Race Recap: 2015 Frigid Five Miler

On Sunday I ran the Frigid Five Miler for the first time with Amanda (check out her race recap!). It was a last-minute decision as we were making plans for our long run in North Park. Because the race would be held at North Park, we decided to run the race. Sunday was to be a slow pace day, but I was worried about finishing last so Amanda suggested we start around an 11:15 pace and make it a progression run, ending at a 10:50 pace. Because my goal pace for the Pittsburgh Half Marathon is an 11:00 pace, I thought it would be good practice to try my pace on the hilly Frigid Five Miler course.

After I registered, I read recaps of previous years. I quickly learned that the race was all about The Hill at the end--a .75-mile steep hill right before the finish. Nichole's recap from last year's race cracked me up: "A while back I read someone else's recap of this race when they referred to this as 'that shit's just mean.'  Agreed. The last 3/4 mile is a steady uphill, winding climb. I thought it would be more gradual. No. From the moment you turn up the road you wonder whether you're running or freaking rock climbing....This hill was slaughtering people right and left in some sick mass execution." I read other recaps from fast runners (running a 7:30 pace) who had to walk up the hill. And when I went to pick our packets at Elite Runners and Walkers, a local shoe store that was the race organizer, they made sure I knew about the course and The Hill.

Normally, these recaps would have terrified me and made me not want to run the race. But because I wouldn't be racing it, I didn't feel a lot of pressure and was excited to see what I could do on The Hill. Amanda and I have been doing our long runs on hills, so I felt somewhat prepared.

The race starts and ends at The Lodge at North Park, which has limited parking, so we parked at the ice skating rink parking lot at the bottom of the hill--yes, The Hill that is at the end of the race course--and walked up to the start. It was 17 degrees but felt like 9. I was bundled up--maybe I little too much--and was comfortable except for my toes. I wore Lululemon Tech Speed Tights, First Base Tank, Think Fast Hoodie, Spring Forward Jacket, and Run with Me Toque. (Sidenote: I recently bought the new version of the Asics GT 2000 3 when Asics had a Cyber Monday sale. I never had a problem with cold toes in my old Asics, but both times I wore the new ones, my toes were cold. I guess I need to buy warmer socks. I'll be doing a review of the new Asics soon!)

We got to experience The Hill in all its glory on our walk up. My breath became a little ragged just walking at a slow pace! And, of course, it's a pretty long hill. I tried not to think of how we'd have to run up it soon.

The lodge was open, so we were able to stay warm and use the indoor bathrooms until we went out to do some warm-up exercises before lining up. They had pacers, and we lined up with the 11:00 pacer. He told us his strategy was to bank some time on the downhills and save a few minutes for the last hill. That sounded good to us.
Amanda and me at the start line

We started at what felt like a very easy pace on North Ridge Drive from the lodge. I remember looking at my watch and seeing the pace was 11:20 and wondered why the pacer wasn't speeding up, but I didn't question it. The first mile was rolling hills, and we must have sped up after a bit because my breathing got a bit ragged on the uphills. I silently panicked a little; the pace feeling this hard this early was not a good sign. But I didn't say anything and stuck with our little group, and the downhills gave me some nice recovery. The pacer let us slow down a little on the uphills and speed up on the downhills, a strategy I liked. Also, I quickly warmed up and got hot. I wished I could shed some layers, but it would have been too difficult so I kept everything on.

The second mile was a combination of downhills and flat sections, so it felt really easy. We had stayed with the pacer and the little pace group until just after the second mile, after he made a second comment about slow runners and the slow pace we were running. Amanda and I had both silently ignored the first comment, but we had a chat after the second comment. This guy wasn't trying to be mean or anything, and maybe some faster runners aren't aware that slower runners can be sensitive about their pace. But it's not too fun to be reminded about your slow pace in the middle of a race, so Amanda and I pulled a bit ahead of him and stayed by ourselves for the rest of the race.

