Race Report – Moonlight Madness 5k

My Chicago Marathon race-plan had a 5k prep race during week 7 of training. I looked at the weather forecast only to find that it would be triple-digits in Phoenix over the weekend. I thought about driving up to Flagstaff or anywhere cooler to run a comfortable but settled on an 8PM Friday-night (August 4, 2017) race in Tempe. Midnight Madness!

I didn’t want to run in the heat, but at least I wouldn’t have to fight the sun. By 8PM, it would be dark. On Thursday evening, it had rained hard increasing the humidity on Friday morning. I love running in the rain and therefore for light rain during the race. I wasn’t so lucky. The only sign of clouds just before the start of the race was a distant thunder-cell far to the Northwest. In the dark, I could see lightning in this dark grey mass floating aimlessly.

Truth be told, I dreaded running in 100 degree heat. 5k races are hard enough without the heat. You go all out and then hang on for dear life to maintain your pace to try and finish strong. The extreme heat would add a new dimension to the impending torture.

I arrived at Roadrunner Sports in Tempe to pick up my bib at around 7PM. My bib was number 118. I usually like 5s and 7s in my bib but today it did not matter. This was a “C” race for me.

Runners of all shapes and sizes and ages were scattered about. It was easy to pick out the fast ones. I had decided to wear a simple plain-white tech-tshirt with Lululemon shorts and my Saucony Kinvara 8 shoes I had picked up from Japan (nicknamed Windy Arigato). I plan to run the Chicago Marathon in these shoes.

I pinned my bib number 118 to my shirt and waited patiently in my car to keep cool. The temperature was 101. Dreadful!

At 7:40PM, we walked over to the race start. It looked like there would be around 150 of us running. Most were talking in loud voices expending nervous energy. My race plan was simple. Start at a pace of around 7:15 per mile and then fight the heat and humidity to hang on to that pace. I was going to run with my iPod listening to my newly selected power-song for the Chicago Marathon; a remake mix of Wicked Games by Chris Issak.

The First Mile: At exactly 8PM, we were off to the races. The course goes parallel to the 202 going East from the north side of Tempe Marketplace on a concrete path. I quickly passed the slower runners and settled in to a rhythmic pace. About 10 folks had taken off faster than me. I was hoping that I could reel in a few of them to finish in the top-10. I could see a girl in yellow a few yards in front of me as I passed a guy in red and followed another guy with a neon light on his shoe. For now, he was my key.

I could already feel the heat in the first quarter of a mile. My pace was right around 7-minute-mile, a little faster than I had hoped but I kept up with it. After about half-a-mile, we reached an underpass with a slight downhill and a gentle left turn. It got dark in the underpass tunnel. In fact, it got pitch black. All I could see were the glow of neon-lights that a few runners in front were wearing. I followed them not knowing what the ground looked like. Fortunately it was a small tunnel. We ran back uphill and through another small undulating hill as I ran behind the guy in neon. We were both closing the gap on the girl in yellow as the first mile ended.

First Mile Pace: 7:05 | Average Heart Rate: 158bpm

The Second Mile: The heat was getting to us all by now as my pace slowed. There was a light breeze coming from East to West (headwind). I passed the guy with the neon shoe only to have him pass me back. I could sense that he was losing steam but I decided to run behind him to shield from the slight headwind. His pace was starting to slow. I decided to pass him and brave the gentle but hot headwind.

I picked up two glasses of water at the station; downing one and pouring the other over my head. It provided relief for about 10 seconds. Since this was an out-and-back course, I decided to do the same on my way back. I was closing in on the girl in yellow. She was wearing a trucker hat with long curls coming out from it, and had a slightly ungainly stride. I saw runners coming towards me and leading the pack by a good margin was a girl. I admired her pace along with her tight abs. It’s not often that a girl wins a race, but she would surely take top honors today. She looked relaxed and smooth even in this heat. Oh and did I mention her abs?

The turnaround point was handing out raffle tickets; I picked up one and made the U-turn to head back to the finish line. Half-torture done, half-to-go. I stopped for a couple of seconds at the water station again and executed my plan of downing one cup and pouring the second one on my head. Another 10 seconds of relief was welcome!

I passed the girl in yellow easily. Wait…the girl was a guy with long curly hair. I smiled and shook my head at my own presumption as I ran on. One can never tell these days from behind if the girl is a guy or the guy is a girl!

As I finished the second mile, I was running alone with a few folks distantly in front of me. Hoards of runners were running towards me though!

Second Mile Pace: 7:15 | Average Heart Rate: 165bpm

The Third Mile: I could see runners running towards me all decorated in neon. Some were walking and some were running slowly. All of us were hotter than hell. I chuckled as I thought of today being Friday; more like Fry Day! As I entered the up-and-down portions and eventually the tunnel, my pace slowed in the dark. Fortunately, one of the runners had a flashlight on to help navigate the tunnel.

With about half-a-mile to go, it was mind over matter. I was overheating but could see a couple of runners in front of me slowing down. A guy in blue had slowed enough for me to catch him. As I passed him, I uttered a few words of encouragement, “Come on man, you can do this.” In the distance, I could see the bridge near where we had started the race. “Another 4 minutes or less,” I told myself, “suck it up. Relax and flow.”

The torture continued as I ran to the rhythm of the music. I knew I wouldn’t catch anyone else. I doubt if anyone would catch me. It was just me and the finish line. I could see it in the distance as a few scattered spectators clapped and said some random encouraging words.

Third Mile Pace: 7:04 | Average Heart Rate: 165bpm

The Finish: With only a small distance to go, the finish was uneventful. In the heat of the moment, I reached deep to keep up my pace and even managed to accelerate a little. I was overheated but was happy with my finish time of 22:03 (official). It was more than 2 minutes slower than my PR , but my PR came in perfect weather conditions on a really flat course.

Moonlight Madness Tempe – 5k – 1st Place in Age Group

I swore never to run a race in this kind of heat but when you live in Arizona, you deal with the heat!

Overall Pace: 7:06 per mile | Total Time: 22:03

Moonlight Madness – 5k – Waiting for medals

I finished 7th overall (out of 196 runners) and won my age group. The girl with amazing abs did end up winning the race in a stellar time of 19:24 in the torturous heat.

Moonlight Madness – Notice the 1st Place Pin

Week 7 of Chicago Marathon continues…


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