My transformation into (hopefully) a competitive long distance runner continued on Saturday, with the Jailhouse Rock/Brookside Museum 5K in Ballston Spa. What a great experience it turned out to be!

Being that I’m training for the Saratoga Palio Half-Marathon next month, you might wonder why I would enter a short-distance race. It’s actually suggested as part of the training program that I’m following, from Jeff Galloway’s “Guide to Running.” The idea behind it is to experience the race-day environment prior to the event for which you’re training  to better prepare you for it. And, you’re going to run, or try to run, the 5K at your half-marathon race pace goal. But you can’t go all out from the gun—unless you’re on the high school or college track or cross country team, or you’re advanced enough to possibly win the race, or your age category. There’s an adrenalin flow or rush at the start you have to account for—so you don’t burn yourself out in the first mile and have nothing left for latter half.

There’s a suggested routine/warm up before you get to the starting line (including drinking plenty of water the night before), as well as right after you cross the finish, the rest of the day, and the day following. It’s not a terribly long list, but it’s enough that Galloway suggests you make a copy and take it with you—because you won’t remember all of  it—or tear the page right out of the book. I did the latter, and I’m glad I did.

You should allow yourself plenty of time warm up and get your body ready for the race—a good half hour, as it’s suggested you walk, take a slow jog, then do some accelerations, with some resting in between, and also time to stretch (there is some debate on how beneficial stretching is. Galloway believes it can do more harm than good and lead to injury—proceed with caution!). The start time was 8:30, with registration opening an hour before, so I decided to arrive as close to 7:30 as I could—it’s going to take you a few minutes to park, register and sign in, and take your “gift bag” back to your car.  Of course, you’re much better off psychologically if you’re not stressing about being late, finding a parking spot, etc.


The Saturday morning weather was certainly a blessing—when I left the house, it was 55 degrees, sunny, with low humidity. The Brookside is about a 25 minute drive from my house, up Sacandaga Road to Route 67, with little traffic that time of morning, so it was an easy and enjoyable drive. I got there about 7:40, plenty of time to everything I needed to. Plenty of runners were already there, and to help us relax, I suppose, there was a musician singing and playing guitar on the porch of the museum (I remember him doing “Margaritaville,” but that’s it). Definitely a good atmosphere. They also opened the museum doors, which was a good thing, since I took a trip to the rest room before the line got too long, and didn’t have to use the porta potty outside.

Now, anyone who’s gone to the Saratoga County Fair will be familiar with the terrain around the Brookside—there’s a big hill leading up to the fairgrounds. The folks who organize the race at Brookside definitely have their compassionate side—the starting line isn’t at the bottom of the hill, but beyond the top, on the plateau, so at 8:15 the announcement went out for all runners to walk up the hill for the start line. This was actually a good warm up. The finish: at the bottom of the hill—talk about momentum!

As I made my way to the starting line, with about 250 other people of all ages, I heard someone calling my name. Sure enough, it was someone from Scotia that I know from Highland Soccer Club, who’s also running the Palio. This was really cool—welcome to the local running community, Tom!

Start time was quickly approaching, and before I knew it, the call when out, and it was time to run (a couple of minutes early). I mentioned the adrenalin above, so I’m telling myself not to go to fast, don’t get worn out, and don’t worry about the quick separation toward the front—you can’t keep up with the elite runners, anyway. From chatting with some other runners, and my local friend pre-race, I was told this was an nice course, mostly flat, and it was. After the fairgrounds, the course followed a residential area with plenty of trees and shade. A couple of runners passed me, but I wasn’t going to concern myself with that. On one of the downward slopes before the first mile marker, I caught three boys around high school age, and passed them. Man, did I feel good about that—the training that I’ve been doing is paying off!

As you crossed mile one, they had a young man with a stop watch shouting out times. I knew I was running at a good pace, but I was surprised at what I heard: 7:23—well within my 24-25 minute goal. Before reaching the half-way point, a roundabout with the Saratoga County Jail behind it (hence, the name of the race) I passed one runner down another slope, but couldn’t keep the momentum up the slight incline, and he passed me. I wouldn’t be able to catch him again. Oh, well. At the half-way mark they had a water table, and there’s no way I’m saying no to that—not that I felt that thirsty or dehydrated, but even a little water will help your body—and the slow-down to grab the cup and consume the water isn’t going to take much off your time. I was actually surprised at how many runners just kept going.

I started to feel a little bit tired somewhere before reaching mile 2. Same guy with the stopwatch, and I remember asking him where I was at as I ran by while he remained silent. Ironically, I can’t remember now what my time was, but I know I was still ahead of the 24 min. pace.

Going into the final stretch, I caught a man a little older than me, and he struck up some conversation (which you can do, even while out of breath). While I was tired, he was sucking wind, and told me had hadn‘t done one of these in a long time. I told him he was doing fine (the politically correct answer), while adding this was my first 5K, and I wanted to run it in :24. As we turned into the final stretch I woman I had been passed earlier, then passed me and was just a few steps ahead said “We’re at :23.” My first thought was “What the hell—I thought I was doing better.”  Somehow, her stopwatch was wrong, as I would soon find out. Or, maybe she said that that to motivate me. Whatever the case, I decided I didn’t have far to go, and I was going to “max out.” I started to “kick” as I approached the hill, blew past the woman, and gave five to a resident who was cheering us on at the end of her driveway. Then…down the hill and toward the finish! I learned that running that hard down a steep a hill is hard on the legs—you can feel the pressure on your thighs—but I kept pouring it on. I tried to catch a man a few seconds ahead of me, but he heard the footsteps and kept his pace. No matter--I crossed the finish line at under 23 minutes—22:50 to be exact (race results are here: That was good enough for 51st overall, and 10th in my age group.

Wow—what a feeling. Chest pounding, quickly going into recovery mode—realizing I had done better than I could ever have expected. After grabbing some water and a banana from the food table on the lawn of the museum, I saw the woman with the stopwatch, who had finished soon after I did. I made sure to give her a high five. I then spoke with the man who finished just ahead of me. I told him I tried to catch him, but couldn’t. He smiled. At that point, he was with his son, who looked to be a pre-teen and finished in about :20. Damn. For the “cool down,” you should walk for about a mile or so, at least 15 minutes to help settle down and transition your body. They decided to walk back up the hill, and I decided to follow. My friend passed my on her way to the finish, and said to me “awesome.” I found her back in the recovery area, and we had a nice conversation (before hitting the cookies and mini donuts at said food table). We hope to meet up again in Saratoga Springs for the Palio.

I have to say, I really enjoyed the post-race activities: just relaxing, replenishing your body, reveling in your own personal achievement, meeting and talking to other runners, and applauding the Medal winners (top finisher was well under 16min!). I met a family from Massachusetts that’s travelling around Upstate in an RV, seeing the sights, and entering road races. For them, the Brookside was a nice diversion from Lake George. Next was a trip to Niagara Falls, with mom crossing the border into Toronto to run a half-marathon. She also told me she’s going to enter her first triathlon in November, while she and her husband will run the Disney half marathon in Florida in November. God bless.

So now it’s back to the “grind” of training, leading up to the Palio in about a month. I once thought I would never be a runner, then told myself I was going to run the half marathon as a one-time only thing. Now, I’ve decided I’m going to keep running…probably for a long time, God willing. This 5K stuff is just too much fun…