Day #377 — The Shamrock Shuffle 8K (Chicago, IL — 4/7/2013)

ALTERNATELY TITLED: “HOW TO DRINK FOREVER AT THE SHAMROCK SHUFFLE”

Runners toe the line at the 2013 Shamrock Shuffle. I would claim many of their beer tickets for the post-race party

Runners toe the line at the 2013 Shamrock Shuffle. I would claim many of their beer tickets for the post-race party

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.

Err'day I'm (Shamrock) Shufflin' (in 2013)

Err’day I’m (Shamrock) Shufflin’ (specifically in 2013)

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 Beer-in-a-Box technique

Total cost:  $0.00

“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.

Post-race party at the Shamrock Shuffle

Post-race party at the Shamrock Shuffle

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.

This is what a fistful of free beer tickets looks like

This is what a fistful of free beer tickets looks like

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.

The Chicago Hash House Harries congregating near Buckingham Fountain, with free beers in-hand

The Chicago Hash House Harries congregating near Buckingham Fountain, with free beers in-hand

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.

FINAL THOUGHTS

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.

Cheers!

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Posted in Drankin' Reports, Race Reports | 1 Comment

Day #363 — The NC Half Marathon (Charlotte, NC — 3/24/2013)

Spoiler Alert -- I finished.

The crew for the weekend, from left to right: Dan, Chris, Ashley, Lindsey, myself, Alexis, and Marla

This was better than just a regular race weekend.

I watched more basketball in 4 days than I had in any previous extended stretch of my life. I visited museums, I barcrawled, and I saw a concert at The Fillmore. I made new friends, I reconnected with an old friend I hadn’t seen in over a decade, and I was treated like family by a friend’s parents that I’d only met that weekend. I toured the stomping grounds of Billy Graham, I drove around Charlotte in the lamest rental car I’ve ever been given, I immersed myself in the NASCAR experience, and above all, I just relaxed.

And somewhere in the midst of all that, I found time to set a very unexpected new half-marathon PR.

BACKGROUND

Across the street from Charlotte's great Mint Museum

Across the street from Charlotte’s great Mint Museum

Last June, friend-of-the-blog Dan Solera convinced me that it would be a good idea to run the NC Half Marathon at Charlotte Motor Speedway in March 2013. On paper, the race sounded looked great — the course had a nice novelty to it (we would run through/around 3 separate race tracks at the Charlotte Motor Speedway complex), it was cheap (early-bird pricing was still sub-$60), and it would give me an excuse to travel to a state that I’d never visited. On July 2nd, 2012, I plunked down my registration fee for the race and barely gave it another thought for the rest of 2012.

The Billy Graham Library

The Billy Graham Library

As the months went on, though, some of our friends unexpectedly jumped on board. First to commit was Marla, with one half-marathon under her belt, who has family in Raleigh that she could visit that weekend. Next came Ashley, who had never run a half marathon before, but who has recently started running and has family in Charlotte that she wanted to see. Seeing this fearsome foursome already registered, our friend Lindsey from Grand Rapids, MI decided she couldn’t keep away, and our fantastic four grew to a party of five. When my friends Chris and Alexis decided to drive down from Washington, DC that weekend to run the race as well, we found ourselves with a truly magnificent seven.

This was my rental car for the weekend -- it was not gangster.

This was my rental car for the weekend — it was less than gangster.

And speaking of magnificent, the race was to be held on the Sunday of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament’s opening weekend. I jumped at the opportunity to fly down to Charlotte early on Thursday so that I could watch as many games as possible, and I had my butt on a bar stool at Buffalo Wild Wings before noon on March 21st to watch my beloved Michigan State Spartans throttle Valparaiso.

A sampling of the textural art inside the Mint Museum

A sampling of the textural art inside the Mint Museum

Since everyone else was flying in later on Thursday, after the game ended I spent most of my time tooling around Charlotte on my own, seeing that sights that I wasn’t sure anyone else would be interested in. I walked around the Billy Graham Library, and I paid a visit to both the Mint Museum and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art (the Mint Museum is way better, in case you’re dying to know). Ashley, Marla, and Lindsey all landed at around the same time later that day, and we closed out our Thursday night by relaxing in the hot tub at Ashley’s family home.

Friday (two days before the race) was wonderfully gluttonous — after an early run through Charlotte’s Freedom Park, we picked up Ashley’s brother Adam and his roommate John and proceeded to go to more bars and drink more beers and watch more basketball. John is a friend that I hadn’t seen since we both attended the same high school in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, and he just happened to now be roommates with Ashley’s brother in Charlotte. It’s a small world, I tell ya.

Ashley, Lindsey, and I broke off from the group mid-day to visit the NASCAR Hall of Fame, where we got to drive all the simulators for free (that feels important). After whetting our NASCAR whistle, we met up again with Adam and John at a bowling alley that was showing all of the tournament games on big screen TVs at the end of each lane. Before long, I received a call from Chris and Alexis to let me know that they had arrived in town. The weekend was really, truly kicking into gear.

Drinking / Bowling / Watching absurd amounts of basketall

Drinking / Bowling / Watching absurd amounts of basketball. That’s John crouched in front, with myself, Lindsey, Adam, and Ashley in the back row

Chris and Alexis picked me up downtown  and we headed straight to the Fillmore, to go see Minus the Bear play live. The venue was cool, the band was great, the company was excellent, and the post-concert beers were delicious. The day started early and ended late, and for me, reality of running a half-marathon on Sunday hadn’t really sunk in yet.

Saturday morning saw us head to the racetrack to pick up our packets, which went very smoothly (good looks, Charlotte Motor Speedway — I see you). Alexis was very excited that her old car got to experience the unmitigated thrill of driving within the walls of an actual speedway (parking for packet pickup was located in the track’s infield area), and we were excited to let her be excited. After we’d retrieved our packets, it was time to go — you’ll never guess this — drink and watch more basketball!

And after another 5-6 hours of (lightly) drinking and watching sports, we had just enough time to eat dinner and retire to our respective sleeping quarters; we had a big day ahead of us the next day.

PRE-RACE (Sunday, March 24th — 5:30am)

Rain on race day is never fun.

As Chris, Alexis, and I woke up around 5:30am on Sunday, 2 hours before the start of the race, a steady drizzle was noticeable outside our hotel window. The 30-minute drive from our hotel to the speedway passed mostly in silence — Chris was trying to wake up, Alexis was trying to keep the car from sliding off the road, and I was trying not to think about how much it would suck to run 13.1 miles in a deluge.

The weather forecast for Sunday had looked like crap all week, and it didn’t look like we were going to be getting a break.

We parked our car and walked to the pre-race staging area at the infield garage, the same place where packet pickup was held the day before. We quickly found Dan, Ashley, Marla, and Lindsey, and we spent the rest of our time before the race inside that wonderfully warm, dry garage. Do you know what’s GREAT to have available when it’s raining outside? An appropriately large indoor shelter that can fit the entire race field, as well as any spectators. Good looks again, NC Half Marathon at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I see you on that.

After one final rushed bathroom break (JUST MADE IT!), we left the garage and walked to starting line on the racetrack’s oval. Chris and I positioned ourselves close to the front of the starting queue, while Dan lined up even further forward.

Magically, the steady rain that had been falling for hours had eased during the short time we spent in the garage, and it now felt like nothing more than a light mist. Would we be in luck after all?

After re-tying my shoes and suffering through an UNBEARABLY long prerecorded instrumental version of The Star-Spangled Banner (don’t think I didn’t notice that, NC Half Marathon at Charlotte Motor Speedway), the loud revving and squealing tires of an actual stock car signaled the start of the race. With the carnal smell of burnt rubber and exhaust fumes lingering in the air, we were off!

This photo is courtesy of the NC Half Marathon's Facebook page -- I assumed that the loud vrooming that we heard was a pre-recorded noise pumped in on the PA system, but NOPE, it was an actual race car

This photo is courtesy of the NC Half Marathon’s Facebook page. I couldn’t see the race car when I started and so I assumed that the loud vrooming that we heard was a prerecorded noise pumped through the PA system, but NOPE, it was an actual race car

THE RACE

This was my first road race back since I injured my knee last October, and I was’t sure how it would hold up at race pace. My plan was to run at close to a steady 08:00/mile pace throughout the entire race, and hopefully finish with a time around 1:45 — if things went okay and my still-rehabilitating knee didn’t blow up, I would end up running my 2nd- or 3rd-fastest half marathon ever. Really, the only thing that I wanted out of this weekend was was run a fast(ish) road race without anything giving out on me, and anything beyond that would be a bonus.

While Dan would be running off on his own far up ahead (the bastard), Chris decided that he would run at least the first few miles with me. Chris is markedly faster than me when he’s on his game (he ran a 1:35:39 half-marathon in March 2012), but as he was still racing himself into shape for the spring season, he decided that opening up with a few “easy” 8-minute miles would be a good thing before kicking it into another gear.

Chris and I started the race near a beanpole-thin pacer holding a “1:45” pole, and the presence of pacers was a real relief to me. I had ditched my preferred GPS watch for the day because it doesn’t do well in the rain, and so I was just wearing a plain ol’ digital sport-watch around my wrist. I was “running blind,” without my GPS security blanket to give me feedback, and running with a pacer was just what I needed. Chris and I decided to run with our Pace Car for at least the first few miles, at which point we would then reassess our situation mid-race (oh, and that’s another thing — our incredibly polite/congenial gentleman pacer will henceforth be known as “Pace Car” in this entry, because I’m an asshole and I forgot to get his name).

The race began on a straightaway at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, with the initial stretch taking us just below/inside the innermost white line on the track, so as to keep us off the wicked bank of the upper track where the stock cars normally race. Don’t worry, I still went far out of my way to run above the white line anyway, just to say that I ran where the stock cars raced. I nearly fell over because of the steepness of the track, but the important takeaway here is that I pretended to be a race car for a couple seconds, and it was awesome.

After running on the main track for about a mile and a quarter, the course took us off the track and down through Pit Road, which had no bank/camber to speak of. The ensuing mile and a half snaked through the speedway’s winding infield, and after about 2.5 miles, we turned left to exit the speedway. I had no idea just how immensely huge these southern speedways are — I didn’t think it was possible to run almost 3 miles inside of one single architectural structure, but that’s exactly what we did. For a more detailed view of the course, here is Dan’s GPS readout of the course, taken from his recap of the race:

I apologize for the fact that Mile 4 isn't clearly marked, but I have to say again....I stole this picture, and it's pretty good.

I apologize for the fact that Mile 4 isn’t clearly marked, but I have to mention again that I stole this picture from someone else’s hard work, and it’s pretty good.

Dan’s race recap will tell you that right outside the main speedway is where we started to experience some hills, but in truth, I barely noticed them. If there were hills, they were firmly in the “rolling” category, at least until we crossed a steep pedestrian bridge taking us over a highway somewhere after Mile 4.

The bridge had some noticeable give/bounce to it, which concerned some people more than it bothered me. It was only after everyone in our 8:00/mile pace group had made across the bridge that Pace Car told us, “Okay, now that everyone is safely over that bridge, I can tell you that it collapsed in the year 2000 because the builder used a crappy concrete mix. It happened on a big race day, and over 100 people tumbled from the bridge to the highway when it happened. It was so bad, people were stacked up on top of one another.” Wait…WHAT?!? 

“Oh yeah, I think someone even died in that,” came a comment from the back of the group. Yes, THIS REALLY HAPPENED. Damn, Pace Car, that’s a heavy bit of knowledge to be dropping on us just one-third of the way into the race, but I was glad he said it after we had already crossed.

It was around this time that Chris started to feel some, uh, rumblings in his stomach. I know what that’s like and it’s not fun, so I didn’t even try to talk him out of it when he broke off from our group at Mile 5 to use a Port-o-John. I asked him if I should wait for him or maybe slow down my pace a bit, but he told me to keep on going, and he would catch up to us. It must be nice to be that fast, I thought, and I sped away with Pace Car and the gang.

As we zoomed around the outside boundary of the Dirt Track at Mile 5, Pace Car thoughtfully advised us that we were about to encounter the biggest downhill stretch of the course at Mile 5.5, which we would then have to climb back up immediately after we turned around at the bottom of the hill. I decided to take full advantage of the downhill so that I could then jog the uphill portion at a more casual gait (climbing hills is all about perceived effort, not pace!), and I sped ahead to put some distance between myself and the pace group. The strategy worked like a charm, and my legs felt refreshed and energized when the rest of the group caught up to me at the crest of the hill. Weirdly, though, even though this short stretch of the course was an out-and-back, I hadn’t seen Chris. Had I missed him?

Shortly after Mile 6, we made a right turn and entered the zMAX Dragway, a state-of-the-art four-lane drag strip that was just built in 2008. In April 2012, Spencer Massey set the NHRA national speed record at this strip and became the first Top Fuel pilot to reach 330 mph at the 1,000-foot mark, with a speed of 332.18 mph.

I would be running at a speed of roughly 7.5 mph.

The zMAX Dragway would be another short out-and-back (see Dan’s map again for a refresher on the course), taking us about three-quarters of a mile to the end of the strip before turning around and running back toward the entrance. There was a steady headwind in our faces as we ran out toward the far end of the track, and this is where I first saw Dan, who had already hit the turnaround and was speeding back toward us. I broke off my conversation with Pace Car to shout some encouragement, and Dan grimly nodded back without breaking stride. He looked like he was running fast, but he offered no smile or outward sign that he was enjoying himself.

The turnaround at the end of the strip coincided with the Mile 7 marker, and with the wind now at my back, I felt like I was positively flying. It was a couple minutes after the turnaround where I finally saw Chris — by my estimate, he was now about a half-mile behind me. As we passed on opposite sides of a short concrete barrier, I asked him it he thought he would catch up, and he responded that yes, he would. Sounds good to me, I thought, and I rejoined another conversation with Pace Car and the rest of the 08:00-milers as we exited the zMAX Dragway.

