Rave Run: The 606 Chicago

After five-plus years of year-round running (and training) in Chicago, I often get bored with my same old routes.

I still adore my neighborhood and have a passionate love for the city’s Lakefront Trail, but I welcome changes of scenery with open arms.

606Milwaukee

The park at Milwaukee Avenue is one of The 606’s crowning jewels.

Enter The 606.

Chicago’s newest park was created from the remnants of the former Bloomingdale Line elevated train. At 17 feet above street level and 2.7 miles long, The 606 connects the Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park and Logan Square neighborhoods.

The 606 features parks, sitting areas, multiple access points, water fountains, and of course, a trail for runners, walkers and cyclists.

And so far, I’m loving it.

The nearest access point to my home is about a mile away and smack-dab in the middle of the trail, giving me the option to go east or west. Each tenth of a mile is permanently marked in the concrete, and 2-foot-wide blue rubberized shoulders are tailor-made for runners.

The flat, fast surface, unimpeded by pesky cars and traffic lights, even lends itself to speedwork. (I’ve done “light pole intervals” a couple times with great success and enjoyment.)

The majority of The 606 goes through quiet residential areas, but even when it crosses the main thoroughfares of Western, Milwaukee and Damen Avenues, the traffic noise below is not overwhelming. It feels peaceful.

606Collage

So much awesomeness.

But it’s also tight quarters up there. The trail is only 14 feet wide (compared to the Lakefront Trail’s 20 feet), so combined with access point blind spots and overall “newness,” The 606 can be a little dangerous to navigate during peak use times. Warning signs (and even trail etiquette signs) would be helpful. I’ve also only spotted two drinking fountains — both near the trail’s mid-way point — so I’d love to see more of those. Also, the lack of shade is an issue. Those newly planted trees need to grow faster, darnit!

I realize it’s a work in progress. The 606 has only been open to the public for a month, so many of the finishing touches are still being made. Landscaping/planting is ongoing, temporary wooden railings need to be replaced with permanent fixtures, and it’s quite possible my previous suggestions are already in the works.

The 606 is already a gem, so a few improvements will really make it shine. — Mags

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Race Recap: Chi Town 10K 2015

I spent 2014 busting out PRs left and right, and it felt fairly incredible. I became faster, stronger, even happier. I was proud of myself, proud of the way I rose to each challenge and recorded more notches in my racing belt.

Then last weekend, I busted out a “reverse 10K PR” — a.k.a. my slowest 6.2-mile race ever — and I still felt completely victorious. Fancy that.

My finish time at Saturday’s Chi Town 10K was 17 minutes slower than last year’s PR at the same race and 7 minutes slower than my previous 10K reverse PR (2012 Polar Dash, in a snowstorm).

Saturday’s race wasn’t about time goals, though; it was about running 6.2 miles without literally limping to the finish.

Coming back from injury has been difficult, to say the least, and I’m still not healed. But I needed this race to prove to myself that I truly am on the road to recovery.

Mags Chi Town 10K 2015I didn’t have my usual pre-race jitters, and I lollygagged a little getting down to the start line. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been less nervous about a non-goofy-5K race. I was excited about returning to the Lakefront Trail for the first time since marathon training, and despite the brisk-bordering-on-cold early-morning air, it was a beautiful day for a run.

I made my way back to the 10- and 11-minute start corral, and my ego took one on the chin as I pined over the Ghosts of Races Past, when I was way up front with the rabbits. Then I told my ego to shut the hell up, stop worrying about the past and live in the now (as Garth Algar would say).

I glanced down at my Timex watch as I crossed the start line: 8:22 a.m., 7 minutes after the gun went off. After that, I just ran. My ego would crop up every so often when someone would pass me, and I’d forcefully remind myself that it didn’t matter. I checked my watch a couple times to estimate how much longer I’d be running (the miles were not, shall we say, very clearly marked). I reveled at the new construction and paving on the trail. Damn, it HAS been a long time since I ran here.

My pace was steady, and the pain stayed away until about mile 4, when my left hip flexor started to feel little sore. Sonofa. It wasn’t awful, though, and all of my other “problem areas” felt fine, so I pressed on. Endurance-wise, I felt surprisingly strong — especially considering that I just started running regularly three weeks ago after five months of very little cardio of any kind.

When I reached the final stretch, I picked up my pace and picked off a few people to beat (hey, it WAS still a race), and I finished with a smile.

