I Tried It: Great Eastern State Breakout 5K

A Saturday morning jaunt around Fairmount wasn't all awesome—but at least there was bacon.

Post-race glow. Pre-bacon.

On Saturday, I ran my first race in three years. I finished it still running, but lost to a bull dog, a toddler, and 368 other runners. I’m calling it a success—even though I definitely hit some snags along the way.

In 2009, I impulsively signed up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. I ran a couple of shorter races leading up to the big one and had a blast doing the actual half. I fully intended to be a runner for life, but then I just … didn’t keep running. Three years and 20 pounds later, I laced my sneaks back up and started hitting the sidewalk a couple of times a week.

I’ve resided in Fairmount for five years and can’t imagine living anywhere else so happily, which is why I decided the 15th Annual Great Eastern State Breakout 5K would be a good race for me. Plus, the poster promised an awesome breakfast catered by neighborhood restaurants. I figured I would run faster if I knew there was free bacon at the end.

I woke up shivering on Saturday morning. It was 34 degrees—much, much colder than I’d anticipated for a mid-October race. I tried on an assortment of running outfits before settling on a pair of stretchy running capris, a tank and a thin sweatshirt with little flaps to keep my hands warm. (Thank you, ingenious Lululemon designers for your overpriced, but helpful gears.) My race buddy—former Be Well Philly marathon blogger Annie Monjar—arrived a few minutes later and we set off for the pre-race stretch and our own quick warmup jogs.

This was by far the most low-key race I’ve ever participated in. The starting line was a pink sidewalk chalk marking in the middle of Brown Street behind Eastern State Penitentiary, and the basic instructions to the crowd of about 400 runners were: Hey everybody, stand in the street. Faster people get near the front. Annie and I squeezed in where we could find space. When the crowded pushed forward, we went with them.

I found myself surrounded by a group of small kids—maybe four or five years old—who were jogging along pleasantly enough, but caused some traffic jams for adult runners. There was a fun run for children scheduled for an hour after race time, so I’m not sure why these kids were participating in the 5K.

The course circumnavigated Girard College and then weaved through part of the campus. I’d never been within the gates of the school and was pleased to see such pretty spaces and fields. However, I was surprised when many of the streets weren’t blocked off for the race, forcing runners to dodge traffic and parked cars or run on the uneven sidewalk on Poplar Street. It felt disorganized—especially when the water station handed out small bottles instead of cups. Opening the bottle caps was a clumsy task for runners and dropping the empties onto the ground felt like I was adding litter to an already messy stretch of the neighborhood.

But the race wasn’t all bad: I was pleased to find a volunteer at every mile marker shouting out the times. A John “the Penguin” Bingham devotee, I’d planned on running 12:30 miles, but the cold weather—and probably an insufficient warm up, if I’m being honest—made my legs feel heavier than ever before. At one point, I had a shin splint so tight that I stopped to stretch out against a light post. So you can imagine my shock when I hit mile one at 11:08 and mile two at 23:02!

I’d gone into the race with very few goals. I wanted to finish running, not be the last person to cross the finish line, and if I could do it in fewer than 36 minutes, I would be totally satisfied. Throughout, I found myself getting discouraged when certain people—like the woman jogging with her pudgy English bulldog or the five-year-old kid—left me in their dust. But I kept reminding myself that I had to keep running to get home—and bacon!—anyway so I might as well keep on trucking along.

The race ended with a jaunt around Eastern State Penitentiary and I was psyched (and maybe a little mortified) to find my own personal cheering section—including this year’s marathon blogger Annie Acri—screaming for me at the finish. I crossed the line and looked around to check my time, but the clock had already been taken down—I didn’t think I was that slow!—so I immediately indulged in the awesome post-race breakfast, which included eggs, bacon, coffee, bagels and bananas. It was great to re-fuel so quickly after running.

Results were emailed this morning and I crossed the finish at 35:19 and was 369th out of 403 runners. I met all my goals!

I ran this race as a trial for the Rothman 8K in November, which I signed up for in a burst of enthusiasm at the very last minute. Even though this one didn’t go as spectacularly as I may have hoped, I’m glad I ran it, because it shows me how serious I need to be for the next four weeks. Thankfully, there won’t be any bulldogs to beat me next time around.