Run Walk for Whales 5K Race Recap

I recently returned from eight days in Hawaii, where I spent time on both Oahu and Maui. I always try to run at least a mile when I travel to add the location to my Places I’ve Run list, and hoped to get in short runs on each island. I liked the idea of doing a race so I could also put Hawaii on my States Where I’ve Raced list, but I didn’t put much effort into looking and wasn’t particularly hung up on it. I’m not working to race in all 50 states (at the moment, at least), so it wasn’t a huge concern of mine.

Winter is whale season in Hawaii, and Maui in particular is a hotbed for watching humpack whales. Whales generally arrive around or after Thanksgiving and leave in March, so January and February are the peak months to see mama and baby whales swimming the warm waters off the coast of Maui. I went on a whale watching tour while I was there–another post for another time–and after getting off the boat, decided to continue another mission of mine: finding a pen for a coworker who had requested I bring one back for her from Hawaii. My whale watching tour docked outside the Harbor Shops near Maalaea Harbor, so after the tour, I headed up there to search for a pen.

Right below the permanent Harbor Shops sign was a temporary sign: “Run & Walk for Whales.” Immediately intrigued, I asked my travel buddy, “Do you think the race is this weekend?!” We wandered into the plaza and found more signage that seemed to indicate that the Maui Whale Festival would mostly take place the weekend of February 8 and 9, so I figured the race would be that weekend, too. When we saw a sandwich board that said “Packet Pick-Up,” though, I got more hopeful. We made our way to packet pickup, and lo and behold: the race was scheduled for the following morning! Totally thrilled at this turn of events, I paid far and away the most I’ve ever paid for a 5K ($55 O.O) and got myself signed up for my first Hawaiian race!

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Run and Walk for Whales featured four distances: a 10 mile, a 10K, a 5K and a one mile. My ongoing plantar fasciitis situation led me to take a bunch of time off running, and I had only logged a few miles at all since the beginning of December, making the 5K the most viable option. Plus, I was on vacation! I didn’t want to put too much effort into running 😛

The race started at 7 a.m., which, given that sunrise on race day wasn’t until 7:02 (and that’s only sunrise, not sun-getting-over-Haleakala rise), seemed surprisingly early. Fortunately, I never fully adjusted to Hawaii time, so even though we had been there for a week by race day, I still wasn’t having much trouble getting out of bed early. We arrived at the race site around 6:30 a.m., got in a (gigantic) line to use the bathroom (no portapotties – the bathrooms available were the ones in the shop complex. Fine by me! I’ll never complain about access to running water before a race.), and then headed over to the start line. The race sent off the 10 milers first, followed by the 10Kers, and then us!

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The course was a pretty simple out-and-back-ish, starting by running around the outside of the shop complex and spitting us out onto Honoapiilani Highway. I quickly discovered that the northbound (“out” portion of the course) part of Honoapiilani Highway is uphill, going from 15 feet to 147 feet over the course of that first mile and a halfish of the race. I wasn’t concerned about my time at all and was actually quite surprised to churn out a 10:02 first mile. Most of my running recently has been decidedly in the 11:30 range, and I didn’t think I had anything much faster than that in me, especially when running uphill.

There was an aid station at the turnaround, and then we got to enjoy a delightful downhill for the return to the Harbor Shops. Encouraged by the change in elevation, the sun cresting over Haleakala, and the time on my watch, I kicked into gear and ran the last mile in 8:36 (having done mile two, half of which was uphill and half of which was down, in 10:18). I was pretty sure I’d be able to finish in under 30 minutes, so I pushed it at the end and crossed the finish line in 29:44. Not my best 5K by a long shot–not a time I’d normally be remotely happy with, in fact–but given the circumstances (having logged a whopping 11 miles in all of 2020 prior to the race, finding out about and signing up for the race 13 hours before it started, being on the tail end of vacation, running in decidedly different conditions than what I’m used to for February, what with the hill and the temperature and the sun and the humidity), I was thrilled to break 30 minutes.

I figured it wasn’t impossible that I might have placed in my age group, given the size of the field, so I insisted on sticking around for the awards just in case. When they read off the awards for the mile run, I found out that the age groups were MUCH bigger than I’m used to (I was in the 11-29 age group, rather than the 25-29 I expect to be in) and thought that meant I wouldn’t stand a chance. Turns out that far fewer women between the ages of 11 and 29 (15) ran the race than those between the ages of 30 and 49 (52), and I ended up taking home second place! It sounded like they were going to email me a certificate to acknowledge this, but I haven’t received anything yet. No matter – I’m perfectly happy just knowing that I came in second. Also, thank goodness I’m not 30 yet: I would have come in eighth in that age group.

