Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cold and lost: The Frozen 5K

Photo by Shannon Johnstone
I highly recommend this race to runners who have grown bored of the usual 5k , one that presents the humdrum task of running exactly 5 kilometers as fast as you can on a straightforward, well marked course.

The Frozen 5K adds the exciting challenge of trying to decipher the mind boggling complex puzzle of a course while you’re running. Apparently the course was designed by mathematicians using chaos theory, because the layout looks like a plot of a Mandelbrot equation. It involves 3 overlapping, yet unique loops of various lengths and paths which cannot be shown in a single map. Instead, 3 maps are provided before hand, but not the special glasses needed to combine them into coherent directions.

This morning was 13 degrees F, maybe the coldest temperature it would reach all year here in Cary NC. Shannon and I thought we were being very brave and hardcore for just leaving the house this morning, dressed appropriately for the Shackleton expedition to the South Pole. Shannon was excited at the prospect of winning the race by being the only ones to show up, but I thought this would starkly reveal our desperate quest to boost our self esteem.

But when we arrived at Bond Park in Cary, there was a good turnout of about 100 people, including some track team members in their shorts and t-shirts. I ignored them and cursed the fact that I only wore 1 pair of gloves. The announcer said the starter pistol was frozen, with a blast from the bull horn we sprinted across a frozen grass field.

After a couple of turns through the woods, the track guys in shorts were way ahead down an asphalt path. After passing some volunteers at a water stop, I heard people shouting “turn left!”, “go back! Go back!”, “turn around!” Apparently we had already fallen victim to the wild and crazy Frozen 5K course, and missed a turn that even the volunteers were unaware of. I stopped and looked around trying to get some advice at which way to go. The consensus, though not unanimous opinion was to make a hard left and back across the field, which I did, and got back on the course with some of the slower, but less easily fooled runners. With the order of top 10 runners instantly reversed, I think I briefly took the lead.

After another loop, and the track guys back in front, we again approach the water stop. This time the volunteers were ready and confidently directed the leaders to make the left turn, which, apparently, was incorrect this time. “No! Stop!”, “Go straight! Straight!”, “Go back!” I had to slow down because it is hard to breathe when you are laughing so hard.

From there, it devolved into pandemonium with people running in every direction like they were blind folded and being attacked by yellow jackets. Seriously though, I have to commend the volunteers who mostly gave the right directions and bravely stood out in 13 degree temps. It must have been much harder than running in it.
I managed to find the finish line, my lungs and throat seared from the cold air, and I was presented with the final challenge of writing my name and bib # on an index card. I nearly failed this after breaking a pencil and briefly forgetting what comes after the ‘e’ in my last name. Shannon crossed a minute later, and I forbid her from waiting around for any awards. So we retreated to the car and then Starbucks.

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