Halfway through the third mile was a really steep, nice downhill that took us to Pearce Mill Road and the main loop road where we usually run. At that point I looked at my watch and saw our average pace was 10:30. That scared me a little since it was way faster than we planned, but we were running on a flat section so it wasn't too hard to maintain it, though I soon started feeling a little tired.

Shortly after the fourth mile was the steep climb up the hill by the boathouse. It wasn't too long of a hill, but it took its toll on me both mentally and physically. It was a slow, difficult climb up that hill, and both it and the faster pace for the earlier miles really wore me out. I told Amanda that I felt the earlier pace might have been too fast and said, "I don't think..." but stopped. I was going to say, "I don't think I'll be able to make it up the hill." I didn't want to say it out loud, but my mind had pretty much decided that running up the last hill at anything close to race pace was not going to happen.

We passed the marker for mile 5, the last mile, and soon came to the last water stop before The Hill. I stopped to get some water, and then we started the climb. That lasted for all of a minute or so before I started walking. "I don't have anything left," I told Amanda. "Yes you do!" she said. She had stopped to walk with me, and I begged her to keep on running. I knew she could do it. But she refused and stayed with me. Before too long the 11:00 pacer passed us, running at a pretty good clip, seemingly by himself without any of the original pace group (he finished with a 10:56 pace). Once I recovered a bit and the hill evened out a little, I tried running again but soon had to walk. Most people near us were walking, and people who were running were going very slowly. I tried power walking and realized that I could do that faster than the people near me who were running slowly, so I tried to power walk while Amanda started running again. Even power walking, I was gasping for air and my lungs were screaming. I felt bad that Amanda didn't go on without me, because I knew she could have, but if she hadn't stayed with me I probably would have put much less effort in. So, she really helped me up the hill! Finally, we rounded a corner and got to a less steep section, and I knew the finish line was just ahead so I started running again. My lungs were in severe pain and screaming, and I started to get nauseated too. It was all I could do to hold on and keep running. Finally--finally!!!--we crested the hill, and the finish line was just in front of us. Amanda said, "Come on!" and I gave it all I had to get across the finish line.

Damn, that was hard!

My Garmin read 5.02 miles in 55:17 for a 11:01 pace. Official results were 55:15 for an 11:03 pace.

Mile 1: 10:45
Mile 2: 10:19
Mile 3: 10:30
Mile 4: 10:56
Mile 5: 12:40
Final .02: 8:07

Frigid Five Miler Elevation Map (from my Garmin)

Finish line photo courtesy of Elite Walkers and Runners

If you really want some excitement (ha ha), check out the video of us finishing (that link takes you to my results page, which has a tab for the video.

After we caught our breath, we went into the lodge. They were serving hot pancakes and hot chocolate, and the whole lodge smelled amazing. They had plenty left by the time we got in line. I, of course, couldn't have either the pancakes or hot chocolate, but I was content with my banana and water. We sat at the tables to eat while awards were being announced. While I was sitting in all my sweaty clothes, I got really cold. Amanda and I had thought about tacking on a few more miles after the race, but when we went outside, we were freezing. We jogged slowly down the hill to where we parked, and it was the coldest part of the race for sure.

It was a tough race, but I had a lot of fun and learned some things. For the rest of the day, though, I felt really tired and beat up. The Frigid Five Miler kicked my butt, and I wasn't even racing it!

Lessons Learned

Race Management
Elite Runners and Walkers always puts on a well-organized race, and this was no exception. They had very thorough pre-race communication about parking and logistics. It was awesome that they had enough pancakes and hot chocolate for everyone--there were a little over 300 runners. I think I saw a massage table in the lodge, so I think you could have gotten a massage too. The shirts--long sleeve tech shirts--were also really nice. If you signed up early enough, you got a neck gaiter, but we didn't get one. And, the complimentary finish photos and video are awesome!

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