This was definitely the most spontaneous race I’ve ever done, and I really enjoyed it! It was super pricey due to our on-site signup (I don’t know how much it cost prior to on-site registration, though presumably not $55), but was a fun way to knock out a race in Hawaii and support a worthy cause at the same time. I don’t know that I’ll ever be back in Hawaii at the right time to do this race in the future, but if I am, I’d happily run it again.

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Jingle Bell Run Chicago 5K Race Recap

The tradition continues!

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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!

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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 🙂

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Life Time 5K Race Recap

Most expensive 5K ever.

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Back in April, I signed up for what I intended to be my fourth running of the Chicago Half Marathon. When I upset my hamstring in the middle of last week, one of my big concerns was whether or not it would be wise for me to run a half marathon in that condition. Realistically, I knew the answer: no, it would not be. If I had planned on doing the scheduled 12 miler every one else did, I would’ve skipped it without a second thought. But I paid $93 to run 13.1 miles, and wasn’t particularly eager to throw that away if I didn’t have to. Part of the reason I went to the PT last Thursday in the first place was to ask if I could do the half marathon on Sunday, to which her answer was an outright, “No.” I tried bargaining (“What if I run/walk it?”), but she was clear that she didn’t want me running more than three or four miles at a time until further notice. Fine.

It occurred to me soon after that appointment that the Chicago Half Marathon also includes a 5K (which I’ve done before), and that a 5K is well within three to four miles. You don’t get a refund for the difference in price if you drop down, but at least then my $93 was going towards something. I swapped my half marathon bib for a 5K bib at the expo without issue.

Normally, I go all out at 5Ks. My goal is to redline the race basically from start to finish. I usually feel worse (or at least more exhausted) crossing the finish line of a 5K than I do crossing the finish line of a marathon. On Sunday, however, I had no such goals. In fact, I went into the race specifically with the goal of personal worsting. Ideally, I wanted to run close to a 33:00 5K: a far cry from the usual 25:00-or-faster standard to which I try to hold myself. I was kind of excited to find out what it would be like to run a comfortable 5K!

Honestly, I think the 5K is the way better portion of the Chicago Half events. You get to experience all of the hype associated with the race while running substantially less than half of the distance. You only run in Jackson Park, instead of killing time Jackson Park before doing your out-and-back on Lake Shore Drive, which makes the Jackson Park portion of the race feel enjoyable rather than like something you need to get out of the way. You finish before the vast majority of half marathon finishers, so you get the whole post-race party basically to yourself for a good 30 minutes or so. What’s not to like?!

The start line logistics are really the only downside of this race. You have to get to Jackson Park so early for the Chicago Half, and since the 5K starts 45 minutes later, you end up getting to there INSANELY early (because you have to get there before roads close for the half). There’s a lot of waiting around–I was there for nearly two hours before the 5K began–but since the 5K is so much later, there’s no need to rush to check your gear or wait in long portapotty lines. You can take care of all of that after the half marathoners start and still have plenty of time to get to the corrals before the 5K starts. I also think the 5K shirts and medals are almost always better than the half shirts and medals, even if they’re short sleeved and not obscenely large, respectively, if that’s something that matters to you.

Anyway, my race! The mosquito situation in Jackson Park was BONKERS, so I left my throwaways on as long as possible to attempt to ward off the bloodsuckers. The start area is completely self-seeded (and very uncrowded), so I lined up where I felt like it and had no trouble wrestling myself out of sweatpants and a sweatshirt just before getting to the start arch.

Due to the self-seeding situation, there were a bunch of walkers at the front of the pack. Since I was out for a PW, I wasn’t even half as annoyed by this as I normally would be. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so zen during a race. Nothing really mattered to me other than enjoying my tour of Jackson Park: something I was particularly excited about, given my recent reading of Devil in the White City and subsequent obsession with anything and everything related to the World’s Columbian Exposition.

I hit the first mile in 10:09, which was really a bit faster than I was hoping for. I didn’t feel like I was working hard, though–it was cooler than it’s been in months on Sunday–so I tried to slow down but didn’t get too bent out of shape about it. I thought about how awesome it would be if it could be even colder than that (“that” being 55 degrees) on marathon morning and continued down Stony Island to mile 2, which I hit in 10:12. Still too fast, but better. I didn’t really need water at the nearby aid station, but one of the volunteers was saying, “I got up at 3:00 for this! Please take water from me!” so I obliged and got a cup.