I hope all my races this year have the same happy ending. — Mags

ChiTown10KSwagA few notes about the race:

  • There were nearly three times as many runners for the 10K and half marathon races this year. Plus, they added the Deep Dish Dash 5K to the mix (which only had 50 finishers, but still). So much for my quaint little neighborhood jaunt. (I’m guessing it’s because everyone read my NBC Chicago Stride post, in which I sang the event’s praises, so I really only have myself to blame and/or congratulate.)
  • When we reached the Lakeshore Drive underpass near North Avenue beach at mile 3, a shouting volunteer informed us there was knee-high water in the tunnel. Um, what?! So we were re-routed out to LaSalle Drive and met back up with the course. It turns out, a pipe burst after the race started! Race organizers said it happened so quickly that the water in the tunnel was only inches deep when the lead runner went through and it was impassable just a couple minutes later. (My friend Troy was with the 8-minute pace group, and they trudged through ankle-high water). Volunteers and race organizers acted as quickly as they could, and police got in position to re-route runners through traffic. All told, it added .12 miles onto the half marathon and 10K courses. Never a dull moment, kids!
  • Once again, thumbs up on the race swag. The medal is fast becoming one of my favorites, and I also enjoy the light-weight zip hoodie race shirt.

Race Giveaway: F^3 Lake Half Marathon

F3HalfMarathonCalling all Bad Angel Winter Warriors!

We’re giving away two race entries to the 6th Annual F^3 Lake Half Marathon on Saturday, Jan. 24, at Chicago’s Soldier Field.

In addition to the free entry ($70 value!), race sponsor REM-Fit will outfit our winners with a new REM-Active, a sleep and activity tracker.

To enter, simply comment on this post. We will announce our winners at the end of December.

Good luck!

Playing the Role of Running Tour Guide

Each year, I have a work conference in late August or early September. And each year, I take to the streets in the conference’s host city. I’ve run in Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco and New Orleans and thoroughly enjoyed each jaunt. However, I sure would’ve liked some local experts to guide me along the way.

Group selfie

Group selfie!

So when it was announced that the conference would be in Chicago this year, I offered to lead guided group runs in the morning. With 1,000 attendees, I figured there HAD to be at least a couple runners in the group who would take me up on the offer. Right?!?

The conference was held at the Chicago Hilton and Towers on Michigan Avenue — prime location for some of the city’s most scenic and iconic running routes — and I was absolutely thrilled when a handful of women and men from all over the country trickled into the lobby bright and early to join me.

Friday morning, our group of seven headed out at 6 a.m. It was hot and humid and generally disgusting outside, so I decided to keep it short, just a two-mile loop around Grant Park’s Buckingham Fountain and down toward the Field Museum before heading back up Michigan Avenue to the hotel.

Saturday morning, a completely different group of seven showed up for a 6:30 a.m. run. Boy, what a difference 24 hours makes. It was cool and crisp and ideal weather for a September morning run. I led the group on a 5K route over the Roosevelt Road Bridge (the notorious 26th mile marker of the Chicago Marathon) and onto the Lakefront Trail, where we headed south toward McCormick Place. All of the marathon training groups were out on the trail, and we continually heard greetings of “Good morning, runners!” It made me burst with pride for my city, not only because of the gorgeous views but because of the amazingly supportive running community we have here.

Chicago skyline

Being a tourist in my own city is fun.

I did my best to play tour guide along the way – “McCormick Place is the largest convention center in North America” and “on the right you’ll see Soldier Field, home to the Chicago Bears” – while keeping a slow and easy pace. We also stopped at a couple of especially scenic spots for photos and a group selfie, of course. It was a lot of fun.

But what was the most fun was the fact that a group of complete strangers came together for a lovely morning run and there was absolutely nothing strange about it. Conversation came easily – training, races, travel, etc. – and by the end, we were all high-fiving and talking about how these morning runs need to become a permanent fixture of the conference. And wouldn’t you know it, next year’s convention is in Boston. — Mags

Race Recap: Chi Town 10K

It occurred to me as I was preparing for the Chi Town 10K that this would be only the second race of my life where I neither knew anyone else who was running nor anyone who was spectating. The first time? My first race ever, a tiny neighborhood 5K in Upstate New York in 2001. I finished third in my age group and won a trophy at that race.

MagsMedalsWell, 13 years later, I again finished third in my age group and won a medal at a race.

But 21-year-old Maggie would have been no match for almost-34-year-old Maggie. In fact, she would’ve gotten her ass handed to her.

