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.
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).
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).
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.)
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.
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.