Yesterday I ran for the second time the CPC 10k race in den Haag. The CPC event features a kids’ run, a 5k, 10k, and half marathon (all run at separate times). It’s the biggest race event in the Hague. The webpage rotates photos of red-cheeked girls in tank-tops… guys in short-shorts… thousands of runners with their bare arms raised in the air.
None of these pictures were taken yesterday. Yesterday the weather hovered around freezing, so that I could watch my breath while I ran (when I wasn’t watching the snow flurries that began around mile 3). Even though the earlier days of this week were downright springy, Saturday night had me making sure that my winter tights and warmest running top were clean.
After heavy rain on Saturday, the start/finish area at the Malieveld was an absolute mudpit. It was like Dutch Woodstock out there, except with less music and more runners. I slogged my way to a bank of porta-potties, then across the field to the bag drop. My stretching routine was compromised by the lack of any place to sit, barring inches-deep mud.
Still, I’d take mud over 1 degree temps. But it didn’t matter: I got both.
My recollection from 2011 was that this was a very crowded race. In 2013, I and my 7,399 closest friends set out in two waves staggered ten minutes apart (I was in the 2nd. I now think it would have been smarter to start at the very back of the first wave). Unfortunately, the staggering did absolutely nothing to reduce the congestion in the pack. CPC could take a lesson from the great and simple funneling system the Zevenheuvelenloop used, which ensured that every runner hit the start—well, running. For the first mile and beyond, there were so many runners in my personal space that we were constantly stepping on each other’s shoes, and I am certain I was not the only one who couldn’t settle into my normal pace. Even if you wanted to pass people—there was nowhere to go. I doubt I was the only person who finally had to throw an elbow or two to advance. (Also, my sincere apologies to the guy I snot-rocketed directly on around mile 3.)
In the second mile, people were running off-road on the sidewalks and tram tracks just to find space to get around. And on some of the residential streets (which are quite narrow to begin with), cars were parked! Come on—if this is such a big event for the Hague, clear the streets. That would help a little with the overcrowding.
Right around the halfway point of the 10k, there’s a hill. I knew the hill was coming and I was ready for it—because I knew that finally, the hill would force the pack to thin out a bit. There was also a water station (the only one on the course), and that drew a lot of runners to one side. From there on out, there were still a lot of people, but I had enough space to run comfortably.
This was the first race I have ever run with a GPS watch (Tim’s Garmin Forerunner 110). I have to confess: I liked it. I’ve never been a runner who obsesses about my time, usually telling myself that I know I’m not that fast and I just run for my health. More recently I started tracking my paces and realized that I was running half marathons at a very similar pace to 10ks and even shorter runs. (Warning bells.)
Never running with a watch meant that I usually had no idea of my time until I finished a race. Because I start late in the pack, the “official” clocks on the route don’t indicate my time. When we ran Edinburgh, for example, I didn’t see the official clock when I finally crossed the start line, so I wasn’t sure how off from it I was. It was something like 20 minutes. Anyway—then sometimes afterward I’m disappointed because I “thought I was faster.” Clearly, the Garmin takes the mystery out of that. Running my regular runs with the Garmin helped me realize that I run ridiculous, uneven splits: my first mile might be around 10:30 or even 11:00, but then my subsequent miles drop off by as much as a minute each time. For this race, I set out to start at my “normal” starting pace, and then decrease each mile not by minutes but by reasonable, comfortable increments for an average of 10-minute miles. Near the end, I realized I was very close to finishing in under an hour and tried to push for it, but came in at 1:00:45 (which was still a PR for me). I think without the congestion early in the race, I’d have done it.
After waiting in a huge swarm of people for my free sport drink and my medal, I slogged back through the mud field and was able to find Tim. I was SO COLD by the time the race-warmth wore off. Then I was just sweaty and freezing. We got on a train back to Delft with a group of other runners, one of whom tried to congratulate me by name (from my bib). My confusing name (see Zevenheuvelenloop post) stumped him, and someone else had to tell me it was my name he was attempting to pronounce.
I’m the sort of runner who needs some races on the calendar to help me keep motivated, and so I’m glad I did the 2013 CPC. It’s close to home, and it’s not an expensive race (I paid €19 no shirt, and it was cheaper earlier). The accessibility might tempt me again, but I’m going to reread this post and remember how I felt about the density of the race. I’m sure it’s a fine line, deciding how many people to allow in a race. You want that “race crowd” atmosphere, for sure. But for a mid-pack runner, an overcrowded race just doesn’t set you up for your best time.