Race Report: 2011 Twin Cities in Motion Valentine’s Day 5K

Three years ago, while living in Pittsburgh, I distinctly recall reading about local runners who organized a Valentine’s Day race. The thought that went through my mind was “Who would be stupid enough to sign up for a race in February? Don’t they know it’s cold outside?!” Now that I’ve been running a lot more, I have a very different reaction to winter races. A 5k in February in Minneapolis? Sign me up! Sure, it could be -10°F at race time, but you can still run that weather. And, just like that, I was signed up for the 2011 Twin Cities in Motion Valentine’s Day 5k. As an added bonus, it was only a couple of bucks more to have my wife sign up as part of a couple, so she also was now one of those crazy people running outside in the Minnesota winter.

First, a little background, at least from what I can figure out. For a long time the Twin Cities Marathon was just the marathon and an associated 10M. For the last couple of years they’ve made a concerted effort to expand and become a bigger organization that does more events around the Twin Cities. I’m not 100% certain if this had anything to do with pressure from increasing interest in Team Ortho’s fine series of events, but I can’t imagine that they played no role in the change. In the past couple of years we’ve seen the organization change name from Twin Cities Marathon to Twin Cities in Motion and add or take over existing events, such as the Valentine’s Day 5k, 100% Irish for a Day 5k & 10M, Twin Cities 1M, Red, White, and Boom Half Marathon, and Twins Territory 4k. While it’s no where near as many races as the New York Road Runners, the combination of Twin Cities In Motion events and Team Ortho events provides numerous opportunities for runners in the Twin Cities to get their race on.

The weather for the day was about as good as you can get for early on a Saturday morning in Minneapolis. Turnout was excellent, somewhere around 1500 people. I’m sure that the forecast of the warmer weather led many people to sign up at the last minute. Race time was about 27 degrees. The paths around Lake Harriet appeared to be largely clear of snow and pack ice. It certainly was far worse than what one experiences when running in Central or Prospect Parks, but the again, Minnesotans aren’t weak in the face of snow and ice. More than a few people had stabilicers, yak-trax, or screw shoes. Although, for this race I eschewed the screw shoes for standard running shoes. I almost went in my Vibrams, but I knew we’d be standing around for a while before the race started and I didn’t want my feet to freeze.

A runner gets her kick on right before the finish line. Also, she's stylin' the fancy long sleeve tech shirts from the race.

About 9:50am they made the announcement for people to start migrating toward the starting line, which wasn’t clearly marked. Unfortunately, the exit from the parking lot where most people were waiting led to the front of the pack. My wife and I wandered over and were about midway back in the pack. We stood around and talked to people, there was no real seeding system for people on the race. Suddenly we heard a horn! There was no countdown, no announcement, a complete surprise. Furthermore, hundreds of people were still trying to into the line to start the race. This led to a complete disaster at the starting line as walkers, runners, and people who can’t read the rules and decided to jog with double wide strollers clogged together. In a 1500 person race with me in the middle it took me 2 minutes to cross the starting line. On the other side of the starting line I was still walking. The first half mile was stop and go that reminded me or driving down Washington Ave in Minneapolis than a road race.

My wife and I had agreed that we wouldn’t run together and I’d just meet her at the finish. I went ahead only to be frustrated again and again by the narrow path and the large number of walkers and other obstacles on the course. I was going to go forward with the race, but I had to mentally change it into a fun run. Cool the jets, take it easy and steadily pass people until the end. My RunKeeper race result shows this pretty clearly. My pace during the race is continually decreasing.

Pace and Elevation for the 2011 Twin Cities in Motion Valentine's Day 5K.

By about the 1 mile marker I was no longer passing walkers and now was saddled with cutesy couples running two abreast at little more than a jog. That’s fine, I can’t really fault them for that. The organizers made the day a little more fun by allowing you put a Green, Yellow, or Red sign that read “Available”, “It’s Complicated”, or “Taken” on your back. The thought was that this would help you meet that special someone. If you were shy there were one or two cupids along the course who you could hand a little valentine to and they’d do the work of delivering it.

Aside from the massive amount of people on the narrow course it’s a beautiful course that covers some of the same roads as the Twin Cities Marathon (overcrowding on the same sections of the course causes problems in there too). It’s a gentle course with a hill about 1 mile into the race and another smaller hill at about 3 miles. This gives runners a nice fast downhill sprint to the finish.

For the most part there was no support on the race course. There was a stop that looked like a water stop at mile 2.5, but instead you could get cup of those candy hearts and make a little valentine for that special someone. I grabbed the cup of hearts and tried to give them to my wife when she finished, but she wanted no part of it. Preferring to get some water down her pipe before attempting to eat a heart.

My finish time for the race was about 24 minutes. I say “about” because the race didn’t have any sort of timing. Reminded me of my ninth grade microeconomics class quiz grading policy “Correct your own, you get a better score.” My was not too bad given the people dodging I had to do. I was surprised by how few people were finished before me. The winning male time was 17:05 — hauling and much faster than me to be sure, but relatively slow for the winner of such a large race.

Runners finishing in the main pack. These people finished the 5k in about 35 minutes. That's the difference between a fun run and a race.

I don’t want this race report to come across as me whining about TCiM or the race. I had a great time and it had nice swag (long sleeve technical t-shirt, socks, and a hat). However, I think I was expecting something that was organized to be a bit more competitive. I was surprised by the lack of timing — Team Ortho does timing, why can’t you? I also have been utterly spoiled by the New York Road Runner’s skills at race management. People complain about the corral system in their races, but the fact is that it works. Even just breaking people up into Runners and Walkers at the race this morning would have made a huge difference. Also, for next time, an announcement or countdown to the start would be helpful. I’m certainly going to stop complaining at Road Runner’s events when we the anti-climatic last minute instructions for runners right before a race.

I’m incredibly happy that TCiM and Team Ortho are upping the game for running in Minneapolis and St. Paul. They’re both younger organizations and have great potential to create a vibrant running scene in one of the most livable cities in the United States. I’m probably going to run the 100% Irish for a Day 10m in four weeks, we’ll see how things are for that race.

Keep Running.

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Marathon Times

2011 NYC Marathon3:57:45
2011 Hartford Marathon3:58:17
2011 Chicago Marathon4:20:16
2011 Grandma's Marathon4:07:43
2010 Big Sur International Marathon4:22:49
2009 NYC Marathon4:37:05
2009 Twin Cities Marathon4:43:28
2009 Pittsburgh Marathon4:14:38
2008 Erie Marathon5:11:40

Upcoming Races

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For previous races, check out my Race Log

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