Summer is kind of a ‘down’ time for marathons, at least here in the southeastern portion of the United States. The weather is far too hot and humid for any kind of long mileage race and even shorter races are hard to find. Even so, there are usually lots of 5 k races held to celebrate Independence Day and this is true of Florida as well. So, Monday morning found me getting ready to take part in the 33rd Melon Run here in town. This is a very low-key event sponsored by our local Florida Track Club; the race welcomes fast and slow runners and walkers alike. No timing chips, no pre-race packet pickup the day before, no expo, no pasta dinner – just walk up early on the morning of the 4th, get your bib, and warm up. It is possible (and advisable) to pre-register online but not essential to do so.
While I do not usually participate in any race shorter than a half marathon (I often say that anything less than 13 miles is not worth getting out of bed for), every now and then I find that entering 5 and 10 k races helps keep things interesting. I appreciate the benefits of occasionally taking part in low-mileage events. For one thing, shorter races allow me the opportunity to intersperse my usual quick walking style with several minutes of running without feeling like I must maintain my endurance and energy for 6 hours. I can also try out new techniques or clothes or shoes or energy bars without having to worry that things might go wrong and I will be required to tolerate any ill effects for the full length of a marathon. I get to see friends and acquaintances who only do the shorter races. This gives me a welcome chance to touch base with more of the local running/walking community.
Early on Monday morning I walked to the local park where the race was to begin. Two miles there for a warm-up (and two miles afterwards for a cool-down) and three miles for the race, plus the additional 4 miles or so in the wee hours of the morning (my usual walking time) and I would be set for the day. As usual, the race was a success; lots of locals and a few visitors took part, the weather was hot and humid (but no rain), and there was plenty of watermelon, along with bagels, Gatorade, water, and other treats post-race. This was probably the 8th time I have taken part in the Melon Run (since I’m usually in town on the 4th) and it was as much fun as it always has been. I finished in 35:17, about an 11.7 minute pace, one of my best finishing times.
Even though I am a long-distance walker, I would highly recommend that walkers try local 5 K races, along with similar shorter distances, with the caveat that beforehand one should check to make sure that:
- walkers are welcome,
- the course is well-marked (the Melon Run had big red arrows painted on the ground along with mile markers and directional signs), and
- the finish line will remain standing until the last runner/walker comes through the chute.
If there is any doubt, it is sometimes advisable to volunteer to work at a race the first time and check out the situation for oneself. In fact, volunteering is a great way to participate in the running community without breaking a sweat. One of my goals for the remainder of this year and for 2012 is to find ways to volunteer with the track club and work on ‘the other end’ of several races. As a race participant, I have come to the realization that volunteers are absolutely critical to the success of a race. Although I prefer to actually be IN the race, if I consider a particular distance too minimal for me, then there is no reason why I can’t offer my help at an aid station or a registration table.