Jingle Bell Run Chicago 5K Race Recap

The tradition continues!

jinglebellrun2018packet

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!

jinglebellrun2018prerace

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.”

*falls over*

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 🙂

jinglebellrun2018medals

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Thursday Things

1. Every December, most of the women on my mom’s side of the family (my grandma, my mom, her sisters, and sometimes my cousin-in-law) come to Chicago for a shopping trip. This year’s trip was on Tuesday, so I took most of the day off and hung out with them downtown and in Lincoln Park!

We started the day at Macy’s, per our tradition. I didn’t have any shopping to do on this trip, so I tagged along while everyone else debated the pros and cons of various ties and sweaters. Eventually we made our way up to the seventh floor to see the Christmas tree in the Walnut Room.

macystree2018

Sigh. I’ve been to Macy’s a few times recently, but this was the first time I had been up to the seventh floor since early August. At the end of August, Macy’s sold the eighth through 14th floors of the building. Floors nine through 14 weren’t open to the public in the first place, so that’s not much of a loss, but the eighth floor was where they sold furniture–and, more relevantly for this particular post, where you could get the best view of the Christmas tree, in my opinion. But now that’s all closed 😦

It made me unnecessarily sad, as did all the consequential rearranging of the store: furniture is now on six, the home goods from six are now in the basement, and the whole Christmas section that used to be in a corner of six is now on seven (and WAY smaller than in years past). I took an absurd amount of pride in my ability to navigate Macy’s on State Street with ease, but now I’m not as sure where things are, and that contributes to my sadness. I also really liked the eighth floor. It was quiet and generally uncrowded, which made it a lot easier for me to imagine what it must’ve been like when the store opened 100+ years ago–not that I think it was quiet and generally uncrowded back then, but the wood floors and such made that easier to visualize than the carpet or tile and racks of modern clothes on other floors.

2. After Macy’s, we went to lunch. I made reservations at Remington’s on Michigan because it was nearby and a survey of the attendees said that Remington’s was the top pick. I assumed we’d get a table and that would be that. Boy was I wrong!

remingtonwineroom

Our table ended up being IN the wine room! It was incredible! There were doors on both sides, so we could close them and actually hear each other talk. The food was also delicious, so win-win. I think it’s safe to say that Remington’s will be our destination of choice for future December family shopping trips!

3. One of the biggest draws of this trip for my family in the past was the opportunity to go to Crate & Barrel on Michigan Ave. Since that no longer exists (because apparently nothing is sacred in the cold, unfeeling world of real estate and retail), my mom wondered if it’d be reasonable to go to the Crate & Barrel at North and Clybourn instead. But of course! So up to Lincoln Park we went, where I found the Crate & Barrel experience to be approximately 2983472 times more pleasant than it ever was on Michigan Ave. due to the dramatically smaller number of other humans in the store.

I think the real highlight for my family, though, was The Container Store across the parking lot from Crate & Barrel. There are exactly two Container Stores in Michigan, both of which are in the Detroit area. Since my family lives in West Michigan, most of them had never been to a Container Store before, and it was, as far as I could gather, utterly life changing. Not that I can say I blame them–The Container Store is a place where I think I could genuinely buy their entire inventory.

I had to head out early to get to my usual Tuesday evening obligations (therapy + dance), but it was really nice to spend some time with my family!

It’s the Most Busiest Time of the Year

(Yes, I realize “most busiest” is bad grammar. That was the point.)

I want to like the holiday season. I really do. Every year, I think, “THIS will somehow be the year where I do all of the things with none of the burnout! There will be nothing but cheer from now until New Year’s Day!” Yet here I am, a whole 12 days into the “official” (i.e.: post-Thanksgiving) holiday season, and I’m already finding work to be a nice reprieve from the insanity that will be every weekend from now until the beginning of January.

The season started off on the wrong foot, I suppose, with a totally packed Thanksgiving weekend. Instead of a relaxing couple of days off work, I had something going on from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to bed on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. It was a lot–too much, really–and I said that I couldn’t keep doing this to myself. If I was going to insist on doing ALL OF THE THINGS on weekends, I had to keep it to one day.

So, naturally, I did ALL OF THE THINGS every day this past weekend, too.

