Race Review: Vista Strawberry 5000
How can you not like a race in which you begin on level ground, knock off a hill or two and finish with vendors from 450 booths cheering you on as you move toward a finish that includes a giant medal and equally large, fresh strawberries?
Sunday was actually my second time doing this annual Memorial Day weekend running event in North County. A couple of years ago I did the 10k race with a friend and finished strong. I forgot my time or place among my age group, but the race results for that year were down last time I checked.
This time I was introducing my nephew, whom I’m now raising, to San Diego running. He’d shown an affinity for it during his school’s recent jogathon. He just turned 11, is quite small for his age and intellectually disabled. No way would I foist a 10k on him, so we signed up for the 5k, which actually is the bigger draw most years.
The 10k runners go first, at 6:45 a.m. which means by the time we pulled into Vista Village around 6:30, parking was hard to come by. Fortunately, the nearby shopping center off downtown Vista was not yet full, so after driving around closed off roads, we turned back and parked there.
This year’s bright red T-shirts looked great and ran large. Wish I’d known that when I wrote down our sizes. My nephew’s shirt should fit by the time he’s 16. (They did allow you to switch out sizes after the races.) Organizers boast they have the best goodie bags around. I agree. In addition to a great backpack style polyester bag to gather goodies later, the contents includes a full box of artisan crackers, protein shake mix, and sundry items a runner would actually use.
There was a nice group warmup and this year, plenty of room at the start, which is 7:45 a.m. for the 5k. We were due for more rain, and increasingly dark skies reduced the odds we’d make it through the race without getting wet from precipitation.
I was coming off a serious foot injury the week prior, and my nephew had not run at all since his 5-miler at school in early April. We decided to start near the back of the field, which was considerably smaller due to all the fair-weather runners who failed to show. Despite pacers, it was soon obvious nobody was properly seeded. The first quarter mile or so was congested due to narrower streets and hordes of walkers. This is a fun run, so I’m ok with that. If I was running for a PR, I might not be.
I remember the first few miles of the 10k being rather unspectacular until you hit a large park and head up--and eventually down--a big hill, through some nicer neighborhoods and along a unique pathway before hitting the “vendor finish chute” at the festival. That is one of the neat parts of this local race: all the people at the booths come out to cheer on finishers for the last quarter mile or so.
The 5k has a much less strenuous course but also lacks some of the visual pleasantries. There are two places where you go up and back so you get to see who is in front of you and who is behind. This day, there were lots of high fives just for everyone staying the course, because by now the clouds were spitting on us.
I had told my nephew we’d run at least half the time and walk up the hills to conserve energy. This worked well, and we maintained our position among people with a similar strategy. As we neared the festival grounds again, he asked if he was getting a medal. I told him “while supplies last, so we better step on it.” And with that, he took off. It took more effort than I expected to keep up with him. We finished with the announcer calling us out by name and got our medals and our strawberries before deciding to go home, drenched. Under better conditions, we’d have stayed to do some rides, get food and go home with some local crafts.