Run for the Pies was the third race in my Short Distance Spaghetti Project. I went to Jacksonville to visit Coach Mick, who had to miss running Boston after a bike accident. Diamond also lives in Jacksonville and she suggested we run the pie race, though she had to miss it, unfortunately. Run for the Pies is a 5K with a fun twist: any woman who runs under 24 minutes and any man who runs under 20 minutes wins a pie.
The Short Distance Spaghetti Project wasn’t necessarily about time goals, but in mid-May, I found myself in a bit of a running funk. When I mentioned it to Coach Mick, he suggested setting some goals as a possible solution. It turns out I had a goal in mind because I immediately shot back: I wanna win a pie!
A couple of weeks later I was on my way to Jacksonville. We had a delightful weekend. There was crazy hot running, a taco dinner with Diamond and the Ginger Metronome, and a lot of work on the mental training course Coach Mick and I are developing. I’d be lying if I said the race wasn’t in the back of my mind because it sure was. I felt confident, especially after the Delaney Dash, that I could run under 24 minutes in “normal” conditions for Connecticut, but that’s not normal for Florida. Coach Mick and I both checked the weather pretty often, but it remained about the same: low to mid-80s with around 75% humidity, some chance of rain. Not ideal conditions, at least not for me.
The course is something Coach Mick and I have been working on to help runners with the mental side of running. We spent a lot of time talking about how we runners tend to get in our own way, especially when it comes to racing. In one of our conversations about problem solving, Coach Mick brought the race up as an example. I could make a decision: either adjust pace by slowing down because it was going to be hot or go for it and try to win a pie. Either approach was fine. Just plain fretting was not a great option.
I tried not to worry, but I did think about the choice. Run for the Pies was not a goal race for me. The Short Distance Spaghetti Project is a series of short races between Boston and the start of training for Chicago. I’m partly trying to learn about short distances, partly trying to get over my fear of 5Ks, partly trying out some speedier speed work. I could, of course, have theoretically decided to slow down and give up on the quest for pie, but that was never a real option in my mind. What would be the point in running a 24:30 5K without even knowing if I could get under 24 minutes? Because I did want to know. The problem wasn’t so much with making the decision; the problem was with committing to the decision I had already made. I could feel myself equivocating. If this wasn’t a goal race and therefore wasn’t that important, why put myself through the pain of a hard-fought 5K? Especially if the quest for pie was hopeless, which I often figured it was? But every time my brain went down that path, it also said: You are not the kind of runner who doesn’t go for it. You don’t know whether you can win a pie or not and there is only one way to find out. If you blow up in the middle of the race, it doesn’t matter. Your family will still love you. Coach Mick will still respect you. You will be a little disappointed, but you’ll also have found out the answer to the question you are asking. It just might be that the answer is no.
On Saturday, we met some Sub-30 friends at the Riverside Arts Market and I bought a pie. A small pie that would surely taste better than the super market version I was going to try to win. I could take home pie one way or another now, but as I texted HPRM#1: Glory Pie is better than Farmers’ Market Pie. That afternoon I asked Coach Mick if he thought I could win a pie, given the weather outlook. He said yes. It was going to be hot, but we had already adjusted for that. It would definitely not be easy but it was certainly possible. In that case I was going to go for it. I told a bunch of people I was going to try to win a pie. I told me Sub-30 friends at the Riverside Arts Market. I explained the race to the Incredible Mervus and told him I wanted to win pie. I even posted something on Facebook about “Almost pie time!” I was trying to convince myself. After all, if I had been giving advice to someone else, that’s what I would have told them to do.
The idea of picking something to focus on for different parts of the race had worked well at Delaney Dash so I decided to repeat that, but I didn’t know where to start this time. Inspiration came on hot and heavy in the hours before the race, however. In glancing at Facebook, an ad for something kept popping up. I don’t know what they were advertising, but the slogan was “All In.” That’s what I knew I needed to be and that’s exactly what I was struggling with. So that’s how I decided to start the race. Coach Mick and I share a love of pop music and on Saturday he played me the song “Shallow” from A Star is Born. The song asks “Do you need more?” I knew the second mile of the 5K might be when I felt most like giving up, so that mile got the word “More.” The last mile was easy: “Pie.” But “Pie” had to mean not just winning a pie because by then I might know that was impossible. “Pie” meant Glory Pie – going for it even if I was fighting a lost cause. Not giving up at the end when it was sure to be sucking pretty hard.
We had dinner around 5pm and left shortly afterwards for the race. On the way out the door, I grabbed the unicorn headband I had bought in Boston. I put it on and said to myself, you belong. You’re a Boston Qualifier. Go race like one. We picked up the Ginger Metronome along the way – he had offered to pace me and I gratefully took him up on that idea! We got parked and found the tent from the Ginger Metronome’s running club.
Run for the Pies has a cool elite 5K before the regular 5K. You have to be really fast to qualify for the elite 5K. The men and women run together but the women get a head start so it’s an equalizer. The elites run four loops, which makes for a spectator-friendly and exciting race. I observed this only tangentially because I stuck to my pre-race routine of running a couple of miles, doing some strides, and finishing up with drills. I felt good during the warm up. My legs were pretty springy and that made me happy. It was hot though and I was already sweating by the time I finished. I went back and found the guys. A quick hug from Mick and the Ginger Metronome and I went and lined up.
