Race Recap: 2016 Out To The Ball Game 5K

The view from the Party Deck after the race.

With so many races out there, it's getting harder and harder to come up with something unique. That's why the Out To The Ball Game 5K caught my attention: An evening race on the peaceful, tree-shaded Oregon State University campus, winding up with a lap around the warning track at Goss Stadium and finishing at home plate. Not only that, but admission to the Corvallis Knights baseball game was included in the entry fee! A race combined with a baseball game on a warm, sunny early summer evening. What a great idea! This note on the Heart Of The Valley Runners website was the kicker: "Top finishers for female/male and boys/girls will get to throw out a ceremonial first pitch!" That sounded like such a cool and unique prize. How many people get to throw out a first pitch at a baseball game? I knew the chances of winning were probably slim, especially in a college town brimming with fast young runners. But I could dream, right? And even if I didn't win, the concept was brilliant, and it would be fun to watch, whoever got the honor of hurling the leather spheroid.

I arrived at the stadium at least an hour early, and pulled into the parking area behind the left field wall. Before I even saw the “Park At Your Own Risk” sign, I thought better of leaving my car within range of home run balls, and moved to a spot on the street protected by a brick structure.

I picked up my race number with a game ticket stapled to the back, walked around the campus a bit, bought a Knights cap for the game, and encountered fellow Run Oregon Blogger Jessica and her husband Bryan, both there for the walk. At 5:00pm I watched the walkers set off down the shaded street, and sprinted across the quad to cheer them on.

After another short warmup run, I headed back to the start to mill around and assess the odds of actually winning the race. There were several fast looking guys getting ready, but a woman in a University Of Florida singlet stood out as the true ringer. Another runner got up the courage to approach her, and I overheard that she really was a runner for the Gators, interning at the Olympic Trials in Eugene.

Start time approached, and the race director gave us some last minute instructions. The Florida woman toed the line, and her friend (one of the fast-looking guys) told her he would try to stay with her as long as possible. Then he added “We’ll see how my one week of training works out!” Then the race director counted down, the lead cyclist headed down the road, and we were off!

A lead pack of the Florida woman, her friend, and me was quickly established as we ran along shaded sidewalks, paths, and quiet streets, following the lead bike. With a chance to throw out that first pitch on the line, I found myself willing to push the pace and fight through the pain more than most recent races, and the three of us stayed together for much of the first mile.

At some point near half way on the back-and-forth course, I realized it was down to just the Florida girl and me, and the possibility of really winning the race (at least as top male) became more real. By the last mile, quick, strategic glances at the turns made it clear I had a good lead on the next male, and I just tried to keep pushing as hard as I could and let the Gator woman pull me along. I felt a little guilty that I couldn’t switch off the lead and let her draft off of me, but I was at my limit and it was all I could do to maintain the effort. I got a nice boost when I passed Jessica and Bryan coming the other way on their walk.

The lead cyclist, strategically placed volunteers, and large chalk arrows made it very easy to stay on course, and the pre-race instructions also gave me a good sense of where we were headed. The course was a nice mixture of paths, roads, and sidewalks. On our third pass of a shaded campus path we turned south toward the stadium, and I knew the finish was within reach. We looped around the stadium, ran through a gate at the right field corner, took a counter-clockwise circuit around the warning track, and headed toward the finish at home plate.

The Florida woman pulled away for the overall win, and I gasped my way in for second place and first male. Sliding across the plate would have been a great way to finish such a novel race, but maybe not so comfortable in running shorts on artificial turf. So I settled for the next best thing: I stopped one step early, then jumped on home plate, like a slugger who just hit a walk-off home run.

Then, excited, relieved, and totally spent, I sprawled on my back on the turf behind home plate, chest heaving, having pushed myself to the limit. The baseball crowd had already started trickling into the stadium, and many of them were cheering on the runners as they kicked it in toward home.

One fan asked me if I was all right, and I assured him I was just catching my breath. It was one of those races where I left nothing on the course. Sometimes I’m able to race with the mindset that nothing else matters beyond the finish line. If I collapse in an exhausted and happy heap, it means I gave it everything I had. As I lay there looking up at the bright blue sky, I noticed a big black and white dragonfly perched on a backstop cable. It looked like a checkered flag, which seemed nicely appropriate.

