Sunday, April 29, 2012

Racing in Ravenswood

Gotta love a neighborhood run! Photo: Angelica Guerrero
It only took me 11 years of running in Chicago to finally run Fleet Feet's Ravenswood Run, a 5K that turned 16 on April 29. I've read about it since I started picking up the local active lifestyle publications at the Northwestern gym. I've known about it--and written about it on at least one occasion--since I was an intern at Windy City Sports. And I've had invites to run it plenty of times.

But those invites were always followed with the obligatory excuses for why I couldn't participate. In college, it was minimal transportation options and a lack of runner friends (I had to beg my cousin to drive me and also run the Lakefront 10). Then I thought it would take forever to drive to, having to search for a parking spot on top of that (when you live in Lakeview and constantly struggle to find a street spot especially on a Saturday night, you dread driving anywhere). I was running another race like the Lakefront 10, often held the same day. I was recovering from Boston--or sidelined after Boston as was the case last year. What it all boils down to is a list of stupid reasons to skip a race...really stupid reasons. I can register for the marathon again and again, yet I can name excuse after excuse for why I can't make it to a 5K which is shorter, easier and usually more fun. I'll never do that to the Ravenswood Run again.

I wasn't injured. I wasn't recovering from Boston. I wasn't conveniently spending the weekend in Milwaukee with my husband (the race was actually my excuse to spare myself the 90-minute drive and make him come here). I knew FFCheer and media teammates who'd be running it too. Even my training schedule called for a run (so what if it was eight miles with only speedy segments). I could finally put my stamp on the neighborhood race beyond watching it from the sidelines and wishing my perma-limp would go away. I'll quit my griping about last year because I not only ran this year, ready, willing and able, but this morning's Ravenswood race invalidated every last one of my preconceived notions.

From the trivial to the crucial elements, here's what I'll remember about this 5K:
  • Parking is easier than at the lakefront races. When a Chicago run is held at Montrose, I'm either pedaling there--and hoping the race organizers brought their bike racks--or I'm begging my husband to drive me. For Ravenswood, the usual traffic backup on Wilson was nonexistent--I think it took me 15 minutes to get to the neighborhood and I got stopped at multiple lights. The parking was a breeze even if I did shell out $3* to park on the closest meter street with availability. I had looked for free street parking in the neighborhood but I'd need a smart car to be able to squeeze into the spots I found. *Note: Race materials provided details on race day parking in nearby lots that may or may not have been free, but I opted for what I could find east of the start line to access Lake Shore Drive.
  • It takes less time to arrive at the race than you'd think. I hate waking up early on the weekend--even if it involves exercise. So the 8 a.m. race start wasn't sitting well with my sleep schedule especially knowing that I'd have to allow for extra time to drive from Division to Wilson, park the car and walk to the start line. It was tough love on stoplight timing, but even with those delays, I arrived far faster than I expected and had plenty of time to put on my race gear (even if I choose incorrectly but that's another story) and hang out with friends. But I can't assume that all races will go this well in the transportation department--I might end up late as a result.
  • Runners must have read the memo: Don't wear your race tee during the race. There's no rule--it's more urban legend--that says you can't wear your race tee during the race, but unless you're told to wear your shirt (like at the Nike Run Hit Wonder and the Human Race where your bib number is on your shirt), you're kinda saying that you're a newbie. There was a sea of yellow at last year's race, but not so with this year's orange Mizuno tee, which, in my opinion, is nicer, anyway. Maybe it's because more people are running and know better. Maybe I'm more observant when I'm watching a race and not running it. Maybe it was hiding underneath everyone's warmer layers. Maybe people forgot that they could wear that tee, or any other Mizuno gear, to be entered into an on-site contest to win Mizuno goodies.
  • Weather couldn't be better. It's no joke that I am a weather snob when it comes to races, and in my book, colder is almost always better. I couldn't have asked for more ideal temperatures plus the sun was out for most of the morning. Until recently Ravenswood had a bad rap for having bad weather, but that hasn't been the case this year or last. Now if only I could learn how to properly layer for this weather and I'd be all set.
  • It's a flat course that might even go downhill more than it goes up. We're not used to running hills in Chicago--and get killed at races elsewhere as a result--but we love our flat and fast courses. And Ravenswood seemed like a speedy one even with my legs being stuck in one gear--I'll credit that to the quick turns and the tiny downhills as we passed under the El tracks. The first-place male cruised to a sub-15-minute 5K (crazy fast!), people have been known to PR, and while I thought I ran slow, it turns out that I clocked a 5K time that I haven't seen in more than four years.
  • Neighborhood races are F-U-N. I already knew this statement from participating in the Bucktown 5K (held every October) but it was further confirmed today. Neighbors come out to cheer, the course is scenic, neighborhood vendors get involved and neighborhood charities benefit--Ravenswood Community Services Food Pantry at All Saints' Episcopal Church and the Student Health Centers at Lake View and Amundsen High Schools. To top it off, the pastor at the church does a blessing before the run and the runners start when the church bells start ringing. 
  • You'll see people you don't expect. Last year, I met someone I only knew through Twitter. This year, I met a fellow journalist who I'll see at Equinox but never on the race course. I'll remember getting passed by a guy pushing his kid in a jogger stroller--and he went by like I was standing still, not running a 7-minute mile--and jockeying with a heavy breather who was really making me work my legs to pass him. I'll also 
  • Instant race results rule. Instant definitely is a stretch; on-site would more aptly describe the station Fleet Feet set up so participants could check their times before they headed home. The tent had a few netbooks on a table, plus a guy with an iPad, where you could see how you did. Considering I wasn't feeling super speedy on the course and didn't exactly like the time I had on my watch (apparently today was the day I felt like being competitive), finding out my time made me feel a little better about my race. The official clock timed me faster than I timed myself: score!
  • All races need a stretch station. I should have sat down in this spot after I was done running--I would have saved myself most, if not all, of the pain that I felt hours later. Decked out with foam rollers and blankets, runners could sit and nurse their tight calves, hamstrings and glutes after the race. We might all be more injury-free if more stations like this existed--I know I usually skip the stretch session when it involves waiting in a long, not-moving line to see a massage therapist.
  • Even for a 5K, the night-before pre-race meal is imperative. What I learned: don't eat sushi the night before a race. It's probably just my stomach, or my nerves or some wires crossed in my brain that have me thinking this way, but sushi doesn't work for my energy stores. This is the second (or is it third?) time, first was on a long bike ride that went from awesome to awful, where I wanted to move but my body wouldn't let me. I could be superstitious--and most likely am when it involves running--but I will be trying to avoid a sushi dinner before my next race. I'm almost be better running on an empty stomach and we all know how that doesn't necessarily work.
Did you run the Ravenwood Run 5K? What did you think of it?

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