category

  • Larger area for runners to line up for the start
  • Have separate kids races of shorter distances so that the kiddos aren't forced to do a full 3.1 miles (I saw several kiddos being forced to run by their parents and they were NOT happy)
  • Separate stroller start as the very last corral to allow the field to spread out more before they come through
  • Have a plan for bad weather that includes keeping the volunteers and those still on the course properly informed
  • Go back to the gender-specific, jersey-style shirts that don't recommend dry cleaning
The volunteers were amazing and I applaud them for continuing to cheer us on even as the weather took a turn for the worse.  Volunteers rock!

Hotel recommendations:
  • Fairfield Inn - Dayton Fairborn
  • Hampton Inn - Dayton Fairborn
  • Homewood Suites - Dayton fairborn
  • Holiday Inn - Fairborn/I-675 (this is where we stayed)
All of the above hotels are walkable to the expo and 5k start.

Remember to add your race reviews on BibRave.