RUNNING THE CHICAGO 50K:
Friends and co-workers who are used to me going off to do ultrarunning events on hilly forest trails tucked just a mile or two away from some unheard of town were surprised to learn that this weekend's ultra was going to be in Chicago.
"Where is there a forest in Chicago?" asked one of my office mates.
"So where are you doing this 50K?"
"Isn't that a little 'urban' for you?"
Hmmm... I had thought the same but wanted to see some friends who were going to be at the George Cheung Memorial 50K in Chicago, and figured I wanted to do a long run somewhere that day. Might as well join the herd and try one of the Chicago 50Ks. Coming down from Milwaukee, I got to the start early, expecting to hunt for a parking space. The pre-race info said that parking would be no problem, but having driven through Chicago's downtown before, I didn't believe them. A Chicagoan's idea of easy parking probably means you only have to circle for 15 minutes before finding a spot that you can almost parallel park your car in.
But I was wrong -- when I got there I was treated to a HUGE, FREE parking lot -- just as they told us.
When I opened the door, I was also treated a HUGE, FREE 30 mph wind gust. Oh my. I thought we were going to have a beautiful spring day. Shorts and tee shirt weather. I grabbed my tights and gloves.
Well, half the time, I got my wish. Going south it was warm. Almost hot. In my tights and long sleeves I was sweating like a piggy (and do pigs really sweat more than people?). "Thank God this is a three-loop course," I thought to myself. "When I get back to my car at the end of this loop, I'm stripping down to those shorts and a tee."
I kept that thought until I turned around and got smacked in the face by the big brother of the breeze that had hit me in the parking lot before the race. And big brother was persistent. He wouldn't let up with his pushing and shoving until I got back to the start/finish area, and the completion of the first of three loops. I kept my sleeves and tights on. It was a menopause sort of day -- a hot flash for five miles followed by the chills for another five.
The spring version of the Chicago 50K (there is a fall race as well) consists of three 10+ mile loops on the lakefront trails, starting at the north end of Lincoln Park (Foster), past the Lincoln Park Zoo and then on to the turn-around near the North Avenue Bridge. Organizers claimed that about 75% of the trail would be crushed gravel or hard-packed dirt. I thought to myself, "Sure, nice soft trails in Chicago. About as easy to find as parking. It will be paved from one end to the other and my legs are going to feel like they have been beaten by a baseball bat and then run over by a truck."
Again, I was wrong. Just as there was easy parking, there was also easy running on dirt trails, and dirt "shoulders" that ran along most of the paved bike trails along the lake. It was kinder, gentler urban running than what I expected.
And while there wasn't the magical beauty of the woods or mountains, there was that special attraction of Chicago's lakefront on an early spring day. Sailboat races went on alongside our foot race. In the parks, people were playing soccer and rugby. Half the city seemed to be out for a stroll, and once they saw your race number they cheered and gave the thumbs' up.
There was only one hill on the course, and that came about primarily because the walls of a trail underpass were crumbling (evidently, it is hard to get race insurance if part of the course goes through a hard-hat zone). Instead of running through the short tunnel to avoid a road, we climbed a grassy hill, looked both ways as our parents taught us, crossed and ran down the hill to the other side of the bike path. The rest of the course varied in elevation by only 10 feet or so. Though when you turned and made that five-mile run back into the wind it often felt like you were doing a hill... a really looooooong hill.
I thought that a flat course would be an "easy" 50K, and in some ways it was. My time was good for me, so the course was certainly a help. But without hills, there was no built-in excuse for a nice walking break. Mentally, that was a lot tougher than I expected. Perhaps I will look at hills a bit more lovingly in the future. Remind me of that when I start whining about another hill when I am in the last ten miles of the Ice Age 50.
So it was a great race on a Great Lake, even if it was in downtown Chicago. Who would have thunk? I got a race tee that I love -- it's a red, long-sleeve Brooks running shirt. A darn good deal for a $30 entry. But I think it was a year when they must have been cleaning out the closets. Kathryn, one of my fellow TP runners from Wisconsin, is a bit taller and had to take another size, and another shirt style. Not quite as snazzy as mine. There were a few other colors and styles as well. So it goes. They all were high-tech running shirts though. A darn nice bonus.
Finishers were treated to homemade beans and rice, which at first sounded rather odd for a race finish until you started shoveling it in your mouth. On a cold and windy day on Chicago's lakefront, hot beans and rice was a darn good treat.
It was great to catch up with a few friends, several of whom were in town to give a presentation on Badwater at the sponsoring Fleet Feet store -- Nikki, Bonnie, Jay, Lisa and a bunch of people I am forgetting. They were going to finish their day of ultra-racing with an evening of line dancing at a local bar. Alas, I had to get back to Milwaukee and missed this part of the doctor prescribed post race cool-down (Lisa is a doctor, and Lisa wanted to go dancing, so I figure it must have been doctor-prescribed). I'll have to incorporate the routine into my next post-race recovery.
So while Chicago's 50K is a bit "urban," it is a darn nice little race. Well marked, frequent aid stations (about 2-3 miles) and even porta-potties (I suppose the drop-your-drawers-behind-a-tree might get you arrested in downtown Chicago). I could have lived without the winds, but as I was reminded, "we were running in the 'Windy City'... what did you expect?"
For those who are curious, the results are supposed to be posted on the web site: chicagoultra.org. A guy and a girl won, but to be honest, with the mix of non-race participants and racers on the trail, it was hard to keep track of who was where. I know the leaders were quick without those hills in the way, and I remember that old poop Larry Hall coming in around fifth place, but that's the best I can say without relying on the real results.
So what did the rest of you do this weekend?
Want to see more? Check out the Chicago Ultras website: www.chicagoultra.org. There you'll find complete information of the race, it's history and Official 2005 Results!