I was grateful for the conversation offered by my temporary race friends, and the miles were melting away. I found time to pick Pace Car’s brain about some of the ultramarathons that he’s running this summer, and to be honest, it didn’t even feel like I was racing at this point. If I hadn’t been wearing a race bib and running next to a guy carrying a pace sign, it would have felt like any other group run, albeit much faster than my normal training pace.

If you're smiling, you should probably be running faster

That’s me there, in the front. If you’re smiling, you should probably be running faster.

With 8 miles done and 5-ish to go, my legs felt great and I was feeling pretty good about the prospect of hitting a 1:45 mark overall. After we climbed up and over one more steep pedestrian bridge somewhere before Mile 9, Pace Car announced to our ever-dwindling group that we were done with significant elevation changes for the day, and that any future inclines/declines would be of a gradual nature. The course took us in front of the speedway’s gleaming main entrance, and as we passed Mile 9, I started to think about running juuuuust a little faster.

At Mile 10, I felt too good to keep holding back at an 08:00/mile pace. My back felt good, my legs still felt reasonably fresh, and my knee felt great. I said one last goodbye to Pace Car, and upon completion of an awkward white guy fist-bump/high-five mix-up, I took off. The over-saturated cumulonimbus clouds looming overhead finally burst, and steady rain started to fall upon the course at almost the exact moment I peeled out of my comfort zone.

The ensuing 11th mile would be the last mile run almost entirely outside of the main speedway, and I gradually revved my engine (RACING PUNS!) to pick up the pace. As I re-entered the track and hit the ‘lap’ button on my watch at the Mile 11 marker, I saw that I’d run my 11th mile in around 07:20…whoa. That’s fast for me. My watch readout showed a cumulative time of around 1:27:20-ish for 11 miles, and it dawned on me that my half-marathon PR of 1:42:15 that I’d set in April 2012 was suddenly in play. I had about 15 minutes to run 2.1 miles, which is a shade over a 07:00/mile pace. Too fast, I told myself. That’s too fast for me.

And then, out of nowhere, I had my fucking Pre Moment.

Allow me to explain.

On my flight from Chicago to Charlotte, I’d read the April 2013 issue of Runner’s World cover-to-cover. The featured long-form article in that month’s issue was about Steve Prefontaine, creatively titled That Pre Thing. The article itself is a poorly-written, self-serving, pseudo-Gonzo-Journalism piece of crap penned by an author who weirdly kept talking about how fast he was in high school (the author, not Pre), but there was one Pre quote stood out to me: “A lot of people run a race to see who is fastest. I run the race to see who has the most guts.” The author spoke of trying to channel Pre’s spirit, referring to those moments of running clarity as Pre Moments.

I will never be the fastest in any race. I’ll probably never be the guy who runs with the most guts, either. But for these final 2 miles on a racetrack in Charlotte? Well okay, Pre, I can try to leave it all on the track.

And so, as Steve Prefontaine spoke to me from the grave (I swear on the lives of my future children that I’m not making this shit up), I found another gear.

The 12th mile took us through the speedway’s infield and back onto the main oval for one final lap, and I started passing other runners in bunches. As I hit the ‘lap’ button one penultimate time, my split time for my 12th mile started with a ‘6’ instead of a ‘7’ — I’d never run a mile this fast in a half-marathon, but I was doing it here, with one mile to go. By now the rain was pouring down in buckets, but I didn’t care. I vroomed past other runners like they were standing still, splashing through puddles without regard as I maniacally pumped my legs. As I bore down on the final straightaway, I had an embarrassing amount of gas left in the tank (DON’T WORRY, I HAVE RACING ANALOGIES FOR DAYS, EVERYONE), and I pumped my fist victoriously as I crossed the line.

(c)2013 Katty Peraza

(c)2013 Katty Peraza

Sure's, let's have one more

Sure’s, let’s have one more

When I stopped my watch about a second after crossing the timing mat, I saw that I’d run my last 1.1 miles in 07:08, which breaks out to about a 06:30/mile pace for that final stretch. My official time of 1:40:43 was good enough for a 92-second PR, on a day where I was just trying to get my legs back as I casually chatted with a pacer for the first 10 miles of the race.

That’ll do, Otter. That’ll do. I quelled a reflex to vomit out of exhaustion, and walked back to the infield garage for the post-race party. I was sopping wet and shivering, but I felt triumphant.

I’m back!

I kind of hate myself for taking this picture.

I kind of hate myself for taking this picture.

POST-RACE

I’d mentioned that it was pouring rain by now, and so I made a beeline for the garage. Chris walked in right behind me; he’d succeeded in catching up with Pace Car shortly after Mile 11, but he never did catch up to me. Chris ran a 1:42:19 on the day, and so without his 4-ish minute bathroom break, he would have crushed me. I saw Dan’s towering figure in the middle of the garage, and as we walked over to take a look at some early results, we learned that his time of 1:31:13 was good enough for 2nd place in his age group.

Out of a field of 1,246 finishers, our individual results went like this: 13th overall for Dan, 65th overall for me, and 84th overall for Chris. All told, not a bad day at the track.

In addition to Dan’s age-group award and my PR, the good news kept coming in as the rest of our friends finished. Lindsey ran a 1:54:17, breaking the 2-hour barrier for the first time (and with plenty of room to spare). Alexis finished in 2:00:31, which was around 10-15 minutes faster than what she’d been hoping for. Marla finished in 2:04:46, a new PR which qualified her for a seeded start corral in the 2013 Chicago Marathon. Rounding out our merry band was Ashley, who finished her first half-marathon in 2:28:25 and beat her goal time of 2:30.

One more time.

One more time.

After a shower, a burger, and several pints of local craft beer, it was time to pack our things and close the curtain on an incredibly fun and successful race weekend.

The medal features an LED stoplight that lights up. I can't overstate how cool that is.

The medal features an LED stoplight that lights up with the push of a button on the back of the medal. I can’t overstate how cool that is.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I’m not sure that I see myself flying back to Charlotte to run this race again in 2014, but I’d recommend it to anyone that lives out near the area. Even if I hadn’t had the good fortune of running this race with friends, I can say with confidence that I still would have really enjoyed my time in Charlotte if I’d registered alone. The race was cheap (take advantage of the early-bird pricing if you can!), the course was very unique, and the race swag was pretty impressive. PR or no PR, I’m glad that Dan dragged me along to this one…but I’ll take the PR.

Posted in Race Reports | 2 Comments

Day #355 — The Paleozoic Trail Run 25K (Willow Springs, IL — 3/16/2013)

Horses. You must yield to them on the course.

Horses. You must yield to them on the course.

“Run your own race.” 

You’ve probably heard that old adage before. If your hypothetical running coach tells you to run your own race, they want you to run within yourself. They want you to block out any distractions, apprehensions, or fears that may be pinging around inside your head on race day. They want you to banish your doubts and stick to your preset race strategy. Don’t go out too fast, even if some fat guy who you know you’re faster than decides to run his ass ragged out of the gate….don’t worry, you’ll pass him soon enough. Run your own race, and everything else will take care of itself.

Run your own race.

It’s a catch-all phrase that covers a lot of different subtexts and implied meanings, but when someone tells you to run your own race, they don’t mean for you to just run around on whatever the hell course and distance you feel like running on race day, right? I mean…right?

…Right?

PRESENTING:The Inaugural Paleozoic 25K-ish/50K-ish Trail Runs,” or “Wait a Minute, Where Was That Turn Again?”

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I actually had a pretty good time before/during/after this race, which reflects well on the running community that came together for this event. But the race certainly had some problems, which we’ll dive into a bit later.

Unlike my good friend Dan Solera (a recurring character in this blog), I don’t have too many rules for racing; yes, I do have some semblance of a race-day routine and I try to practice proper race etiquette, but that’s mostly where it ends. One rule that I do try to follow, though, is this: If you are looking for a race to run seriously, it’s probably best to avoid any inaugural races.

There’s a reason that bars & restaurants always go through a “soft opening”  before they host their Grand Opening, and there’s a reason that a theatrical group will always go through multiple dress rehearsals before opening night — everyone knows that they’re going to fuck something up the first time, and they want a chance to work out the problems before they have to put their reputations on the line for real.

Unfortunately, races don’t have the option of a soft opening, which means that any inaugural race is essentially going to serve as a dress rehearsal for future runnings of the event.

If an inaugural race goes well, that’s great! If the race has a bunch of problems with it, well, that’s actually pretty normal! You have to go into the race knowing that you won’t be seeing the finished product yet, and you just have to hope that the problems won’t big enough to impact the overall enjoyment of the event. I still remember an unbelievably disastrous inaugural half-marathon that I ran in July 2011, where people were collapsing because the Race Director (RD) didn’t plan ahead to get enough water out to crucial aid stations on a 90-degree day. That one was by far the worst, but any new race will have kinks to work out.

And so it was with a bit of trepidation that I registered for the 25K option of the inaugural Paleozoic Trail Races, but this was never meant to be a “serious” race. The aforementioned Dan Solera and I both signed up with the intention of familiarizing ourselves with the trail racing experience, and I really didn’t care about how fast I finished. At some point in these last few months, Dan and I went temporarily insane and signed up for TWO upcoming trail ultra-marathons in 2013, with the first one being a 50K taking place exactly 8 weeks after the Paleozoic 25K. We’re both road-racing brats, and neither of us wanted to go into our upcoming ultras without having at least some trail running experience, and so the Paleozoic 25K seemed like a good place to start. It was close to Chicago, it was relatively inexpensive, and on a completely superficial level, I kinda/sorta geeked out at the race’s dinosaur theme (“FINISH OR FOSSILIZE!”).

No matter what went down, I was going to have a good time.

RACE MORNING — Friendly Faces Everywhere

Start/Finish Area

Start/Finish Area — this picture was taken after I finished, hence the relative lack of people

On race morning, I felt strangely relieved that I wasn’t running with a certain time goal in mind — this would be my first race of any kind since Thanksgiving 2012, and my relatively casual attitude going into this 25K helped block out any pre-race jitters I may have otherwise felt on my first race back. We’d had some snow and rain in Chicago in recent days, and the temperature was expected to stay in the high-30s/low-40s with an overcast sky, but the reasonably gloomy weather forecast did nothing to quell my excitement to be racing again.

I picked up Dan on my way out of Chicago, and within half an hour we made it to the rather chilly packet pickup location in the Wolf Road Woods of Willow Springs. This was a small race (capped at 200 runners), so the packet pickup area was all of about 20 feet from the Start/Finish area. After picking up our race bibs and dropping off our bags at the car, we returned and I was surprised at the number of friendly faces I saw. Dan and I have recently been attending some weekly Wednesday runs with the New Leaf Ultra Runs (NLUR) running club, and we saw a lot of New Leafers scattered about the starting line. Most notable among those that I saw was Jeff, the crazy bastard whose seminal post about running a 50-miler largely inspired me to start training for trail/ultra races in the first place. Also at the starting line were Paul, Siamak, Von, Jennifer, and a handful of others that had been complete strangers to me as recently as 2 months earlier.

Weirdly, everyone seemed to know each other — the smaller field sizes of a lot of these trail races helps foster a certain bond & familiarity among runners, since individual faces are more likely to stand out in a field of 200 than a Rock ‘N Roll event field of 10,000+ runners. As I watched and marveled at runners hugging, high-fiving, and bantering about in a jocular manner even in the moments right before the start of the race, I remarked that the whole thing felt more like an uber-athletic family reunion than a competitive event.

But there was a race to be run, and with very little preamble, we were off. Looking back, I feel that those 25K-ish of trails that I ran could be divided into 3 distinct sections:

  1. Relative Normalcy;
  2. Wait, What the Hell Just Happened?; and
  3. Welp, Let’s Just Get This Over With

So without further ado…

SECTION I:  RELATIVE NORMALCY

There was no gunshot to start the 25K race; in fact, if I hadn’t been paying attention, I may have missed it. The pack was set on its way around 8:20am, and within a 1/4-mile, we had run through the parking lot and onto the paths of the Palos trail system.

The exhilarating entry to the Palos trail system

The exhilarating entry to the Palos trail system

The first 10 miles of the race consisted of wide, crushed gravel path. This normally would have made for a pleasant running surface, but the trails had been hit with precipitation in various forms over the course of the previous week, and the trail conditions had been described as “challenging” in an email that the RD had sent out the night before. There was snow and ice buildup in places, and where there wasn’t snow, it was a good bet that the trail would be soggy from snow-melt.

My only goal coming in was finish this damn thing, so I just ran at a pace that felt comfortable to me. I lost sight of Dan within a few minutes, but I was surprised and encouraged by the fact that I logged both of my first 2 miles at a sub 09:00/mile pace — I didn’t think that would be in the cards this day. The footing was a bit unpredictable, but the hills in the first few miles were firmly in the “rolling” category rather than “steep,” and so they didn’t offer much difficulty. It was somewhere around Mile 2.5 where I stopped caring about where I stepped and accepted that my feet would be getting wet one way or another.

Right around Mile 4, I linked up with a small group of runners who had been running consistently about 20 feet behind me for the past 2 miles or so, and I was happy for the company as we glided into the first aid station at Mile 5. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the day despite the weather, and my talkative new mates confirmed that they weren’t exactly looking to set a course record, either. After a minute’s pause at the aid station to grab some food and re-fill my water bottle, our merry band set out to tackle the remaining 10.5 miles of the course.

SECTION 2: WAIT, WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED?

Upon leaving the aid station at Mile 5, there was a bit of confusion regarding which way the course led next, until a kindhearted volunteer pointed us in what we assumed to be the correct direction. We followed after a long string of runners, and at the time, we had every reason to believe that we had been directed to follow the correct path. Hold that thought for a minute.

