Disclosure: I am a BibRave Pro and received a free entry to the Foothill 5k Challenge in exchange for helping to promote and review the race. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro HERE and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
That’s the single word that sums up the entire Foothill 5k Challenge this year. Before I became a BibRave Pro, I’d never heard of this race and I’d never heard of Back on My Feet, the charity beneficiary. The fact that there is an elevation gain of over 1000′–and what goes up must come down, so that gain isn’t evenly spread out–might have scared me off. If you’re contemplating this race, don’t make the same mistake!
The website says, “participants are welcome to run or hike” and they mean it. There is plenty of time for everyone to finish. Also, it might interest you to know that the first person to cross the finish line was a 15-year-old who did the whole thing in just over 20 minutes, but the second person to cross the finish line–just about a minute later–is 59! You definitely want to be there in 2016.
Just over 300 people finished this low-key event in Glendale. Now that I’ve done it, I’m surprised there weren’t twice as many people there. Since I don’t live nearby and was occupied with a conference in Los Angeles on Saturday, I didn’t attend the Saturday packet pickup hosted by Run With Us (one of the race sponsors). Early Sunday morning I packed up my stuff, donned a running kit, and headed over to the Glendale sports complex. Timing being everything, my tiny blue rental brought me to the parking lot just in time to take the last space in the lot (everyone behind me was sent back to overflow parking). I popped out, doused my very-pale-self with sunscreen, and headed in.
Registration and packet pickup at the event took place on one of the baseball fields. There were maybe ten people in line ahead of me when I arrived, and the volunteers doled out shirts and bibs with speed and cheer.
They had even connected the safety pins in groups of four (to pin the four corners of your bib). While there wasn’t an official, organized bag check, I had plenty of time to walk my shirt and bag back to my car before the race started. Some other runners handed theirs to family or friends. It was a pretty small field, and I think a few people might have stashed their bags under the Bimbo or YogaWorks tables near the start/finish line.
Near the registration tents, race sponsor Mizuno had a table showing off their newest kicks. I visited my new friends, the Mizuno Wave Enigma 5, since I was wearing my trail shoes. Mizuno had a deconstructed shoe with the layers separated so you can see and better understand the engineering of the soles. (I love that kind of stuff.) They also had wristbands with “Every Mile Changes You” and I added one to the morning’s arm party.
The sun wasn’t quite out yet, but it was easy to tell it was going to be a humid day. Due to the nature of the course there were no aid stations–there’s literally no place to put them–though the apex backed into a road where volunteers had bottled water. The announcer directed runners to the water and Gatorade table near the finish and encouraged everyone to hydrate. Most of the runners that didn’t have hydration belts or packs grabbed a bottle of water to take out on the course.
Before the race, a large number of runners gathered on the baseball diamond. They put their arms around each other and I got a solidarity vibe from the crowd. While I was not close enough to overhear all of the discussion that took place, I did hear someone announce that one specific runner couldn’t be there and ask those running to remember him on their run. My impression that this is a standard Back on My Feet running group ritual was confirmed later as I walked over to the starting line and heard a recent arrival ask his friend, “oh rats, did I miss the circle?”
In addition to thanking the sponsors, and thanking the runners for coming, the announcer took a few minutes to remind everyone of the purpose of Back on My Feet. (If you’re not familiar with Back on My Feet, take a look at the greater Los Angeles area website. Similar to Girls on the Go, Just Run, and Running For A Better Oakland, Back on My Feet uses running as a medium to teach and cultivate goal-setting, commitment, and other life skills leading to self-reliance and independence.)
As the announcer explained, “the purpose of Back on My Feet isn’t to turn homeless people into runners, but to use running to help those who find themselves homeless learn to see themselves as hard-working, self-reliant individuals.” When I look at all the positive things running has brought to my life, and to the lives of my friends, it makes perfect sense to me. Looking around the group of runners, you couldn’t tell which runners were formerly homeless, currently homeless, or never homeless. There were many people in shirts with the Back on My Feet logo, including the shirts from last year’s events; there were also groups of people in matching team shirts too.
The starting line had one long corral; runners were asked to self-seed based on their expected speed. As more people hopped into the corral, I continued to move back. Minutes before the start, race director Lesley Brillhart took over the microphone to make a few safety announcements: watch for single track areas, pass on the left and announce yourself first, take the switchbacks carefully, alert course monitors to any injuries, and during the two-way traffic sections keep to your left. (Yes, left. It sounded off to me when I heard it, but once I was up on the hills and understood the course better, it made perfect sense.)
The race team set the runners off in three large groups, separating each by about two minutes. Once I got up onto the dirt, I was very glad they had done this, as most of the trail was fairly narrow. Even before I hit the dirt, I saw the faster runners like little white dots streaming across the browns and greens of the San Gabriel Hills.
Runners first circled around the sports fields and then took a hard right to start climbing. Despite the scary-sounding 1000′ elevation gain, the majority of the climb was a gentle up, with an occasional downhill. It would have been pretty easy to stay 100% focused on the trails, but it was just wide enough to comfortably walk while enjoying the scenery. I stopped to take many pictures on the way up. Race volunteers served as course monitors along the route (and as your traversed the course you realized each of them had to hike up to their designated spot).
Near the end of the climbing section there was one bigger, steeper hill; at that point you’d gotten out of bed and schlepped all the way up, so no matter how steep it seemed you just kinda had to keep going.
As I was making my way up I caught glimpses of the start/finish line, which seemed impossibly far away. On the trail I saw men and women of all ages and sizes, running, walking, and hiking. The views from the top were beautiful.
On the way down I paused to read the plaque about the history of Glendale (it’s not like I was going to hike back up to read it after the race). Just because YES, I AM that kind of nerd.
Finishers were welcomed back, and the hydration station was just past the finish line. YogaWorks led a post-race stretch session, and Bimbo bakeries handed out bagels (enough that many of us took home a whole package).
Then the winners were announced in a low-key awards ceremony.
I headed back to my car to finish chugging down another bottle of water and grab a wipe for my face. While I had set my phone to get me directions to the after party, it basically wasn’t necessary–pretty much every car from the event was in one big caravan to the Golden Road Brewing Company.
As a race sponsor, Golden Road offered $1 off each of their beers. In addition, 15% of all sales went to Back on My Feet. True confession: I don’t like beer. (No, it’s not “you haven’t tried the RIGHT beer,” because I dislike hops.) Fortunately they had a guest cider on tap, which I enjoyed with a breakfast burrito from the brunch menu.
With excellent food and drink, attentive service, and a brunch filled with runners, you can’t lose! The raffle drawings were held outside, though the tickets had a name and phone number on them in case you missed it. Since I was already pretty well sunned, I chose to sit inside.
Don’t fear the elevation.
If you ran this year, what did you think? (Have you left a review on BibRave.com?) If you’re interested in running this race next year, keep an eye on the Foothill 5k Challenge website.