On Friday, I went to see Ralph Wrecks the Internet after work, which was just delightful. The story itself was great, but I was a particular fan of the seemingly endless Easter eggs throughout the movie. My hands-down favorite part, though, was whenever the Disney princesses were involved. There’s a scene towards the end of the movie that is accompanied by a song that combines big musical themes from each princess’s movie when she’s contributing to the action on screen (so when you see Pocahontas, for example, the soundtrack is Colors of the Wind) that I want to watch a million times in a row to catch all the references.

Ever since I started marathoning, I’ve had this intermittent knee soreness that usually flares up once or twice a year. It started bothering me last Sunday, but I really did a number on it at dance on Tuesday. Since I have a race that I care about coming up this weekend, I thought it’d be in my best interest to take it easy for a few days, so I bailed on my long run on Saturday. Couldn’t have picked a better day to do that! The weather was horrendous, and I was glad to not be outside. After the weather cleared up, I headed downtown to the Christkindlmarket, hoping the earlier rain (and continuing wind) had scared enough people away that it wouldn’t be a totally miserable experience.

christkindlmarketmug2018

I don’t know that I’d say it was totally miserable, but I don’t know that I’d say it was totally pleasant, either 😛 I guess that’s the nature of the Christkindlmarket, though. It’s a cool thing you can only do for five weeks of the year, and obviously weekends are much easier for most people (including me!) to go visit than weekdays. I wanted to go only because I really like the mugs this year, so I at least it wasn’t a bust in that department.

On Saturday night, my company held its annual holiday party. My company throws two big parties per year: one in August just for employees, and one in December for employees and a guest. I’ve attended six of these parties thus far, and in my experience, one usually VASTLY outshines the other. One event (historically, the August event) is focused almost exclusively on eating and drinking, while the other (historically, the December event) is focused on eating, drinking, and cool things you can do while at the party. This year, however, the August event was one that I truly don’t think they’ll ever beat (I mean, we got to see the Cubs clubhouse, hang out in the 1914 Club at Wrigley Field, see the 2016 World Series trophy, and meet Ryan Dempster and Ryne Sandberg (and get their autographs on a baseball). I don’t think anything could possibly top that.). Because of that, the holiday party was a little more low-key than usual, similar to what I expect at the August party. The venue was pretty, though!

holidayparty2018

All of that running around left me pretty tired (and, consequently, pretty cranky) by Sunday. Fortunately, this upcoming weekend will likely be moderately more low key (I don’t think I have anything going on Saturday after my race!) – but don’t even get me started on the weekend of the 14th-16th 😛

 

Thursday Things

1. Oopsies.

chicagomarathonacceptance

So much for that whole, “2018 is my last Chicago Marathon and I will not be told otherwise!!” thing.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t sign up for the Chicago Marathon in 2018 intending for it to be my last. It occurred to me early in training that it likely would be my last and I should treat it as such. By mid-July or early August, I was already wavering on that. I distinctly remember being in the middle of a run commute one day during the summer and thinking, “You know, I really do enjoy training for marathons. I’d really miss this if I didn’t do it next summer.” So then I thought that maybe I’d train for a late summer/early fall half marathon, and if that went well I’d sign up for a later fall marathon–most likely Indianapolis. I also considered entering the NYC lottery and seeing what happened (I…may or may not still be considering that, despite having an entry to Chicago.). As this year’s Chicago Marathon got closer, I became more and more unsure of my insistence that this year would be my last Chicago Marathon, and when I found out that the 2019 race is on October 13–the same day as my first Chicago Marathon in 2013–it was all over.