After exactly 10K of racing (6.2 miles), we approached a ‘T’ intersection that was completely unmarked. Now, the race directors had advised that any turns/decision points would be clearly marked with color-coded plates, but there were no plates to be seen — no flags, no spray-painted arrows, nothing. I took this as a bad thing. Not only was this intersection unmarked, but there was also the unsettling presence of at least 10-15 other runners we’d caught up to at the intersection, who also didn’t know which way to go. With each passing minutes, more runners arrived. Everyone was just waiting, looking in the direction of 2 poor bike marshals who had also reached this point of the course with no direction on where to turn. One marshal was on the radio with the RD, trying to figure out where we were, and it was apparent that all of us had somehow gone off-course.

A small pack of bib-wearing runners suddenly appeared from the right side of the ‘T,’ telling us that there was nothing but single-track trail off to the right…we weren’t supposed to encounter any single-track until the last 5-6 miles, so they figured that was the wrong direction. Well, that was good enough for me and the few runners I’d been chatting with, so we followed that small pack of runners to our left. We had no idea if we were going the right way, but at least we were running. I guess I wasn’t going to win any age-group awards this day.

Thankfully, about a half-mile later, we reached a road and were greeted by volunteers who had ranged north to figure out where the hell all the runners had gone. Apparently everyone had missed a left turn just after the aid station at Mile 5, which means that the kindhearted volunteer that we saw just after the aid station probably pointed everyone in the wrong direction. Fortunately, we weren’t too far off-course — the wrong turn had “only” added a shade under 1 mile to our race distance, plus that 5 minutes or so where we’d been standing around and waiting for some instructions from the bike marshals that would never come.

Oh, well.

Inaugural races, amiright???

Over the course of the next 5 miles we ran on true course, we came across no less than 3 more unmarked trail splits where we had to guess on which way to go, and sometimes we guessed wrong. The only thing that kept us on course was a girl in our pack named Elizabeth, who had pre-loaded the course’s GPS coordinates onto her Garmin GPS watch (the RD had provided a link to do so on the race’s website). Elizabeth’s watch provided feedback that told us if we were on the right course or not — if our GPS position ventured off-course, her watch would beep loudly, and we then would return to the last trail split. Elizabeth had ignored this beeping when we missed the turn after the aid station, because she’d assumed that with EVERYONE going the same way (and no markings telling us to go anywhere else), that her watch must have been wonky. We wouldn’t make that mistake again, and her watch became an overly-important part of our race experience.

After about 11 miles of trail running that should have only been 10, our small group reached the 2nd aid station, where we would then head off in another direction to run a final 5.5-mile loop of mostly single-track trail. We lingered too long, but I didn’t want to go out on my own, knowing what I knew about the lack of trail markings.

After about 5 minutes, we set out to tackle the final portion of the course.

SECTION 3: WELP, LET’S JUST GET THIS OVER WITH

Leaving the 2nd aid station, I saw a few of the 50K runners who were starting a 2nd loop, and nobody looked real happy. I ran into Siamak and asked him, “So, how about these course markings, huh?” He just laughed and replied, “Oh, you mean the lack of them?” In that moment, I was VERY happy that I was ‘only’ running the 25K race….I couldn’t imagine having to run 30+ miles on a shittily-marked trail, especially when all the runners knew after running only 10K that the trail markings would probably be bad for the final 40K.

The next 3 miles we covered were mostly single-track, and this is where we had some noteworthy climbs and descents. At this point, I was running only with Elizabeth and an affable bloke named Patrick, and we came across another 4 points where I would have gotten lost if I hadn’t been around Elizabeth and her magical Garmin…again, I can’t properly explain how poorly this course was marked.

(Quick tangent — I ran the trail marathon distance in the Grand Teton Races last September in Wyoming, and during one stretch, I didn’t see another soul running in my direction for FOUR HOURS. Despite that, I never once worried that I had ventured off-trail, because the course was impeccably marked. The Paleozoic 25K, on the other hand, was a great example of how NOT to mark a trail — even when running in a group that had our own friggin’ GPS guide, we were all nervous that we would get lost.)

We somehow made it through those miles of single-track while staying on course, which is more than I can say about….well, it’s more than I can say about the majority of the field. Both Jeff and Dan accidentally cut out a couple miles of the single-track loop by zigging where they should have zagged, and Dan’s recap in particular does an excellent job of breaking down exactly where things got weird. On a lighter note, Dan accidentally won the whole damn race after running only 14.06 out of the 15.5-ish intended miles, as he was the first 25K runner to cross the timing mat at the finish line. Dan’s decency led him to email a correction to the RD almost immediately, but for a few days, this following screen was displayed on the race’s results page:

That one shining moment...

That one shining moment…

Anyway, after my small wolfpack emerged from the woods after running our ACCURATELY-COMPLETED loop of single-track, we still had 1 final mile of soggy running to complete on wet, waterlogged grass. With the finish line in sight, a wave of relief washed over me — there was no more course to fuck up. After crossing the finish line, I was handed my rather fetching 25K finisher’s medal, and I walked to the car to go find Dan.

Yes, I bought this coat so that cars would be able to see me when I'm running at night. How did you know that?

Yes, I DID buy this jacket speficially so that cars would be able to see me when I’m running at night in Chicago. How did you know that?

I'll say it, I like dinosaur-themed swag

I’ll say it, I like dinosaur-themed swag. FINISH OR FOSSILIZE.

POST-RACE

When I found Dan back at the car, the first question he asked me was how far I ran. “Well, I ended up running around 16.2,” I explained, “because I took a wrong turn somewhere.” That’s when Dan told me that he had run significantly LESS THAN 25K, and when another girl told us that she’d only run about 13 miles, it was then that we all realized that the course was well and truly fucked.

We had all run our own race, literally.

As of April 3rd, 2013, the results still aren’t official, and I don’t know if they’ll ever really become official. In the section of the race’s website where results would normally be found, there is instead a rather humorous list of self-reported distances and times, complete with GPS links from some runners (including GPS data from Dan, Jeff, and myself). The biggest shortcutter of the day ran 13.01 miles, and the longest meanderer who linked their GPS somehow ran 17.55 miles.

Oh, well.

Inaugural races, amiright???

After a short drive home and a long shower, I sprawled out on the couch and didn’t move for about 3 hours. I had put in a good shift.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Knowing what I already knew about inaugural races, it’s hard to really be disappointed with how the INAUGURAL Paleozoic 25K/50K Trail Runs turned out. My goal for the day was to get in a long trail run while easing myself back into racing, and that’s what I did. On top of that, I came home with a sweet dinosaur-themed shirt, medal, AND can-koozie for my troubles. With 16+ miles of memories and those goodies in hand, how could I be upset?

The RD sent out a follow-up email 2 days after the race, explaining that the wet weather had washed out many of the markings that they’d laid down pre-race. Part of the inaugural race experience is learning what works and what doesn’t, and I have a feeling that this RD won’t be overly reliant on spray-painted white arrows to mark turns in future races. It was nice to see the RD “take full responsibility for the mistakes” (his words), going so far as to promise that he’s “got a list…these problems will not repeat.” The RD intends to run the race again next year, and while I probably won’t be coming back, I trust that they’ll have most of the kinks worked out by then.

Oh, well.

Inaugural races, amiright???

Posted in Race Reports | 5 Comments

Day #341 — Chiditarod (Chicago, IL — 3/2/2013)

A nice, normal charity running event

A nice, normal charity running event

Followers of this space may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while —  my last post was a reconstruction of Days 262-263 back in December, and we’re well into the 300s now — and this comes mostly from a dearth of what I consider to be “interesting” things happening in my running life during the winter months. Specifically, I wasn’t racing, and I didn’t really want to write about my tedious recovery from a knee injury any more than you would have wanted to read about it. If I wasn’t interested by my running progress, how could I write about it?

If Chiditarod is anything, though, it is I-N-T-E-R-E-S-T-I-N-G.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to adequately express my man-crush on the charity race/event Chiditarod; in fact, this post has been delayed by upwards of two weeks simply because I wasn’t even sure how to begin. Chiditarod is insane, goofy, fascinating, baffling, and above all, genuinely endearing. It brings a community together, it confuses the hell out of random neighborhood bystanders, and it’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had while not-really-racing. Without much further preamble, let’s get into it, shall we?

“Dress Up. Cause Chaos. DO GOOD.” — Chiditarod 2013

In one sentence, Chiditarod is equal parts food drive / bar crawl / footrace / costume party, which in practice may be even more eclectic that it sounds. The event is a team competition, which works like this: each team is comprised of 5 “sled dogs” (people) that are in charge of mushing 1 “sled” (a decorated shopping cart) along a set barcrawl route, making stops at 5 bars along the route to socialize and compete in events to win prizes or other race incentives. Each team pays a nominal registration fee to participate ($45-$65 for a team of 5, depending on how early you register), and each team is required to bring a MINIMUM of 55 lbs. of food to donate at the beginning of the race. Lastly, a majority of members from each team must spend a minimum of 25 minutes inside each bar along the route, though that amount of time can be reduced if you win bar games or successfully bribe one of the easily-bribeable volunteer judges.

The name “Chiditarod” itself is a play on the famous Alaskan sled dog race Iditarod, although the Chicago version is considerably less grueling. At its core, this is a charitable event — each year, Chiditarod raises well over 10,000 lbs. of food to donate to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. The 2013 running of Chiditarod raised a whopping total of 16,953 lbs. of food, leading the organizers to cheekily refer to the event as “probably the world’s largest mobile food drive.”

And then, in addition to competition and philanthropy, there are the carts and costumes. There’s no rule saying that your team MUST decorate your shopping cart and wear costumes, but if you’re not dressing up, then you’re doing Chiditarod wrong.

If you're doing it right, then your cart & costumes might end up looking like this.

If you’re doing it right, then your cart & costumes might end up looking like this.

The shopping cart is really the hub around which your team of dogs revolves, and as such, you want to make sure that your cart is looking fresh to death. Some teams, like the group pictured above with the epic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea theme, spent months designing their carts & costumes in the lead-up to Chiditarod, and some of the creativity on display was spectacular. For an idea on how seriously some people took their carts, here are pictures from some of my favorite teams, and this is by no means a comprehensive list:

The Price is Right

The Price is Right

The Dukes of Hazzard

The Dukes of Hazzard

Ghetto McDonald's

Ghetto McDonald’s

Los Chubby Elotes (you'll see more of these guys later)

Los Chubby Elotes (you’ll see more of these guys later)

Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad

Not 100% sure of the team name here, but I fell in love with at least 3 of these true patriots over the course of the race

Not 100% sure of the team name here, but I fell in love with at least 3 of these true patriots over the course of the race

Castle Crashers!

Castle Crashers!

One last word about team carts — participants are actually encouraged to (gently) sabotage other teams to gain an advantage! Everyone enjoys good competition, and as long as the sabotage is lighthearted and good-natured, then it adds an extra layer of zaniness to the event. To make sure everyone had the same expectations, though, the Chiditarod organizers laid out an extensive set of sabotage guidelines to ensure a level playing field. Just about anything non-destructive is fair game at Chiditarod, so it would be important throughout the day for teams to always have at least one person guarding their cart at all times.

Now, in comparison to some of those carts above, our cart wasn’t elaborate by any stretch — I ran Chiditarod with a group of co-workers, and for the longest time we couldn’t decide on a theme. We decided on a Pacman theme about 4 days prior to the race, and we did the best we could with the limited time that we had. I volunteered to be in charge of my own costume as well as our cart design (BAD IDEA), while my co-worker Stephanie took the lead on making the other costumes. Our cart may not have been the most professional-looking belle at the ball, but dammit, I was proud of how it came together in the end:

Pacman and Ghosts!

Pacman and Ghosts!

BEFORE THE MADNESS — THE YARD

On the morning of Chiditarod, I hailed a van cab at 10:45, and our driver then went on the serpentine journey of picking up my co-workers Stephanie, Carly, Steve, and Kathleen from their respective apartment buildings in Lincoln Park area. I had constructed a 3-D Pacman costume and my attempt at a replica Pacman arcade machine out of a bunch of cardboard, all of which I had thrown in the back of the van, and I would still need to lash the “arcade” onto a shopping cart as soon as we found a grocery store that would let us use one of their carts for the day.  We had the cab drop us off a Dominick’s grocery, where we then bought our 55+ lbs. of food and convinced a manager to disable the magnetic wheel lock so that we could take the cart with us. Just down the block was the entrance to the Chiditarod Yard, where all the teams were instructed to gather before the race:

The Yard

The Yard

We’d picked up a case of beer for the race when we bought our groceries at Dominick’s, and we downed 1 or 2 (or 3) Coors Lights in The Yard before the “race” started. Steph made a bunch of Jell-o shots for the day, since Pacman LOVES cherries, and those were a big hit with the teams around us. After a longer-than-expected wait (not that anyone was complaining), the start time was upon us, and we were off!

BAR #1 — FIVE STAR

This photo comes directly from the Chiditarod site -- the start of the race was incredible

This photo comes directly from the Chiditarod site — the start of the race was incredible

We “sprinted” out of the gates, and we raced through a surprisingly adrenaline-fueled initial 1/4-mile stretch. Crowds lined both sides of the course and the street was awash with Care Bears, curlers, lumberjacks, bobsledders, rocks stars, Dukes of Hazzard, movie characters, and more. The initial rush wore off right around the point where the teams split up to go on their respective barcrawl routes, and our team slowed to a comfortable walking pace as we made our way to our first bar, Five Star.

At Five Star, we sent three dawgs into the bar (Steve, Carly, and Kathleen), while Steph and I stayed outside to guard the cart and chat with some of the other teams. We struck a cautious truce with a shifty-looking group of Mexican wrestlers, promising not to mess with their cart if they agreed not to sabotage ours. Would you trust these guys?

Luchadores!

Luchadores!