After resting for a couple minutes, I got up and walked along the third base line in time to see Jessica and Bryan finishing up their walk. Then I headed to the Party Deck, the runners’ post-race headquarters, to congratulate the top woman. I walked back to my car to get my new Knights hat, proud of my effort and happy to have achieved a hard-fought goal that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to accomplish. It was one of those rare satisfied feelings where I found myself giving private fist pumps and muttering “I did it!” under my breath.

I got out my ticket and got in line to get back into the game, looking forward to hanging out with the other runners and throwing out that first pitch. (You know you’re in a college town, and one known for it’s engineering program, when the kid in front of you is giving his friend detailed instructions on how to solve a Rubik’s Cube.)

“Anticipation has the habit to set you up
For disappointment in evening entertainment” – Arctic Monkeys

Back at the Party Deck, I got some food and a drink, and joined Jessica and Bryan. We were all waiting for announcements about the first pitch ceremony, but didn’t hear anything. Then the winners were announced and the lead cyclist presented us with autographed team baseballs. I asked him about the first pitch and he said he knew nothing about that, so I returned to the table and we waited some more.

An autographed baseball: Not your usual race award!

Then the PA announcer introduced Benny The Beaver, and the OSU mascot threw out the first pitch. It was a little disappointing and confusing, and probably the result of some miscommunication between the race directors and the Knights staff. It would have been really fun if we had gotten the chance to throw out the first pitch, and a perfect way to cap off an event that merged running with baseball.

But despite the disappointment, the Out To The Ball Game 5K was a lot of fun, and a great concept. The baseball game itself was a nice bonus, as was the chance to finish the race on the field. Watching the game from the left field corner was a perfect and relaxing way to wind down after the race.

Jessica’s recap of the walk: Only once prior in my running ‘career’ have I ever walked an event. I was thrilled that my husband, Bryan, wanted to join me at the Out to the Ballgame 5K run/walk. It was an incredible Saturday evening for a baseball game, and a walk around the gorgeous Oregon State University Campus.

We arrived early and parked about a half-mile from Goss Stadium. This wasn’t intentional, but it worked out fine. After receiving strange directions from Siri as to where we needed to walk to reach Goss Stadium, we decided to start heading toward Reser Stadium, as we knew how to get there. Goss stadium was a little tricky to find, but no big deal. The time wandering allowed us to enjoy more of the campus.

After reaching Goss Stadium, we found the run/walk check-in located at the main entrance to the ball field. There was a tent set-up with very nice volunteers at the ready to assist. We walked right up, received our bibs, and were reminded the walk began at 5 p.m., while the run started at 5:30 p.m. We found out the race course was adjusted last minute due to some construction related blocks in the original course. No big deal.

The start line was a short walk from packet pick-up, and the race director arrived to fill us in on instructions. The walk was perfect for all ages and abilities, was mostly shaded, and allowed ample ability to stop and cool off if needed. The walk and run followed the same course.

At about 5:05 p.m., the walk kicked-off. About 20 of us (+/-) were participating in the walk, and the range of participants was wide and varied. It was great!

Chalk course markings aided us in staying on course, as did the friendly volunteers stationed at major turn points that could lead us off course if we made the wrong turn. There was an aid station perfectly placed at approximately the half way point, too, which is always a wonderful treat for a 5K.

Bryan and I were closing in on the finish line, and we were able to cheer Joe in as he passed us! He was flying! After navigating along the outside of the stadium, we were led onto the ball field to finish the event on the home plate! This was pretty awesome!

After crossing the finish line, we were able to go up to the ‘party deck’ which was reserved for participants of the event (and family members who purchased a $10 companion ticket). On the party deck, we were treated to casual BBQ fare, including hot dogs and hamburgers, and there were quite a few tables and chairs to sit at.

I was so bummed that Joe didn’t get to throw out the ceremonial opening pitch, but it was a lovely evening to hang out for awhile at the ball game.

I was happy Bryan and I attended (and got to see and cheer on Joe!). This would be an excellent, low-key family-friendly event to add to your 2017 race calendar.

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