Race Recap: Freedom 5K (Vancouver, WA)

Just before the start of the VUM Freedom 5K on June 14, 2014 (photo by Tung Yin)

Just before the start of the VUM Freedom 5K on June 14, 2014 (photo by Tung Yin)

This past weekend was Energy Events’ big blow-out bash just across the Columbia River in Vancouver, starting with the race expo on Friday, continuing with the Freedom 5K followed by a brewfest on Saturday, and then headlined by the Vancouver Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday. I was delighted to get the Run Oregon comp to the Freedom 5K, as I had enjoyed my last Energy Events race (Fort Vancouver 10K) despite the steady rain and freezing temperatures.

I hadn’t run a race in nearly two months, but I had been doing a lot of speedwork during that time, so I was pretty eager to test myself.

Saturday morning was mild and cloudy. Race time was a civilized 10 a.m., so I was able to get some extra sleep and still make the relatively long drive from southwest Portland across the state line to Vancouver. I didn’t bother looking for street parking, as the Vancouver Farmer’s Market was right next door to the race venue and had plenty of parking available for a suggested donation of $2. After parking, I jogged over to Esther Short Park, where Energy Events had set up the Vancouver USA Marathon Expo. There were a ton of vendors inside, including Foot Traffic, Fit Right, Max Muscle, and others. Disney Radio had a booth, and so did the Portland Timbers. And high energy 80s music blasted from loudspeakers near the race start.

Check-in was quick and efficient. I like that Energy Events posts confirmed registrants on its website in advance of the race, so you can look up your bib number; this is helpful because the check-in lines (well, there weren’t any lines when I got there) are divided by bib number, so if you know your number, you can go to the right line immediately. Otherwise, you can check for your number on the printouts at a nearby stand. I received my bib, which came with a bottom tearaway coupon that could be used for gear check (another nice touch) and a goody bag containing a red race tech shirt, a Clif bar, and a bunch of cards for other races. I jogged back to my car to stash the goodie bag, as I am one of those runners who do not like to wear race shirts at that race. (I don’t, however, judge others who do; it’s just a personal thing for me.)

Shortly before race time, the race director introduced the guest emcee – Bart Yasso of Runner’s World! I spent much of the rest of the pre-race time trying to figure out how I could go get a picture with him, either before or after the race. (I failed to come up with an idea. He was obviously busy with pre-race stuff, and during the race, he was announcing finishers. I couldn’t stick around long enough afterward.)

The 250 registered runners gathered in a big mass for Yasso’s pre-race pep talk, and then with ten seconds to go, we joined in a collective countdown. 10 . . . 9 . . . 8 . . . 7 . . . 6 . . . 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . GO!

Unfortunately, there were no waves, and not even self-sorting by anticipated finish times, so it was basically a blob moving forward. It took me 12 seconds to get to the start line (noted on the results page as the difference between gun time and chip time), and that was because I had to walk. Even with the wide streets available, the first tenth of a mile or so was pretty crowded, and I basically slipped around the edge of the course to find some running room. After that, however, the crowd thinned out considerably.

Once we got out of the park, we headed east on 6th Street for two blocks, running past downtown shops, and then turned left to go north on Main Street for four blocks and about 30 feet of elevation gain. At Evergreen Boulevard, we turned right and ran about 3/4 of a mile, under the 5 freeway, and along the edge of the Fort Vancouver park. This was all vaguely familiar to me from March’s Fort Vancouver race, but the weather that day had been blustery and dreary, whereas today was much better, so the park looked nicer and more inviting.

I noticed that there was a spectator on a bike who was taking pictures with a smartphone. At first I thought he was part of Energy Events’ crew, but he wasn’t staying in one location to take pictures of everyone. Instead, he would take a picture or two, then get back on his bike and pedal ahead, and then set up again. So I figured he was the personal photographer for someone behind me (since he obviously wasn’t there to take pictures of me, at least, I hope not!).

From Evergreen, we turned into the park and were rewarded with a long gentle downhill stretch. The path was actually somewhat lonely for me at this point, as the front pack had spread out pretty significantly. I had been trailing a male-female couple (from New Orleans, I learned later from checking the results page) for some time now, not really falling behind farther, but not making up ground either.

The 2 mile mark took us right under the Lewis and Clark Highway, and nestled under the overpass was the water & aid station. In a nice lift for me, one of the volunteers was my friend Eileen Kuffner, who recognized me and cheered me on.

The last mile consisted of a short out-and-back along the Lewis and Clark Discovery Greenway Trail parallel to the Columbia River before heading back toward Esther Park. We went underneath the Interstate Bridge – I wish I’d stopped to take a picture from that angle, but I was running at a pretty good pace and figured I had a good shot at a sub-21 minute finish, so no picture. From there, the trail turned right (north) and became Columbia Street.

At this point, 18 minutes had elapsed for me, and RunKeeper was telling me that I’d run 2.65 miles. (I had it set to give audio cues every 2 minutes.) Oddly, though, I could hear the music from the race venue pretty clearly, as well as Bart Yasso’s announcing of the names of finishers. I soon found out why: while I was anticipating about 1/4 mile left to go, I saw that the end of the race was just about on top of me! I poured on the speed, but there was so little of the race left that I crossed the finish line with plenty in the tank.

(It appears that what happened was the turnaround was placed about 100 meters short of where it should have been according to the published race course. It should have been to the east of the latitude of the U-turn underneath the Lewis and Clark Highway, but on the actual course ended up being to the west of that U-turn, according to my RunKeeper plot. I realize RunKeeper and smartphone GPS’s aren’t always accurate, but in this case I’m inclined to trust my smartphone because projecting my race time from 2.93 miles to 3.11 miles would result in a time much more consistent with recent 5K efforts.)

With music still going strong, the expo still open, and the brewfest about to get started, I easily could have stayed for much more of the festivities, including the awards ceremony, the Kids’ marathon,* and the lead-in to the headliner races on Sunday: the Vancouver USA Marathon and Half-Marathon. There were medals to be awarded three deep in each age/gender group, and although I didn’t know it at the time, I placed 3d in the M45-49 group; hopefully, Energy Events will mail my medal to me.

* Obviously, not a marathon in the traditional sense. Child registrants were instructed to run 25 miles in as many sessions as they needed in the weeks before this weekend, with the last 1.2 miles to be run after the Freedom 5K.

As with the Fort Vancouver 10K, Energy Events really knows how to throw a great party. So much of this race was well-planned and designed. The tech shirt, for example, was made by Asics and just feels like high quality. Water, Gatorade, and fruit were plentiful before and after the race. True to the organizer’s name, the race was full of energy. The only two areas that I would recommend for improvement are better sorting at the start of the race (the signs with different race paces used for the Fort Vancouver run worked well, I thought) so that slower runners don’t clog the front, and double-checking the actual race course. I can imagine that race directors have about 1001 things going on just before the race, and there’s probably never enough volunteers/workers to cover everything. Plus, I’m sure there are a number of runners who just wanted to get some exercise and have a good time, and therefore might not care whether they ran 3.1 miles or 2.9 miles or whatever. But I’m sure there are also a number of runners who do track their performance carefully and for whom an abnormally fast time that wasn’t truly earned is a letdown.

For entire race results, click here.

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