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


Bad Angel Rule #114

Go Slow in the Snow.

SnowRunningDuring the first real snow of the year, which we’re experiencing this week in Chicago, it takes everyone a while to “remember” how to drive on the slick/slushy roads. The same holds true for running. It takes a little getting used to, but once you get your footing back, running in the snow can be a real blast.

And just like when driving a car in the snow, the most important thing to remember is to go slow — for the very same reasons as you do in your vehicle. Your traction isn’t great, it’s harder to stop, there are motorists driving like idiots, your visibility is diminished, not all the roads (sidewalks) have been plowed and salted.

A good rule of thumb: if the snow doesn’t deter you from driving to the gym to hop on the treadmill, then why should it deter you from running outside? (Unless it’s a matter of running on icy sidewalks in the dark; that can be a real gamble.)

Oh, and leave the Garmin at home; snow running is no time to worry about your splits. — Mags

Bad Angel Rule #107

Fair Weather Fan? Fugheddaboutit.

Bring it.

Bring it.

As unseasonably warm winter temps emerge, so do a cacophony of runners. And I’m all for it. Really, I am. I love how a nice day brings runners out of the woodwork. Shoot, we might as well enjoy global warming while it works in our favor, right?

However, I contend that what really separates the runners from the Runners are the ones who brave the elements on those not-so-nice-days. Real runners will brave the elements of rain, sleet, snow, or hail. In fact, it’s a point of pride. It’s what makes us those crazy runners, after all.

So I say, bring it on, winter. This girl ain’t scared of ya. — Aidz

Bad Angel Rule #67

Consider More Than Just the Temperature.

“It must be REALLY cold in Chitown for you to get on the ‘mill,” my friend Jeni commented after I posted some unkind words about treadmill running on Facebook.

She was right. It was freakin’ cold that day. However, that’s not the real reason I hit the gym instead of the road. It was the ice-covered sidewalks and streets that actually forced me inside.

I can handle the cold. (That’s why God invented layers, right?) I even sorta like running in the cold; with the exception of running in the rain, nothing makes me feel more badass than running in single-digit temperatures. But I draw the line at ice, especially when it’s after dark.

One day last week, it was in the mid-20s with a little wind. NBD, right? Then, after almost falling on ice three times while walking my dog after work, I decided the treadmill was the way to go. Safety first, kids. — Mags

Race Recap: Polar Dash 10K

Polar bear at the Polar Dash.

Better late than never.

The inaugural Chicago Polar Dash Half Marathon and 10K was set to go off on Jan. 14. Then the forecast turned to crap and the Chicago Police Department made race organizers pull the plug and postpone it for a week. Booface.

The change meant Adrea couldn’t make it up to Chi-town for the race. Major bummer. I’m sure she was just one of many who couldn’t do the race for one reason or another — traveling, other plans, what have you — and of course, no refunds.

Wasn’t the point of the Polar Dash for it to be cold and snowy?

Well, guess what, CPD? The postponement only set the stage for an even snowier, polar-ier race. And I gotta say, it was awesome.

About 8 inches of snow had fallen Friday afternoon into Saturday morning, and it was still snowing when we arrived at the start/finish  on the south end of Grant Park. Although Adrea couldn’t make it in from Cincinnati, I still had my friend Will (of Cross Country Challenge 8K fame) to commiserate with.

Pre-race was smooth going. There were ample warming tents, plenty of port-o-johns and a well-organized gear check. (By the way, I’ve literally never had such a jam-packed gear check bag: extra shoes, pants, shirts, socks, gloves, hat. Good golly.) With temps in the upper-teens, snow and 10 mph wind, we opted to stay in the warming tent as long as possible before the 9:30 a.m. start time.

The course wound down Chicago’s Lakefront Trail past the museums and McCormick Place. Hang on. This looks familiar. Oh wait, that’s right, it was virtually the same course as the much-maligned Chicago Spring Half Marathon (aka The Most Miserable Run of My Life). I had to laugh.

The first two miles were log-jammed. The trail is narrow as it is, let alone when there is 8 inches of snow on the ground and 1,400 runners (it took me 4 minutes to cross the start line.) I encountered a couple of slippery spots, but it wasn’t too treacherous. I warmed up nicely and was pleased with my outfit choice: fleece-lined tights, mock turtle-neck base layer, my new envy-inspiring hooded Lululemon jacket, tech glittens and an apropos polar bear ear warmer.

That's me on the right, a bundled up ball of purple.

It was an out-and-back course, and the first half of the race was into the wind and snow. I actually had some accumulation on my jacket. I also got nailed in the eyeball by a few flakes. Julie Andrews definitely wasn’t a runner because, as it turns out, snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes are not one of my favorite things when doing a 10K.

Once the pack started thinning out, I picked up the pace. I felt surprisingly great. I hadn’t really raced since the Chicago Marathon, so I was pleased with how I pushed myself to negative splits without overdoing it. After all, it was the first race of the year, and more than anything, I really just wanted to enjoy myself.

It was a strong finish (I may or may not have listened to “Till the World Ends” by Britney Spears three times in a row). Though, I couldn’t help but feel bad for the 741 half marathoners. They basically ran the 10K course twice, which meant they passed the finish line and then went out for another 6-plus miles. That’s gotta be a real mental kick in the pants.

After the race, there were stations with hot cocoa, food bags (string cheese!) and water, and the warming tents were still rocking. It was funny to watch the steam rise off everyone as we changed into dry clothes.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Instead of race T-shirts, we got half-zip fleece pullovers. I’ve pretty much been living in mine since after the race on Saturday. Absolutely love it.

All in all, it was a great inaugural event and I plan to do it again next year.  I do have a few suggestions for future incarnations:

  • Race photos: There was a race photographer on the course — and they posted a couple hundred pictures on Facebook — but it was not the whole enchilada that Brightroom or Marathon Foto would provide. I think that with a “novelty” race like this, a lot of people would want to buy their photos. Look into it. (And yes, Will and I are a little salty because we’re not going to see our horns pics. So sue us.)
  • Packet pickup: It was fine once I got there, but I tell ya, getting to Michigan Avenue in the middle of winter is a big ol’ pain in the arse. If you’re absolutely adamant about not having race-day pickup, maybe have one day of pickup downtown and another day somewhere else in the city/’burbs.
  • Pre-race music: Guess what, guy? I know it’s freezing outside. I don’t need to hear “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” Try playing “Heat Wave” or “Hot in Herre” next time.