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!


Men’s Health Urbanathlon 2013 (Chicago): My results

I found the whole thing utterly ridiculous and unbelievable, but there I was at 6:59:59 a.m., toeing the line with the Elite Wave 1 at the Urbanathlon in Chicago. It was a spot earned through a 2012 qualifying time (1:28:21), but unfathomable nonetheless.

Having spent my first two Urbanathlons in the distant 9th wave, I registered for wave 1 because I thought it would give me the best shot at an uncluttered course (it did), that I’d have my uninterrupted date with destiny at the feet of the Soldier Field stairs (it chewed me up and spit me out), and that the pace of the other runners would push me measurably (it did).

My approach at the Urbanathlon has always been a lot like golf; try to beat the course, not the competitors. The most imposing obstacles would be my own fabricated hurdles. So I simply ran.

My endurance felt good, the obstacles were doable but taxing, and exiting the gauntlet that is the Soldier Field / Marine Hurdles / Monkey Bars trifecta left me nearly in tears because my legs were shot hitting the back half of the course and I could barely moonwalk, no less run. I couldn’t fathom running another 5 miles feeling that broken.

I remembered Shane Logan in 2011 talking about how it took nearly a mile before he got his legs back after Soldier Field. I’m no Shane Logan, but I kept moving, and sucked it up after being easily passed exiting the Soldier Field lawn with no oomph to give chase. Eventually my back straightened, my stride strengthened, my pace quickened, and my confidence restored.

In the end I finished at 1:22:54. 16th place overall and 2nd in my 40-44 age group.  I couldn’t have imaged either.

At the dinner table Sunday night, with me rehashing stories for the hundredth time, I told my family that 20 seconds separated my time from first in my age group. They couldn’t believe it. ‘My heart feels like a squashed tomato!’ was my wife’s appropriate response. When I first saw that so did mine, but only for a two-Mississippi count.

Now sitting at home, well rested and replenished, I could trick myself into any number of scenarios that would have saved me 2 seconds here, 3 seconds there. You want 20 seconds? I can find 40.

But in real time, running through a mine field of goose poop along Monroe Harbor, I knew I’d be at complete peace with my finish, whatever it may be, because every step was my strongest, and nothing was spared. I had nothing more to give at any given time.

And good thing, because the only thing separating my 2nd place age-group finish and 3rd place was 3 seconds …

Congratulations, Urbanathletes.

Here's to everyone who overcame their own obstacles to conquer the Urbanathlon.

Here’s to everyone who overcame their own obstacles to conquer the Urbanathlon.

Here's to everyone who overcame their own obstacles to conquer the Urbanathlon.

I couldn’t do any of this without the support, and craziness, of my crew. And we couldn’t have asked for a better day to go nuts in Chicago.

Men’s Health Urbanathlon 2013 (Chicago): Recap and Observations

What a difference the sun makes. Men’s Health couldn’t have asked for a better morning to host the 2013 Urbanathlon in Chicago, and the cool-but-not-cold temperature made for ideal running conditions, while the persistent sun and blue sky made for a deservedly raucous post-race festival. I’ll talk more about my individual performance and experience in an upcoming post, but before we dive into that I just wanted to share a few immediate observations about the 2013 Urbanathlon in Chicago.

Here they are, somewhat organized but in no particular order:

Hotel partner
I was thrilled having stayed at Hyatt Regency McCormick place. A modern, well-appointed hotel off the beaten Magnificent Mile path in South Loop, but most importantly, a breezy 15-minute walk to the Festival area.  After the race there was a limping pilgrimage back to hotel, which was kind of funny. Also after the race I swam with my kids in the pool (a 4-foot deep lap pool, but plenty long) and I can’t tell you how many spent Urbanathletes walked into the pool area desperately in search of a hot tub, only Hyatt doesn’t have one. The incredulous reactions were priceless. I guess that’d be the one universal gripe. The Daily Grind coffee shop area was open 24 hours, and when I hit it at 4:30 a.m. (to use their microwave), runners were already lining up for coffee, fruit, energy bars, and other kick starters. I’d stay here again if a comparable deal is inked next year.

By 4:30 a.m. runners were fueling up on site.

By 4:30 a.m. runners were fueling up at the hotel. This was very nice to have on site.


No in-room microwaves, but no worries, one was available at The Daily Grind.

Well fueled by 4:30 with a sweet potato and hard boiled egg.

Well fueled by 4:30 a.m. with a sweet potato and hard boiled egg (which I bought Friday afternoon at Whole Foods … I cooked the sweet potato at the coffee shop Friday as well, and then just warmed up in the microwave Saturday morning).

Packet pickup
Connected by skyway from the hotel, packet pickup was care free. I handled mine pretty early on Friday, so there were no lines. I gave the gentleman my ID, got my bib, and then moved down the line for a plastic bag and T-shirt. Fiat was the only sponsor there, I think, and had a fun booth where you’d complete a survey and then do a scratch game on an iPad. I won a wearable black Fiat hat, and my wife orange and black sunglasses for the family. The last two years we had to make an effort to get to packet pickup, and this year couldn’t have been easier (if you were staying at the Hyatt, I should add).

A tame, well organized scene

A tame, well organized scene for packet  pick up.

Minimalist bag

A pretty thin bag, but I liked the winning shirt design this year.

Pre-race activities
I arrived plenty early at around 5:45 a.m. and a steady stream of Urbanathletes were filing in. The emcee for the day was already in warp drive (during the award ceremony I turned to my wife and said, ‘my God, he’s been talking non-stop since 5 a.m., how does he do it?’). I hit the bag drop before things got nutty and spent the bulk of my time running and stretching (and using the port-o-potties, which were always available) before finally entering the start corral at about 6:40 a.m. I stepped out of line momentarily because one of the fitness trainers was leading the group warm-up activities, and I had already went through my comfortable routine (this year, though, the group warm-up was improved because they just gathered runners at the start and worked it from there, rather than trying to herd everyone in another area to do it).

Things starting to come alive by 5:45 a.m.

Quiet, but things starting to come alive at 5:45 a.m.

Visualizing a strong finish

Visualizing a strong finish. That’s our hotel in the background.

Celebrity participation
This year Men’s Health called on high-profile sports performance and conditioning coach, David Jack, to serve as celebrity in residence. A seemingly likable guy who performed in his role exceptionally well. At the start of the race he said just a few meaningful words before counting us down. During the race he stood atop the bus near the finish line and encouraged those making the climb. And at the award ceremony he shared his final sincere take in less than 60 seconds. He didn’t try to milk the moment or go nuts with ‘you’re gonna wanna die out there but don’t you quit!!!’ hyperbole. Well done.

