Can you say crowded (but in a good way)?
That sea of people behind me stretches on... and on... and on...
The organizers aren't kidding when they bill this event as the "nation's largest prediction run." According to pre-race announcements, this year's McGuire's Prediction Run 5k welcomed a whopping 15,000 runners! (The local newspaper reports that 13,500 actually toed the line, but either way - it's a huge 5k.)
To give you a sense of how very many people show up, I heard officials and volunteers saying that the last runner crossed the starting line about 15 minutes after the cannon, and the race winner came in about 2 minutes later...
The race kicks off with a bagpipe band, the national anthem, words of wisdom from the mayor of Pensacola, and a traditional Irish blessing.
Oh, and the starting gun is a cannon.
The race start at McGuire's is like no other starting line I've ever experienced. The 5k's uniqueness draws runners from all 50 states and from nations around the world. (One runner I talked with had traveled from Switzerland.) And unlike other events, where many runners are nervous - anxiously checking watches, and re-typing shoes - this race feels more like a moving block party. Runners compare costumes and talk about how many times they've run here before.
At 15,000 runners for a 5k, there is no way the course could not be crowded. But in this event, the crowd is part of the fun (as you'll see in photos below).
A wave of runners takes off from the starting line at the 2012 McGuire's 5k.
If you enter the McGuire's Prediction 5k thinking you're going to be fast, you had better arrive early and line up at the very front. And I mean the very front. Even 15 feet back is too far back for a "fast" 5k. You'll be dodging walkers for most of the 3.1 miles.
As we learned last year , this event is intended to be a fun run, not a racers-race.
St. Pat's mariachi runners. How did they keep those hats on while running?
Also, while pre-race packet pickup is surprisingly easy and un-crowded, information about when/where/how to pick up bibs and t-shirts was non-existent this year. Hubby called the race organizer to find out packet pickup location and times, since there was zero information available on the event website.
And last, but certainly not least, parking is a bear. Hubby and I hoofed it over from a location about a mile away (a pre-planned choice). We walked past other people who were trying to park in the limited space available, and that re-affirmed our decision. If you have to drive, arrive early and plan to walk.
The course is flat and beautiful. But to be honest, you are more likely to see a sea of green-clad runners than you are to notice any scenery.
If you're willing to just relax and enjoy the ride, running in a sea of people can be a really amazing experience. The course makes a couple of turns that allow front-of-pack runners to see the back-of-pack runners (and vice-versa) and it is incredible to watch thousands of people all moving in the same direction.
The race also brings out some crazy costumes. While it's no Bay to Breakers, the crowd-watching is thoroughly entertaining.
Photo op with the Grinch.
In addition to the 5k itself, there are two features that make this a truly distinctive event.
First, the "prediction run" bit: When you register, you report a predicted finish time. To compete, you must leave your watch at home. Awards are given to the fastest overall men, women, and teams, and to the runners who finish closest to their predicted finish time.
Second, the after-party is epic. McGuire's restaurant provides coffee, donuts, and other goodies before the race. They also provide a feast (fruit, stew, rolls, water, sports drink, rootbeer floats, beer, and their house-special "Irish Wake" rum punch) for all 15,000 participants while a band serenades runners with Irish folk songs.
The Irish Wake rum punch is delicious. And strong. Don't underestimate it.
My race: Results aren't posted yet, but I am certain that I blew my chance at an accurate prediction. Based on last year's crowd, I predicted 28-something.
This year I broke away from the pack earlier than expected and think I ran closer to 25 minutes. ***update *** results are in : 25:48. Not my fastest 5k ever, but I'm happy with it, given the conditions. I was in the top 200 of more than 5,000 female runners.