Race Report: Bull Moon Ride and Run

I'd always wanted to run the Bull Moon Ride and Run. It's a must-do local race that benefits Habitat for Humanity of Durham, a nonprofit I've volunteered and fundraised for previously, and for some reason the last few years I've been out of town or I've had some other conflict. So when Travis and Kristen and I decided to run the race this year, I was stoked.

I was driving to downtown Durham when I realized this would be my first 5K race. I did things a little backwards starting with five half marathons, three 10-milers, a few 5-milers, an 8K and a 200-mile relay race. But I'd never raced a 5K.

It was electric in downtown Durham by the time I arrived at the start line, though that was no surprise. We were starting right by the Durham Bulls stadium in a part of town that is all restaurants and social hang-outs. In front of the stadium Batalá Durham samba drumline thundered in the streets to loud applause. Bicyclists milled around for the start of the bike race while runners mingled around the beer tent to get their post-run beer bracelets (hey, priorities!).

I was energetic and jumpy.

"It's my first 5K!" I nearly shouted at my friends when we ran into each other.

"Hah, you're gonna PR!"

"And it's not stupidly early in the morning so for once this night owl is actually awake for a race!" I was bouncing with excitement and delighted that I was actually early to a race, so for lack of anything else ad to dispel some nervous energy I did some squats and lunges at the start line until it was time to line up and get the GPS watches fired up.

We started the race on a brief downhill before we turned the corner and went up one heck of a hill.

"You've raced Laurel Hill, you'll be fine, and you get the one really big hill out of the way early," a runner friend briefed me at the start line when I admitted I hadn't even looked at the course map. "And then it goes through Forest Hills just like in Bull City. There are some rolling hills, but nothing too bad." 

And that was exactly what I found on the course with a good variety of hills and flats. There was a decent crowd along the course too, considering it was a 5K. One house in the neighborhood had a table set up with some tequila and margarita mix and was offering a quick sip to any thirsty runners. A few kids were on another front porch with toy guns that flashed green and red lights and blared special effects noises. The kids took aim at runners in the street and I pretended to clutch my chest and dove behind a car while I shouted, "Runner down!" Although my shout was more of a croak because I was running and I don't think the kids saw or appreciated my antics, but at least Kristen was nearby and chuckled.

I ran pretty quickly for the first two miles after going out much too fast at the start. Yeah, yeah, yeah, "don't get too excited at the start line and take off too fast" - I know what you're supposed to do, but I was so excited about the race and by the idea of a 5K that I honestly didn't care how fast I took off at the start line, and I maintained decent speed for about 17 minutes - the amount of time it takes me to run stadiums. (Note to self: train harder than your target race and it makes the actual race seem easier and ergo more fun!) But after those first two miles I started dragging my feet (my fault for not properly training this summer) and hot spots on my feet (also my fault for racing in my new minimalist shoes without doing more than a couple training runs in them).

At one point I struggled to figure out if my eyes were playing tricks on me or if the world really were going topsy-turvy. I was running a descent in the neighborhood area and looking forward along the course it seemed like the road ahead curved sharply skywards. From my viewpoint that angle looked impossibly steep: was it a mirage, a trick of the twilight, or maybe some strange mirror that caught and reflected the road and the horde of runners? But no, the road really did slope upwards, more gently than what I'd first seen from a distance, but still a distinct upwelling to darkly-canopied trees and sky, and my feet propelled me up and forward to meet the sunset.

The last mile was a long, relatively flat stretch back into Durham where the skyline of the city came closer and closer until it swallowed me amid the city lights and I was fighting my way up the last bit of slope past the Durham Bulls ballpark and across the finish line, gasping so hard I couldn't even high-five Travis or the Only Burger cow that greeted me at the finish line.

Once I caught my breath again Travis, Kristen and I explored the post-race area. My chip time came in: 30:40 with a 9:53 pace per mile. Not bad. And like my friends said, I was guaranteed to PR since it was my first race at that distance! And while I've probably run 3.1 miles faster on some half marathon courses, it was fun to have an official 5K race time.

The first thing I was offered in the post-race area was a chocolate chip cookie. A chocolate chip cookie! If you know me at all I love chocolate chip cookies! When McCrae isn't around for a few days I'll just buy a chocolate chip cookie cake and eat that for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, so a post-race chocolate chip cookie sounded like heaven.

Sweet tea and chocolate chip cookie?! Yes, that's the way to my runner's heart.

The second thing I was offered in the post-race area was sweet tea. Sweet tea! My love of chocolate chip cookies is only rivaled by my love of sweet tea (I even have a shirt that says "Will run for sweet tea." Sweet tea = this Southern runner's gold!)

And while it felt a little weird finishing a race and not getting a medal I've got to admin that the post-race food was spectacular. Pulled pork BBQ sandwiches! Deli sandwiches! Pizza! Smoothies! Cupcakes! Beer and cider! Laser lights and flashing lights and glowsticks! And for once I wasn't so exhausted and traumatized from the run that I couldn't enjoy the after-party. I stuffed my cheeks full of food and sat on the curb and smiled, flushed with endorphins from racing and feasting.

"Every time I look over at you, you look so happy," Travis laughed and I just smiled through a mouthful of cookie and rocked cheerfully on my seat while I watched runners and cyclists mill past under the party lights.

"If I can get all this from just a 5K then I don't think I'll run any more half marathons" I said before adding, "I think we need to add this race to our annual rotation."

"Oh definitely, definitely," Travis and Kristen agreed. And I'm already looking forward to it.

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