This past Saturday I ran the Jingle Bell 10K, a local race supporting one of two elementary schools in my community. Despite my history of signing up for and then backing out of local races over the past few months, I was able to make it to this one without a problem!
One of my favorite races, the Rehoboth Beach Half Marathon, took place on the same day as this race and I was having some serious Fear Of Missing Out because I wasn’t able to participate in that event this year. When I discovered via Facebook that there was actually a race taking place nearby at the same time, I was thrilled to be able to run a race and support one of our local schools instead of running the Rehoboth Half.
The Jingle Bell 10K also offered a 1-mile fun run/walk and a 5K. Although I initially planned to sign up for the 5K, with hopes of setting a new 5K PR, I made a last minute decision to switch to the 10K and incorporate the race as part of my 8-mile long run that weekend. It felt like wins all the way around.
Like many of the races held in my community, the Jingle Bell 10K course was mostly run on a paved trail that crosses through much of our town. I frequently run this trail as part of my regular training workouts and feel as though I know it like the back of my hand, though I certainly enjoy having the opportunity to run a few races on it each year.
I knew the race would probably have a relatively low turnout, given that our community is fairly small and I hadn’t seen much advertising for the race outside of stumbling across the Facebook event post. However, the local running club assisted with the race’s organization, including chip timing and course management, so in spite of the race’s small size, it was very well organized and had the feel of a larger event. Though I’m not sure exactly how many people participated, I would estimate there were 30-40 people total between the 5K and 10K races.
The weather was perfect race day weather: partly sunny, slight wind, and temperature in the upper 40s. Unfortunately, I was only able to squeeze in a 1-mile warmup instead of the 1.8 miles I planned in order to reach my goal of 8 miles for the day, but it was enough to get the blood flowing and allow me to settle into a comfortable rhythm prior to the race. The elementary school’s PTA had set up multiple tables inside the school for snacks, vendors, face painting for the kids, and packet pickup. About 10 minutes prior to the race, I grabbed my packet, pinned on my bib, and lined up at the start. There seemed to be a mixture of parents mingling with each other, members of the local running group, and some “singles” like myself at the starting line. Because this isn’t the elementary school that my son attends, there weren’t any people there that I knew, so I just popped my headphones on and waited for the race to begin.
Both the 5K and 10K races started together at the rear of the elementary school, and I had no idea how many people were in each race since all of the bibs were the same. Since this was mainly a “fun” race for me, and part of my long run, I decided to settle in to a comfortable pace and just enjoy the event. I’d had an absolutely horrible speed workout the day before, and wasn’t even sure how well I would be able to run this race given how poorly that workout had gone.
As the race began, several people shot out front as the course looped across a field on the side of the elementary school before dumping all of the runners onto the paved trail. Initially, I got caught up in the frontrunners’ intensity, but quickly eased back and got myself into a comfortably upbeat cadence. As we progressed through the first mile, I found myself steadily pulling ahead of the runners who had sped off the starting line, and after just the first mile, I noticed there were only two people – a pair of guys who looked to be in their late twenties – ahead of me. When they both turned around at the 5K turnaround point, I realized that I was actually leading the 10K.
Now, even though this race was about as small as a race can get, it was still kind of thrilling to be in the lead. I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so I decided to just keep going at the same pace I’d been running, though I was going a bit faster than I’d intended to (which seems to a be a theme for me…). My first two mile splits were 8:39 and 8:40. Once I realized I was leading the 10K, however, I became really nervous and I could feel my stomach churning. Part of me wanted to win really badly, even though the race was tiny and local and I wasn’t even sure if anyone else aside from me was actually “racing” it. And, part of me figured that eventually someone would come flying up behind me, pass me, and then I wouldn’t have to worry about winning any more. I decided not to check behind me and just keep moving forward.
A little after the third mile, the course turned into a neighborhood, and I finally had a chance to take a quick glance to see where the next runner was. Looking back, I could see a small pack of people about a quarter mile or so behind me. Actually seeing where the next runners were made me even more nervous, and my stomach lurched and sloshed through the rest of the third mile, which I ran in 8:46. Wanting to pick the pace back up to a steady 8:40, I pushed a bit harder during mile 4, which I finished off in 8:34. As I began to cruise into mile 5, I decided that a pace in the 8:30s was a bit too hard for this run and slowed myself down. I ran past a police officer who was holding traffic at an intersection for the race, and he cheered me as I went by, saying “Keep up the good work – you’re truckin’!” This gave me a bit of a laugh, but as I checked my watch again after mile 5, I realized I was actually NOT truckin’ like I had been, and had dropped my pace all the way down to 8:50. Still, no one had caught up with me yet, and with only 1.2 miles to go, I slightly increased the pace again hoping to hold my lead and win my first ever race!
As I approached the turn off the paved trail that would lead back to the elementary school and the finish line, I took one more glance back to see where the other 10K runners were and was startled to realize that several of them had closed much of the gap between us and were now gaining on me. Again, my stomach rumbled with nervousness. I definitely didn’t want to lose the lead in the last half or quarter mile of the race, but my stomach was also in a thousand knots from excitement, nerves, and just running in general. Fortunately, the desire to win prevailed and I was able to push hard for the last stretch of the race, finishing mile 6 in 8:40 and the last 0.2 at 8:05 pace. The second place finisher came in a few seconds behind me, and several others just after her.
I couldn’t believe that I had actually WON a race. Never mind that it was a tiny, local race – so small, in fact, that there were no overall or age group awards. The experience of actually coming in first and winning was awesome. To be honest, it increased the already tremendous amount of respect I have for elite runners because I didn’t realize just how mentally tough you have to be to deal with the nerves of knowing you have the potential to win a race and actually pulling it off, when others out there are just as good as you and want to win just as badly.
While there was very little fanfare over my win, Matt and I did celebrate with donuts and coffee. And really, what more could you possibly want after a race than that?!