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.