Saturday, May 23, 2009

Race #34 – Night of the Ninja 5k – Asheville NC – 05/23/09


It’s becoming apparent that I have a love/hate relationship with running races in Asheville.
Here are 5 random things I HATE about racing in Asheville:
(1) It’s so far away! It’s a hundred miles one way and nobody in their right mind would drive that far to pay to run a 5k race. There are probably more than a few people wondering if I may have a couple wires touching in my head that shouldn’t be.
(2) Everybody’s old. Virtually everybody who retires moves to either Florida or Asheville. I heard about one guy the other day from Florida who retired and moved to Asheville. All of those retired people are looking for a hobby, and a good portion of them choose running as their hobby.
(3) Everybody’s fast. With nothing to do but run, all of those retired people apparently spend a good portion of their time running and working on lowering their times in 5k races.
(4) There’s nothing but hills. I guess when you build a city up in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, hills are to be expected. Still, there’s no getting used to all of that up and down running for a flatlander like me.
(5) Everything’s cool. I feel so painfully out of place when everything’s oozing with hipness, and Asheville has a way of reminding me that I’m now out of the loop.
Here are 5 random things I LOVE about racing in Asheville:
(1) It’s so far away. It always gives Linda and I a great excuse to get out of town for a while. The 2-hour drive through the mountains gives us time to talk to each other more than we would at home when we don’t always take the time to slow down and just be together for a while.
(2) Everybody’s old. It’s refreshing to be around so many active people our own age. I’m actually kidding about everybody being old since there are plenty of younger people in Asheville as well. It’s just that the older people seem to do a lot more than just sit around and watch TV up here.
(3) Everybody’s fast. While I’m sure it’s not 100% true, there certainly seems to be an inordinate amount of speed among the Asheville runners. I tend to not do quite as well in the races, but that makes me want to work a little harder to be a better runner.
(4) There’s nothing but hills. I don’t get nearly enough practice running the hills down in Gastonia, such as they are, so a race in Asheville supplies me with all the hill work I need for the week.
(5) Everything’s cool. Being an old hippie myself, at least in a former life, I’m always happy to rub elbows with the Asheville hipsters, even if my LSD now comes in the form of “Long Slow Distance” runs.
Getting back to the race, the Night of the Ninja 5k is sponsored by and held at the Asheville Brewing Company in downtown Asheville. It’s one of the Asheville Track Club’s Grand Prix races and at the beginning of the season I wanted to run all of the Grand Prix races that I possibly could. I have since lowered my sights just a bit since a lot of the races are just too hard for me to get to, but this was the 5th ATC GP race I ran and I think I heard somewhere that you need to complete 8 to be counted at the end of the season, so I’ll try to do at least 3 more before the season ends. Not that I have a chance of winning anything, but the guys at the top of my age group needs somebody to beat or it wouldn’t be a race, so I’ll volunteer as an honorary whippin’ boy.
I was kind of surprised that it was a fairly small group of racers, with only 152 finishers, many of them dressed as ninjas. It was a rollercoaster course with more hills than I care to remember, but every time I run in Asheville it seems when I return to the relatively flat courses in the Piedmont they get a little easier.
Before the race we met up with our friend Heather, who I met through the blog, and we spent much of the time before and after the race with her. I also finally met Ken Miller face-to-face, who I also knew from the blog but it was the first time we’d actually met and talked. Ken blew me away in the race and didn’t miss his elusive 22-minute mark by much despite all the hills.
I actually finished better than I thought I would with a time of 23:17 despite taking 3 or 4 walk breaks up some of the hills. I finished 2nd in my age group after being passed by the 1st place finisher in the last 50 yards or so and finishing 3 seconds after he did. There were three older runners just a few seconds in front of me near the finish but I was pretty much out of gas by then so I just kind of hoped they weren’t all in my age group, but either way there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. A little while after the race one of them came up to me and mentioned that he had passed me while I was walking. We talked for a few minutes and I found out he was Jim Grodnik, last year’s Grand Masters champion, who I had read about but didn’t recognize him. He’ll be 70 years old next year! Imagine running a 22- to 23-minute 5k at the age of 70!
The post-race food was pretty good, with the standard fruit and bagels, but also each runner had 2 tickets good for a slice of pizza and a beer. I took an extra slice of pizza instead of the beer, non-alcoholic prude that I am. It wasn’t quite as good a deal as the unlimited pizza for runners at some races (notably Hit the Brixx) but there probably needs to be a system of checks and balances for those people who don’t know when to quit eating (that would be me).
I kind of hate to mention it, but the age group awards for this race were the absolute worst I’ve ever seen. They actually made the glasses and cups and I have so vilified in past races seem not so bad after all. The awards consisted of printouts that were done on Print Shop or something similar. That’s it. After the girl handing them out handed me mine, I took it and started to walk away, but then turned back around to see if I had left something behind (a medal or a ribbon maybe?) but she just shook my hand. Seems like maybe a little something extra would be in order such as maybe a gift certificate at their restaurant or something.
Finally, as Linda and I were heading out to the car we met up with Charles Dotson and his wife and talked to them for a few minutes. Charles is truly a legend among North Carolina runners and at the age of 86 is still going strong. Looking through his results on Athlinks, the only race I could find where he didn’t finish first in his age group was the Biltmore Estate 15k back in 2001, where he finished second.
Race Rating:
7 – 1-10 Website (Informaton, results, registration, photo links, etc.)
1 – 1-10 Awards (Quality of medals, trophies, etc.) (1 to 10)
7 – 1-10 Awards Presentation (PA system, winning times, shelter, etc.) (1 to 10)
7 – 1-10 Food for Race Participants (1 to 10)
7 – 1-10 T-Shirts (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
6 – 4/6 Part of Race Series (Grand Prix, etc.) (6=Yes and 4=No)
0 – 0/5 Professional Photography (5=Yes and 0=No)
6 – 4/6 Chip Timing (6=Yes and 4=No)
3 – 3/7 Certified Course (by USA Track & Field) (7=Yes and 3=No)
4 – 1-10 Course (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
5 – 1-10 Parking (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
6 – 1-10 Entertainment (1 to 10 with 5 being average)
7 – 3/7 Age Groups (7 if 5-year groups; 3 if 10-year groups)
5 – 0/5 Indoor Shelter from Elements (0 if none; 5 if provided)
7 – 1-10 Bathroom Facilities
0 – 0-10 Other
TOTAL – 78