My plan was to change things up this week and run a Friday night event instead of Race #6 in the Adams County 5K Challenge.
Instead I did both – and cut more than a minute off my 5K time, despite starting that race less than 12 hours after the previous one.
Night Moves, organized by Team Neighborlink, is a series of after-dark runs through Fort Wayne’s back alleys and lesser traveled routes to show people parts of the city and its neighborhoods that they don’t ordinarily experience. It isn’t intended to be a race. It’s an untimed event limited to 75 runners, and the course is “marked” only by volunteer cyclists who direct you when to turn.
I figured this would be good for me because A) I’m kind of OCD about knowing the general shape of a course beforehand, and B) I knew I’d have to push hard to keep up with the mostly young, hip crowd of runners who show up.
Adding to the uncertainty factor was the fact that I’d forgotten my phone when I’d headed into town earlier to do some last-minute graduation party shopping, and was thus unable to connect with a friend who’d planned to do this event with me. Unbeknownst to me, her babysitter fell through, and so I was on my own.
All we were told about the run, which started at the downtown YMCA, was that it would be 3 ½ to 4 miles. It was dusk when we headed off toward some kind of gathering at Freimann Square, ducking between a pair of food trucks, and on toward Germanfest at Headwaters Park. From there we crossed the lit-up Martin Luther King bridge en route to Science Central, then veered right on a side street and took a back alley to Spy Run, where I got cut off by traffic from most of the rest of the pack.
I was gasping for air. But as we looped back toward the bridge at the confluence of the city’s three rivers, running a stretch of the River City Rat Race course in reverse, I told myself to just hang in there as we were surely headed back toward the Y.
Wrong! The cyclist at the next corner told us to go right instead of left – meaning taking the Spy Run Bridge back across the river north of downtown. We looped around and took the Greenway underneath the bridge in total darkness. “This would be perfect for a zombie run,” I thought.
We emerged at the entrance to the Old Fort, where we were directed to take the pedestrian bridge – up two flights of stairs – back into Headwaters Park, where Germanfest was in full swing.
My chest was heaving, but I could still see a few runners up ahead and I knew I wasn’t last, having passed a handful of stragglers who likely started out way too fast. It felt good to be running through downtown on a Friday night, through a crowd of people out drinking and stuffing their faces. Passing by the Hoppy Gnome, which looked like there wasn’t an empty seat in the house, I realized I wouldn’t have wanted to trade places with any of them just then.
A few blocks later we were done. There was no finish line, just high fives and good vibes. But I couldn’t stick around because it was late and I had a lot to do on Saturday.
I expected to skip the 8:30 a.m. 5K the next morning, but my husband encouraged me to go, figuring it would help keep my stress levels under control during a busy weekend. (One nice thing about the dinky races in this series is that you can arrive just before they start and take off 5 minutes after finishing, so it’s not a huge time investment.)
I figured my legs would be shot after the previous night’s “race” (which is what it felt like to me), but at least I’d get my participation points for the 5K Challenge. The race started at a southern Adams County campground called Amishville. Storm clouds were gathering to the north.
“We’re supposed to run down to the covered bridge and back,” I overheard one runner tell another. “We better hurry, so we don’t get caught in the rain!”
I wasn’t going to worry about my finishing time, rain or no rain. But after being disappointed in my time the previous week, I knew I wanted to work on starting out faster this time while focusing on keeping my breathing relaxed. This was easy to do, because the first part of the course was mostly downhill. I just went with it, trying to avoid thinking about how much this was going to suck coming back.
One nice thing about an out and back course, as opposed to the twists and turns of the previous night’s run, is that you don’t use up any mental energy thinking about where you’re going. I just focused on the runners ahead of me – and on not stepping in horse manure. We were in the heart of Amish country, after all.
As we looped around the covered bridge at the halfway mark, a couple I recognized from previous races overtook me. They’d consistently beaten me the first three races in the series, then I beat them the last two. I was tiring, so I wished them luck and watched them go.
But they didn’t pull ahead too far. The hills were tough on everyone. I just focused on finishing out the course, reminding myself not to worry since I knew my time would be off anyway.
Funny thing, though. When we turned back into the campground and I could see the clock, instead of reading 35-something as I feared, it read 31-something.
I couldn’t believe it. Seeing that I could still beat 32 minutes, I sped up and just barely made it, in 31:57.
Almost a minute and a half faster than the previous week. My best time thus far in 2018. Who would’ve guessed? Not me.
I’ve still got a ways to go to get under 30 minutes, and farther still to beat my best 5K time of 27:58. But this feels like progress, and it’s even better since I didn’t see it coming.