First I have to give a little background info. Even though I’ve run somewhere around 60 races in the past 22 years, the Catching Fireflies 5k was only my fourth 5k, and two of those were with my daughter so this was only the second 5k I ran by myself. Of those two 5ks that I ran by myself, they were 22 years apart and this race in 2022 was 2 minutes faster than my first 5k. Granted, the first 5k was the first race I ever ran as an adult but still, I was happy that I haven’t slowed down, despite the fact that I’m now in a much older age group than when I ran that first race. Anyway, on to the race report!
The Catching Fireflies 5k in Raleigh, North Carolina caught my eye when I saw it advertised a few months ago. Start time was slated for 8:25 pm on Friday, May 20. The charity for the race was the Cancer Shucks group, https://www.cancershucksfoundation.org/. Luminaries could be purchased in honor of a loved one who was effected by cancer and their name would be written on the luminary. The race course was lined with what must have been hundreds of luminaries.
Packet pickup was from 5 to 8 pm at Wakefield High School in Raleigh on race day (no option to pick up earlier). We got cotton t-shirts, our bibs, and glow sticks to wear while we were running. It was great to have real bathrooms to use before the race and not have to walk far to get to the race start since we all parked in the school parking lot. My 16-year-old daughter was also running the race so we hung out for a little while inside the school since it was so hot out. The high for the day was a record high for the year- 99 degrees!!!
Fortunately when the sun started to set it began to feel noticeably cooler, but it was still pretty humid. By the time the race started it was around 86 degrees, still hot but at least it wasn’t in the 90’s any longer. We all kept saying how it was just too hot too soon but there was nothing to do about it. Surprisingly, there were around 650 runners and walkers that night, according to the announcer.
Everyone started lining up around 8:10 and the race started promptly at 8:25 after the national anthem was sung. The beginning of the race was a terrible mess with walkers at the front, mixed in with people with strollers and small children scattered everywhere. I expected that might be the case and planned on staying toward the edge but even that wasn’t enough so as soon as I could I jumped onto a sidewalk until I could get around a big group of people.
Fairly quickly, the course thinned out and I was finally free of the mob of people. The race was entirely though a neighborhood, Wakefield Plantation, one of those super-nice neighborhoods with a country club and golf course and enormous houses. As I said earlier, the course was lined throughout with luminaries. I wasn’t sure how dark it would get so I brought a clip-on light but didn’t really need it except for one tiny little stretch where there no street lights for a bit.
This neighborhood is also hilly, which I had been told ahead of time. The course began downhill, so of course I knew that meant we would be running uphill on the way back. I tried to take advantage of that fact by running the first mile a bit faster than I normally would, but still being a bit conservative since I wasn’t sure how the heat and humidity would effect me. My first mile was at an 8:20 mile pace.
When I was about halfway through the race, I felt like I should slow down or I wouldn’t have enough left to get me up the hills at the end. My second mile was at an 8:44 mile pace, which is around what I thought I would run the entire race at, prior to the race. There weren’t many spectators on the course and I didn’t see anyone cheering on runners from their front yards or anything like that. Water was on the course but there weren’t any porta johns, at least not that I saw.
I really didn’t have any finish time goal in mind before the race, other than trying to finish in the top three in my age group, whatever that meant. With only a mile to go, I had to really push myself mentally to not walk up the final hills. I saw people walking all around me and it was tempting to walk along with them but I didn’t and told myself even if I was running slow I was still going faster than if I walked. My final mile was at an 8:42 mile pace, with the final sprint to the finish (the 0.1 mile) at a 7:57 mile pace. My finish time was 26:53.
There were children handing out medals at the finish and a big container full of warm bottles of water (WARM water after a HOT 5k is just wrong!). Bananas, pretzels, and cereal bars were further down on a table. I did find a table with cups of cold water being dispensed from those big orange Gatorade containers you see at races and cross country meets and I greedily gulped some down.
The awards ceremony was supposed to be at 9:10 but the announcer kept talking about the music being played and other random things. Finally around 9:25 they began the awards ceremony. I thought my daughter might have a chance of cracking the top three in her age group but she was fourth. I was first in my age group and collected a gift card to a restaurant near the race. The day after the race I checked the official finish times and saw that I was only three seconds behind the third place overall masters female. But then I looked again and actually I was three seconds ahead of her. There was a mistake. I should have won third place overall masters. This had never happened to me, finishing in the top three overall masters.
I sent an email to the race director and he replied back within a couple of hours, which surprised me since it was a Sunday. He said they go by gun time for overall awards and chip time for age group awards. I had always thought chip time would be more accurate so awards would always be based on that, but I guess you live and learn.
I’ll admit, I was a little bitter; after all it was only three seconds. I could have easily moved up closer to the front at the start, had I been able to somehow predict this and have known then what I know now. Or if the race director would have put that information in the awards section on the race website. But then it just gave me a bit of fuel for my fire for my next 5k (no, I haven’t signed up for any at the moment). Knowing how little training I did (basically no speed work) before this race, it gave me hope of what I’m capable of if I truly train for a 5k.
I never thought I’d be saying it but I’m actually looking forward to training hard for a 5k now and seeing what I can do. Now I just have to find a race! That’s going to be difficult since we’re also heating up quickly here so races always thin out this time of year.
Would I recommend this race? Yes. It truly is a unique race, in that it’s at night and has luminaries lining the course. It was much hotter than it normally is the end of May so I would hope the weather was just a fluke and next year would be back to normal temperatures. The hills aren’t going to go away, but they really weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be. I would have rather had something other than a cotton t-shirt, like socks or a hat but it was a cute shirt and I’ll wear it to the gym. The medals were cute too. And like I said earlier, best of all, it’s for a great cause.
Have you ever run a night race? If so, care to share your experience?