‘Let ‘em go, they’ll flame out later on’
This I overheard from over my right shoulder when we all shot out of the start. The lead pack did go out hard, but tamping down your enthusiasm is hard enough at the start of a race, and tamping down your enthusiasm at the Urbanathlon is unheard of. Not sure who flamed out, and who didn’t, but the start was like the running of the bulls.

‘I don’t recall this being so difficult’
This was my first thought coming out of the opening obstacle (a modest Jersey Barricade and Police Barricade combo platter). Throughout the course even these rudimentary obstacles were draining and it took some time to get my legs back after each. I was surprised by this, and in the moment I was a bit concerned (that maybe I hadn’t prepared enough with my strength training).

The course
This year I ran with a GPS watch and it looks like Soldier Field is included in the 10.8 mile calculation (I always forget to turn off my watch so by the time I checked it was reading 10.96 miles). The start was cool in that we took off in the opposite direction this year and ran through a narrow shoot on the outskirts of the festival area before bending back toward the start and running through an uplifting tunnel of Urabanathletes and spectators. Visually, everything was stunning, set off in large part by the clear blue sky and bright sun. Less stunning was the copious amount of goose crap along Monroe Harbor. ‘I’ll burn my shoes later,’ I figured.

As expected, most of the spectators were positioned at Soldier Field where much of the action went down. If you camped at the approach (North End) runners would pass you coming and going (great spot), spectators also hung out at the stair climb entrance, and then coming out of Soldier Field was electric because you could see the shadow of a huge crowd (despite running smack into the Marine Hurdles and Tissot Tire Carry on your exit), and then the Monkey Bars / Parallel Bars combo was well lined. Not a lot of on-course spectators.

Soldier Field

I took this photo Friday morning. Runners exit Soldier Field here and turn smack into the Marine Hurdles. No time for recovery!

Most diabolical course change
Somehow, Men’s Health was able to find a few hidden staircases along the route and proudly assimilated them into the race. These were demoralizing salt-in-the-wound mini obstacles. ‘Up the stairs and down the ramp’ would instruct an on-course volunteer, to which I’d think, ‘Stairs? What frick’n stairs?’ And sure enough, there they were. Well played, Men’s Health (New York and San Francisco, you’ve been warned).

Most appreciated course change
I may be the only one, but I really loved how they changed the final stretch of this race, essentially bringing you into the festival area but running you along the outer banks before hooking a sharp right turn into the final obstacles (really you just re-run the first 200 yards of the race start, but instead of curling left to head back through the start area you just keep running the curve to the right, like a track, then run a looong straightaway, and then bank hard right to hit the taxis). It was a much tamer version of the Olympic marathon when runners triumphantly enter the stadium and do some time on the track before the finish. It was JUST like that. Very cool.

This is actually the back of the start corral, but the final stretch of the race brings you in near the start and then you run along the white fence until you curl into the final obstacles. Very nice.

This is actually the back of the start corral, but the final stretch of the race brings you in near the start and then you run along the white fence until you curl into the final obstacles. Very nice.

My take on the new obstacle
This year featured the Fiat Tire Carry just on the heels of the Marine hurdles. I have to imagine that later waves had some serious log jams here, only because of the logistics of keeping the tires fully stocked, but when I arrived there was an open beam to the far left so I grabbed two tires and hit it. The tires are all the same (I thought they might be different, to mess up your balance), and the beam had some grit to it so that it wasn’t slippery. I didn’t see anyone fall, but we all did that teeter-totter thing to maintain our balance at some point (you have to walk up an incline, take some turns, and then hit the decline). It’s not very high. Drop off the tires to the side, then run to the monkey bars. I really liked this obstacle because it wasn’t taxing, but required great focus, and falling off is probably easier than staying on. I’m curious how this went for others. And it was a huge, HUGE improvement over the Jeep and Subaru crawls from the previous two years.

A new approach to an old obstacle
When we hit the blue police barricades a woman next to me just started rolling beneath them, taking a whole set of three or so in a few quick rotations. ‘Hmmm,’ I thought. ‘I guess that does make sense.’ Now, I get crazy dizzy on those kiddie Tea Cup rides, so I knew I couldn’t just roll and be good with it, but deeper into the course I crawled to the barricade and then did one roll, and then crawled and then did one roll, and so on, and it actually went pretty well. It beat just crawling the entire way.

Friday morning during a slow jog I got a closer look at another standby, the monkey bars.

Friday morning during a slow jog I got a closer look at another old standby, the monkey bars.

Soldier Field will crush your soul every time
Running in the first wave I was eager to get a legitimate crack at Soldier Field this year. The last two years I lamented about being stuck behind a slower moving herd hell bent on not letting anyone pass. This year I approached Soldier Field with just one running companion (others were on the stairs, we just happen to enter at the same time), and after a labored ascent up the long entrance ramp I hit the concourse, flew up the dozen or so steps on the upper deck entry, looked up at a baron runway and flew up one step, flew up a second, and then screeeeeeech. That’s all she wrote. It was physically impossible for me to run up the steps. I had no issue devouring all of the mini stair climbs inserted throughout the race, but the pitch on Soldier Field is just too great. I was being punked by gravity in a major way. I nearly broke down at the thought of having to go four up, four down.

I used the hand rail to help hoist myself up, and at the top would jog across to the descending flight, and then regain my legs on the quick-step down. I talked a lot of smack the last few years, but funny how I was so quickly humbled. On the bright side, coming down the steps, if you take a moment to gaze out at the playing field it is remarkable.

Side note: While I couldn’t run, I was at least able to go two steps at a time, and when you experience those aforementioned ‘slower moving herd’ log jams you can only go one step at a time, which is frustrating.

Men’s Health covered off on the standard award categories; top male finisher, top female finisher, top male relay team, top female relay team, top agency relay team (new this year), top co-ed relay team, fastest stair climb, and then top finishers (male and female) in the standard age groups. A significant change is that in the overall and age group awards they stopped at the top finishers (first place). Second and third place were not recognized and did not receive awards. Not heartbreaking, but a letdown. Especially since previous years they awarded for the top three spots in each age group, and it feels like an easy award to pull off for a race of this scope.

