It's called "The Sweetest Race In Chicago" and for my first venture into the world of "competitive running" it honestly could not have been a better day.
The festivities began on Friday evening with race packet pick-up at Union Station in Chicago. I planned to meet Kathy (LOTUSFLOWER, and the instigator of this whole journey for me) downtown with her sisters after work. To my surprise, I also got a call from Jen (JENJESS48) and her husband Patrick who were flying in from D.C. for the race saying that they had arrived in town and would meet me at the pick-up area. The excitement started. Not only was I going to be running my very first 5K the next morning, but I was meeting a bunch of Sparkfriends for the first time as well. I couldn't tell which I was more nervous/excited about!
After a bunch of phone calling and messaging back and forth we all found one another in the Great Hall of Union Station. Hugs were had all round and we browsed the fun running goods (i.e Bondi Bands!). Jen and Pat and I were all hungry, so we parted ways with Kathy and her crew and agreed to meet them in the morning at our planned meet-up place. We headed to The Berghoff - a Chicago institution - for dinner (a first for me even though I have lived in the city for 7 years now!). Jen had been there before on a school trip and is also of German heritage so she wanted to revisit an old stomping ground. I enjoyed a wonderful chicken, zucchini and potato galette dish, and one potato perogi - just enough carbs to consider myself "loaded" for the next morning - hehe. We called it a night early and all left to go try to catch some zzzs. Unfortunately, I got all the way to the train before I realized I had left my brand new tech jacket in the restaurant and had to go back just before they locked the doors to grab it. Minor set-back. I was home within 45 minutes and on my way to bed.
Surprisingly enough for all the nervous excitement of the day before, I slept pretty well. I awoke to my alarm at 6am, quite literally smiled to myself, and jumped out of bed, raring to go. I dressed quickly in the tech clothes I had laid out the night before and put on the kettle for tea. By 6:30am I was out the door into the pitch dark and freezing cold. Good lord - runners are CRAZY PEOPLE! The bus was at the corner and I didn't want to miss it so I jogged to make it on - we'll consider that a warm-up run. A quick look around told me I was not alone - lots of tech gear, lots of brown "Will Run For Chocolate" jackets. And here we go! By the time we got to the train I had finished my tea and was actually quite warm despite the temperature outside. I only waited momentarily for the Red Line to the city with about 40 other people on the platform all headed in the same direction. When the train finally arrived I had to laugh. This is what 30,000 runners looks like on public transportation! It was not even 7am and the train was PACKED with athletes of all colours, shapes and sizes, all gearing up for the big race. And I was one of them. I was so proud.
Off the train and headed to the meeting place to meet-up with the rest of my Sparkies! Kathy is already there, as is Shelley (FARLEY_GIRL) and Mel (MELMEI) who was running with her work team but waiting to give me a quick hug before she dashed off to be with them. We were joined shortly by Andrea (ANDREA963) and Jen & Pat. A couple of girls that we were expecting didn't show, but I didn't have real contact info for everyone so we had to move on. (I found out later that JESSSPARK's hotel alarm clock had failed her and she almost didn't make the race and JMEPAYNE woke up with a bad fever and chills - poor girl). A quick stop in a hotel bathroom to pull off my warm-up jacket and put on my Spark shirt and my bib and we were off. A little later than I wanted to be, we walked over the bridge to the massive crowd of people. I ran off to gear check to get rid of my bag and coats just as I heard them playing the national anthem and getting ready to race. My pulse quickened. I had lost Kathy already and Jen, Pat & Shelley were walking the race so I promised to meet up with them post-race in front of the fondue tents. I nearly threw my stuff at the poor guy in the gear check tent and hustled my butt to the large crowd of people who had now just started to move. I reminded myself to breathe as I squeezed through the fence at the 13 minute mile marker. I looked around - people as far as the eye could see, but no sign of any of my friends. This is where I have to go it alone. I put my iPod headphones in my ears, cranked my warm-up tunes, and started walking forward with the group towards the start line willing the tears to just hold off a little while longer. I was overcome with emotion. "Just run your own race, and take it all in".
I made sure to get in front of a couple of the official photographers - just in case, I needed to make sure that this moment was documented.
All of a sudden I heard a huge group of people around me cheering and I looked over to see Dr. Oz waving at all of us. Once again I had to fight back tears. How awesome is it that he would come to the race and wish us all well. We walked for about another 4 minutes getting just to the 9 minute per mile marker when I heard the crowd cheer again. I looked to my left at the finish line to see the elite male runners FINISHING the 5K!!! At a 5 minute per mile pace these guys just ran the whole thing in about 15 minutes. Holy crap! It definitely gave me a burst of energy to see them come across the finish line as I looked ahead of me at the start line. I selected my running mix on my iPod, took a deep breath, and started running!
I felt really good for the first mile except that my nervous energy had sapped every single ounce of spit from my body so my mouth was insanely dry. Since the water station wasn't until mile 2, there was nothing I could really do about it but keep running. It was tough dodging through the slower runners and walkers at the beginning, but it definitely kept things interesting so I wasn't actually thinking much about pain, or breathing, or worrying that I wasn't going to make it. In fact, I didn't even see the first mile marker, so I have no idea what my time was going into mile 2. At that point, we were all herded under and underpass and the going got a little dicey for a bit, so I was more concerned about keeping my footing and running on the pavement instead of grass or the road median for about half a mile anyway. Unfortunately, the race coordinators decided to put the water station for the 5K at the narrowest part of the path, so the bottleneck it caused forced everyone to slow to almost a complete walk. I was getting a little frustrated at this point because I desperately wanted to keep my pace which was impossible, but I did my best to dodge around as many people as I could and kept running. The second half of mile 2 has consistently been my weakest point, so to slow down right there when I was already fighting to keep running was so difficult. But I pushed through as best I could, ran past the water station and rounded the bend past the Shedd Aquarium.
