Athlete’s Log: Star Date 2012.0575

21 01 2012

My first race of 2012 has been done.  Chicago’s inaugural Polar Dash was held today along the lakefront on a blustery day filled with lake effect snow.  I completed the 10k portion of the race, and it was a blast!

I signed up for it on a whim a few weeks ago, thinking something like:  “what the hell…..it’s been a mild winter and I’ve never done a lakefront race before….I won’t be properly trained to run the whole distance, but I know I can walk 6.1 miles….so why not”.  Crazy as it sounds, this is pretty familiar thought process for me.

The race was actually supposed to be held a week ago on January 14 until a blizzard rolled into town and the Police Department made them postpone for a week.  Another storm came along yesterday but the 7 inches of snowfall ended before midnight, and the race was not a casualty this weekend.

The events today were a half-marathon, a 10k and a 5k — all starting just northwest of Soldier Field at around 9:30 a.m.  I’m not sure how many people signed up but it must have been between 1000-2000 people because everyone’s racing bibs held numbers between 3000 and 5000.  I didn’t see anyone wearing number 1 or 100, or anything like that.  Expecting people to be slower than usual, the time limits were 2 hours for the 10k and 3:30 for the half.

Lining up near the Start line, I could see people of all ages, shapes and sizes bobbing up and down, shifting from foot to foot and doing whatever they could to generate a little extra heat in the 19 degree temperature.  Everyone seemed cheerful and expansive with people asking strangers to take photos of them or chatting about other races.  There was an interesting camaderie among all these folks just crazy enough to run a long distance on a cold day together, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

Standing there in what was for me a surprisingly relaxed setting, I reflected back on my last two major events of 2011 — the Rock & Roll Seattle half and the Berlin Marathon — with their multi-thousands of participants and decided that I enjoy smaller races better and should participate in more of them.   While I used to cringe at the possibility of finishing last in a smaller race, I decided right then not to worry about it anymore.  Suddenly having left both Garmin watch and timing chip at home no longer had any significance.

Although I never heard it, eventually the gun went off  and we shuffled through the starting gates.  Veering to the left, we made our way to northbound Lake Shore Drive where we were greeted by honking horns from drivers expressing encouragement (or incredulousness, I’m still not sure).  I trotted at an easy clip as the crowd thinned out and the speedier runners charged ahead.   Puffy snowflakes riding sideways on the wind landed on my face and dissolved, bringing a feeling of refreshment to skin quickly warmed by the effort.   It was exhilarating.

As I jogged along, considering this being 2012’s first race for me and all the options for the year ahead, I realized something momentous.  Twenty years ago in January of 1992, my 56-year-old mother began the last year of her life — overweight, depressed and with a heart ravaged by years of poorly-managed diabetes.  On this day I was 56 years old and ecstatic to be running in a 10k to kick off the year, whatever shape I happen to be in.  I dedicated the race to her as my eyes filled with tears of joy, and hoped there really was a heaven with my mother up there cheering.

We rounded another corner and the course continued along the lake shore.  An old man in front of me turned as I passed him and commented on the weather.  I shouted, “Isn’t it beautiful?!” and we both laughed.  Forging onward, the miles moved beneath my feet and the snow continued to pelt my body, no longer melting but sticking.  Mile 2 came along and I marveled at how cold I wasn’t.  By Mile 3, I was glad to be sweating even as I slowed down, tired of pushing into the wind.  At one point it seemed like Mile 4 was farther away than I expected but then there it was.  What a relief.

The 10k turnaround was not far beyond the Mile 4 marker and I happily reversed direction, letting the snow and wind batter the back of my head instead of the front.  “Two-thirds done,” I thought with no small measure of relief.  Runners came from behind and began to overtake and pass me, but I didn’t mind.  I was truly cold and growing more tired by the minute but still having fun.

Shortly past the Mile 5 marker I struck up a conversation with a young woman from Indiana whose story is quite a bit like my own.  A runner whose friends don’t care about sports, she travels solo to races on mini-vacations and unapologetically finishes somewhere near the bottom, not caring about being slow, simply pleased to finish.  We laughed and chatted along the last mile to the Mile 6 signpost then sprinted the last tenth to the finish line and high-fived for the small crowd gathered there to cheer our arrival.

And thus ended the first of many races for 2012.  It was a nice outing on a fairly decent winter morning that ended with hot cocoa and a happy heart.  What a wonderful day!


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