Or, as Zach appropriately subtitled it, “The Trail Run You Didn’t Know Chicago Had.”
Last year I took third in my age group at Jingle Bell. A speedster I am not, and because of that I love any race that has a slow enough field for me to DOMINATE the 20-24 age group (or, you know, take third. Beggars allergic to things like “speed work” and “tempo runs” and “anything other than the beauty that is the long slow run” can’t be choosers). I also may or may not pick which shorter distance races I choose to run based on how I think I’ll be able to do in my age group, but that is neither here nor there.
I was on the fence for a long time whether I would run Jingle Bell at all this year. My hip flexor, though significantly improved from mid-September, is still not entirely cooperative and tends to whine when I take it for a run. My physical therapist seemed to think I’d be fine running, though, so after much hemming and hawing I finally registered a couple weekends ago and promptly forgot I had a 5K until Friday morning.
(loved this year’s shirt, by the way, and the packet was GREAT. Lots of actually great deals. A+, Jingle Bell.)
I knew we were supposed to get snow Friday into Saturday, but I remained hopeful that we wouldn’t get *too* much snow. Even without my glasses on or contacts in, I could see that it was snowing when I woke up Saturday morning. A quick glance at the radar confirmed that Jingle Bell would not the PR I originally hoped it could be.
There was a fair amount of snow outside my apartment, but it was MUCH warmer than it had been. The maintenance at a few buildings down from mine had already shoveled/salted its sidewalk, leaving it wet but not slippery, which made me hopeful the same thing would happen at the race.
I got to the Nature Museum, picked up my packet, checked my gear, and meandered around for an hour or so before heading out into the snow for the race. The 10K took off before the 5K, and though I understand why this is good from a logistical standpoint, it really stresses me out when races do this. I’m always afraid I’m going to miss my start, especially when there aren’t any easy-to-hear announcements.
Once the 10Kers cleared the start corral, I lined up in the 8 minute/mile area (ah, wishful thinking!) and chatted with another runner before they finally let us go. The start of the race was, by and large, fine. We were running on snow, yes, but it was mostly packed from the 10K start, and I felt like I was running at a decent clip. A quarter mile into things my hip flexor began to ache, which did not make me happy. My hip has always been able to hang in there for at least 1.5 miles, but then again I was hardly running in normal conditions.
This year, the 5K and 10K had separate courses, which meant we lost the packed snow from the 10Kers pretty quickly. We headed around the north end of Diversey Harbor up towards Lake Shore Drive, and at this point I felt not only that we had to be nearly the one mile mark, but that I must be running awfully fast based on how I felt. A glance at my Garmin showed that we were about .4 miles into the race at this point and I was running at a casual 10:05 pace. This pretty much set the tone for the rest of the run.
The entire course was covered in snow, and, since I was relatively near the front of the pack, we were essentially running through more or less fresh snow. I’ve never run a 5K on sand, but I imagine it would feel a lot like how Jingle Bell felt (albeit less cold and wet). It was, hands down, the most challenging 5K I’ve ever run.
People passed me left and right, and I gave up on any hopes of age group glory well before the midpoint of the race. At that point my primary concern was just finishing the stupid run, anyway. The return from the halfway turnaround wasn’t so bad, since a lot of the snow had been packed down by that point, but I still wasn’t coming remotely close to anything resembling a normal race time. I finally crossed the finish line in 31:54, far and away my worst 5K time ever. I still felt 5K-exhausted at the end, though, which I took to mean I gave it my best effort despite the terrible conditions. I didn’t know it at the time, but I apparently negative splitted the race (10:09, 10:08, 9:54, 9:17 for the last .1), which is always nice.
I headed to the Chicago Running Bloggers Christmas party immediately after the race, and during a lull in conversation while I was there, I snuck out my phone to see if the race results had been posted. They had and I took…fourth in my age group. *headdesk* So that was a kind of (read: INCREDIBLY, INEXPRESSIBLY, HORRIFICALLY ) disappointing. But the girl who took third finished almost a minute faster than I did, so it wasn’t like I was exactly in contention for bronze hardware. For what it’s worth, the female winner of the race finished in 24:59, which I think puts the overall times for Jingle Bell this year in perspective.
I still really like Jingle Bell as a race overall. Obviously there was nothing anyone could do about the snow/path situation, and that’s the risk you take signing up for a race in Chicago on December 14. I LOVE that the entire pre- and post-race area (gear check, sponsor tables, packet pickup, etc.) is inside the Nature Museum, not outside, I love that it’s a relatively slow race, and I enjoy seeing everyone decked out in holiday gear. I don’t know why the 20-24 age group is so shockingly uncompetitive (my 26:19 earned me 3rd in that age group last year. If I had run that time in the 25-29 age group, I would have come in 7th), but I’m quite glad I still have one more year to hopefully reclaim my Jingle Bell medal.
On another note, I woke up sore on Sunday morning. The back of my thighs (what is this called? Are those technically still hamstrings?) and the insides of my thighs were super sore, which both marked the first time I’ve been sore post-race in those parts of my legs (my quads are the usual culprits) AND marked the first time I’ve been sore after anything shorter than a half marathon. Guess I know what muscles I was using to stay vertical!