It actually didn’t take long for the pack to settle on its first sabotage victim — all five Care Bears from one team naively went into the bar at the same time, and the surrounding pack set upon their cart with glee:

It's not a good idea to leave your cart unattended at Chiditarod

It’s not a good idea to leave your cart unattended at Chiditarod

One team secured their cart to a nearby fence, another team wrapped duct-tape around their wheels, and yet another team just started loading snow into their cart. Steph and I hung back, content to drink our beers in the parking lot and hand out Jell-o shots to build camaraderie amongst our fellow mushers. After around 30 minutes had passed, we were rejoined by Steve, Kathleen, and Carly, and we set our sights on the next bar.

BAR #2 — BOUNDARY

There would be no more running after Five Star, which I was okay with, given the relatively rickety condition of our cart. I was reasonably happy with how the cart turned out, given the fact that I had no idea what I was doing when I was painting/constructing it, but there was no getting around the fact that my cardboard arcade machine was precariously attached to our cart using only a handful of semi-strategically placed zip-ties. Hell, I’d only started lashing our cardboard to the cart when we got into line to check in at The Yard, and I don’t know if we ever really stopped taping parts of the arcade back together. As such, I cringed a bit every time our cart rolled over a hard bump in the sidewalk, but Ol’ Carty managed to stay together for the duration of the race.

We made it to Boundary in one piece, and after taking the following group picture, it was time for Stephanie and I to get out of the cold weather and get into a stiff drink.

We absolutely looked completely normal walking down the street

That’s Steve, Steph, Kathleen, Carly, and myself. We absolutely looked completely normal walking down the street

Steve came into the bar, too, and I had my first experience of trying to take off my Pacman costume so that I could go to the bathroom — it wasn’t pretty, but I figured out a system. The staff at Boundary were understandably (and correctly) impressed with our costumes and overall badassery, so we did have to stop to pose for a few hurried cell phone pictures before I could hit the bathroom, but everything turned out okay.

The bar game inside Boundary was Twister, and the prize would be 5 precious minutes deducted from the time that your team was obligated to spend inside the bar. Wearing my giant Pacman suit, I lasted about 3 turns before I had to bow out. Steph was slightly more successful, but the game ended with neither of us gaining the spoils of victory.

Ghostin' on the Twister mat

Ghostin’ on the Twister mat

Finally, it was time to leave the bar. Outside of Boundary, we would regrettably have our first encounter with the team of ICP Juggalos. I feel that this following picture accurately encapsulates what this group of man-children was all about:

Yeah. They spend actual time working on this look.

Yeah. They spent actual time working on this look.

For the uninformed, the term “Juggalo” refers to fans of the terrible “hip hop” group  Insane Clown Posse. Juggalos consider themselves to be a fucked-up kind of big, weird family of sorts, but they’re basically just the worst people in the world. In that picture shown above, you might notice a 2-liter bottle of soda laying on top of their groceries. And apparently while I was inside Boundary, the ICP Juggalos sprayed that soda all over everyone’s carts and costumes. Nice guys, right?

When we exited Boundary and rejoined Kathleen and Carly, I noticed some liquid dripping down the side of our cart. After I asked the girls about it, they told me that we’d been sprayed by the ICP Juggalos, who were maybe 15 feet away from where we were standing. I shuffled over there (I’m still wearing a Pacman costume, mind you), and had the following conversation with the d-bag that I pegged for the alpha of the group:

  • Me:  “Hey, the girls told me that you sprayed soda all over our cart. You didn’t *really* do that, did you?”
  • Juggalo:  “Yeah, we did that. Why, ARE YOU MAD BRO??!”
  • Me:  “I’m not mad, I’m just confused. That’s not how sabotage works here — why would you do that?”
  • Juggalo:  “Because we’re making fun of juggalo behavior! We’re doing it ironically! Ha ha!”
  • Me:  “No, that’s not being ironic. You guys are just being dicks.”
  • Juggalo:  “Whatever, Pacman! Ha ha!”

At that point, I just walked away; this was technically a CHARITY EVENT, after all, and I didn’t want to make a scene. It was only when a troop of girl scouts thanked me for at least saying something that I realized our team wasn’t the only victim — the Juggalos had sprayed at least a half-dozen carts at that bar alone.

Seriously, the juggalos sprayed soda on THESE KIND SOULS

Seriously, the ICP Juggalos sprayed soda on PEOPLE DRESSED LIKE GIRLS SCOUTS

That kernel of new information made me upset, but I’m glad that the confrontation didn’t go any further than it did. There are some people that you just can’t get through to, and I just wanted to go to the next bar with my team.

Fortunately, it wouldn’t be long until the ICP Juggalos got their comeuppance.

BAR #3 — CLUBFOOT

After another short trek, we arrived at Clubfoot. This time, the 3 girls went inside, while Steve and I guarded the cart passed out Jell-o shots to absolutely anyone within touching distance. This bit of chivalry garnered us a lot of good-will with the other teams, and Steve and I spent the next 30 minutes taking 5-minute shifts where one person would guard the cart, and the other guy would go have drinks with one of the other teams of sled dogs. My favorite cart was the Birthday Cake — it looked enormous enough from the outside, but the real treat lay within. I don’t know how they rigged this up, but when I ducked my head inside one of the curtains, there were at least 5 people fist-bumping and drinking, while strobe lights flashed overhead and techno blared from a quality car stereo system.

This thing was insane

This thing was insane

And then, something beautiful happened. When it was my turn to guard the cart, one of Los Chubby Elotes snuck up behind me and asked me to provide cover while he sabotaged the Juggalo cart, which was unfortunately parked next to ours. Apparently, everyone hated these guys, and Los Chubby Elotes took it upon themselves to administer justice on behalf of the pack.

I was somewhat surprised to see that only one Juggalo was guarding the cart, and I agreed to help block that guy’s view. What happened next was a wonderful example of distraction and misdirection: while the Elote closest to me was skulking behind the Juggalo cart, waiting for his moment, another Elote cheerfully approached the Juggalo cart-watcher from the front under the pretense of friendship and goodwill. The cheery Elote asked the Juggalo if he wanted a shot; when that Juggalo predictably responded, “Hell yes, I want a shot!!”, then it was game on. While the lone Juggalo was distracted by the “free” alcohol, the sneaky Elote locked the Juggalo cart to a bike rack with a U-lock:

In the act!

In the act! One Elote distracts, while another Elote chains to the rack

Chaining carts to a fixed object with a U-lock is a BIG violation of Sabotage Protocol, since that usually means that Chiditarod Management is called to the scene to help unchain the cart, but the ICP Juggalos were such epic douchebags that nobody batted an eye. It was only after a long 15 minute wait that the Juggalos’ cart was freed, when someone dressed like giant banana stepped forward with a bolt-cutter (!) to assist, a move which was roundly booed by the watching pack.

After what felt like an hour (and very well may have been an hour), our girls returned from inside of Clubfoot, and we made our way to the next bar.

BAR #4 — ROOTS PIZZA

Roots Pizza is more of a legitimate pizzeria than a bar, but it was an ideal 4th stop on the event route. They have a long bar that serves beer, they have food, they own a huge space with lots of square footage, and they were cool with a bunch of costumed drunks invading their home for an indefinite period of time…really, what more could you ask for? The $1 pizza slices provided much-needed nourishment for both my body and soul, and I immediately caught my second wind.

The Chiditarod volunteers at this bar stop decided to go with a Canadian theme for their bar game, and I was quickly sucked into a game of Canadian Apology. In this game, players from different teams were brought together and given a Canadian scenario in which one party wronged another, and the winner would be the person that was judged to have given the most sincere apology for the alleged offense. I was pitted against a member of the Cone Thugs ‘N Harmony team, who were real cool guys (see below) — they would later give me a Rumchata sundae outside the bar. Anyway, in our given scenario, one of us had just eaten the last doughnut at Tim Horton’s; my fake apology was deemed to be the most sincere, and I walked away with a souvenir Canadian flag and 5 minutes deducted from the time we were obligated to spend inside Roots.

Cone Thugs -N- Harmony -- everybody loved these guys

Cone Thugs -N- Harmony — everybody loved these guys

It was at this point that our other co-worker Barton made it to Chiditarod, and our Ghostpack grew to 5, for a total of 6 team members. With Roots Pizza crossed off of our list, it was time to head to the final bar.

image (2)

Myself, Steve, Steph, Carly, Kathleen, and now Barton in the mix

BAR #5 — COBRA LOUNGE

This was the last bar, and the most forgettable for me — we were all a little pretty tipsy, and I had barely parked our cart in the sad, boggy parking lot when I looked around to see that all of my team members had cleverly left me to go inside the bar. I couldn’t blame them; the temperature had dipped to the 30s, and I absolutely would have done the same thing if I were in their shoes….I just happened to be the last poor bastard who was touching the cart last, and so I settled in to guard our cart for the final 25-ish minutes.

The rather boggy, deserted parking lot adjacent to the Cobra Lounge

The rather boggy, deserted parking lot adjacent to the Cobra Lounge

Here's a side view of our cart at the last bar stop -- at some point, our ghost on the side gained a mustache

Here’s a side view of our cart at the last bar stop — at some point, our ghost on the side gained a mustache. That’s my beer sitting on top of the arcade, poured into a coffee cup

After 30 minutes had passed, I realized that the ghosts on my team were probably too drunk to keep track of time, and so I took a risk and abandoned our cart to go drag them out of the bar. Sure enough, we had made it past our time minimum, and I was the first one to notice. We rushed back out to the lot to reclaim our cart, which had not been touched, and we headed for the after-party.

AFTER-PARTY — BOTTOM LOUNGE

After putting in our time at the Cobra Lounge, all that was left was to turn in our final time sheet at the Bottom Lounge, which was the site of the post-race after-party. I took one look inside the reasonably-crowded bar before taking off my giant Pacman costume one last time, which I then disposed of in a nearby dumpster. I didn’t really care if nobody inside the bar knew which team I came from, I just wanted to finally be able to walk through a bar without bumping into everything.

I stayed at the after-party for about an hour before I had to leave to attend a birthday party. I was sad to find out later that I had apparently missed an awards ceremony, but I took solace in the fact that I’d put in a very good shift that day.

FINAL THOUGHTS

DO THIS RACE. If you live near Chicago and have even a marginal sense of adventure about you, this is one of the most fun ways you could spend a random Saturday in early March. Keep in mind that you won’t be doing much actual running, but this has just everything that you could wish for in an outdoors event: charity, exercise, drinking, sabotage, camaraderie, outrageous amounts of creativity, and a sense of community.

If you’re looking to do something “different” on a Saturday, then what are you waiting for? MUSH!!

Posted in Drankin' Reports, Race Reports | 2 Comments

Days #262-263 — The 12 Beers of Christmas (Chicago, IL)

Get excited for this entry.

Get excited for this entry.

Despite my recent injury that has led to a severe decrease in my overall mileage, this blog has remained almost exclusively a running blog. I don’t like that, and I wanted to change that.

And so on December 12th, I poked my head inside my roommate Cash’s bedroom and sheepishly asked if he would be interested in lending his professional writing talents (he’s a sportswriter, and you will find his prose to be infinitely more polished than mine) to a project that would be ambitious in scope, but somewhat lacking in maturity: I wanted to drink and review a large number of holiday beers, all in one sitting. I first suggested 6 beers, like a semi-responsible adult, but then over the course of our conversation that number swelled to 9. Then Cash threw down the gauntlet, saying “You know, if we’re going to do 9, we may as well do 12.” Well, then.

So on Thursday, December 13th, we went to the local Binny’s booze superstore to pick up supplies for the evening. We first picked out a Sam Adams sampler pack that had 5 different seasonal varieties (on sale with Binny’s card!), and then we headed to the Build-Your-Own-Six-Pack section to pick out the remainder of our beers. Once we had 24 beers selected, 12 for each of us, we returned to our apartment to settle in for a long night.

Yes, 12 beers apiece. I know now that we really only needed 12 beers total, and that if we had poured each beer into two glasses, then 6 ounces apiece would be more than enough for each of us to form an opinion on the beer in question. I know that now, but we didn’t really consider it at the time.

Not considering that would prove to be a mistake.

I had requested the following day off of work on account of a 2pm flight to San Diego, so I saw nothing wrong with getting drunk enough to speak in cursive.

For the purposes of this write-up, Cash and I each took our own respective notes during the tasting(s), and Cash sent me his notes a few days after this debacle. Without further preamble, let’s get into it!

BEER #1 — Sam Adams Holiday Porter – 5.8% ABV

sam-adams-holiday-porter

–BREWER’S NOTES:  “Introduced as a member of the Winter Classics Variety Pack in 2004, Samuel Adams® Holiday Porter, with its rich malt complexity, has become a favorite among our winter seasonal brews. In total, four types of malted barley are used in the brewing process including a variety of German malt called Carafa®*. This specialty malt, along with a bit of flaked oats, gives our Holiday Porter its smooth, roasted malt character. Add generous portions of imported hops to the mix and one has a brew that is both robust and drinkable.”

–OTTER’S TAKE:  We chose the first beer of our harrowing journey completely at random, with Cash reaching into the fridge with his eyes closed and pulling out a beer. I sighed a little when I saw his hand emerge with a Sam Adams Holiday Porter, which is possibly the most boring dark beer I’ve ever had. It’s so dark that it’s almost black, but it really has no signature flavor. Sam Adams makes some awesome beers, but their Holiday Porter is like toast – it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just, you know, toast. You’re not going to be mad if a restaurant gives you toast with your breakfast, but at the same time, you don’t ever take the quality of an establishment’s toast into consideration when choosing where you want to eat. And so it is with the Holiday Porter – minimal nose, a somewhat roasty-ish flavor, but nothing to write home about.

We probably shouldn’t have started the evening off with one of the heaviest-sitting beers in the fridge, but I was happy to get it out of the way.

CASH’S TAKE:  I’m really struck by the word, “Carafa,” which is an ingredient in this beer. Unfortunately, all Wikipedia did for me was bring up that it’s the surname of the House of Carafa, a noble Neapolitan family of Italian nobles, clergy and men of the arts. And then there was Janet Carafa, a mime artist based in New York. Anyhoo, Dan mentioned the beer looks like coffee, and it sort of tastes like it too. It’s a good thing we’re starting with this one so it’ll give me the caffeine boost needed to get through tonight.