Even though I had been really nervous that afternoon, I felt surprisingly calm at the start. Another 5K. I know we are going to start running. Pretty soon I am going to feel pretty bad. I either will or won’t win a pie. In less than 25 minutes, it’s going to be over with one way or another. They fired a quite loud gun and we were off.
The start was crowded and the Race for the Pies goes by gun time, not chip time, if you want a pie. I let the Ginger Metronome decide where to stand and we were maybe 8-10 people back from the front. That was about right – there are some fast runners at this race! The route for the regular 5K is a small loop of almost a mile and then a big loop for the next two. The struggle arrived fast. I was trying not to look at my watch, but at less than half a mile into it, I was already fairly convinced that winning a pie was impossible. It was too hot. I needed about a 7:45 pace to win pie and that wasn’t going to be feasible. Ginger Metronome was running five to ten feet in front of me, often glancing at his watch and glancing back to see if I was still there. I thought he looked nervous and a couple of times I gave a hand gesture, but then I was all done with that and just trying to hang on.
Even though I was fairly sure from the get-go that pie was impossible, I remembered my phrase for the first mile: All In. I had to commit, even to the hopeless task, so I did. Sometimes when you are running fast, it just feels bad at the beginning and then it will start feeling somewhat less bad as you get used to it so maybe that would happen. I tried to stay right on Ginger Metronome’s back and not look at my watch. We came through the start/finish area again and started our second loop. They had a clock on the course for mile 1 and it read 7:17! My watch clicked at 7:24! That was faster than we needed for pie! Maybe this wasn’t over yet.
I had told the Ginger Metronome my words and he turned at this point and said: This is your mile for MORE. That was fantastic! The second mile was pretty awful. I remember HPRM#1 at some point talking about the second mile of a 5K being the worst so I was expecting it to suck. Winning a pie seemed utterly impossible. I also knew that if we were really at 7:17 pace, we had a little wiggle room. I started to adjust, to feel myself slow down a bit. There was a little bit of a hill. There was a little bit of a head wind. Running that fast felt terrible. I had a little cushion. I could run a little less fast. Then I remembered: This is not the “less fast” mile. This is the mile for MORE. Even though, Good Lord, there really wasn’t any more, maybe I could at least not do less. I thought: Don’t give up during the MORE mile – wait and give up during the PIE mile when you are sure it’s hopeless. It was simply too hot and I couldn’t run any faster. The Ginger Metronome kept looking back. Was I imagining it or were his eyes full of concern? Could he see the pie slipping away? I wanted to say, I really am doing my best here. I don’t have any more than this. But of course I couldn’t talk!
We came through the second mile and my watch said 7:52. That is not pie pace. But the mile marker clock said something like 15:00? Every time I tried to divide 15:00 by two, I got 7:30, which IS pie pace. Maybe the game was still on? Mile three really was going to be about running for pie!
It’s exciting to remember this part of the race, but it felt incredibly terrible while running it. I told myself that it was fine to start counting now, but I know 1.1 miles is a count of 600 and that felt entirely impossible. I tried to count anyway but the numbers kept getting jumbled up. I couldn’t really breathe and the only reason I didn’t stop is I had to keep the Ginger Metronome in front of me. I also knew Coach Mick was on the course somewhere behind me and I really didn’t want him to see me giving up. I felt like a giant fraud because I had spent the last two days working on mental training techniques and yet all I wanted to do was slow down. I thought about fast turnover and my magic Vaporfly shoes. I tried to remind myself how loathsome I found giving up during that track workout a few weeks ago. More than anything, my mind was pretty blank and my eyes just stared into Ginger Metronome’s back, practically drilling a hole into it. Part of my brain was screaming out PIIIIIIEEEEE!!!! This part of the course is a long long long straight away that seemed absolutely never ending. Every now and then I glanced at my watch. Even though most of my mind felt that it was a lost cause, the little math I was able to piece together seemed to dangle the possibility that maybe it wasn’t lost after all. We came through the end of the third mile and the clock said something like 22:xx. That meant at least a minute to run a tenth of a mile, which seemed feasible. Did that mean I could slow down to a 10:00 pace? Sooooo tempting but I knew that was a terrible idea. A turn and another turn and this would be over. Ginger Metronome was yelling something about how I was almost done and I was desperately counting and running and in retrospect my watch seems to claim I managed a bit of a finishing kick.
I remember crossing the line and knowing I had done it! I was SO happy! Good grief, I wanted that fucking pie so damn bad and now I had won it! I was totally unable to actually go fetch it. The Ginger Metronome grabbed me a medal and my pie and some water and helped me get to the curb so I could sit down. In a way, this was a completely ridiculous quest and yet, I was OVERJOYED to have that pie!
It turns out I got second in my age group [Second! Again! ] so I also got a cool plaque. And I got to meet yet another friend from Sub-30! Clearly a return trip to Florida has to happen. We also went out for celebratory drinks and dessert, which was fabulous.
The next morning we saw Diamond and the Ginger Metronome on the Sunday morning group run. Florida is ridiculously hot, but it was definitely worth it to see them.
Then I flew home with my small Farmer’s Market Pie and my large Glory Pie and they both tasted amazing!