ALTERNATELY TITLED: “HOW TO DRINK FOREVER AT THE SHAMROCK SHUFFLE”
The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle is probably the best 8K road race in the world. It’s the biggest (33,000+ finishers in 2013), it’s the best-organized (this isn’t up for debate), and by offering virtually all of the same features & amenities as its big brother Chicago Marathon (seeded corrals, wave start, elite runner division, downtown course, big post-race party), it’s a great way for the casual runner to experience that “big-race feeling” without having to actually run a marathon. The Shuffle features a flat, fast course that practically begs for PRs when the weather is agreeable, and this giant race is so popular that it sells out every year.
Despite all that, however, the Shamrock Shuffle has been something of a bogey race for me over the years — coming into 2013, I’d never run a good race at the Shuffle. In both 2010 and 2011, I couldn’t crack an 8:00/mile pace. In 2012, I slept right through my alarm and didn’t even make it to the starting line.
In 2013, though, I ran fast by my standards. My finishing time of 33:21 (a 6:43/mile pace (!!)) crushed my previous 8K PR by 2+ minutes, and I’m not sure that it could have gone any better. It was a perfect race for me, one where I executed my race strategy to a ‘T’ and ran the splits I wanted to run. And because everything went so smoothly, well…I don’t really want to write about it. The race wasn’t boring by any stretch, but it also wasn’t all that interesting.
Instead, I’m going to teach you how to drink forever at the Shamrock Shuffle.
NOW PRESENTING: “HOW TO DRINK FOREVER AT THE SHAMROCK SHUFFLE”
“The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K Post-Race Party will be held immediately following the race. The Post-Race Party will feature live music from Chicago’s own Freddy Jones Band. Shamrock Shuffle participants will receive a drink ticket attached to their bib number that can be redeemed for one (1) Michelob ULTRA.”
That italicized quote comes straight from the Shuffle’s website, and its mention of one (1) complimentary drink ticket per runner sounds innocuous enough.
Well, it all starts with a drink ticket.
The Shamrock Shuffle promotes itself as the unofficial kickoff to the spring running season in Chicago, and as a part of that, the race organizers like to throw a big kickoff party near Buckingham Fountain immediately following the race. There’s entertainment provided by a cover band, but most importantly, the post-race party features kegs upon kegs of cold beer.
As mentioned above, each runner’s race bib comes with a drink ticket attached, but there are plenty of runners who don’t want to drink beer at 10am on a Sunday morning. So what happens to the unused drink tickets?
A few years ago, a slightly-unhinged local running/drinking club known as the Chicago Hash House Harriers (“CH3” for short) asked themselves that very question. To CH3’s collective elation, they found that if you wanted a spare drink ticket, well, all you had to do was ask someone. People were just giving them away.
Taking this discovery one step further, the CH3 runners (who I now run with regularly, perhaps unsurprisingly) quickly realized that if you have enough people actively searching for extra tickets, then you can scrounge up enough drink vouchers to pretty much drink forever. And just like that, CH3’s annual “Beer In a Box” event was founded.
In practice, finding an extra beer ticket is as simple as finding a runner that’s walking AWAY from Grant Park after the race, since those are the people who aren’t attending the post-race party. That runner could be anyone — there are the suburbanites who are going straight home after the race; there’s the church crowd that will be heading to mass after the race (these people are quite benevolent and giving by nature, and you’d do well not to forget that); and then there are minors who can’t even drink at the post-race party. Yes, that’s right: in a refreshing role-reversal from the ol’ college days, you can ask a 19-year-old if they can help you get some beer!
Once I completed the race and crossed the finish line, it was even easier to get extra beer tickets than I’d imagined. I finished this year’s Shuffle among the top 2-3% of all finishers, surrounded by lots of runner-types who look a lot fitter than I do, and these health-conscious speed demons couldn’t give their beer tickets to me fast enough. I collected about a half-dozen beer tickets before I even made it back to gear check, and after changing into a fresh shirt, I headed toward the fountain to seek out my CH3 friends.
Some CH3 members who didn’t run the race had already arrived, and it looked like they had no problem soliciting free drinks. As more and more of our runners arrived, the amount of drink tickets in our group’s possession swelled, and the beers piled up. The scales really tipped in our favor when one girl came in with upwards of 50 (!) drink tickets bursting out of her purse; she’d wisely taken up a position outside of a Metra train stop, which allowed her to collect drink vouchers from out-of-town visitors who were taking the train out of the city. This stroke of genius assured that we would not find ourselves wanting for beverages.
There is a physical box involved in CH3’s “Beer in a Box” event, which is something that I recommend — the box is used to ferry beers from the beer stand back to the waiting pack. See, the beer line at the post-race party can get kind of long, but they don’t put a limit on how many beers you can take at a time (for now)…you just have to have the appropriate number of beer tickets. So, to avoid everyone having to wait in the same beer line, our group would send one person at a time with a stack of drink tickets and a large box/tray, which that person then uses to carry back 10-12 beers at a time.
This blog will not confuse Michelob Ultra with REAL beer, but you know what? The beer was free, and it was never-ending. And after a hard run on a sunny day, it’s nice to know that the option for unlimited free beer exists. And yes, I took advantage of it.
So there you have it — quick, easy, and simple. Drinking for free is as easy as asking people for spare drink tickets after the race, and a surprising percentage of runners will hand you their tickets with a wink and a smile.
I know I didn’t talk much about the race here, but if you live in Chicago and have even a passing interest in road racing, then the Shamrock Shuffle is an event that should go on your calendar every year. The course is fast, the race has a big-time feel, the swag is good (Nike tech shirt), and I will mention again that YOU CAN DRINK BEER FOREVER WHEN THE RACE IS OVER. As far as shorter-distance races go, this is one you shouldn’t miss.