If you were outside running yesterday, or even if you were just sitting inside looking out the window, you are probably aware that yesterday was a terrible weather day. All day. The temperature stayed between 34 and 40 with freezing rain falling on and off throughout the day.
But that didn't stop a trio of foolish runners from Chicago from completing the inaugural running of Chicago's newest half marathon:
Antonio picked me and Fuzzy up at my place at 7:15 Sunday morning and we headed up to Highland Park for the first race (Cupid's Love Dash 5K). Each of us had a giant sports bag filled with various running gear. The other guys had similar collections of stuff but just to give you an idea of what we were packing, my bag included:
4 pairs of socks (2 waterproof)
3 pairs of running shoes
3 running jackets
3 pairs of running shorts
3 long-sleeve running shirts
2 short-sleeve running shirts
2 pairs of tights
2 fleece running caps
1 pair of running cleats
1 pair of sweat pants
1 regular shirt
1 regular cap
So, anyway, the point is that we had a full car. We got to Highland Park at around 8am, so we had 20 minutes before the 8:20 start time of our first race. Race organizers had a nice little base camp going in downtown Highland Park, with sponsors like 5-Hour Energy, O.N.E. Coconut Water and Muscle Milk.
This race was actually quite a bit bigger than we were expecting. Looking at the results there were 209 10K runners and 348 5K runners, so over 550 participants, which is pretty impressive, especially considering that it started lightly raining just before the 8:20 start time.
The course was very scenic, winding through the streets of Highland Park. It's always surprising how much more snow you see in the suburbs versus Chicago and there was snow everywhere. There were a number of snowmen and other snow sculptures in yards throughout the race. Most of the course was plowed, but there were a few slippery areas, particularly near a bridge as we were approaching the finish line. I finished with a 22:50 (I've been sticking right around this time this entire year... at least I'm not slipping past 23 but I can't seem to get any faster).
Briefly after crossing the finish line I saw the race organizer, Colleen. She recognized me from packet pickup where I had told her about the half marathon/debacle and as soon as she saw me she yelled:
"YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE TO MAKE YOUR NEXT RACE! LET ME GRAB YOUR MEDALS!"
So she ran and grabbed our finisher's medals (and some finisher stickers) and just as Fuzzy crossed the finish line with a 26:19 (PR??) we were ready to jump back in the car and head to Hoffman Estates, wearing our manly pink medals.
The Frozen Five put on in a forest preserve in Hoffman Estates by Muddy Monk, was the one we were most worried about making it to on time. We seemed to have plenty of time as we started heading in that direction... until we got pulled over on our way out of Highland Park. Maybe because our windows were so steamed up he thought something fishy was going on... or maybe the police just didn't want to see us make our goal. But we got back on the road and made it to the starting line (without speeding) at 9:50 (10 minutes to spare).
Unfortunately, because of the large amounts of snow and bad weather, only half of the parking area in Carl Hansen Woods had been plowed, so race organizers told us to turn around and go back to park in the parking lot of a nearby Sports Authority and wait for a shuttle. Rather than wait in this shuttle line in the rain, we opted for staying in the car and waiting to see a shuttle pull up. About 10 minutes later a U-Haul van pulled up and the guy driving told everyone that the back parking lot was going to get plowed so we should wait 10 minutes and drive back over. We definitely didn't wait 10 minutes. We started driving back to the starting line immediately and got in the line of other similarly-minded runners waiting for the back lot to open up. Once it was open we pulled through and parked and then headed back through the rain to the starting pavilion.
As we were coming back through the woods to the starting area we passed a giant bonfire that some woods-goers were tending to (in the freezing rain, no less). I kind of wanted to stop and just hang out with them instead of running this race but I kept going. You can barely see the bonfire to the left of the green porta-potty below.
Because of the parking situation, the race start was delayed around 25 minutes, which left race participants standing in the cold under the pavilion.
I think this gave each of us time to really consider why we, as people with many choices in life, would opt to be huddled under a pavilion on a Sunday morning in February, in the middle of a snowy field in 34 degree weather getting ready to run five miles in freezing rain (which was falling pretty heavily at this point).
I don't think any of us came up with any good answers.
I will say that waiting for the start of this race, with the announcer telling us that since it was a double-loop course if we opted just to do one loop that would be okay and we would still get a medal (a runner next to us followed that up with, "Yeah, as long as you're prepared to be mocked and laughed at by the rest of us!"), I realized that this was the closest I'd ever been to just calling it a day. And I really think that if I hadn't been there with Fuzzy and Antonio and if this wasn't the second in a series of three races we had planned in one day I might have actually done that. But I didn't.
