Running pic

Running pic
Yup, that's me!

Monday, January 27, 2014

How not to do the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon relay

About 6 months ago I signed myself and a friend up for the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon Relay in Milwaukee, WI. I’ve wanted to do this race for a few years now but I’ve always missed the sign-up window because it’s a small event with only 100 teams allowed.  This year I signed-up almost as soon as registration opened.  At the time the weather was balmy and I was running close to 30 miles a week and doing a half-marathon a couple of times a month – at the least.  I signed up my friend Kari because she’s game for anything and although you could have up to 4 people on your team we decided to do it ourselves because them we could justify eating and drinking more after the race was done, plus pffft! we do halfs all the time, no biggie!  We decided that we would do the race in quarters – 95 laps meant we could break it down by 24/24/24/23 with each of us running twice.  Here’s what actually happened:

The race started at 1pm so we met at the Petit Center in Milwaukee at noon. The race was being held on the three-lane track that goes around the outside of the ice-rinks/speed-skating oval. We snagged a spot to stash our bags and promptly noticed that other teams had far more swank set-ups including blankets to mark off their spots and folding chairs to relax in when you weren’t  running (almost like concerts at Ravinia) – eh, whatever. We filed this info away for the next time we do one of these races.  I went and collected our bibs/t-shirts/ankle chip and went back to our area.  A group of moms and their toddlers had set up camp in front of our bags – again, no biggie. We began to notice that every other team we could see had 4 runners. Yet again, no problem – we weren’t in this to win it, just to earn the delicious beer we’d be drinking later at the Lincoln Square Winterbrew. We were both a little concerned because since the Polar Vortexes have hit the Midwest neither of us has been able to get in a really good long run of double digits. Eh, muscle memory will kick in - right?

I strapped on the ankle chip and went out to run the first leg.  Headphones were absolutely not allowed but they were playing a decent selection of uptempo pop hits so it wasn’t horrible.  The track surface is pretty hard and I could tell it wasn’t going to be very forgiving. I’ll admit that it was pretty boring running around and around and around, but the temperature was perfect for running and I was feeling pretty smug that I was comfortably running inside when I knew that many of my runner friends were freezing their asses off at the F>3 Lakefront Half.  I had plenty of time to notice that other teams were switching out runners after only a few laps (there was no limit on how many times you could swap out runners) and some teams were really flying.  The track wasn’t too crowded and it was fairly easy to pass when I needed to – I just had to make sure and check that none of the super-speedsters weren’t about to zoom past. Running just under 10-minute miles I finished my first leg in about an hour and switched off with Kari.

The temperature in the arena is perfect for running in capris and a short-sleeve shirt but it was downright chilly once I stopped running. This should have been my first warning sign.  I put on a sweatshirt and did some stretches and walked around, drank a bottle of water, and then waited.  Now Kari is faster than me, but not by a ton so her first leg took probably 50 minutes – just enough time for me to go full-on rusty Tin Man. When I took the ankle chip for my second and final leg I could tell after one lap that it was going to be horrible.  The chip activated a lap counter and about 5 yards past the start/finish line was a tote board where you could see your team’s name and number of laps completed and it was a cruel twist of fate that on my second leg I kept losing track of how many laps I had done and thinking I had done more that I actually had and then seeing the facts up on the tote board letting me know that no – I had 2 more laps than I thought left to go. I swear every lap I did on my second leg got slower and slower.  It was truly awful.  Finally I pulled off and gave the ankle chip to Kari.  By this time I was starving and I went down to the concession stand to buy a slice of barely-passable pizza.  I came back upstairs to the track area and noticed that Kari was also moving much slower than her first leg. By this time several of the super-speedster teams were actually FINISHED and more teams were finishing up with every lap.  This meant the track was less crowded but it also had a sort of defeating quality. Kari finally finished up (I don’t even know our final time – we didn’t bother to look and I don’t have any curiosity to look it up now) and we went to get our medals.  The guy from the race that we found asked if we won and we looked at him like he was an idiot – um, no, we did not win. Well, for marathon relay people no medals unless you win.  Medals for Half Marathon finishers, medals for Marathon finishers (there are several events that span the whole weekend) but zippo for relay runners.  I should have said that we probably did win the category of Masters 2-Women teams. Oh well.

