BTN Big 10K Recap

The streak lives on!

For the third year in a row, I participated in the BTN Big 10K. While this race has been particularly good to me in the past in the form of a huge PR both in 2012 and 2013, I had relatively low expectations for this year’s race. To be honest, just the fact that I had clearance from my PT to run was more than enough for me, and I didn’t want to do anything I’d end up regretting long term for the sake of maintaining a perfect PR record.

I picked up my packet during non-peak hours, which made things go much smoother than last year. I was in and out in under five minutes, and I thought, overall, this year’s packet surpassed last year’s, at least in the swag department (i.e.: I was starving, and there was food in the packet. None of that food made it into the picture, because none of that food survived my CTA trip home. Haha).

BTN Big 10K, race swag

The shirt, however…oh man. I don’t know what’s up with Chicago race shirts this year, but between this monstrosity and the disaster that was the Shamrock Shuffle shirt, I have been less than impressed (#firstworldproblems). But really, did they NEED to put the whole logo on the front of the shirt in addition to the BTN thing? Couldn’t that have gone on the back instead of this?

BTN Big 10K, race shirt

Whatever. It’s not like I’m exactly hurting for tech shirts, and I’ll wear just about anything. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it ūüėõ

Because the BTN Big 10K has apparently developed a complex, we all had to use event-issued clear plastic bags for gear check this year (which does, admittedly, beat the cheap-o drawstring bags of past years). While this initially irked me–I had planned to only check my water bottle after all–ultimately it ended up working out. My CARA pace group buddy wanted to change shirts at the race, so we put her shirt in my bag after arriving on-site, went to find one of her friends, and headed towards our corral.

Now, as I mentioned, I had no intention of competitively running this race. Unlike last year, the weather on Saturday wasn’t particularly PR friendly, and I knew I needed to treat the race as the back half of my 12 mile training run. This all changed when, on our way to our corral, I happened to see three of my classmates from high school.

I don’t consider myself to be particularly competitive with others when it comes to running. I’d say the vast majority of people I know in Chicago are runners, and while I’m often interested to know other people’s times, I don’t really care all that much kind of times other people turn in. None of my Chicago running friends have ever made me feel inadequate or like a lesser runner because I’m not a speed demon–in fact, none of my runner friends, period, have ever made me feel that way. For whatever reason, though, I am absurdly competitive when I find out people that graduated with me in high school now run. I look up their race times, I get inexcusably annoyed that they run (which, really? As if I have any claim to being the¬†only¬†runner from my high school’s class of 2008. Come on, Bethany.), and I get an embarrassing amount of satisfaction over knowing I’m faster than they are, because I’m a terrible person (but a self-aware terrible person! :P). Thus, after seeing these three classmates of mine, I instantly had one goal: beat all of them.

The course for this year’s race was different from both the 2012 and 2013 courses, but still managed to include a long stretch under McCormick Place at the beginning of the race, which shot my Garmin for the duration of the run. I eyeballed my mile splits and guesstimated we ran somewhere in the neighborhood of 10:00 to 10:15, but it was tough to know for sure. What I¬†did¬†know for sure was that I was both exhausted by mile 2 and STARVING by mile 2.5. I didn’t want to fuel until mile 4.2 (which would’ve been mile 10 for the day), but I honestly couldn’t wait that long, so I took my fuel a bit before the aid station near mile 3, and it made a world of difference for the back half of the race. I was also super dehydrated–I¬†knew when I went to bed on Friday I hadn’t had enough water during the day, and I’m sure that didn’t help matters at all.

