Monday, October 6, 2014

2014 Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k Recap

This is going to be a long post. Sorry about that, but there is a lot to cover with this race. As I mentioned in my last post, the 2014 Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k was a bit of a mixed bag. The course itself was amazing, but the management seemed to be incredibly disorganized.

I woke up early on Saturday, October 4 and went online for what has become one of my race day traditions - checking the weather forecast. The morning was cold and rainy, but according to the weather forecast, the rain was supposed to end in the early afternoon, so the race that night would be chilly but rain free. I was super excited to kick off the Halloween season with a 5k through a graveyard at night, and I spent the entire day eagerly awaiting the race.

As the evening approached, I started to gather my things and prepare for the race. I made sure I had everything I needed: bib number, safety pins, drink ticket, running gear, tissues, id, cash, etc. I also made sure that my head lamp was fully charged. I had considered not bringing it, but I had read some reviews of the race from previous years, and they all talked about how dark the course was. I also packed a hat and gloves, because I figured it would be better to be safe than sorry. It was chilly, after all. Finally, I packed my race shirt, because I wanted to exchange it for a different size.

I got dressed for the race, taking into account the chilly temps (it had been hovering in the high 30s/low 40s all day). Although I covered up a bit more than usual, I didn't break out my actual cold weather gear because I didn't want to overheat during the race. Running tights and a long sleeve shirt were enough to keep me warm pre-race, but not too warm once I started running. At the last minute, I decided to also throw my running skeleton shirt on top of everything - it is reflective and seemed like the right choice for a cemetery race. 

The bib numbers were lime green, so I dressed to match.
I did one final check to make sure I had everything I needed and then set off for the race. I wanted to be there early, so I left the house at about 5pm because it would take me about an hour to walk there. It was a perfect fall evening, and as I got closer to the race site, I started seeing a few other runners.

Chicago, you're so pretty.
I arrived at the race site just before 6pm. There weren't many people there, yet. I saw a few folks being dropped off and a lot of people clearly driving around searching for parking. 

The starting line was just outside the cemetery's main gates. Once through the gates, the course was entirely in the cemetery.
There were the usual tents set up - race day registration, pre-registration packet pick-up, gear check, etc. None of the tents were very busy, so I went ahead and asked one of the volunteers about exchanging my shirt for a different size. It is a great shirt, and I'd like to be able to wear it. I was once again told that I could only exchange after the race was finished and was instructed to bring my unworn, unwashed shirt to the packet pick up table after the race and I would be able to exchange for any size they still had available. I thanked her and made my way over to gear check.

Race day packet pick-up.
I was greeted by another volunteer at gear check, where I grabbed the things I needed/didn't want to check from my bag, and then handed it over to the volunteer who explained that I could pick up my bag anytime after the race as long as I had my bib number. Next to gear check was a Dunkin' Donuts van handing out free samples. The only thing better than coffee is free coffee.

Hello, free coffee!
I still had a ton of time before the race actually started, so I used the facilities and then went for a walk around the neighborhood. The walk gave me something to do and also kept me warm. I was really happy that I had a hat and gloves. I knew that I would probably end up removing them during the actual race (the gloves did end up coming off), but without my coat and scarf (which were shoved into my gear check bag) I was freezing. They were still setting things up inside and around the main gates, so I couldn't go into the cemetery.

Weeeeee! Spooky cemetery race! A great way to kick off October!
I was a little surprised by how few people there were at the race. Doesn't everyone want to run through a cemetery at night? As the start time got closer, I made my way back over to the starting line. I positioned myself in the back of the pack as usual. I had my headlamp, my glow necklaces, my bib number was pinned on, I had my GPS and stop watch ready for me to hit go to record my race...I was ready to run!