So, would I do it again? Sure – but only with a 4 person team and bringing a more swank set-up to relax in during down-time and maybe some better snacks for when I was finished.

What I wore: Gap capris, Icebreaker t-shirt, Oiselle sports bra, Balega socks & my beat-to-hell Mizuno Wave Sayonaras on the first leg, and on the second leg I swapped out the socks for a fresh, dry pair and an Icebreaker tank because it got hotter running than I expected it to.  I could have used arm-warmers with the tank, but it wasn’t horrible.

Swag: a unisex long-sleeve tech t that’s not horrible looking but not great and not gender specific.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lake Mills, WI Tyranena Beer Run recap

I have to say that I run a ton of races in Wisconsin.  They usually have lower entry fees, they are always on a course that I don’t train on, the people seem to be nicer (sorry Chicagoans) and less pushy, and I enjoy making a weekend out of a race.

That said, I ran the Tyranena Half-Barrel Beer Run on Saturday – here’s my recap:

Registration: I had heard that this race sells out quickly so I made it a point to stalk the registration page around the time that they said it would open up and I’m pretty sure I registered on the first day.  I signed up for the half-marathon distance and signed my husband up for the shorter race. It was through so there were some irritating fees, but it went smoothly. I think it was something like $58+fees.

The weekend: The race gets you a discount at a motel somewhere nearby but I thought it would be more fun to stay at a B&B so I found a really nice one walking distance from the brewery and from downtown Lake Mills. We drove up on Friday night – it takes about 2 hours – checked inot the B&B and headed into town for a fish fry. Usually I’d be adverse to eating somewhat greasy dinner, but the race had a late start so I wasn’t too concerned.

Race morning: There was another couple staying at the B&B who were running the race and the B&B owners made a special carb-load breakfast that was just perfect – a baked pancake: pancake batter poured over chopped breakfast ham into a baking dish and then sprinkled with shredded cheese on top. Served hot with maple syrup it was DELICIOUS. Plenty of coffee, water, orange juice and whole wheat bagels completed the offering.

Packet-pick-up: They started at 9:30am so we opted to drive over about 9:45. We were early enough to snag a parking place in what can only be described as a VIP lot – the closest parking to the race site. Originally we had thought of driving to get the packet, driving back to the B&B and changing into running clothes and then walking back, but our primo space and the lack of gear check changed our plans. We opted to leave the car after pick-up and walk back to the B&B (10 min. at most), change and then walk back. Since just about everyone drives to this event they don’t have a gear check – people just leave their stuff in their cars. It was cold enough that I knew I’d want my heavy coat and a pair of sweatpants after the race so it made sense to leave the car there so we could leave warm clothes in it.  
Pre-race: There were about 900 runners for the half (which started an hour before the shorter race) and the line up was orderly and not too crowded.  We actually started about a minute early by my Garmin which was fine.

The course: Very nice – but a little hilly.  The first half of the race went mostly around Rock Lake which was very scenic: pretty lake, nice colors on the trees, beautiful lake houses. This was the hilly portion of the race – nothing absolutely brutal but it did slow me down a little. The second half of the race was mostly on the Glacial Drumlin Path and it was almost totally flat and very shady which made it kind of cold. My second half was way better than my first – my first 10K split was something like 59:02 which is kinda sucky until I factored in the hills.  I finished in 2:02 so I was pretty happy – if it had been a flat course I might have squeaked under 2 hours! There were four water/porta-potty stops on the course stocked with water and Gatorade, but no gel was given out – a fact that was mentioned in their e-mails so I assume most runners planned for that and if not a local running store had a tent up selling last minute supplies – gloves, hats, gels, etc.

Post race: after crossing the timing mats you were directed to a tent where you were blanketed with a mylar wrap (the first race I’ve had this and it was really great) and went through a food line with bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, packets of cheese, cookies, water and Gatorade and then a volunteer handed you your medal .

Post race party: this is why you do this race.  2 beer tickets for a Tyrenea brew of your choice – I had a Rocky’s Revenge and a Sheep Shagger and both were delicious.  You also got a lasagna lunch: salad (mostly iceberg – but that’s pretty common in Wisconsin), meat or b├ęchamel sauce lasagna, and a garlic breadstick. The lines were very well managed – beers were being pre-poured from the taps and put by variety on banquet tables and then a volunteer would retrieve the beer of your choice.  The lunch line was equally efficient with self-serve salad and volunteers dishing out squares of lasagna and a breadstick. The lunch was held inside a huge tent with rows of banquet tables and chairs and while it was a little chilly hundreds of hot runners managed to bring the air up to a reasonably warm temperature.

