I challenged myself with the virtual Zoo Stampede 5K

I took this photo of my route along the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail (NCR Trail) after I finished my virtual Zoo Stampede 5K on Saturday, April 24. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I’m so far away from my personal record times that I am just not in a place to go for PRs right now. However, I did set a goal for 2021 to beat two of my distance times from last year (5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon). I’ve already beaten my fastest 2020 half marathon time with my run at this month’s Salisbury Half Marathon, and I tried to beat my fastest 2020 5K on Saturday, when I ran my virtual Zoo Stampede 5K.

I signed up for this race because it benefits the Salisbury Zoo, a fun and unique asset to our community that offers free admission to visitors. It was $20 and included a shirt, so it was also a good value. VP Shoes is involved with this event, and I love VP Shoes — the store is a great supporter of the Eastern Shore Running Club, of which I am secretary. VP had a prize giveaway streamed on YouTube after the virtual run, and the race shirt pickup was also held there.

I got this photo after my virtual Zoo Stampede 5K and added my race bib in.

I’ve only run the in-person race once as I have helped time it in the past and it’s also conflicted with another race I’d signed up for, so it’s been nice to be able to participate virtually this year and last year.

Runners could complete their 5K between April 22 and 24, and could split up the distance over more than one run or walk if they wished. I originally wanted to run my 5K near the Salisbury Zoo at the Salisbury City Park, and I planned to tackle the Tour de Salisbury course from last year that I could never quite get a sub-10-minute-per-mile average on.

However, I was busy with work and a book club Thursday, and then on Friday, I took off work, but I got up relatively early, finished cleaning out my car (like… I got absolutely everything out of it unless it was stuck) and headed up to the Baltimore area to buy a new car (yay!). That took a pretty long time, and I didn’t end up getting a run in on Thursday or Friday. But I did leave with a new car that I love!

So, I ran my 5K at the Torrey C. Brown Rail Trail (NCR Trail) in the Hunt Valley area Saturday morning. I didn’t get up too early and started my run shortly before 10:30 a.m. I decided to start from the part of the trail closest to the Paper Mill Road parking area and run north (there’s only about a half-mile to the south). I knew there were Strava segments in this area, and I thought that might motivate me, but the mileage on those seems to be off now that I have finished my run.

I’d remembered seeing that my average pace for the virtual Zoo Stampede last year, which was my fastest 5K of 2020, was 9:23/mile, so I figured I would see if I could be a little faster than that.

I took a selfie after my run. (Vanessa Junkin photo)

I had an issue with GPS on this trail once (I’ve run here numerous times), so I made sure to check my watch when I hit the first mile marker and second mile marker, and then again on the way back, to make sure my watch was hitting the correct distances, and it was.

During the second half of my first mile, a runner I’d seen when I started passed me. I tried to pretend like it was an in-person race and keep her in sight. Of course, she didn’t know we were “racing,” and I guess she would have won anyway, as I didn’t catch her. I ran the first mile in 9:21, so it was just under that 9:23 average pace I needed if I wanted to beat last year’s time.

Just a little bit past the Mile 2 marker (I started at about .5), I turned around and headed back toward the start. I finished the second mile in 9:34, putting me a little bit off pace. I tried to keep up the momentum and told myself I could try to run a little faster when I hit the Mile 1 marker again and would have about a half-mile left.

The trail was just the right amount of crowded — with plenty of people to see who were out enjoying the beautiful weather, but not a crowd to weave through or have to worry about with the pandemic. The trail is relatively wide, which allowed for plenty of space.

I finished the third mile in 9:30 and gave it what I had for the end, knowing I’d be cutting it close. I ran the last 0.11 in 58.3 seconds, an 8:43 pace.

My 5K time was 29:24, which is a 9:27 average pace. It turned out that my time for this virtual race last year was 29:10. So, while I did not beat it, I came close, and I was pleased with how I did. I haven’t run a 5K for speed in a long time, and this was a virtual race, so it didn’t have quite the same feeling as running a race in person, though I did try to push myself as much as I could.

I purposely chose a course that was flat and didn’t have any road crossings. I wasn’t completely sure whether I’d have to cross a road, but thankfully, I didn’t have to. I didn’t want to have to worry about that cutting into my virtual race time.

Later that day, I was driving back to Salisbury and pulled over at the Rise Up in Cambridge so that I could watch the live YouTube video of numbers being pulled for prizes (I also got a latte). There were lots of prizes given, including pairs of socks, shoes and gift cards. I won a pair of running socks and picked them up today at VP Shoes. The prize was actually in the form of a gift certificate, so I could choose any pair of socks that were also in my size. The employee recommended a pair of padded Feetures, so I chose those.

It was fun getting to support the zoo, test my speed and even win a prize at this event. Hopefully a sub-29:10 5K is on the horizon.


Mile 1: 9:21
Mile 2: 9:34
Mile 3: 9:30
Last part (.11): 58.3 (8:43 pace)
Final: 29:24 / 9:27 pace

Here I am in my Zoo Stampede shirt with the socks I won as part of the virtual event.

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