BEER #2 — Sam Adams White Christmas — 5.8% ABV

white_christmas

–BREWER’S NOTES:  As crisp as the first snowfall of the year, this unfiltered white ale is blended with holiday spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, and orange peel.  The familiar citrus and wheat characters of the ale are complemented by the warmth of the spices for a festive brew that’s perfect for the season.”

–CASH’S TAKE:  When Dan read this beer’s description out loud, he said “species” instead of “spices.” Apparently that Holiday Porter really got to him. I think it’s a good thing we opted for this instead of Tooth tonight. [Ed. Note — Houndstooth is a bar across the street from our apartment that plays country music and sells $6 pitches on Thursday nights.] Describing this beer, “as crisp as the first snowfall of the year,” had me a bit uneasy, because I hate snow. But I like cinnamon, nutmeg and oranges, so I gave it a shot. As Dan said, it fucked us with a lot of nutmeg, but I appreciate the hint of orange. This is in the early lead for my favorite beer. [Ed. Note: This was our 2nd beer of the night, and the first beer sucked, so yes, it should have been Cash’s favorite beer of the night through this point.]

–OTTER’S TAKE:  Finally, some flavor! This beer is extremely light in color, and it does kiiiind of fuck you in the face with the taste of nutmeg, but it’s not half-bad. The citrus flavor really comes through, and it pairs well with the nutmeg and space. I never really tasted cinnamon, but the nutmeg really cut through the mix. Nutmeg!

BEER #3 — Anderson Valley Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale – 6.9% ABV

AndersonValleyWS

BREWER’S NOTES:  The holidays are a special time in Anderson Valley. The days are darker, weather colder, and foods richer. And Anderson Valley’s Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale is perfect for this time of year. Deep amber in color, with an inviting aroma of spice and nutmeg, it was made for the turkeys, cranberries, hams, and yams of the holidays. Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale evokes a crackling fire, drifting snow, and smells of home. A hint of spice and hop bite to balance out the creamy and smooth mouthfeel, and medium sweetness.

As with all of our products, Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale is never sterile filtered nor heat pasteurized.

–CASH’S TAKE:  I’m just getting over the influenza, but Dan mentioned this has a “sweet nose to it,” and I agree. In terms of being sick, the fact that I can actually smell something is a good sign for the beer. This has more real taste than our previous beer. Also: the label has a bear with antlers on it as the logo. I’m aware the bear is the actual logo, but really? Putting antlers on a bear? At least give him a red nose too. It’s the freaking holidays. Today’s fun fact (there might be more fun facts, it’s early): The brewery’s motto, which is shown on all its bottles is, “It’s bahl hornin’,” which means “It’s good drinkin'” in Boontling, which is folk language spoken only in Boonville in Northern California. God bless Wikipedia. (Dan also said this beer reminded him of donuts. Do with that what you will)

–OTTER’S TAKE:  I just eaten a packet of Lorna Doones on a flight to San Diego when I sat down to edit my thoughts on this beer, and that may very well be where the wizards at the Anderson Valley Brewing Company got their inspiration for one of my favorite beers, Winter Solstice. As they do with their Summer Solstice seasonal offering, the guys at AVBC don’t like to be put in a box when it comes to what a seasonal beer should taste like – they like to do their own thing. Instead of brewing a heavy winter warmer with loads of cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices, AVBC instead opted for a sweeter, creamy beer with Winter Solstice. It’s still very much an ale, but the result is a beer that is deep amber in color, with a very sweet nose to it. It’s just about the opposite of what you would expect a winter beer to taste like. At 6.9% ABV, this beer is fairly alcoholic, but it never tastes like it. Just a fantastic seasonal offering.

[Ed. Note — it was after Beer #3 that we took our first mandatory water break]

Beer #4 — Lakefront Brewery Holiday Spice Lager – 11.0% ABV

Lakefront-Holiday-Spice-2012

–BREWER’S NOTES:  Our version of a winter warmer: brewed with cinnamon, orange zest, clove and generous amounts of honey. Pours a deep amber to ruby color with an off-white head. Aromas are fruity and spicy, with a slight floral undertone from the lager yeast. The flavor is smooth, full and spicy, balanced by the bite of Mt. Hood hops and a substantial, warming alcohol character. This is a full bodied beer, making it a holiday taste sensation that will warm your bones on a cold winter night.

–OTTER’S TAKE:  The color is darker than amber/ruby, with a very floral nose. Upon first sip, what I taste immediately is the spice and the nutmeg, with a nice honey flavor mid-palate. Despite the brewery’s description, I don’t taste any orange or citrus. It’s a thick beer, so much that I can almost chew it. *Pauses to look up ABV percentage* ELEVEN PERCENT?! Are you kidding me?? 11% ABV?! We are fucked. I’m four beers in, and I’m already buzzed. This is going to be a long night.

–CASH’S TAKE:  It really smells like flowers. I’m guessing poinsettias, since it’s seasonal and I don’t think I’ve ever actually smelled poinsettias. There’s an ending taste that I can’t quite figure out. Honey in the middle, a bit of orange on the lips, but the end? I’m not sure. I’m guessing it’s the clove, because I don’t know what the clove tastes/feels like, although I’ve heard it’s a bitch. Also, this beer boasts it will, “create joyful holiday memories that you’ll hold on to.” Umm, not sure I’ll be able to hold onto many memories from tonight, but I guess that’s why I’m chronicling the journey. Speaking of potential memories, here’s a good exchange we just had:

Me: “What percent is this?”

Dan: “I’m not sure (looking at the computer) … this can’t be right.”

Me: “What? (looking at the computer) … holy shit, it’s 11 percent.”

3rd Roommate Mike, in his room on the way to the gym like a ‘responsible adult’: “You guys are drinking 11 percent beer?”

Dan: “This is our fourth beer. We are fucked.”

End scene. And on the fifth beer of Christmas, my roommate gave to me ….

Beer #5 – Noche Buena — 5.4% ABV

noche-buena

Noche Buena features a fairly dry up-front characteristic followed with a thick mouth feel and subtle sweetness, combining fine malts with spicy Styrian hops grown in Slovenia. Beer enthusiasts will notice berry notes at the finish and a nice caramel toasted malt aroma at the nose.

–CASH’S TAKE:  Me: “Oh, it’s 5.4 percent. This should be like a water break. Hmm, it’s called Noche Buena. Shouldn’t that have been the last one? Doesn’t that mean good night?”

Dan: “It does.”

*Two evil/drunk laughs*

I’m still trying to figure out exactly who made this beer. The main reasons? We don’t know, or at least I don’t, but there’s a poinsettia on the label so that’s cool. I really like this beer. It’s like iced tea, which I’m a fan of, with a hint of a fruit that isn’t quite raspberry. Strawberry? Blueberry? Brinkleberry? I don’t know. We’re only 5/12 of the way through, but this will probably end up being the near the top of my rankings. If we’re doing rankings. No ground rules were set, so we’re just flying by the seat of our pants.

–OTTER’S TAKE:  Dark amber color, and this is our first beer that features a poinsettia on the label, which feels important. Very drinkable, and much fruitier than I thought it would taste at first. Cash mentioned that it kind of tastes like tea, and he’s not wrong.

Beer #6 – Sam Adams Old Fezziwig Ale — 5.8% ABV

Samuel Adams Old Fezziwig Ale

–BREWER’S NOTES:  Spicy and bold, a big Christmas cookie of a beer With a remarkably full body and flavor it helps those long winter nights pass more quickly. The rich taste hits the palate with a depth of malt character ranging from sweet toffee and caramel notes to dark, roasty chocolate notes. Then the spices come in full force. Cinnamon, ginger and orange peel dance on the tongue bringing with them the celebratory spirit of the season.

–OTTER’S TAKE:  This beer is DARK. Cash and I just had a spirited discussion on why orange is included in holiday beers, because it doesn’t seem like a very Christmas-y fruit. Maybe brewers should experiment with pine nuts? Anyway, the toffee and sweetness is embodied in this beer’s nose here, and this beer has a smooth, robust/creamy finish. It’s pretty damn good. Not amazing, but solidly above average.

I don’t know who Fezziwig is, but he seems like an okay dude, even if that’s a classic child-molester name. We are somehow only halfway through with this experiment, and I don’t know how we’re going to survive the rest of the night. [Ed. Note — I don’t know why I wrote those last 2 sentences on the Thursday that we were drinking this beer, but they felt so bizarre that I didn’t want to change anything.]

–CASH’S TAKE:  “Spicy and bold, a big Christmas cookie of a beer.” Oh man, I like cookies. All kinds, really, especially chocolate chip and snicker doodles. Oh, and peanut butter. The only cookie I really don’t like is oatmeal raisin, because cookies shouldn’t pretend to be healthy. [Ed. Note — true story.] On a more important note: Christmas fruit. Dan and I said if we sold a poinsettia beer we’d be rich (writer’s note from the morning after: I have no recollection of this). Anyway, what’s a Christmas fruit? I’m not sure. Apples? Apple pie is America. And Christmas is America (and other countries, I guess, although baby Jesus loves us more), but I’m not sold on apples being a Christmas fruit. Oranges come from California and Florida, which signifies summer. Cranberries belong to Thanksgiving. Carrots to Easter and that silly rabbit (plus it’s a vegetable). But a Christmas fruit? Hmm. Oh, the beer … it’s pretty good. It doesn’t wow me, but it doesn’t disappoint me. I think it had no shot from the beginning, honestly. I really hate toffee. It’s disgusting.

Beer #7 – New Belgium Snow Day — 6.2% ABV

NewBelgiumSnowDay

–BREWER’S NOTES:  The name Snow Day evoked joyful freedom. Everyone remembers waiting for the school report as little kids. When you heard your school was closed, you suddenly had all day to play in the transformed, white landscape. Well, that’s the kind of emotion we put into this beer. Pleasantly hoppy, Snow Day carries the subtle chocolate and caramel flavors of a new brewing malt known as Midnight Wheat. The Styrian Golding, Centennial and Cascade hops bring the backbone of hoppy bitterness to complement the roasty undertones. This beer is the deep garnet of a roasted walnut and presents a creamy tan head, floating artfully atop. Snow Day is bold and hoppy, drinkable and strong.

–CASH’S TAKE:  Snow Day was a pretty good Nickelodeon movie back in the day. Fun fact: The hot middle school swimmer girl in that movie is Sloan from Entourage. Yeah. Whoa. It’s OK. I’ll give you five or 10, whatever you need. I don’t know why I thought of that. Oh, speaking of beer. Well, it’s pretty good, but not quite on Sloan’s level.

–OTTER’S TAKE:  Very hoppy nose, and the color of the beer is pretty much black as night. The forefront of the beer is hops, hops, hops. For a dark beer, it’s super hoppy, while also tasting pretty roasty. I like this beer.

Cash and I agree that snow days in the winter are far more valuable than extra days of vacation in the summer – as kids, we always wanted to have snow days with no school, even if that meant adding an extra school day in May or June. In addition to the basic principle of Net Present Value (which argues that having something of value immediately is always better than getting it later), every kid should have the experience of running around in waist-deep snow, building snow forts and having snowball fights with all the other neighborhood kids. The fact that we knew we could have been in school instead is what made those snow days even more special.

So yes, Snow Day is an awesome name or a beer.

Beer #7.1 (?) — ABInBev Shock Top End of the World Midnight Wheat — 6.0% ABV

[Ed. Note — This is not a beer that Cash and I drank on the night of our 12 Beers of Christmas, and subsequently I don’t know where Cash’s following review came from. Cash doesn’t know where this came from, either. When he emailed me his summary of all the beers that we drank, he included a summary of Shock Top’s Midnight Wheat, and I have no idea why. We did NOT drink this beer, but I present his review to you anyway.]

The beer that never was

The beer that never was

–CASH’S TAKE:  I wanted to dislike this beer. It’s a bit U of M in presentation [Ed. Note — Cash and I both attended Michigan State], with gold foil over the cap, like, “Oooooh, I’m so much better than you but I haven’t done shit.” (Denard.) [Ed. note — the real Shock Top Midnight Wheat does not have gold foil over the cap.] But despite its disgusting smell, it’s actually tolerable. I’d considerate it a MAC-level beer. I’d liken it to Eastern Michigan because while you’re drinking it you’re like “eh, it’s beer,” and when you get a degree from Eastern, you’re still like “eh, it’s a degree.” Hmm … we’re on another beer apparently. This is going be tough.

–OTTER’S TAKE:  I have no take on this beer, because I say again, WE NEVER DRANK IT ON THURSDAY. Cash wrote a 91-word review about a beer that never touched our lips, and he did it while we were actively drinking other beers. It’s a real mystery — we didn’t have any Midnight Wheat in our apartment, nor did we find any Midnight Wheat bottles or caps laying around our apartment the next day when we cleaned up. But while Cash was drinking either his Snow Day or his Mild Winter, he was somehow convinced that he was drinking a Shock Top Midnight Wheat.

Yes, we were a little faded at this point.

Beer #8 – Goose Island Mild Winter — 5.6% ABV

goose_island_mild_winter

–BREWER’S NOTES:  Toffee brown, medium-bodied, with a creamy head and an aroma of raisins and freshly baked dark bread. Mild Winter’s rich caramel malt and spicy rye flavors are sure to take the bite out of whatever Old Man Winter brews up for you this year.

–OTTER’S TAKE:  I like this one. Not enough to write down a decent review of it, but I liked it more than I didn’t like it. [Ed. Note — I didn’t write anything after that. This is where my notes for the night end.]

–CASH’S TAKE:  It’s OK. But it’s not great. I’m thinking I could drink 15-16 of these and be OK with my life, but any more than that I might be disappointed. Or hospitalized.