Setting a 10K PR has been my goal for the last two years. I hadn’t really raced a 10K since 2009 — before I’d ever even completed a half marathon — so it was about time I tested myself.

Over the last few months, I’ve been putting in the work and (mostly) sticking to my training plan, but the winter that never quit had all but destroyed my spirit. I didn’t really know if I was making improvements, if I was getting faster, if I was going to be able to maintain the 8-minute pace needed for my lofty sub-50-minute 10K goal. But I had a good run the Wednesday before the race and the weather forecast didn’t look too terrible, so my confidence was on the upswing.

I treated the weekend as if I was running a half or full marathon: mindful of my sleeping and eating habits, drinking lots of water, mentally preparing and resting. There were moments when I thought, “I’m taking this WAY too seriously for a 10K.” But then again, I had a goal and I wanted to reach it, so it had to be done.

On race day, lo and behold, the Racing Gods smiled upon my head and delivered the most glorious of mornings for a lakefront run. Cool and sunny, no wind. Thanks, dudes!

Between the 10K and half marathon, there were only about 1,200 runners, so it was a laid-back pre-race atmosphere. Easy gear check, short lines at the port-o-potties, even parking wasn’t too much of a hassle. I marched in place in the corral near the 8-minute pace sign close to the front of the pack and for the first time, I fired up my Garmin watch for a race.

We took off, and I was left in the dust by the speed demons around me. Uh-oh. Then I settled into a quick-but-comfortable pace and checked my watch. 7:25 current pace. No, Maggie! Slow down! When my watch chimed in with a 7:37 mile 1, I had to give myself a talking to. Going out too fast is rarely a problem for me in half or full marathons, but a 10K was a whole different beast that I was not nearly as familiar with taming.

I eased off the gas just a bit and decided to concentrate on taking in my surroundings. After all, we were running under clear, sunny skies on my most favorite patch of Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, and my legs felt fresh and fast. Good gravy, did it feel GOOD.

I was starting to become rather parched, though, and two miles in, we still hadn’t hit a water stop. Strange. At 2.5, I grabbed water and when my watch chimed at 3 miles, it said 8:01. Refreshed and relieved, I kicked it back up a notch and found my groove, that euphoric place where I was busting my ass but still feeling incredibly confident and strong.

I started picking people off, glancing down at my watch every few minutes to check my current pace. Faster and faster and still strong. I jammed out to my all killer no filler playlist. Finally, I hit the turnaround for the 10K, and my first thought was, “I’m soooooo glad I’m not doing the half!” (Side note: I ran the half in 2012 and set a PR.)

I made the turn and noticed that, gee, there aren’t a lot of people around. “Everyone must be doing the half,” I thought to myself. I hit the home stretch and gave it everything I had left. “Oh gawwwd,” I heaved as a volunteer handed me my finisher medal, laughing. I hit stop on my Garmin. 47 minutes and change.

WHOA.

ChiTownMedalsAs I walked over to grab water and snacks, I looked around. The post-race area was practically empty. Huh, so this is what it looks like when you’re a front-of-the-pack runner. This was all new to me. I got my gear check bag, stretched and munched on some pretzels, and then I noticed a group of skinny runner dudes standing around a big bulletin board in the middle of the grassy area. “Race results!” a young volunteer said, running over to tape up a sheet of paper. I wandered over and looked for my name.

28. Maggie Jenkins / 3 30-34 / 33 F / 47:15 / 7:37/M

My jaw dropped. I walked away, and then 90 seconds later, I turned back to go look again, just to make sure my foggy runner’s brain didn’t make it up.

PR crushed by 5 minutes. Goal time crushed by almost 3 minutes. And third in my age group, which meant I was going to have to stick around for the awards ceremony.

Again, I said, WHOA.

I immediately texted my Bad Angels, and that was the first moment I really wished I’d had someone there with me. Regardless, I was bursting with joy and pride and hope and confidence for the rest of my racing season.

I retrieved my age group award, and then started the walk back to my car, two medals clanging around my neck with every step I took. I could get used to that sound. — Mags

Race Recap: Jingle Bell Run Chicago

And for my final race of 2013, a little improvisation.

I signed up for the Jingle Bell Run Chicago a couple months ago to finish the year with a fun run for a good cause. Besides, mid-December on the Lakefront Trail, what could possibly go wrong?

It started snowing about 10 p.m. the night before the race and continued all night and into the morning. It was still coming down hard as my friend Will and I struggled to find parking in the snow-covered Lincoln Park neighborhood and as we walked the half-mile (as quickly as we could without slipping and falling) in the 20-degree morning air.