As I came up Lake Shore Drive and approached Hayes, I saw a few half marathoners coming in and heard the announcer mention that the lead female was coming up. I will admit that I started to care way too much about finishing before she did and sped up too much as a result, even though I knew that was a stupid thing to speed up over, and turned in a 9:58 last mile (and 1:02 last .11 for a 9:17 pace during that stretch. Oops). The lead female ended up beating me by a few steps (and, you know, 10 miles). It was cool to see her break the tape, even if it meant that I didn’t “win” 😛

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SIGH. (I’m the one in the teal.)

I finished in 31:23, which tragically was about 30 seconds faster than my previous personal worst. Alas! But that’s okay. I didn’t break a sweat on this run and felt comfortable the entire time, so I think I accomplished my goal.

Even though this isn’t the race I signed up for (literally, I suppose), I had a wonderful time. The weather was great, my pace was great, and I am obsessed–OB.SESSED.–with both the shirt and the medal. While I like to believe I know everything about Chicago, I only recently learned that one of Chicago’s mottoes is I Will, and when I learned that, I instantly adopted it as my motto for the marathon this year. I feel like that’s ~my~ phrase these days, so to have it on my 5K shirt is awesome, but then the medal…! *heart-eyed emoji*

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You see, I went to the Chicago History Museum for my birthday a mere week ago, where I learned that I Will came from a statue sculpted by Charles Holloway, winner of a contest sponsored by the Chicago Inter Ocean that tasked entrants with designing something that represented Chicago’s spirit. Holloway’s sculpture depicted a goddess-like woman with a breastplate emblazoned with the words “I WILL.” I had no idea about the sculpture until I saw it at the museum last Tuesday:

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And then, what do you know, my medal was a depiction of that exact sculpture, with the added bonus of a stylized “C” and the four six-point stars!

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Like I said, OB.SESSED. It all felt very serendipitous, and two weeks away from the Chicago Marathon, I’m happy to take all the marathon-related serendipity I can get.

OSF HealthCare Illinois 5K Race Recap

I participated in the Half I-Challenge at the Illinois Marathon for the second year in a row this past weekend. Up first in this 16.2-mile weekend: the Friday evening 5K.

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I got to Champaign Friday afternoon, picked up ALL OF THE THINGS, and then chilled at the hotel before heading to the start line. AccuWeather kept telling me it would rain for the duration of the race, which made it hard to figure out what to wear. Wouldn’t it get colder when the sun went down? Wouldn’t rain make it feel even colder? What if I got cold after the race?!?! This is quickly becoming a theme of my races this year: concerns about being uncomfortably cold before or after the race that leads to an unnecessary amount of stress and frustration.

Anyway, after deciding to wear a short sleeve shirt, shorts, arm sleeves, and a visor in case of rain, I headed off to the race. I met up with a couple friends and chatted with them a bit before heading into my corral. I was seeded in the B corral, but since I had a half marathon coming up 12 hours later, this race was obviously not my priority. As a result, it’s probably the only 5K that I don’t dread, knowing that I’m going for a comfortable 3.1-mile shakeout run is significantly less painful than going as hard as I can for 3.1 miles!

We got started on time and I settled into a comfortable 9:xx pace. I normally try to run 5Ks in the low 8s, so 9s were a nice chance of (literal) pace. I thought this would help in the pain department, but a mile into the race, I got an enormous side stitch. This was hardly the first time in my life I’ve had a side stitch, and it wasn’t even the worst side stitch I’ve ever had, but it was the worst one I’ve had in a long time for sure. I actually considered walking to try to breathe it out, it was that bad. Fortunately it dissipated (for the most part) by the time I got to the second mile marker, but I did definitely try to relax in the speed department for the second mile to try to keep my side happy (I went from a 9:11 pace to a 9:44 pace).

We wound through Champaign and through campus. I tried really hard to hydrate well throughout the day on Friday, but I felt parched before I even hit the first mile marker of the race. I grabbed water from a volunteer at the aid station on the course, which made this one of only a handful of times I’ve bothered to get water during anything shorter than a 10K during a race. I felt a bit better after getting some water in me and kept chugging along.

Even though I didn’t ~officially~ have a goal for this race, I did want to finish in under 30 minutes for the sake of my ego, given that I’m used to 25:xx finishes for 5Ks. I crossed the 50-yard line inside Memorial Stadium at the finish in 29:21, so mission accomplished.