Beer #9 – Flying Dog Brewery K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale — 7.4% ABV

Flying Dog K-9 Cruiser Winter Ale

–BREWER’S NOTES:  The psycho in the pack … K-9 Cruiser is a dark, sweet and malty winter warmer that will captivate any adventurous craft brew drinker. A true Flying Dog original, K-9 Cruiser is the perfect brew to warm you up in those cold winter months.

–OTTER’S TAKE:  Wooooo hooooo, another beer where I didn’t write down a single word on the night that I was drinking it! Sometime after drinking my Snow Day on Thursday night, it appears that I gave up on writing and was content to merely drink and watch the terrible Bengals-Eagles game instead. I’ve had the K-9 Cruiser before, and it’s a pretty solid beer – it’s sweet, but sweet in the traditional winter warmer style (rather than the non-traditional Winter Solstice style). I’d give it a 4 out of 5.

–CASH’S TAKE:  This was much better than Goose Island. And it makes me think of puppies that grow up to be police dogs. There’s a very real taste long after I finish, something that sticks there on the tip of my tongue. I approve.

Beer #10 – Sam Adams Winter Lager — 5.6% AVB

samuel-adams-winter-lager

–BREWER’S NOTES:  Bold and rich, with a touch of holiday spice. The first thing one notices about a Samuel Adams® Winter Lager is the deep ruby color. Then comes the magical aroma which promises something special on the tongue. The cinnamon, ginger, and hint of citrus from the orange peel blend with the roasty sweetness of the malts to deliver a warming, spicy flavor. On the palate Samuel Adams Winter Lager is rich and full bodied, robust and warming, a wonderful way to enjoy the cold evenings that come with the season.

–OTTER’S TAKE:  At some point after I poured this beer into my glass, I left the room, and I didn’t come back to the living room until the following morning.

I have nothing to contribute regarding this beer’s taste, because I don’t think I drank a drop of it.

–CASH’S TAKE:  Dan went into his room like 20 minutes ago. I think we lost him.

A handful of hours later, I’m awoken from a drunken dream in which I hear the pitter-patter of Reindeer on the roof …

[Ed. Note — It is at Beer #10 where our journey ended for the night. Cash tells me that I left the living room for a bit because I needed to “get something out of my room,” and I never returned. He waited about 10 minutes, and then after he realized that I had gone to sleep, he then retired to his sleeping quarters as well. I’m (GENERALLY) pretty good about knowing my limits, and I had certainly reached my limit for the night.

Holiday beers are heavy as shit.

Our other roommate Mike had left for the gym around the time when we were drinking our Noche Buena, and he said that when he got back about 2 hours later, the living room was dark and empty. The only evidence that there had been people drinking in our apartment that night was 20 empty beer bottles, 20 bottle caps, and one glass that was completely full of cold beer. I regrettably admit that I was responsible for the wounded soldier, as I clearly didn’t need it at the time.

Fortunately, Cash and I had discussed the possibility of not finishing all 12 beers in one night, and we decided that if that happened, then we would continue the following morning…]

Beer #11 – Sam Adams Chocolate Bock – 5.8% AVB — 9:30am

Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock

–BREWER’S NOTES:  To create Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock, we wanted to take the flavor beyond the taste of dark roasted malt. For this year’s brew we worked with a blend of cocoa nibs including Ecuador nibs from TCHO®, an artisanal chocolate maker in San Francisco. We started with hand selected Noble hops from Bavaria and combined them with a complex selection of carefully roasted malts. This dark beer has a big, malty character with the added sweetness of chocolate. We slowly age the beer on a bed of rare dark cocoa nibs, the primary ingredient in chocolate. Known for their quality, these cocoa nibs harvested in Ecuador, impart complex aromas and flavors from chocolaty to fruity, nutty, earthy, and citrusy.

-OTT’ER’S TAKE:  It was around 6am on Friday morning that I awoke with a start, and I immediately noticed the following things:

  1. I was in my bedroom
  2. The lights were on
  3. I was lying on top of my sheets
  4. I was still fully clothed

Kids, there are very real dangers surrounding binge drinking, but thankfully I had matriculated to my bedroom at just about the exact moment I spied a blackout looming on the horizon. With a BAC far exceeding my shoe size, I eventually called it a night before completing The 12 Beers of Christmas. I went back to sleep for a bit after I finally shut off the lights and disrobed, and then I finally woke up for good at 9am. At 9:30am, Cash and I continued our journey with Beer #11.

I don’t know if Sam Adams’s Chocolate Bock is specifically a seasonal beer, but it came in the Sam Adams Winter Variety Pack, so it passed the initial smell test to be included in this roundup. This beer was a great way to start my morning – I didn’t taste any fruit or citrus, but the beer did taste very chocolaty and this made me happy. The previous night was a rather rough one, so this was the ideal beer to get me back on (off?) the wagon.

Immediately after I finished my Chocolate Bock, I went outside and banged out a quick mile run before coming back for Beer #12. It’s always a good day anytime I can knock out both of my running/drinking streak requirements before 10am.

CASH’S TAKE:  I don’t remember the Chocolate Bock entirely, but I bet it was good. What beer isn’t good? Aside from PBR and Natty Ice. Actually, I’ve had a couple of borderline good times with Natty Ice, from what I’ve been told. This beer, while no Natty Ice, is a good one to wake up to and gets me back on the horse. It has some chocolate from San Francisco in it, which is cool because I lived there for six months after college. Good times.

Beer #12 – Bridgeport Ebenezer Ale – 6.4% ABV

Clearly not my house

Clearly not my house

–BREWER’S NOTES:  Our special Holiday brew is a smooth ale with a complex palate derived from four different roasted malts and a blend of local and imported hops. Deep mahogany in color, its malty forward taste and full body is balanced with a light hop aroma, leading to a caramel finish. It’s a festive elixir that can transform the mood of any scrooge! So forget the egg-nog and have a pint of Ebenezer.

–OTTER’S TAKE:  What a strange trip this was; so strange, in fact, that I didn’t make a single mental note of this beer as I drank it. I was mindlessly drinking this beer while talking to Cash and Mike about the previous night, and then I looked at my glass and it was emply. I know that I liked it (I would have remembered it if I didn’t), but that’s just about all I can tell you. And we somehow only had one bottle of this beer instead of two, so Cash didn’t even get to have any (he did drink a Boston Lager instead, so that he could say he drank 12 beers). It’s a bit of a letdown to have the 12th beer of Christmas go out like that, but at the same time, it’s also somewhat fitting.

And so there you have it — 12 beers of Christmas, consumed within a span of 14-15 hours. Consensus high marks went to Winter Solstice, Snow Day, Old Fezziwig, and the Holiday Spice Lager, with a few others challenging for honors as well. Aside from the Holiday Porter, there really weren’t any beers that I would advise you to steer away from, which makes sense because holiday beers kick ass.

And so from our house to yours, Merry Christmas to all, and a Happy New Year!

IMG_1369

Posted in Drankin' Reports | 8 Comments

Day #237 — The Route 66 Marathon (Tulsa, OK — 11/18/2012)

I can be kind off a weird guy sometimes, but if you’ve been reading this blog, then you knew that by now.

I do weird things sometimes. When I started typing this entry back in November (I know, I know), I was halfway through filling my roommate Cash’s room from floor to ceiling with balloons while he was home for Thanksgiving, for no real reason in particular. I like to take vacations by myself every few months, just to be completely alone for a couple days. I grew a terrible beard for two months just to see what it would look like, which I only shaved in late November. For the record, it looked like this:

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And then, I shaved it so that it would look like THIS for the last 2 days of Movember:

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So yeah, I’m a little unbalanced. It’s all harmless stuff, for the most part; as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, I like to do things that I find amusing, no matter how oddball or irreverent other people may find them to be.

Then, every once in a while, I’ll do something like sign up for a marathon 4.5 months in advance, keep it a secret from literally everyone in my close circle of friends (including my roommates), then fly out to Tulsa a day in advance so I can freak out a good buddy at the airport after his plane lands, all the while lying to my friends back home about my whereabouts for the weekend.

You know, regular stuff. Some background is in order, so here it is:

My good friend Dan Solera (a recurring character in this blog) had been trying to convince me for some time to run a marathon with him in bloody Tulsa of all places, and by the end of June, he’d succeeded. The Route 66 Marathon is known for epic medals and really catering to the long-distance crowd, and as I was also feeling a little guilty about probably having to miss Dan’s bachelor party in August, I registered for the marathon back on June 29th. I meant to tell Dan that I’d registered, and then I forgot to tell him for a couple days, and then I just…didn’t tell him.

At some point, the tiny devil with a permanent seat on my shoulder suggested to me that it would be funny if i just showed up in Tulsa unannounced, and I thought this was a mighty fine idea. In Dan’s bid to get me down to Tulsa, he had given me his flight & hotel itinerary — I knew when he’d be flying down, and I knew that he’d have a hotel room that I could crash when I got down there. The hardest part would be keeping it all a secret from him, so I decided that I wouldn’t tell ANYONE in Chicago — not Dan, not his fiancee, not my friends, not even my roommates. One of the few reliable confidants I had available to me was Danielle, aka The T-Rex Runner, who immediately approved of my plan. Danielle lives in South Carolina, but she knows both Dan and myself, and as luck would have it, she’d be running Route 66 as well. The fates were starting to align.

To ensure that I could be at the airport bright and early on Saturday morning to meet Dan incognito, I flew into Tulsa on Friday night and met up with Danielle and her friend Amanda at a bar, who were in turn meeting up with their hosts for the weekend, Patty and Patty’s (very fast) husband Steve. Patty would be pacing the 4:30 group for the marathon, and Patty and Steve had agreed to host Danielle and Amanda for the weekend.

Amanda, Danielle, Patty, Scott, myself

Amanda, Danielle, Patty, Steve, myself

We stayed out until close to midnight debating various ways I could surprise Dan at the airport, and came down to a list of 3 scenarios:

  1. I could greet Dan as soon as he came out of security, laughing at his bewildered expression and giving him a hearty handshake while saying something cheesy like, “Man, what TOOK you so long?!”
  2. I could use my phone to take a picture of Dan in the airport as he emerged from security, then text it to him, and wait for him to stop and look around while wondering how I got that picture. This seemed extremely creepy, which gave it high marks in my opinion.
  3. I could follow Dan through the airport for as long as possible while remaining in the shadows, tailing him out to his rental car, until I finally knocked on his window and asked for a ride (or even better, I could just open the car door and hop in without saying a word). This idea felt like it would have the most startling results on my intended target, which gave it the highest marks of all.

I went to sleep around 1am, and woke up early the next morning to watch a soccer game and get in my daily mile on the hotel’s treadmill. I killed time until Dan’s flight landed by attending the Route 66 Mascot Dash (featuring Danielle), which exceeded my wildest expectations.  After confirming that Dan’s flight from Chicago departed on-time, I bade Danielle adieu and returned to the airport to drop off my rental car and wait for Dan, making sure that I was in position a full 30 minutes before his flight landed.

Everything was going according to plan.

AND AFTER ALL THAT…

I blew the surprise at the airport.

I dressed in a “disguise” of sorts, wearing a ballcap and glasses in addition to my beard. Dan walked right past me without taking a moment’s pause — you’ll have to take my word that this is him:

I swear on my life that the stick man in this photo with the roller bag is my good friend Dan. You just have to believe me.

I swear on my life that the stick man in this photo with the roller bag is my good friend Dan. You just have to believe me.

However, it was shortly after I took this picture that my plan started to fall apart. As I tailed him, Dan stopped, so I stopped, too. Then Dan started walking, only to stop again and look around. At this point, I ducked behind a tree. Yes, I HID BEHIND A POTTED TREE IN THE AIRPORT.

I would be the shittiest spy ever.

I followed Dan to the rental car line, where I saw him meet his friend Nolan, who had flown in from Georgia to run this marathon as well. It was somewhere at this point that I realized just how astoundingly suspicious I looked as I tried to follow Dan’s stop-start movements from a distance, and I was starting to worry about an impromptu interview request from the TSA. With this in mind, I dropped back and pulled up a seat at a table near an escalator, waiting for just the right moment to reveal my presence. I looked down to grab something out of my backpack.

And when I looked up, Dan and Nolan were gone.

I’d lost them.

A knot formed in my stomach — this wasn’t supposed to happen! I had planned this moment for months! I dashed to the rental car lot adjacent to the airport and frantically looked around for any sign of my marks. Shit, I thought to myself, after flying in A FULL DAY before Dan, I’m gonna have to do the reveal over the phone. And so I sheepishly pulled out my cell phone, and I had the following conversation:

  • Otter:  “Hey buuuuuuddy, what are you up to right now?”
  • Dan:  “I’m in Tulsa. I just picked up my rental car, and me and Nolan are pulling out of the parking lot.”
  • Otter:  “STOP. DO NOT LEAVE THE PARKING LOT.”
  • Dan:  “…Um, what? There’s a car behind me, I can’t back up. What…what’s wrong?”
  • Otter:  “Shit, I don’t know how I lost you…funny story, I’m in Tulsa. Can you pull around to the Arrivals area to pick me up?”
  • Dan:  “…Fuck you. No you’re not.”
  • Otter:  “Yes, I’m in Tulsa. I followed you through the airport, and I lost you.”
  • Dan:  “No, you’re not.”
  • Otter:  “Dan, I really didn’t expect you to go with the long-sleeved striped shirt today.”
  • Dan:  *Silence* *Consternation* *Realization*
  • Dan:  *UPROARIOUS LAUGHTER*
  • Dan:  “Okay, we’ll be there in a second. You should see the car they gave us.”
This is the rental car that they gave us. In the year 2012.

This is the rental car that they gave us. In the year 2012.

And so that’s how it went down. I could have simply walked up to Dan after he came through security and totally freaked him out, but instead I opted for the more elaborate route….and completely bombed. This has so far been my biggest regret of 2012.

