Another Saturday in Florida means another 5k. When we were making our holiday plans, we initially weren’t sure what our second race would be and were considering heading down to Clermont parkrun, but then dad came across a new event taking place at the National Training Center (also in Clermont) which offered the chance to earn a medal (and we all know medals are important!). And so it was that four of us signed up for the Caped Crusader 5k (my sister missed out this time as she flew home the day before).
The Caped Crusader 5k forms part of the NTC Lace It Up Series, now in its second year. This is a series of three races of progressive distance, with the principal aim being to get more people running. The series began in June with a 2 mile race, followed by the July 5k and will conclude in September with a 10k (and 5k option). Many of the participants in the Caped Crusader 5k were completing their first 5k, however the events are aimed at all fitness levels and ages. This suited us fine given we would be a party of three runners of varying speeds and one walker.
It was an early start for this one as the race began at 7am and we had to make the half hour journey to Clermont. We were also going to an unfamiliar part of the area and were unsure how much parking there would be as well as how long packet pickup would take, so wanted to be there for the 6am opening. As it turned out, there was plenty of parking and the start/finish area was right by where we parked so it only took a few minutes for us to to collect our packets and be back at the car getting organised. At least we got to see a beautiful sunrise as we walked across the athletics field!
After getting organised and visiting the toilets, we had about half an hour to wait until the race began. There didn’t seem to be too many people around, but there was a great announcer getting everyone ready to go and reminding everyone to stay hydrated (even in the relative cool of 7am it still gets warm really quickly from the moment the sun comes up). I spent the time sizing up the other participants and trying to decide who looked like they might be speedy, however I had a feeling that the fastest runners were probably at parkrun. There were a few fast-looking guys, while most of the women looked like newer runners (although that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t fast!).
Shortly before 7am, the national anthem was played. Not being American, I’m never entirely sure what to do while the Star Spangled Banner plays and simply do my best to stand in a respectful way throughout.
When the anthem had played, we were called forward and I noted there was a real reluctance from most people to line up at the front. A few of the speedy-looking guys did move forward and I lined up behind them, next to dad, then precisely on time at 7am the race got underway.
The route took us around the perimeter of the South Lake hospital, and dad had warned me that it would likely be hilly (Clermont is the only place I’ve ever visited in Florida with hills, and while the new route of the Cool Summer Mornings 5k is flat, the previous route was quite hilly). What we didn’t know was HOW hilly it would be.
Leaving the athletics field, the route almost immediately doubled back on itself so I could see the runners behind me and was struck by how many there seemed to be given that the start area had seemed quiet. I wasn’t far behind dad and aimed to keep him in sight as we made our way around the course.
As we joined the main part of the course that would loop around the hospital, I could see the front runners stretching out ahead of me, with Steve one of three at the front. I did a quick count and guessed I was about 10th (!!) with at least one, maybe two women ahead of me. This was uncharted territory and I remember wondering how I could be so far up the field when usually I’m more of a mid-pack runner, but I guess the newness of the race combined with the number of newer runners accounted for the discrepancy. I wasn’t sure if I could stay in 10th position, but was going to give it my best shot.
The first half mile or so swept slightly downhill, then after a tight right turn we began to gradually climb before another right turn bringing us to the 1 mile marker. As we reached the top of that first hill, I was aware of another woman on my left shoulder, and immediately decided that she was NOT getting past me. The course was levelling out so I was able to speed up a bit, then we went in to a lovely swooping downhill section where I was able to drop the hammer. Glancing behind at the bottom of the descent, there wasn’t a soul behind me anymore.
From this point on, I was largely alone. I could see the runners ahead of me, but they were slightly too far away to chase down, however the motivation of staying ahead of anyone else kept me going. I was running nice and evenly with the first mile ticking over in 8:06 and the second (after another short hill) in 8:01.
There was a water stop around 2 miles and I grabbed a cup to pour down my back, but sadly it wasn’t as cold as I would have liked! At this point we ran briefly through the grounds of the library and community college and I realised I had caught up with the runner in front of me. I passed him (he didn’t look too pleased) and carried on as we re-joined the main path looping around the perimeter.
Another sharp right turn and I saw a hill looming ahead of me. A steep looking one. Because of my position in the field and the way the runners were strung out, I couldn’t see any runners ahead of me so was running along wondering if we were going up or not, but when I caught sight of dad beginning the uphill slog, I knew what was coming.
Realistically, it was no different to the sort of hill I run up regularly at home, but deep into a 5k and in direct Florida sunlight, it was tough going. I looked back over my shoulder to see how close the guy I had passed was, and realised he was slowing much more than me, so I got my head down and kept going. My watch was telling me I was just half a mile from the finish, and I knew the last part of the route was the same as the start to take us back onto the athletics field, so I knew it couldn’t be too long.
At the top of the hill, relief: some shade! I could also now see the last part of the route so it was time to get a move on and finish this thing. I no longer had any idea of my position in the field, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to slow down now!
As I turned onto the path back to the field, dad was on the other side of the switchback and heading for the home straight. Not too long afterwards, I was there too and as I ran back onto the grass with the gantry ahead of me, I heard the announcer say, “here’s our second placed female.”
Did he mean me?
Well there was nobody ahead of me and nobody behind, so he had to mean me. I was second female!!! I hurled myself over the line, collected my medal and plunged my hand into the tub of icy water which contained cold bottles of water (I kept it there for a moment, enjoying the cool sensation on my hot skin). I found Steve (who had finished 3rd) and dad, who had been about a minute ahead of me, and found a nice shady spot on the grass to sit and wait until mum finished.
There were some refreshments available: bananas, apples and hot buttered biscuits (similar to what we call a scone in the UK) but I was too hot to want much and just grabbed an ENORMOUS apple to eat in my shady spot. Whilst sitting there, I examined my splits and was quite pleased that the third mile, despite being slowed by the big hill, came in at 8:34 before a sprint finish which gave me a time of 25:45. Not my fastest, and slower than last week, but in this field still enough to bag me second female and 9th place overall!
Steve and I took some photos (at which point a guy stopped me and asked if I had been at the First Responders 5k the previous week. When I confirmed that I had, he said that he had recognised me!), then it was announced that there would be prizes for the top 3 men and women. No podium this time, but when my name was announced I was presented with a plaque to mark my achievement. Steve also got one as 3rd male. This called for more photos with the branded backdrop and we had a nice chat with the official photographer who was really impressed by us running so well in conditions vastly different to home.
Photos done, and all of our party located, it was time to head home. Once back, I had a delve into my race pack to reveal a selection of leaflets, discount coupons and a branded hat. The race info had said it would be a medal and a hat, so I was quite content with this as I don’t think you can expect a huge amount of swag from a new event. I’m not really a hat wearer and at first I thought it was going to be too big, but once I adjust it it will make a good rainy day hat to keep the rainwater out my eyes!
Overall I thought this was a pretty good event. The pre-race info was clear, parking was plentiful and packet pickup was easy. There were plenty of toilets and the route itself was really well marshalled and signposted so there was no real chance of going wrong. As for swag, the hats seem to be pretty good quality, the medals are HUGE and the plaque I won is of similar quality to other ones Steve and I have won from previous races on holiday in Florida. I’d certainly be happy to do it again next year if the dates work out for us.