I collected my medal and water but skipped all the food they had available for runners after the race. I made a brief stop at the post race party, and that was that! This was a pretty low key affair for me, given that I treat it as just a shakeout run. I needed to get in and out so I could have dinner and rest up for the main event: the Illinois Half Marathon the following day!

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Jingle Bell Run Chicago 5K Race Recap

I finally (finally) ended Running Season 2017 at my favorite race of the year, the Jingle Bell Run 5K.

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(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 😛 )

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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:

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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 🙂

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Presence Health 5K Race Recap

I’ve had my eye on the Illinois Half Marathon for years, and finally decided to pull the trigger on running it this year. Though the half marathon (along with a full marathon and 10K) take place Saturday morning, race weekend kicks off Friday night with the Presence Health 5K. Those who run the 5K Friday night along with any of Saturday’s races are I-Challenge participants, and wear special bibs along with receiving an extra medal. Since I was traveling to Champaign anyway, I figured I may as well go big or go home, so I ran the 5K Saturday night.

I’ve run two races in a weekend before when I did the Rock ‘n’ Roll Remix Challenge in Chicago in 2015, but at that challenge, both races take place in the morning, giving you almost 24 hours between events. With the I-Challenge, the 5K starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, meaning you have less than 12 hours between races. Considering that the Illinois Half was going to be my first half marathon of the year, I was a little nervous about doing a 5K so soon before the race. I usually take 5Ks far too seriously, and though I didn’t think I’d be at risk for soreness the following morning from doing a 5K the night before, I also didn’t want to blow through too much of my energy when I had a much bigger race coming up in 12 hours.

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It was fairly chilly and extremely windy in Champaign Friday night, and I nearly exploded with outrage when I found out the 5K race doesn’t offer gear check. Maybe I’m too used to running in the city, where few people drive to an event and therefore don’t have a car to store their stuff during a race, but I could NOT believe that the 5K didn’t offer gear check. Fortunately, I had a ride to the race, so we could sit in the car until the last minute to avoid shivering too much, but finding out there was no gear check totally threw off the whole plan for the race, and I was really, really annoyed by it.

I had several friends running the 5K, and conveniently we all ended up in corral B. We all managed to meet up and hung out together waiting for the race to start, and after the national anthem and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday (it’s the University of Illinois’ 150th anniversary this year, and the race took that fact and RAN WITH IT), we were off.

Like I said, I normally take 5Ks far too seriously and am on the verge of death when I cross the finish line. I really, really didn’t want to do that on Friday, but I also didn’t trust myself to run slowly on my own. Conveniently, two of my CARA group leaders were also doing the I-Challenge (though they were doing the full marathon, not the half), and we all ended up running the 5K together. The course is entirely through campus (I think? I had a hard time telling what was considered “on campus” at U of I. At my college, “on campus” meant “a building owned by the school.” Everything else, regardless of proximity to said buildings owned by the school, was “off campus.” So I don’t know if Green Street counts as being on campus or not.), and since my group leaders are both U of I alum, they told me all about the various shenanigans they got into in the locations we ran past.

At about mile 2.8, one of my group leaders stopped to walk with a little boy who seemed to be struggling, and then my other group leader stopped to walk with them as well, so I was on my own. I ran into Memorial Stadium and crossed the finish line on the football field in 29:28.

Considering I usually run 5Ks in the high 24/low 25 range, that was easily one of my slowest 5Ks to date. But honestly, it was, without even the tiniest bit of a question, the most fun I’ve EVER had in a 5K. Normally I kill myself over those races and hate every single second of it trying to run as fast as I possibly can. This time, I took it easy, hung out with friends I haven’t really chatted with since last marathon season, and had an absolutely wonderful time. While I certainly don’t plan to take that approach for all future 5Ks (I do like running fast times, after all), it was SUCH a welcome change and the perfect way to shake out my legs before the half on Saturday.

There was an abundance of food for runners inside Memorial Stadium after the race (bananas, Nature Valley bars, Jimmy John’s), and the post-race party outside the stadium had free craft beer for runners and CAKE (!!) from Meijer (be still my heart!) to celebrate U if I’s 150th birthday. I skipped the beer, per usual, but you better believe I had cake 🙂

After the party, it was off to Noodles and Company on Green Street for carb loading, and then back to the hotel to turn in for the night before the half. Recap of that coming tomorrow!

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Jingle Bell Run 5K Race Recap

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 was 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.

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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!

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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.

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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 🙂

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