2016 Race #6: The Giant Race 10K, San Francisco, CA

Date: September 11, 2016
Gun Time: 41:29
Chip Time: 41:17
Placing Overall: 17th out of 5497
Placing in Age Group: 2nd out of 260
Theme Song: Embarcadero“, Paul Desmond

My son and I are both big baseball fans, and several months ago we were having a conversation about which big league parks we’d most like to see a road game in. He is a rabid Toronto Blue Jays fan, and I’m, well, still a fan but slightly less emotionally involved than I used to be (22 years between playoff appearances will do that to one). As I recall, the list we came up with went something like this:

  1. Wrigley Field
  2. AT&T Park
  3. Camden Yards
  4. Dodger Stadium
  5. Fenway Park

We actually checked off the first one this summer on a road trip to Chicago, and now my son has a crazy plan to see ALL the MLB parks (he’s ten, so it may take him awhile). Much to his chagrin, however, his old man beat him to AT&T Park. Though, I didn’t see a game there. Perhaps I should explain.

I am not really a San Francisco Giants fan, although I have nothing against them – they play way over in the NL West, and we Blue Jays devotees tend not to pay much attention to the senior circuit. However, I do travel to San Francisco for conferences at least once or twice a year, and I love running there. Not only is the temperature usually ideal, but it’s a beautiful place, and though Nob Hill is a bit daunting, I could happily spend every day running up and down the Embarcadero (if I could actually afford to live in the Bay Area, which I can’t).

Running in San Francisco is not without its quirks, of course. Aside from the fact that the hills take some getting used to, I’ve been accosted by a schizophrenic screaming incoherencies at me at 5:30 in the morning (“What an asshole”, muttered a city worker to me, having observed said encounter, and I wholeheartedly agreed) and had my shoes thrown up on once by a homeless guy on another early run. These rather gritty incidents aside, at least going for a run in the city has the virtue of never being boring. Usually I’m in town in January, when events seem to be few and far between, but my recent September conference coincided with the SF Giant Race, which not only fit my schedule but was run right along one of my favorite routes in the world, and finished on the outfield warning track of AT&T park. Sign me up, I thought.

My son was envious, but mollified by the fact that I would take lots of pictures and would give him the Brandon Crawford bobblehead that was included in the race kit (he loves those things and I really would have little use for it). I took a break from my conferencing on the Friday morning before the race to visit the stadium and the expo and pick up my race kit, which gave me an early peek at the stadium and its environs.

img_20160909_111703242_hdr

AT&T on a typically sunny San Francisco morning.

The kit pick-up was well organized, and I wandered through the concourse looking at some of the exhibitions, which included the typical pre-race odds and sods. It was a beautiful day, and I lingered a bit before heading to the lower level of the stadium to pick up the bobblehead, which was handed out beside the exit, and then left to return to conferencing. The race organizers suggested coming outside of peak times (identified as late afternoon Friday and Saturday) and I’m glad I did, since the various races included nearly 20,000 participants between the half-marathon, 5K, and 10K.

062116-sm011

Brandon, in all his bobbly head, scraggly-haired, short wearin’, flag-wavin’ glory.

Sunday morning dawned cool and cloudy, and I warmed up by trotting the mile and a half or so from my hotel down to 2nd and King in front of the stadium in anticipation of the 7AM gun. The race would start in waves, with the sub 45 minute 10K and faster half-marathoners in the lead corral, followed by two corrals of slower runners. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to find the bag check, as it was situated way down 3rd Street on the other side of McCovey Cove in front of Parking Lot A, but eventually I got my stuff dropped off after snapping a few blurry pics with my cruddy phone camera.

img_20160911_062245109

Ooooh, twinkly palm trees.

img_9066

Team RWB, ready to roll.

This being Patriot Day, team RWB was given the prominence it deserved, leading the charge out of the start gate after the anthem was played. I settled into a fast pace with the Bay Bridge looming ahead. It was maybe 50 degrees by now, and the cool weather was a blessing after the heat I had been training in. I felt like I could be pretty fast, given that I’d been doing 35 mpw lately with a lot of tempo running. Settling in behind a team of four female runners who were moving at a good clip, I watched the landmarks roll by; the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, the various piers. In front of Pier 9, we were serenaded by a full-on marching band, which I thought was pretty cool.

