Yes. 7K. Your very non-standard 4.34959835 mile race.
Since my recent 5o mile training has focused mostly on tough, hilly long runs, a short distance race seemed like a nice change of pace. Besides, when well rested, running fast is fun! The 7K distance made it so I would PR no matter what and the Get Lucky! schwag (a kelly green zip-up hoodie) was pretty sweet.
My goal going into the race was to just run hard from the beginning and hold it as long as I could. I wanted to focus on high leg turnover and a smooth cadence throughout. With nearly 800 registrants, I didn’t figure I’d have much of a chance at a top three finish, so the thought never entered my mind.
Until I lined up.
There was a half marathon (The Chicago Get Lucky! 21K) run in conjunction with this race. 20 minutes after the half marathon began, the 7K racers were told to line up.
Wanting to run smooth 6:30s, I got in the 7 minute per mile corral. It was the fastest one next to the one labeled “elite” — one that, astonishingly, no one was standing in. I quickly looked around to see that indeed, I was standing alone, that most people were lined up way behind me. Then there was an athletic looking youngster dressed in green who approached and confidently stood ground next to me. We smiled and said “hi” to one another.
I think both of us knew that we might be in for a special day if we were the only ones in the front of the pack. You could almost see the both of us salivating, sizing each other up. Then along came a Mary Keitany lookalike. I quickly let her in front of me. Just a few minutes before the race was to start, it looked like only the three of us would start out at the front.
Competitive spirit override. Race strategy chucked.
Hell no. If I have a chance to win — AN ACTUAL CHANCE TO WIN — I’m going for it.
The horn blew and we were off, the three of us in front along with a guy dressed like a leprechaun, whom if beaten in the race demanded an ancillary cash prize.
The starting pace was about 6:20. Not too bad. The Mary Keitany lookalike made it appear effortless though, so I immediately figured she was my main competition.
We hit the first turn and boom, there took off the leprechaun and the athletic dude in green. I wouldn’t see them again for a while. Mary Keitany lookalike gave chase, I looked down at my watch to see I was under 6 minute pace and thought, nah, I’m gonna stick with 6:30s. I eased off but kept her in my sights.
For the next 2.5K I slowly reeled her in. But before I did, I looked behind me to see… um… no one! I was way out in front of everyone else, virtually guaranteed a top three finish if I just didn’t crash and burn. I kept a steady pace and it seemed pretty easy. Cruise control.
I caught her on the weird downhill just after the aid station between 3K and 4K. On the Lakeshore Path, it’s the abrupt bridged hill before going under the road, south of Illinois Avenue. I’ve run that part of the path about a bazillion times in my life, so I knew I could fly on the short downward section. I made my move and BLASTED DOWN past her. She didn’t counter, seemingly content with the idea of a 1st female finish rather than 2nd place overall.
Sounded good to me! I kicked it up a notch.
But then I encountered a series of weird, poorly marked turns and… yes, no course marshals. Not long after seeing a 4K mark banner, I came across a mess of oddly grouped orange cones, but no people. The leader and the leprechaun had already started the back portion of the out-and-back-esque course, so I wasn’t sure where the turnaround was. Is it still ahead? Is it here? Oh shit.
I was flying. And starting to panic. I made it about a quarter mile further before I realized there was no one around and I’d definitely gone off course. I stopped, turned, and boom, there was Mary Keitany lookalike. We both threw our arms up in the air. Confused. She said, “that must’ve been the turnaround, back there.” I nodded, said, “Sorry”, and dug deep in a concentrated spurt past her, back to the right spot, back to those oddly grouped, messy orange cones. Back on course.
To my horror I saw: NOW TWO PEOPLE IN FRONT OF ME!
Competitive spirit override. Again. Harder.
DIG DEEP. Vrrrrrroooom.
Zoomed by the first guy, unsuspecting. Clearly, he did not care. “Good job, buddy!” he yelled. Thumbs up, I gave. Head down.
The second guy in front of me was moving slow. I knew I’d catch him. “Lookin’ good”, he said. Thanks, bro! I passed. I focused further down the line on… the bike!
The leader and leprechaun were too far ahead to be seen, so course marshals (who magically appeared after my detour) responded by sending a bike out to lead second place. At the 5K mark, that was me. I wasn’t even looking at my watch now. I could care less about my time. All I wanted to do was finish strong with nothing less than second place. I was content with that.
Until I saw the leprechaun in my sights with 1 kilometer to go.
Did not think about it. Just dug in and told my legs to catch him. I turned off my mind and let instinct kick in. I was surprised at how easy it seemed. I passed him on the first of a couple sharp right turns in the last half kilometer, got a huge buzz from the cowbell-ringing, shamrock-clad crowd who came out in strong numbers cheering and clapping. I slowed a little, soaked it in. Crossed the finish fist pumping with a smile. I was handed a medal and a mug with CASH MONEY in it from beating the leprechaun. I’m told a top three finisher prize will be in the mail.
I’ve said it before, but it’s still true so I will keep saying it: I’ll never take a pitch in the big leagues, or drive the lane in the NBA. The NFL will never see my touchdown dance. But today I ran the Chicago Get Lucky! 7K race and finished 2nd out of 797 competitors, and for that I’m claiming baller status.