After two months of rehabbing my peroneal tenonitis/stress reaction, I made my glorious return to racing on Saturday with the annual Jingle Bell 5K.
I’ve run the Jingle Bell 5K more times than any other race in my running career, and my weather-related experience at the event have basically run the entire spectrum of December possibilities. We’ve had cold rain, we’ve had 3+ inches of snow, we’ve had temperatures in the 50s. I’m very aware that signing up for a race in late December in Chicago that I probably can’t count in great weather. Even so, I’ve never particularly worried that the race would actually get cancelled until this year.
The race organizers sent us a pre-race day email on Wednesday, warning us that in the event of ice or subzero temperatures, they would cancel the race and would not reschedule it. I spent the second half of last week anxiously watching the forecast, tracking the various predicting models, all of which said we’d get wildly different amounts of snow from Friday afternoon into Saturday. The outlook continued to look worse and worse, and I went to bed Friday night unconvinced that I’d actually have a race Saturday morning.
I checked my email as soon as my alarm went off, and, to my great delight, discovered that the race way on! Shoutout to the Chicago Park District for making sure the Lakefront Trail always remains pristine regardless of the weather and to the weather in general for not being even half as bad as predicted.
This year, the race moved from its previous home at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to Soldier Field. When I first found out about that, I worried that we’d lose our indoor gear check, pre/post-race hangout space, etc., but I was wrong! The race had the entire United Center available for us with all of the race day amenities, including sponsor tables, packet pickup, gear check, all pre-race announcements, and the awards ceremony, all with the added luxury of flushing toilets. I was so impressed and so happy, because although the weather wasn’t as terrible on Saturday as predicted, it was still only around 20 degrees – not ideal for standing around in running gear for long periods of time!
Five minutes before the race began, they shuttled us all outside to the start line outside Soldier Field for an out-and-back jaunt along the lakefront. I sign up for this event because, historically, it has not been a particularly competitive race, which means that I, a card-carrying member of the middle of the pack, actually stand a chance at doing well at this race. I lined up near the very front and at 9:00 on the dot, we were off.
Since I started running without stopping for the first time since the Chicago Marathon all of seven days before Jingle Bell, I had no idea what to expect out of myself on race day. I had done absolutely no training for the event specifically, since my only real focus since Oct. 9 has been being able to run again, period. My hopes, in order, were 1) to place in my age group 2) to run a 24:xx and 3) to be one of the top 10 women at the race. I paid little attention to my watch and more attention to not dying, which, like always in a 5K, is more difficult than it should be.
Because the race was an out-and-back, I could easily see the women ahead of me after the turnaround, and tried to count the ones I thought might be between the ages of 25 and 29. I was almost positive I had no hope of an age group placement, but by my counting it seemed like maybe I could squeak into 10th place. There was a woman a few steps ahead of me for the majority of the run, and I seriously worried she was 10th, making me 11th, but try as I might I just could not catch her.
I finished in 25:41, which is far from an impressive 5K time for me, but I tried to console myself by remembering that I had barely started running again, so expecting to run a 24:xx, even in mostly favorable weather conditions (minimal wind, cold, overcast, dry path), was probably a bit of a pipe dream. I also figured my age group aspirations were also a pipe dream with a 25:41, but I had finished the race, and that’s ultimately what matters, right? I filled my arms with all sorts of food available at the finish line (Gatorade, water, banana, mini Clif Bar, a chips/hummus package, and a mini coffee cake from Corner Bakery) and headed back to the United Club to thaw and get my race result receipt.
To my enormous surprise, the receipt said I finished third in my age group! I did a bit of a victory dance and then set up camp at a table nearby to wait for the awards ceremony. They announced age group winners in reverse order (third, second, first), so imagine my surprise when they reached the 25-29 age group and not only said a different name than mine for third place, but said a time slower than mine. Instead of finishing third, I came in second! (A 28-year-old woman took second overall, thus bumping her out of the AG awards and moving the rest of us up a spot.
I realized in all of this that I’ve now placed in my age group every time I’ve run this race in an even year (2012: third place; 2014: second place; 2016: second place), and gotten fourth in my age group every time I’ve run in an odd year (2013 and 2015). Clearly I have a thing for even years! 😛
I truly can’t say enough good things about this race. Every single year it impresses me with its organization, giveaways, and huge array of sponsors. Beyond that, the race also brings in so much money for the Arthritis Foundation (over $200,000 from this year’s event alone), which I think is awesome. This is one race I look forward to more than most every year, and I’m so glad the weather cooperated to give us the chance to run last weekend 🙂