2016-09-25-20_34_15-jowdy-congratulations-tom-the-2016-san-francisco-giant-race-presented-by-bluep

In full flight.

I felt strong, was still comfortably using a 3/2 breathing pattern, and really quickly seemed to be getting closer to Fisherman’s Wharf where the turnaround was. As we branched off from the Embarcadero onto Jefferson and I saw the clock at the turnaround, I was initially a bit taken aback that it was at about 18:00. I hit the timing mat at about 18:30, but realized that actually I was a bit short of 5K, so I wasn’t quite as fast as I thought (though doubtless I hit the 5K mark, which was about 300 yards back down the street, in under 20 flat).

Coming back was, well, interesting. Because, see, when you have a combined 9,000 runners running up one side of a city street, it gets a bit crowded. By now there was a thin line of leaders in the 10K coming back to the finish, and we hit the glut of second wave runners head on at about the 6K mark. They basically took up the whole width of the street, which meant that we had to depend on them to get the hell our of our way to avoid flattening them. In theory, we were supposed to be given the extreme left hand side of the sidewalk; in practice, that really didn’t happen. I was slowly catching up to the runner ahead of me, and so in addition to cutting wind resistance she was kind of acting to part the crowds for me as well. The nice part was that we were getting tons of encouragement and smiles from the runners we passed, and that helped a lot as the legs started to complain.

I had switched to a 2/2 pattern by now and was trying to maintain the pace, but it was getting difficult with a somewhat brisk wind in our faces. Nevertheless, I still seemed to be passing people on the back stretch, and eventually the last of the slower stragglers coming in the opposite direction were out of our way and things were wide open to the finish. I had settled in behind another female runner as we approached the stadium and passed the start gate, and unfortunately for her she took a wrong turn, not going wide enough going around the corner to the entry gate to the stadium, and I was able to pass her (her consolation was she was the female champion anyway, as it turned out). I started sprinting as I hit the inside of the stadium and the covered warning track leading to the finish line, and noted with glee the clock was still at 41 minutes, and my PR was toast.

2016-09-25-20_58_34-jowdy-congratulations-tom-the-2016-san-francisco-giant-race-presented-by-bluep

So, when’s brunch?

2016-09-25-20_59_13-jowdy-congratulations-tom-the-2016-san-francisco-giant-race-presented-by-bluep

Objective complete. PR destroyed.

In the end, I was pleasantly surprised with my result. I guess San Francisco brings out the best in me. Second in my age group was a definite surprise, and I got a wicked award on posterboard that I can put in a frame if I want. This was a fun race, with lots of goodies, and I would absolutely recommend trying it out, whether you’re a Giants fan or not. And as for me, I can tick off a couple of my to do items for this year – I ran my age (and then some) in a 1oK, and I got to hang out on the field of a major league ballpark. Sorry, son. Hope you enjoy your bobblehead, though.

img_20160911_112116820_hdr

img_20160911_112057447

2016 Race #5: Kitchener Kids With Cancer 5K, Kitchener, ON

Date: August 28th, 2016
Gun Time: 20:58
Chip Time: 20:56
Placing Overall: 2nd out of 379
Placing in Age Group: 1st out of 33 (M40-49)
Theme Song: Clouds“, Zach Sobiech

Time to dust off the blog again. The summer was uneventful from a running perspective (not to mention screamingly hot) as there really aren’t any competitions in Ontario in June and July. I tried to get into the Angus Glen 5 miler on one of Canada’s most famous golf courses, but it was full by the time I tried to enter, and in any case it ended up still being about 90 degrees at 7PM the night it was run (my buddy John, a veteran marathoner, ran it and said it was brutal between the hills and the heat).

This race was the 3rd iteration of the one I ran and finished 5th in last year. Some changes for the better occurred in the interim, as it’s now part of the RunWaterloo series and had a welcome change of venue (last year’s race featured having to stop for cross traffic on the streets intersecting the trail). The new location was on the trails in Homer Watson Park and on the grounds of the Waterloo Region Museum in south Kitchener, and was thankfully bereft of cars requiring dodging. However, the course was a lot tougher than last year’s, involving a lot of hills and some tricky loose gravel sections, and the hot, muggy morning didn’t really help things.

