Having run the Blossom to Bottle 5k at Johnson’s Orchard a couple years ago, I have wanted to run the Apple Valley 5k race that is put on by another Bedford Orchard for some time now. The Apple Valley 5k race takes place at Gross’Orchard just below the Peaks of Otter in Bedford, VA. You could not ask for a more beautiful setting for a race. With the mountain views and the fall colors all around, the location is perfect for a fall 5k.
Finding out that my Dad had already registered for the race gave me the final incentive to sign up. I have only run one 5k race this year and that was at the D-Day memorial in May. So it had been sometime since I had tried to run a shorter run at a much faster pace. My regular runs these days range in pace from 8 min/mile to 9 and ½ min/mile. Knowing that I wanted to run a mid to lower 7 minute/mile pace, I was going to have to run much faster, for much longer than I have run in months.
Running faster is usually a recipe for injury for me, but I had pushed myself some during my normal weekly runs. I will pick out a mile in the middle of my regularly paced runs and I would pick up my pace and run in the 7 minute/mile range. I knew my legs to turn over at a quicker rate, but I knew it was going to be a challenge to keep my energy up to keep up that pace for over 3 miles.
I arrived to Gross’ Orchard about 30 minutes before the race starting time. This gave me plenty of time to check out a section of the course and warm up. Since the race course was a two lap format, I knew I could possibly complete an entire lap as my warm up. But after making it about a half mile around the course, I decided to retrace my route and make one last pit stop at the porta-johns.
After my much needed break, I spotted my parents. After talking to them for a little while, Dad and I made our way to the starting line. It was located about ¼ of a mile from the finish line, in the middle of the apple trees. The weather forecast had called for the temperature to be in the low 40’s with precipitation. We had lucked out though because the sun decided to pop out and the rain decided to stay away. So at the start of the race, it felt much warmer than 40 degrees.
Once everyone had gathered at the starting line, the shotgun was fired and we were off running. Like all the other races I have run in the past, I tried to settle in with the group of runners running my desired pace. This process too several minutes and I almost lost an eye to an apple tree branch. But I eventually found a nice spot to pace myself for the first section of the race. By this time we were just crossing the finishing area with all of the spectators. A quick smile for my Mom, who was taking pictures and we were back on the gravel road heading back into the rows of apple trees.
About a half mile into the course, we came to the only major hill of the route. The main issue I usually have with cross country style courses is the unsteady footing. If running off-road, I would much rather be on a dirt trail where I can determine which way my foot will bend when it strikes the ground. When I am running in a grass field, it seems like every time my foot lands my ankles are pitched at a different angle. It may be my age catching up to me or it may be all of those past basketball, football, and soccer ankle injuries catching up with me. Either way, the mounds of grass are always my enemy!
I made it over the worst hill of the course, back down the decline, and over the first set of hay bales. After a couple snake like turns through the orchard’s rows of trees, we were making our way to the side of the property that bordered the road. I had finished the first mile of the course in 7 minutes and 19 seconds. I quickly found out that that pace was a little too fast.
Over the next mile, we passed back through the finishing area again to begin lap number two. I also found out that as much as I hated running in the tall grass, I despised running in the loose gravel road even more. Luckily I was still able to think enough to run in the grass strip that ran down the middle of the two gravel car tire paths of the road. It was much firmer and my legs no longer got that “running in sand” feeling. As we made it up the bad hill again, my legs started disagreeing with the rest of my body.
Breathing-wise I was fine, but my legs no longer wanted to keep turning over at the same rate as my first mile. They quickly started feeling like they were turning to stone. I knew need to just concentrate on being loose and letting my body glide through this tough stage of the race. I finished the second mile in 7 minutes and 58 seconds. My pace had fallen off quite a bit from my first mile. I knew I needed to dig deep to finish the race strong.
I tried to zone out and think of other things during the last mile of the race. As we made it back to the front side of the property and back near the main road, I knew there was less than a half of a mile to go. When I get to sections of runs, I like to think of the distance in terms of laps around a track. Two laps around a track always sounded better than a ½ of a mile. Before I knew it, there was only a quarter of a mile left or in my terms, 1 lap around the track! I just continued to keep my feet turning over at the quickest rate possible. I finished my 3 mile in 7 minutes and 31 seconds.
With only 0.1 miles left, I was able to make it through the finish line with a time of 23:34.94, according to my watch. I was very pleased with my time. It was faster than my 5k in May, but well under my PR, which I set on a very flat course a couple years ago.
After grabbing some water and banana, I went to cheer on my Dad as he came through the finish line. This was the first time he had run off the pavement and it was a very challenging course. I was so proud of him has he came into sight. He was looking strong and finished with a very respectful time. It is always great to see him running and I hope that I will be doing the same thing when I am his age. I hope to be taking part in races with my sons!
Dad had done so well that he placed third in his age group and won a piece of pottery from Emerson Creek Pottery. I came to find out later that my time had not registered correctly when I crossed the finish line and my recorded time was almost 7 minutes slower than my watch’s time. They handed out little wooden sticks at the finish line with your finishing pace written on it. My stick said 14th but according to the results, I was in 42nd place with a time of 30:43.5.
I am not sure what happened with the timing but none the less, it was a great race day! The weather ended up being half way pleasant and the fall scenery was absolutely beautiful! I got to run another race with my father and we were both finish injury free. I couldn’t have asked for a better November race!