Reindeer Fun Run 5K Race Report

One person’s fun is another person’s funk.

It’s my own fault. I’m a harmless procrastinator, and when the Minnesota Running Series kicked off this past April, I quickly rattled off three of the required four qualifying events, and then looked down an endless buffet of time to pick off the final event and receive my ‘free’ Minnesota Running Series’ jacket.

The things we do in the name of ‘free’ crap.

As expected, events came and went, and for one reason or another I couldn’t commit.  The Reindeer Run 5K was the end of the line. And now here at the end of the line morning temps stalled at minus 13 degrees.

Call this a ‘fun’ run if you want, but I couldn’t have been more grumpy.

Any other race, in the preceding weeks, I’m pretty restless. But on this Saturday morning, over a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios with sliced bananas, my enthusiasm hovered alarmingly low.

Secretly I hoped they’d just call it on account of unsafe temperatures. In fact, the race website posted a message saying that they’d announce at 8 a.m. whether the race was still on (really, it was COLD). At that moment I sort of mentally checked out, and thought, ‘hmmmm, sweet, I’ll call my dad and we’ll grab a gyro omelet or chicken and waffles, BS over some good coffee, and I’ll have plenty of time to chauffeur the kiddos. Reindeer Run, what say you?!’

Come 8 a.m., and about 326 browser refreshes later, I saw this …reindeer run7

Shart! It says ‘the RACE IS STILL ON’ (all caps, even). We Minnesotans wear the frigid weather like a badge of honor, so deep inside my shivering heart I knew the race would go on.

I spent so much time fretting about ‘is it on, is it off?’ that I hadn’t responsibly pulled all my gear together. I hastily grabbed a few hats and pairs of gloves and figured I’d sort it all out on the drive to Minneapolis.

About as ready as I'm going to be

About as ready as I’m going to be

Approaching Lake Harriet I could hear all the Whos in Whoville yucking it up, slinging there Who Hash, and in general being a little too enthusiastic about things.

Having a little too much fun in the cold.

Having a little too much fun in the cold.

The warm up
I had about 30 minutes to spare, so I took a mile warm up. I felt okay, but knew immediately my feet were going to bear the brunt of the cold.

The ground, and my feet, were going to be problematic

The ground, and my feet, were going to be problematic. Not a great combo.

I hustled back to the ‘Warming Tent’ to thaw out my hands and feet, and then scurried to a port-o-potty before we lined up. The lines were only about 4 people deep but so bloody slooooooow moving. With everyone heading to the start I gave myself a quick little bounce and jiggle to see if my bladder could play nice for 25 more minutes, and before I could do all the bladder math in my head I just bolted for the start.

The 'warming' tent.

The ‘warming’ tent. It was warm, but not warm, warm.

the lake is an almost perfect 5K distance

Conveniently, the lake is an almost perfect 5K distance, so once around and we’re done.

Since I was alone I was able to wiggle my way near the front. Santa was at the start and yelled ‘Ho, ho, ho, GO! (how cute).

Standing on the sheet of ice

Bundled for business. Standing on the sheet of ice I was very concerned about the small kids at the front. Bad call.

reindeer run start line

Another look at the start. It was tough because instead of filling in back to front, people had to claw through the front to get to the back, thus, most people just settled in the front.

The run
The first 200 meters were a bobsled run. Sheer ice. I ambled my way to the right. A few runners fell into me, and everyone had their head on a swivel to ensure things stayed safe. After about 400 meters the front of the pack had already separated itself and settled in single file along the left of the road where there was enough packed snow and sand to keep you upright.

And there I just settled in, about 10 runners back (the leader wore shiny gold tights so he was easy to keep an eye on).

I checked my GPS to humor myself at my pace, but I guess I didn’t fully press the ‘Start’ button with my thick mitten. Ugh. I didn’t care so much about pace as I did distance. There were no on-course markers. The lake was disorienting, in that I’d gauge ‘okay, we’re about half way around’ and then a few minutes later I’d look at the band shell and correct myself, ‘wait, NOW we’re halfway around’ (I did this three or four times).

I felt like I was moving at a good clip, and just kept telling myself I could do anything for three miles. Heading into mile three (seemed like mile 3 at least) I looked up and realized I was in second place! I didn’t dare look behind me, and instead just dug in.

For a moment, with the leader just a Payton Manning tight spiral ahead, I tried to channel some extra oomph to close the gap. I had no more gears to tap.

And then I hear the familiar pitter pat of a spry 16-year-old(ish) kid running me down. I could have pulled up my green Grinch body suit and stayed the course (tough to pass here with the ice), but somewhere along the course my heart grew two sizes that day, and I kindly jumped to the right, in the thick of the ice luge run, and gave him the proverbial bull fighter ‘ole’  and watched him pass.

reindeer run race photo

Twisting the knife, my sole race photo is where I’m getting run down at the end. Thanks, guys! No, really. Thanks. This kid slowed just before mile 3 to check on a friend who burned out, but clearly he made up the ground and with less than a mile dispatched of me.

‘Finish strong!’ was all the encouragement I could muster (a common pitiful refrain of mine when I get run down deep into a race). I had difficulty catching my breath in the biting cold but survived the final 800 meters to nab third place overall.

jack frost

I came in just before this guy and I remember seeing him cross the finish. Seeing him I knew it was just too damn cold.

This was not a chip-timed event, but the clock was at about 21:18 when I crossed (I’ve run only one 5K before and of course, nowhere near a PR here).

I grabbed a heaping cup of coffee to ‘warm up’ and promptly spilled it all over my pants. Time to go.

I walked the few blocks to my car, defrosted my phone (would not power up after the race), started coordinating pick up times with my kids, and then realized I couldn’t feel the toes on my left foot. I was too scared to look, so I took off my shoe and held my socked foot beneath the heater for the drive back to Saint Paul.

Back in the car, my phone defrosted before I did.

Back in the car, my phone defrosted before I did.

By the time I picked up my twelve year old and we made it home, the feeling had started to come back, and I got the nerve to remove my socks to get a looksee. Aside from my usual hideous stuff, everything checked out.

In addition to four coupons to Noodles and Co, I won a pretty nice fleece blanket that says '2013 Reindeer Run Third Place.' Hard to see in the photo.

In addition to four coupons to Noodles and Co, I won a pretty nice fleece blanket that says ‘2013 Reindeer Run Third Place.’ Hard to see in the photo.

Took me the balance of the day to fully get right. But, I know, it’s my own fault. Don’t think next year I won’t tick these events off as quickly as the punk teenager ran me down.

Overall grade: B-
The race organizers, volunteers, sponsors, participants, and Marines were all phenomenal. They put on a great event. That they pulled this off without any hiccups was gritty and selfless. The bitter cold is just so tough to overcome, and I think if I  had a better plan for my feet I would have been able to enjoy the Reindeer Run just a touch more.

What does this mean for the 2014 Urbanathlon?
Nothing noteworthy, as far as I can tell. It was good to get the speed work in, and it was reassuring that aside from a tough final 800 meters I hadn’t lost the running fitness I lost a year ago at this time (no way I would have even attempted this race in 2012). So my base is still there, and I’ll keep plugging along with my scheduled training through the end of the month. So we’ll just say I’m ‘on plan’, whatever that is.

Here’s to all of you cold-weather runners!


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