Who: Just me, with Drew for moral support
Benefited: Worcester Hibernian Cultural Foundation
Photos: (click to open larger versions)
Recap: The Canal Diggers Road Race was the third in this year’s Tour de Worcester series (the other races being the Jay Lyons Memorial Road Race and the Worcester Firefighters Memorial 6K). This was the second time I ran the Canal Diggers; last year’s recap can be found here.
Speaking of last year… last year’s race was uncomfortably warm. I had spent a summer running races in nasty heat and humidity and naively assumed a September race would be nice and cool. I didn’t hydrate properly and struggled in the upper-70s/low-80s with humidity, taking many walk breaks. Despite the number of walk breaks I took, I came within 7 seconds of my at-the-time 5K PR and was disappointed I hadn’t just sucked it up and tried a little harder to shave those few seconds off.
If I thought last year’s race was hot, I was in for a nasty time. This year, race time (11 am) was forecast as being around 90 degrees and wicked humid, and forecast was pretty spot-on. It was disgusting. There was an ever-so-slight breeze which helped a tiny bit, and occasional cloud cover helped as well, but for the most part it was sunny and sticky and hot and miserable. Perfect conditions for an urban road race! (Now, where did I leave my sarcasm font?)
This year, however, I was prepared. I was nice and hydrated, and brought along a water bottle of Nuun to carry during the race. I had also picked out an outfit that was nice and light, and felt almost like it wasn’t even there (a white Columbia “Total Zero” tank top and Under Armour Escape running shorts). I had brought a small cooler with chocolate milk and Pop Tarts as a post-race snack as well. I was ready.
Parking was a breeze as we arrived early enough to snag one of the spots in a nearby parking garage. (The race website had promised a $1 all-day deal for parking there, but didn’t mention that there would be an attendant taking our dollars at the exit and that we shouldn’t pay at the machines after the race. There were no signs or announcements (that I could hear, anyway) so we shelled out $4 at the machine and assumed they had lied about the deal until the confused dollar-taking guy took our ticket and waved us through. Boo. Not the end of the world, but would have been nice to save $3!)
Bib pick-up was a little confusing. I got a TON of emails in the weeks leading up to the race saying that people should go to a local running store for bib pick-up, but since I can’t easily get to Worcester on weeknights I had to opt for race day pick-up. Last year all the pick-ups and registration were inside the Hibernian Center, which is right next to where the start/finish/post-race party all happen. I made a bee-line for the Center (neither the race site nor the emails mentioned where race day pick-up would occur, so I just assumed this was the right place) only to be grabbed by a volunteer and rather brusquely asked if I were pre-registered. She directed me across the street to the parish hall, where the volunteers were thankfully much nicer. The rest of the process was well-organized and pleasant.
Drew and I hung out in the shadow of an abandoned school, partly because it was shady, and partly because it was far enough away from everyone that I didn’t feel too awkward to do my dynamic stretching routine, which always makes me feel self-conscious.(Am I the only one who feels awkward doing this when other people are around?)
The race got underway not too long after 11am, after both an Irish song and the national anthem were sung. As I am wont to do, I got a bit swept up in the excitement and started the race (according to Simon) at around a 9:15 pace until I made myself slow down to something more manageable. I noticed with delight at the spot where I had to first stop to walk last year (not even a half-mile in!) that I felt great and was fine to keep running. In fact, unlike last year, I was able to run for about 2.5 miles without stopping (minus brief pauses at the water stops), and considering how hot and nasty it was, I was pretty proud of that! This was definitely one of those races where I felt like a machine and embraced that feeling, just letting my legs keep doing their thing while I look around and try not to focus on the fact that my brain is melting in the heat.
The course was the same as last year, though it seemed much shorter this time around… maybe because I knew what was coming. Worcester is famous for its 7 hills, like Rome, but luckily only one baby hill (not even big enough to register as one of the 7) was included in the course. We ran through the Canal District (by lots of Irish pubs and restaurants) and at one point were running alongside the Worcester Pride parade. There was a lot of cheering back and forth between the marchers and runners and there were marching bands playing peppy music, and it was a fun distraction from the regular vehicular traffic that was on all the other streets.
