It’s North Carolina’s oldest 8k road race, now in its 31st year. The Winter Flight 8k is also the state championship 8k road race of the Roadrunners Clubs of America (RRCA), the nation’s oldest and largest running organization. In addition to that, it’s also one of the nine races of the Running Journal Grand Prix, which I’ve competed in for the previous four years, but I’m skipping this year except for this single race since it’s nearby and it’s a race I always enjoy.
Possibly my favorite thing about this event is that both before and after the race the runners are able to stay inside where it’s warm. Registration, post-race food, and awards are all done in the Abernathy Physical Education Center on the campus of Catawba College. The race starts just outside the center and the race ends on the track on the other side of the street. Since in most other races the pre- and post-race activities are outside, being able to come inside to visit with friends or just to warm up is a welcome departure from the norm in the middle of winter.
|Congratulations were in order for running buddy
and fellow Gaston County Runners member
Matt Longworth, who came in 1st overall and
won the RRCA State 8k Championship!
Race director David Freeze mentioned in his opening announcements just before the race began that the course is the same one they’ve used for the past 27 years. It’s pretty straightforward and there are ordinarily plenty of volunteers at intersections to keep everybody on course, but as fate would have it, this time around somebody took a wrong turn and it had kind of a domino effect resulting in about 30 runners veering off course for almost a mile.
There is an untimed 5k run/walk that begins at the same time as the 8k. The 5k is an out-and-back course that goes halfway out (about a mile and a half) then turns around and returns to where the race started. As we approached the 5k turnaround there was a sign that said “5k” on the left, with an arrow pointing to the left, and on the right side it said “8k” and there was an arrow pointing to the right.
Maybe 50 feet past the sign the road ended and you had to make either a left turn or a right turn. That’s where the problem began. The two runners in front of me turned to the right. I couldn’t see very far in either direction but it seemed to me that everybody else was going to the left. I had seen the arrow a few feet back pointing to the right for the 8k as I’m sure the guys did who turned right. It seemed to me that we should have all gone left since that’s the way the crowd was going but at that point I wasn’t quite able to process what was going on. I actually stopped and waited for the runners in back of me and said I didn’t think we should be going to the right, and they said that yes, the sign said the 5k was to the left and the 8k was to the right. I definitely didn’t want to accidentally follow the 5k route and in just a few seconds everybody was turning to the right, so I headed right. The farther we ran the more apparent it was that we were off course. There were no volunteers at intersections and two or three times we just guessed which way to turn. Finally after running four-tenths of a mile and chasing those first two guys (I don’t remember if anybody else had passed me by then, but maybe so) I decided it just couldn’t be right and I turned around, trying to warn the 30 or so runners who had taken the wrong turn that I thought we were off course so they could turn around too.
We were only in the second mile of the race and I thought about just dropping out completely but I didn’t know where I was so I didn’t know the way back to the start. I also figured that I may as well just get in a training run and see how things went. I also knew that my two main competitors for the RRCA Senior Grand Masters award were in the group that went off course so we were at least in the same neighborhood (no pun intended).
This is only the second time I’ve ever been lost in a race and this time around it didn’t bother me nearly as much as it did the first time, where I actually did drop out. One of my favorite things about the experienced runners who have been running many years is the stories about their races, and usually the best stories are about the times they got lost. So now I’ve got a story to tell.
As I think back on it now, it should have been obvious to me to make that left turn instead of going right. I’ve run this race before but I don’t remember the course. Having said that, last fall I ran the Spooky Sprint 5k, which uses this same 5k course and I turned around where that sign was placed. I should have remembered that the 5k turned around there rather than going up and taking a left turn. The most obvious thing though is that in seeing everybody turning left ahead of us, we should have known there weren’t a bunch of people in the 5k that were up ahead of us. The 5k is untimed and not really competitive, which is why we didn’t see anybody turning around at the sign. All of the 5k people were in back of us at that point and we shouldn’t have expected to see any 5k runners (or very few) up ahead.
It was good to get back on the course again, and it was kind of fun zooming around the runners near the back of the pack. After what seemed like forever I looked ahead and saw a sign saying we were at the 2-mile point in the race. A volunteer was calling out the times and when I hit the mark he called out 19:44. On one hand I was glad that I was still under a 10-minute pace, but I was about 6 minutes behind my normal position at 2 miles. I looked down at my watch and it read 2.81 miles for the distance, so I knew I had gone eight-tenths of a mile out of the way.
