I finally (finally) ended Running Season 2017 at my favorite race of the year, the Jingle Bell Run 5K.
(I am SO DISAPPOINTED that the event shirt is short sleeved this year 😦 I loved my long sleeve cotton Jingle Bell shirts and use them as pajama shirts all winter long. Now I can’t add a new one to my rotation 😦 I appreciate your respect during this incredible first world problem I have to deal with 😛 )
The race took place at Solider Field again this year, and I showed up around 8 a.m. to pick up my packet and relax inside the United Center until the race began at 9. This year, everyone (who wanted one, at least) received a sponsor passport upon entering the United Center, which, if you got it signed at all the sponsor tables, would then allow you to enter a drawing for prizes. I spent part of that hour, then, collecting signatures at the various tables and getting SO MUCH STUFF in the process:
ALL OF THE THINGS.
I putzed around the United Center for awhile and finally decided to do something resembling a real warmup. Even though the Jingle Bell Run is a pretty low key affair, mostly populated by people who want to either raise money for arthritis research or need an excuse to wear their flashiest Christmas gear while getting in a little exercise, for me, this has always been A Very Serious Race. The low turnout and cold temperatures usually mean I stand a decent chance at placing in my age group, though historically, I’ve only placed during even years. I hoped to buck that trend this year and was also itching for a PR. This is the first year I haven’t nabbed a PR at any distance, and while I wouldn’t say I was upset over it, I was certainly irked by it.
We were all herded outside around 8:50, and it felt like the race started so quickly. I’m used to having to kill way too much time in the corrals before a race start, but since Jingle Bell tries to keep you inside as long as possible, there wasn’t too much waiting outside. My kind of event!
I knew I needed to run a sub-7:48 pace to PR, so I lined up near the front and silently nominated a wonderfully tall man in front of me to be my pacer for the race. I didn’t want to obsess too much over my time, so I had my watch hidden for the most part, but after I had decided that he would be my unknowing pacer, I stole a glance and saw that we were running at a 7:50 pace. Perfect. Even better, he didn’t look like he was trying too hard, which in turn made me feel like I wasn’t trying too hard, even though on any given training run, I couldn’t sustain a 7:50 pace for any length of time if my life depended on it (I did a hard run two weeks ago, and the fastest I could manage was an 8:41). I hit the first mile in 7:47 and felt great!
As we approached the turnaround, I started seeing the leaders heading back north (the race goes south on the Lakefront Trail to the 30s and then returns back north to Soldier Field) and began counting women, since my top priority at this race is to walk away with an age group medal. After the first three women passed (they don’t count for age group awards, since they would win overall awards), I started counting the women I thought looked to be between the ages of 25 and 29 and felt like all of them looked like they were between the ages of 25 and 29 😦 I was pretty confident that I didn’t stand a chance at catching any of them, so my focus then shifted to my time.
I stayed tucked behind my unofficial pacer for awhile after the turnaround, but when I looked at my watch and saw he was now doing an 8:20 (along with the woman he had caught up to and seemed to have some affiliation with), I decided it was time to drop him and made my move.
HOLY COW. I did not realize how much I had been drafting off Mr. Pacer Man after the turnaround. The wind out of the north was BRUTAL (17 miles per hour, if my Garmin is to be believed). I tried to find another tall gentleman (or lady – I wasn’t picky) to block the wind for me, but the crowd was too thin and most of the runners in my area seemed to be the wispy high school cross country types who didn’t have nearly enough mass to take the brunt of the wind for me.
I somehow managed to clock an 8:04 second mile, which certainly didn’t bode well for my PR dreams, but was a lot better than I anticipated, given the wind. Knowing that I only had 1.1 more miles to run in all of 2017, I did my best to give it my all through the end, particularly when I got close enough to the finish line to realize that even though a PR was out of the question, a sub-25:00 finish was not. I pushed through and crossed the finish line in 24:54, which, coincidentally, is the exact same finish time I had in 2015 (though that was when the race was still at the Nature Museum in Lincoln Park).
While a 24:54 was nowhere near a PR for me, I was still quite pleased with my finish time. I’ve been disappointed and frustrated by my finish times more often than not this year, and I haven’t run a sub-25:00 5K since April 2016, so to nab a 24:54 at Jingle Bell made me really happy. I haven’t done an abundance of speedwork lately, but I did keep my mileage MUCH higher than normal heading into Jingle Bell and it was nice to see that pay off.
After filling my arms with food (the spread at Jingle Bell never fails to impress, though the Corner Bakery mini coffee cakes are always my favorite offering 🙂 ), I headed back into the United Club to get my results. The timer printed off my receipt, and next to DIVPLACE was a SIX. SIXTH!!!! I was STUNNED. I’ve never finished so low in my age group at Jingle Bell! I’ve never even come CLOSE to finishing so low in my AG at Jingle Bell!
Last year, my receipt said I came in third in my age group, but I ended up getting second because the girl who won the 25-29 AG came in second overall, thus disqualifying her from AG awards. While it seemed highly unlikely that all of the top three women were in the 25-29 age group, it also didn’t seem impossible, so I stuck around for awhile before eventually going back over to the timer to see if he had the overall results with ages. The female winner was in my age group, but the other two were both in the 30-34 age group, so while I moved up to fifth, that certainly wasn’t enough to get me any extra hardware. I headed home, a teeny bit disappointed, but still really happy with my overall time.
I was thinking about this whole age group situation later that day, and the more I thought about it, the crazier it became to me. I ran this exact same race in the exact same age group on the exact same course with almost the exact same number of total participants last year (there were three more finishers this year than last year [and like 400 fewer than a few years ago…eeesh. That’s a pretty gigantic percentage when you consider that this year’s race only had 284 finishers ]), and somehow, despite running this year’s race 47 seconds faster than last year’s race, I finished THREE places lower in my age group than last year (and even that is a a fair comparison, because the girl who got bumped out of the AG awards last year due to her second place finish also got bumped out of the AG awards this year because she won the whole thing). I guess you never know who’s going to show up on race day!
I have many reasons for loving this race, not the least of which is that it is generally the only race all year where I stand any sort of chance claiming age group glory. But putting my need for outside validation that I am a Good Runner aside, this is just a really great race from top to bottom. It’s festive, it’s so well organized, and even though it’s part of a national series of fundraising races for the Arthritis Foundation, it feels 100 percent like a humble local event. I don’t know why it took me until Saturday, my sixth running of Jingle Bell and my goodness-only-knows-th race since I started running six and a half years ago, to realize that that Jingle Bell’s total lack of pretension is what makes it my favorite race, especially since my aversion to pretension is well-documented on this lowly blog. But regardless, I realized that on Saturday. I think this is such a wonderful event, and it’s definitely one I look forward to all year 🙂