I was so looking forward to restocking my stash of Gillette body wash and Hugo Boss cologne samples, but sponsors didn’t quite go as nuts this year. Equinox (I think it was them) had all hands on deck to stretch out spent runners, Emergen-C had their usual endless amounts of packets, TRX had a spot to stretch out with their resistance bands, you could nab some protein items from Six Star Pro Nutrition, and this year Hugo Boss ran the coveted Men’s Health Magazine cover photo booth, and Tissot had a super fun but wildly erratic photo booth, but overall sponsorship felt light. A not surprising sign of the times of corporate belt tightening, perhaps. I also missed Chipotle with their chips and guacamole, replaced this year by three food trucks.

Food Trucks

A few interesting food trucks provided post-race eats. This one had some pretty yummy looking grilled cheese sandwiches, another had Chicago dogs, and another donuts and coffee.

Food Trucks 2

These little donuts were delightful, but the $5 coffee that we bought with them was only half full. It was too nutty to try and straighten it out.

Post-race festival
I think this year there were fewer things to do (like no push-up challenge, for those so inclined), and maybe a little less sponsor activity, but everywhere I looked people seemed to be having a great time. No in-person DJ this year, but a playlist was being aired from somewhere with a good mix of old school and contemporary hip hop along with some other genres. A lot of Urabanathletes took fun photos on the award stage because of the official race backdrop, but Men’s Health had a second backdrop just off the race finish for those who wanted to do the photo thing. I though that was a nice touch. The Michelob Ultra beer tent was pretty tame. I stood in a short line with my beer ticket, but then we got instructed to stand in a different line so that we could first get a wrist band. I went with my girls to the wall climb instead. Most people hung out until about 11 a.m.  when the awards wrapped, and the festival officially went until 2 p.m., but I have to imagine it gets pretty sparse by noon (but again, the weather really held up, so maybe more people stuck around to empty the kegs and compare wounds).

Look at that sky. The festival had a good post-race party vibe.

Look at that sky. The festival had a good post-race party vibe.

My girls had fun on the rock climb, and got plenty of reps.

My girls had fun on the rock climb, and got plenty of reps.

Everyone took a turn in front of one of the backdrops.

Everyone took a turn in front of one of the backdrops.

My crew hung in there and had a good time.

My crew hung in there and had a good time.

About 5 Urbanathletes from the Challenged Athletes Foundation participated, and crushed it.

About 5 Urbanathletes from the Challenged Athletes Foundation participated, and crushed it.

I somehow missed this photo opportunity in 2012, but not this year! One of the greatest things ever.

I somehow missed this photo opportunity in 2012, but not this year! One of the greatest things ever.

Participant medals
I can’t tell if this is an improvement, a downgrade, or just a lateral move, but the medals are at least different from the last two years. I love the solid yellow ribbon with the city and date in black, but the small, bright nickel-plated medal itself seemed a little chintzy. More importantly, though, when I crossed the finish line I was spent, and a woman draped in medals came after me, holding the ribbon open so that she could place it over my head and drop it on my neck, and excitedly say ‘congratulations!’ I thought that was nice.

Not the best photo, but a look at the participant medal.

Not the best photo, but a look at the participant medal. Love the ribbon, luke warm on the medal.

Overall grade
B+. I think the overall experience was exceptional, punctuated by an unseasonably sunny morning. And I like that Men’s Health finds just enough tweaks each year to make it a little different from the year before, and not just cookie cutter this thing over and over. Participation was up considerably from last year, too. It did feel like Men’s Health maybe had to (or simply decided to) cut back on a few things this year, which didn’t sabotage anything per se, but took off just a hint of luster from the day. Bottom line, we had a great time and will be back.

Congratulations to everyone who competed and gave it their all. And best wishes to those of you in New York and San Francisco getting ready to do your thing. If you have thoughts or observations about those races let me know; I’d love to share them here.

Lola’s Half Marathon Race Report (my first half): a PR, the ER and F-Bombs

So, calling my first half marathon ‘eventful’ immediately brings to mind Danny DeVito’s famous line (to me) in Romancing the Stone (1984) … ‘understatement of the year ass hole.’

I think to have a chance at improving my time at the Urbanathlon I need to get stronger at further distances (not speedier at shorter distances), which is why I reached for the half in the first place. And boy was it something. I’m not exactly sure where to start, so I’ll just plow through it.

Lola’s Half Marathon is the third run in a small series of races put on by Podium Sports Marketing, and if you compete in at least three of the four signature races you earn an attractive runner’s fleece (so, ya know, that’s all I needed … I’m easy). Now in its second year, it’s held in Waconia, MN, a quaint town of about 10,000, framed around beautiful Lake Waconia, about 45 minutes southwest of the Twin Cities, complete with a Main Street that runs through downtown.

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Potty

I was off my game from the start, no thanks in part to an unsuspectingly long wait for the potty. There was a second line that was on the other side, so this line is for about 4 port-o-potties. I spent my entire warm up right here.

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Cheer Zone

But my team is there to cheer me on during my wait …

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report The Park

Everything kind of centered around the town square/park

It’s been cold and rainy for weeks on end, and Saturday morning was sunny and about as perfect as you can ask for. What a gift.

Coming in, I knew I could run 13.1 miles (I hit 13.5 once during one Sunday long run), but I wasn’t sure if I could ‘race’ 13.1 (big difference). But with some racing reps, and mistakes, behind me I’m starting to feel smarter as a runner. I planned to be far more strategic this time around; start slooow (no matter how good I feel), settle in and find my rhythm for the long haul, and then bring it home. And with an official pacer at 7:15/mile to boot (which is where I anticipated running), the guesswork on what to do was all but obsolete (the next pacer was at 7:40/mile, which I thought was safe, but maybe too doable).

As we lined up and I’m soaking it all in (just my second race of the season), a sinking feeling hit my stomach (like when you forget your bank card in the ATM). I realized I had a small breakfast at 5 a.m., (toast, banana, coffee … a modest appetizer for me) and it was now 8 a.m. Whoaboy. I started to do the nutrition math, and sheepishly rationalized that the two homemade gels in my Spibelt would sustain me. Before I could fully get my head around a plan to power up the starter casually yelled ‘okay go’ and the tidal wave of spandex blew down Main Street.

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Pacer Group

The photographer caught me in my moment of regret … you can see me crouching behind the guy with the black calf compression sleeves, summoning some final strength along with a wee bit of stretching.

