Not gonna lie, I’ve got some pretty mixed feelings about this year’s BTN Big 10K.
I picked up my packet Thursday morning and was not wildly impressed, both from a swag and efficiency standpoint. I realize that I’ve had a lot of luck with packet pickup in my life, but I was both surprised and annoyed that I had to wait several minutes for my shirt at 10 a.m. on Thursday (granted I was already running late for a 10:30 meeting, so I was stressed in the first place). I’d forgive the t-shirt packet pickup line if the packet was actually worth picking up, but…it kind of sucked.
Really cheap, crappy drawstring bag (does anyone else hate getting these? I have so many drawstring bags, and I really only ever use one), one snack size Clif Bar, and five bazillion ads for Chicago Endurance Sports. I did like the shirt, however, especially the detail on the shoulder which you can kind of see in the picture. I also liked that the Michigan shirt is yellow (or maize, I suppose) this year. I generally work out in tech gear because it’s too hot to wear cotton, and if it’s too hot to wear cotton, most of the time it’s too hot to wear dark colors as well, so yellow is much better than navy blue in my opinion. I’ve also got to hand it to them on the race program. I’ve never got a program for a race before, not even for my half last year. Considering that this was only a 10K/5K, I was really impressed that they put together such a nice publication with all the race info.
As I mentioned yesterday, I ran to the race so I could get my 12 miles in for the day. I’ve never run to a race before and I figured my legs would be relatively tired, so I didn’t want to plan on running any sort of time and set myself up for disappointment. While I ran to the race, though, I kept thinking, “Man, it’s really too bad I have to run this extra 5.8, because this kind of weather was made for PRs.” Cloudy, low 60s, not much wind unless you were right by the lake: this is the stuff PRs are made of, people. But like I said, I wanted to keep my expectations low/nonexistent, so I tried not to think about it.
I got to the race site around 6:20 or so (10K started at 7:00) and it was CROWDED. Last year the race was at Soldier Field, but this year they moved it up closer to the planetarium to accommodate a larger field (about 13,000 instead of about 5,000 last year). While I’m sure we had more space by Adler, the race site was by no means spacious, and it took me quite some time to get to gear check. I checked my Nathan because I didn’t want to run the 10K with it if I didn’t have to, made a traditional pre-race portapotty stop, and then hauled it all the way back over to my corral.
So. About this whole corral situation. In theory I’m sure a corralled start was a good idea. Honestly, possibly even in practice the corralled start was a good idea, at least for the elites/speedsters in the first few corrals. I, however, somehow got put all the way down in Corral I. The 10K corrals went through J, which put me in the second to last corral. Now, I’m not going to pretend like I’m a fast runner by any stretch of the imagination. I am perfectly happy to embrace my slowness. But Corral I? Really? When we registered, we had to estimate our pace for the run, and, according to my registration confirmation, I estimated I’d run a 10:00 pace. Since the course was open long enough for people to complete the race at a 15:00 pace, I can’t come up with any logical reason why on earth I got put in Corral I. A couple girls near me were chatting about their expectations before the race and said they hoped to finish in 1:15:00, which is great! More power to you! But my slowest 10K is a 1:05:21, and my most recent 10K heading into the race was a 1:00:30, i.e.: NOWHERE REMOTELY CLOSE TO 1:15. I also had a friend at the race who previously ran a 1:10 10K, and she was ahead of me in Corral H. So there’s that.
It took us almost 15 minutes to cross the start line after the race began, which, whatever. It was downright cold standing around for 30 minutes waiting to get running, but I welcome cold weather with open arms, so no complaints here. When we finally got going I got to enjoy what was easily the most crowded first mile of my life. I bobbed and weaved and I’m quite sure pissed more than my fair share of people off, because everyone was running so much slower than I wanted to run (which, given where I started, is not entirely surprising).
Last year, the course was pretty much entirely on the Lakefront Trail, and since I apparently suck at reading course maps, I was under the impression that would be the case this year as well. I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings (other than the runners in front of me I was trying to not trample), and at one point we kind of went up a ramp and then down one. I continued on running when all of a sudden I realized we were running on Lake Shore Drive! That was pretty cool. We were on the Drive to the halfway point of the race, where they turned us off (…into the grass. Classy) and put us back on the trail for the return to the start. Honestly, the course was pretty crowded through all of this. I ended up hugging the far right side of the trail for most of the back half of the race so I could easily duck off onto the gravel and pass the people in front of me.
I had consistently been hitting 9:2x miles for the first four of the race and clocked a 9:09 fifth mile. At that point I knew it was pretty likely that I would PR and pretty likely that I’d finish in under an hour (which is something I’ve wanted to do since last year’s BTN Big 10K), so I decided to see what my legs could do for me. Turns out they could do a lot! I ran the sixth mile in 8:48, which is not *too* far off my 5K pace (about 35 seconds) and had a real nice 7:25 kick for the last .2. According to my Garmin, I ran 6.24 miles in 57:25, though officially I ran a 57:28. Regardless, I still took 3:02 off my previous 10K PR in the middle of marathon training, which is the second time I’ve turned in a HUGE PR at this race (last year’s 1:00:30 was a 4:55 PR in the middle of half marathon training).
Aside from the corral issues, the real disaster of this race for me was at the end. The finish line absurdly crowded and poorly organized. Whether you wanted to grab food/water or not, you were stuck in a huge crush of people that wasn’t going anywhere. After you made it past the rally towels, water, Gatorade, cookies, crackers, pretzels, and bananas (I will give them an A+ for finish line food choices), only then did you get your medal, and that was also a disaster. All the 5K medals were hanging nicely on racks, while the 10K medals hadn’t been unwrapped, so volunteers were walking around the crowd blindly handing them out. Since the 5K started at 8:15, it seems like it would’ve made a lot more sense to organize the 10K medals first, which would’ve done a lot to streamline that whole process and probably keep the finish area from being so crowded.
Speaking of crowded. The post race party was insaneeeeeeee. So. Many. People. This year the alumni associations from all the Big 10 schools had sunglasses to hand out to runners (instead of foam fingers like last year. Each bib also had one sunglasses ticket you had to use to get the glasses to prevent people from taking one pair from each school like they did with the foam fingers last year), and while I would have liked a pair of Michigan sunglasses, the line to get said sunglasses was probably at least 30-45 minutes long, and I didn’t want $2 sunglasses that bad. Fortunately the line for sausages (instead of hot dogs like last year) was much more manageable, so I got myself some food and found an open spot in the grass away from the 9348230948 people at the party.
On the one hand, I very much want to like the BTN Big 10K. It’s been good to me (obviously, with two PRs there now), and the atmosphere is really cool. I think, ultimately, my biggest problem with the race this year was just that it was way, way too crowded. I don’t blame the organizers for wanting to grow the race, since ultimately I think that’s what every race organizer wants, but you can’t host a race of that size in a small area. Grant Park would’ve been a much better venue if it had been an option (which it wasn’t, because Lollapalooza setup had already begun), and I do hope if the race happens again next year, they’ll either cap registration at around the 7,000 or 8,000 mark or consider a different location if they hope to keep growing the event.