Time: 10:00 a.m.
There are firsts for everything, and I’d like to think that the “first” I experienced at this year’s Run With Wolfes — while highly frustrating — was a rite of passage. That’s what I’m telling myself it was, anyway.
Approximately halfway through the race, I was misdirected off course by a volunteer.
This race has been a good little race the past few years (one of my favorites, actually), but this year — its fifth — I think the organizers (who are super nice, btw) got a little too ambitious. They relocated the race from Oakwood Park in Menomonee Falls to the larger Menomonee Park in the Sussex/Lannon/Menomonee Falls area in order to add an 8K alongside the yearly 5K. Not only did this transform the event from the entirely paved race it was before to now an approximately 75 percent trail run, but it also created confusion thanks to overlapping race routes and areas that weren’t as well-marked as they should have been. And, well, volunteers who were pointing people the wrong way.
I appreciate the effort, but I’m frustrated with the execution. I was leery of the location switch coming in, simply because I liked the race as it was. It’s a race that tries really hard and pulls it off better than expected. The venue change changed the feel of the event a little; it was definitely more woodsy, but the rest of the race’s standard components were there.
Confusion at the start
I became concerned about this race pretty much right before it began.
During the pre-race announcements, the race director told the 5K runners to wait until after the 8K runners started. There was no sense of organization to it. I wouldn’t have necessarily had a problem with this if the start line had chip sensors; however, it didn’t. It was one of those races where only the finish line had sensors. So, if you wanted an accurate time, you needed to start at the front of the pack. Which is where I was lined up.
Since I didn’t want to lose time so a different group of runners could simply start first, I asked a volunteer for clarification on how the timing worked, who asked the race director, who then asked the timing company because she wasn’t clear on that. After some discussion, they decided to wait exactly 5 minutes after the 8K started before letting the 5K runners go, so then at the finish, they would just deduct 5 minutes from all the 5K runners’ results.
I thought that seemed okay, so I relaxed and readied myself to run. But then when it was time for the 5Kers to go, I encountered confusion about which direction to head pretty much immediately. Like, seriously, I was maybe 200 meters into the race and I wasn’t sure whether to turn right onto a paved bike path or run straight onto a woodsy trail.
This was ironic in light of one of the other pre-race announcements where the race director said, “If you’re not sure where you’re going, just follow the person in front of you!” I immediately thought: “But what if you’re the person in front?” Because at this race, that was actually a legit possibility for me.
Off and running… and running… and running…
As I guessed might happen, I led the pack for the first mile or so. A coworker I had invited to join the team I created when I registered for the race ran right with me for a little bit at the start (he was actually who pointed me straight onto the trail we were supposed to be on at the start, and not right onto the bike path). He peeled off my pace somewhere about a half to 3/4 of a mile in.
Shortly after that — I’m guessing around the 1-mile mark — some high school kid caught up to me.
I had a brief moment or two before he caught up to me that I wondered if I might win the race, which I tried to fend off by 1.) telling myself it was still way early in the race, by 2.) reminding myself I was running on a trail for the first time in my life. I realized my pace was probably too fast for a trail, and I worried I might burn out later. So then I tried to reel it in a little to save energy for later. It was around then that kid caught up to me.
I stuck with him for a little bit so he wouldn’t pass me outright, but then he kicked it up a notch. I didn’t want to burn myself out then, so I let him go.
Most of that brief early time that kid and I were running together, we found ourselves passing a bunch of apparent back-of-the-pack 8K runners. It seemed there was only one course to run at that point. After the kid passed me, though, I came to some sort of split where volunteers were stationed. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I had seen the kid go straight onto more trail, with most of the apparent 8Kers turning left onto paved path. As I approached, I asked, “Which way?” They said 8K left, 5K straight. So I went straight.
This is what did me in in, ultimately. Regardless, after the split, I either sped up a little, or the kid slowed down, because I gained a little bit of ground back on him. I just tried to keep close enough so I could see him.
Then, all of a sudden, we were back in the parking lot near the finish line. The kid stopped, and so did I. The finish line clock read just under 13 minutes when I first saw it. I was hoping my new running program would pay off for this race, but I didn’t believe I’d just become an Olympian.
Some volunteers saw us at the side of the parking lot. The kid wasn’t saying anything to them, so I started yelling questions about where we were supposed to go. The volunteers scurried about and then the race director came over. She wrote down our bib numbers, told us we’d be credited 1st and 2nd place, and then basically told us to go back out and run. So we did.
From there, the kid and I pretty much just ran together, chit-chatting off and on the whole way, which was sort of cool despite the circumstances. Turns out he was a Pewaukee HS cross country runner doing this 5K w/ his dad. And it was his dad’s first-ever 5K. I don’t know what our pace was, but I felt like we were moving pretty well during this pseudo-bonus/makeup run. We got back on course — or some course, anyway — and then just started passing a bunch of people. I don’t know if they were 5K runners, 8K runners, or just random runners in the park.
Eventually I caught up to Stephanie, who I was expecting to come in around 24 or 25 minutes.
She was surprised to see me, then incredulous when I told her me and that kid got misdirected. Then I passed her and kept going with the kid. But eventually, I faded. I had still been pushing the pace much harder than an easy run, probably even close to full race pace, really; however, with what turned out to be maybe just under a quarter mile to go, I stopped and walked for a few seconds. I don’t know how much I had run at much faster of a pace than I’m used to, even with that finish line break, but I was spent. I picked it back up, made the turn off the trail, into the parking lot, and crossed the finish line.
It felt like the most anticlimactic finish I’ve ever experienced. I had no juice to push through, no motivation to push through, and I knew it was just a race gone awry for reasons beyond my control.
As it turns out, several other people ended up misdirected or got off course, too. You could hear other people talking about it after the race.
Stephanie was among those who also fell off course. She had actually seen the first two mile markers (which I didn’t), and checked against her wristwatch stopwatch. She said she hit the 2-mile mark at 15:30, which actually put her on pace to challenge her PR. But then all of a sudden she noticed she was running by herself after she previously hadn’t been. Then, all of a sudden, she found herself magically amid a big group of runners again. If she ran the course correctly, her last mile was over 11 minutes, which is more than highly unlikely. Her goal coming into the race was to finish under 24.
I don’t know how they came up with the “official” times the race director and/or timing company assigned to that kid and myself, but the kid won with a 22:42 (which he was adamant would be slow for him right now — he was in the middle of his season, preferred trail to paved running, and his expectation was sub-21). I was given a time of 23:13 (which I also feel would be slow for me). That would be 9 seconds faster than my slowest-ever 5K.
Stephanie never received the benefit of an adjustment, so her time of 28-something appears worse than how she did at the Summerfest Rock N Sole 5K, where she fell victim to leg and back cramping, which caused her to walk off and on throughout the last mile. She didn’t walk at all this race.
After the fact
A couple days after the race, I went into MapMyRun and figured out the likely misdirected path that kid and I took. If my calculations are correct, I hit the parking lot 1.89 miles into the race having clocked a 6:48/mile pace. That would translate to a 21:07 total 5K time, assuming I could maintain that pace the rest of the race.
A day or two after the race, I also saw pictures of myself at the finish. Stephanie says it looks like I was just breathing hard, but I feel like I look confused and frustrated. It was probably a little of both.