Miles 1-3 were glorious. About 6 of us stuck like glue to the pacer, and we held at about 7:04/mile weaving throughout town. Past the hospital, past the school, along the main road, back in through the neighborhoods and bell-ringing kids in wagons. I felt great and was brimming with confidence. The course meandered back to the start/finish area for a final boost from the crowd before we hit Main Street again and get released to the lake portion of the run.

Miles 4 and 5 were strong. I felt like I could run harder, but shadowed the pacer stride for stride, finding comfort when he’d pull back (with a somewhat quick pace I assumed we’d dial it in the last mile or so and coast). But this is where the course took a bit of a turn. Once we hit the lake we veered off the beaten path and ran a good portion on gravel and trails before being spit out on a county road.

Late into miles 5 and miles 6 is where I should start my class action law suit. The hills. My goodness the hills. Those looooong slow inclines, one after the other (‘a few rolling hills on this mostly flat, fast course,’ I think was the course description … Fe!). The pacer kept me grounded, reminding us that we were a bit ahead of pace and could take the hills a little more slowly, which we did. I’m still feeling strong, and at about 6.2 miles we pass the transition area for those running the two-person relay. Having these kinds of milestone markers was really helpful. All the pomp and circumstance from the awaiting relay runners briefly upped our pace to about 6:54 until we settled back into 7:08 or so.

Mile 7 and we’re back on hilly gravel roads (I keep hammering home the point about these trails because I expected just a paved walking or bike trail around the lake, which is common around here, but not in this case). Sweat rains off the brim of my cap, and I’m making mental notes to drink as much water as possible at any upcoming water stop. My head’s a faucet at this point and I know I have to replenish.

Miles 8 and 9 I’m feeling heavy, but I tell myself to stick to the pacer no matter what. That it is easier to stick with him than it would be to let him go and try to make up ground later. We’re also now starting to pass the back end of the 10 milers who took off just before us (but they went straight to the lake and did not go through town).

The mind games start to come into play at around 10 miles, when we pass the marker and I think, ‘damn, I should have just run the 10 mile, I’d be done.’ With every painful hill I remind myself that no matter how tough it is, everyone else is going through the same thing, so just keep moving (you don’t have to go faster, and it’s okay to slow down, but just don’t stop). I start to lose my grip on the pacer, and he and the remaining runner in our group open up a gap of about 10 feet after a crucial water stop, then 20, then when I pick my eyes off the road I can just barely see his sign bobbing amid the cluster of 10 milers and half marathoners, now colliding in one sweaty spandex stew. I let him go, but tell myself that I at least need to keep him in sight.

I’m on my own from here out.

Mile 11 just feels long (I remember this feeling from my long runs and it brings only dread), and my breathing is a far more labored. I clumsily weave between the gassed 10 milers, and have barely enough in me to clumsily swerve away from the occasional road kill (a snapping turtle hear, a scary something there). All I want at this point is to stop. I’m weak. I’ve come a long way. I tell myself that it’s two miles, and that you can do anything for two miles. I still want to stop.

Mile 12 was horrific. Physically, my legs just started to lock up (and I couldn’t stop it) and my breathing was out of control. This was a new feeling/experience so I’m not sure how to respond (I think among runners the technical term for this is ‘bonking’). I looked at my GPS watch no fewer than 12,368 times. I told myself I can do anything for one mile. I fidgeted with my hat. Take it off. Put it on backwards. Take it off. Put it back on. I’m scanning the occasional spectator to see if they have a spare bottle of water, so I can just stop and replenish. Nothing. A guy about my age is running a good 20 feet ahead of me with two fully loaded water bottles on his belt and I think of trying to catch him. I’m a little dizzy, and this is no longer fun. I just want it to be over, and that’s not happening without a great deal of effort and pain. The hills just keep coming, too (yes, this will also be in my class action law suit).

An unforgiving hill greets us at about mile 12.8, and I’m a wreck. I’m trotting, barely, and I know if I stop to collect myself for the final ascent that there’s no way my body will get back in motion. We hit the opposite end of Main Street and run a final slow incline to the town center. I see my crew on a corner about 800 meters from the finish. Instead of the usual fist pump and high fives I great them with a labored stride and defeated shake of the head. My girls, per our custom, hop out and stride with me, which lifts me momentarily, but between my heaving and lurching I urge them to ‘let me go.’ They fall back (this crushes me still).

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Final Hill

My pain shows. I was sooooo tense here. My daughter had the wheels for this final slow incline.

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Final Hill 2

Still an uphill battle, but ‘only’ about 600 meters to go.

The last 400 meters are a quick right for a block, hang a left for a block, and then hang a left for a half block through the finish (essentially just running around the town center through a strong crowd). I hear my name over the sound system as I cross, pump my fists, and then collapse (later I told my wife that if they had moved the finish line back 5 feet I wouldn’t have made it … I wish I were joking). I loosely recall grabbing my medal (by far the coolest medal I’ve earned), and then a bottle of water. I found a spot off to the side and spread out on the concrete, dousing myself, trying to snap into focus, but half joking in my head that ‘hey, you can pass out now’ and almost obliging.

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Rough Ending

That I couldn’t even put on my medal, well, you know I was in rough shape.

My crew finds me, and my wife knows I’m not well. We wait it out, trying to get a read on how I feel. I tell my wife (out of earshot of my girls) ‘they can have the f&#@*!% half marathon! This is crazy.’ And perhaps did another 10-minute rant about the hills. I’m still sweating buckets, and while my breathing is in check I just can’t shake the light headedness. A medical staffer comes over to check on me and urges me to keep moving and take in fluids (but to ‘avoid the yogurt!’). I do both. They check on me again. I’m about the same. They come by a third time and notice that I’m looking pretty ‘pale’ and sweating waaaay too much (I finished 30 minutes ago), so she calls it and has me sit down for fluids.

I expected some Gatorade or other medical-grade replenishing hooch, but instead a small team swarms to get an IV in my hand (a bloody mess). What I didn’t realize is that you don’t just get your IV and then go on your way. Oh no. They then put you on a stretcher, stuff you in the back of an ambulance, and take a leisurely ride to the ER. As a high-functioning introvert who hates the spotlight, I was mortified. But everyone was great and kept the mood light.

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Fluids

Of course it felt like everyone was watching me, like the woman in blue above me …

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Drink it in

But it was harmless. Feeling better and seeing it through.

