Inaugural Daytona 5k
Daytona International Speedway
By Lisa Unger
This was the first time in 47 years of Daytona racing history that a running event has been staged before a major car race on the Speedway. Daytona has earned the title of “World Center of Racing” and hosts various types of racing events, and now it also has the distinction of hosting a 5k run and 2 mile walk. It was fitting that the auto race that was staged at Daytona on this particular weekend was the 43rd Annual Rolex 24, which was billed as the “around the clock marathon of sports car racing”, and took the green flag at noon on Saturday, February 5th. Sports car racing is much like distance running in that it’s not always the fastest starter that wins, but rather the team who has engineered the best performing vehicle that can continue to run for extended periods of time, 24 hours in this case. Sports cars are engineered to endure the distance while athletes train to achieve their endurance, but the goal is the same: keep moving until the end. As most experienced runners know, going out too fast means losing it in the end, so distance runners mimic the sports cars in our effort to endure as well as set an even pace. Another similarity is the race environment. Road and Cross Country runners rarely encounter straight, flat courses. Usually we travel around corners, up and down hills and sometimes even over, under or around obstacles. Sports cars do not race on an oval track making constant left turns like NASCAR events use, but rather they travel around hairpins, S curves and chicanes in all directions, and the Speedway at Daytona was designed to accommodate this type of racing. The infield area of the Speedway is paved with twisting and turning racing lanes to challenge both driver and automobile. This weekend it also challenged about 600 runners and walkers.
The morning began pretty early as road races go, and event organizers requested that participants arrive prior to 6AM. A system of tram like shuttles was arranged to move runners from the parking lot/awards staging area to the infield of the Speedway. Luckily, the trams were spacious enough to allow Lilly’s baby jogger to be transported with us, and, although we were shivering in the dark and cold, we arrived in the Daytona pit area in plenty of time to warm up and make other pre-race preparations. As the sun came up and the chill started to fade, runners and walkers made their way to the starting line. Tim expected to run a pretty quick pace of about 5:30 per mile so of course, he headed for the front of the pack. I usually try to start behind the rest of the pack when pushing Lilly, but decided that it is easier for faster people to pass me than it is for me to maneuver the jogger around slower people, so I made an unprecedented move to the front as well. At about 7AM, the race was begun with, “Ladies and Gentleman, start your engines…”, which prompted the runners and walkers to charge across the starting line just after the Pontiac GTO pace car exhibited what is know as a “peal out”, with screaming tires and a racing engine. And we were off! As I progressed around the historic track I was amazed to notice that the pavement is not really as smooth as it appears to be when watching auto races on TV. I saw a lot of cinders and tire debris strung along the track, which caused the wheels of the baby jogger to bounce about, and it made me consider what must happen to the car tires as they tear around the track. We moved through the infield turns and progressed out to turns one and two on the super speedway that form the oval of NASCAR fame. The fickle winds that blow along the huge turns could now be felt. The winds on the speedway never follow a designated path. The flagpoles that show the prevailing winds do not tell how the towering turns interfere with the actual push and pull of the air stream around the track. As I pushed Lilly around the racing apron, below the curve of the oval, I was awed by the steepness of the embankment. Having watched NASCAR events, I knew about the embankment and the way the centrifugal force at high speed seems to defy gravity and hold the cars on the track, but seeing it up close in person is completely different. I felt as if I were running on a path with a vertical wall to my right. The embankment does not slope, it goes almost straight up! I was so fascinated by the embankment that I did not even realize I was heading to the finish line. There were no mile markers on the course and I had not run with Lilly in some time, so I really didn’t have a handle on what my pace would be. I was very surprised to find that I ran what felt like a pretty easy 5k in under 25 minutes, a personal best with the baby jogger. I had just come across the finish line when Tim appeared in the crowd to meet me. He had made his goal by finishing in 17:12 and capturing the first place award in his age group. The awards were presented by a local DJ who added plenty of colorful comments about the spectacle of the race and post race party. For our efforts, all participants were awarded commemorative pieces of the track and free admission to the Rolex 24, as well as free admission passes to the activity center called DAYTONA USA. The history, the novelty and satisfying times combined to make the first ever Daytona 5k a “Rave Run”!