Sometimes, it’s good to pick your race about 18 hours before the gun.

We’d picked up a flier for The Great Kilted Run in Seattle either during the Tacoma City Marathon expo or during our epic search across every running store in the Tacoma area for a hydration backpack1, but had lost it in the shuffle of other races we had much less chance of participating in.  But when we started tidying the place up to move from Gig Harbor to Concrete, we re-found it, realized that Magnuson Park was an easy en route stop for our move, discussed, and ultimately decided that if we found reasonable kilt-like garments at Goodwill, then we’d get up early and go for it.  After all, we’re a sucker for themed races and Goodwill costumes.  We realized after the on-line registration cut-off that race day registration was $40 – a bit steep, but not ridiculous.  If we’re in the area again at the right time, we’d totally do it again, but with some pre-registration discounts.

The Event

I don’t really know if the race was held to commemorate anything in particular.  Nothing was promoted at the event, but it was the day before Scotland’s Victoria Day.  Mostly it seemed to be an opportunity to celebrate the Scottish heritage of many people in the area and to get people to dress up.  There were traditional, authentic kilts, many kilt analogues such as ours, and some creative homemade kilts with fun, quirky fabrics2.  Plus a few people in boring old shorts – really inexcusable given the huge selection of rental kilts they had on site.  (Even the local newspaper coverage of the event agreed on that front!)

Aside from the overall kilted awesomeness, the race was very well run.  There wasn’t a lot of pre-race shenanigans.  Just the essentials; beer garden, sponsor tents, registration desk, kilt rental, water, and beer garden.  Yes, pre-race beer was available before the 9:30 start if you were so inclined.  It reopened around the 30 minute finishers.  The pacific northwest takes their race beer seriously.  No Michelob Ultra water here; just two Pike Brewing beers; Dry Wit and, appropriately enough, Kilt Lifter.

Since we’d gotten there at the start of registration to ensure time to find a spot to park the rig, we had plenty of time to kill.  After registering we headed back to the rig to put on our awesome kilts – Ceridwen in her micro-mini kilt (and requisite tights) and me in my school marm kilt and sad attempt to make it look more kilt-y with a belt – before returning to the start line to stroll around the sponsor tents3, watch the kids fun run, and get warmed up for the 5k.

The course was advertised with the typical “flat and fast” description – and pretty much delivered on that front.  Magnuson park was apparently a military base at some point, was completely leveled, and only had some small hills put back in when they built a University of Washington complex and needed somewhere to put the dirt.  According to my watch, the total elevation difference between the high and low points of the course was about 17 feet.  Sweet.

The MC tried to get people to spread out according to expected paces, but with the somewhat novelty draw of the race, there were a lot of people who didn’t know their pace and a handful of eager kids who wanted to be up front regardless.  Fortunately, with a field of 350ish and a nice wide start, there was no big problem with finding your position.  There was, however, a photographer who thought that kneeling three feet in front of the start line was a brilliant idea.  I almost tripped over her.  The local news crew even caught it on camera!

Post race, once the beer was flowing, a Celtic drum band played and a good time was had by all until well past noon.  We hadn’t planned on staying that late, but after a couple of rounds we had the luxury of being able to hop over to the far parking lot for a shower and return.  The band was packing up and the crowd was dwindling, but there were still plenty of folks sticking it out.  We got chatting to the organizer of ProMotion events and her partner at the beer tent and are hoping to be able to volunteer at their next race – the Fremont 5k – a Friday night race with a briefcase relay.

At long last, it was time to go, which was a little challenging because baseball players were beginning to arrive in the previously isolated parking lot we stashed the rig at.  But we managed, despite me needing to do all the driving since somebody4 had a couple more rounds than intended.  Overall, the only possible thing I would suggest to be done differently would be the signs leading to the event – they featured a photo of a past event with an arrow, but the text was too small to know what it was for.  Though it was very easy to find the park and most people were local, something that’s predominantly text would certainly be better, even if it just says “RACE.”  Also, a larger beer garden might be in order.

Overall, though, this was awesome.  It was well organized, well publicized, well run, did a great job of balancing spectator and racer needs, and had an awesome MC that may have managed to announce every single person, first on the way by around mile 2.4, then again at the finish, keeping the enthusiasm going until the very last person came across the line.  And I didn’t do too shabby either . . .

