Friday, September 8, 2017

Torchlight 2.0

In July 2016, I won an entry to run the Minneapolis Torchlight 5K. Everything about that race made me fall in love with running races. So, when I received an email about early bird pricing for the 2017 Torchlight, I jumped on the chance to run it again.

I'd been feeling good about my training, and I had been increasing my distance for the half-marathon at the end of the month. A 5K race should be a piece of cake, right?

Storms threatened this year's race, but the temperature was much more tolerable. At the Torchlight this year, I had more of a cheering section than I did last year. We drove the twenty-ish miles to Minneapolis with a full vehicle. My dad, step-mom, husband and all three kids came along. We met up with a friend of my husband once we got down to the city.  We had to walk about a mile from the parking ramp to the race start. My dad and step-mom stopped at a fast food joint with the plan of meeting up with everyone later. The rest of us continued on. Part of the pre-race activities included a family fun event at Loring Park, which was near the start area. After we stopped by the race check-in area to get my 21+ wristband, we made our way to the park.  My husband and his friend watched the kids play carnival type games and jump on inflatables while I did a super short warm-up run. Then the kids had pony rides. Eventually, the time came for me to head to the start line and for the rest of the group to meet back up with my dad and step-mom. 

After I made my way to a porta-potty and then the race start, I did some stretching. The layout/execution of everything was slightly different than last year. The line of porta-potties was in a different place — maybe it helped to ease some congestion. What surprised me more than the bathroom location was that the pace corrals seemed slightly more disorganized this year. Last year I seem to recall that many pace corrals had a couple volunteers with a rope in the front, so that the pace corrals wouldn't get mixed up. It's advertised that the pace groups are especially important with the Torchlight because the race coordinators time each corral's start times so that the runners don't have to stop for the light rail train which crosses the race course. It seemed as though there was less pre-race communication this year, also. While some general announcements were being made, it felt like some of the important things that were said last year were omitted this year. I guess I was thankful to be a Torchlight veteran, because I feel like I would've been uninformed otherwise. 

Once I got lined up with the rest of the folks in my pace corral, I just had to hang out and wait for the race to start. The national anthem was played. Then after some loud motivational upbeat music and a short countdown by the emcee, the first pace corral was sent off with pyrotechnic flames shooting out from either side of the start line banner. There was plenty of excitement in the air. 

Each pace corral had to wait for a few minutes, with the idea that trains could pass between the large groups. After the race I heard that many people ended up having to wait for the trains, which was no doubt frustrating, especially given that some of the people had to wait 45+ minutes just to cross the start line. 

Thankfully, I was able to cross the start line about 10 minutes after the official race start time. I kept to the left of the road, knowing that a couple of blocks up, my family was waiting to wave to me and cheer me on. My kids seemed pretty excited to be able to see me running by. My dad took a video. My daughter was not only holding up a sign that said "Go Mom!' but she also had her hand out for a high-five. I had to leave her hanging as I was holding on to my wedding ring. I had planned to take it off before the race but had forgotten. In the first few blocks after I started, the sweat on my hands was just causing my ring to annoy me, so I handed it off to my husband. Thankfully, he grabbed it from my hand and it didn't get dropped and lost.

The support of my family left me with a big smile. As I ran down Hennepin Avenue I tried to take in more sights than I did last year. Sometimes, it's easy to run a race and forget to actually ENJOY the race. 

We came up to the first turn and I was felling pretty good. I walked a bit, because with my half-marathon training I had been using run-walk intervals, and I knew that a walk break could benefit me. I was running a pretty good race and didn't feel like I should shame myself for wanting to walk for a bit.

Once I started running again, I quickly came to the point in the race course where the second turn is made. Much to my surprise, people weren't turning. My mind began racing. Why is the course different? They didn't change the course map online. It's still a certified course. What is happening right now?! Of course I followed the course that was laid out before me. I was now running a stretch that was not the same as last year and was not supposed to be part of the race, but I trusted the race coordinators. I followed what ended up being a little "out-and-back" that felt like it went on forever. In reality, it was less than a quarter mile. I hoped that this little stretch meant that maybe the finish line was moved up. 

I kept moving right along, taking in my surroundings and remembering the walk that my kids and I had been on a couple of weeks before the race. I had taken them down to that area to explore. It was fun to recognize the landmarks and buildings, because when were on our walk, I barely recognized any of it even though I'd ran last year's Torchlight.

As I approached the entrance to the Stone Arch Bridge, there was a water station. I don't recall it being there last year. It seemed like the location caused a bit of a bottle neck for runners, but I just worked my way passed them as I had no intention of getting a drink.

Some where on the bridge, I learned that I had hit the 5K distance. I got a little bit frustrated as I was really close to a PR. When I finished the race, my GPS said 3.24 miles. So much for this being a certified course. 

I met up with my runner buddy and neighbor, who just happened to show up near the finish line right about when I did. She wasn't running, but she wanted to come say hi. We wandered around the after party area, and I took advantage of free race swag. Eventually, we parted ways. She drove herself home, and I took a free shuttle back to the race start. Well, I thought it was supposed to go to the start but it didn't go quite that far. It actually dropped everyone off near the parking ramp where my family parked when we first arrived. I texted my husband to let him know I'd be heading his way. We met up, headed back to our vehicle, and made it home safely. The kids had enjoyed themselves at the parade that started immediately after the race. Fun was had by all.

It didn't take long for the Torchlight coordinators to respond to the race course discrepancy. They talked to many racers and learned that the course was definitely longer than a 5K. What happened was that the city told race officials they needed to move the finish line up to create an emergency evacuation lane. To make up for the lost distance, the little "out-and-back" portion was added. However, the portion was placed incorrectly and the result was a 3.3 mile course. In order to rectify the mistake, race coordinators had the official distance changed to 3.3 miles, so that race finish times and paces were reflected correctly.  As an added bonus, this year's racers (about 4,000 of them) were offered the opportunity to sign up for next year's race at a discount. 

My experience with the Torchlight this year was completely different than it was last year, but I still loved it. It was awesome to have my family with me. The extra distance was a disappointment, but the events team owned up to the mistake and handled it marvelously. Needless to say, I took advantage of the discounted registration, and I'm already signed up to run next year. Even with the extra distance this year, my time was still seven minutes faster than it was last year. I cannot wait to see what next year's race will bring.