My CARA buddy and I maintained a steady pace just about to the end of the race, when I suggested we do a mini kick for the last .2. My Garmin measured the last bit of the race at .17 but says we ran an 8:59 pace for that .17, which, all things considered, was not too shabby of a kick. We finished, officially, in 1:03:17, which is far and away my worst BTN Big 10K time and ranks #3 of four on my all-time 10K times list. I did beat all three of my classmates by anywhere between four and seven minutes, however, so as far as I’m concerned, Saturday’s race was a shining success ūüėÄ

My friend and I hung around the post race party for quite some time and enjoyed the requisite post-run chicken sausage:

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(Apple Gouda! AHmazing)

before I dragged her off the the Hudsonville Ice Cream tent, where we sampled Grand Traverse Cherry Fudge and Bear Traxx, and I got all nostalgic. Hudsonville Ice Cream is a staple in West Michigan, and it just started to be available in Chicagoland. It is a little $$, but trust me, it’s worth every penny.

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All things considered, I felt this year’s BTN Big 10K went off better than last year’s. The new venue at 18th Street made the post-race party less crowded, and the finish chute was substantially more organized this year.¬†Though half the course takes place on the Lakefront Trail, I didn’t feel as though it were overly crowded, though it is worth noting that this race tends to draw more of a non-running crowd that may not be entirely familiar with usual racing/running protocol (slower movers to the right, don’t stop suddenly, the first cup of Gatorade is not the only cup of Gatorade at an aid station, etc.).¬†That being said, if a tailgate-like race sounds like something you’d enjoy, I can’t recommend the BTN Big 10K enough.

BTN Big 10K Recap

Not gonna lie, I’ve got some pretty mixed feelings about this year’s BTN Big 10K.

I picked up my packet Thursday morning and was not wildly impressed, both from a swag and efficiency standpoint. I realize that I’ve had a lot of luck with packet pickup in my life, but I was both surprised and annoyed that I had to wait several minutes for my shirt at 10 a.m. on Thursday (granted I was already running late for a 10:30 meeting, so I was stressed in the first place). I’d forgive the t-shirt packet pickup line if the packet was actually worth picking up, but…it kind of sucked.

BTNBig10KPacket2013

Really cheap, crappy drawstring bag (does anyone else hate getting these? I have so many drawstring bags, and I really only ever use one), one snack size Clif Bar, and five bazillion ads for Chicago Endurance Sports. I did like the shirt, however, especially the detail on the shoulder which you can kind of see in the picture. I also liked that the Michigan shirt is yellow (or maize, I suppose) this year. I generally work out in tech gear because it’s too hot to wear cotton, and if it’s too hot to wear cotton, most of the time it’s too hot to wear dark colors as well, so yellow is much better than navy blue in my opinion. I’ve also got to hand it to them on the race program. I’ve never got a program for a race before, not even for my half last year. Considering that this was only a 10K/5K, I was really impressed that they put together such a nice publication with all the race info.

As I mentioned yesterday, I ran to the race so I could get my 12 miles in for the day. I’ve never run to a race before and I figured my legs would be relatively tired, so I didn’t want to plan on running any sort of time and set myself up for disappointment. While I ran to the race, though, I kept thinking, “Man, it’s really too bad I have to run this extra 5.8, because this kind of weather was made for PRs.” Cloudy, low 60s, not much wind unless you were right by the lake: this is the stuff PRs are made of, people. But like I said, I wanted to keep my expectations low/nonexistent, so I tried not to think about it.

I got to the race site around 6:20 or so (10K started at 7:00) and it was CROWDED. Last year the race was at Soldier Field, but this year they moved it up closer to the planetarium to accommodate a larger field (about 13,000 instead of about 5,000 last year). While I’m sure we had more space by Adler, the race site was by no means spacious, and it took me quite some time to get to gear check. I checked my Nathan because I didn’t want to run the 10K with it if I didn’t have to, made a traditional pre-race portapotty stop, and then hauled it all the way back over to my corral.