After the morning’s Mascot Dash and The Airport Incident, the rest of the day was pretty vanilla by comparison — Dan, Nolan, and I ate some Mexican food for lunch, we went to the expo to pick up our race packets (it was a nice expo with a good number of vendors for the space), and we drove around Tulsa for a bit. We visited Tulsa’s appropriately-whelming Center Of The Universe tourist trap (more on that later), and then we met up with Danielle, Amanda, and a slew of local Tulsa runners at the Olive Garden for a pre-race dinner. We three bros then all went to sleep quite early at our hotel that was literally steps from the starting line, and we were up early the following morning for the marathon.

THE RACE

Dan, myself, and Nolan before the race. My face is not that fat, but the beard adds some girth.

Dan, myself, and Nolan before the race. My face is not that fat, but the beard adds some girth.

Oh, and my right knee was still injured to the point where I could barely run, as I continued to deal with patellofemoral pain syndrome. I might have left that part out.

After dropping my gear off in the ultra- semi-exclusive Marathon Maniacs Corner of the gear check area, I positioned myself as far to the rear of Corral A as possible, and I waited for the gun to go off. I’d qualified for the ‘A’ corral based off of previous finishing times (though who knows if they actually checked them), but there was no way in hell that this was going to be an ‘A’ race from me on this day. Still, my knee felt okay-ish when I did a quick 200-meter jog before the start, so I was hoping for a productive first few miles.

Nope.

Within the first twenty steps of breaking into a trot, I was ready to saw my leg off. It was going to be that kind of race. Less than 1/4-mile into the FULL MARATHON, I was walking. If you had handed me a gun and a promise of free medical attention and prosthetic limbs for life, I would have shot my leg off. I just didn’t want to hurt anymore. 5 minutes after I started, I was as sure as anyone could be that I would be running the half-marathon instead of the full, as walking provided my only relief.

Less than half a mile into the race, I was all by myself, walking on the sidewalk so as not to draw too much attention to myself. I kept asking myself, Where the hell is the ‘B’ Corral? Danielle, Amanda, and Patty would all be starting in the ‘B’ corral, and I desperately longed for other runners around me, to help draw away the spotlight of shame that I felt shining down on me. I hung all of my hopes on the idea that if I saw Danielle and Amanda, then maybe I could hang with them long enough to at least hate life a little less. But would I see them?

I saw them, but they didn’t see me. I stealthily positioned myself behind the girls and made a cheesy comment about Danielle’s resplendent ponytail to announce my arrival, and I winced a bit as I tried to keep pace. I had the misfortune of joining them as we approached an extended downhill, which made my knee howl with each heavy right heel-strike. Danielle picked up on this immediately, and she didn’t waste much time in saying, “Wow, you’re limping pretty bad. You don’t look like you’re doing so well.” She wasn’t wrong.

My mind was racing, thinking of what to do. I thought back to the Disney race, where my knee didn’t start to feel comfortable until I kicked it into gear and ran fast for a couple miles. Could the same thing happen here? I was about to wave my friends goodbye barely 3 miles into the race, and I had to do something. Coming up with a new strategy on the fly, I announced to the girls that I was going to run ahead for a bit, to see how that felt.

And the damnedest thing? It worked. Running fast didn’t hurt. Walking didn’t hurt. It was the slow plod in-between those two extremes that was making me cry uncle.

After running my first 3 miles in a combined 37 minutes, I ran my 4th mile in 09:37…I’m a little embarrassed to say that I did a mini fist-pump after this sub-10:00 mile, because I didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance in hell that I’d hit single-digit splits during this race. As I hit the Mile 4 marker, I walked for about a minute until Danielle and Amanda caught up, and then I jogged with them for a bit. When the pain became too much to bear at their steady pace, I took off again, this time running my 6th mile in 08:37. It didn’t make sense as to why I could run (mostly) pain-free at a faster clip, but I wasn’t going to question it. At the Mile 6 marker, I slowed to a walk again. Within a minute or two, Danielle and Amanda were right beside me.

It went on like this for many miles: I would jog with the girls for stretches at somewhere between a 10:00-11:00/mile pace, then I would surge ahead for a bit and go off on my own to loosen up my leg, and then I would walk for a spell until I was back with my friends again. Meanwhile, Danielle and Amanda were having a jolly old time, and it was impossible not to get caught up in Danielle’s irreverent enthusiasm for marathoning. At one point, while waiting for Danielle’s friend to retrieve Sprite from her car to help settle Danielle’s upset stomach, we all took turns holding a sign and cheering on very confused-looking marathoners that were running in the same race as we were.

We stopped to take pictures; we stopped to drink beer. A benevolent spectator handed me a Bloody Mary somewhere around Mile 7, which I drank down with gusto. During an out-and-back portion that lasted maybe 3 miles, I believe that Danielle cheered for quite literally every other person wearing a Marathon Maniacs singlet as if they were members of her family (and as I would come to find out later, they kind of are all family). Before I knew it, 11 miles had gone by, and my knee was fairly (and inexplicably) pain-free at this point. I decided then that I would be running the full marathon instead of the half.

GET YOUR KICKS, BITCHES

GET YOUR KICKS, BITCHES

I like to think that health concerns would have won out over vanity if I hadn’t been feeling great at the halfway point, but continuing on with the full marathon meant that I got to experience one of the draws to running the Route 66 Marathon in the first place — the Center Of The Universe Detour. Any runner who opted to take this voluntary detour would add 0.3 miles to their race, turning the race into one of the shortest ultramarathons in existence. I’ll let you read about this acoustic anomaly yourself, and you may draw your own conclusions as to the noteworthiness of this “tourist attraction.”

Anyway, this “ultra” detour was sponsored by Michelob Ultra, because of course it was, because that shitty water-flavored hooch pusher sponsors every fucking marathon these days. The nice thing about this, though, was that every runner got a free cup of beer (I made sure to have 5 cups, or the equivalent of ONE NORMAL BEER) and a pretty ballerriffic coin/medallion to commemorate the experience.

Naturally, we had to document our detour:

Here I am holding my special coin at the Center of the Universe. Yes, this is what the Center of the Universe looks like. No, MY FACE IS NOT THAT FAT, it's the beard.

Here I am holding my special coin at the Center of the Universe. Yes, this is what the Center of the Universe looks like. No, MY FACE IS NOT THAT FAT, it’s the beard.

Coming out of the Center of the Universe, I felt great — I surged ahead again and ran a 10:44 split for my 18th mile (which was pure lightning for me at this stage of my knee rehab, mind you), and then I carried on another 0.3 miles to stop right at the Mile 18 marker. And then I look around and saw….nothing. I’d lost Danielle and Amanda.

I was losing track of everybody this weekend.

After an extended walk break, they caught up to me again. Danielle hadn’t turned mean, but she was decidedly less chipper than when we all started. Amanda wasn’t complaining openly; rather, she opted for a silent protest, extending walk breaks for the group when the opportunity presented itself. As we stopped at a port-o-potty so that one member of our merry band could take a bathroom break, I had a question to ask of myself — should I ditch the dead weight (sorry, Danielle!) and go alone, or should I stick with the people who had gotten me this far?

I can't properly explain how much I loved this wall mural. Fan-fucking-tastic.

I can’t properly explain how much I loved this wall mural. Fan-fucking-tastic.

In the end, the decision was easy — I knew in my heart of hearts that I would have dropped out at Mile 13.1 if it weren’t for the girls, and so I felt a duty to stay with them as long as possible, if that makes any sense. I didn’t give a shit about my time, since this certainly wouldn’t be a PR. At the same time, something would have to go DRASTICALLY wrong for me to match my PW of 5:42:59, which was set during my very first marathon in 2007. I wasn’t going to break 5 hours in Tulsa, but I was pretty sure I could break 5:30.

I spared a thought for Dan and Nolan, who would almost certainly have been done by the time I was mulling this decision, when I was still only 19 miles into my race. I felt like an asshole for making them wait.

And so I stayed with Danielle and Amanda or another 30 minutes or so, until I couldn’t continue at that pace; the pain was too much to bear. I tried to take off for good just before the 21-mile mark, only for my knee to bark out in anguish….I found that running fast no longer cured what ailed me, as my muscles surrounding that fickle patella of mine were all so tight that everything was pulled out of alignment. I looked back and saw the girls maybe 200 meters behind me, so I stopped at an aid station to wait for them. If I was going to be miserable, I at least wanted company.

We strolled through the University of Tulsa campus for another mile (don’t even talk to me about the name of their mascot), until I finally had enough of walking — I bade Danielle and Amanda goodbye one last time at Mile 22, thinking in the nicest way possible that I really didn’t want to see them again during the race. And after an extremely painful half-mile of full-on running, I built enough separation where I never again saw them over my shoulder.

I don’t remember the last 3-4 miles. I really don’t. They happened, but I don’t remember specifics about them. I’ve gleaned from other recaps that I must have run through a nice neighborhood at one point, and I think those are the nice people that gave me gummy worms and more beer. I remember the final miles being hilly. I didn’t like the hills, but then again, I didn’t like a lot of things at that point in the race.

With a 1/4-mile to go, I scraped my dignity up off the pavement and ran the rest of the way in, compling my 26.5 miles in a final time of 5 hours, 28 minutes, and 52 seconds. I avoided a new PW, I thought with relief, and I hobbled toward the Marathon Maniacs tent to grab a beer.

POST RACE

At the special Maniacs Corner, whose mere existence brings in scores of out-of-state runners to run Route 66 every year, I picked up my special medal and wearily grabbed my backpack from the Gear Check area. The Route 66 organizers provided unique medals to members of the Marathon Maniacs club, which were different from the regular medals, and I remember thinking that this was pretty great:

Medal, bib, and Center of the Universe Detour coin. They let us personalize our bibs, so I combined my name with that of the current marathon world record holder

Medal, bib, and Center of the Universe Detour coin. They let us personalize our bibs, so I combined my name with that of the current marathon world record holder

I grabbed a beer, but didn’t have time to drink it before I was called away — to my horror and embarrassment, Dan and Nolan had been patiently waiting at the post-race party for me to finish. In Dan’s case, he had been waiting two hours, and Nolan had been waiting for over an hour. I had hoped that they would have gone to the hotel to shower and then returned to see my hobbled ass limp across the finish line, but they had gamely stuck it out until the end.

Again, MY FACE IS NOT THAT FAT. THE BEARD ADDS MANY PERCEIVED POUNDS TO MY FACE.

Again, MY FACE IS NOT THAT FAT. THE BEARD ADDS MANY PERCEIVED POUNDS TO MY FACE.

To their credit, neither of them voiced even the slightest complaint about waiting around for such a long time…I don’t know how they held back, but I was extremely grateful that they didn’t add to my shame. However, their mannerisms left no doubt that we needed to get moving — it was 1:30pm when I crossed the finish line, and almost 1:45pm by the time they tracked me down. Our hotel had offered us an insanely late checkout time of 3pm, but my grandfatherly pace meant that we would still be arriving back at the hotel with less than an hour for all 3 of us to shower and pack our things.

In the end, we made it in and out just fine, and we checked out of the Holiday Innnnnn with 15 minutes to spare. With hours until our respective flights, we even had time to LEISURELY enjoy a post-race burger and some beers at a local watering hole before heading to the airport. Nolan got on a plane to Atlanta, Dan and I boarded a plane to Chicago, and our unconventional weekend finally ended for good.

THOUGHTS ON THE RACE

Despite running through an extremely painful injury, I had a lot of fun running this race for reasons completely unrelated to the marathon itself. With that in mind, I’ll try and keep this as objective as possible:

  • GOOD: Well-organized; Excellent gear-check and start corrals; Excellent medals & souvenir bibs (which were personalized, to boot); Catered well to out-of-staters and national running clubs; Adequate amount of aid stations; More aid stations with GU & food than advertised; Ran through many different Tulsa neighborhoods (including a college campus); Plenty of free beer at the finish; Sufficiently nutty field of fellow runners (comes from catering so well to the out-of-staters); Live music on the course; Challenging course at parts, but not TOO hilly; Excellent race-related events all weekend; Fantastic hotel partnerships (with shuttles & late check-outs); Finally, it has its own calling card with the Center Of The Universe “ultramarathon” detour.
  • BAD:  Pretty sparse crowd support (and NO CROWDS AT ALL on the college campus, which was weird); Inconsistent flavors of sports drink at aid stations (some had lemon-lime or orange, some had only grape, ugh); Boring, see-through white race shirt that I’ll never wear; Not the prettiest course for long stretches; Ran next to vehicle traffic during too many stretches; I received more e-mail spam from this race than I received from all of my other 2012 races combined.

Would I recommend this race to others? Yes, with that caveat that the Route 66 Marathon is generally a small-time race that tries really hard at providing the amenities of a big-time race. For the record, they mostly succeed. It’s worth mentioning that I’ve heard that the OKC Memorial Marathon is another Oklahoma race worth looking into, but you could do much worse than the Route 66. I wish that I could have lingered a bit longer at the post-race party to take it all in, but that’s 100% my own damn fault.

I won’t be back to run this race again, but I am indeed glad that I flew to Tulsa this one time to get my kicks… *puts on sunglasses* …on Route 66.

Posted in Race Reports | 8 Comments

Day #229 — The Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon (Orlando, FL — 11/10/2012)

Sometime back in April, my friend Chris sent out an email announcing his intentions to run the 2012 Wine & Dine Half Marathon at Walt Disney World, and he invited anyone who was interested to come run and stay at his family’s time-share condo in Orlando. I’d never heard of this race, but I knew that Chris has good taste when it came to running – we had both run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2011 (I slept on his couch that weekend), and I’d traveled with Chris to Traverse City for the 2012 Bayshore Marathon.

The race itself was expensive ($150 for a half marathon ain’t chea), but that registration fee also included entrance into Disney’s awesome EPCOT park for a post-race party that would run until 4am. When I took into account the cheap airfare (<$250 round-trip) as well as the fact that I’d be staying in Orlando for 4 nights for practically nothing, then suddenly running the race didn’t feel extravagant. Sensing that I would be ready for a break from the Chicago cold in November, I signed up for the race back in April. I hadn’t been to Disney World since I was a little kid – this could be pretty cool.