I knew I had a lot of time to make up to have a decent race at all so I just kept plugging away. I finally hit the finish line at 40:51, more than 6 minutes slower than the 8k I ran two weeks ago. I still came in 2nd out of 12 runners in the 60-64 age group, which was a little bit of consolation, but I finished just 13 seconds behind the 1st place runner, who also won the RRCA Senior Grand Masters 8k championship. Well, there’s always next year, and race director David Freeze sent out a message a couple days after the race saying that those of us who ran off the course would get free entry into next year’s race. That’s more than fair, especially since it was probably as much our own fault as the race organizers. I do hope that they change that sign next year or have somebody stationed at the turn, but either way, that’s a wrong turn I’ll remember not to take in the future.
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Pace: 7:05 for actual distance I ran (5.78 miles)
Age Group: 2 of 12
Overall: 33 of 179
* RACE RATING *
0 – Chip Timing: (3 points if yes)
0 – Starting Mat: (2 points if yes)
2 – Water Stops: (0)none (2)normal (5)extras [Gu, sports drink, etc.]
1 – Course Marking: (0)bad (1)good (*except for the one turn… we should have seen it)
2 – Course Scenery: (0)bad (2)pleasant (5)extraordinary
2 – Mile Markers: (0)poor or none (1)normal (2)with clocks or time called out
2 – Volunteers: (0)too few (2)good
5 – Finish line: (0)mediocre (2)not bad (5)very good (7)spectacular!
2 – Certified Course: (0)no (2) yes
2 – Correct Distance: (0)no (2)yes (unless you turned the wrong way)
1 – Partly or fully on unpaved roads: (0)yes (1)no
2 – Cost: (0)expensive (2)reasonable (5)cheap!
3 – Race Day Registration: (0)no (3)yes
2 – Posted promptly online: (0)no (2)yes
1 – Clear link on website: (0)no (1)yes
2 – 3 deep awards: (2)yes (0 for anything less)
5 – 5-year age groups (5 points) (0 for anything less)
1 – 14 and under group (1)
1 – 65+ group (1)
1 – 70+ group (1)
2 – Top Overall M/F: (0)none or first only (2)top 3 or better
2 – Masters Category(40+): (0)no (2)yes (*RRCA)
3 – Grand Masters Category (50+): (0)no (3)yes (*RRCA)
5 – Senior Grand Masters Category: (0)no (5)yes (*RRCA)
5 – Overall Winner Awards: (0)none (2)yes (5)excellent
5 – Age Group Awards: (0)none (2)yes (5)excellent
0 – Door Prizes or Drawing: (0)no (2)yes (5-9)fabulous door prizes!
0 – Finisher Medals for All Finishers: (0)no (3)yes (5)really cool medals
6 – Food for Race Participants: (0-10 with 5 being average)
5 – Entertainment: (0)no (1-9)yes
0 – Finisher times posted after race: (0)no (2)yes
0 – Porta Potties: (0)no (1)limited, long lines (2)plentiful
2 – Indoor Restrooms: (0)no (1)limited, long lines (2)plentiful
2 – T-Shirts: (0)no (2)yes
2 – Design: (0)not good (1)not bad (2)nice (5)beautiful!
2 – Material: (0)cotton (2)technical fabric
0 – Discount for no-shirt option: (0)no (2)yes
0 – Professional Photography: (0)no (5)yes
x – Prices: (0)expensive (2)reasonable (5)cheap!
5 – Free Photographs (newspaper, etc.): (0)no (2)yes (5)lots of free pics!
2 – Close to Start: (2)yes (0)no
2 – Close to Finish: (2)yes (0)no
2 – Plenty of spaces: (2)yes (0)no
2 – Free Parking: (2)yes (0)no
2 – Dedicated race website (0)no (2)yes
2 – Results or link to results posted on website: (0)no (2)yes
2 – Shelter from Inclement Weather (needed or not): (0)no (2)yes
0 – Swag (free socks, water bottles, etc.): (0)no (2)yes, some (5)excellent
2 – Part of race series or Grand Prix: (0)no (2)yes (*Running Journal Grand Prix)I