Additional festivities: Tyranena had a booth with beer specials – a flat $7 for six-packs of their regular beers or four-packs of their specialty beers – that’s a pretty good deal.  They also had specials on their logo apparel.

I’m absolutely going to put this race on my calendar for next year – I had a great time and it was a really nice getaway weekend.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Pumpkins in the Park 5K recap

I was thinking that I wouldn’t be back with a race report until next week after the Tyranena Beer Run ½ Barrel – I forgot completely about Pumpkins in the Park!  I’ll just do a quickie recap for you all.

Registration: Full disclosure – I do some work helping to promote the Chicago area Fleet Feet stores so I usually get a code to register for their branded races either for free or for a pretty major discount. I actually paid full price for this race because I wanted to get my registration in early because I asked them to assign me the number 666 so I could indulge in my devilish ways. Registration was easy and on-line.

Packet Pick-up: Very easy.  It was held at all three Fleet Feet locations and when I went there was no line.

Shirt: A long-sleeved cotton ‘lifestyle’ t-shirt – black with a cute Halloween themed logo on the front and a minimally logoed back – just the FF logo and the Chicago Park District logo. As is the case with most shirts it ran a little small, but more on the fitted side less on the obscenely tight side so it’s ok – I’ll probably wear it to work on Halloween.

Getting there: I was going to take the bus with my friend Becky, but we decided to drive to avoid waiting at cold bus stops.  We were pretty early so we didn’t have much trouble finding free parking close to Lincoln Park Zoo.

What I wore: It is a costume race although I’ve never run it in a costume before, but since I had #666 I had to go all out. I bought a devil costume on eBay (think Jon Lovitz as the Devil on SNL) that consisted of a fabric hood with horns, a cape, and a pin-on tail.  This was perfect as it allowed me to wear regular running clothes underneath – I wore a pair of old Nike full-length black tights and a black long-sleeved tech-t from a race that I turned inside out to hide the logos. I wore my Adidas Boost shoes which I frankly don’t really like running in, but they are all black so they completed the look.  Since it was chilly I wore my Smartwool knitted glove liners. Since I didn’t want to wear any kind of make-up that would sweat away and into my eyes I wore a pair of zany cats-eye sunglasses.

Pre-Race: We had our IDs checked so that we could get our post-race beer without any hassles, walked around and visited with a few friends and then headed to the Farm in the Zoo to stay warm. 

The race: They changed the course up a little this year and it was way better.  I had run 10 miles in the morning so I knew that I was just going to be treating this as a jog with a friend – I almost ripped off my timing tag but really, who cares – not me! We started at the back and although it was crowded it did open up enough that we could pass people when we needed to. There were some annoying strollers and weaving kids, but it is billed as a family friendly race so that was to be expected. I have to admit that I was hurting from the 10 miles so even if I wanted to bust a move and run fast there was no way it was going to happen.  I have got to remember to stretch after long runs – the older I get the more important this seems to be. Running in costume presented a couple of issues.  The hood made my head really hot – lucky it was a chilly day or I’d have been a sweaty mess.  I had to hold each side of the cape in my hands so that it didn’t strangle me and I would up having to grab my tail and hold it too since it had the unfortunate habit of coming between my legs and looking very much like a penis – plus it was threatening to trip me. But, since it was only a 5K it was no biggie – I figure I can suck it up and do or wear most anything for a half-hour.
Post-Race: The line for professional stretching was small so we each got stretched out and picked up our beers (Harvest Ale for me, Green Line for Becky). I didn’t eat any of the food, but it looked like there were packages of cookies, pretzels, and bananas – somewhere there was popcorn being given away too. We didn’t hang around for the Thriller dance-off or the costume contest because we were both pretty cold and I had a pumpkin carving party to get to.

Friday, October 25, 2013

New Glarus Knights Run Half-Marathon recap

I almost don’t want to write this review because I want this race to stay small and sort of like the best kept secret around, but then again with such a small turnout I also want to make sure that the race keeps happening because it was AWESOME!


