Selecting my first “race” (event is really more correct, but they’re called races so we’ll go with that) back from my little hiatus was an interesting thought experiment. I’m new to the area, so I want to explore – but my son is older, too, and it would be fun to not have to drive so far and maybe the family could come. Based on timing and theme, I chose The Great American Bacon Race in Tampa.
The Great American Bacon Race advertises itself as a bacon-themed 5K series, with everything that you’d think comes with that. They started doing this in 2014, and they’ve only got three – Orlando in August, Miami in September, and Tampa in October. The website is short on information (course maps, etc.) but long on really good advertising and playing up the theme. I figured it couldn’t hurt – what the heck? That’s about an hour drive, but since it didn’t start until 9 I thought maybe the family could come – and we might get some bacon, besides. So I signed up.
The race goes down at the Florida State Fairgrounds – so pay $6 to park, park on the grass, and a decent hike in to the check-in. About halfway on that hike from the parking lot, the smell starts happening.
Bacon smells amazing.
No check-in bag – just your bib, your safety pins, and a strip attached to your bib that you use to go get your shirt. So I lined up for my shirt, and then took it all back to my car to pin the bib and put the shirt away and kill a few minutes.
About an hour before the race started, people started circulating with huge pans of bacon that were being cooked on big griddles over by the finish line. Just huge piles of bacon. They said at one point that about 1,000 registered, and they had around 20,000 slices of bacon.
One of the thing about themed races like this is that they appeal to non-runners, and that was evident immediately. There were a lot of kids and a lot of people with non-traditional running body shapes. This is not a critique, just a fact – one look at me and you know I have no place for critiques. There were a lot of costumes – many bacon themed ones, of course, but also tutus and pig ears and something that looked like a sandwich that I never really understood. And, a solid hour before the scheduled race start, several of the kids and costumes started lining up at the start line, which, well, tells anybody that is taking this seriously what is going to happen in the first half mile. No judgies, just statement of fact.
They got everybody lined up, countdown from 10, fire the horn, and we’re off.
First thing, I was right about the chaos in the first several hundred yards. I lined up in the front third or so of the pack because I knew what was about to happen, and I was still dodging walkers immediately. There was one apparent incident where a woman was tripped and fell, too. If I were going to give a single piece of feedback to the organizers it would be on this point – add signs for expected finish times, including one for walkers at the back, and make it clear over and over that walkers need to start back there.
Now, take a look at the screenshot of the course map that I got off of my Garmin. It turns out that putting together a 3.1 mile run inside the Florida State Fairgrounds requires a lot of out and back weaving, most of it in parking lots. The first mile or so was all in the parking area, with each “back” leg right into the sun. Then we peeled off, passed the first Bacon Station on the course (I expected two, but never did see the second one) and ran over near the barns and the rodeo & livestock arenas, which was much more interesting. Then another half mile or so weaving through a parking lot, and then a bit of looping through where the midway would be, and then around to the finish.
First, and I normally give massive benefit of the doubt on this one, but that course was not 3.1 miles long. My Garmin stopped at 2.83, and my phone, which was tracking because I had an episode of Zombies! Run going, stopped at just over 2.9. So it appears to have been about a quarter of a mile short. Some of that is likely due to all of the weaving around – how you take corners and run the lines makes a difference, so there is that. Benefit of the doubt has been given.
Another interesting phenomenon – there was one couple in particular that stood out as non-traditional runner. He was dressed up as a slice of bacon, and both of them were significantly larger than I am. They were at the start line at 8am for a 9am start, and were among the first half-dozen people off the line when the gun went off. As expected, I blew by them in the first minute, and wound around to start my out and around weaving. Because of all of the weaving, you can see everybody that isn’t going all speed racer, and at about half a mile in … they were ahead of me again. What the hell? Took me a couple of minutes to catch them, and then maybe a mile later … they were ahead of me again. It took me forever to figure out that they were cutting through and not completing all of the loops.
The bastards were power-leveling the 5K course.
Once I figured that out, I noticed it from several people, including one older (but fit-looking) lady that had come over to me at the beginning of the race for the express purpose of telling me she’d already had two Bloody Marys and that she planned on having fun. This activity distracted me. I know I shouldn’t let it bother me, but it does. Skipping whole sections of this thing is not how this works. I don’t care how much you love bacon, if you want to take credit for finishing a 5K, you’ve got to earn that by finishing a 5K. Dammit.
My official finishing time was 35:34.4, and my watch had the exact same time but only 2.83 miles. If I extrapolate up from the pace I covered my last half-mile at, this would have been a roughly 39 minute 5K, in my estimation. My stated goal was to just go and do it, and I did that, and it was awesome. My non-stated, but like-to-have goal was to make sure this stayed under 40 minutes. Check. And my dream goal was to get under my first ever 5K time, which was 38:15 … that didn’t happen, but I’m happy nonetheless. It felt really good to get back out there.
- No, really – it felt GREAT to get back out there. There is just an energy around these events. Being around generally fit people is inspiring. Being around generally not-fit people who are working their asses off is inspiring. Just being a part of something going on is exciting. I love seeing new things and being out in the morning. Really – getting back out there was a good thing.
- My hat, it turns out, does a poor job of stopping sweat. And one of the things about running in the daytime versus in the morning before sunrise is that I sweat more. And it all ran into my eyes. And stung. So I purchased a headband at the race, and I’ve got another, and I’m going to see how I like headbands.
- The running-through-the-parking-lot bits of this were tedious, but the other parts of the race – the barns and the arenas and the midway – that was pretty cool. It would be nice for that course to try and incorporate more of that.
- I never walked. I spent a lot of time around people that were doing a run-walk strategy – they’d blow by me when they were running, and then I’d pass them 30 – 60 seconds later when they were walking. But I kept ’em churning. Nobody impressed me more than the speed-walking lady that passed me at about mile 2, though. I had passed her early in the race, but apparently I slowed down and she hit her stride, because, wow.
- No real swag in terms of a bag of crap. But the quality of what we got was quite high. We got a medal, which is something I’m not accustomed to in a 5K. I almost feel bad about hanging it next to my half-marathon medals – but not bad enough to not hang it. The bib was specific for this event, which I love, and the shirt was a very high quality cotton shirt with a nice logo – a shirt I’ll actually wear. One thing about for-profit races, they don’t need to fill their shirts with sponsor logos, so that helps. In the picture below, I purchased the headband only…
- Next Race: Celebration Rotary Club Pancake Breakfast 5K on October 31st. Hopefully this one winds up being somewhat faster. We’ll see.