The third mile of the run was changed at the last minute to be a short run up the Lakeshore trail with a hairpin turn and a run back along the upper section of the same path. In my books, this was the worst part of the race. Everyone was already coming out of a bottleneck (I actually almost tripped over a woman that was walking the race with a cane) and picking up speed to attempt a good time for the last mile. The hairpin turn was literally a straight climb up a grass hill to the upper part of the trail which completely killed my momentum. I was beat by the time I got to the top and turned around to run back the distance I had just come. I let my defeatist attitude win only momentarily at the top of the hill as I slowed to a walk for about 5 seconds to catch my breath before I pushed myself harder than I have ever done before and willed my legs to just keep running. Thankfully at that point the way ahead of me cleared. Too many people still stuck back at the water station I guess. Also could have been because the path finally widened to a double lane road and I smiled for the cameras as I ran towards the home stretch. Everything in me wanted to stop running. The finish line was further away than the starting line, so we had to cross over the starting line again at the 3 mile mark and keep running for that last point one of a mile. Just keep running, just keep running. I could hear my regular running music come to an end. My cool down song came on as the finish line got closer and closer. 39 minutes, 30 seconds. That's how long my running mix is. If I can just finish this race in the next 30 seconds I might be able to still pull this in under 40 minutes. Push. Do it! It was all I had left in me to throw my arms in the air as I crossed the finish line.
And then an emotion came over me that I didn't expect. I was actually a little bit angry. I was angry for having to slow down during the race. I was angry that the crowd in front of me wasn't moving fast enough. I was angry that the first station was Gatorade when all I really wanted was a bottle of water. I finally made it to the water, grabbed a bottle and squeezed through the fence. Freedom. I walked a lap around Buckingham Fountain - the skyline and the sunshine and the lake in the distance. I walked to a park bench, all alone for the throngs of people behind me. I listened to my favorite cool down song as I stretched on the park bench. And THEN it hit me. I did it. I finished. I ran the whole thing (except for those 5 seconds which we'll never mention again, which had everything to do with the trail and nothing to do with me being incapable of running). I had just completed my first 5K!
I turned back to look at the crowd and the world clicked back into motion. I needed to get to the gear tent so that I could get to my cell phone and find out how Kathy did and where she was. On the way back I stopped to have my finisher's photo taken.
That felt good. Really good. I made it to the gear tent and apologized to the guy I threw my stuff at earlier. And thankfully - he returned all of it to me unscathed (which was a concern earlier). I grabbed my phone and immediately called Kathy. She was already in the fondue line, so I walked over to find her and ran into another friend of mine who had just run. We hung out and chatted for a bit and posed for the cameras that were milling around. Kathy finally found us and we headed through the tents to pick up our fondue.
Kathy, Me and my friend Ashley
Me and Kathy's family
Kathy & Me :)
Let me tell you - chocolate never tasted SO good. Here's a pic of what we got in the fondue tray - apples, banana, a pretzel rod, marshmallows and pound cake. Yum! I wanted to stick my face in that vat of warm, melty goodness.
By the time we were finished with our snack we were all pretty cold. Though the sun did manage to come out, the temperature was still frigid. Kathy's family left and we went to find Jen & Pat so that we could go out for breakfast. We walked back over to Buckingham Fountain for a few photos and to have our official finisher's photos taken with the group.
Pat, Kathy, Jen & myself
Spark Girls together in Grant Park
Charlie's Angel Style!
Jen & Pat by the fountain
Then we headed to Yolk for a very SEXY breakfast. Seems that everyone at the race had the same brilliant idea that we did, so the wait was a little long because the restaurant was PACKED.
Waiting outside Yolk for a table
But they were working that room like pros and had us in and out amazingly efficiently and never made us feel rushed. We deserved every ounce of that food by the time it got to the table. I had Zamboni Crepes (eggs, ham & spinach rolled into a crepe) with a side of potatoes and Hollandaise sauce. So delicious I took half of it home to enjoy again the next day!
My Sexy Breakfast
Jen & Pat with their Sexy Breakfasts
Kathy and I with our Sexy Breakfasts
The tiredness was really kicking in by the time we were done with breakfast and Kathy had to catch a train back to the suburbs. I walked Jen & Pat back to their hotel and we parted ways. Such a great group of people. I am so happy that my first race was with SparkPeople and with those particular SparkPeople! They are all so wonderful. I can't wait to do it again!
Any frustration or anger I felt after the race has completely washed away. Though MANY people had the same experience, I do believe that the race next year will have a separate corral for the walkers, which seemed to cause the biggest hiccups this year. Also - the race was completely sold out at 30,000 people! Last year was only half of that. So while the whole event was VERY well organized from start to finish, the sheer number of participants were bound to cause slow zones on that tiny of a path. I'm looking forward to running again next year. Maybe by then I will show up to do the 15K! I'd say this was a really great first race for me. My official time was 40:16. I was aiming for under 40, but given the slow zones it still means that I was running at just under a 13 minute mile. I'll take it. Here are my official stats:
If anyone wants to see my official race photos, they are at www.marathonfoto.com - you just have to type in my bib number (10948) and my last name (Kincaid).
All in all - I'm happy. I'm a runner and I ran my first 5K with SparkPeople. And 6 months ago - I couldn't say any of that!