A month or so ago I saw a listing for a half-marathon/5K in New Glarus, Wisconsin – The Knights Run.  I looked at the course map to make sure it was a trails race and not a road race because New Glarus has some hills that even my car doesn’t like to go up.  Trails it was, so I e-mailed a college friend/running buddy who lives in Janesville to see if she would do the race with me and provide housing for me for the weekend . Aided by a few factors: $30 entry fee, 9am start, and mostly flat course she agreed to sign up. My husband and I have been vacationing near New Glarus for over 10 years and we love so many things about the area: the beer, the Swiss-style restaurants, the beautiful trail system and the super-nice people and I was really excited to find a race up there.


Registration: I printed out the entry form and mailed it in with my check for $30 made out to the New Glaurs PTO. Adorable.


The drive up: I went up to Janesville on Friday night after work and thanks to a ‘secret’ route that kept me off of IL-90 I made it up there at 7pm.  My friend and I hustled off to a supper club for an amazing fish fry and I went for the full Wisconsin experience by having an Old Fashioned before dinner and a Pink Squirrel for dessert.  I was pretty pooped so we headed back to her house and I cozied up in her amazing guest room. Tip: keep the house cool but put flannel sheets on the guest bed.


Saturday: Probably not the best idea before a half, my friend took me to the barn where she boards her horse and we took a 45 minute lesson followed by a 15 minute cool-down in the pasture.  I knew this would kill my leg muscles, but it was so much fun to get a chance to ride again.  We had lunch at a great deli and hit a few resale shops (Goodwill & Threads) where I scored a real Armani sweater for $9.25. Again: I love Wisconsin. We also stopped by a local running store so I could buy a pair of gloves because the temperature was dropping pretty precipitously and managed to recruit the store owner to do the race as well.  We stopped back at the house to clean up and change and headed off to a party her friends were having called Porktoberfest (I’m totally appropriating that party theme/name for an Illinois version next year) where all manner of porky deliciousness was served.


What I wore to the race: It was obviously going to be colder than I thought and I consider myself lucky that I’m a chronic overpacker and had enough gear to layer up.  I didn’t have the foresight to pack tights or gloves, but I did have a pair of North Face capris and a pair of Zensah compression calf sleevesto go over them which kind of counts as tights anyway.  I wore a short sleeved Icebreaker shirt with a Nike ¼-zip over it. I used my new Saucony gloves and a bright orange Saucony baseball cap. I wore Balega socks and my Mizuno Wave Sayonaras.


Morning of: since the race didn’t start until 9am we didn’t have to leave Janesville until 7:30.  Naturally with much dawdling that turned into 7:45.  I was having some pretty major digestive distress – thank you Porktoberfest  now officially known as the worst pre-race meal of all time. My GPS, Judith, (what? you didn’t name your GPS?) said we’d arrive at 8:55 which seemed wrong but I still drove like a bat out of hell since I didn’t want to be late.  We wound up arriving at 8:35 so we were totally safe. The race started on a small street that runs between a park and the high school and there was plenty of parking in both the school and park lots.


Packet Pick-up: It was kind of a cluster-f. I’m not complaining – it was a small race so it was a very minor inconvenience that they seemed to have set up everything about 30 seconds before we got there and were sort of disorganized about how to distribute the packets.  I saw my packet and just plucked it out. Besides the bib there was a unisex cotton t-shirt that wasn’t horrible looking, a beef stick, and a bunch of coupons for local businesses.  They had hot chocolate available and they opened up the school so we could use the bathrooms (I was still in the throes of GI unhappiness – I took a couple of Immodium and luckily it solved the problem). The high school mascot – The Knight – was milling around doing a meet & greet and posing for pictures.


Start: spoiler alert: it didn’t start on time. At about 9:05 they started the kids race. About 20 kids ran out about .25 miles, around a cone, and then back.  They were adorable – one girl crossed the finsh line and got all weepy because they she didn’t win.  Oh girl – there aren’t enough tears. No fear, since this is modern day America all they kiddos got ribbons.  About 9:15 they gathered the half-marathonners (all 16 of us – I shit you not) and let us know some course specifics and set us loose. I believe they started the 5K about 10 minutes later after we had cleared the general area.