The moment of high comedy for me was being wheeled in and seeing all of the running shoes sticking out of the occupied bays in the ER. I tipped my water bottle to a despondent dad, who was not amused with my attempt at ironic humor. The staff filled me with a second bag, monitored my vitals, did some blood work, and sent me on my way.

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Waiting Game

The initial excitement wore off, and it takes about an hour for a bag of fluids to get into your system, so there was a lot of this …

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Waiting Game 2

… and this …

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report ER

… and alas, this; showing off my wounds.

For my troubles I finished in 1:35:58 (since it’s my first this is a PR!), earning 54th place overall. As kind of a subtle twist of the knife I earned 4th in my division. Had I taken care of my body I know I could have reached that third spot. Lesson learned.

Physically, I know I can run, and compete, in the half. For Lola’s I was so laser focused on making sure everything was in order (wake up early, get kids up in time, feed the dog, print directions, pack bags, make sure I have all of my stuff, plan my warm up, etc.) that I neglected the obvious … fuel properly before the race. Doh! And I get so excited for race day that I lose it a little (I obsess for at least two weeks prior).

Lola's Half Marathon Race Report Finisher Medals

The finisher medal is one of my favorites thus far of all my races. It’s 50 pounds if it’s an ounce, and overall just pretty stylish (and I love the dog tag for the Dog Day 5K participants).

It took a few days to start feeling like myself again, and I took a full week off before diving back in.

I had planned to run a half on July 4 (The Red, White and Boom in Minneapolis), but will instead take the next 7 weeks to more specifically train for The Minnesota Half Marathon on Aug 4 (the last race in the Minnesota Running Series, and my jacket qualifier!). Get my miles up, do more with speedwork and tempo runs, and get my Sunday long run consistently at 14-15 miles. I’ll work out the nutrition piece, too, and try a few of the commercial gels, like Cliff Shot and GU Rocktane, to see if those give me more in-race fuel than my homemade gels.

Plus the Minnesota Half is back in my hood, in downtown Saint Paul along the Mississippi River. I may even run it once or twice (or thrice) for a Sunday long run to better scope it out and get a few reps in. In the meantime I have a pretty detailed 7-week training plan that I hope will put in me a good position to race the half more comfortably come August.

Race Report: 2013 Goldy’s Run 10 Mile

As with the previous year, I kicked off my ‘run/race’ season with Goldy’s Run. A magnificent event centered on the University of Minnesota campus. Last year I could only muster the 5K, but with some modest winter training behind me I opted for the 10 mile this year. This would be my first straight up 10 miler (the Urbanathlon is more than 10, but it’s broken up several times with obstacles).

Goldy's Run 2013 Goldy Gopher

It wouldn’t be Goldy’s Run if Goldy Gopher wasn’t running around doing Goldy-like things. Here he’s chucking snowballs at unsuspecting bystandards.

I knew I could go the distance (my Sunday ‘long runs’ generally cap at 10 miles), I just didn’t know how well or poorly it would go down, so it was a great check point for me.

Now in its fourth year, Goldy’s Run is spectacularly organized by Podium Sports Marketing, and because I’ve outlined the event in this space before I won’t spend much time on those details.

Instead, I’ll focus on just a few observations I had along the way. Unlike the brisk 5K and 8K events I’ve largely participated in up to this point, the 10 mile is a bit of a grind, and gives one ample time to think. And because the 10 mile was a brand new experience for me, I feel like I walked away with some key learnings (and a slight limp).

In no particular order:

Being strategic is great in theory. Much of what I read leading up to the race suggested you tackle the 10 miles in 3-4 chunks; miles 1-5, miles 6-8, mile 9, then mile 10 (building steam as you go). Sounds about right. I probably came out a little too quickly (6:40ish MM), but was consistent miles 1-3. The wheels didn’t necessarily come flying off at mile 4, but I hit a wall of sorts (I did actually hit a wall, coincidentally … here is where we turned right over a long, windy bridge [Lake Street bridge for you locals] and I cut it too sharp and was on the walking path and had to vault the high wall to get back on the street …) and knew I’d go the duration in survival mode, not ‘hmmm, when should I hit the nitrous’ mode.

Goldy's Run 2013 Line Up

At this point it’s all good, and then the horn starts and all of the pre-race strategy is out the window.

Knowing the course helps. My mile splits evened out (at around 7/MM), but there’s a huge spike in the middle that I can’t bear to look at, and where the wheels started to come off a little. I had no idea there were so many damn hills and I was wildly unprepared for them. Several times during the race I was simply depleted and didn’t think I could finish, only to pull myself together after a minute or two. That I neglected some off-season strength training, well, I can attribute some blame there, but had I know where and just how many hills there were I could have at least been more strategic in my effort.

Leave the ear buds at home. When I train I’d rather be without shoes and shorts than be without ear buds. I’m wired that way. But come race day they stay at home. With ear buds I zone out and am up in my head (I like that), but I really like to feel grounded in the race, hear the cadence of my stride and the pattern of my breathing. With ear buds I just become some dude running down the street. And mostly I like to recognize and not block out the great volunteers and supporters who line the course with cow bells and whistles, as well as other runners who are in the thick of it with you (which brings me to my next point).

Friending. So, maybe this just happens organically and there are no formal Roberts Rules of Order to speak of, but what is considered proper etiquette when you find yourself running stride for stride with someone? At times I would catch up to someone and we’d be in lock step for a while, or I’d get caught and would find myself in tandem until they picked it up. I ask because I feel like a few runners saved me on this 10 mile during stretches where I was especially gassed, and we probably gutted out a half mile or so side by side, with some joking and lamenting the hills, with others just plodding in stony silence. I kind of feel like you just know when someone is now ‘running with you’ but not sure if there is something I should pick up to know ‘yeah, it’s cool’ or ‘lose it, I run alone.’ To my previous point, if you have the ear buds in I just assume you are in the latter and leave you alone.

Focus on your race. It’s not difficult for me to get swept up in everything else happening in the race. Early on I was in the back of the leading pack of 40 or so runners) and I thought how cool that was and that I wanted to stick with them for as long as I could, knowing that they’d take off at some point (bad move because this was much quicker than I was prepared for … I was running their race, not mine). At a few points (okay, more than a few), I’d get caught and then start to doubt myself (bad move because I was running just fine … again, here I was running their race and not mine). Push yourself, but run YOUR race.