Pre-race selfie - a time honored tradition.
As we got closer and closer to the 7pm start time, the sun crept out of sight and the darkness creeped in and the crowds began to gather. I managed to push my way a little closer to the starting line when it became obvious that those walking the race were mingled in randomly with those who were planning on running. The race was small enough that there were no corrals or staggered start times. There were also no signs suggesting that slower runners and walkers move to the back, and I kept waiting for the announcer to say something about walkers heading to the back of the pack, but an announcement never came.

I was still a good way back from the starting line, so I knew it would take a minute or two for me to actually cross the starting line once the race began. Soon, we were getting updates about the starting time. People were clearly excited to be participating in the race, and as each announcement was made, the excitement grew. There were only 5 more minutes until 7pm, now 2 more minutes, now 1 more minute....and the race had started!

Everyone lining up and getting ready to run.
Much to my chagrin, I was trapped behind an entire pack of walkers. As I've discussed before, I'm a very slow moving runner, so I guess I now know what it feels like for faster runners to get stuck behind me. I tried getting around them by moving to the side, but that didn't work. They were spread out across the entire path. As soon as we actually crossed the starting line I started my GPS/stopwatch, which was much easier to do at my unexpectedly slow walking pace.

I was still stuck walking behind this big group of walkers who had spread out, and I was not alone. I notice several other runners struggling to push past them. I tried saying "excuse me" and "pardon me", but I finally just belted out "coming through!" and pushed my way through the group. Sorry about that, guys. I'm glad you were all there and having fun, but next time start at the back or make sure there is room to pass you if you plan on walking at a leisurely pace the whole time.

Even once I had left the group of walkers behind me, things were still tight for the first chunk of the race. There were lots of faster runners clearly frustrated about being behind slower runners and walkers. I was elbowed out of the way several times, and I found myself having to push through clumps of folks even slower than me. The crowd eventually thinned out and it became much more comfortable to run without fear of folks hitting you as they passed or being elbowed by those running a little too close to you for comfort. There was finally room to breathe!

The course was marked with small artificial tea lights lining the path and the random lighted arrow signs marking the turns. Even with these in place, it would have been easy to make a wrong turn or get lost, as there were a few places where the signs weren't very obvious, and I only knew to turn because I could see people turning in front of me.

I was incredibly happy to have my head lamp. Although the moon provided some light, there were some sections of the course that were pitch black. I saw one person ahead of me fall, and during the final mile, I heard someone else behind me fall. Both people were thankfully okay and got right back up and continued running.

I notice several other people with headlamps, and there were also quite a few people running with flash lights. I use the Black Diamond Sprinter Headlamp (I got it on sale, so shop around). It is rechargeable, the brightness is adjustable, the back light can be switched off if desired, and it is just really comfortable and light weight. It is the only headlamp I've ever used, and it works well for me. There are a ton of headlamps available on the market, and many are specifically made and marketed for runners. If you ever run in the dark, then I highly recommend investing in a headlamp.

There were several crypts that had been lit up with various colored lights. I wish that I had stopped for some pictures, but I was making decent time (for me, anyway) and wanted to keep running. During one turn, I must have stepped wrong because I felt a sudden twinge of pain in my knee. I had to slow to a walk several times during the second half of the race because of this, but I still tried to continue running as much as I could. Some ice and ibuprofen after the race helped my knee, though it is still a little sore, so I'll be taking it easy for the next few days.

The run itself was great! It was dark and chilly and a little spooky. It was easy to imagine zombies or ghost running after you. The darkness and the surroundings made for a really memorable run, and the moon peeking out from behind the clouds gave for some fantastic views.

When I finally crossed the finish line, I was surprised to see that my GPS told me that the race was actually a bit more than 5 kilometers. It was, in fact, 5.5 kilometers, which I verified when I looked it up online afterwards to make sure that my GPS wasn't just flipping out. Maybe it was 5 kilometers if you hugged the inside of the entire course? I was pleased, however, to see that according to my watch, I had made good time, with my final time (according to my watch, not the "official time" - more on this later) from the starting line to the finish line being 36 minutes and 32 seconds.

