I don’t normally get race anxiety, but as I toed the starting line, I couldn’t wait for this one to be over. The United Run for the Zoo 5K/10K is one of my favorite races of any distance in Chicago, and I wanted to just relax and enjoy it…but I had a specific time goal in mind, and my legs were feeling heavy. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have expected it to be a fast day for me — in the past 8 days, I had:
- Run my fastest marathon ever (8 days earlier)
- Run my fastest mile since the days before I discovered alcohol (3 days earlier)
- Taken my first ever Pilates class (1 day before the race)
I was worn down from running, and that Pilates class was just effing dumb — you’ll never believe this, but it turns out that it’s *NOT* a good idea to start a new cross-training regimen that emphasizes flexibility (of which I have none) and core strength the day before a race. Funny, that.
Still, this particular race through the Lincoln Park Zoo remains one of my favorites in Chicago, and I wasn’t about to drop out just because I wasn’t feeling great. The zoo run ticks all the boxes for me: it’s cheap ($30 for the 5K or 10K); it comes with a great participant shirt (New Balance tech top); and the course is unique (did I mention it runs through a ZOO?). As far as I’m concerned, every runner that’s in Chicago that weekend should run it. Additionally, I was keenly aware (and slightly annoyed) that the zoo run would be my last, best chance to set a new PR in any established distance until the Chicago Marathon in October, which is another 4 months away. With that last thought in the front of my mind, I dragged myself out of bed and made my way down to the Lincoln Park Zoo for the start of the race.
Going into the race, my previous PR in the 5K was a 21:06, or a 06:47/mile pace. I knew it was extremely optimistic, but I was hoping I could beat that time, and hopefully going sub-21:00.
When I reached the start line after dropping my backpack off at gear check, I worked myself all the way up to the front of the queue, off to the side but right next to all the spindly high school cross-country runners that weigh half as much as I do. I wasn’t going to be keeping up with them, but I learned long ago that most runners in a 5K don’t exactly practice a lot of honesty when lining up next to the projected per-mile pace signs at the start.
It’s an ongoing source of confusion to see just how many walkers will line up between the 06:00/mile and 07:00/mile pace signs, forcing runners behind them to weave through/around them once the race is underway. This isn’t meant to be a knock on walkers or casual runners in general, as I’m a firm believer that there is a place in every race for all runners of any experience/ability…but for walkers, that place isn’t at the front of the pack. And so for kind-of-competitive-but-not-REALLY-fast runners like myself, the only real solution to this problem is to line up as close to the front as possible, while also trying to stay as far to the side as possible so as to let the uber-fast runners through without incident. I realize that this strategy is a little hypocritical in light of what I literally just wrote about other people, but I figure that if I’m running off to the side and running a 06:30 opening mile, I don’t think I’ll be hurting another runner’s race. Harrumph.
At 8am the starter’s gun went off, and so did I. Way too fast, as it turns out. Surrounded by speedy youngsters that had the unfair advantage of having never (legally) tasted beer before, I lost all track of my bearings and didn’t realize until nearly half a mile into the race that I was running at a 06:00/mile pace, which is completely unsustainable for me. I dialed my gait waaayyy back to a much more reasonable pace, but my legs were already pissed at me as I clocked my first mile in 06:24 (according to my MOTOACTV), which was a full 23 seconds/mile faster than my PR pace. Whoops.
The first mile of the race had taken us away from the zoo in a somewhat disappointing change to the course from prior years, and it was right around the 1.8-mile mark that we runners entered the north zoo gates and sped past the rhino area. At least one rhinoceros was up and moving at the early hour, as it watched on with a bemused look (can rhinos look bemused? I’m at least 80% sure) at the thousands of runners passing by its designated area. The marker for Mile 2 was right in front of the lion den (which I’m assuming was on purpose), and while I had run a much more controlled & reasonable split of 6:47 for my 2nd mile, I could feel the race slipping away from me…my legs simply would. not. turn. over. I wasn’t out of breath, but I just physically couldn’t move my legs as quickly as I wanted to. As we passed the flamingos on our way out of the zoo, I mentally kissed any chance of a PR goodbye. They looked delicious.