BUT! 2019 will be my last Chicago Marathon–last marathon, period, most likely–for awhile, pinky promise. And the 2019 Chicago Marathon is going to be a victory lap, not a PR attempt. The only goal I’ll allow myself to have is to run faster on October 13, 2019 than I did on October 13, 2013. Assuming all goes as planned next year, I’ll be moving to the suburbs in the middle of the summer (consequently, the middle of marathon training). That will mean a lot (a lot) about my running will have to change. Run commuting will be off the table (*genuinely sobs*), and I’ll no longer have easy access to the Lakefront Trail (*more genuine sobbing*). Since nearly all of my running life has consisted of out-and-backs on the Lakefront Trail and two-thirds of my past two marathon trainings have consisted of run commutes, that’s going to be a pretty significant change, especially during a time where I need to be logging eight, nine, 10 mile weekday runs on my own (I can run with any CARA group, including the suburban ones, so I’m not concerned about my long runs). I expect at least a little learning curve, and I expect that my race training will suffer anywhere from mildly to moderately while I’m on that curve. I don’t need the added pressure of a PR. Besides, I can genuinely say that after this year’s marathon, I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to with the distance. If I never run a faster or stronger marathon, I’ll be okay with that. I just want to get in as many marathons as I can while I still have the freedom and flexibility (and desire) to train with relative ease, and 2019 will likely be one of my last chances to do that. So, victory lap it is!

2. I have yet to meet a running sock I don’t like, so when Swiftwick reached out to me to see if I’d be interested in trying a pair from their newly rebuit PURSUIT line, I took them up on the offer.

swiftwicksocks

Holy smokes you guys, these socks are SO cozy. Like, I legitimately said, “Wow!” out loud in the gym locker room when I put them on. They’re super comfy and soft, which I didn’t expect at all, and made with merino wool to help keep your toes dry. Highly recommend! (Opinion is my own, of course.)

3. I fear I may need to get over my hatred of the treadmill this winter. I plan to start training in the middle of January for my sub-2:00 half marathon attempt, and, unsurprisingly, that involves a fair amount of 1) running and 2) speedwork. It didn’t occur to me that accomplishing either of those things outside might be more difficult than I anticipated until Monday, when I was reminded just how many people view clearing their sidewalks as optional.

I planned to run when I got home on Monday but scrapped those plans almost immediately after getting off the CTA, when a seemingly infinite number of unshoveled blocks and/or lots greeted me on my walk to my house. Trudging through snow is a nuisance, but due to the nature of the storm we got Sunday night, the sidewalks weren’t covered in snow: they were covered in ice. I’ll run through snow (cautiously), but I certainly wasn’t going to attempt 5×400 on ice.

Obviously I wasn’t thrilled to skip my workout, but the sidewalk situation really upset me more than the fact that I couldn’t do my run (especially since I had plenty of time to make it up later this week). It had been nearly eight hours (eight daytime hours!) since the snow stopped falling by the time I got home. While technically any of the snow that fell after 7 a.m. didn’t have to be cleared until 10 p.m., per city municipal code, the vast majority of my walk home takes me past businesses. There is absolutely NO excuse for them not having their sidewalks cleared! You were there all day! It stopped snowing before noon! Get out a shovel and a bag of salt and do your job, darn it! It’s annoying to me that I couldn’t do my 400s, but it’s not just about me and my silly workout plans: it’s about public safety. What about the elderly or disabled who also need to travel on those sidewalks? Falling for me would be an embarrassment; falling for them could be a crisis. Clear your sidewalks or hire someone to do it for you. I’ve got to imagine that’s a whole lot cheaper than being sued because someone slipped and fell and broke a bone on your property due to your negligence.

Who else is running Chicago next year?
Tips for making the treadmill tolerable?

Art Van Turkey Trot Chicago 8K Race Recap

I decided once again that getting up early on Thanksgiving sounded better than sleeping in and that running an organized race would be more fun than running on my own, so I kicked off my Thursday at the Art Van Turkey Trot Chicago 8K!

artvanturkeytrot8K2018packet

It was COLD Thursday morning (well, not compared to what they had on the East Coast), so I got to the race about 15 minutes before it began to minimize the amount of time I had to stand outside. Even though the race is fairly large (it sold out with 8,000 registrants), there isn’t a whole lot of corralling that goes on here. The race is divided into two waves: those who plan to run a 9:59/mile or faster, and those who don’t (including those who plan to walk the distance), but it’s up to you to self-seed within those waves and their corresponding minute/mile corrals. As you can imagine at a family-focused holiday event, that has mixed results at best.

artvanturkeytrot8K2018startline

I lined up in the back of the 8:00/mile corral, since that’s roughly what I “wanted” to run on Thursday. I say “wanted” because I didn’t really have anything in mind in terms of goals. I knew from last year that the first mile or so would be bonkers with crowding, and I didn’t even bother to look up my time from 2017 to avoid putting undue pressure on myself.

