A confluence of events conveniently coalesced (whoa, consonance) while I was visiting family in northeast Ohio: a nearby town was hosting a race on the 4th of July; the distance (5 miles or 2 miles) coincided pretty seamlessly with where I was in my SF marathon training; it was inexpensive; and finally, I had childcare locked down — all critical elements for being able to race. Before the North Canton YMCA July 4th race, I hadn’t yet completed a race on the 4th of July, so I was excited to race in an atmosphere that I imagined would be similar in vibe to a turkey trot. As a huge bonus, my sister and her husband’s cousin (her unofficial BIL) were going to run the 2 mile race that set off before the 5 miler, and one of my nephews, and my sister’s BIL’s son, were also going to run the kids’ race. It was going to be a fun morning.
Coincidentally, the North Canton YMCA July 4th Race (so succinct) celebrated its 40th anniversary this year, and it’s the second of at least three races I’ve run/will run this year celebrating the ruby milestone. It was evident from the get-go that the Y, and the city of North Canton, had been doing this stuff a long time because everything was clockwork on race morning. The town’s central area was decorated to mark the Independence Day festivities, the Y effortlessly ushered tons of runners and walkers through its doors to get packets on race morning and/or use their (very nice) bathrooms, and the central square brimmed with local companies, vendors, eateries, massage therapists (praise the lord) and even an animal adoption area (PUPPIES!) for participants pre- or post-race. I have no problem supporting new races and giving them a chance, but it’s always so nice to go through the motions at an established race that clearly has figured out what works and what doesn’t.
I can only recall racing a 5 miler (not an 8k) one other time before, and coincidentally, it was also here in the Akron area, and shortly after giving birth to A way back in 2011. Based on workouts and where I was in marathon training, I figured that I could probably shoot for around a 6:4x pace at the YMCA race — about what I’d run my tempos and not too far off the MMD 10k in May. I purposely went into this race with very untapered legs (and thus, an untapered mind, if that makes any sense) because I wanted it to mimic the final grind of 26.2. Plus, with the whole “racing in July in the humid midwest” factor, I figured that if all else failed, I could at least make a decent workout of it and have another stimulus before toeing the line at SFM. I knew nothing about the course — I realized at the race that I managed to not even look at a map beforehand — so I was flying blindly for a change.
After an easy but humid 2 mile warm-up, I connected with my sister and nephew, and my sister’s BIL and his family, to cheer the kids on in the kids’ dash. I so love watching the unbridled enthusiasm and energy of kids’ races. Shortly after, my sister and her BIL began their 2 miler, and it was equally fun to cheer for them as they began their footrace.
Not long later, the 5 mile runners and I lined up and waited for our signal. I immediately noticed the rather, uh, dearth of non-teenaged runners, so I figured it’d make for a good ~35 minutes of chasing folks a fraction of my age. Why not, right? I also noticed that there were virtually no women near the front of the pack, which was a little disconcerting. Call all these observations great reminders in the importance of just run your own race, and don’t overthink things.
After a slight downhill right off the bat, on a commercial street, we immediately made our way into some residential neighborhoods and basically stayed there for the near-entirety of the race. Even at 8:30 in the morning, many of the various neighborhoods’ residents were already out in their devilstrips, grilling, drinking, and cheering on the runners. (Eds. note: over time, I’ve learned that “devilstrip” is either an Akron word or one that only my family uses. Either way, if you have no idea what I’m talking about, here. I honestly don’t know of any other word to describe it). Most of the streets were fairly flat, though there were periodic blips or undulations — I wouldn’t exactly call them hills — that necessitated a quick change in gears for a few seconds. The most dramatic hill, what the RD referred to in pre-race emails as “THE HILL,” was after mile 4 and only lasted about .10-.15 miles and was by far the most dramatic. All the other hills were gentler and more often than not, longer.
This race was a blast. I loved the positive energy that the community members threw out all morning long, and hell, even with the warmish temps, pure sun in many sections of the course, and slight wind and humidity (natch, it’s July), it was fun. I went out of my way to run through sprinklers 3 times mid-race (midwest summer racing at its finest), and I tried to not dissociate when things began to feel hard or tiring. As usual, I rarely looked at my watch and only caught my splits maybe half the time, but I focused on running evenly and strategically, reigning in people slowly but surely and not pacing like a tool. I passed four women between miles 2-3 and eventually got passed by 2 sometime after mile 4 — who looked really young — making the short race a fun little cat-and-mouse game for a while.
Once we cleared “THE HILL” and made our way back to the downtown area, we had an ever-so-slight downhill into the finish, back on the commercial street where we began, a short jog away from the start line. I tried desperately to outkick a guy close to me and to close the gap more on the women in front of me but failed at both (though apparently, the results reveal that the guy and I finished with the same exact time). In the process of my final kick attempt, I heard my family on the sidelines screaming for me (I LOVE YOU, SISTER!) and focused on turnover until the finish line was behind me. The result: 33:31, a near-8 minute PR for the distance, 9th woman, 1st AG, and 52/583 overall. (For funsies, here are the top 10 women’s ages: 19, 41, 19, 49, 20, 18, 28, 12 [!], 33, 19. Apparently I was the token 30-something).
I’m really happy with how this race went, especially considering my purposely less-than-fresh approach. Even though this pace was slower than what I did at MMD for 10k, given that it was about 48 hours post-20 mile workout, and again, in the thick of 26.2 training, I was thrilled. It is often tempting for me to begin to lose focus when racing gets uncomfortable, but I’ve been trying to actively stay with it — to stay present in each and every mile and not get far ahead of myself, wondering how I’ll be feeling in the next 800m or the next mile or whatever, particularly if I’m not feeling fantastic in any given second. I’m slowly learning that I can still find flow and not dissociate when it seems like my natural course of action. I guess you can say that instead of riding the train, I’m trying to conduct the thing for a change. It’s a work in progress.
Post-race, I got a massage (lovely), ran another 3 miles as a cool-down, picked up my useful mug that I earned for winning my age group, and got back as soon as I could to see the tail-end of my family’s hood’s 4th festivities for the kids.
This North Canton YMCA July 4th race was a gem and one that I’d definitely repeat. If you care about the detail, it wasn’t USATF certified, but even still, I registered 4.95 for the distance — a pretty reasonable margin of error, IMHO. The volunteers and community support was great, the premiums were nice if that stuff is important to you (a tech T and medals, tons of post-race food, and mugs for AG and OA winners), and the price was right. Plus, the field was super fast, which just made for an even more fun race experience. I’m appreciative that I found this race, that it worked out with my schedule, and that I got one final race stimulus before SF. It left me feeling encouraged that I can still grind when it’s absolutely critical, which was kinda the point in doing it in the first place. Mission accomplished.
Hard to believe the next bib that’ll adorn my Wolfpack singlet will be for TSFM!