The 2013 Watermelon Series is officially in the books.
And let me just say that I’m glad to be part of the Lakeland Runners Club, as our organization does an absolutely incredible job of putting this race series on every year. Hats off to all of the organizers and volunteers who skipped out on running these races to allow those of us that did run to have a great time! Thanks yall!
The Summer Sunrise Watermelon Series consists of 4 5k races that are held 3-4 weeks apart with the finishing times of each race added together to determine overall and age group finisher times. If you don’t run all 4 races, you aren’t eligible for any of the series prizes, which is a cool dynamic.
There were some amazingly fast (to me at least) times run by some participants this year, but this series is all about consistency and commitment, which really sets it apart.
This was the first year that I ran in the Watermelon Series, so this race was a bit of a new experience for me. The race took place around Lake Hollingsworth, like just about every 5k in Lakeland, but somehow it was the first 5k race I’ve ever run at the lake. While I’ve run the lake hundreds of times, I’ve never run a race there which created a slight bit of confusion for me near the end.
The starting area was crowded (over 900 people ran), so getting off to a good start would prove paramount. I met some of my fellow Pack runners at 6:30 am for a warm up, and we took off for about a 1.5 mile warm up session. As I’m not much of a 5k person, this whole warm up thing was a little foreign to me. I always just take the first mile of a half or full as my warmup, so I wasn’t sure how running before the gun was going to effect me.
After the warmup and a quick drink, we headed to the start line which was crowded to say the least. When the horn sounded, we were close to the timing mat, but the mass of runners probably cost us a few seconds.
We took off, and the race starts on the one hill that we have to go up around the lake. Really? Start on the hill. Thanks yall.
At least the start was in the road instead of on the running path, which allowed for the mass of runners to spread out a little bit. But only a little bit. At the top of the hill, we merged from the road to the paved path, and things got tight. I got stuck behind a guy pushing a double stroller, and even though he was moving pretty well I had to run into the drainage ditch to get around him. By the time we got to about the mile mark, things had spread out well enough that runner traffic was no longer a serious problem.
As I went past the second mile mark, I knew the end was close but something didn’t quite seem right. While I knew that the path around the lake was just under 3 miles (2.85 miles) I had it in my mind that all I had to do was get back to the start line and the race would be over.
I could only be so lucky.
As the start line quickly came into view, the realization that I’d have to run up that damn hill again started to dawn on me. Now, I understand our hills here in Lakeland aren’t the same thing as hills in other parts of the country, but this one little hill that is about .2 miles long is steeper than you’d like it to be 2.85 miles into a 3.1 mile race.
I was starting to hit the mental wall as I made the climb, but I crossed the finish line in 20:55 which was good enough for a new PR!
I ran the first race without having a solid goal time in mind, though if I’m honest I was just hoping for a PR. After running a PR in my first 5k race in about 6 years in March, I thought I could do better but I wasn’t sure how much.
Now going into the second race, I had a new target. By the fourth race, I wanted to be sub-20. A bit ambitious maybe, but all I’d have to do is knock off 20 seconds each race.
Yeah, that’s ALL I’d have to do.
At least the second race wouldn’t have as many surprises as the first one did. The course was the same, the crowd was thinned out a little bit, and the heat was tolerable.
As the gun went off, I got a good start up the hill, but was going perhaps a little too fast for the first half mile of the race. I dialed it back just a little bit, and 2 guys I regularly run with went past me. I knew if I could keep them in my sights I’d most likely better my time from race 1, so that was my new mission for the next 2+ miles.
As we came around the bend nearing the start line, my rabbits were only about 10 yards in front of me. As I chased them up the hill, I crossed the line in another new best of 20:29!
Really? I knocked 30 seconds off in 3 weeks? Maybe that sub-20 is doable.
Holy Humidity, Batman! Honestly, who in their right mind willingly runs races in Florida in the summer? I mean, I know it’s only a 5k, and I know we start right at 7, but still.
A 5k swim would have only be slightly worse.
The third race was relatively uneventful, really, other than the environmental factors. I’d say it was the least crowded race of the series, and therefore it was the easiest race to get off the line and into my rhythm at the start. Which was nice.
Going into the race, I knew another 30 second PR would really be asking a lot, but with the stupid humidity there was really no chance. Crossing the line in 20:21 though? A third PR in about 7 weeks? Good enough for me!
I checked the age group standings after the first two races, and I was a respectable 7th in the 30-34 group. But by looking at the times of the people in front of me, the best I could realistically hope for would be 6th.
Well, after the third race’s results were posted, I was shocked to find myself in 3rd! Apparently, the humidity scared 3 of the guys in front of me away, and with no third race they were ineligible to place. All of a sudden, I was running the 4th race to place, and not only that but there was a gap of about 45 seconds between myself and the guy behind me!
On race morning, the weather was disgusting. Humid, hot, no wind, just gross summer in the south. After our usual warm up, everyone in the group was soaked with sweat and we still had 5 minutes to wait for the race to start. Sorry to those that had to smell me before the race started, though I was hardly the only one that was already a bit ripe.
I weaseled my way up pretty close to the front, and took off at the gun. I got clear of the masses about a 100 yards in, and did my best to contain myself from going too fast up the hill. After cresting the hill and merging onto the running path, I settled into a nice cadence that would give me a shot at going sub-20 if I had anything left for a kick at the end.
But I couldn’t keep the pace. The wall of humidity I was running into was too much for me, and as it turns out, I wasn’t the only one that suffered. At about the 2 mile mark, I knew going under 20 minutes was out the window, but I still had a chance at another PR if I dug deep enough.
As I got to the start line, I was gassed. I kicked up the hill with everything I had, but I crossed the line at 20:29.
No PR, but not too bad.
And easily fast enough to claim my 3rd place finish.
This being my first go at the Watermelon Series, I had a lot of fun. The course is fair and fast, except for that bloody hill at the end, and the fresh watermelon at the end of the race is heavenly. I’m not even a huge watermelon fan, but that sweet juiciness after almost running myself to death was absolutely delicious.
I’m not sure if I’ll run in the series again next year, though I have a suspicion that I probably will. Being a part of the local running community, and seeing that community gather for four separate races will probably get me to lace up my kicks next summer.
That and the endless pursuit of 19:59.
Did any of you locals run the Watermelon Series this year? What were your thoughts?
Non-locals, do any of you have a similar series of races in your area? If so, do you like running a race series? If not, what do you think of the idea?