The course: it was an out-and-back that broke into three segments. Pt. 1 started behind the school and headed to a paved trail that runs alongside WI-69 – a little over 1-mile. Then we crossed WI-69 with the aid of a crossing guard and got on the Sugar River Trail. The SRT is a rails-to-trails project  so it’s mostly flat and has a crushed gravel surface that has seen some better days – most of the gravel is gone so it’s more like packed dirt – but it’s still pretty nice on the joints.  We stayed on the SRT for about 4 miles and then turned onto a small country road. We were on the road for about .25-mile and then turned on to the Badger State Trail another r-to-t project with a similar surface. This portion was a very slight uphill grade. Right before the turn around was an old .25-mile railroad tunnel that I know from bike rides is completely dark and has a pretty rough surface.  Cuteness alert: there was a volunteer standing right before the tunnel with a bucket of flashlights and they had thoughtfully placed LED puck lights every few feet inside the tunnel.  The turnaround was about 10-yards after the tunnel so once you were back through you just handed the flashlight back to the volunteer with the bucket. 


Water stops/bathrooms: There were 4 water stations on the way out, so the same 4 on the way back.  Each stop was manned by a pair of high school cross-country runners and they had water and a choice of Gatorade – red or blue.  Since this was truly a tiny race the Gatorade was from bottles – not the nasty stuff made from powder or concentrate. As you approached they would ask you if you wanted anything and what flavor of Gatorade you wanted – nice touch.  They used plastic cups – not my favorite because you can’t pinch the cup to drink from without breaking it – but that was a minor inconvenience.  Now what could have been a major inconvenience was the complete lack of porta-potties.  Not a single one.  However, there are ample places to dart off the trail into the bushes if you don’t have a problem with that and there was a cornfield on the road that connected the two trails. Thankfully the Immodium worked its magic and I didn’t have to try to find a secluded spot to relieve myself.


Awards: this was not a chip timed race (duh) and because it was so small there weren’t really age groups. I think they gave awards to the first man & first woman, but that was it. I came in 12th out of 16 total runners and I think 4th out of 7 women with a time of about 2:05-ish.


Post race: massages (no wait!), cheese sticks, beef jerkey, more beef sticks, cheese dip & crackers, orange slices, bananas, and mini sandwiches. The only thing missing was New Glarus beer but we remedied that by immediately heading to a local restaurant for lunch.


I would totally do this race again and I think you should do it next year too – I want them to keep having this race because it’s so much fun and has such a great small-town feel.  Here’s what I recommend: drive up on Saturday to explore the town and the brewery – it’s really beautiful. Book a room at the quaint Chalet Landhaus and have dinner at their excellent restaurant.  Don’t forget a swimsuit because they have a really nice indoor pool/whirlpool/sauna/steamroom (great for after the race!). Do the race and marvel at what a $30 race gets you in Wisconsin then eat at the Glarner Stube for lunch - order the house-made fried cheese curds. You will certainly have ingested more calories than you burned but it will be so completely worth it. Hit Roy’s Market on the way out of town (great selection of NG beer and slightly cheaper than the brewery) and be on your merry way.


I spoke to the ‘race director’ after the race – she was just a mom from the PTO – and suggested that they do just a little marketing next year. I told her to send out a few posters to running stores and sporting goods stores in surrounding towns and to market the race as the New Glarus Knights Tunnel Run because the tunnel was a really unique feature and runners love quirky features and gimmicks (at least I do).

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Madison Mini-Marathon recap

Despite being sorely undertrained I ventured up to Madison this past weekend to run the Madison Mini Marathon (really a half – why do they have to say it’s ‘mini’?). Here’s my thoughts on the race:

Registration: I wish I could remember – it was so long ago.  I do remember thinking it was cheap (compared to Chicago-area halfs). It was on-line so I’m sure it was pretty easy and standard.

Packet Pick-up: I hear the parking was a complete clusterf*ck. Luckily for me one of my fellow racers offered her husband as pick-up lackey.  He works in Madison so it wasn’t horrible for him, but he did mention that it took him awhile to find a spot to park.  Sadly this meant I missed the expo (because I am an total sucker for expo deals & steals) but if I had to pick up my packet I couldn’t have done this race because I’d have had to take Friday off work and I’m running out of the precious vacation days. They did have a will-call option for race day but I believe that it was extra $$.

Goody-bag: Not much here: a shirt that is OK but huge, and a drawstring bag. I suppose there weas stuff I could have bought at the expo, but again: didn’t go.

