Today was the Celtic Solstice 5-Mile, the last race of the year, and one that I'd been both looking forward to but also dreading. I'd heard form many people that this was one of the best races of the year, but a Baltimore race at 8:30 means leaving at 6:15, and parking looked like a huge mess, with four or five e-mails with instructions and multiple facebook posts going out with parking and shuttle instructions. Stressed out by work and holiday stuff, I just wasn't sure that I was feelin' it, either. I figured I'd show up, collect my premium, and put down a time that I'd be secretly disappointed with, and go home.
As we drove down to Baltimore I was just feeling less and less up for it. We easily got a parking space, and walked approximately a mile to the starting area, where chaos reigned. The starting area is in a big tent, and it just seemed like it wasn't big enough for the masses of people that were picking up packets, tying chips on their shoes, and trying to stay warm. Luckily, the only giveaway item was the premium Brooks long-sleeve racing shirt. We'd not been aware that there was a bag check and had no bag, so Chris tied her premium around her waist and I attached mine to my hydration belt.
We headed for the starting area. The temperature was around 40, and I was freezing in my shorts, long-sleeve technical shirt, and cheap-o gloves. I dress for the middle of the run, not the beginning, and I love these temperatures, but my equipment strategy breaks down on race day when I have to wait around before the start. I'm not one for running before the race...every mile I run prior to the gun is one less I can run after! There were about 3000 people in the race, and with anticipation of an about 50-minute finish time, I started about 2/3 of the way back.
After a procession featuring bagpipes, Irish wolfhounds, and the race director, the race started...and the next five miles passed in a blur. I'm not sure where in those first moments my attitude toward the race changed, but the course started on an incline and I know that I charged up it. I used the stress and frustration I am feeling and I ran this race as aggressively as I've ever run one. Druid Hill Park is very scenic, but I might as well have been running in a tunnel. All I noticed through most of the race was the other runners I was weaving through. I hit mile 1 at right around 9-minutes, mile 2 at 18, at which point I recall making a conscious decision that I was going to run this as fast as I possibly could. I hit mile 3 just under 24, and I don't recall mile 4 but I believe it was in the 32s. I felt like I was running out of gas at mile 4, but at that point the remainder of the course was the flat path around Druid Lake and a downhill back to the starting line. I held my pace around the lack, picked up speed down the hill, and kicked as hard as I could across the bridge that was the final approach to the finish line.
Is it a PR? I'm not sure. This is the only 5-mile race I've ever run. My official chip time for the Briggs & Al's 8K in Milwaukee was 42:42, and I consider that to be one of two best races I've ever run. I'm not sure whether my official time for this race was 42:44 or 42.43, but I assume that since 5-miles is three-hundredths of a mile more than an 8k, and the course much hillier than Al's Run, that it's fair to say that I ran a better race today. What I am sure of is that more than any race I've ever run, I left it all out on the course today.
I was in a bad mood on Saturday morning and completely prepared to not enjoy this race and to rip this event, but I think the only problem where I might have a legitimate complaint is the chaos of the registration tent. There just wasn't enough room for all the people who were trying to collect their bibs and put on their chips. I'm not sure there's an easy answer to it, and I also suspect that I'm probably making too much out of something small because I was so ill-tempered at the time.
I also think pace signs would have been a good idea. 3000 people ran this race and the course was very crowded. It probably wouldn't have helped me today, since I ran this about 7 minutes faster than I expected I would, but in general I think pace signs are helpful for a race of this size that is large enough to get crowded but not big enough for waves. That said, I definitely don't think I approached this race in the spirit of fun which it seems to have been meant.
There is a lot to like about this race. While I can't say I appreciated it enough, the setting is beautiful, the course challenging, and the post-race party excellent. There were christmas cookies, soup (I didn't have any), and heated wine from Boordy Vineyards. Crowd support along the course was good (and I'm very thankful to our friend Ada, 1/4 of the original Earn Your Donuts marathon relay team, who showed up to cheer us on!). I also think that the Falls Road Running Store really did do a good job in letting people know exactly what to expect. It's a race that's very crowded for its setting, and they sent out plenty of e-mails and facebook posts with detailed parking maps and instructions. The premium is a very nice Brooks Equilibrium long-sleeve tech shirt. It's quite heavy, the equivalent of a light jacket in my opinion, so for me this is a piece of gear that's going to be saved for days when it's 20 degrees or less.
The bottom line is that I've run two Falls Road events this year (Druid Hills being the other) and they both exceeded expectations. While the logistics of a Baltimore race vs. a York race may send us back to one of the local Jingle Bell 5Ks next year, I would highly recommend this race for anyone in the Baltimore area.