BTNBig10K2013

So. About this whole corral situation. In¬†theory I’m sure a corralled start was a good idea. Honestly, possibly even in practice the corralled start was a good idea, at least for the elites/speedsters in the first few corrals. I, however, somehow got put all the way down in Corral I. The 10K corrals went through J, which put me in the second to last corral. Now, I’m not going to pretend like I’m a fast runner by any stretch of the imagination. I am perfectly happy to embrace my slowness. But Corral I? Really? When we registered, we had to estimate our pace for the run, and, according to my registration confirmation, I estimated I’d run a 10:00 pace. Since the course was open long enough for people to complete the race at a 15:00 pace, I can’t come up with any logical reason why on earth I got put in Corral I. A couple girls near me were chatting about their expectations before the race and said they hoped to finish in 1:15:00, which is great! More power to you! But my slowest 10K is a 1:05:21, and my most recent 10K heading into the race was a 1:00:30, i.e.: NOWHERE REMOTELY CLOSE TO 1:15. I also had a friend at the race who previously ran a 1:10 10K, and she was ahead of me in Corral H. So there’s that.

It took us almost 15 minutes to cross the start line after the race began, which, whatever. It was downright cold standing around for 30 minutes waiting to get running, but I welcome cold weather with open arms, so no complaints here. When we finally got going I got to enjoy what was¬†easily the most crowded first mile of my life. I bobbed and weaved and I’m quite sure pissed more than my fair share of people off, because everyone was running so much slower than I wanted to run (which, given where I started, is not entirely surprising).

Last year, the course was pretty much entirely on the Lakefront Trail, and since I apparently suck at reading course maps, I was under the impression that would be the case this year as well. I wasn’t paying much attention to my surroundings (other than the runners in front of me I was trying to not trample), and at one point we kind of went up a ramp and then down one. I continued on running when all of a sudden I realized we were running on Lake Shore Drive! That was pretty cool. We were on the Drive to the halfway point of the race, where they turned us off (…into the grass. Classy) and put us back on the trail for the return to the start. Honestly, the course was pretty crowded through all of this. I ended up hugging the far right side of the trail for most of the back half of the race so I could easily duck off onto the gravel and pass the people in front of me.

I had consistently been hitting 9:2x miles for the first four of the race and clocked a 9:09 fifth mile. At that point I knew it was pretty likely that I would PR and pretty likely that I’d finish in under an hour (which is something I’ve wanted to do since last year’s BTN Big 10K), so I decided to see what my legs could do for me. Turns out they could do a lot! I ran the sixth mile in 8:48, which is not *too* far off my 5K pace (about 35 seconds) and had a real nice 7:25 kick for the last .2. According to my Garmin, I ran 6.24 miles in 57:25, though officially I ran a¬†57:28. Regardless, I still took 3:02 off my previous 10K PR in the middle of marathon training, which is the second time I’ve turned in a HUGE PR at this race (last year’s 1:00:30 was a 4:55 PR in the middle of half marathon training).

Aside from the corral issues, the real disaster of this race for me was at the end. The finish line absurdly crowded and poorly organized. Whether you wanted to grab food/water or not, you were stuck in a huge crush of people that wasn’t going anywhere. After you made it past the rally towels, water, Gatorade, cookies, crackers, pretzels, and bananas (I will give them an A+ for finish line food choices), only¬†then¬†did you get your medal, and that was also a disaster. All the 5K medals were hanging nicely on racks, while the 10K medals hadn’t been unwrapped, so volunteers were walking around the crowd blindly handing them out. Since the 5K started at 8:15, it seems like it would’ve made a lot more sense to organize the 10K medals¬†first, which would’ve done a lot to streamline that whole process and probably keep the finish area from being so crowded.

BTNBig10KMedal

Speaking of crowded. The post race party was insaneeeeeeee. So. Many. People. This year the alumni associations from all the Big 10 schools had sunglasses to hand out to runners (instead of foam fingers like last year. Each bib also had one sunglasses ticket you had to use to get the glasses to prevent people from taking one pair from each school like they did with the foam fingers last year), and while I would have liked a pair of Michigan sunglasses, the line to get said sunglasses was probably at least 30-45 minutes long, and I didn’t want $2 sunglasses¬†that¬†bad. Fortunately the line for sausages (instead of hot dogs like last year) was much more manageable, so I got myself some food and found an open spot in the grass away from the 9348230948 people at the party.