As expected, the first mile of the race was ridiculous. I did my best to remain patient, since I’m sure plenty of people who show up to this race don’t run any other races all year, and those who came to actually race lined up in the 7:00/mile corral anyway. It’s meant to be a fun event, and that’s fine! I think it’s great that people want to start their holiday that way!

HOWEVER. I only had so much patience (and by “so much” I mean “very little”) for the fully grown, almost certainly literate adults who seemed to view the gigantic signs that announced corral paces as suggestions rather than directions. I understand that if you only run a handful of times per year, you might not have a good concept of what 8:00/mile means. Surely–surely–though, if you are a fully grown, almost certainly literate adult, you MUST know that 8:00/mile does not mean casual walking, right?! I have no problem with people who signed up for the race with the intention of run/walking (as long as they had the intention of doing so at an overall 8:00-8:59 pace if they lined up in the 8:00/mile corral). I also have no problem with adults who ended up walking because they ran with their children, who shot out of the start line only to find themselves exhausted 400 meters later. I also have no problem with anyone, adult or child, who signed up for the race with the intention of walking the entire distance. All of those situations are 100 percent okay. What’s not okay is when adults who clearly never planned to run a step of the race–like, wearing a full blown parka clearly never planned to run a step of the race–line up in the 8:00/mile corral and then stroll the course! Come on, people! We got emails nearly every day leading up to the race that specifically said that Wave 2 was meant for walkers! If you’re going to walk the whole thing, follow the instructions and line up where you’re supposed to!

Anyway.

The big advantage of running the 8K at this event is that you get to (briefly) ditch the 5K participants around mile two, and that the 8K has a substantially smaller field than the 5K. The course opened up as soon as the 5Kers turned off, and I literally breathed a sigh of relief at all the newfound space I had. I was even more relieved when I finally hit the first aid station, which for the 8K wasn’t until just before mile three (!?!). That was a lot longer than I wanted to go without water, especially since I overdressed (of course).

The big disadvantage of running the 8K is that you have to join up with the 5K participants again with about a mile or so to go in the race. The course was the same as last year, so at least I knew it was coming, but that didn’t make it any more pleasant. I ended up tailing a guy from the 8K who passed me right after we reunited with the 5K, letting him make all the strategic decisions of how to best bob and weave through the crowds while following in the wake he left. Fortunately, this is only really bad for a half mile or so, until you go through the Barry Underpass and get into more open territory.

By that point, though, the damage had been done in the pace department (the damage had really been done after my lackluster 9:20 first mile), and I crossed the finish line in 45:30 for a resounding personal worst in the 8K. I’m not too upset about it since I didn’t have any expectations going into the race in the first place (I’m more upset that my watch said 45:26 while my official results said 45:30. I’m used to a second or two of discrepancy between my watch time and official time, but not four seconds!). I got my 10,000 steps for the day in before feasting, which was my only real goal 😛

The post-race party was just as awesome as last year, though moderately less enjoyable (for me) because it was so cold. That’s not Lifetime’s fault, though. I did get in my turkey bowling, and a photographer I know Lifetime uses for some of its advertising collateral took a picture of me bowling, so perhaps I will, at long last, realize my dream of ending up in a race ad (my real dream is ending up in a Chicago Marathon ad, but I don’t wear enough Nike to make that happen). Based on the fact that the website currently only uses photos of the actual race, it might be a stretch, but one can hope. Regardless, I got my mini pumpkin pies, which is as good of a reason as any to run this race as far as I’m concerned.

elisminipumpkinpies

All in all, a good way to start Thanksgiving. I don’t know if I’ll be in town to do this race next year, but I think it’s a great city option if you’re looking for a local turkey trot.

artvanturkeytrot8K2018medal

 

Las Vegas

This year’s trip to Vegas was a bit abbreviated compared to those of the past two years. I’m penny pinching my PTO to roll over the maximum I’m allowed into 2019 for a trip I have planned in the spring, which meant I couldn’t take more than a day off for Vegas. We packed more than enough into the little time we had there, though!

bellagioseasonalroomfall2018

I arrived in Vegas around 10 p.m. Friday night and originally planned on going straight to bed as soon as I arrived at Harrah’s, but ended up hanging out with the other people along on the trip in the casino for a couple of hours. I didn’t bring much money to gamble (only the $10 I had left in my wallet that never got spent at the farmer’s market this summer), so I watched while they played video craps for awhile, then realized it was nearly 3 a.m. in Chicago and WELL beyond my bed time. I went upstairs and called it a night.

