Today I attended the 2nd Garden of Life 5k at PGA National Resort and Spa. I was a volunteer for this event like last year. For the first running of this race, I was at the “crossroads” of golf cart paths that get run past twice on the course. It’s an important spot where four cart paths meet that runners could mix up and go the wrong way.
This year I was the lead biker for the Elite Female division. Garden of Life has made a large investment into this really fun local event. Prizes for elites are $3k, $2k, $1k for male and female. Additionally, there are $100 prizes for the top runners in every age group! So the 500+ people from last year have now grown to near 1200 runners.
There are 10 designated “elite” slots for male and female respectively. Each athlete had to submit times to qualify to race for the cash prizes. If they win their age group and not a 1, 2, or 3 prize, they get the $100. I am tasked with riding the course in front of the elite ladies, some of these girls are from here. Regina Goolsby, Jen Nicholson, and Lee Dipietro are in there. One lady came from Massachusetts, Rachel Schilkowsky, she is on paper the fastest entrant.
Time to Run!
We take off only 2 minutes behind the men’s elite runners. They have several athletes that flew in from elsewhere to try for the prize money. The winner is Jordan Chipangama, a marathoner from Zambia. He came from Flagstaff, AZ for this race. I spoke with Jordan earlier, he is concerned someone can “take him on” in the 5k distance, not his strength. He ran in the Rio Olympics in the marathon for his country. His best marathon time is 2:11!
The ladies start is on time and Rachel is an early leader, surging quickly ahead of any contenders. They don’t pose any threat to her as we round the parking lot, hotel, and head onto the golf course. She is running well, definitely working for it, but pulling away by mile #1. This race and the $3000 prize for first place is all hers if she can stay ahead, which looks very likely. Only an injury or mishap could take it away – Rachel is powering hard behind me. I have to keep checking that I am ahead of her by enough, sometimes I coast and then get spooked when I turn around and think she might catch me. She doesn’t really get close to me, it’s just us two circling the course, we don’t see fans or any others until the midpoint water stop. There are WT Dwyer HS volunteers and a few adults cheering and handing out drinks. Rachel is so far ahead – my guess is a full 300-400m from the second place girl. We come around the next hole and double back to the water stop on the other side – now there are regular field runners hitting the first side of the dual water stop. I see Maureen Flynn walk through and head up the small roller labeled “Heartbreak Hill.” I lead Rachel through the “crossroads” path area, now she can see the finish. There is one slight rise on the course, but she can hear the cheers of those around the finish line. I see Bill, the lead cyclist in front of the men. He comes back riding towards me and says the winner finished in 14:26. Close behind second was run in 14:29 followed by the third place male in 14:47.
Rachel wins in 16:47, second for ladies is 17:40 and third place gets $1000 for a 19:01 finish. As was the case last year, Garden of Life gives out very impressive goodie bags filled with their products to all runners. I received one, I see it is different stuff from last year but plenty of bars and powders. This race is well done and may be outgrowing PGA National as a venue.
I’m happy I was a piece of the exciting morning only a few miles from my house. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to be the solo lead cyclist responsible for guiding an out-of-town girl to a $3000 prize, but it was fun to experience this side of volunteering for a 5k.