BTNBig10KFood2013

On the one hand, I very much want to like the BTN Big 10K. It’s been good to me (obviously, with two PRs there now), and the atmosphere is really cool. I think, ultimately, my biggest problem with the race this year was just that it was way, way too crowded. I don’t blame the organizers for wanting to grow the race, since ultimately I think that’s what every race organizer wants, but you can’t host a race of that size in a small area. Grant Park would’ve been a much better venue if it had been an option (which it wasn’t, because Lollapalooza setup had already begun), and I do hope if the race happens again next year, they’ll either cap registration at around the 7,000 or 8,000 mark or consider a different location if they hope to keep growing the event.

Hail to the Victor

I can sum up the inaugural BTN Big 10K in three words:

Best.

Race.

Ever.

But let’s back up to the beginning, shall we?

Per usual, I barely got any sleep last night. That seems to be a theme for me the night before a race, as this was the third time in as many races that I’ve run on significantly less than my usual 8 hours of sleep. The Opening Ceremony for the Olympics kept me up late, and my neighbor decided last night would be a good time to go on a smoking binge. Their vent connects to our apartment, which means I got a handy dose of secondhand smoke last night, and the smell was driving me crazy, especially at 2 a.m.

When my alarm went off at 5:40, I got ready for the race and had two pieces of whole wheat toast with peanut butter. Normally I only have one piece of toast before running, but I also normally eat half an hour before running, not two hours, so I figured it wouldn’t kill me to have a little more food.

At 5:58, I got a text that my taxi had been dispatched and was 2.4 miles away. Honestly, that made me really mad. I ordered a taxi last night for 6:15 this morning. When I said 6:15, I did not mean 6:05, or even 6:10 — I meant 6:15. Hmph. Fortunately, I made it down to my cab right before it left.

There were already a lot of people at Soldier Field when I arrived, and even though it wasn’t yet 7 a.m., the energy was great. I checked my bag (side note: that gear check was a thing of beauty. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a more clearly organized gear check) and wandered around for awhile trying to not look too awkward. Story of my life.

Around 7:20, I started to get really antsy, so I headed over to the starting corral. They had the corral segmented off in 30 second pacing increments. My long runs lately have been in the 10:45ish range, but I thought I would push myself a little, so I lined up near the back of the 10:00 pacing group. I was shooting for around a 10:20 pace.

After hanging out in a VERY crowded corral for awhile, we finally got started. As we headed towards McCormick Place, I heard a woman behind me ask her running buddy if their current pace was fine. The running buddy replied with something along the lines of, “Yeah, I’m comfortable at 9:30.”

Come again?

I looked down at my Garmin, and lo and behold, I was running something in the 9:30 range. We weren’t even half a mile into the race, though, so I figured my Garmin was just taking some time to get its bearings and in the mean time was doing its always-enjoyable-if-misleading ego stroking.

As we kept going, I saw we were going to actually run through a tunnel under McCormick Place, which did not make me happy. I knew my Garmin would lose its signal in the tunnel (it can barely handle underpasses under Lake Shore Drive, after all), and I wasn’t thrilled about having my Garmin thrown off so early in the race.

The tunnel ended up being stuffy as anything, and I was a sweaty mess by the time we got out. As expected, my Garmin had lost its signal, but it picked right back up as soon as I was back in the open. It was still telling me I was running sub-10 minute miles, but I had pretty much given up on its accuracy by this point. That is, until it beeped at mile one, which, by its measurement, was maybe 100 feet before the actual first mile marker.