Technology sucks. For Christmas I received a Motorola MotoActv GPS watch. Love it, and it’s done a phenomenal job charting all my stats and vitals. I’ve used it on every run since Christmas, and it’s worked without fail. You can guess what’s coming … I made sure all systems were a go, and when the horn sounded I pressed Start and took off. After about 30 strides I looked at my watch and it wasn’t tracking pace or heart rate, just elapsed time (I normally wouldn’t race with a heart rate monitor but I was curious about my HR zones in a race situation). My hands were ice cold, which made fidgeting with the watch a hassle, and now I’m fixated on my wrist and not the road (plus blowing into my hands to get some feeling back). I couldn’t right the ship so I plowed forward, pissed off that when I needed it most my watch totally crapped the bed. It never did that before (or in the few runs since). Whatever (even if it was user error I’m still pissed).

Technology is awesome. As I type there are about 4 inches of snow on the ground and counting. The evening before the race it snowed, too, and it was cold. Very, very cold. That didn’t impact me much (except that I changed from shorts to sweat pants in a port-o-potty just before the race, which is about as hot and awesome as it sounds), but my wife and kids were there to support me and sitting in the biting cold for over an hour is not their idea of a good time. They posted up in the swanky comfort of the M Club inside TCF Stadium. But just prior to the race, via my phone I sent my wife a Glympse (this is a smartphone app), which is essentially a GPS map tracing and sharing my whereabouts, so they could see in real time exactly where I was on the course (and how fast I was going). They could see when I was approaching the stadium finish and on cue jumped outside just in time to give me a high five and a final boost to the finish. Win-win.

Warmth insode TCF Field

My crew was prepared to hunker down in the cold, but astutely found comfort inside TCF Stadium (this is actually the DQ Club at packet pick up the day before, but you get the idea)

Just an example I found on Google (my Evo screenshots acting wonky). Add your contact, set the duration, include a message if you want, then send. The map can zoom in and out, and can show satellite view, too.

Just an example of Glympse I found on Google (my Evo screenshots acting wonky). Add your contact, set the duration, include a message if you want, then send. The map can zoom in and out, and can show satellite view, too.

Goldy's Run 2013 StartThis was the scene this year about 30 minutes before the start

Goldy's Run 2012 Start

This is almost the exact same spot just one year ago, again, about 30 minutes before start … sigh.

Find your fuel. My go-to pre-race meal has generally consisted of oatmeal, a banana, water and coffee (a murderer’s row of GI rabble-rousers). But after a, ummm, semi-traumatic long run recently I just haven’t felt comfortable falling back on that routine (especially in the 10 mile). I ate much earlier before Goldy’s, and ate much lighter, and I don’t think I had the optimal level of fuel (of course I got up in my head about this at various points in the race). I packed two homemade gel packs (blackstrap molasses, brown rice syrup, honey, some sea salt and a shtickle of water) and popped one at mile 4 (I didn’t use the second). Point is, proper fuel is key, and I need to figure this out a little more.

This is just funny (to me) more than anything:

Goldy’s 2012 Gear

  • Shoes
  • Shirt
  • Shorts

Goldy’s 2013 Gear

  • Shoes
  • Shirt
  • Shorts
  • Hat
  • Wide receiver gloves
  • GPS watch
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Spi Belt
  • Two homemade gel packs
  • Smartphone (strapped to arm)

Goldy's Run 2013 Bib

Speaking of gear, I love when they print your name on your bib

Goldy's Run 2013 Timing Chip

I also obsess over timing chips for some reason. Hadn’t scene this one before and thought it was pretty cool.

Finish strong and never quit. I’ve always believed in this, and despite what troubles I encounter on the course I have an uncanny ability to haul ass the final quarter mile. I’ll take it. At Goldy’s I was nearly despondent during miles 9 and 10, and despite those heavy feelings once we hit the shadows of the stadium I was able to ratchet it up, plow through the tunnel and hit the field in a full on sprint. This is noteworthy only because by a slim margin I ended up with a podium finish in my division (3rd). Had I stayed down on myself and finished just to finish I probably would have been 4th (I don’t know that this push put me over the top, but the point is I felt like I went after it and earned it). I felt good about placing, but felt great that I know I did my very best.

Funny how a cool finisher medal helps make the pain go away ... and for you football fans, yes, I had one foot out of bounds.

Funny how a cool finisher medal helps make the pain go away … and for you football fans, yes, I had one foot out of bounds.

Goldy's Run 2013 Team Bunker

Post race my crew is there to hold me up … we took several photos and my eyes were closed in all of them.

The results:

  • 1:09:43
  • Overall 47 out of 1967 (not sure how this number is comprised)
  • M40-M44 Division 3 out of 133
Goldy's Run Hardware

We had to leave before results were announced, and we were beyond upset when we found out I placed in my division (I would have received a Goldy’s Run cup and a moment on the podium) … so my girls whipped up a suitable trophy for me. Love it!

What’s next? Not sure, but possibly my first half marathon May 5 at the Lake Minnetonka Half Marathon (would be a stretch for me, but I need to work on my distance).

Men’s Health Urbanathlon (Chicago): 2012 Recap and Observations

With a year of running and one (shaky) Urbanathlon already under my belt I was far better prepared for Chicago 2012, and my results bear this out. But I wasn’t the only one who upped his game. Men’s Health returned with what I thought was a much improved experience; though like my 2012 run, it wasn’t all roses. Here are some of my general thoughts and observations about the 2012 Men’s Health Urbanathlon in Chicago, in no particular order:

Packet Pickup
A little off the beaten path in the opposite direction this year at REI, meaning we had to drive (this was fine since we picked up the packet before visiting a friend in Oak Park). Off-street metered parking was an option, but no spaces available. With the persistent threat of rain I opted to park in the attached garage around the back of the store, but was caught off guard by the $8 for the first half hour price tag (pricey for this Minnesotan). Ouch. I rationalized the cost, of course, and later on during our browsing around REI found that they validate parking (either a detail I missed, or one that could/should easily have been noted in the pre-race emails; take the guess work and anxiety out of parking). Signs at the door lead us upstairs and the check in process was a breeze; they check your ID and run your name in their database, then give you your race bib and chip timer. A second room held your Urbanathlon T-shirt and a sponsor-provided Jockey undershirt (these were available by the truck load at the race Saturday …).

Packet pick up was a breeze. We nabbed an REI membership while we were here.

Bib assignments …very efficient.

T-shirts …

This is essentially what comprised the race packet. I was nervous about the Tissot timer (here attached in red to the race bib) since it was a bracelet-like loop you attached to your shoelace, and not the old timing disk. It worked fine, of course, but gave me one more thing to obsess over. I loved the black participant T-shirt this year.