My Race

It’s been quite a while since I ran a 5k, which has been a bit of a cramp in my attempts at meeting the goals I set out for myself this year.  Although we were certainly viewing this as a fun run, with the flat terrain and awesome weather (54ish degrees) it was a perfect day to go for a PR.  I hadn’t been doing any 5k-specific training, but my efforts to try to ensure speedwork or hillwork at least once a day have clearly been paying off.  (The hills of Gig Harbor’s Cushman Trail, which were hills weather it was hillwork or not, probably didn’t hurt either.)

It was a beautiful day, a good size crowd, and modest efforts were made to get people to line up based on expected pace.  I found myself with “the age groupers” – guys ranging from maybe five years my junior to twenty-some-odd years my senior checking in with one another as to who was what age in hopes of ensuring their own age group win.  The goal times I heard around me were “19:30, maybe 19:45,” which was just about right.  I lined up behind them, hoping that I’d be able to manage a sub-20 race “given the conditions.”

Be it the weather, the speed work, or just the combination of it all, I found myself passing all but one runner in the first hundred yards or so.  (Once I’d sidestepped the photographer, of course.)  Including one guy, surrounded by a few kids, all from a Scottish family with enough participants that they brought along their own family tent and all had matching (and presumably with authentic tartans) kilts, who was mumbling something along the lines of “I knew I shouldn’t have lined up that close to the front…”

A short while later, as I was trying to keep up with the leader, I heard a voice behind me (likely the same one) shout “you’re losing your kilt!”  Sure enough, I was.  I tugged it up, folded it over my belt, and hoped for the best.  I’m sure the race photos will look stellar.

As we spread out over the first mile, a guy named Jeffrey Gordon caught up to me and casually asked my target time.  I told him of my intents to target 19:15 or so, but that I’d be happy with just holding steady for a sub-20.  Clearly unimpressed, he wished me luck and caught up with the leader, Simon Barbe, a local 16 year old5, presumably to ask the same question to determine how hard he had to push in order to ensure victory.

By the time we hit the first mile marker we were spread out with Jeffrey in the lead, Simon maybe fifty yards behind him, me about fifty yards behind Simon, and Scott Roza about fifty yards behind me.  And the first digit on my watch was a FIVE.  Whoa.  At mile two I had lost sight of Jeffrey and the bicyclist leading us along the course and was working hard to keep Simon closer than Scott was to me.  I tried to close the gap, but the other guys were pushing as hard, or more likely harder, than I was.  We managed to hold this pattern for the remainder of the course, Jeffrey winning in an awesome 17:43.

The layout of the final stretch of the course was such that you couldn’t really see the clock until the last fifty feet or so.  I started my push just a few seconds after Simon did, maybe closing in a little bit, but far too late and slow to catch him.  He was just crossing the line when the clock came in to view, painfully clicking away the last few seconds of minute 18 as I pushed to catch it.  I crossed at 19:04, just shy of my goal of a sub-19 5k.

BUT, my chip time was 19:00 even, so while it might not technically be my sub-19 goal, it’s 18 seconds faster than my P.R. from just over two years ago.  And it’s as close to sub-19 as I can get.  One more second and I’m there.  Plus, in this particular event, it was good enough for an age group win and third place overall6.  And I’ve got to say, this is a pretty awesome prize!

I’m not going to beat myself up over that last second.  I’m letting myself consider it a huge accomplishment, but I’m going to keep the sub-19 goal on my list, keep up the speed training, and continue to try and find races to give it a go.

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Which was finally found at REI and purchased online for almost half the price…
  2. My favorites were a pair of girls in black and white plaid with neon “paintball” splotches on it and a guy in a beige and brown plaid accented with John Deere logos.
  3. Which were unexciting save for the ING financial guys who had some nice water bottles that were a welcome replacement to the one I got at the 2009 Philly Marathon – I’m getting sick of it dripping all over me.
  4. I’m not naming names…
  5. Who was apparently much shorter at the last race the MC saw him at.
  6. Yes, they award both.  Age group prizes were just simple ribbons, but I feel bad for the guy in fourth place in my age group.