This Saturday will be my third consecutive year running in the Spring Lake 5, and, let’s be honest here – I’m kind of a veteran of the race by now. There’s pretty much nothing you can tell me about this race that I don’t already know, unless of course, you bring up the subject of actually winning it. That is something I don’t know how to do, although I imagine it requires significant training, the eating of many raw eggs, and “Eye of the Tiger” on a constant loop, and I am just not ready for that kind of commitment. Nevertheless, this is my third time around, and thus, I feel it necessary to dole out some useful advice to the newbies out there running this race for just the first or second time. Ha!…rookies.
For those who don’t know, the Spring Lake 5 is probably the most famous road race in New Jersey, held annually on Memorial Day Weekend in – you guessed it – Spring Lake, New Jersey. It’s a five-mile race, and besides rounding about 10,000 locals into shape, it also forces all the Spring Lake well-to-dos to get their panties in a bunch because thousands of outsiders are invading their town for a good cause. So if you see some elderly woman wearing an absurdly big hat standing on the porch of her multi-million dollar home, shaking her fist at you as you run by and yelling for you to “get off her lawn” even though you’re on the street, just ignore her. Or wave back (with your finger).
So consider that my first tidbit of advice. But wait - I have more. There’s a lot you need to know about running in this race, and that’s why I’m here. I’m going to break down the “Do’s & Don’ts of Running in the Spring Lake Five” into three parts – before the race, during the race, and after. Let’s do it.
Before the Race
Don’t: Drink coffee. Sure, a nice cup of coffee before the race will put an extra hop in your step as you approach the starting line. But that hop will turn into a painful Texas two-step as you attempt to hold in that special kind of digestive release that coffee is often known to produce. You do not want to be the runner who interrupts their race by running up to a stranger’s house and ringing the doorbell as you hop on one foot on their front porch and beg to use their bathroom. And the Port-A-Johns are out of the question. I repeat – out of the question. So save the mocha choca latte until afterwards.
Do: Drink plenty of water and/or juice. But not prune juice.
Don’t: Wear something stupid to get attention. One of my favorite pre-race traditions is surveying the crowd to see what crazy get-ups people have on. You just gotta love the people wearing the huge Dr. Seuss “Cat in the Hat” hats for no apparent reason, and the scraggly looking guys wearing t-shirts that say, “I’m so broke, I can’t even pay attention,” with their gut hanging out. Giant sunglasses, Zubaz pants – you’ll see it all, and none of this has anything to do with the race, which is what makes it so enjoyable. Actually, people like this are crucial to the enjoyment of a race like the Spring Lake Five. Just don’t be one of them.
Do: Wear something. Hey guys – it’s 8:00 in the morning, by the water, at the end of May. It’s not mid-August in the middle of the Mojave Desert. So put a shirt on, for crying out loud. I didn’t come here to see your hairy nipples. And put some pants on while you’re at it. I have boxer shorts longer than that.
Don’t: Try and meet up with someone right before the race. It’s impossible. There are 10,000 people at this race, and unless your friend is wearing a Dr. Seuss hat (in which case, you shouldn’t be meeting up with them anyway), you’re not going to find them. You’re going to be on your cell phone 30 seconds before the starting gun goes off, saying things like, “What…WHAT? Where? I TOLD you, I’m by the beach, in the street. By the HOUSE!” If you have to meet up with friends, do it early, and pick a good meeting spot far away from where everyone congregates.
Do: Bring someone who is in charge of watching all your crap. Most of the people who run in the Spring Lake 5 are not from Spring Lake, which means most people arrive with keys, cell phones, pocketbooks, slingshots, watches, Blackberries, etc. So if you know someone who’d like to come along to the race and not run, put them in charge of all your stuff. In the case of my family, Uncle Dave has the honors, and, to be honest, I wouldn’t trust anybody else. So if you know what my Uncle Dave looks like, feel free to find him on Saturday. He’ll hold your stupid cell phone.