B was running with me this time, despite the fact that the race didn’t have a parent child team category. I told him not to expect a fast time, since I certainly wasn’t given the course and conditions. The Dean of our faculty was running as well after I put a call out for fundraising and companions (my colleagues came through in a big way in this regard, so big ups to them) and given the promotional boost from RunWaterloo the field was a lot bigger this year, with an added 10K to bring people in.

There was a live band playing a mix of music (including “Fat Bottomed Girls” again at one point – what is it with cover bands playing that song at running events?) and the Empire even showed up, as you can see below.

14100497_10154576967898054_6504995196381002911_n

I find your lack of faith disturbing.

Anyway, the start time was delayed twice, largely because the parking was a shitshow and it was taking people 30 minutes to find a spot, and it also seemed like there were a lot of last minute entries. Eventually Paul Gibson, a pediatric oncologist from London, kicked things off by explaining why the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario, the beneficiary of the run, was so important to patients and families. The band performed the national anthem, the horn went, and we were off into the muggy morning.

28840923373_5e72a11abc_z

Dr. Gibson, testifying.

29354420702_a6323c5b87_z

The (slightly delayed) start.

Once the usual phalanx of little kids at the front had sprinted the first 2oo meters of the race and dropped back out of the way, a couple of rather serious looking 14-year old girls in racing singlets took the lead. One of them was wearing University of Oregon gear which I found a bit odd, given that we are pretty remote from the Pacific Northwest, but no matter. They were passed by a young guy who blazed past them and was setting a pace that I didn’t feel I could match. I settled into about sixth and was feeling good as we passed through Doon Pioneer Village, complete with people in period costume. Have to say I’ve never run a race through the 18th century before. Feeling great as we reached the bottom of the first of the steep hills, I churned my way up, the way made somewhat treacherous by the gravelly surface. The course bent back around near the start and then up another hill to an out and back section.

It looked like the two young girls who had started so fast hadn’t reckoned on the hilly nature of the trail, and were fading a bit already. I blew past both of them on the undulating track and pushed forward. A helpful guy out walking his dog watched me pass and said, “Hey, you’re third”. Thanks dude, I thought.

So now it was a matter of holding my pace, which despite the tough course I seemed to be doing pretty easily. At the turnaround I could see that the first place guy was at least a minute ahead and I probably wasn’t going to be able to catch him, but I was definitely within striking distance of second. I passed B coming the other way and gave him the thumbs up, and focused on second place. By the time we reached the downhill stretch back to the finish line at about KM 4, I was right behind the other runner. I probably could have kicked and gone by him at this point; I had plenty left in the tank. I opted to be tactical and draft off him until the turn to the finish. I knew I wasn’t going to PR anyway and I felt it would be the best strategy to ensure second. It worked, too.

28841462643_f3dd4ce018_z

Kicking to the finish, with full derp face on display.

Afterward, my son and I were talking to a guy who said he had lost over 100 pounds in the past year after gastric bypass surgery, and actually finished top 5 in the 30-39 group. This made me think that even though sometimes running becomes a bit of a drag, it’s never hard to find someone to inspire us further.

29463089055_49ca7cce2d_z

That’s my boy.

So, my time was pretty slow for a 5K, but everyone’s was. Most people I talked to felt like the course was 45 seconds to a minute slower than a flat 5K would be. B did pretty well, finishing in 30:58 in 74th. Over $50,ooo was raised for pediatric cancer, which was the best thing of all. And hey, I’ll take two second place finishes in a row any day.

14064017_10154437259172052_6474328847716987363_n

 

Running to music – why don’t I do it?

I was having a conversation with a co-worker the other day. She is also an avid runner, and at some point the conversation came around to music. “What songs do you like to run to?” she asked me.

“Actually, I never run to music,” I replied.

She stared at me, aghast. It was as if I had just told her that I was an alien being from the planet Glorrtaxx and was trying to fondle her with the tendril of ectoplasm extruding from my forehead.

After she had composed herself, she asked incredulously, “Why not?”