Finish and Festival Area
I initially bristled at the idea of holding the finish and festival in the south parking lot of Soldier Field (what with the crawling and the potential for spills on the final wall). But I was wrong, and this turned out to be a great idea. In 2011 we spent a good portion of the festival trying to avoid the mud (less of a big deal for those of us who ran the race, but not so much fun for the family), and in 2012, where we had actual rainfall, it just washed away on the concrete and we all fared much better. Good call.

The parking lot sounded like a bad idea at first, but I’m first to admit I was wrong.

Getting to the Start Line
I had anticipated walking/jogging to Soldier Field from the Best Western River North, just to warm up, but the intermittent drizzle and 2 or so long miles made me think otherwise (I walked from the hotel in 2011, but Soldier Field was just out of my range). As I sat in McDonald’s at 5:15 a.m. eating oatmeal I tried calculating the time and route of the CTA bus from my phone, but the loose details left me way uneasy, and I instead hailed a cab back at the hotel (across the street from McDonald’s). The cab ride was an easy five minutes and $10 away, though I kept telling the driver ‘south parking lot at Soldier Field’ to which he would quickly fire back ‘which one, there are many!” Oh boy. Once we hit Soldier Field he just followed the crowd and my trip was a breeze (my wife drove and parked in the lot for $20; she said she got right in to the covered lot, and we were all glad we had wheels when we were tired, chilly and wet after the event).

However; the crew (that I encountered) working traffic at Soldier Field were complete (rhymes with ‘bass bowls’). Wow. The cab driver pulled off to an empty area to let me out and they were yelling at him like he stole Mike Ditka’s mustache; “hey Cabi, move it MOVE it!” and before I set one Asics on the ground they were all over me to keep it moving and walk the other direction across the street (I hadn’t exited the cab yet!). My head was in race mode, so I was a little on edge and mumbled something in their direction to the tune of “I’m just getting out of the cab … what?” To which one guy yelled back, “I’m … just … LETTING YOU KNOW!’ Damn. An hour before race time and I’m already worked up, and now I felt like I had the stink of bad karma on my side. To their credit, traffic was moving nicely, but what colossal bass bowls.    

My Urbanathlon pre-race ritual.

Streets all quiet at 6 a.m. Who knew. Now at about 6:15 a.m. I’m feeling nervous about the time and I asked the front desk staff at the hotel to please call a cab, which they did.

Soldier Field
In 2011 I chafed at the running distance inside the Soldier Field concourse; it was 20 miles if it was a foot. This year we entered Soldier Field via a very long incline on the north end of the stadium (I think), ran the concourse for just a moment and then we were at THE climb; four up and four down. That was great, and what I had expected the prior year.

However; my biggest complaint (and so it seems of other competitors) is that we have to get a handle on corralling those who want to run the steps versus those who want to walk them. It’s not all on Men’s Health, either. In 2013 I’d love to see signs on the steps (from top to bottom) that indicate the right side for walking and the left for running. A few volunteers can scatter along the climb with signs to reinforce this. Now runners, you can help, too. Just hang to the right if you choose to walk (heck, I may join you there). Most painfully, going down the steps there were two guys strolling side-by-side as if sauntering barefoot in a patch of daisies, with nobody in front of them for 30 feet. Like others, I’m sure I lost a few minutes walking up Soldier Field. We can do better.

Best New Obstacle
Over / Under / Through was awesome. In Chicago it came at about mile 9.5, and it was positioned on the beach. We had to run down a steep (but small) hill to reach the sand, run for about 30 yards along the beach, and then hit the obstacle (plus there was an awesome drill sergeant-type volunteer yelling at us to “hit the sand; get DOWN, GET DOWN!”). Because it was on the beach the “Under” portion was a small trench dug into the sand so you had to slink way down and then crawl up. After the final “Through” we had another 30-yard run in the sand to a boardwalk that led back to the running trail and final leg. Well done.

Best New Obstacle II
The Tissot 40-yard dash was also a great touch. Simply haul ass for 40 yards. Most people gave this a shot, I think, despite being depleted after 10.7 miles. I ran it in :06, and the momentum helped launch me over the awaiting taxi cabs, but left me gassed for the cargo net climb, and nearly lifeless for the wall climb.

Here’s the end of the 40-yard dash. It leads directly into the taxi cabs. I liked it.

Worst New Obstacle
Kudos to Men’s Health for including participants in the planning process, but the new competitor-designed Traffic Jam was a mess by the time I came by. Instead of a spider trap of taught bungees it was a colander of au dente spaghetti. And it was all of five feet, so it became more of a nuisance mid race more than formidable obstacle.

Old stand bys, like the final wall, posed the usual challenges. I attacked the wall much quicker this year, but had to work much harder to get over (still spent from the 40-yard dash, I think). Also, notice that the ropes on the wall now go all the way over the wall; they used to go up only about two-thirds (I think the guy in blue to the far left is using the rope with success).

Least Forgiving Obstacle
For the most part I ran unscathed throughout the course (all the tire stutter steps and police barricades were pretty basic), but on the Marine hurdles I scraped my left shin pretty good (surprisingly couldn’t get me leg cleanly over on the first one), and between the three Marine hurdles I nearly gave myself the first ever quintuple vasectomy.

The course was pretty consistent with 2011. Some beautiful shoreline straightaways, a moment on Navy Pier, stretches running adjacent to traffic, a few stairs here and there, and lots of room for spectators. I think many spectators hung close to Soldier Field and took advantage of the designated cheer zones. Patrick, a participant who ran with a GPS watch clocked the entire course at 11.2 miles, which included Soldier Feld; a measurement I don’t think Men’s Health takes into account.

My gloves for 2012

My gloves before the race …

I’d been telling anyone who would listen, ‘wear gloves.’ This post-race photo is one reason why.

Side note: The one thing I forgot to pack on the trip was my homemade energy gel. This was going to be my big difference maker in 2012. Thankfully there was a Whole Foods close to where we had lunch in Oak Park on Friday and I was able to whip up a batch in the hotel for Saturday’s race. I took the gel (in the sandwich bag on top of the brown rice syrup) at about mile 5, just before Soldier Field.

