Running Road Races: What NOT to Do

by Kim on August 20, 2012

I knew what the title of this blog post was going to be before I even got to the starting line for the 5K on Saturday.

The sad thing is, there wasn’t much I could have done to save the situation, really. So maybe a more accurate title would be “What Not to Let Happen to You…Somehow…”

You’re probably thinking: get to the point–did you you finish? (Or maybe “what a drama queen–I’m going back to work.”)

And the answer is…sort of. :)

Let me explain.

So Saturday was the day of the Big Race. And by big, I mean not very big, since I’d decided to run the 5K instead of the half marathon. It was my first 5K, so initially, I was excited about the change. It would be low stress, I wouldn’t be nervous before it or sore after it (I hoped), and I wouldn’t have to pace myself too much during the race since it was so short.

But then, when I got to packet pickup the night before and saw that my bib and T-shirt clearly said Half Marathon on them…I started getting a little sad. I remembered how excited and stomach-fluttery I got during packet pickup for past races, and it just didn’t feel the same this time, mostly because of the race swap (if I’d planned to run a 5K from the beginning–totally different story). I was slightly embarrassed to even be standing in the Half Marathon line to get my stuff, since my brain was screaming “I’m not legit!! And EVERYONE CAN TELL!” To add to my illegitimateness, Brent and Mason were waiting in the car, so I didn’t have even have time to schmooze around the expo and get excited like I typically would (this process involves ogling over fancy water belts, running headbands, and compression socks, REEEAAALLY considering buying them, and then inevitably leaving empty-handed).

Despite all this, I was still pretty excited about the race. I laid out all my stuff the night before, stuck a giant water bottle in the fridge, slapped a sticky note on the counter that said GET WATER (FRIDGE), and set my alarm for 5:00 AM.

No…5:10 AM.

…And that was step 1 of What Not to Do.

I felt like I’d been in bed for about 2 hours when the alarm went off. Ughhh. I blinked my eyes once…and it was 5:20. (I could have SO easily fallen back asleep and missed the whole race here! Close call.)

Panicking a little at the time, I burst out of bed and dove into my pre-race process: got dressed, pumped, left the bottle on the counter for Brent to give Mason, made coffee for the road, inhaled breakfast (oatmeal), and took this bad picture:

morning ofRocking the pink hard. (And the baggy eyes even harder.)

I was on the road by a little after 6, which was (according to my plan) still pretty on time. Made it downtown in record time, since there was no traffic and the yellow flashing overnight lights were still on.

I’d thought hard about which parking ramp to park in. I had limited time to get parked and to the start line, so picking the wrong ramp could be costly. I picked one that wasn’t too close to the action, where everyone else would want to park, but also wasn’t too far away, so I’d have to sprint a mile after parking.

Or at least, I thought I did…

So, the race was at 7 AM.

At this time:


I was here:

ramp trauma

I got a tiny bit lost in the ramp, so it was only after circling the whole thing TWICE that I realized THE RAMP WAS 100% FULL. (And yet they’d let me in…what’s so hard about a Full sign during a massive event?)

“Oh, phooey,” I thought. (But we both know that wasn’t really the word I thought.)

So I went tearing out of the ramp, only to encounter this:

stuck in trafficNotice my current mph.

The 2nd ramp I tried was a half a mile away from the starting line. A half a mile. Like 1/6 of the race I was here to run. By this point, there was no question that I was going to be late. I crossed my fingers that the race would be delayed a few minutes-and if it wasn’t, I knew I’d just be crossing the starting line alone. As much as that sucked, I thought it might motivate me to run even harder and catch up to the pack.

So I finally parked on the top floor of Ramp 2. I think it was a few minutes before 7 at this point-I was too depressed to look. The stairwell I’d parked right next to ended up being closed (welcome to my life), so I ran to the next one, trying to pin my bib to my shirt while running (step 2 of What Not to Do: don’t forget to put your bib on your shirt the night before).

When I got to ground level, I started running. I was trying to think of it as a warmup, but I was running way too hard for that. Then, at one point, I realized I was on the actual course, which was even more humiliating. There were people milling around watching the race, and since I had a race bib on, they stared at me as I went by-but in confusion. I either looked: A) amazing, as the first runner way ahead of the pack, or B) like an idiot, straggling waaay behind. Either way, it was so incredibly uncomfortable that I got off the road and started weaving incognito through the crowds on the sidewalk instead.

Finally, I made it to the starting line…which was, as expected, deserted.

start line


Depressing, huh?

The timing guy looked like he was starting to pack up his equipment, so I ran up to him and asked if I could still start. He shrugged and said I could. When I asked where the actual start line was (where it would begin timing), he just pointed vaguely, and I never was completely sure which strip on the ground it was. But regardless, I’d already crossed ALL of them once just to go talk to the guy, so was it already timing me???