With the rain pouring down and the packed snow around us turning to icy patches, the 50 or so runners who were brave/foolish enough to show up for this race took to the course. And I'm so glad I did. The terrain looked a lot like the Alaskan wilderness portrayed in The Grey, except minus the wolves and plus some rain. Really, if it had just been about 4 degrees colder conditions would have been much better.
But the run was sublime. Really it was. I'm not just pulling that word out of a list of words. It was quiet and empty and completely covered in snow. And there weren't a lot of other runners out there to get in your way. And the course was just difficult enough to remind you that you were doing something hard. Just before mile two, when I was really starting to think, "You know, this isn't so bad..." I stepped right into one of the little crème brûlée ice water traps littering the course and soaked my left foot. Luckily I was wearing waterproof socks... but that doesn't mean it wasn't cold.
I really have no idea what my time was because it was an un-timed race. We did get sweet medals with bottle openers attached to them at the finish line and there was plenty of beer to go around (I just put a can in my pocket to save for after the third race). This was a really grass-roots event and rather than individually wrapped snacks there were just bags of food spread out on one of the picnic tables, including two pots of incredibly delicious (vegetarian) chili. We were trying to figure out if the chili really was that delicious or if anything hot would have tasted that delicious after running through the snow and rain for 5 miles (5.3 because of last-minute course re-routes due to the weather)...
Because of the late start to this race we were now on a very narrow timeframe to get to Channahon for the final leg of this journey, the Frosty 5 Mile. But we were also all cold and soaking wet. We decided to head back to the Sports Authority and see if they would let us use their restroom to change before our next run. And they did. So if you're ever in Hoffman Estates, stop by this Sports Authority and tell them they're awesome. Fuzzy did end up buying a long-sleeve running shirt here as he had only brought one jacket and it was now thoroughly soaked. He also got us all some hand and feet warmers for the remaining race. Good call.
So, driving through the still-falling rain, we covered the almost 60 miles between Hoffman Estates and Channahon and pulled into the parking lot of the Pioneer Path School right at 12:55 (race start time was 1pm). We couldn't find a parking spot so Antonio told us to run in while he tried to find a place to park. Fuzzy and I headed to the first group of runners we saw and asked where we should go for registration and packet pick-up. They scoffed at us and said something to the effect of "You guys are running pretty late for that." Luckily, both Fuzzy and I are pacifists so we just agreed and said, "Right. But could you tell us where we should go anyway?" And then they told us to run in the vague direction of "around to the other side of the school."
We found the gym where registration was taking place just as all the runners were being ushered out of it and out into the rain to head to the starting line. Though organizers had already started packing up registration tables, they let me pick up the packets for Antonio and myself and let Fuzzy register for the race. He was definitely the last person to register for the race as they had to unpack a box to get out a bib and timing chip for him. We left our goodie bags in the gym (a nice gearcheck bag and a sweet Frosty 5 Mile knit cap) and took off running back to the starting line.
We found Antonio getting his last pair of shoes on and we all started putting on our bibs and timing chips as the announcer gave the 1 minute call. We got to the starting line with about 20 seconds to spare and standing in the rain surrounded by about 250 other runners we just looked at each other and shook our heads.
And then the starting gun went off.
And we ran five more miles, up and down the streets of Channahon, along some lake that none of us knew and back into the school, where we had pizza in the cafeteria and watched the awards ceremony in the gym (I found out afterwards that even though I placed 109th with a 42:15, I got 4th in my age group. But the other guys in my age group placed 2nd, 3rd and 6th overall... so there was a bit of distance between me and 3rd).
We changed into our last set of dry clothes (non-running clothes for the first time of the day), got back in the car and drove back to Chicago. After dropping Fuzzy off, Antonio and I went to a (not very good) Chinese buffet, where I got this message in a fortune cookie:
I don't think it took much persuasion to convince these guys to join this crazy race day, but it's good to know that I have a persuasive manner. It will probably come in handy next year when I am trying to convince them to do this again...
Seriously, though, I couldn't have picked a better couple of foolish fools to spend an ENTIRE DAY driving, running, driving, running, driving, running and driving with. And I hope they had as much fun as me.
Stats: 8 hours over, 168 driving miles, and 13.1 running miles (actually 13.4 because of updated Muddy Monk course)