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?


(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.”


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