And actually, I had to think about this for a second. Because I love music. I had a 600 strong CD collection before CDs were rendered passé by streaming. I have thousands of mp3s. I have Spotify on constantly in my office. So indeed, why not?

There are a few reasons, as it turns out.

6cfeb83d4f4b6bc5623b66a9efa286cf

I am not this guy.

When I first started running again, I tried to run with music, and I found that it really screwed up my running rhythm. Basically, I was constantly trying to run with the beat, because my legs were being jerks and weren’t doing what I was telling them to. So, I would slow down for the songs with a slow beat, and speed up if the BPM did. Now, apparently this is pretty normal, and I guess it’s OK if you’re doing fartlek or something, but it was annoying when I was trying to run at a steady pace. And the damn earbuds kept slipping out because I’m too much of a cheap bastard to buy ones designed for running.

Also, I kind of like to hear what’s going on around me for reasons I detailed in my last post (keeps the octogenarian grandmas and killer clowns from sneaking up on me).

Finally, running has become sort of a zen activity for me, and I like the fact that my mind can go nowhere while I’m focusing on my breath, and music would probably disrupt that for me.

Now, I’m the type of guy who likes to look at an idea from different angles rather than dismiss it outright, so I did try to come up with some solutions:

 

1. Put together a playlist. It turns out there are some websites out there that will tell you what the BPM of various songs are so that you can put a playlist together, including

http://jog.fm (what was it I said about calling us joggers?)
http://jogtunes.com (seriously. stop it.)
http://goingjogwild.com (ok – i admit i made that one up.)
http://shape.com
http://dailymile.com

et cetera.

I guess there’s a way you can do it with iTunes too, but whatever. I’ll leave that to the Apple nerds.

First problem with this – I have no idea what my stride rate is, and I’m waaaayy too lazy to measure it. It could be 200/minute for all I know. (It’s not.) Then, I found a blog post with a chart converting stride rate into speed, which made me wonder, how the hell do these people know how long my legs are? Did they sneak in and stick a tape measure in my crotch while I was asleep? That’s peculiar, and slightly disturbing.

I kid, of course, but after all, I could be built like Manute Bol, which would render the chart pretty invalid. (I’m not).

So I decided to take the chart on faith, and went to jog.fm to look at the playlist for 175 bpm, which supposedly corresponds to a 7:30 mile, my usual tempo running pace. The first three songs were “Chattahoochee” by Alan Jackson, “Come Over” by Kenny Chesney, and something called “Backroad Song” by someone named Granger Smith.

Ooooooookay. Country. Huh. Ummm, what else ya got, jog.fm?

Oh, there’s “Pictures of You” by the Cure. “Yellow”, by Coldplay? We’ll put that in the maybe pile. A bunch of songs from the cast of Glee, eh? Pass. Jimmy Eat World… ehhhh…..

Ok, screw this. It’s too damn complicated.

snob

Hmm. Seems about right.

2. Listen to music without a beat. This might seem a bit odd, but I do have some music that would qualify in this regard. An album I particularly like is called “And Their Refinement of the Decline“, by Austin-based Stars of the Lid. It’s this incredible collection of warm, droning tones that make you feel as if you’re floating in the womb or suspended in quince jelly heated to body temperature or something. Problem: I like to listen to it when I’m ready to go to sleep. Sleeping ≠ running, last time I checked. I have this sense that I’d either fall asleep and wander into the path of a meth-addled truck driver, or my legs would go all Pavlov’s dogs and jimmy all night while I was trying to sleep. Pass.

runningman

Ha! If the shoe fits… oh god, another bad pun…

3. Listen to something meditative, like Gregorian Chants. Remember in the early 1990s, when Gregorian Chant CDs were a thing for about 3.4 seconds? Nah, neither do I.

Gregorian-Voices

What the HELL do you mean we’re not getting royalty checks anymore, Brother Alfred???

4. Train myself to ignore the beat. I told you guys my legs were wankers, so this is out. I’d probably look like I was having some sort of seizure as I tried to do this, too. I don’t need the fire department rushing to my aid, so forget it.

