Last weekend marked the 39th 5/3 River Bank Run and my 5th year of running one of these great races! The race weekend includes a 5K, 10K and 25K, along with a 5K community walk. It brings large crowds to Grand Rapids, Michigan and this time was no exception!
Admittedly, the past two years, I experienced rough races, each time vowing not to run the 25K the next year. However, with another marathon just two weeks out, I knew I needed to get in more than 6 miles, so I signed up for the 25K again. My goal was simple – treat it as a training run.
Brent, my mom and I headed down to Grand Rapids on Friday afternoon, checked into the Amway Grand Plaza and went to the expo. I must admit, I was quite underwhelmed by the expo this year. While they went with a much more open floor plan, there really weren’t many vendors. They did have official race merchandise, which was a great addition, however the jacket my mom and I loved was extremely expensive, so we passed. We grabbed our bibs and went back to the hotel to relax!
Since Garth Brooks was in town, playing concerts throughout the weekend, we chose to stay in our hotel for dinner. Thankfully, The Kitchen offered gluten free pasta, so I was set! Then it was back to the room for the evening, however, I was quite worried about the weather. While the temperatures were great (40s), strong winds were predicted, along with possible rain showers. I ended up choosing to wear layers, along with my 2XU compression pants – which I absolutely love.
I slept fairly decently and woke up on race morning ready to go. After getting in 18 and 20 miles the past couple of weekends, I was feeling strong in terms of mileage, but still a little worried about pace. I decided to use the 25K as a gauge for the marathon, doing my best to keep marathon pace (as I did during the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon).
Our hotel offered an inside walkway to the start area, and I quickly noticed that there were hardly any runners outside. The signs and trees were blowing, and everyone had the same idea – stay warm as long as possible!
Around 5 minutes before the race, I headed to the start area. This race is self-seeded, however everyone does a fantastic job. It’s actually pretty impressive for a race of over 4500 runners! The horn sounded and off we went.
The course takes you south of Grand Rapids and on to the Kent Trails through Indian Mounds. The 3 mile long path is well contained in the trees, with the Grand River to the right. This is one of the flatter portions of the course, so it’s a great time to find your groove.
I have been training with 4:1 intervals throughout both marathon training cycles. Like the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon, I decided to stick with a pace group the first few miles, then switch into my intervals when needed. Since this race was longer, I joined the 9:30 pace group right off the bat. What surprised me was throughout the Kent Trail, I really felt like this was my comfortable pace. I told myself to keep with it as long as possible, but pull back when necessary, especially since the Bayshore Marathon is only two weeks away.
Around mile 6.5, you make a turn and head back toward downtown Grand Rapids. This area is always lined with fantastic spectators, including cheerleaders and bands. It’s just the boost you need before heading into the rolling hills! We hit the halfway point and I was still feeling good. I chose a mantra and used it throughout the hills. I tried not to look at my Garmin, but knew I was keeping well under marathon pace. (And passing men along the rolling hills only fueled the fire!)
From the beginning of the race until around mile 12, we hadn’t encountered much of the wind. There were moments I did feel a little warm, but then we would turn and feel the wind a bit. The course levels back out at this point, so it was time to focus in on the finish. I was still in my groove and hadn’t switched to the intervals.
Admittedly, I do lose the ability to do math during a race. (Yes, I realize I majored in mathematics!) I knew about what pace I was keeping, but since going after a PR was never even remotely on my mind this race, I didn’t pay attention to how close I actually was. My goal was to keep moving forward and try to continue to hold the pace I had been running.
Toward the end, the course takes you through the parking lot of the local zoo, through a few neighborhoods and then back downtown to the finish. Around mile 14, I felt a few sprinkles, but didn’t think anything of it. Within seconds, we were in the midst of not only rain, but hail. That’s right, the last 1.5 miles of the race in mid-May, I was running in hail. Oh, Michigan.
Brent called to see where I was, and I quickly told him mile 15. (He had found a place to keep dry when the rain came.) He seemed shocked I was so close, so I looked down at my watch. It was then that I realized, I was much closer to my PR time than I thought! I dug in the last few tenths of a mile (which includes a slight incline) and pushed to the finish line – finishing in 2:30:17.
I found Brent and he had a grin on his face. When I left for the race that morning, I told him that if all went well, I would finish around 2:35. I guess I blew that out of the water! I ended up finishing a mere 58 seconds off my PR and didn’t realize it until the last half mile. Honestly, I think it was better that way – there was no pressure and I just focused on the mental aspect of the race. It was exactly what I needed before the marathon!
We found my mom who was just as surprised, as she completely missed me finishing. (Actually, she heard the announcer say my name and didn’t realize I still had a little bit until I actually crossed the finish line!) And after the rain and hail, the sunshine came out when we were in the finisher’s area. Welcome to spring time in the Midwest.
I grabbed a banana and chocolate milk, then headed to the Gazelle Girl tent. Since I ran the Gazelle Girl Half Marathon and 5/3 River Bank Run 25K, I received another medal!
Needless to say, this race was a huge confidence booster. While I have definitely put in the mileage for the marathon, I’ve been really concerned about pace. Not only did I finish the 25K well under marathon pace, I had an extremely strong run mentally. This race was truly a dress rehearsal for the marathon and I couldn’t be more excited!