It’s rare that I bother to sign up for a 5k race. The distance is too short for me to enjoy since it usually takes me 3 miles just to warm up and by that time the race is over. However, this 5k was special. September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day and this 5k race was sponsored by the Friends of the Alachua County Crisis Center to help raise the awareness of suicide and suicide prevention and to support people who have suffered a suicide loss. I shall always be grateful to the volunteers at the Crisis Center who managed to convince the Gainesville police to open up our son Ben’s apartment when he had been missing for over a week. His suicide was the catalyst behind the many walks and races I’ve done since in Ben’s memory and in support of suicide prevention.
So I had a personal reason for traveling to Gainesville to do this race. It also gave me a chance to visit the Survivors of Suicide Memory Garden located in at the race venue, Cofrin Nature Park. In the words of the Crisis Center brochure that describes the garden “the Survivors of Suicide Garden offers a place of healing and solace for those who have suffered the loss of a loved one to suicide. The garden offers a natural landscape, sacred sanctuary and artistic symbols all meant to connect to those who are on the journey towards healing after losing someone to suicide.” It was very serene and peaceful.
The race itself was well done for an inaugural event. A concise but complete description of the course was given on the race website and included a map. I copied the directions on a small card that I kept with me just in case I got lost, but I never had to refer to it since signs with arrows were carefully positioned at all turns. There were two aid stations that offered water and both were manned by cheering volunteers. Additional volunteers were positioned at strategic places along the course – which, by the way, was all on city streets and sidewalks.
I arrived early, found a good parking spot at the church nearby (which offered its parking lot for the race), and walked to the park to get my bib and green cotton short-sleeve tee shirt. The race began on time and by 8 am we were all on our way. I can only estimate the number of participants since there were no official results; I would guess about 50-60 people took part. Most were runners but there were some walkers like myself. Despite the warm weather, I enjoyed the course and the occasion; it was great to do a race on asphalt again.
As I was waved back into the park at the 3.1 mark, I checked my watch and it was 8:40, so it took me approximately 40 minute to finish. We had been warned earlier in an apologetic email that there would be no medals (that was fine with me – I don’t need another medal) but there was plenty of food and drink, bananas and water and bagels.
Since this is supposed to become an annual event, I would respectfully offer a few constructive suggestions for future years:
- Offer Gatorade in addition to water (September is still very hot and humid in Florida)
- Use bibs that do not self-destruct when they get wet or sweaty
- Have some kind of timing device – even just a few volunteers with stop watches – to capture finishing times for people as they cross the finish line (the Florida Track Club has a timing clock that it rents out but the club may be persuaded to donate its use for this organization)
- Draw a chalk line on the ground for both start and finish lines
- Set up mile markers to help racers pace themselves (these could be borrowed from the Florida Track Club as well)
- Publish the results – names and times – on the web and on the Crisis Center’s Facebook page
This was an important race for me to do and I feel sure it will grow in popularity. It was definitely worth the 4 am drive to Gainesville. When I returned home and went through the good bag that held my shirt and bib, I discovered a thank you note addressed to me by name from the race coordinator thanking me for participating. That was a special touch!