Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Strike Out ALS 5K Race Recap

Last night I ran the Strike Out ALS 5K

The race took place at U.S. Cellular Field, home of the Chicago White Sox.  I was excited to run this race for many reasons, primarily the easy race logistics, 6:30 PM start time, and fun course (getting to finish on the warning track inside U.S. Cellular Field!)

I hadn't run a 5K in quite some time, but I knew that this was going to be a challenge.  Many people might think if you run longer distance races like 10-milers or half marathons, that 5Ks should be a piece of cake in comparison.  Not the case for me.  I actually think 5Ks are much harder, given that you are basically trying to sprint for 3.1 miles.  I find the more relaxed pace at longer races to be much easier by comparison.  But I was looking forward to mixing up the focus for one night's race.

Flashback to high school physics and algebra

Prior to the race, I looked at pace calculators and saw that a 30-minute finish meant an average pace of 9:40 per mile, and a 29-minute finish meant a 9:20 pace.  I've been doing my tempo runs at around a 9:30 pace, so I was fairly confident that I could break 30 minutes.  I thought that maybe if I pushed myself, that I could break 29 minutes.  So I decided that breaking 30 minutes would be Goal 1 for the night, and breaking 29 minutes would be Goal 2.

I drove down to U.S. Cellular Field and enjoyed the free parking and the many very helpful and cheerful volunteers helping to guide us.  Packet pickup was a breeze.  Unfortunately, one of the women at packet pickup was warning everyone to "save some energy for the stairs at the end of the course!" 

STAIRS?  I had read some recaps of last year's race, and had indeed heard that the course included some stairs throughout the ballpark.  Immediately I started thinking that maybe Goal 2, and maybe even Goal 1, would be too ambitious for the day if stairs were involved.  Stairs and me don't mix well!

Flashback to high school geometry

After packet pickup, I stored all of my gear in my car and went to go warm up.  This was a first for me - prior to last night, I've never warmed up before any race.  But I knew from experience that it usually takes me a mile or two to start feeling good while running, and I didn't want to go into the 5K with a cold sprint.  I took a GU for good measure, then ran easy for about 10 minutes, followed by some light fartleks for another 5 minutes.  Afterwards, I headed to the start line.

The DJ at the starting line announced that there were no stairs on the course this year.  But I didn't really believe him.  I thought he was pulling our collective legs.

Foundation ALS Patient Kaylynn Van Driest gave the welcome address.  It was very touching to hear her story.  I got tears in my eyes listening to her, as did many around me.  Many runners were wearing shirts with pictures of friends or family members that had been impacted by ALS, for whom they were running the race to honor.  I could see how impactful and meaningful this event was to so many people whose lives were personally impacted by ALS.

The airhorn sounded and we were off!  It was fairly crowded at the start, so I had some trouble getting going for the first minute or so.  But then the crowd started spreading out and I was able to get my pace up.

Mile 1: 8:50.  My thoughts: "Wow!  For a sub-29-minute finish, this was a well-cushioned mile!  But I hope I didn't start out too fast.  I don't know if I can maintain this pace and the first mile is always the easiest!  OK, let's keep 'er going here, push hard but not to the point where you feel like you're going to vomit."

It definitely started getting harder during the second mile.  Mile 2 seemed to go on forever, and I was sure that I was slowing down.  There was a water stop around mile 1.1 but I didn't take any.

Mile 2: 8:58.  "Not bad at all!  If I can still maintain this, then maybe I really can do a sub-29 minute finish!  But I need to be ready just in case there really are stairs at the end of the course.  That would add some extra time.  Ugh.  This is hard.  This is why I don't run a lot of 5Ks.  Just one more mile to go.  It's going to be tough but hang in there and keep at it!"

Around mile 2.2, we took a turn INTO the ballpark, which I didn't anticipate.  We were running through corridors inside the bowels of U.S. Cellular Field, past offices and equipment storage areas and breakrooms and everything!

This is not an actual picture from the race, but this gives you a
sense for the areas we were running through inside the stadium.

Prior to the race, I had remembered to turn off the auto-lap function on my Garmin.  But I lost the signal on my Garmin while inside the ballpark and hadn't thought to turn off the auto-pause in advance.  So at this time I was running "blindly" without knowing my time, pace, or distance.  This was especially hard since the indoor corridors had some sharp, blind curves and turns and we couldn't see very far ahead (see the picture above to get an idea, as well).  I had no sense for how much distance I had covered or how much still lay ahead.  I just tried to keep at it, although at this point I knew that I was slowing down.

Finally, we took a sudden quick turn and were outside on the playing field!  I saw the Mile 3 mile marker.  The start of the MLB All-Star game was already being broadcoast from the Jumbotron and I could hear the commentators.  The final 0.1 of the course wound around the warning track on the outfield to the finish line. 