We arrived at the start/finish area 10 minutes before the gun went off. Santa and Mrs. Claus were handing out blinking reindeer noses, someone in a gingerbread man costume was in the chute, and we were laughing at how ridiculous we were to be running at all. Although, if I hadn’t been there, I would’ve run that day anyway to keep my holiday streak alive. Might as well do it with a couple hundred other runners.

Before and after, in one shot.

Before and after, in one shot.

Then, the announcer said: “OK, 10K runners, you’ll start at 9 a.m. and 5K runners will start at 9:10.” WHAT?!? We are NOT standing around in this weather for 10 more minutes! Everyone around us agreed that was ludicrous and when the gun went off, so did we. The course split surely would be well-marked and we’d figure it out, right?

Wrong.

(SIDE NOTE: Neither of us had looked at the course map before the race. Oops.)

We trudged along at a decent pace considering the snow-packed trail and diminished visibility. About a half-mile in, volunteers pointed us to make a turn. “Was that the split?” I asked as we passed. But we kept running. We asked the next set of volunteers, “Where is the 10K/5K split? Where do the 5K runners turn around?” The shivering volunteers responded, “Oh, it’s up there. They’ll tell you.”

LIARS!

After 1.5 miles and no 5K turnaround, we decided to go rogue. We veered off course and turned back on the trail. As we passed the oncoming racers, we noticed 5K bibs mixed in the with 10K bibs, so plenty of people had made the same mistake we had.

We retraced our steps and ended up back on course for the home stretch. As I attempted to sprint to the finish (which the 4 inches of fresh snow made extremely difficult), I heard the announcer exclaim, “Look at that! It’s our first lady 5K finisher! Congratulations!” I quickly realized he was talking about ME. I had to laugh as I was greeted with fist bumps and applause after crossing the finish line.

According to my GPS, our Jingle Bell 5K was more like a 6K. Oh well.

When I got home, I looked up the course map to see where we went awry. I about fell over laughing when I clicked on the link only to see this hand-drawn masterpiece. I then decided to peruse the results. There were 678 5K finishers, and more than 100 of them finished in over an hour — which means, they more than likely ran the full 10K. Good on ya, folks!

On one hand, this race was a disaster, between the weather, misinformed volunteers and the course snafu. On the other hand, I ran 3.5-or-so ridiculously snowy miles on the lake with a friend, then chowed down on a king’s breakfast and came away with a funny story to tell. So when you look at it that way, it might have been my favorite race of the year. — Mags

Surviving the Trail

If you’ve ever taken to Chicago’s Lakefront Trail on a summer Saturday morning, you know it’s a jungle out there. Runners, bikers, strollers, dogs, tourists and even the occasional rollerblader (seriously, people, just stop already).

Sharing the road.

Sharing the road.

I’ve seen the world through the eyes of most of these people, but almost always, I take the role of runner on the trail. And while, yes, some bikers are obnoxious, and yes, most tourists are clueless, I have encountered enough idiot runners to know my kind is not an innocent bystander in the ails of the trail.

So listen up, kids. Here’s how to properly navigate the trail on your long run.

(Note: This post refers specifically to the Lakefront Trail in Chicago, but really, these rules can and should be applied to all recreational trails.)

Stay to the right. Just like on the highway, run on the right and pass on the left. The Lakefront Trail even has a gravelly “shoulder” that you can run on to get really over to the right and stay out of the way.

Run in a straight line. Why is this so difficult? I don’t get it.

No more than two across. We’ve harped on this before, but if you’re running in a group of more than two people, sorry, folks, you have to stagger. Deal with it. Oh, and your two across cannot span the entire trail. If you’re friendly enough to run together, you’re friendly enough to run closely together.

Throw away your trash. There are trash cans EVERYWHERE. There is no excuse for jettisoning your GU packet in the grass. This is not a race, so if you do that, you’re just straight up littering. Boo on you.

Look before you do ANYTHING.  Look before you turn around, look before you pass someone, look before you spit, look before you start walking, look before you veer off for a water stop, look before you cross the street, look before you stop to tie your shoe. LOOK! I know it’s easy to disappear into “your own world” when you’re logging 14-16-18 miles, but you are not in your own world. You are in my world and the world of hundreds of other trailgoers. So, for the love, be aware of your surroundings and watch what the eff you’re doing.

Got it? Good. — Mags