I was still running in the low-7s, but by mile 2.5, I was being passed by a number of people — I’d flat-out run out of gas, and I was trending in the wrong direction. The sun was beating down, my legs were heavy, my abs hurt, and I just didn’t want to be running anymore. For a brief moment I thought about walking….and then it happened. It’s funny how some seemingly minor things can set you off and motivate you in the heat of the moment, and in my case, it was some kid passing me while wearing some stupid sunglasses and the official race shirt that angered me. I wasn’t going to let that happen. This led to the following photo sequence:
That’s me in the green shirt on the far left, looking like I’m in a fair bit of discomfort. The shitty kid who is about to pass me is coming up the middle, looking strong while wearing the official race shirt and some basketball shorts. An extremely fit old guy and a pasty hipster are also bearing down on me, leading to the following photo:
You’ll notice that the camera captured the exact moment where the realization spreads across my face that I’m being punked by some kid wearing a pair of sunglasses that he likely received for opening up a free checking account. Crestfallen, I am well and truly beaten in the next photo:
It was right around this point that I was on the verge of shutting down, until I saw the Mile 3 marker almost directly in front of us….but according to my watch, we were passing it about a tenth of a mile earlier than we should have been. Was this course short? No matter, that’s out of my control. Passing the “Mile 3” marker, my watch was still showing a time that began with a “19” rather than a “20” in the minute column– I realized that if I threw the hammer down on the final kick, perhaps I could catch this poser kid wearing the stupid official race shirt AND set a new PR in the process. Which led to…
I was so confused when I passed the false Mile 3 marker that I’m not really sure at what point I passed him, but it must have been right at the end, judging by the full-on sprint happening in this photo. And while we’re talking about race photos, WHAT kind of self-respecting race photo service doesn’t add any kind of “PROOF” watermark on top of all of their proof photos? It’s like they were begging me to steal these without paying.
And so I crossed the finish line in an official time of 20:07, good for 64th place out of 1,871 finishers in the 5K. My initial delight was tempered by my watch readout, though– my MOTOACTV had measured the course as being only 2.98 miles, rather than the full 3.10. After confirming with a few Garmin-wearing runners whose devices had also measured the course at slightly under 3 miles, I was a little disappointed, but still feeling that elusive Runner’s High after out-kicking that little twerp into the finish line (yes, I’m that petty). Still, this new PR felt hollow. It was only after I picked up my race bag from Gear Check, and subsequently plugged my time/distance into my phone’s calculator, that a smile broke out across my face: my 06:44/mile pace over 2.98 miles would have projected out to a 20:52 for a full 5K, which would have been a new PR by 14 seconds (!!). So while I now have no idea how in the %@#$ I’m going to beat my new “official” PR of 20:07, I did take comfort in knowing that I’d accomplished what I had set out to do….Pilates be damned.
THE BEER — Outburst Imperial IPA (Pyramid Brewery)
The beer sucked, and isn’t even worth mention. The noteworthy thing is that I had exactly one beer after the race, and one beer only. I didn’t respond to any texts inviting me out for Sunday Funday brunch because I’m on a…well, it hurts to say this, but…I’ve gone on a diet. This diet I’m attempting to adhere to is not breakthrough or revolutionary, but for the rest of the month of June I am experimenting with the “Don’t Eat and Drink Like a Total Asshole” Diet.
Despite my recent spurt of PR’s, I still weigh more or less the same as I did a few months ago– if anything, I may have lost a little muscle tone and re-directed that weight toward my burgeoning midsection. I conducted a fairly cursory and unscientific review of my eating habits after the Bayshore Marathon (and after seeing some less-than-appealing race photos), and the results confirmed that I eat like shit and
certainly probably drink too much during the week. This did not come as a surprise, mind you. I’ve known for some time now that I need to make a change in both my diet and exercise habits, but because the Bayshore Marathon had been looming in the distance for so long, I was reluctant to make any drastic changes. Now, with the Bayshore over and my next marathon not for another 4 months, I’m free to experiment a bit.
So in addition to increased exercise, for the month of June I’m cutting out things like fast food, sweets, fried foods, and all those other things that virtually everyone agrees are terrible for you. I’ve started taking Pilates classes, I’m lifting weights 3x/week again, and I even enrolled in a training program for this fall’s Chicago Marathon in an effort to gradually (and safely) increase my weekly mileage. No hard liquor or fast women for the rest of the month, as well. I even started to grow a beard as an outward signal that I’m not to be fucked with, yo. Meanwhile, I’m curbing my alcohol intake to 1-2 beers per day (THE STREAK MUST GO ON), which will make these entries a little less interesting in the short term, but should go a long way toward improving my fitness base moving forward.
And yes, I have already lined up a ton of brewery tours for the month of July.
NEXT RACE: The Steamboat Classic 15K, aka “Illinois’ Toughest 15K” (Peoria, IL — 6/16/2012)