My first Steel City Road Runners winter 5K race

Today was the first time I ever ran Vibram FiveFingers for a winter race! As planned last week, I ran in a Steel City Road Runners 5K race to gauge my current fitness level while training for the 2013 Pittsburgh Marathon.

I was a little disappointed by how “slow” I ran, but actually, given the amount of training I’ve had so far this winter, I’m not doing too badly.

Franklin finishing 5K

(explanation of misleading clock time below)

The route

The route was actually kind of a complement to the Pretty Good Race 5K course, overlapping the turnaround point of that race but on the same trail in Schenley Park.

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Because there is still some snow (and ice and mud) on the ground in the trails, I wore my Vibram FiveFingers KSO Trek shoes. Also, because of the cold temperature and the water on the ground, I wore Injinji socks, to prevent frostbite! For any run longer than a 5K, I would not even wear the FiveFingers with socks at this temperature. But I figured that I would generate enough heat during a 5K to keep my toes sufficiently warm to avoid frostbite even when wet.

The race

Before the race

I happened to bump into Kurt, who said he was there because his daughter was running in the race. Pittsburgh is small; I always keep encountering familiar faces in new contexts.

I encountered Pattye Stragar, who is so instrumental in the fitness program at CMU, and in publicizing the Pittsburgh Marathon and the Steel City Road Runners, and notifying the CMU community of the special deal that I ended up taking advantage of. I asked her if she was doing the marathon and she said she did it the year it came back (it was canceled 2004-2008 and came back in 2009) and she was done with marathons.

Pattye Stragar and others

During the race

Yes, my feet did get wet, but I did not have any problems with them freezing. Also, although there were some slippery, icy spots and wet, muddy spots on the trails, they were not too bad. After I got home, my shoes and socks looked like this:

Shoes and socks afterwards

The race course was hilly and not so easy, even if it weren’t slippery out there.

After about the first mile, I noticed a guy running around my pace ahead of me. I decided he was going to be my target to beat in the race. There was plenty of time to make up the gap. It turned out that I actually passed him at one point, but later he passed me; I am used to this kind of thing because I tend to run downhills much better than I run uphills. In the final quarter mile or so, I took off and passed him for the last time. You can see him way back in this photo of me crossing the finish line:

Franklin finishing 5K

An explanation about the clock: the race was held in two ways, with bib numbers 1-50 arbitrarily assigned to the first wave, then the rest (including me) assigned to the second wave two minutes later, to avoid congestion on the trails. So in fact, my official finish time was 25:11. I’d hoped I would be in shape to run faster than that, but this number is important real data to have, in forming my expectations for how fast I might be able to do the Pittsburgh Marathon. I think it is unlikely I’ll be in shape to attempt a four-hour marathon in two months.

By the way, on the Steel City Road Runners Facebook site is a photo album of the race.

After the race

There was water set out for us to drink after the race. Also, bags of potato chips, plates of cookies, and DiBella’s subs! Tasty and filling!

Thanks to the Steel City Road Runners for putting on this race, having the people on the course to direct us, and feeding us afterwards! I had a really fun experience.

Signing up for another race

By the way, a couple of days ago I decided to commit to doing Just A Short Run in late March. I will be doing the half marathon version of it as a final checkpoint of my fitness before the marathon, which is a month later.

This will be my first half marathon race in nine years: my last half marathon was in 2004.

I have actually done Just A Short Run four times in my life so far:

I do not know yet whether I will be racing Just A Short Run or just using it as part of training. Objectively, I should not be all-out racing such a distance while marathon training, because recovery from racing a half marathon will only cut into valuable marathon training time. However, there may be psychological benefits in doing well in a half marathon, if I am sufficiently fit to attempt that. I will decide when the time is nearer.

I am not doing any other races, because they would interfere with my long run progression plans. I will wait until after the marathon to enjoy training for and running 5K and 10K races. So this year I’m going to skip the Martha’s Run 10K that I’ve only ever done once (in 2004), as well as Burgh’s Pizza and Wings Pub 10K that I also did once (in 2004). Since I’m not going to be doing the Pittsburgh Marathon again next year, maybe next year I can run these races.

(Update of 2013-03-30)

I ended up partially racing Just A Short Run, which I think was the correct decision. I had a great experience!


Doing my first 5K race this year was a confidence booster for me, being a hard workout. It was also an opportunity to start really quantifying my progress and realistic timeline of improvement over the next months.

(Update of 2014-03-01)

I did not run in 2014’s Steel City Road Runners Campus Challenge 5K, sadly, because I have not been running much this winter, thanks to not signing up for either the Pittsburgh Marathon (or half marathon) or even for the annual CMU Fitness Challenge.

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