It turned out that a mutual friend of the other people in my group was also in town that weekend for a conference, so we all met up with him and his girlfriend for lunch after the expo Saturday. That was a lot of fun! We wandered through a few hotels, including the Flamingo.

flamingos

Visiting the birds at the Flamingo was easily one of the best parts of the trip, in my opinion (I know, I know. Very out of character for me 😛 ). I liked seeing the birds, obviously, but I particularly liked learning about them during the 2 p.m. pelican feeding!

flamingopelicans

These are Bugsy and Virginia, two pelicans injured by fishing nets off the coast of California. Their wings were damaged to the point where they can no longer live in the wild, so now they live at the Flamingo. I learned a lot about pelicans and other waterfowl, and I was especially excited to see the Mandarin Ducks.

mandarinduck

Aren’t they beautiful?! There’s been one floating around Central Park in New York recently, and even though seeing one that lives at the Flamingo isn’t exactly the same as seeing one in the wild in New York, I’ll take what I can get.

It is a hallowed Vegas tradition among this group to have dinner Saturday at Hugo’s in Four Queens. I have no problem with that, since it’s fun to get all dressed up and have a fancy meal where I’m treated like a princess. (Though I will admit that I don’t like getting my nice clothes all smokey. If Vegas ever outlaws smoking inside casinos–something I can’t imagine is coming any time soon, but one can dream–I think I’ll find the entire experience of being in Vegas a billion times more pleasant.) However, Hugo’s was a bit more of a challenge this year, because the restaurant doesn’t open until 5 p.m., and we had a 7 p.m. show to attend at MGM: way, way far away (like 15-20 minute drive away) from Four Queens. The person in our group who made the reservation told them during the reservation process that we had a 7 p.m. show and would be on a tight schedule, and the staff was more than accommodating. I was so impressed! They got us in and out in 75 minutes: bread, drinks, salads, intermezzo, entrees, bill, done. We were offered fruit and fresh cream for dessert, too, but declined in the interest of time. I’ve always been impressed by the service at Hugo’s, but my experience there this year was truly next level.

After dinner, we hopped in a Lyft and headed back to the Strip for our show: Jabbawockeez at MGM!

jabbawockeez

*squeals*

I’ve wanted to see the Jabbawockeez since the first time I walked through MGM and realized they had a permanent show there. Having taken hip hop for six (!) full years now, the opportunity to see a professional crew was obviously very appealing to me. They did not disappoint.

jabbawockeezjreamz

The show, JREAMZ, was awesome, both from a dance standpoint and from an overall show standpoint. It was a cohesive show that told a story rather than 90ish minute of strung together dance pieces, and I LOVED IT. They danced on the stage and in the audience, and even pulled a few audience members to participate during the show (tragically, I was not one of them).

I think anyone can appreciate the difficulty of spinning on your head for a literal minute (or longer?), like one of the Jabbawockeez did, but I feel like my background in breakdance gave me an even bigger appreciation for the tricks they did during the show. One of the marks of a talented dancer, in my opinion, is that you walk away thinking, “Well, that didn’t look so hard. I could probably do that,” because they perform the moves with such ease that you can’t begin to wrap your mind around how challenging they actually are. That is 100 percent how I would’ve felt leaving Jabbawockeez if I hadn’t taken break for two and a half ish years. I am very well aware of how hard some of those moves are, and to see them do them as if they were nothing: wow. So much respect. To say I left inspired would be an enormous understatement!