I guess we’ll leave the headphones off, at least for now. Maybe I’ll make a list of good podcasts instead…

My Running Route, or, Cars and the Occasional Moron Who Drives Them

We are blessed in Cambridge with a pretty great trail system. It runs along the Grand and Speed Rivers which meet north of the city, and provides a nice little piece of parkland in a relatively urban landscape. There’s a surprising and constantly shifting variety of things for a runner to see along the way. For example, this weekend I ran past a raucous, roaring group of South Asian Canadians who had set up a cricket match in the middle of one of the baseball diamonds as a couple of guys fried up samosas and other street snacks nearby. At the extreme other end of the spectrum, there’s a guy around here who has a car which is an exact replica of the General Lee, and he likes to drive it at 10mph around and around the park sometimes. Which seems kind of weird for Canada, but I guess the Dukes were a cultural touchstone even up here. (Note: the owner resembles neither Bo nor Luke, but would fit right in with the Robertsons on Duck Dynasty. Not that I ever watch that show).

bo-general-lee-876

Well, way down yonder in the land of… uh… pine trees?

I once had to stop dead in my tracks when I came around a bend and an obstinate deer was standing astride the trail. It didn’t even spook, just gave me a haughty look as if to say “I’m a miracle of nature, and you’re a ridiculous looking sweaty hairless ape in in a neon tank-top”, and flipped its tail at me as it sauntered away. Whatever. Stuck up prick. What’s worse, it was a doe, and my brain sang “Doe, a deer, a female deer” at me for the rest of the run.

2609100-Doe-a-deer-a-female-deer-2

Yeah, we get it, you’re a cute woodsy animal. Bite me.

Then there was the time I came across a clown in full regalia walking towards me on the trail. Seriously. He was sauntering along, mellowly smoking a cigarette. He didn’t seem to have a machete or a chainsaw, so I tipped him an uneasy wave, and, no word of a lie, he HONKED HIS NOSE AT ME. (I spontaneously decided to do a bit of speedwork for the next couple of miles). I did feel better when I noted that there was a carnival setting up in Riverside Park along my route and that it seemingly wasn’t some random Pennywise clone wandering the forest.

bald-clown-cap-64403

You know, I’m not buying the smile. You’re still creepy.

There’s all kinds of nature and other crap along the route as well, and the usual coterie of runners, and of course it’s always fun to give the biker-style two-fingers-down bro wave as I pass the dudes, and puff my chest out, speed up, and do my best impression of Ridiculously Photogenic Guy for the ladies. (Y’all do this shit too. Come on, admit it.)

So, the trail system is great, except for the brief period in spring when it floods because of the river overflowing. What’s not great is getting there.

See, Cambridge has grown from 85,000 people when we moved here in 1996 to 135,000 people. Which means the roads around here have turned into snarled traffic nightmares a lot of the time, since the infrastructure hasn’t kept pace. What’s worse, approximately 1/3 or so of Cambridge drivers are seemingly either assholes, drunk, on Quaaludes, or some combination thereof. Seriously – our region has some of the worst drivers I’ve ever seen, and I’ve driven in some very hairy places around the world.

Which is a problem, because I have to run on said roads to get to the trails. And it can raise the hackles a little bit, so to speak.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But, why don’t you just drive to the trails?” Well, aren’t you just the contrarian.  Frankly, it always seemed like a dirty cheat to me to drive somewhere in order to go running, when I could just run there and save the little bunny rabbits by keeping my polluting auto ensconced in the garage. And also, there’s the big puddle of sweat that invariably forms on the leather upholstery of my modestly priced chariot on the way home. Really, who wants that? It’s gross.

Thus, I end up running the gauntlet, if you’ll pardon the extremely poor play on words. Usually it’s fine. But I have almost been hit by cars on five separate occasions in the last year. It’s funny how it tends to usually be some skinny cretin in an Ed Hardy t-shirt driving a clapped out Honda Civic with a straight pipe that you can hear two counties away. But at least once it was an octogenarian grandma who missed me but proceeded to knock down a poor kid on a bike who was crossing the other way. My reaction to these rather unwanted incursions into my route varies; usually it just involves a shouted “watch it!” and a derisive shake of the head, but I’ve been known to react rather more, um, forcefully.

With the guy who shouted “Goddamn jogger!” at me, for example.

