In New Jersey at least, there are a lot of 5k races… 921 in NJ over the year according to this. That’s quite a lot for somewhere only 170 miles long and 70 miles wide; not to mention that many places also have easy access to NYC or the Philadelphia area where there would be more races accessible to NJ residents. And that’s just the 5k races.
As someone I know likes to say “5k mania!”.
It seems that quite a few of these are charity fundraisers. It looks like charities see holding a 5k as a good choice of event to raise money (and awareness). Often though they don’t have any experience in helping run such an event and it can make it difficult to get it right first time.
Yesterday I took part in a first-time charity 5k – Run for Warmth which fit this profile. Before I get too far into a critique of what was wrong the race, I want to make it clear that I actually really, really enjoyed it, and I sincerely hope that the organizers learned a lot from the experience and can come back stronger next year. They really are a very nice group of people raising money for a worthwhile cause – helping people find the help they need for paying bills, particularly heating bills in the winter. With programs being cut recently they were looking to find ways to raise funds so they don’t have to turn so many people away: http://spreadthepurple.org/
I pretty much knew what to expect when I signed up for this race – although I haven’t taken part in one before, I have seen, or heard about, similar events. I initially signed up for this because I wanted to run a 5k in March and this one was local. I just wanted to get an idea of my speed at the time. Unfortunately they postponed it just a few days after I signed up. I wasn’t sure if I would end up running it simply because it was rearranged for Labor Day – the day after the Jimmy D 5k which is a large run for another good cause. I’ve taken part in that 5k every year since I started running, so knew I would be doing that one.
My initial thought was that this was postponed due to having very few people sign up and that was partially confirmed at the run talking to the organizer as she said there seemed to be too many other races at the same time which lead to the decision. It was an unfortunate choice to rearrange for the day after Jimmy D because that’s such a big race only a couple of miles away from this one. With the sheer numbers of races in NJ, it’s going to be tough to find a time when you’re not up against some other race.
Thinking this was going to be a small event I decided to go along anyway – why not see how well I could do the day after running a fairly solid race, and besides, with all the fast people having run Jimmy D with only a small chance of them coming out again the next day, maybe I could place quite high.
As I noted above, I was expecting this to be small, and along with that comes concern over how well organized the run is going to be. When I arrived that morning, my concerns appeared to be well founded. Registration was from 8:30 to 9:30 so I got there around 9 to find very little activity. The catering guys were there, the timing company were there, a volunteer was there, but the word was that the organizer was going to be there in about 15 minutes. It turns out they had very little volunteer help and she had to load the van herself that morning and was running late. It didn’t seem to matter too much – there were only a handful of runners there at that point and the timing company was proactive in giving out numbers and chips, writing down our names, and trying to make sure we would still be able to start at 10am.
There was a slow trickle of runners turning up, some were pre-registered and some were not but everyone was checked off and ready in time for a pre-race warm up (if they chose to do one). I don’t think the organizers were ready though. I wonder if maybe they expected the timing company to do more because although they had printed out course maps, they had not set up anything on the course to indicate where the turns were, and I wasn’t sure they were going to even have volunteers out there. I had taken a look at the map and recognized the course as one I had seen used before (but not run myself). The turns were at the far ends of the park so should be easy to work out and the only slight complication was a detour along a road within the park that took you up to a parking lot. I had seen that you had to run around the parking lot before coming back out on the same road.
By 10am there were 20 runners – apparently more had signed up online but did not show up. The forecast was for rain so that may have been a deterrent for some, but other than a few small spots of rain closer to 9 it looked like it would hold off. Some may also have signed up in March for that date but maybe could not make the new date. The small field made it quite a pleasant atmosphere with an “everyone’s in this together” attitude. The faster looking people were working out how fast the others were (well, okay, I was trying to work it out) and the fast looking young guys seemed to think they would have to try to keep up with me after I told them about my previous day’s race. I still wasn’t sure how fast I would be so there was a chance they could beat me.
When we started they did stay right with me, although they left me to lead, but after the first turnaround they came past me. A spectator was kind enough to stand by the parking lot road to direct us in, but pointed out she had no idea what we had to do when we got up the road. At that point I pulled ahead of the two youngsters again and lead them around the parking lot and back out to the main road. They started to drop back slightly at that point but I was determined to stay ahead. I think the threat of them catching back up to me was enough to push me hard to the end and I actually won – I got to break through the tape at a finish line!
The distance was a bit short according to my Garmin and, if that was a full 5k, then my time was amazing so I knew something wasn’t right. I checked afterwards with the USATF course map and it confirmed that the finishing line was seemingly in the wrong place and the course was short. If it had carried on to the full length at the average pace I had done for the race I would have had a time of around 19:30, which was slightly faster than my pace the previous day (but this was a flat course). My recorded finish time was 19:04.9 http://www.coolrunning.com/results/13/nj/Sep2_Runfor_set1.shtml
As others came in, it became clear the chain had broken in terms of those behind being able to follow the full course. At some point people didn’t realized that the course officially went around the parking lot so they just ran up the road, round some garbage cans at the end, and back down again. Nobody seemed too bothered by it though (finish order was not affected in any way).
Food was provided after the race, and I have to say this was the best post-race food I have ever had. They had a few guys volunteer from a program that trains young people to be chefs and they grilled up some fantastic burgers and chicken (I’m thinking they may have done better holding a fundraiser with just the food rather than a 5k).
I spoke to the organizer after the race and she seemed pleased to get the feedback on what she would need to do next time. If they were to hold this again next year I would probably participate if it fit around my schedule, mainly because I liked the cause and what they were trying to do. Perhaps they can make it work. Maybe I could even try to help out.
I’m not sure whether they would have raised much money with this event with the associated costs but at least it hopefully raised some awareness and if you can help out in any way, you can donate here.
I was hoping to be able to include some pictures on this post, but I didn’t take my phone with me on the day and no pictures have been posted yet – they haven’t posted anything at all on their facebook page since before the race, but I should probably give them a break as it can’t be easy running something like that in addition to working full time… but I really want to see the finish line photo.
Do you think there are too many races? Perhaps you like the choice of small and large races so appreciate the choice? What makes you choose to run a particular race?