It’s been a month since my last race in Milwaukee. A month of rough and tumble Vermont winter. I’ve been doubting whether my isolated training has been long enough on my easy days and hard enough on my hard days. In Los Angeles I would do a race every weekend as my hard tempo workout. It’s not such much about the competition as it is about the intense workout that a race provides. I just can’t push myself as hard on my own.
So yesterday, I headed down to the Snowstorm Classic 5K in Springfield, MA to get my race on. I was hoping to get a tempo workout of a few miles in the low 5 minute range. When I went to the event website and looked at last weeks results (this is a 9 week series throughout the Winter on the same course), I was a bit disappointed – the winner ran a 17:39 – nearly two minutes slower than my best time for a 5k. But being that this was the only race in New England this weekend, I decided to go anyways.
What really excited me about this race was a little blurb on the event website that read: “The races have never been canceled throughout their history. No matter how cold it is, regardless of how much it may snow, if you can get to the Skate House, you can run.”. This is my kind of crowd – hard as nails New Englanders.
It was 9 degrees when I left Vermont at 8 AM and I hoped that it would be significantly warmer when the race started. The race was held in Forest Park in Springfield, MA, an enormous forested city park with numerous lakes and miles of trails. I was very impressed with the park, and I’d rate it as one of the top 10 city parks in the country. Park roads are not maintained like city streets and were therefore completely covered in packed snow and ice. This was going to be a very slippery and challenging race. At race time, a very friendly and rugged looking group of 100 or so runners (some in shorts and long sleeve T’s) congregated at the start line. It was 13 degrees. I was amazed that this many runners came out to run on this snowy course in these frigid temps. These were serious runners.
I have been running high mileage for the past few weeks and doing very hard leg strength workouts, so I wasn’t expecting much other than a hard workout. Having seen the condition of the course, and now realizing that I’d have to run with 3 layers of clothing on, a big hat and heavy gloves, that 17:39 winning time from last week was starting to sound pretty fast. As I looked around at the crowd of people standing on the line with me, most jumping up and down to stay warm, I felt like I was part of something special. These were not ordinary people out to compete for bragging rights or to get a PR, this was a group of exceptional, joyful people who were truly committed to something – running and community.
The ringing of a large cowbell signaled the start of the race and we were off. A pack of college kids lead the charge up the first hill. It was covered with ice and everyone was slipping. I found that the snowier edge of the road gave me more footing than the hard packed middle and I charged around the crowd. Before the race began, I was informed that the course would not be marked and that I’d have to memorize the map, which I hadn’t done. My strategy was to run the tricky first mile and half with another runner and then try to pull ahead as the course became more simple (or so it appeared on the map). At the half mile point, I was running on the heels of the leader in second place. During the warmup I had singled him out as the one to beat. He looked the part of an elite runner, and a few minutes of chatting with him revealed that he was one of the top marathoners in New England. It was difficult to maintain a fast pace as the snow would slip out from under your feet on occasion and make you lurch forward. I had to begin picking my feet up for each new step instead of pushing off from the previous step. At roughly a mile and a half, I picked up the pace and took the lead. No one followed my break. At the next intersection, I heard a yell behind me “go left, go left!!”, I quickly corrected my mistake and powered on. As more unmarked intersections began to appear, I realized that I was going to need the guidance of the runner behind me in second place. I slowed the pace a little to allow him within loud speaking distance. He was nice enough to guide my every turn for the rest of the race. Now THAT is sportsmanship. The final 200 meters of the race had us jumping over a snowbank (thank god for my guide behind me) and running on an unpacked trail with 10 inches of heavy snow on it. I stumbled 3 or 4 times trying to maintain my footing in the deep snow. Then I jumped over one final snowbank and I was in the parking lot crossing the finish line. I won the race in 17:45. A time that I was very proud to have run under these conditions.
After the race we all ran into the skate house next to the lake to get warm. There were no prizes or awards ceremony, just a great group of friendly people sharing stories, hot chocolate and doughnuts and planning for next week’s race. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.