Don’t: Show off by “warming up” for a five-mile race by running two miles before the race. That’s just arrogant. You’d be surprised how many people are actually breaking a sweat before the race even starts. Geez, give it a rest, Carl Lewis.
Do: Stretch. A lot.
During the race
Don’t: Wear an iPod. Well, this is kind of a preference thing, I guess. I don’t like to wear my iPod when I run outside, because I’m scared I’ll get hit by a car. (“He couldn’t hear the car horn – he was listening to 50 Cent’s ‘P.I.M.P.’”) And if you get hit by a car during the Spring Lake 5, chances are, you veered off course. But still. There’s a lot of cool things going on during the race that are nice to hear, like the people cheering you on, the speakers blasting music at various mile markers, the trampling of the plastic cups they hand out, and that natural sound that your body emits when you’re about to collapse in the street. Plus, hearing the footsteps behind you always provides motivation. Not to mention, there are certain points during the race when you can get sprayed with water to cool off, and you don’t need your precious iPod getting wet and conking out. Besides, do you really need your “Kelly Clarkson playlist” to get you pumped for a race? Really?
Do: Start off fast. A lot of people are going to be reminding you to “pace yourself,” which is true. But to anyone who has never run in one of these races, you have to start off fast, because you have to separate yourself from the cluster of people running. Also, if you don’t, you’ll get trampled (unless you’re there to walk – just start off in the back, and you’ll be fine). Personally, I like to run the first mile fairly fast, and then pace myself for the next couple of miles. That is how you come in 4,234th place, rookies.
Don’t: Run with someone who wants to spend the next five miles talking to you about their relationship problems. Listen, I know this is a fun thing, and everyone’s supposed to get together and enjoy themselves. Fine. But this isn’t the Fun Time Happy Walk – it’s a race. You want to do your best. Even if you think you’re going to approach it as casually as possible, once it starts, the juices start flowing, and you want to do well. So don’t run with someone who’s going to hold you back by blabbing away about what they did last night. In fact, don’t run with someone who’s going to talk to you at all. Talking takes breath, and you’re going to need all the breath you can get for this. So don’t waste it.
Do: Run with someone who’s going to push you. Even if you don’t know the person, find someone during the course of the race who seems on your level of endurance, but who will also be a challenge to keep up with. Use this person as the proverbial “carrot at the end of the fishing hook.” But if this person falls back, step on them as you pass, and find somebody else. After all, this isn’t a charity run. Am I right?
Don’t: Get frustrated at the hoards of 10-year old kids who will be whizzing by you constantly. Remember – kids have a ton of energy, but they are also quite stupid. The same lanky third-grade kid who sprints by you at the first mile marker will be walking with his hands on his hips when you pass him at mile four. That is what a steady diet of Cocoa Puffs, PlayStation, and Snickers will get you. Darn kids today!
Do: Get frustrated at the guy on crutches who just passed you. Believe it or not, this actually happened to my mom during a race we ran last year in New Brunswick. And it wasn’t even close, really – the guy on crutches beat my mom by several minutes. We had some fun with that one.
Don’t: Let up, no matter how much you’re hurtin’. You’ll regret it when the race is over if you do. Find that extra gear…it’s always there.
Do: Save some energy for the end. When you can see the big clock, finish line, banana stands, and t-shirt tents, exert yourself! The race is almost over, and once you cross the finish line, you’ll have the entire rest of Memorial Day Weekend to relax. So sprint if you have to! Pass some people, and take chunks off your final time.
After the race
Don’t: Develop an ego. Remember, this race is less than 1/5 of a true marathon. You’ll have a whole new respect for distance runners after this.
Do: Pat yourself on the back. Five miles is a lot of miles, and you could have been sitting at home watching a “Mama’s Family” Memorial Day marathon instead. So way to go!
Do: Party hardy.
Don’t: Drive home. Remember, Uncle Dave has your keys, and he will not hesitate to hold onto them until Sunday.