Race Report: Mutt Strutt “5K”

This race came on rather suddenly. My dear friend EP invited me to run it with her and our friend Tanya about a month ago. I penciled it in my mental calendar but procrastinated on registering. Then a weekend visit to my hometown got moved up a week, and I thought it conflicted with the race (the visit took priority, as a dear friend living across the country was going to be around). THEN this past Friday, I looked again: it was Sunday June 3, not the 10 as my brain had thought. D’oh! I quickly emailed NB and asked if he wanted to register. He of course was in, and I began chewing my nails. I wanted to race this, especially since it was a very small local race with awards and I had a chance at winning something in my age group (not that winning is everything, but ‘s kinda neat, especially for a mid-packer like me). I told EP we were in, and it was on!


Sunday morning the alarm woke us up at 6:45. We had both slept pretty fitfully. I myself had way too many dreams, some of them a little troublesome, but that’s best left for a different blog (or, preferably, no blog at all). I got up and peed (I was surprisingly hydrated given it was only a 5K, I hadn’t been as good as I could have been about drinking water on Saturday, and we had one to a party the night before. One shot and one beer for me. I was very good!) and then immediately made a bee-line for the coffee maker, plugging it in, pouring the water in, and hitting start, having set up the night before.

I started lubing up and putting on a sports bra, singlet and my running skirt (which I loooove but can sometimes chafe if it’s humid, though it was pretty cool that day, and it was a short race, so no big). I was looking forward to feeling sassy and fast in that skirt, which I hadn’t raced in but had done a couple tough workouts in and totally nailed them. I think it’s the mindset of running in a skirt. My hair was still a mess but then NB stole the bathroom for his morning routine and I went to work on making us oatmeal: half-cup each with brown sugar, cooked in water. ¾ cup is my normal breakfast, especially for longer races, but I didn’t need that much and wasn’t sure my buzzing stomach could take it. I was nervous and excited, just the fuel I needed for a fast race.

We chatted and ate our breakfast and I drank down a full mug of black coffee with sugar, hitting the bathroom a couple more times before we left. After my last trip, with my hair up and back with a tie and a sweat band, I got a text from EP: she was on her way, right on time. I texted her back to let her know we’d be heading downstairs in just one minute, made a final check of my bag (camelbak, Gu for NB, Gu Roctane for me, bandaids – we both had blisters – extra lube, tissues for TP, garmin, iPod, keys, wallet). I strapped on my Brooks PureFlows and we headed out the door. It was on.

EP greeted us with hugs and smiles, admitting she needed more coffee. We headed over to Squirrel Hill to pick up Tanya, who was also running her very first race. We had about a 30ish minute drive, which went reasonably smoothly given how convoluted roads in Pittsburgh are (turn left to stay on, continue on X which turns into Y and then turn right to stay on as it turns into Z. The fuck). We arrived at the race site in plenty of time in the pretty area of South Park, Pa., quickly finding ourselves near a pretty sprawling park. We parked the car and looked down the stadium steps to see the mini-expo, and the people and their dogs filing in. We all went into OMG-PUPPIES mode instantly (well, the girls did. NB was a bit more immune to this, being a dude, and being more of a cat person. I’m a cat person, but also a cute-fuzzy-animal person).

We kept our stuff with us as we headed to pick up your packets, heading down the slope towards the sound of barking and smell of a barnyard (there were horses, too). We got our race bags, filled with the same useless pamphlets per usual, dog food (too bad I don’t have a dog), and timing chip. NO BIB. It was so weird racing without a bib. It’s like I was missing a limb. Okay, slight exaggeration, but I can tell you on our not-closed-off-running-path, would have helped the pedestrians around us (those paying an iota of attention to their surroundings) to see runners with bibs to connect the dots and oh, maybe I shouldn’t continue to walk four-wide! (I’ll circle back to that…)

We wandered around a bit looking at the dogs and saying hello to the horses, hitting the port-a-potties first since I had to go PRONTO (so. hydrated.). After a while we discovered there was water fountain, so I felt secure enough to take our crap back to the car – including my bottle – grabbing my garmin, Roctane, and iPod, and securing my timing chip. We headed back down to hang out some more before NB and I did our warm up while the ladies continued to walk around (“we’re probably not gonna warm up, just stretch a bit.” Oh, you have much to learn, grasshoppers. Hehe). We ran easy along the flat start of the race course, quickly surmising it was an out-and-back. As we neared a shady section, I saw a short but steep rise, and gulped. At least I could tell it was small, though I mentally prepped myself for a very rolling course and a slow pace. We jogged it back in and I did a couple of race pace pick-ups, getting the juices flowing, my muscles firing, and sweat running. It was still quite cool, but very brightly sunny and with a decent wind every now and then. Could be interesting.

