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YMCA Festival 5k: Racing after dark

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By Tracy Harris

If you’re looking for an excuse to indulge in carnival food during Oldham County Day, here it is — the YMCA Festival 5k race and 1-mile walk.

The race is the second leg of the Grand Slam, a four-race series in Oldham County that benefits several local non-profit organizations.

The YMCA Festival 5k is unique because it’s a night race. Most running races are held on weekend mornings; this one is Friday evening.

I’m a fan of night races to some extent just because they’re different. They usually have a more festive atmosphere and often have more crowd support — it’s a lot easier to get people to come cheer you on at 7:30 p.m. than 7:30 a.m.

Night races also tend to feel less like a chore and more like a party — especially this one.

There will be two live concerts on the courthouse lawn, one before the race and one during the race. People are encouraged to come dance, enjoy the music, eat some carnival food — and cheer on runners. 

And if the smell of corn dogs and funnel cakes make your mouth water when you run by, the booths will still be open after the race. 

Just don’t stop to have a snack during the race — that’s just one of several challenges presented by racing at night.

Night races are tough during the summer because temperatures are still be high when the race starts.

My first tip for night racing is to make sure you hydrate well throughout the day. Try to keep a bottle of water handy all day and drink from it as much as possible. Avoid caffiene in the afternoon, since it’s a dieuretic and dehydrates you. That said, I’m not saying skip your morning joe — just the double espresso at 2 p.m.

Depending on when you eat lunch, I’d go with a light snack around 4-5 p.m. A bagel, an energy bar (Powerbar, Clif Bar, etc.), a peanut butter sandwich ... whatever you’re comfortable with. You want to get in some calories, but not upset your stomach — if you eat lunch around noon, I’d recommend 250 calories or so for your pre-race snack. 

Personally, I know I can eat Pop-Tarts or oatmeal within 45 minutes of racing with no stomach issues. We also learned a turkey sandwich with cheese is a bad idea 30 minutes before running hard. I won’t make that mistake again.

Try to get up and walk around throughout the afternoon and do a little light stretching. Sitting at your desk all day is not conducive to being ready to run. 

Make sure you walk or run for 5-10 minutes before the race to loosen up, too. 

When the race begins, make sure to take the heat into account. Optimal race conditions for a 5k would be somewhere in the 55— to 65— degree range. When temperatures start going above 75 degrees — not factoring in humidity — you can expect a decrease in performance.

So don’t be upset if you don’t run or walk as fast as you thought you would — but be prepared and start slower.

There’s an online calculator you can use to see adjusted times — for example, when I put in my estimated finish time, the calculator tells me I’ll run about a minute slower if it’s 90 degrees. 

Racing is definitely tough when it is hot, but if you hydrate and pace yourself accordingly, you’ll have a great race.

If you’re already signed up for this race, or — even better — the whole Grand Slam series, we’re excited to see you out there. 

Or, you can sign up Friday evening beginning at 6 p.m. at Covenant United Methodist Church in La Grange.

The race starts at 7:30 p.m. at Covenant United Methodist Church, and it’s all downhill — and uphill — from there. 

The course heads down Allen Lane to Commerce Parkway and over to Ky. 53. Crowds and music will greet you at the top of the hill as you turn down Main Street before turning down Kentucky Avenue and the finish line.

Awards are immediately following the race and include overall and age group awards.

For more information on the Grand Slam series, visit ocgrandslam.com. You can do it!

Tracy Harris is a staff writer for The Oldham Era and an avid runner training for her seventh marathon this fall. For five years, she led a half-marathon training group and dished out advice at a Louisville running specialty store.