I moved to Memphis mid-August of last year and started my first “real job” on a Monday. More importantly, however, I began running with the unique and ever interesting Fleet Feet crew that same afternoon. Prior to this momentous occasion, I had little to no knowledge of the Memphis running community, but luckily everyone for the most part behaved themselves and my first impression was a good one. I spent the evening and every following Monday until the end of November listening to them yap about this mystical “Road Race Series.”
So here is a little background info on the event. My sources are the internet, smart runners who probably didn’t know I was eaves dropping, and my own imagination. (Please don’t fact check this. Or anything that I write. Ever.)
- The Memphis Runners Track Club Road Race Series is proportionately named to the length of the series itself. Which brings me to my next bullet point…
- It is a compilation of two 5k’s, two 5-milers, two 10k’s, two 10 milers, and two half marathons.
- Each month from July-November there is a pair of races at various different locations around the Memphis area, which are marked by impressively high rates of participation and heaven-forsaken 7:00 a.m. start times.
- To my understanding if you finish 6 races, you are considered a “series finisher,” which is apparently cooler than it sounds. In this case, you receive a unconventional badge of honor such as a hoodie or a seat cover as in years past.
- If you participate in all ten races you earn the coveted title of “race warrior” that is accompanied by a plaque or a trophy and the above stated finisher prize.
- And if you call yourself a “race warrior” and you are not a “race warrior” you are banned from signing up the following year and/or attending the holiday party ever again. (Not really, but I have heard those warriors don’t mess around)
- I’m not exactly sure what age group and overall winners get, but I’m definitely hoping that it’s not trophy. I never know what to do with trophies. I don’t even have shelves.
Anyway, I didn’t jump into the race series last year because a) it was already half way over before I really understood what it was and b) I was fresh out of college and much more interested in drinking my body weight in red wine on Saturday nights than showing up at a starting line at 7:00 a.m. on Sundays. Nope, I let those people have their little road races, but now my time has come.
The sequence of races within the MRTC Road Race Series is no coincidence. It is planned strategically to allow Memphians to progressively build their endurance in preparation for the St. Jude half and full marathons. My coach Chris Winter (pictured above and yes, I realize I can’t put on a race bib) works for BPC (Build Peak Compete) and is also the cross country and track coach for Houston High School. The man knows his… sh-stuff! Like many other Memphians, he is using the series in helping me reach my long term goals. One of which is the St. Jude full in a time of 3:09 (yeah, we’ll see…) and the other is a half at the end of October in sub 1:30. So, despite my constant whining and objections, Chris doesn’t have me racing every Sunday and, as of right now (I’m still trying to convince him), he doesn’t even have me racing one of each pair.
Both 5k’s were at Audubon Park, which is a USA TF certified course and my favorite route of this distance in the area so far. This course has the perfect combination of predictability and flow; and it is probably as flat as it gets… even for Memphis.
The first one was on July 17th, and I got to the park right around 6:20am to start warming up. Usually, I find at least one or two friends to jog with. However, there were so many people at this thing that I was not about to waste ten precious minutes trying to find someone and ultimately forfeit my notorious last minute tinkle. I did a solo 1.5 mile warm up, spent a solid 20 minutes waiting in line for the coveted porta-potties, and then made my way to get a front-row seat at the starting line.
As a pre-race ritual I sized up the crowd for girls in spandex and sports bras as it is usually a sure sign that they could potentially be faster than me. In stead, I found my good friend and local running idol Rita Jorgenson (blonde pictured to the left) who won the series last year (definitely faster than me, not in a sports bra). She ran for Vanderbilt and is an endearing mix of incredibly talented and exceedingly humble. Yet, as it often goes in this series, Rita explained that she wasn’t competing in this particular race because it didn’t fit into her training schedule. In addition to her, there were a couple of other ladies that I knew could put me to shame at really any distance, so I took a minute to remind myself that I was racing for time and not place.
At the sound of the start of the race, I took off. I then looked down at my watch to find that per usual I got caught up in the excitement and started too fast. Chris set my splits for 6:12, 12:24, and then 18:36 with .1 miles to go. Sounds beautiful, right? Yeah, it didn’t quite turn out that way. I adjusted back to my 6:12 pace and hit the first mile a little faster at 6:08.
I felt good that morning. The pace of the first mile came easy to me, and my legs were nice and fluid. Into the second mile, I could feel the crowd ease off as I became aware of myself steadily moving a little slower. I looked down at my watch to confirm, and I sped up on the slight incline of where Park turns onto Goodlett. That was not the best move. The next hill on Goodlett proved to be a bit more of a challenge for these Nashville legs, which hadn’t been home in a while. I hit mile two right on target, but I backed off a little to 6:15 pace when I rounded the corner onto Southern. There, I found the devil himself shining on me with the blaze of a thousand suns for the entire last mile. I fought off the raging desire to give up and maybe look into new hobbies and I finished the last .1 at 5:55 pace. My end time was 19:36. Whatever, I’ll take it.
Chris had me run the second 5k as a tempo in the middle of a long run. I hadn’t done this before, but it took the pressure off the race and made the long run a little more exciting. I woke up at 4:50am the morning of the race and should’ve had plenty of time to get out the door. However, I am the world’s ultimate dilly-dallier. So of course, I was running late. At 6:35am, I started my first four miles (that I obviously could not finish in 25 minutes as a “warm up”) towards Audubon which is only 3 miles from my house. I cheated my 8:20 warm up pace and was probably running closer to 7:40. I arrived at the park with 1.5 miles left of my warm up and ten minutes till the start…oops! At this point, I still hadn’t tied my chip onto my shoe and, therefore, had to face the fact that I wasn’t going to make it into the first corral. So in lieu of freaking out, I stopped to take pictures.
After I’d gotten myself an action shot, I jumped into the next group, quickly tied my chip on, and I was off! The 6:50 pace Chris set for me was a little more involved than I was expecting. It wasn’t necessarily difficult, but I was for sure breaking a sweat. Blame it on too positive of parenting that lead to over confidence, but I guess I assumed that 6:50 pace would be a breeze compared to that of the last 5k.
I felt really bad because I was running with this lady, who is one of those hot-moms that has every right to be running in a sports bra, and I could tell that she was running by feel because she wasn’t looking down at her watch… which caused her to be less steady in her pace. She was doing great, but since I was trying to hit every mile on the nose, I had to speed up even when she was slowing down. She probably thought I was trying to be really competitive with her, but I was really just playing games with my watch.
That same damn Devil from the first 5k met me at the last mile again. It was brutal. Regardless of pace, it’s just a hot and miserable mile. I could have been walking and it still would have been uncomfortable. Luckily, I hit all of my splits right on target and still had some gas in the tank for my four miles home.
After the race, I had originally planned just to keep running so that my 3-part run would be a more fluid long run. Then I decided that the social aspect of running was just as important and said, “Screw it,” to the original plan. I took some time to chat with my friend Teri who I met in the Winter Off-Road Series. She is also a really cool mountain biker. My favorite part of the day though was when two other of Chris’s female clients and I gathered around him and talked about how we hate when he gives us hard workouts when we are CLEARLY in the middle of our monthly cycle. Sorry, Chris, you really should be more careful to avoid us when we are all together.
So there you have it, folks, the first two 5ks of the series! We made it through, and now it is time to persevere and increase our distance. See you at the next race!