What is it that draws you in to sign up for a particular race? Is it location? Is it the course? Are you looking for a PR, beautiful scenery or a great place to socialize and meet some new running friends?
As a fairly new runner, a year ago I had never run an event before. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do it because I was happy enough running for myself. I ran in clueless bliss and I loved every moment of it.
Eventually though, for almost all runners, we wonder if we should register for a race just to see if we like the experience. After all, everyone else seems to do it, right? But how do you pick the one that’s right for you?
I spent a few months playing with the idea. I didn’t want a big event with thousands of runners. I didn’t want to travel far in case I decided it wasn’t for me.
What I did want was something relatively easy (read: flat), with pretty scenery and preferably something that gave me a sunrise while I ran. I didn’t know any runners and really wanted to meet a new friend or two so I could have someone to talk to who shared my love of pounding the asphalt. I also wanted a pretty medal, because if this was going to be my only race, I wanted something to show for it.
Then I stumbled across a YouTube video of the Riverside Dash and I couldn’t stop watching it. There was a sunrise, a run along the river, enough people to give an atmosphere, but not so many that I would feel crowded and intimidated. I also had the option of two distances, a 15k and a 5k. I prefer distance to speed so I chose the 15k and signed up.
I had lots of questions. Silly questions, but it was my first time and I shot off a few messages on the Facebook page to the race organizer. I received prompt and informative responses that were warm and welcoming. I felt like they really wanted me to run this and most of all, it was very important to them that I enjoyed my experience.
Excitement started to build and I went through the usual “What have I done?” thoughts when I collected my bib and race packet ahead of time.
We arrived early on race day. Fort Mellon Park was buzzing with activity and music. There was an energy that added to the excitement as photographers mingled with runners and our families, taking photos. Volunteers welcomed us and invited us to walk around the vendor tents. I arrived as a stranger and a complete loner, but got to the start line with a group of people and felt like I belonged there. I did. It was quite surreal.
The air horn went off as the sun was coming up and we all set out on the course, looping around to run along the beautiful St Johns River. There is something deliciously wicked about running somewhere that is usually inaccessible to pedestrians and this is one such place. I could smell the sunrise, and fell into a rhythm with the other sneakers pounding along the asphalt.
Some runners passed me and gave a smile and word of encouragement. I received the same friendliness when I passed anyone else and it became infectious. I could get used to this! I’d never run with other people before and every mile I ran, it just kept getting better.
Volunteers at the water stations cheered us on enthusiastically. Traffic cops monitoring the road closures and keeping the area safe for us shouted out encouragement and as we approached the turn-around point. The lead pack started to pass us on their way back to the start/finish line. We cheered for them and they cheered back. I was in love with this race business. Why had nobody told me about it?
The truth is, not all races are equal. Very small point to point races could see you running alone with nobody else in sight. I’ve been there since and it wasn’t fun. Boring scenery can get monotonous and extremely competitive fields can be intimidating, as can enormous crowds.
What I love so much about The Riverside Dash is that it offers a happy balance of intimacy and warmth, mixed with enough participants to give a sense of community and energy.
The backdrop for the entire run was gorgeous. The weather in April … well April is just Florida’s best! I don’t think you can ask for more perfection. It’s generally dry, warm enough that you don’t freeze half to death on the start line and cool enough to allow you to comfortably take it all in without sweat-spraying anyone within a 10 foot radius.
The highlight of the day, for me, was meeting and chatting to other runners on the course. This was such a novelty for me.
The after party was wonderful. There was a great turnout of vendors, giving out samples and information. Beer and pancakes made for a welcome breakfast afterwards. I mean come on. Who could turn down beer and pancakes at 8:30 am on the river front? There was plenty of water and sports drinks for the finishers and bananas, donuts and energy bars were available to replenish lost carbs.
But better still, because of the size of the race, it wasn’t too difficult to find people I recognized afterwards. I exchanged contact information with some of them. We became friends and still keep in touch. This was the start something new for me and I’ve gone on to complete a number of other races with different distances and challenges. But this is the one that will always be close to my heart and I’ll always return. Everything about the event from organization to the post race party made me feel like I belong as part of the community. And I am richer for the new friends who are now part of my life.
If you’re not sure about racing or feel a little intimidated about it all, this is a great place to start. If you are looking for beautiful scenery and a fast, flat course to crush that PR, this will check that box.
And if you just want to walk the 5k with some friends and enjoy a good breakfast on the lawn with a beer and get a medal and some great photos together, you can’t go wrong with The Riverside Dash.
I’m going to be there. Please don’t miss it.