Just a note to you drivers who may read this and get pissed off at a runner one day for some reason – try calling the individual in question a jogger. Often, it will make them lose their shit. I believe my response was to call the guy a “fucking asshat”. I don’t usually like to do that, especially since escalating the situation is never good, and I might be at a disadvantage in a fight if the guy’s bigger than me and I’ve just run 12K. Although, at least in Canada people don’t carry 9mm handguns in their glove boxes which makes mouthing off slightly safer. In this case, and probably luckily for me, the dude wasn’t looking for a dustup and simply screeched his tires and drove away. Not one of my finer moments, to be sure.

I felt bad about unleashing the finger on the octogenarian grandma as well, after some reflection. But that’s another story.

Anyway, if you’re driving, please look both ways before turning a corner. Thus endeth the public service announcement for today.

what-if-im-a-really-bad-driver-and-nobody-told-me

Facing down marathon training… again. And a happy 4th of July.

I’ve had to make a few changes to my running schedule lately. I had planned to do the Peach Bud 10K in Grimsby, ON, along the shores of beautiful Lake Ontario, on the 28th of June, but the University oh so helpfully scheduled a doctoral defense for the exact time and date of the race, and I had to attend, so… that was a no go. Then I thought I would do the Guelph Summer’s Night Classical 5K this Wednesday. It’s so called because they have members of the Guelph Symphony Orchestra playing at various points along the course. It turns out, though, that it’s gonna be 90+ degrees at race time. So, uh, nope. Although it would be interesting to see how well one can play the cello with heatstroke.

I ended up adding the Tannenbaum 10K in Toronto in December to the schedule instead. Some seriously fast runners in that one, so maybe it can spur me to a PR. I’ve also started thinking about next year, and which major events I’d like to shoot for. I have unfinished business at the Mercedes-Benz 10K in Oakville, which I couldn’t run last year because I was hurt. We also plan to be in Puerto Rico in March, so I’m definitely going to run the Puerto Rico Half Marathon, which is March 12th. All my other plans are kind of tentative, but assuming all goes well with the Hamilton Marathon this year, I’ll be looking at a fall marathon for next year too.

So, here we go. Back to marathon training. I’m feeling good about it this time though. I’ve worked my base up to 25 miles per week and will be starting to ramp up the distance in about six weeks. Gonna give myself lots of time and fix the mistakes I made in the last attempt. No running through injuries, no overly fast long runs, no exploding groins. Will be documenting as I go along. Should be an interesting time.

Finally, hope all my Canadian friends had a great Canada Day, and happy Independence Day to my American friends. May there be plenty of relaxing with family (and beer and barbecue if that’s your thing – it’s certainly mine).

usa_canada_map

A Perfect Run.

If Heaven is a perfect run
through a sun-dappled wood

Motes and dandelion seeds whirling
through the air
One’s lungs a joyous bellows
roaring breath
in
and out

A breeze, softly stirring the emerald boughs
(but always at one’s back)
Feet, aloft,
on Mercury’s wings

If Heaven is a perfect run
through a sun-dappled wood,
well then

when the time comes
to lay down my head
I should not fear, or rage
or mourn a life thus past

But instead
only thrill

in anticipation
of the race to come

5238812-a-sun-dappled-path-through-a-lush-green-forest

2016 Race #4: Northwestern Lurie Cancer Survivors 5K and Walk, Chicago, IL

Date: June 5, 2016
Gun Time: Not measured
Chip Time: 20:09
Placing Overall: 2nd out of 443
Placing in Age Group: 1st out of 42 (M40-49)
Theme Song: Survivor“, Destiny’s Child (obviously.)

I wasn’t going to do a full on race report with this one. While a great event, the intent here was more to have fun rather than to intensely compete. I was in Chicago for a cancer conference I attend often, and I’ve started to look for races I can do when I travel for work. This one was kind of a no brainer, since the survival of cancer patients has been my raison d’etre, at least as far as work is concerned, for the last dozen years or so. It certainly made sense to celebrate the successes of the Lurie Cancer Center, even if they weren’t my successes personally.

I ah, kind of had a big night on Saturday though, having gone to Oriole Restaurant in the West Loop to indulge in their tasting menu with beverage pairings (which is amazing and if you are inclined to fine dining and in Chicago you have to check it out) and then a nightcap at Moneygun nearby, which does the best Pimm’s Cup I’ve ever had.