Getting to the race area: One of my college buddies offered to host me for Friday night – she lives in Janesville. I drove up using her secret route that kept me off of 90 and away from most of the construction and was actually fairly pleasant.

Dinner: We went to a place in Janesville called the Speakeasy and had an ill-advised pre-race dinner of fried cheese curds (what? You just can’t get them like that at home in Chicago!), a salad, pasta with a cheese sauce and a New Glarus Spotted Cow.  Not my finest moment as far as pre-race food goes, but the choices were kind of limited.

Getting to the race: We got up at 5am and each had a piece of peanut-butter toast and some coffee.  The coffee ‘worked’ for my friend but not me.  Wah, wah. Our ride showed up at 5:40 and we drove to Madison. The same husband who picked up our packets was our driver so he dropped the three of us off near the start and went to find parking. We got there about 6:30.  This is where my first bad thing happened.  When I got out of the car I shook off my jacket because we weren’t going to gear check.  I walked a half block away from the car and realized my iPod shuffle was in my jacket pocket. I hate running distance without music.  DOOMED!

Bathroom situation: Not good. Porta-potty lines were LONG, and it seems that Wisconsin racers don’t get the concept of the multiple lines for each bank of porta-potties with each line ‘in-charge’ of two or three porta-potties. So it was one long line for the whole bank. At least people were well behaved and no-one cut in line because my coffee had finally kicked in if you know what I mean – and I think you do.

Start area: I think we were in corrals G, H & I so we all stared in I so we could start together. The corrals weren’t heavily policed (or crowded) so we could have probably started anywhere except right up at the front.

The course: Absolutely beautiful. We ran past the UWM campus, their football stadium, the farmers market, the capital building, through the arboretum and next to the lake. Rolling hills but nothing that was too Alpine. I’d say 75% shaded. Luckily I ran with one my friend’s friend (now after two hours of running, my friend too) and she kept me company, but she also was running a tad bit slower than I could have mustered for the day (2nd bad thing to happen) and then I had to use the porta-potty again on course (3rd bad thing if you’re keeping track). This all equaled a time that was not my best but I’m fine with that – I have several more halves this season and I’m hoping for betting showings in those.

Post-race:  Short organized beer line for a large, draft, craft beer in a commemorative cup plus cookies, granola bars, bananas and Bucky Badger popcorn (2 flavors!). The post-race gathering spot was on the UWM terrace (apparently a hot spot in Madison) overlooking Lake Mendota.

I would absolutely do this race again – next weekend if I could.  It was that good.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Quickie Elvis is Alive 5K recap

I am such a fan of the Elvis is Alive 5K – it’s so nice to take a break and just run a race for the sake of running with friends and not worry about trying for a PR or reaching a time goal. I’ve done it for the past several years and here’s my experience this year:

Sign-up: Easy on-line sign-up. I signed up both my husband and myself with one checkout.

Packet Pick-up: Also easy if you are located near one of the Chicago Fleet Feet Stores. They had pick-up Mon., Tues, Wed. of this week – all nights where one store or the other has a fun run or chicks night run.

T-Shirt:  A stylish cotton-blend charcoal grey t-shirt with an Elvis logo that is more subtle than in the past few years – very nice and a shirt I will certainly wear. The ladies shirts ran small as seems to be the trend recently, but I was able to exchange my shirt on the spot for a larger size.

Getting there: Parking near Diversey Harbor is pretty crappy so I took public transport.  Brown Line to the Diversey bus – last stop dropped me right at ground zero for the race.

Pre-Race: Lots of people milling around but I managed to find the friends I was meeting up with. The Elvis impersonator was warming up with a few classic Elvis hits. Always great people watching at this race especially with all the people in full-Elvis costumes.  Plus,  it seems that there are a ton of non-racers/non regular runners that show up and some of what they wear is pretty baffling.

The Course: Crowded. I’m happy this was just a fun run – if I was busting a hump to get a PR or hit a goal time I’d have been pissed. Other than that the course was well thought out and has some nice turns to make things interesting. It did eventually thin out and I can blame some of the crowding on the fact that I waited a long time to get into a the coral and had to start pretty far back.