Running Assignments
So, a common gripe I overheard while waiting in line at the start is that the waves are staggered by age, not skill. Only the first wave is earned and established by speed. None of us wants to be put out to pasture, and if you’re going to jettison us 40+ year olds to the dregs of the race pack without considering our athletic prowess you may as well have a fleet of motor scooters and bottles of Ensure waiting for us. Honestly, I don’t really care. It’s a much looser, self-deprecating group and I like the air of camaraderie (plus we had sweet hot pink race bibs this year). And trying to place 2,000+ in waves based on qualifying times is no small feat, so nothing I expect Men’s Health to grapple with.

However; two-thirds into the race I kept telling myself in disbelief, “hey, nobody has passed you; just keep running … you’ll be fine as long as you keep running.” When I scaled the final wall my face nearly exploded at the idea of finishing first in my age group. Wow. But when final results were tabulated I was second; still, wow. But it dogged me because the entire race I felt like I was running down hill and I would have noticed something hot pink (race bib) flying past me. So when official race photos and video became available this week I curiously typed in the first place bib number to see if I recognized the runner (from the wave line up), and not only did I not recognize him, he had on a blue race bib (he was in an earlier wave). So did the guy in third place in our age group and several others who placed high. How is that? Maybe there is more wiggle room on wave placement than what some of the participants thought (or there are teams or something like that).

Party Planning
Men’s Health has a ‘party rain or shine’ mentality, which is great, but the participants don’t. We party shine, and that’s about it. With the wind and on again off again rain, everyone scattered shortly after the race and the awards presentation was left to the small collection of those who earned an award. In 2013, I suggest Men’s Health keep in their hip pocket a tent or two that we can hang under if the weather turns; we have the space. And we’d all stay. This is evidenced by all the people mingling comfortable in the warm VIP tent. We don’t need the full VIP treatment; we just want to stay dry.

People hung around while the DJ did his thing and the race went on, but as the weather turned, so did the crowd. Not that it matters, but since I mentioned the DJ, he’s located in the black dome just between the two white tent tops furthest to the right.

My crew enjoying the post-race activities.

Sponsors came loaded for bear this year. From Gillette body wash and miniature Boss cologne, to Jockey T-shirts (as many as you could grab, so it seemed) and Kumho Tire head scarves (much cooler than they sound), Chipotle chips and guacamole, more Emergen-C than you can shake a stick at, and a host of other snacks and goodies. Men’s Health was clear they wouldn’t provide race bags this year, so I brought my black 2011 drawstring Urbanathlon backpack and filled it to the brim. Surprisingly, the Miller 64 beer tent allowed just one beer per ticket (still it was refreshing). I distinctly recall manhandling four cups of beer last year.

I think the one-beer per ticket rule kept things moving in the beer tent this year. I got in and out without waiting (for free beer!!) or getting spilled on.

Quite a let down here. There were very nice finisher medals for the masses (which you just grabbed off a table as you crossed the finish line), sweet Tissot watches for the overall winner (male and female, I think) and the fastest Tissot 40-yard dash time, special awards for relay team winners and fastest Soldier Field stair climb, special sponsor goodie bags for some of these previous award categories, too, and then awards for the top three finishers in each age group (male and female). It’s on the latter where the Urbanathlon fell down. Perhaps my frustration exacerbated by the cold and rain and anticipation, but age-group award winners received a gray Miller 64 T-shirt. Ouch.

Finishing third in 2011, this guy returned to win it all in 2012. He had the fastet Soldier Field stair climb, too (two years in a row).

About seven athletes representing the Challenged Athletes Foundation plowed through the course.

Me in the black hoodie making the unherladed (but prideful) walk to the awards tent.

Folding up my Miller 64 T-shirt … I couldn’t fully mask my disappointment

In 2011 I finished 53rd in my age group, then spent the next 364 days running stairs, sprinting intervals, getting my weight in check, running further distances, eating Chia seeds for crying out loud and doing anything else I could do to try to improve in 2012. So when I came in at 2nd in my age group, while steeped in personal pride and satisfaction, I was buoyed by the expectant experience of standing before my peers to receive a medal or certificate or Urbanathlon shirt to say, ‘you crushed it!’ A Miller 64 T-shirt just didn’t have that weight, and I was a little let down, but maybe I shouldn’t have built up that fantasy in my mind. My wife and kids were ecstatic none the less (they’ve watched enough of my middle-of-the-pack races to know how much effort went into my Urbanathlon preparation), and that means more to me than anything.  

This moment is award enough for me. See the red Tissot chip timer on my shoe?

We had to change with the weather, but weren’t going anywhere!

Celebrity Watch
Unceremoniously absent this year, the celebrity starter. I didn’t mind it one bit, as I’m sure they would have killed an extra 5 minutes at the start with bad jokes, empty banter, and wasted attempts at firing us up. I was so dialed in and eager that I greatly appreciated the low-key starter who paced in front of us talking only so the first few rows could here, “okay 90 seconds,” “okay 30 seconds,” “okay let’s get ready now” beeeeeeeeeeeep!

Urbanathlon 2013?
You bet. The dilemma for me is do I stick with my age group and run that 9th wave and try to improve to first in my age group, or assuming my 2012 time qualifies me for wave 1 in 2013, do I eschew my aged brethren and take a stab at the elite 300? The dilemma being that if you run in the first wave your time does not get included in your age group; you disqualify yourself from your age group (a misunderstanding that left one participant sullied after his time was tops in his age group, yet he registered and ran with the first wave so wasn’t counted in those rankings). I don’t stand a snowball’s chance at placing high in the first wave, but it would give me my best opportunity at a clean shot at Soldier Field, which I haven’t had in two years; no lines, no backlogs, no walking through daisy patches.

I’ve got time to think it through. I’m taking this week off, giving my body a needed rest, and then it’s full steam ahead. I’m slowly getting smarter about running and look to tighten my regimen so that I’m faster and stronger in 2013 (you’ll hear about that process in this space). Congratulations everyone.

Happy to trade Chia seeds for some of this … after the race we drove to the Original Rainbow Cone shop. The ice cream was as good as it looked, but we all loved the drip tray.

Men’s Health Urbanathlon (Chicago): 2012 Results

I’ll get into the gritty details in an upcoming post, along with some nuggets that may help runners in New York and San Francisco. Last year I finished 53rd in my age group and 853rd overall. So after a year of training, climbing stairs, learning how to run intervals, eating right, running in the snow, and in general just staying focused, I was pleased with the following results (but still room to grow!) (note: you can see and sort all Chicago results here

My 2012 Chicago Urbanathlon results.