As upset as I was, I chose to swallow the tears (for the time) and just go. So, all alone with no one even watching (or maybe some watching in confusion), I went under that arch and started running.

A wiser person would have probably just cut her losses and headed home (…I thought…much later). Because this is where things REALLY got ugly.

I didn’t have the course memorized. Why would I? That’s the reason you run these races-so you don’t have to use your brain or think about anything except moving forward. And as my crappy luck would have it, I took a wrong turn…IMMEDIATELY. So even if the route had been fairly well marked and there had been volunteers directing people, I never saw any of it, because I was off on my own little private 5K, all alone with my Half Marathon bib on.


I didn’t realize I was off course for a long time. I assumed I was just that far behind the pack. (And I was actually running on the last couple miles of the route, so there were water stations and signs that said “0.25 miles to go!!”-I  just assumed it was a big loop, and they just didn’t bother to mark the trip out as well as the trip back.)

It didn’t hit me that I was never going to catch up to the pack until I randomly SAW it…way off in the distance, coming from a different direction. Whaaat???

As I ran to catch up with and merge into the group, another girl with a Half Marathon bib came up to me and asked if I’d been looking for the half marathon route or if I knew where it was. I felt terrible for her-she’d probably trained much harder for this event than I had and must have been devastated to find herself accidentally running with the wrong group.

Anyway, once I was finally actually running with the group, I realized I was toward the rear of the pack. Which meant that everyone was going relatively slowly around me and stopping to walk a lot, while I could think of nothing but how badly I wanted to get to that finish line and end this traumatic event ASAP. So I ended up being the d-bag who was trying to weave around everyone, running on the grass alongside the path half the time.

(It just keeps getting better and better, right??)

Eventually, I was coming up on the finish line. I had no idea how far I’d run or if I’d even completed a 5K, so when I crossed the line, I felt nothing but bitter disappointment, and when they handed me a medal, I almost didn’t take it. (Don’t worry, I did…I’m not that much of a drama queen. Plus, I guess it would always be a good story.)

There was no post-race schmoozing or enjoying of my (FREE!!!) beer. By then, there was nothing I could do to stop the tears, and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. So I ended up grabbing a chocolate milk and half walking/half running back to my car with tears streaming down my face, keeping my head down so I didn’t have to see even more confused expressions. (A girl with a bib and medal on, running down the street crying…was she seriously that unhappy with her time?? Get a life!)

I was just so humiliated, frustrated, saddened…all because I’d picked the wrong parking ramp.

Step 3 of What Not to Do: Do not drive yourself to races. This is a new step for me. I’ve never had a problem in the past, but I’m not sure I’ll ever attempt it again. (Hopefully the hubby is up for that!)

After I pulled myself together (the lady I paid to get out of the parking ramp wanted to have a nice long chat about the race, and I wanted to scream) and headed home, I went to to find out how far I’d actually run. The results:

my 5k

So at least I did run a 5K (not to mention the extra mile of running to and from the parking ramp…).

According to the official results, my time was 31:06. Factoring in the extra mileage, I was doing a little over 9 minute miles (not what I’d hoped for). If you’re wondering…if I’d actually run the right distance, my time would have been 28.24. (Although technically, that doesn’t factor in the confusion at the start line, the time I stopped to talk to that girl, the time I turned around to catch up with the group, etc…what a hot mess.)

So if you’re looking for a smooth, enjoyable racing experience, this is what I recommend NOT doing.

Next time, what I WILL do is:

1. Put my race bib on sometime before I’m driving to the race. (Rookie, I know…I just usually have a lot of downtime in the starting lineup and thought it would be nice to have something to do besides exchanging awkward, nervous glances with the people crammed in next to me.)

2. Get a ride to the race, or leave my car in some forbidden permit-only parking lot and just accept the ticket. (Or, worst case scenario, bail out in the middle of traffic and pick the car up from the impound later. I’m not messing around anymore, folks!)

3. Actually glance at the course map before race day. (Hopefully I’ll never need it again…)

So, it was a rough morning. But I forced a smile for this picture:


I guess the medal was pretty cool…

medal close up

And we got this sweet towel…


Luckily, I’m getting a chance to redeem myself before the racing season is over. The Zooma Great Lakes half marathon is in late October, which means I’ll need to turn around and launch another training plan next week. (!!) I have every reason to believe that this training and racing experience will go MUCH more smoothly. (I mean…how could it not, really? The bar is pretty low here…)

Has anyone else been late to a race?

Please tell me I’m not the only one!

Any other recommendations for what NOT to do?

I probably need to hear them myself…


Here’s to better luck next time!!


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul August 24, 2012 at 6:13 pm

I’ve had shitty days but can’t top yours. Great writing !!!! —almost had a “something in my eye”.


Kim September 4, 2012 at 3:47 pm

hahaha :)
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