Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving in our household without going to the annual Autumnfest 8k, at least not for the past 7 years. In 2000, My Lovely and Talented Wife’s grandfather passed away right before Thanksgiving, his wake was thanksgiving evening with the funeral the next day. My Lovely and Talented Wife decided to join me since she had some extra energy and we weren’t leaving for Albemarle, NC until later that day. In fact, our Thanksgiving dinner was at an O’Charley’s restaurant. We took that year’s race shirt and put an iron-on the back saying that we were running in honor of her grandfather. This is the only race shirt that I will wear at sanctioned races, all other races, I make an effort to not wear a road race t-shirt. Don’t ask me why… it’s one of those weird things about me.
Either we run the race or volunteer for the race or sometimes, if we can get a pre-race job, we do both at the same race. This year, I was part of the Day of Race sign-in crew and My Lovely and Talented Wife was part of the Finishing Line crew. But she didn’t stop there, she helped out with the post race food, which I missed out on (I’m not crying though) and actually took my spot with 3 minutes to race start so that I wouldn’t miss the race. She’s so sweet.
Day of Registration went from a slow walk to 5k pace in the matter of minutes. There were 3 of us there and we were processing people as fast as we could! It was extremely hectic! Come to find out there were over 800 people registered with 740 finishers, compared to last 2 years of around 600+ finishers. Plus the place that we were located was smaller than it was last year. We ran out of safety pins and we ran out of entry forms. People were having to use masking tape to fasten their bibs. I had two weird requests, one I didn’t get until I was thinking about during the race, the other was very obvious.
The first guy asked if I could reach down into the stack and get the number 777. We were pretty busy and I didn’t want to start to set a precedent for getting numbers. You get the number that you get even if it’s 666. So, it wasn’t until that I was running that I put 2 and 2 together and figure that he wanted 777 for the religious reference to the number “7”. The second request was someone came up while it was really busy and ask if he could change his number. Apparently, he didn’t like his number “666”. Well, I really couldn’t do anything at this point, because the entry form was already taken and entered into the computer. Had it been a smaller race, we probably could have swapped his number for something less controversial such as “69” (dude) or “911” but today he was running with the Mark of the Beast. Although if he ran on his hands, he would be “999”.
I make my way out to the race start and I see the effect of how swamped we were at Day of Race registration… it was packed! There was no way that I would be able to get to the upper 3rd of the mass of people, I stuck off to the side and wished for the best. After the national anthem and the gun, I followed the mass to the starting line. I was still walking as I cross the start line… so much for a PR (not that I was shooting for one).
The biggest problem with Autumnfest is the start, for the first 0.25 of a mile, the mass of runners are confined to a one lane exit ramp, until you hit Neyland Drive, where it widens to 2 lanes. To make things a little worse, the exit ramp is enclosed with concrete barriers. So just as water expands out to the sides of it’s container, so do runners on the road. This in essence stifles the faster runners who are behind groups of slower runners, thus making positioning before the gun goes off to start the race much more important.
I was not making too many moves to pass runners though. I made that rookie mistake of weaving in and out of traffic once in a race and paid for it dearly. Instead, I stayed steady until it opened up, swung to the left and passed on the shoulder of the road. I now had a clearer path in front of me. Unfortunately there was a small demoralizing headwind. My Split time: 8:26
At the call of the split time, I realize that I’m about 20 seconds in the hole finishing time wise, but that I could still salvage something. A cold light rain is now falling and I am wishing that I had some more layers on that what I have. I’m slowly picking up speed, but holding back some as I know where the hill is on the course and I have yet to reach it. My Split time: 7:44
With the hills out of the way, I know that I can speed up a little bit. I am pacing behind runners that are faster than me, glancing ahead to see the color of shirts. This way I can pick out my goal runner to beat, a standard race strategy. My Split Time: 7:27
I’m finally warmed up, and things feel easier now. In addition, I am starting on the part of the course that I ran earlier in the week. I do an analysis to see how much I have left in the tank for the final approach. I’ve abandoned my normal “goal runner to beat” strategy. I know that my split times have been going down and that I can get a decent time, if I just hang in there. My Split Time: 7:27
Mile 5 (really 4.972)
I’m on auto-pilot right now, the test run in week of running the last mile has paid off. I don’t have to think about anything other than my pace. I’m not even concerned about the runners in front of me. As I divert onto the exit ramp, signaling the last 0.25 of a mile I look ahead for the time clock. I notice a group of runners in front of me and I find another gear and speed up some. I see the time clock in the distance about 0.1 to go and there are 4 runners that I can pass before the finish line. I have this finish line mindset where I “disengage” my brain from running and I really stop thinking about everything other than pass “x” number of runners, or the runner in the red shirt, etc. That’s my only focus and I lay it all out on the course. Here at the end, I disengaged and pass those four runners and came in just behind the last person of the group in front of us. I knew that I couldn’t pass them in the short distance, but I was able to cut the distance to nothing. My Split Time: 6:52 (but with the extra 0.028 mi for a standard mile, the pace was really a 7:04)
A 38:26 official finishing time is not bad at all for me considering the congested, windy, cold start. The fact that I was able to maintain negative splits as well is very encouraging as well. So, a nice Thanksgiving run in honor of My Lovely and Talented Wife’s grandfather overall. I finished 187 out of 740 and was 29th out of 54 in my age group. The guy who won my age group came in 24:58! Now, that is FAST!