We made one last bathroom trip (the park bathrooms we discovered were way grosser than the port-a-potties, though at least they had soap. EP had to spot us all some hand sanitizer) and then headed to the start, chatting with EP and Tanya as the race nerves built. There was a chalk line designating the start, so I knew for sure then that it was gun start, but we lined up right at the front. It was a tiny field, and I knew I’d be going out pretty hard. Given how small and local it was, I figured I wasn’t being a jerk lining up front when I wasn’t that fast, since relative the field, I was a decently speedy runner. Or so I hoped.

You know you’re running a tiny local race when the announcer – still by the tents at the mini-expo – calls “ready.. set… go!” and the guy from the timing chip company says NO NO NO NO NO and waves his arms frantically as we all stare awkwardly, not sure what is going on (nobody false started. We could barely hear the announcer chick). We had to wave frantically at her to get the message across that he wasn’t set up yet, and neither were we. But a minute or so later, we were. I had my finger over my Garmin, my iPod readied for my first power song, one foot just behind that chalk line, and finally heard the “real” ready… set…. GO!!!

The Race

I exploded out of the gate. There’s that instant rush when GO is called – gun or no gun – and even without the sea of humanity of a big race like the Pittsburgh marathon or the Great Race, you still get an instant shot of adrenaline. I instantly tried to settle into a fast and hard pace, glancing at my watch probably too frequently. My pace ticked down and down and down. Maybe a tenth of a mile in as I got swept up into the fast pack, I saw half a dozen to maybe ten dudes (including NB) in front of me, and very quickly a girl maybe a year or two my junior (though I could be way off. I’m bad at guessing ages) in a white shirt and blue shorts with pink piping passed me, though I kept her in my sights. I was letting her go, trying to find my pace. At my PR race, I spanked the first mile due to a ¾ mile downhill start, and this time I didn’t have that, so I had to find my race pace on my own. I hoped to stick to 7:40s and faster, but knew I had no speedwork in the last 3-4 weeks to go on, and was also out there to have fun and run my own race.

We quickly came to the shade and my watch was reading just under 7 minute mile pace, but I knew the hill would take care of that: I eased off the throttle but still charged it, lowering my arms to save energy for when I’d need them to drive me later. The hill slowed me to the 7:40s, which I was happy with. The girl in white was still in front of me, but within striking distance. We cut across a small lot and crossed a street where a county cop was directing traffic for us. I waved and gave a gasping ‘thank you’ but he seemed focused on the task at hand. We got onto a pedestrian path and the rolling part of the course began.

While it was a bit rolling, as I’d predicted, it was pretty forgiving. The hills weren’t steep (other than the one) and most of it could pass as flat. Before I hit the first mile, I started cutting into the girl in white’s lead, though I don’t think I was accelerating, and in fact was settling into a 7:45 pace – slower than I wanted, but respectable. Soon, I was abreast of her, then passing, but seconds later, a middle-aged woman in a pink shirt who was cruising and floating along (like, wow. Want to BE her) was passing us, and I said in a cheerful voice, “top three women, right here!” and flashed the ladies a grin. The woman in pink said something but I couldn’t hear it over my music, so I just smiled. Soon the woman in pink was several strides ahead, but I held onto her, and I was rapidly dropping the girl in white, who had apparently gone out too fast. She never caught us again. I missed my split but hoped it was still nearish to 7:45 (it was 7:50, so I did slow a bit).

The path was really beautiful. We came down a hill past some lovely trees, made a couple more small road crossings with the help of the dedicated police (I waved and gasped at every one I possibly could) and before I knew it, we were nearing the turnaround. It was a slight uphill (very very slight) but I could see it coming, and soon I saw NB running towards me, and he smiled and we high-fived as we passed each other. We hit a water stop, which wasn’t all that well-marked as the turnaround, so I verified with the volunteers before I turned on my heel and booked it in the other direction. My throat wanted water, but I didn’t want to just snort it up my nose, so I told myself to suck it up. Meanwhile, the woman in pink, who I’d been stalking for three quarters of a mile or so, stopped to drink, and I passed her, keeping an edge. Very soon after the turn, I saw EP and slapped palms with her. She was loping along and smiling. Girl’s a beast.

I was beginning to suffer. I had lost a bit of time being confused at the turnaround, and mile 2 always hurts since you know you’re supposed to be pushing at that point, but you still have more than a mile after that to suffer through. Mile 2 is definitely my dark zone in a 5K. I had lagged to the mid 8:20s but was steadily making up time, enjoying every little downhill roll or flat to cruise on. Every once in a while the realization would slip in: I was lead woman! I could actually WIN this thing! Which is crazy because, whoever knows me knows I’m not really the competitive sport/super-athletic type. I was the picked-last-in-gym-used-to-cry-myself-to-sleep-at-the-thought-of-running-the-mile type.  Okay, only a little bit of melodrama there. But a bit true.

