Festival of Lights 5K Race Recap

photo 5Have you ever run a Christmas themed race?  I love seeing the setup/outfits at themed races, but Christmas ones are extra special to me.  I love how everyone gets into the holiday spirit.  When I ran my Thanksgiving race, I was surprised to see people dressed up in themed outfits.  I had never run a race in “costume” before, so I wanted this to be my first real themed race.

The Festival of Lights is held every year here in Jacksonville, and all funds raised benefit the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  1st Place Sports turns all of San Marco into a Christmas wonderland (minus the snow of course…), with caroling, bell ringers, bounce houses, lights, and pictures with Santa.  Each runner also gets a pair of jingle bells to wear on his/her shoes!

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My favorite part of this race is that it is run at night.  The sun sets around 5:30 this time of year, so with a 6:00 start time, the race is held completely in the dark.  Luminaries are lit along the entire course, and you run the 5K through a really nice part of town.  I spent a lot of the race just looking at the houses on the course.

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I had never dressed up for a race before, and I wanted to look as spirited as possible.  I picked up some battery powered LED Christmas lights at Walgreens, and some knee high Christmas socks at Target.  The lights had some heavy battery packs, so I duct taped them to two of my water bottle holders on my fuel belt.  My boss gave me a reindeer antler headband, so I put that on too. 

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The race started at 6:00, and I got to the race site at about 5:35.  I’m getting a lot better with just parking my car in the first spot I see.  I used to drive around looking for the closest possible spot, but I prefer the less stressed method of just walking that half a mile or so.  Even on the way to the race site I heard people saying, “Oh, she has lights!”  It was still bright out though, so I kept the lights off.  After a 30 second wait to use the bathroom, I turned on my lights and checked out the set up.

When I ran my Thanksgiving race, it was freezing cold out.  When I first read the weather forecast for Saturday night, it said it would be around 60.  I figured the knee high socks would keep me warm enough, so I wore shorts and a t-shirt.  It was really humid, and probably around 72.  I think the winter weather has hit everywhere else in the country, but it forgot to hit Florida.  If this race wasn’t in the dark, I probably would have overheated.

The Festival of Lights 5K was the first race I ran in Jacksonville after I moved here in 2011.  All I remember about the race back then was that the start line had a really bad bottleneck, but that was my own fault for lining up so far back.  They told us to line up in the front if we were 7 minutes or faster per mile, which I knew I wasn’t.  I lined up a little bit further back, but still pretty close to the front.  There were so many people expected to participate that there were two starts – one for runners, and one for walkers/people with strollers. 

The race got started, and I found myself bottlenecked again.  I wasn’t shooting for a PR, so it didn’t really bother me.  Back in 2011 I remember stressing out because of all the people.  There was a lot of traffic this time around, and a lot of people who were walking or would just stop in the middle of the road.  It was also pitch black out by this point.  Even with the lights on me, I feel like I could have benefitted from a head lamp of some kind.  The luminaries only gave off so much light. 

This race was a lot of fun, because I wasn’t focused on time at all.  To be honest, I’m not even sure what the mile markers read as I passed each one of them.  I love running in the dark, and it felt like I was flying for most of the race.  I also loved that so many of the people along the course were calling out about my reindeer headband/lights.  Usually I’m the one looking at other people dressed up, so it felt awesome to have people notice me for once.

The biggest issue I had in this race was with my battery packs.  I had duct taped them to my water bottle holders, but around mile 2.5 they started to come loose.  I had to slow down to cram them into my shorts, but other than that, there were no issues to be had.  Of course, the humidity probably didn’t make my choice of knee high socks very wise, but that’s the price we pay for dressing up I guess.

My official finish was 28:07.  Definitely not a PR, but I had a lot of fun before/during/after this race, and it was an awesome way to ring in the holiday season.

Have you ever dressed up for a holiday run? 

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