Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Firecracker 5K: More Fashion Than Fit

Fashion was the goal in yesterday's Firecracker 5K! I've run this race almost every year since it started in 2010.  The only years I have missed were 2012 (illness), 2013 (injury), and 2016 (illness). In 2020 I ran the "Virtual" race which was a much flatter course and had an earlier start time!

If it weren't for tradition, I would not have signed up for this event. I hadn't been doing much speed work and my mileage had been low. Even though I wasn't fit, I could still have two other F's: Fashion and Fun. And for the "Firecracker FiveK" the F's made a lot of sense. This is just how I see the world- one big poem and play on words. Plus, I knew I'd probably be uttering the real "F" word a few times up that last hill!

Before the Race
I bought a new tank for this race to up my level of looking like an American flag. (Ooooh: Flag. Fashion. Fun. Firecracker. FiveK.) I matched it with flag shorts and flag socks. About two hours before the race I had a small handful of almond butter filled pretzels and some water mixed with Uppermost Hydration. This is my new favorite hydration mix because it also contains B vitamins and zinc. It has no sugar but yet tastes really good.

We arrived at the race about 45 minutes before the start. I already had my bib so I didn't have to worry about picking that up. Greg left his camera at home because I wanted him on video duty with my phone. I have so many race photos and I knew that Cheryl would be there taking them. I wanted to document the experience with videos. Greg is unfortunately still dealing with his groin injury and unable to run.

I brought my new ice vest with me in the hopes of lowering my core body temperature before the race. This had been recommended to me by my coach years ago and Oro Sports sent me this vest last winter to try out. It sat in my closet until yesterday. If I had been truly committed, I would have worn the ice vest in the car on the way there and made sure I had it on for at least 30 minutes for maximum impact. But instead I used it during the warm up only. It was cooling but also heavy so not something I would run with on a regular basis. But the pre-cooling is what's supposed to bring your core temperature down for 45 minutes. Verdict: I will definitely be using it for pre-cooling for 30 minutes before hot races and long runs if I get up early enough.

I took a Maurten caffeinated gel 15 minutes before the race and a few chugs of water. I warmed up for 1.7 miles and felt ready to go. Because I wasn't going to race hard, I decided not to line up towards the front. I lined up about 20 rows back figuring that would be about right.

I made sure to double knot my shoes and tuck in the loops. This worked and my shoelaces did not come untied during the race like they had during my previous two races. 

Race Weather
The temperature was 75 degrees and it was mostly sunny. It was also quite humid although I don't remember the exact dew point. There were a few shaded portions of the course but otherwise the sun was probably the biggest culprit. On my race weather scale I give it a 3 out of 10, and that somewhat takes the time of year into consideration. If this had been an early fall race I would have downgraded it to a 2 out of 10. As I said earlier, I have run this race many times in the past and yesterday's weather was typical. We lucked out in 2021 and 2022 with lower humidity- those were probably the two coolest years. 

Goals and Mindset
The main goal here was to keep up with the Fourth of July tradition. I had nothing else going on yesterday, so why not go out there and have some fun? I could have chosen to race at 100% effort to get a "baseline" level of my current fitness, but it wasn't worth it in the heat. Instead, I decided to run it as a "tempo" run around half marathon pace effort. I didn't have any target pace or time in mind and I decided not to look at my watch. (Of course whenever I decide not to look at my watch, I hear people around me yelling out their paces to the people they are running with. "Okay Katie, we are running a 7:15 pace, right on target!")

Mile 1:
I know this course very well and I was prepared for this uphill mile. I had underestimated where I should have lined up because I found myself passing people left and right. I did not want to go out too fast, but if I didn't pass other runners, I would have been stuck at my easy run pace. 

Mile 2:
This was the beautiful downhill mile! And finally I was where I wanted to be in the pack and there was no more crowding. Part of this mile was shaded and it felt drastically different from the first mile which was mostly sunny. I stayed relaxed and reminded myself to maintain tempo effort. I did feel like I could have tapped into a higher gear, but with an up-hill final mile I did not want to crash and burn.

Mile 3:
This mile was killer! I told myself to maintain my pace and rhythm, which meant I would have to increase my effort on the long hill. But that last hill is fun. I love passing people on it. So many runners lose loads of time during the last half mile of that race, but I had started conservatively so I had lots to give.

I crossed the finish line with an official time of 23:15. I was not surprised by this and didn't care at all that it was 2nd my slowest time ever on this course! I had zero ego going into this race and I had accomplished my goals of staying strong, having fun, and being fashionable. 

My splits were 7:23, 7:11, 7:24, and 7:24 pace for the final 0.17.  Nice and consistent!

After the Race
I cooled down for just over 5 minutes which was shorter than intended. But it was so hot! I then checked the results and learned that I placed second in my age group. That was quite a shocker because this is a competitive race and I didn't expect to place at all. We stayed for the awards and I won $20 to Potomac River Running store. Then we chatted with our friend Kathy for awhile. That's the best part about local races - the social aspect and getting to see friends.

Final Thoughts and Key Takeaways
My main takeaway is that I love being able to check my ego at the door and race "for fun". This does not mean that I am going to stop training and stop trying to race at my full potential. It just means that I will embrace all the seasons of my running and not shy away from experiences just because I'm not in race shape. This race was all about maintaining a tradition, doing something fun on the fourth and seeing my friends. 

I also learned something that I plan to experiment with in the future. Usually when it's above 55 in a race I wear a sports bra only (no tank). The thinking was that the less material, the better. But I couldn't resist this flag singlet so I wore it anyway. Before the race I had gotten the tank top went by shoving ice into my bra. So the tank top was wet around my core area. While running, it felt nice to have the cool wet material against my skin. This could mean that running in just a sports bra is not as "cooling" as running in a wet tank top. I will have to play around with this in training to see if I want to do it more in races. I'll also experiment more with the ice vest beforehand.

I'm happy I did this race and I am proud of my effort and my mindset. 


  1. I love Firecracker 5ks! And also I don't miss them since it's always miserably hot on the 4th. Running for fashion and fun is just as important as running for a PR.

    I'm sorry that Greg is still sidelined - hope he's back in action soon.

  2. I love this--that you stepped back from the competition and just had fun with it. You still did great and accomplished your goals. Very fashionable too!

  3. Congratulations on your race time and outcome! Very good for a tempo run. Loved the outfit too. Good to see you back blogging. AV

  4. Love the outfit as it looks awesome on you. It was rough running weather as it was 80° here in NJ with a dewpoint of 70 in the 4 miler I do on 7/4. Humidity is my enemy but fortunately only in that it drains my energy and makes me run slower