26954555224_8337e090fe_z

The end result was that I woke up Sunday morning feeling, well, rather less than mint. For a minute I questioned whether I wanted to run at all. Nevertheless, I grabbed a coffee and croissant across the street from my hotel, and then warmed up by trotting down to Grant Park where the race was slated to start. I figured I’d take it easy and enjoy the course, which ran right along the waterfront past Buckingham Fountain and the Chicago Marina. The party was in full force when I got there, with a DJ, an emcee whipping up the crowd, and the survivors wearing purple shirts (and there were a LOT of purple shirts, which was a wonderful sight).

26955700153_3a7879e180_z

The survivors gathered for a traditional photo after the walk.

There were some 3,000 folks gathered to do the walk, and around 500 to run the 5K, which was sold out. The opening ceremonies concluded with patient Hector Nunez and oncologist Mark Agulnik on stage talking about a marathon they ran together after Nunez’s life was saved by the team at Lurie after a diagnosis of head and neck cancer. It was a stirring moment and the patients I had seen over the years were certainly on my mind as we lined up in the corral for the start. Put into perspective, my piddly little hangover seemed awfully minor now. I resolved to give it my all right then and there (I doubt I could have turned off the competitive juices anyway).

26893166653_1340a76732_z

I’m in this picture. Somewhere.

So, I took off at a pretty fast pace at the gun, and moved into the front group of runners. The first few hundred yards was a slight downhill which traveled along Hutchison Field and then bent left toward the lake and through tunnels under Lakeshore Drive. We then turned north and ran along Lake Michigan. It occurred to me as I ran that I had now participated in races along the shores of four of the five Great Lakes (I will conquer you too, Superior. Someday. Not in winter though.)

26891603874_38240ecbe8_z

The race’s opening stretch.

Now, the funny thing is that I was passing people left and right, and as we moved onto the trail along the lake I actually surged into the lead. It didn’t feel like I was moving overly fast as I followed the guy on a bike that was acting as a pacer, but I guess I was, because I looked at the clock posted at the one mile mark and was astonished to see my split was 5:45.

Uh-oh, I thought.

There was no way I was going to be able to maintain a 5:45 pace, but I pushed on as hard as I could. By this time I had about a thirty yard lead over the rest of the pack. I did something I usually don’t do and took some water at the first aid station (it was hot that morning, and, well, hangover). So that enabled some other runners to catch up a bit (the girl at the station dropped the first cup as she was handing it to me and I could tell she felt bad – I told her not to worry). I was still leading as we reached the turnaround near the Marina and I started to head back south. By the start of mile 3 I was really feeling it and had slowed considerably. I thought of all those people I had known and helped treat for cancer over the years and tried to run for them. That old familiar burn in the quads and calves was asserting itself, and as I made the turn to go back under Lakeshore I was passed by another runner who kicked past me. I ground my teeth and pushed to stay with him, but the gap was widening.

26954544304_d148001463_z

Apparently there were acrobats. But they were acrobating while I was running. So I didn’t see them.

I was out of gas, so victory was slipping away. I decided I wasn’t going to let anyone else pass me and given that I was going to treat this thing as a fun run, I was pretty much OK with second. I noted coming down the final stretch that a sub-20 wasn’t going to happen either (I told myself it was a sub-20 adjusted for hangover). I did manage to run my second fastest chip time ever (and presumably my fastest gun time too, since I started almost right on the line and it has to date has been 20:18 or something like that). Not a great tactical race, to be sure. I went out way too fast. But I was encouraged that I was still able to get close to 20 minutes and if I’d held back a bit at the start it might have happened.

After finishing I went and got some water, an apple and banana, and some pretzels, and went to sign the cancer survivors wall which had been set up. Trying to think of something pithy to say, I wrote the following:

“Surviving cancer is like running. When it gets really hard, you dig down deep and find the strength to go on.”

I think it summed up my sentiments nicely.

In the end, over $325,000 was raised for Lurie Cancer Center, and it truly was a celebration of life and living. And that’s the most important thing of all.

13335874_10154209969692052_2294975470704289143_n