Unfortunately, after Jabbawockeez I hit my stimulation wall for the day with a ferocity put all of my marathon walls to shame. I was DONE. Done with other humans, done with noise, done with lights, DONE. Like, swearing-at-strangers-in-their-face-at-the-Bellagio done (come on, Bethany. If you’re going to swear at strangers, at least don’t do it at the Bellagio. Have a sense of propriety!). While the rest of the group went out for the night, I went back to my room and introverted. I don’t normally actively need to be alone, but I’ve found that Vegas does that to me big time. The whole city is just too much, and I definitely can’t handle a full day of all the much-ness.

bellagiofountains2018

Sunday was a bit more low key, thanks to the race. We got breakfast and went to M&Ms World (my only demand on any Vegas trip. You can keep your gambling and alcohol, but I will not be denied my bulk M&Ms!! Haha 😛 ) and then chilled until the race. We got pizza and gelato after the race, and then it was time to pack up for the trip home.

On Sunday, I was informed us that the plane that would take us back to Chicago had changed, and I’d need to update my boarding passes. I updated mine but was still assigned to the same seat, so I didn’t think anything of it until arriving at my gate Monday morning and looking at the seat map on the screen. Turns out, I was going to be flying on a big plane – one with a middle aisle! I haven’t been on one of those since a long-ago trip to Seattle (like, probably a 1999 or 1997 long ago trip to Seattle), so that was quite the surprise! I don’t understand why we had been put on that plane–our plane came to Las Vegas from Chicago (I checked) and then went right back to Chicago. I’m not sure why that round trip warranted a 767, but it was still really cool! (After arriving in Chicago, the plane continued on to Paris, which made more sense for an aircraft that size.) My usual middle seat turned into an aisle seat, which was a nice treat, and there were super fancy seatback screens! My flight to San Diego in June had seatback screens (of the non-super fancy variety), and that was the first time I had seen one of those since I went to Scotland in 2011. I certainly didn’t expect them twice in one year, especially all on domestic flights. The part that I thought was especially cool about the whole situation, though, was that there were a TON of Europeans on our flight from Vegas to Chicago, and the Europeans sitting around me (in front of me, in the middle aisle next to me, behind me) were all DUTCH!! *dies* My Dutch isn’t good enough for me to have the guts to talk to them (or to be able to understand a single thing they said, womp), but I was enamored nevertheless. I may or may not have set the language on my seatback screen to Dutch in an effort to fit in, HA. I kept my screen on the flight map the whole time, so I now know the word for “tailwind” in Dutch (I learned lots of other words, too, but have already forgotten all of them).

All in all, it was a nice little vacation before things get holiday crazy over the next few weeks 🙂

Have you ever been to Vegas?

Toyota Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon Race Recap

Boy is this race tough.

I arrived in Las Vegas late Friday night (well, late Chicago time), long after the expo had closed. I went to the expo Saturday morning as a result, which proved to be good decision. It was the least crowded I’ve ever seen that expo (I went in 2016 and 2017, even though I didn’t run the race in 2016 due to my booted foot) and it made the whole experience 100 times more enjoyable than usual. 10/10.

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Having learned a lifetime’s worth of lessons the hard way during last year’s race, I made a point of trying to be more intentional about my nutrition and hydration leading up to Sunday night’s run. I carried a water bottle with me everywhere in Vegas and kept it light at breakfast (around 11 a.m.) with two small pancakes and two scrambled eggs. At 3 p.m., two hours before I thought I would start running, I had a bag of off-brand Pirate’s Booty (“Sailor’s Loot,” lolololol) and a bag of animal crackers I got at the expo that added up to somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 calories. That all worked out WAY better for me in the stomach department than last year’s pancake binge at breakfast and couple of handfuls of Munchies as I headed out the door to the race, so I’ll file that away for any future late afternoon/early evening half marathons 😛

It was much colder in Vegas than I expected based on the past two years (I don’t think it ever got out of the low 60s while I was there, and at night it was down in the 40s. There was actually a freeze warning on Monday!). I figured I’d be fine for the race in shorts and short sleeves, but when Rock ‘n’ Roll sent out an email a few hours before the race warning about high winds, I started to panic. I didn’t have any throwaways, anything that I could adjust while running (a jacket, arm sleeves), and I was in the second wave, while the other person from this year’s group who was running the race (four of us went to Vegas, but only two of us ran) was in the first wave, meaning we’d arrive well before I started running. I worried I’d be overly cold. I ended up begging a long sleeve shirt off my running buddy, but once again, lesson learned. I can’t forget to pack my arm sleeves in the future!

