The tradition continues!
I’ve run the Jingle Bell 5K more times than any other race, having participated every year since 2012. While I enjoy the fun and festive atmosphere of Jingle Bell, the main reason I come back year after year is due to my odd history with age group placing at this event. Every time I’ve run this race in an even year (2012, 2014, 2016), I’ve come in second or third in my age group. Every time I’ve run this race in an odd year (2013, 2015, 2017), I’ve come in fourth (or, last year, sixth 😦 ) in my age group. As this is an even year, I obviously had no choice but to register for the race to see if my even year streak would continue.
This year, the race was at the Chicago History Museum for the first time. Another big thing I love about Jingle Bell is that it’s always held at a venue with indoor space, and when it’s been held at museums (it was at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum from 2012-2015. I guess it might’ve been there longer than that, but I didn’t run it any time before 2012.), you usually have the opportunity to wander around the museum after the run. The Nature Museum is great, but I’m more interested in history than nature, so I was very excited that the race was at the History Museum this year!
One super weird thing about this year’s race was that, according to the email we got days before the event, there would be no gear check unless you paid extra for it with the race’s “Express Pass”. Since the race had day-of packet pickup, I thought that was insane. I don’t remember any race I’ve ever run in the city that didn’t have gear check, especially a race with day-of packet pickup, where you’re bound to get extra stuff you won’t want to carry with you on the course. They did end up having gear check for regular, non-Express Pass participants (like me), which was a huge relief, but the whole thing was definitely confusing!
The night before the race, I did some digging into past results to see what I thought I’d need to run to score an age group award this year. I figured I’d need to definitely do a sub-25:00, which was fine, because I definitely wanted to do a sub-25:00 regardless of where it would put me in the age group standings. 24:30 seemed like a reasonable time to target, so that was my goal for Saturday.
One of my friends from CARA training this past summer ran the race as well, so I hung out with her inside the museum for a bit before we parted ways at the start line. She was aiming for closer to 9:00-10:00 miles rather than the 7:53s I was going to have to turn in for a 24:30 race, and I have to admit I thought her race plan sounded a lot more enjoyable than mine.
I spent my time waiting for the race to start scouting out the other women around me near the front of the start corrals. Running for age group placement more than anything else meant that I really didn’t care about any of the men, nor did I care about any women under 25 or over 29. As this race has taught me several times, though, I am apparently totally useless at estimating a person’s age (especially when that person is bundled up), so as far as I could tell, every woman was almost certainly between the ages of 25 and 29. Of course, even that doesn’t necessarily matter, because the top three overall women are ineligible for age group awards. Even if every other woman in the corral was in the 25-29 age group, as long as three of them swept the podium, I could still manage to come in sixth out of all the 25-29 year old women and get an age group medal.
Of course, all of this strategizing went completely out the window as soon as the air horn went off to start the race, and everyone around me shot past the start line like a bat out of hell. Figuring that three miles isn’t too long, I did my best to keep up and turned in a 7:35 first mile.
Now, I don’t think I’ve ever run a 7:35 mile when I planned to run more miles immediately afterwards. I knew if I could keep that up, I’d definitely PR, which was a secret goal of mine for this race. I haven’t even come within spitting distance of my 5K PR in four and a half years, but I did so much more training this summer than ever before (and continued that training past marathon season) that I thought I might stand a chance at updating that PR this year. After all, I only had to hang on to that pace for another 15 or so minutes!
As it turned out, I couldn’t even hold onto that pace for another two minutes, haha. I slowed down pretty quickly after that first mile and logged an 8:07 mile two. I was too tired to do any significant math on the fly, but I thought that maybe a 7:35 and 8:07 would average out to be close enough to PR pace to get the job done. (For the record, 7:35 and 8:07 average a 7:51 pace; in order to PR, I need a sub-7:48 pace.)
I was d.y.i.n.g. for the last 1.1 miles. I was huffing and puffing and trying to will my legs to go faster, but it wasn’t happening. There was a girl in a Northwestern hat that I had passed somewhere relatively soon after the two mile mark who came up on my heels around 2.5, so I threw down a (reckless) surge, assuming, once again incorrectly, that I could sustain that kind of speed for the remainder of the run. WRONG. She (and another woman) caught me around 2.8 or so, and try as I might, I couldn’t get back in front of them. Sigh.
I checked my watch at mile three (8:13. Yikes. How to Not Run a 5K 101: Run your first mile 38 seconds faster than your last mile >.<) and thought I had plenty of time to finish in under 25:00, but I was wrong. I crossed the finish line in an infuriating 25:01 and knew there was no way that’d be good enough for an age group award. The even year streak would end at three.
I gasped for air for a bit at the finish line, then waited for my CARA friend to finish before heading back into the museum. Jingle Bell always has timers inside who can print off your results for you, but this year they had computers, too. I went to one just to see how far I was from an age group award, and saw it say, “F25-29: 3rd out of 19.”
I could NOT believe it. I was so sure I didn’t stand a chance, especially since I blew up so badly as the race went on. Last year I ran a 24:54 and came in sixth–SIXTH!–in my age group. Seven seconds slower this year was enough to move me up three places?! Are you kidding me?!
I stuck around for the awards ceremony so I could get my medal right away, and I ended up actually getting second in my age group, not third, because the second place woman was a 27 year old. Fine by me!
I had a great time at Jingle Bell this year, though I have to admit that I am fairly shocked my even year tradition continued. I really thought it would come to an end this year–I thought that before I started running–so to walk away with an age group medal was a really nice treat 🙂