One thing I was really happy about was that there were 2 water stops along the course, after the pre-race info said there would only be 1. (A single water stop a day as hot as Saturday would have been madness!) Since I was carrying Nuun, I dumped the water on me at each stop. By mile 2 though, my Nuun was pretty hot from the heat of my hand (and the heat of the day) so it wasn’t entirely pleasant or refreshing to drink… I just swigged it back and tried to focus on the electrolytes and not the sensation of drinking hot water.
I stopped to walk not long after peeling away from the parade, and only because the guy I had marked stopped to walk too. He was an older gentleman who was wearing the race shirt from the WFD6K and reminded me of one of my great-uncles, and he was running like a machine the whole time. Whenever I was struggling, I looked for him a few yards ahead of me and thought “If he’s still running, I can keep going.” He took a quick walk break right by City Hall, so I did as well… though it was SO hard to start running again once I stopped! I made it past Turtle Boy and dragged myself into some sort of running form once again, and managed to run the remaining half-mile to the end. By the time I got to the last stretch I had zero energy left to speed up, so I just jogged over the finish line.
The finish area is my biggest complaint about this race. Right after you cross the finish, several volunteers are standing off to the side, handing out medals. Cool, I like bling. However, the thing I want most immediately after finishing a race – especially on a day as hot and gross as Saturday – is water. There was no water to be found at the finish line. None. To get some, runners had to make a hairpin turn through the barriers and squish between the Hibernian Center and one of the tents that was set up in the parking lot. This was one of two ways to get into the post-race party, and everyone was either trying to get in to get water, or out to find their friends, so it was a giant bottleneck.
After struggling in vain to squish my way through – and after being pressed against from behind in such a way that I felt some parts of a dude that I really didn’t want to feel – some volunteers pushed their way through everyone with a large garbage barrel. Inside, at the very bottom, were those tiny little bottles of Poland Spring – water! I joined everyone else in reaching inside to grab one, but my arm was too short to reach the bottom and the men didn’t stop so I didn’t get one. Already disturbed and a little pissed off by my close encounters with a stranger’s anatomy (pissed off because it really didn’t seem like an accident), I threw my hands up in frustration after being denied water. Luckily, another guy behind me had grabbed two and gave me one, instantly restoring my faith in humanity a little. (Thank you, sir, whoever you are!)
I finally barged my way into the post-race party area to look for Drew as well as more water, since the tiny bottle wasn’t going to last very long. I couldn’t find either – though there was plenty of beer – so I retreated back to our abandoned school next door and sat on the steps and pouted for a while. I was hot and thirsty and annoyed at the disorganization of the finish area and wishing I had thrown an elbow into Pervy McPervster’s gut, and to top it all off, the text I got from RaceWire had my final time as more than a minute slower than what Simon said – Simon gave me a final of 33:33, but RaceWire said 34:57. What the heck!
Eventually Drew and I reunited and headed over to my stepdad’s where a nice shower and delicious lunch (and a cheeky glass of Riesling) were waiting for me. Forget the post-race party… the best post-race festivities were with Jack! We hung with him for a while, then stopped to visit my mum at work, and then met my dad for dinner. It ended up being a great day, and the race, despite its bad parts, was a win. I conquered the heat and humidity to beat my time from last year (35:15) and felt so much more confident in my running than a year ago. It’s awesome to be able to see so concretely how far I’ve come in just a year!
And as a bonus… for anyone who’s familiar with Worcester… before the race, Drew and I crossed Kelly Square on foot, twice and lived to tell about it. I feel like this is a major accomplishment in my life. (For those of you not familiar with Kelly Square… I think “clusterf***” is the most accurate term for it. It’s the intersection of multiple streets with no traffic lights, no rotary, no perceivable right-of-way, and you always breathe a small sigh of relief after navigating it without crashing into anything. Driving instructors delight in making 16-year-old kids drive through it as a right of passage.)
Quite the day indeed!