I’ve run enough Rock ‘n’ Roll races over the years (eight, counting Sunday) to feel comfortable saying that Rock ‘n’ Roll is, hands down, the worst race organizer when it comes to corral enforcement. Even after Ironman bought Rock ‘n’ Roll, your corral assignment seems to be a weak suggestion at best. While other Rock ‘n’ Rolls I’ve run have been laughable when it comes to corral enforcement, Vegas truly set the bar for unbelievably terrible corral management.

Vegas has a pre-race party, and my assumption, especially since I was never told otherwise, is that the pre-race party is optional. In my entire running career, no one has ever made attendance at any events surrounding the race (other than packet pickup, of course, but that was taken care of at the expo) mandatory, and when attendance at any event surrounding a race is mandatory, you’re informed well in advance, usually multiple times.

I had no interest in going to the pre-race party. I didn’t need to check any gear. There are abundant bathrooms in every hotel up and down the Strip with running water and flushing toilets, making a pre-race portapotty stop unnecessary. The last thing I want to do immediately before running a half marathon is attend a concert. Why on earth would I prioritize going to Rock ‘n’ Roll’s pre-race party when there is literally no reason for me to be there?

My running buddy didn’t have interest in the pre-race party either, so we left our hotel (Harrah’s) around 3:30 and started walking south to get to the start line, which was slightly north of MGM on the east side (the MGM side) of the Strip. When we got to Harmon, we saw a stream of runners heading towards the start line, so we, along with everyone else walking south on the Strip with us, joined the stream.

WHAT. A. MESS.

As we walked, it became quite clear that most of the people in the stream were in the blue (first) wave of the race. My running buddy had been assigned to the blue wave, so that was fine, but I was technically in the green wave. As always, Rock ‘n’ Roll was bold, italicized, red font serious about not allowing people into corrals that did not correspond with the color on their bib, but was there anyone checking our bibs where we got in the stream to make sure we all belonged there? No. So I was able to sneak into the blue wave 1) without meaning to and 2) without realizing I was getting into the wrong wave.

Eventually, it occurred to us that all of the bib checking/”security” to get into the corrals must have been located somewhere in the pre-race party, but if that was the case, that was never communicated. This is what my pre-race information sheet said:

rnrlasvegasgreenraceday

Now, I will concede that it says to arrive at the Start Line Village by 3:30. Fine. But NOWHERE in this document does it say that you have to go to the Start Line Village prior to the race. It’s commonplace for races to suggest that you arrive by a certain time, but to my understanding, unless that time is when your corrals close, you don’t actually have to arrive then. I’ve read that whole document through several times, and I cannot find anywhere where it says that you must go to the Start Line Village (aka the pre-race party) in order to get into the corrals. It’s pretty obvious that Rock ‘n’ Roll has no problem highlighting text they don’t want you to miss, so if going to the Start Line Village was a requirement, why wouldn’t they put that in this document?

On top of that, the document does specifically say that “Entrance to the GREEN START CORRALS will be on Las Vegas Blvd north at Harmon Ave.” Now, call me crazy, but when I read a sentence like that, I assume that I enter the corrals on Las Vegas Blvd. (the Strip), not from the pre-race party.

“But Bethany,” you argue, “you were getting into the blue corrals. Maybe they had different instructions!”

They did, but those instructions still didn’t say anything about mandatory attendance at the pre-race party to enter the corrals:

rnrlasvegasblueraceday

Once again, the instructions here are to enter the corrals “on Las Vegas Blvd.” That’s not the Start Line Festival. That’s not Harmon, where we found the stream of people. That’s the Strip.

So, fine. Let’s give Rock ‘n’ Roll the enormous benefit of the doubt and say that their pre-race documentation was accurate and clear, and I’m just an idiot who makes too many assumptions and can’t read for comprehension. Putting all of that aside, the corral situation was STILL a disaster, even if you followed the directions about entering them, because they filled in from the back, with no delineation between any of them. There were no gates, no ropes, no volunteers, nothing. The entire thing was completely self-policed, and you know how THAT always ends up going. My running buddy was supposed to be in Corral 10, but by the time we reached what appeared to be Corral 12, it was so crowded that we couldn’t have moved up any farther even if we wanted to.

