April 15 marked the eighth anniversary of Vern’s No Frills 5K, a timed race held the third Saturday of every month at Berry Springs Park in Georgetown. It costs $1, and you can buy a t-shirt or tech shirt if you want.

The race director is Bill Schroeder, my coach at Rogue, and this was my first time running his race. Knowing him, I was not surprised to find the whole enterprise really easy and well-organized.

I’d never been to Berry Springs Park before, but there’s really only one way in, and the road leads directly to the pavillion (and restrooms) near the race start.

I arrived around 7:15 am and was directed to park in a grassy area above the paved parking lots. My car is pretty low to the ground so I was slightly anxious about this, but I didn’t have any issues.

I spent thirty seconds filling out the waiver form and paying my dollar in exchange for a bib. I learned that if I run this race again next month, or somewhere down the road before they start over with bib numbers, I can skip the waiver line, and I’ll use the same bib multiple times. Since the course is the same every month, some people write the date and their finish times on the back to track their fitness progress. Right now, since I’ve been training for longer distances, my fitness is somewhere around “underprepared to run 5K pace” so I guess it’s as good a place to start as any. šŸ˜‰

At 8:00 we–about 250 runners–assembled in the lower parking lot as Coach Bill explained the course. An out-and-back to the north along the paved trail, an out-and-back to the south, and finish just past the playground. I looked around at a bunch of fast-looking runners and knew I wouldn’t be winning any land-speed awards. Not that I expected to anyway (see “underprepared” above). He honored Vern, the race’s late namesake, with a moment of silence. Then he asked everyone to raise their right hands and repeat: I promise that I will be careful. With the first few words I was expecting something more solemn and Olympic oath-like, so the “I will be careful” part made me laugh.

And then we were off.

And of course I started too fast–because the race isn’t chip-timed, everyone’s time starts at the gun, so the start is a jumble of people of all speeds. Through the parking lot and onto the trail, I mostly didn’t want to get run over by the fast runners.

The first half-mile, a lot of people were still jockeying for space. But after that things spread out a bit. A couple of kids kept sprinting ahead, then coming to a complete stop to catch their breath, but most people did a good job of yielding to people passing from behind. The odd thing was that we were directed to run on the left side of the trail and follow the roundabouts to the left, I guess because the race’s only two turns were to the left. It was counter-intuitive, but it worked just fine.

At some point when I was still on my way out, the race leaders–a group of high school cross-country kids, it appeared–passed me coming back the other way. Whoosh. Eventually I crossed under the highway and reached the turnaround which was basically just the sidewalk circling around to the other direction. My second mile was slower than my first–no bueno–but I was hanging in there. The course is pretty flat so I could almost always see a half-mile or more ahead, which made it feel longer than the actual distance. Or maybe that was my “underprepared to run 5K pace” status.

Anyway, we ran back through theĀ starting area (and past the turnoff for the finish) for the second out-and-back the other direction. This segment was shorter than the first one, but it also ended with a roundabout-like turnaround. Home stretch.

At the three-mile point, I followed the sign to take the last left turn off the sidewalk–the only portion on a crushed gravel path. The finish line was .10 away, next to the pavillion–Coach Bill sat with a laptop tracking finishers’ times, and someone else with a clipboard backed him up. They had set up a PR bell–which I did not ring even though technically it was a PR for this course since I’d never run it before–and had breakfast tacos, water, and several coolers of a Gatorade-like beverage. Official times were posted to the No Excuses Running results page by the time I remembered to check, so sometime before about 2 P.M.

I finished pretty much the middle of the pack, a minute or so off my November personal-best 5K. Which was fine with me–again thanks to my “underprepared to run 5K pace” status. And afterward I ended up running another four (slow, tired) miles through the park to round out my seven-mile long run for the day. Probably not the best decision, but there you go.

Anyway, I think folks looking to test out their 5K fitness on a flat and scenic course should come out to Berry Springs Park and Vern’s on the third Saturday of every month. It was inexpensive and efficient (from parking to registration to running to finishing), and it’s stroller-, kid-, dog-, and walker-friendly. I can’t believe I’d never done it before, but I’m looking forward to running it again.