Of course, a lot can happen over the course of 7 months, and shortly after the Chicago Marathon I became hobbled by a knee injury. Determined not to let my lingering injury keep me from enjoying my vacation, I packed a bag for 4 days of sight-seeing and park-going , and I flew down to Florida on Thursday after work as I’d intended.

IN FLORIDA

There would be a total of 5 of us staying at the condo, with everyone getting their own bed (and we had room to sleep at least a half-dozen more). Aside from myself and Chris, there was Alexis, a mutual friend I’d met in July who was now Chris’s roommate; Amelia, Chris’s longtime friend from back in high school; and Kelsey, Amelia’s sister. Among other things happening, Kelsey would be running her first ever half-marathon.

The first 5 people in the log are all us. So proud.

Over the course of the next 3 days, both before and after the race, we saw just about all of Disney that there was to see. Staying at Disney’s Old Key West resort, we were among the first people to enter Animal Kingdom on Friday and Hollywood Studios on Saturday, and we were among the last to leave the featured Magic Kingdom park on Sunday night. We rode all the rides, ate all the food, and drank all the drinks. The girls were gung-ho about seeing as much of the parks as possible during our time there, which was fine by me; I barely remembered any of the parks from the last time I visited. Hell, the Animal Kingdom hadn’t even been constructed the last time I was down in Orlando.

Animal Kingdom safari! There, now you feel like you were there

But we did have a race to run. After leaving Animal Kingdom on Friday afternoon, we made our way over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports for the expo and the packet pick-up. The packet pick-up was in a different building from the expo itself, which was a bit confusing at first but turned out to be wonderfully efficient. The expo was large, but not huge – they had vendors that sold Gatorade Prime pouches and my preferred GU flavor (Vanilla Bean 4 lyfe), so I was a happy camper.

Disney Expo

Oh, and they let you drink at the expo. I got the feeling all weekend that Disney wants to make it as easy as possible for you to drink, all the time. More on that later.

Not mad about this one bit

On Saturday, the smart play for an evening race would have been to stay off our feet as much as possible during the day….but we were at DISNEY, so of course we were first in line to enter Hollywood Studios and ride the Aerosmith roller-coaster twice before most people had even entered the park. After a long day of rides and shows, it was time to head back to the condo and get off our feet. Of more importance than anything was for everyone to grab a quick nap before dinner….it would be a late night.

PRE-RACE

The race was slated to start at 10pm, which presented a bit of a conundrum regarding when to eat dinner; we settled on scarfing down a light meal from the resort restaurant at 6:30pm. Not caring much about my race performance, I satisfied myself with a Cuban sandwich, plate of fries, and a local beer. After dinner, we headed to the buses that would take us to the starting line at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.

The race organizers communicated that the last buses from Disney resorts would leave at 8pm for the 10pm race start, and we hopped aboard a charter bus from the Saratoga Springs resort sometime around 7:30pm. We disembarked from our bus just 8pm, and we openly wondered what we would do with ourselves in the 2 hours leading up to the race.

It turned out that we wouldn’t have to wonder long – the set-up at the ESPN Wide complex was one giant party. There was a well-meaning (but impossibly white and corny DJ) playing pop music with accompanying dancers projected on a giant video screen, and we were surrounded by thousands of runners all laughing and dancing and in general acting like they were having the time of their lives. There was a long line at the concession stand, and the beer vendor was twisting off caps as fast as he could.

Were we really supposed to be running a half-marathon in 2 hours?

Myself, Kelsey, Amelia, Alexis, and Chris before the race

The time passed quickly, and at around 9:15pm, the race organizers started herding people to the start corrals. Both Chris and I had qualified for Corral A, but we had decided to drop down to Corral B to run with the rest of our group. My decision to drop down was forced out of injury concerns, while Chris’s decision to drop down was motivated more by sympathy than anything else. Our group’s (very) loose plan was to run in the 10:00-11:00/mile pace range for the first couple miles, and then each person would settle into their own groove.

The wheelchair division took off right around 9:55, and the ‘A’ corral was released promptly at 10:00pm. Our ‘B’ corral moved to the front, and we were off and running within 10 minutes.

THE RACE

As our wave crossed the starting line and broke into a run, it became evident that I didn’t have the straps on my knee brace adjusted just right – I tried to run through it, but within a ½-mile I was in agony as the top strap positioned itself directly over my kneecap. Unable to bear this direct pressure, I had to pull over to the grass on the side of the road to adjust my brace. Not exactly the start I was hoping for.

I told Chris and Alexis that they should feel free to go on without me if I didn’t catch up, but they willingly slowed their pace to allow me the chance to catch up, and I ran faster than I should have in order to rejoin the group. My brace felt fine, but I was regretting my decision to reel them in right away with a quick burst rather than catch up gradually.

The first 3 miles would be all highway, and I’d advise anyone looking to run this race next year to accept that coming in and mentally prepare for it accordingly. The various Disney parks are all close-ish to one another, but they’re still a couple miles apart, and runners will invariably have to run on the highway to travel from park to park. The Disney folks were good about generally having on-course entertainment of sorts every half-mile or so, but highway running is still highway running. There were always enough runners around me that it never felt lonely, but runners hoping for 13.1 miles of nothing but DISNEY DISNEY DISNEY would do well to temper their expectations somewhat.

By the time we reached the first mile marker, I felt my goose was cooked. This wasn’t going well for me at all, and I begrudgingly advised Chris and Alexis to go on ahead without me. I didn’t even know where Amelia and Kelsey were. I was embarrassed. My knee had felt as good as it had in weeks in the days leading up to the race, but I couldn’t even hang at a 10:30/mile pace for five thousand feet.

Over the course of the 2nd mile though, I loosened up considerably. Suddenly, I could run again. I don’t know what happened, but I found myself going from limping/shuffling to running along with an open stride. I caught up to Chris and Alexis at Mile 2, and then passed them as I turned in a sub-09:00 effort over the course of Mile 3. As we neared Disney’s Animal Kingdom, though, I realized the following 2 things:

  1. It was probably a pretty dumb idea to be running this “fast” given my condition; and
  2. I really didn’t want to run another 10 miles all by myself, passing through Disney parks with no one I knew to share the experience with.

And so I slowed my pace, took an extended walk break, and waited for Alexis and Chris to show up. I didn’t have to wait long, and when I waved and dropped in to join them, they were visibly surprised to see me – neither of them had noticed me going past them at Mile 2. I assured them that my knee was feeling good (at the time, anyway), and we cheerfully entered Disney’s Animal Kingdom park.

Chris and Alexis entering the Animal Kingdom. Sorry for the blurry photo but I was running a half marathon

The following mile would take us runners on a fittingly serpentine path through the Animal Kingdom, and the path narrowed shortly after we entered the park. As we runners were all brought into closer contact with one another, Chris and I took turns setting the pace and weaving through the crowd, with Alexis gamely keeping up. Running through the park at night was legitimately cool – there were sidewalk performers every couple hundred yards, and a number of park employees turned up along both sides of the path to enthusiastically offer their support. At one point I saw the Pluto off in the distance, and remembering a promise that I’d made to my friend Marla that I would take a picture with Pluto at some point, I sped up so that I had time to stop and get a mid-race photo:

As we left the park, the time came to let Chris go ahead alone. He had been gradually upping the tempo as we progressed through the Animal Kingdom, and after a quick consultation with Alexis, we decided to scale back our pace rather than try and keep up with our fleet-footed friend.

The next 4 miles would be highway once again, as we traveled from the Animal Kingdom to the Hollywood Studios theme park. It was somewhere around Mile 5 that my knee discomfort announced to me that it would be here to stay, and for the life of me I just could not get my brace in a comfortable position where it would stay. As the highway miles rolled along, I found myself constantly stopping to fix my brace, then speeding up to catch up with Alexis again. At one point, I tried running without the brace altogether, which had disastrous results.

My knee discomfort aside, the course was still surprisingly entertaining. We stopped so Alexis could take her picture with some pink dancing hippo characters, and one of the green toy soldiers from Toy Story barked encouragement at runners climbing the only real “hill” (highway on-ramp) of note. When one runner playfully told him that he looked good in green, the character responded with, “Of course I make green look good, I invented monochromatic style!” without missing a beat.

Somewhere around Mile 8.5, the race effectively ended for me as an athletic endeavor. After having run the previous 8 miles faster than I’d run any distance since a week after the Chicago Marathon, my knee discomfort grew to be too much. Rather than risk a long-term injury setback, I shut it down to a run-walk race strategy as we entered Hollywood Studios.

The Hollywood Studios theme park features 2 of my favorite rides outside of the Magic Kingdom, the Tower of Terror ride and the Aerosmith rollercoaster, and we ran by those 2 attractions first. The course then ran down “Sunset Boulevard” after the 15K mark, and then oddly brought us running past a few dumpsters before we turned to run past the area where costumes are designed and crafted. We then passed a sign notifying us of Christmas lights up ahead, and I was not disappointed:

OOOOOHHHHHHHH

AAAAHHHHHHHHH

The course then took us out of the park, and after a much shorter run along the highway, the course turned and took us down onto a boardwalk that ran alongside a lake within one of the Disney resorts. The crowd support along the highway miles was sparse at best, which was to be expected, but the support picked up noticeably once we were within resort territory. Flanked by picturesque vacation homes on one side and a lake on the other, it struck me as a very pleasing way to end a race.

We ran into Disney’s EPCOT park (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) somewhere after Mile 12, and I limped to the finish line as best I could. I heard someone say, “Oh, that guy is in pain” as I loped down the final straightaway, and they weren’t wrong. I crossed the finish line in a time of 2:18:48, which was a good 12-13 minutes faster than I’d run in Des Moines 3 weeks earlier. While far from a PR, this was also far from a PW, and it was good enough for 3,203rd out of 11,599 finishers in an admittedly lead-footed race field. I was pleased with myself that I’d run a time under 2:20, which was the random benchmark that I’d assigned myself somewhere around Mile 9, and the knee pain went away completely as soon as I started walking again.

I accepted my rather fetching finisher’s medal and headed in the direction of the post-race party at EPCOT. It took all of 20 seconds to pick up my gear-check bag, and I was pleased to find that they had tents set up for separate men’s and women’s changing areas. I stepped into the men’s changing tent and peeled off my stinky race shirt and shorts; I wasn’t expecting to sweat that much, but the humidity had other plans for me.

Putting on fresh boxer-briefs and shorts, I froze as I realized I had forgotten to pack deodorant in my gear-check bag. Fortunately, at that moment of my panic, a kind soul announced to no one in particular, “If anybody needs some body spray, I’m leaving this can of Old Spice right here, and anyone is welcome to use it.” Weighing my options, I decided it would be better to smell like a douchebag than like someone who had just run a half-marathon, and so I spritzed my pits and chest and threw on a fresh shirt. I found Chris, Alexis, Amelia, and Kelsey outside the tent, and we headed to EPCOT for the post-race party.

POST-RACE PARTY

It is the post-race party at the International Food & Wine Festival at EPCOT where this race really separates itself from a lot of other races. Included in every runner’s entry fee was one voucher for a complimentary drink before entering EPCOT, and then a $10 gift card for use inside EPCOT, which for most runners would be sufficient to buy an additional beer and a food item from the country of their choosing.

The 5 runners in our merry band all finished the race between 12:00-12:30am, and the post-race party in EPCOT would remain open until at least 4am. I felt like I could do a lot of damage in that time.

We headed immediately to the World Showcase area to get the party started, stopping first by the craft beer station and then heading to the Canada stand to pick up some chipotle chicken sausage. And so the night went on, walking around the lake and stopping to sample food/drink from each country’s stand. We had wine from France, Morocco, and South Africa; beer from Germany, Florida, Ireland, and Poland; crepes from France; waffles from Belgium; margaritas and churros from Mexico; sushi from Japan; and lamb meatballs from New Zealand. I was fat and drunk and happy. With all the food portions being the size of tapas (and all reasonably-priced, to my surprise), it was possible to munch and walk without ever really feeling weighed down.

Myself, Alexis, and Chris with THE BEST Disney character

Kelsey and Amelia left the fest sometime before 3am, as Kelsey’s stomach was not cooperating with her after the race. But Chris, Alexis and I soldiered on. We rode a couple float rides sometime after 3am, learning valuable cultural facts about Norway and Mexico. The Mexico float ride, for example, would lead you to believe that Donald Duck and the Tres Caballeros are cultural lynchpins on par with the Aztecs and the Mayans. On the whole, the post-race party was ridiculously enjoyable, and 4am came around way too soon.

One last shot in front of the tree before leaving EPCOT

FINAL THOUGHTS

The true mark of how well a race is run is whether you’d recommend it to a friend, and then whether you yourself would run it again the following year. The Disney Wine & Dine half marathon passes both tests emphatically; all 5 of us that ran are already making plans to run again in 2013, myself included. At a cost of around $150, it’s certainly one of the most expensive half-marathons you’ll ever run, but the race experience and the organization of the event are really second to none. Walt Disney World in Orlando has built a resort/vacation empire on providing an excellent consumre experience, and their impeccable customer service and attention to detail extends itself to the half-marathon as well. I can be an insufferable prick sometimes when it comes to critiquing races, finding faults wherever I want, but I honestly can’t think of much that Disney could do to improve the race experience.

In the same breath, though, it can be expensive as hell if you’re not hooked up. I’d be hesitant to run again in 2013 if we didn’t have the sweet deal through Chris’s folks that we currently have, which allows us to stay at a resort on Disney property for 4 days/nights at a negligible cost per person (<$100 total). The Happiest Place on Earth can get expensive in a hurry with resort/hotel costs, park tickets, food, souvenirs, etc., but if you love Disney and have the cheddar to burn, I’d heartily recommend the Wine & Dine Half Marathon. And if all goes according to plan, I’ll see you there.

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