I kept a bead on my pace but tried not to obsess. I was tempted by the walking demons more than once, but more than just losing my overall time was driving me now: the thought of losing first place because I was sissying out pushed me on. I let myself ease off the gas a bit, telling myself I was going to punch it at the end. I crossed over a chalk drawing that I realized said “one mile to go!” and registered that my garmin had beeped. 8:03. Slow, but respectable. The path was not closed off, and as I mentioned before, we were not wearing bibs, so more than once I had to dodge pedestrians and non-competing runners, and at one point had to gasp out “on your left!” to a group walking four wide (considering I wasn’t leading the whole race, just women, think they would’ve caught on. oh well. I was just happy they moved right when I said ‘on the left’)

Now it was time to really hurt. I came up and over a hill, knowing there was just one more hill to go, and I’d get to cruise the downhill slope on the other side to get into my kick. There was a guy that had passed me early on that I was starting to gain on, and we made that last road crossing, me cutting into his lead with every stride. We reached the hill, and I saw him slow and struggle. I hate hills, but know I’m stronger on them than I was a year ago, even six months ago, so I pushed. I focused on my breath, charged it with my arms, knowing it was time to give it all in that last quarter mile or so. As we came down the other side and I was dying from the hill, I let myself recharge – and I recharged FAST – and started to increase my pace, edging ever closer. Then he looked back, and I knew he didn’t want to get chicked (least of all by a girl wearing a skirt). He started pushing harder, as did I. We came up to that last straight away, which was ever so slightly downhill, and my finishing song was screaming in my ears as my legs churned faster and faster. I didn’t look at my pace, didn’t look at the distance, just focused on reeling in that timing mat and clock closer and closer.

I didn’t know til later that the course was short since I wasn’t looking at my watch, so it’s a little sad that I was so thrilled at the time when really it wasn’t a PR, but I was still really psyched as I saw it was just ticking up to 23 minutes as I was charging the last couple hundred feet. My legs flew, my muscles were jelly, I was grunting and gasping, and I threw up my arms for a victorious finish, punching stop on my garmin a few strides later and gasping and gasping, probably alarming the sweet ladies volunteering at the finish, holding water bottles and orange slices.


I quickly gathered myself, focusing on even breaths, and grabbed a water bottle and eventually an orange slice. I verified with the volunteers, even though I knew I had won, I couldn’t believe it. “Was I first woman? Was I really first woman??”

Meanwhile, the guy in the white shirt actually thanked me, saying he heard me coming up behind him (I was gasping and DYING) after the hill, and it pushed him to go harder. I told him he ran a great race (though secretly I had been hoping to chick him. Oh well! Not the end of the world), and he returned the sentiment.

Pretty soon thereafter, the lady in pink finished, and soon after that, EP finished, third woman in her very first race! (2nd in our age group – they only gave out age group awards). NB and I were discussing the finish order and at some point he said, “I think the course was short,” at which point I finally looked at the distance my watch read. 2.98 miles. Oh well, so the 23.03 my watch said for the race was NOT  legitimate 5K PR. But given the out and back nature, the course was probably about 0.12-0.15 mile short, so a PR is within my reach, especially if I trained properly (i.e. did speedwork AT ALL in the next months).

We chatted and sucked down water and orange slices, and pretty soon we saw Tanya coming into the finish and started cheering her in. EP jogged alongside as NB and I clapped and shouted, and she kicked, looking tired but exhilarating, and crushing her sub-45 minute goal by close to five minutes!

After that, of course, we celebrated by watching the mutt strutt one mile hike start: so many dogs! We saw a poodle dyed hot pink, a huge adorable mastiff, a shaved corgi, a baby Weimie, and so many others. We were in puppy heaven.

After some more wandering around once the puppies ventured out on their hike, we headed to the awards tent – same place we picked up our packets. They had the timing printouts and had quickly put together lists, I think manually (actually timing was by Run High, which is being slow about posting official results though I see it in the queue). Problem was human error. I couldn’t get near the table, but NB did, and saw the sheet for the women’s 20-29 age group (they only gave out AG awards, no overall, and did decades), which listed him as 1st, me as 2nd, and EP as 3rd (she was 3rd overall I believe, and pink shirt lady was 1st in a different AG).

WHOOPS. Clearly they didn’t look at the sex listed with his name. His reaction was great: “Umm… problem! *I’m* [first and last name].” He has one of those “girl” first names that’s actually a dude’s name that long ago got jacked and became a girls’ name (like Ashley or Kelsey) so these kind of errors happen lot, but still, VERY funny.

We collected our medals – which were mislabeled by stickers – and headed back to the car to take some group shots, including the top three ladies in the 20-29 AG! Yuk yuk yuk…

Me on the left, then Tanya and EP (in her M*ch*g*n shirt)
Newly minted road racers!!
Group shot!

Obligatory couple shot – awww

After that, we piled our sweaty selves in the car and high-tailed it over to iHop to celebrate. Not a bad way to end a race morning!

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I'm a 35-year-old writer and runner. This is my running blog.

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