I picked it up as best as I could and sprinted to the end.  My clock time was around 28:25.  But, I knew that my chip time would be even better - so I was very happy!  (Plus, it turned out that the DJ was right after all about there being no stairs on the course.  Yay, and huge relief!)

Volunteers handed us water bottles.  Right at that moment, the MLB All-Star game's national anthem singer began singing the Star-Spangled Banner.  The timing was absolutely perfect for the national anthem as I stood at the edge of the outfield trying to catch my breath.

It was an incredible moment.  By far the most inspiring moment that I've ever experienced immediately after finishing a race.

There were a few computers set up near the finish line where you could enter your bib number and get a printout of your unofficial time (AWESOME!).  I waited in line to get mine.  Based on what I could recall of the time delay between the clock time and my chip time, I was anticipating that I'd finished around 28:05.  Imagine my surprise when I got my time card and it read 27:52.

Not too shabby for a race in which my biggest goal was to break 29 minutes!  Woo hoo!

Estimated Mile 3: 9:14
Estimated Mile 3.1: 0:50

Runners with their friends and family were starting to gather in the seats to watch the MLB All-Star game on the Jumbotron.  There were a few concession stands selling food and beverages.  I changed out of my running shoes into some sandals, went to the bathroom to splash some water on my face, bought a pretzel with cheese, then settled into a seat to eat and enjoy the game.  Ah, life is good.

Some pictures from the post-race party:

The MLB All-Star game on the Jumbotron

The playing field

Stadium lights and decks

The broadcast booths and fellow runners

The weather was absolutely gorgeous out.  It was a perfect summer night to be outdoors hanging out at a ballpark.  There was something so magical about being at the park and seeing the perfectly manicured grass, the pitcher's mound and bases, the outfield, the scoreboard.  I looked at the field and thought of all the amazing athletes that have displayed their talents in those very spaces.  It was awesome.  As I've mentioned before, I'm really not into baseball very much - but now I am definitely starting to see the appeal of great ballparks.

I hung out and watched the MLB All-Star game through the end of the 5th inning, relishing the beautiful evening.  Then I came home very happy.

I had such a great time at this race!  It was a fantastic event for a really good cause, and I was proud to be a part of it.  This is definitely a race that I would enjoy doing again in the future!


  1. Congrats again on such a great race!! You really kick some butt there. Although, I, too, would have been really weirded out by running through hallways!

    1. Thanks so much, Erin! And thanks again for allowing me to vicariously improve my speed through you after running together this past weekend. I really do think it made a difference!!! =D

  2. Congratulations on hitting your goal!!! That makes sense ... tempo pace should be around your 10K pace, and your 5K pace should be around 30 seconds faster. Sounds like that's pretty close to the pace you hit!

    1. Thanks, Maggie!!! Thanks for sharing this nugget of wisdom, I actually didn't know that tempo pace was 10K pace, and 5K pace should be about 30 seconds faster. (My tempo runs were always based on what I considered "comfortably hard" pace.) My race pace was EXACTLY 30 seconds faster than my tempo pace! I've always considered my running paces to be highly unscientific (especially in races), so who knew that there really is a method to the madness, after all?!?

  3. Congrats on smashing your goal! :) that race looks awesome. And I'm glad you didn't have any stairs to run up during tha race. That would have been weird!

    I'm in agree that mile 1 flys by and mile 2 goes forever. Hate that mile 2! Lol. Your splits were pretty consistent too. 5ks are so much more difficult than half marathons!

    1. Thanks, Xaar! The race was a really great time, I definitely recommend it and would do it again in a heartbeat (even more so if you're a baseball fan and/or have encountered ALS, of course). God bless America for no stairs on the course, indeed. =)

      Isn't it amazing that Mile 2 seems to take FOREVER during these 5Ks? In general, I'd prefer a 10-miler or a half-marathon almost anyday over a 5K - 3.1 miles is a deceivingly tough distance!

  4. Awesome awesome awesome! Congrats on a stellar race! So happy you did not have to do any stairs (ahh!) and that the hallway was not too bad. That might have weirded me out a bit!

    It was a perfect night to be in a ballpark! The last time we were there it was in the 90s and really sunny. We abandoned our seats to stand in the shade by the concessions!

    1. Thanks, Kim!!! Thank goodness, indeed, that there were no stairs (potential tripping hazard, in my opinion) - and I wonder what it was like for the employees at the Cell to have to clean up the hallways after several hundred runners came bounding through. Hope nobody threw up in there, that would have been ugly!

      Baseball games can be really, really brutal when it's hot and there is no shade. I've been to both severely hot games and severely cold games and neither are any fun!

  5. Congrats on a great race! The scenery sounds like it was definitely amusing, and while some parts may have been weird (hallways?!) maybe that helped keep things interesting! Congrats again :)

    1. Thanks so much, Irina! The unusual scenery helped keep things interesting for sure - it was by far the most unique backdrop I've ever gotten to run through during a race, for sure! Definitely keeps you on your toes in a good way!