Post-Race: THE BEST. Fleet Feet was giving away award poker chips for the race in the previous few weeks so I had extra beer chips. Foodwise they had: peanut butter-banana sandwiches, Snyders pretzels, Clif Bar minis, bananas, and watermelon. They also had bottled water and Gatorade if you weren’t a beer drinker. Plus you get the free Elvis impersonator concert and it was such a nice night we all stuck around to listen for awhile. There were two food trucks there selling something, but my group had dinner plans for after so I didn’t investigate too closely – it was a nice touch though for hungry people who wanted to hang around for the festivities.

Yeah, it’s a crowded lakefront path race – but it’s not timed so you can just run for fun.  You might say, “hey, I can run the lakefront path for free any time I want to – why pay for an untimed race?” To that I say how often is your lonely run finished up at a party? 

Homestretch for Heroes 5K Recap

I am truly a sucker when it comes to running – I can almost never say no if someone asks me to do a race with them. My sister-in-law told me that she was doing the Homestretch for Heroes 5K at Arlington Park so of course I could not say no. I’ll admit I’m also a sucker for a good gimmick in a race and the prospect of getting to run a half-mile or so on the polytrack surface intrigued me. 

Sign-up: I missed on-line registration so I headed to packet pick-up at Runner’s High & Tri in Arlington Heights.  Luckily that’s only about a 10 minute drive from where I work.  It took just a few minutes to fill out a form and hand in my check for $35. I was able to get a t-shirt (not gender-specific and cotton, but with a cute jockey-style design silk screened on the front).  There was also a re-usable grocery tote as the goodie bag.

Getting there: After work on Tuesday I drove to my s-i-l’s house and carpooled to the race with her family. Since the race was at Arlington Park Racetrack, there was ample parking close to the start. If you worked downtown you could have easily gotten here by Metra as the train stops right at the park – not sure about the return trip though.

Pre-Race: They had the grandstand area open so you could use the flush toilets – this has been a theme for the past few races I’ve done and nothing says “I care” like letting runners use flush toilets. There were only about 450 runners registered for the race so the start area wasn’t crowded. This was a gun-timed race so I tried not to start too far back but still staying about where I thought I should be considering my pace.

The Course: I guess I didn’t realize how much land it takes to have a racecourse because I’d say that 90% or more of this race was on Arlington property.  We started in the parking lot, headed out on a service road past the stables and practice track, onto a regular road (shut down for the race), back past the other side of the stables, around the parking lot and then for the gimmick: onto the track for the last ~.75 mile.  The track has a polyform surface – basically fake dirt – that they rolled for the race so that it would be hard enough to run on without sinking into it.  I assumed that by the time I came along it would be kind of churned up but that was not the case.  It had the give and feel of a well-padded running track but there were treadmarks all over from the tractor or the roller so it wasn’t the smoothest surface – and no shoe marks (I guess runners aren’t heavy enough to make a dent in the surface).  It was not so uneven so that you had to worry about tripping, but you did have to watch so that you wouldn’t roll an ankle – I tried to pick out a particular tread mark and run on that for as long as I could and then pick out another one. I will say that there was never a time that I felt crowded and the roads we ran on were wide enough to pass and be passed as necessary. One water stop about half way through.  This race is not for the OCD runner though - no mile markers or time clocks that I saw so you had either better know your own pace or have been running with a Garmin.

The Finish: I’ve done chip-timed races aplenty with all manner of chips: Champion, B-Tag, ankle chips, shoe chips, etc., and I’ve done completely untimed races before but this was the first old-school style race where they wanted the rip-off part of your bib to put on a spindle to record your time that I’ve done.  Frankly I still don’t get how they match your bib-tag to the finish time,  but they did have my time accurately as to what the finish-line clock said so I’m not going to ask too many questions. Of course I had pinned that part of my bib underneath but as I approaceh the finish I saw what they were doing and managed to reach down and unpin the bottom of my bib.

Post-Race: The free stuff was apples and granola bars from Whole Foods, mini Jelly Belly packets, cold bottled water and one free beer. They also had the concession stands open and you could buy their totally overpriced food and more beer. They had a DJ playing music and she was really trying to drag out any song that had the word ‘horse’ in the lyrics.  I wanted to let her know that White Horse by Laid Back isn’t really about riding THAT kind of horse.

I’d definitely do this race again next year – I like smaller, uncrowded races and like I said, I’m a sucker for a gimmick. Plus with the 10K they plan on adding it would be a fun way to get the mileage in.