Racing Extravaganza

Holy cow, people — I’ve been racing! Can you believe it? I know, I know … neither can I. It feels kind of weird to be back in that world again after taking such a long break; to be surrounded by people who are all out of bed early on a weekend morning just to toe the line of a race. It’s a kind of inspiration that I had pushed back into the dusty corners of my memory (where I assume only the dust tumbleweeds and the knowledge of how to calculate the area of a parallelogram live).

In the last 3 weeks, I’ve raced a duathlon, a 5k and a 10k. The duathlon was my own cockamamie idea — I’ve done this race 7 times before, it takes place 10 minutes from my house and the distances are doable for even those of us who are in pretty bad shape. I figured, what the heck – might as well. The 5k and 10k? I had a visiting racing friend from California to thank for that. She was in town to do the Rock ‘n’ Roll 5k and half marathon (a Saturday/Sunday affair), I was playing the role of tour guide and at the last minute decided that standing with the spectators would be boring (and not a good enough reason for getting up at crazy o’dark in the morning) and so I signed up, throwing all caution and good sense to the wind.

INTENT Duathlon (2 mile run, 11 mile bike, 2 mile run)

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Game face before the duathlon. That’s Ol’ Blue in the background there, #118.

I had prepared all my stuff the night before — dusted off the bike, located my bike helmet, dug my race belt out from under piles of unused triathlon gear and made sure that my all-important lucky sunglasses were on the counter and ready to go. Because of the near proximity of the race site, I got to sleep in compared to a typical race morning — the alarm didn’t go off until 6:30am, which is the equivalent of a teenager not opening their eyes until 3 in the afternoon.

I arrived at the race site around 7:15am and it was nearly-perfect racing weather: not too warm, not too windy, no rain and the humidity wasn’t yet at killer levels. I racked my bike alongside one bike that looked like it had seen better days and another bike that probably cost more than my car — these are the extremes of racing that I love; not only do the fit, elite athletes come out to run circles around us mere mortals, but the schlubs like me are also there, racing the same course and crossing the same finish line. And us schlubs get a better deal anyway — more time on the course for the dollar! It’s a bargain when it takes you twice as long to finish.

As I lined up in the starting chute with the rest of my starting wave, my stomach fluttered. Oh, that’s right — I had forgotten about those pre-race jitters. Not really anxious or nervous, not butterflies, but more of this need to GO GO GO instead of just standing around waiting. Of course my GO GO GO is now more of a GO <breathe> GO <gasp> GO <huff puff wheeze>, but the pre-race feeling was still the same. And you know what? I missed that feeling. You don’t get that while training or doing just about anything else other than racing. Though guessing one of the Pick 4 balls when they do the lottery drawing on TV comes pretty close.

And then, the starting gun sounded: GO GO GO! The rest of the race proceeded pretty much the way I expected it to — the first run was slow but adequate, the bike ride was, well, we’ll call it casual (due to it being only the second time on my bike in two years) and the second run was a killer (I swear they somehow lengthen those last two miles). My finish time was an absolute worst for me, but that didn’t matter — I won by just being there.

(Wait – did I really just say that? “I won by just being there.” Wow. Someone’s been reading too many positive self-talk books lately, eh?)

There had been a pretty vocal voice in my head that had told me not to do it, that it wasn’t worth it, but a softer (but much more insistent voice) convinced me that it would be good for me. And so it was. My first race in years — DONE. Go, me!

Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago 5k (Saturday) and 10k (Sunday)

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Looks gorgeous out, doesn’t it? Looks can be deceiving…

Now these two races, they were never on my radar. The idea of getting up really absurdly early to drive into the city would interfere with my much-needed beauty sleep and plus, everyone knows how Chicago weather in July can be, right? But as I mentioned above, I had a friend in town that was running the 5k on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday. Up until a few days before her arrival, I wasn’t going to run — I wasn’t trained, my Achilles had been bothering me and I had another dozen or so other (really legitimate!) excuses that should have kept me off the starting line, but in the end, I caved to peer pressure. To be clear, my friend wasn’t pressuring me, it was that soft, insistent voice that was pressuring me, telling me “what the heck, you might as well since you’ll already be there”. So, 5 minutes of online registration and $110 later, I was signed up and ready to go.

The 5k was held on the shores of Lake Michigan — a picture perfect setting. Well, a picture perfect setting were it not for the early morning high-80’s temperature and approximately 10000% humidity levels. Sitting next to the lake before the race was a lesson in magic; there was a nice, cool lake breeze that seemed to make it almost tolerable outside. But voila! That didn’t turn out to be real life and before long I was sweating profusely just standing in the starting chute. When we finally got going, the stretch outbound was mostly alongside Lake Shore Drive and I was feeling pretty good. Ran the entire first mile, in fact! And then? The sun. The dreaded, laser-like sun. Truly, it felt like I was going to lose a layer of skin to it, so hot it was. The second mile was a mix of running and walking (and more walking), with me (foolishly) thinking that I would kick it into gear for the third mile.

And then the third mile came along and it was right along the lake with the sun feeling like it was approximately 4″ from my body. I thought I just might melt. When by some dumb luck I didn’t, I commenced the long-honored death march to the finish line — it’s what you do when you’re bound and determined to finish, but short of a miracle, the only way you’ll get there is by dragging one foot in front of the other and willing yourself to stay upright.

Coming in at just under 45 minutes, it certainly wasn’t my best showing. And the normal exhilaration of crossing the finish line was replaced by the utter relief of finding shade, sitting down and drinking water until my graying vision cleared. After reviving somewhat, onto the highlight of the morning — breakfast! As a sidenote, The Wildberry Cafe on Randolph Street can’t be beat — it’s my new after-race breakfast place (I rhymed! I should be in Marketing…). Tell them Laura sent you (not that telling them that will get you anything).

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Still upright enough to smile and take a selfie with the city in the background.

The 10k the next day? Double of the same, except it was an inexorably early 6:30am start and there was an added bonus of a 1.5 mile walk to the start line. The start line trek turned out to be the most enjoyable part of the race — I met and walked the distance with two lovely ladies who were entertaining and interesting and made the time (and the walk) pass like nothing. If only they were slow like me and would stay with me for the entire race!

While the ladies and I parted ways after the start, I met up with a couple of people at various points in the race to talk to that kept my mind off the pain that was this 10k race. I love that that the running community is like that — a lot of people are there to be social just as much as they’re there to run.

This Sunday race was hot and humid, just like the day before, and I wasn’t trained for this distance either (funny how that worked). But – I did make it through. The first half of the race was almost okay and the second half was a battle not to pass out, but I stumbled across the finish line and felt some measure of accomplishment for having gone further than I had in training or racing in a few years. It wasn’t pretty — lord, it was not pretty in the least bit! — but another race, complete.

So, what did I learn from all the sweating, effort and muscle aches? That the racers at the back of the pack are far more fun than the ones at the front who are far more serious — they don’t mind chatting, telling jokes and getting to know a complete stranger since you’re headed in the same direction anyway. That humidity is a killer (though to be fair, I knew that already). That I had forgotten how much I enjoy riding my bike. That even though it might be just a 5k or a 10k, getting a medal still can be kind of cool. That sometimes the best part of a race is the post-race food (little dixie cups of M&M’s?  Yes, please!).

Oh, and the last thing I learned: that the old cliche is true: DFL > DNS  …. Dead Frickin’ Last is greater than Did Not Start. Nothing’s possible if you don’t even get to the start line.

(and yes, I’ll put down the positive affirmation books now…)

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