I couldn’t believe how fast the first mile felt (or rather, how fast the first mile went). I figured I would lose my speed pretty soon, but I was feeling great and didn’t want to slow down until I had to. After the second mile, my Garmin was still telling me I was running sub-10 minute miles, and around this point the thought of PR-ing entered my mind. I started to do a little mental math (which, realistically, was probably the biggest accomplishment of my race…it’s a rare occasion that I can do a simple addition problem without the help of my fingers and toes) and realized that if I was running almost a minute faster per mile than I had run in my first 10K, I could possibly finish in under an hour. After that realization, I forced myself to do a quick reality check: I hadn’t even hit the halfway point yet. I still had plenty of time to die, and there was no point in getting my hopes up that high so early in the race.

Mile three came and went, and I was still running sub-10 miles. This was also the point where we passed the slip and slide on the course, but since I was having the race of my life, I decided to run straight past it to the turnaround. I pretty much had my heart set on a PR by that point, and I wasn’t going to blow it for a gimmick mid-course.

We passed an aid station after the turnaround and I finally heard Hail to the Victors, which gave me a huge surge of energy. They played different school’s fight songs all along the course, and while I kept hearing MSU’s fight song, I hadn’t heard Hail to the Victors at all up to that point. I’m a Michigan fan through and through (almost went there for college, in fact), so I was definitely running the race for the maize and blue. The fight song was just what I needed to keep my energy up.

All of a sudden I passed the five mile mark. I knew unless something awful happened, there would be no way I wouldn’t PR. At that point, it was just a question of what my PR would be. Up to that point, I had run 9:41 to 9:56 miles. I didn’t expect to finish in under an hour anymore, but that didn’t keep me from pushing hard. I ended up running a 9:14 mile (what?!?). I kept myself more or less under control until we got to the three mile mark from the 5K race before us, at which point I gave it everything I had. Final official time: 1:00:30.

!!

I didn’t just PR. I SMASHED my time from my first 10K. I ran a 1:05:21 in my first 10K. Four minutes and 50 seconds, y’all!

I still can’t believe it. I honestly have no idea how I ran so fast. Yes, this course was a lot flatter than the course from my first 10K, so obviously that makes a difference. But five minutes worth of difference? I mean, I’ve never run this fast in my life outside of a 5K. My all-time fastest training run was a 10:12 four miler. This was not only 2.2 miles longer than that, but I ran an overall 9:45 pace. WHAT?? Man, if this is what training in heat does to a person, from here on out I’m only running on treadmills in saunas.

After I floated on the greatest runner’s high of all time over to gear check, I headed over to the post-race party.

 

I went to the Michigan tent first, but alas, they were all out of goodies. My next stop was the BTN tent, where I hung out with the Big 10 Championship trophy for a second and picked up a poster with the complete schedules of all 12 teams.

I wanted to get stretched out by AthletiCo, but the line was crazy long. Instead, I picked up my free hot dog (because nothing says “hot dog” quite like 9 a.m….haha) and got a picture by the Michigan finisher area.

Then I wandered over to the Michigan State tent and got a poster of their full schedule. Why? Fantastic question. I guess because Michigan didn’t have any and neither did Penn State (I made a conscious decision to be a Penn State fan when Michigan was having a crummy season when I was in high school, and I’ve been a fan since [except for the whole Jerry Sandusky thing, obviously]). Actually, the more I think about it, I really have no clue why on earth I felt compelled to go to the MSU tent. I only cheered for Michigan State when Kirk Cousins was on their team, because I’m a HUGE Kirk fan.

And I met him once, cause I’ve got connections. Aww yeah ūüôā

But yeah, I really don’t like Michigan State at all these days, and now I have a poster of their full schedule. Hm.

Anyway, I think I’ve made it very clear that I loved this race. Some aspects of the course were a little not-awesome, but overall, this was without question my favorite race to date. The PR was great, of course, but the whole atmosphere was without question the best I’ve experienced so far. I’ll run it again in a heartbeat.

Also, I really want to go to a football game now. Hurry up, September!