I’m not aiming to break any world records at any of these Rock ‘n’ Roll races, least of all at Vegas. But it bothers me to no end how Rock ‘n’ Roll talks such HUGE game about being strict about their corrals and then not only doesn’t enforce them, but at this race in particular, doesn’t even make an effort to show where one corral ends and the other begins. Inflatable corral markers only show you the general area associated with your corral, not its actual boundaries. It’s abundantly clear to me that Rock ‘n’ Roll does not care one little bit where anyone actually lines up at any of their races, and I just hate how they talk about corrals like it’s The Biggest Deal, and then do nothing to follow through on that claim.

Now that I’ve gotten those 900 words out of the way…

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I knew this race would be a challenge from the get-go, so I had extremely low expectations for myself. I kind of wanted to do better than I did in 2017, but I also kind of didn’t care. I was quite surprised to hit the first mile in 10:46, since I assumed I’d be running mostly in the 11:xx range. I came through the second mile in an 11:29, however, which was much closer to what I expected.

I thought about really getting into the spirit of just enjoying myself and taking pictures along the course whenever I felt so inclined, but I ultimately decided I didn’t feel like stopping at any of the big photo ops (the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, anywhere along the Strip, etc.) and just kept chugging along. Even though I started well before I was supposed to, based on my corral assignment, I passed a decent number of people and never felt like I was in anyone’s way (though having the entire Strip just for us did help in that department).

You run past the finish line (on the other side of the road) around mile five-ish of the half and full marathons at this race, and I was THRILLED to see the 10K finishers wrapped in heat sheets in the finish area. Knowing I’d get one of those after the race and not have to shiver the whole way back to Harrah’s was a huge relief. I also noticed that the finish line had a smoke machine, the “smoke” from which was blowing all over the road. I had a bad reaction to that at a race once (like, hard-time-breathing bad reaction) and was worried that would happen again, but I made it through all right.

We made it up to Fremont Street and then turned south onto Las Vegas Blvd. again a bit past mile nine, which, in my opinion, is when the race really gets tough. I said this last year, too, but the most deceptive thing about Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas is that the entire course is on a barely-perceptible incline. You can’t see it, but you can certainly feel it, especially when you start going up again on the southbound trip to the finish line.

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When I hit mile 10, it occurred to me that I could play my 5K game from the marathon again. I had checked my watch at the 5K mark, which I came through in 35:xx. When I hit the 10 mile mark, I added 35 minutes to my time and got to 2:28:xx. I decided I’d try to run the last 5K faster than the first 5K: a bigger challenge than I think I realized when I set it, due to the incline situation.

My mile times weren’t dropping quite like I wanted them to, especially for how hard I felt like I was working. When I got to mile 13, I realized it was going to be awful close to cross the finish line before 2:28:xx, so I did what I could do find another gear and managed to get in at 2:27:52. That counts! (And is around seven minutes faster than I did this race last year, so yay.)

The smoke machine situation was not ideal at the finish line. Due to the wind (which wasn’t even half as bad as Rock ‘n’ Roll’s email made it sound–my Garmin logged an 8 mph wind, compared to the 18 mph wind it logged during Hot Chocolate the week before), the smoke blew into the finish chute rather than up harmlessly into the air. I felt it irritating my throat (not too badly, thankfully), and a bunch of people around me were coughing. You’d think, if they sent out an email threatening to not even put up start/finish line signage (which they did use) or course clocks (which they did not use) due to the wind that it would occur to them that perhaps smoke machines would be a bad idea, but apparently that didn’t cross anyone’s mind.

I hobbled through the finish area on achy legs, gathered my food, hydration, and heat sheet, met up with my running buddy, and returned to Harrah’s to thaw out.

rnrlasvegasmedal2018

(For all my criticisms of Rock ‘n’ Roll, I do have to hand it to them in the medal department. I love this one. The “cards” fold in, which I think is cool. You can’t really see the black detail at the bottom in this picture, but it’s a bunch of buildings from the Strip.)