I grabbed a bottle of water, a banana (runners love bananas - we have to, they are handed out at almost every event), and a bag of popcorn. The popcorn may be my favorite post run treat ever. It was a delicious Chicago mix - cheddar and caramel.

This was delicious. More races should pass this stuff out. 
The finish line was a bit of a mess, with the post race treats just piled on and under tables lining the finishing area. There were volunteers handing things out at the tables on the right, but the tables to the left were pretty much just a free for all, with some runners taking as much as they could carry (I saw one guy after the race putting an entire case of water and a whole box of popcorn bags into his car). Guys, guys...I shouldn't have to say this. Take your fair share and leave some for the rest of us. If there are things left once everyone has crossed the finish line, then go to town and grab as much as you want. I speak from experience when I say it sucks to cross the finish line and find out they have run out of water and snacks because people were taking two, three, or four of everything.

Even with the free for all at the snack tables, the finishing area was pretty much a party. There was music playing, faster racers cheering on the slow pokes, and general merriment. There were also lots of people grabbing photo ops at some of the monuments and crypts.

I made my way out of the cemetery to grab my things from gear check and trade in my shirt. There was one problem. All of the tables/tents that were not gear check had already been taken down and put away. I asked the volunteer who got my bag for me where to exchange my shirt, and he explained that it was too late to do that and everything had already been packed up and taken away and I should have exchanged it before the race. looks like the people who told me to wait until AFTER the race to exchange my shirt had been wrong. Bummer. I guess I can wear my awesome race shirt if I lose about 20 pounds (that's never going to happen - I love eating too much).

I decided to console my lack of properly sized shirt despair with my free beer. I made one last pit stop at the port o potties (my headlamp came in handy here, too - it was pitch black inside!), had a short wait at the id check line to get my "over 21" wrist band (there was a long line, but it moved pretty quickly), and made my way to the after party, which was hosted right next door at Fireside Tavern & Grill.

Yay! Beer!
The party featured one free drink (the drink ticket was attached to the bib number), a live band, and food available for purchase from Fireside. The atmosphere was on the festive side, but it was clear that things hadn't really started, yet.

People starting to make their way to the after party.
There seemed to be some confusion as to where the id check and wrist band table was, as the bouncers in charge of the entrance to the after party was turning a lot of people away because they didn't have wrist bands. It would have been nice if the id check was more obvious or closer to the party entrance, instead of around the corner and poorly labeled, or even better, they could have made an announcement pre-race about the wrist bands and where to get them. I would have liked to have been able to get my wrist band before the race, as after I was done running, I was ready for a drink and some music.

I got my drink and waited for things to really start. The band was warming up and more folks were filing in, but it was getting late and I was getting hungry. I finished my drink, enjoyed some music (the band was awesome), but then I started the long walk home. I was getting cold and was ready for some dinner.

The band was The Late Night Lunatics. They were a lot of fun.
The next day, I went online to check out the official race results. I knew my time thanks to my watch, but I was curious as to how I placed overall and in my age group. I was shocked to see my official time listed as a full minute longer than what my watch had said. Yes, that was the time displayed at the finish line when I crossed it, but it had taken a little more than a minute for me to actually cross the starting line. I guess the timing chip was useless, as they took the "official" times based from when the race started to when an individual racer crossed the finish line instead of taking the time based on when the racer crossed the starting line. I was, and still am, incredibly disappointed.

The Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k has a lot going for it, mainly the location and time of the event.

However, there is also a lot going against it. It just felt incredibly poorly managed: packet pickup was long and unnecessarily disorganized, there was miscommunication regarding the shirts' sizing and then additional miscommunication regarding exchanging shirts, the race distance was off, the race course was poorly marked, and the official times were not correct.

Would I run the Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k again? Yes, yes I would. Although I was not a fan of the way this race was managed (that's a bit of an understatement), running through the cemetery was great.

Next year, I'll know what to expect. I'll give myself extra time for packet pickup, I won't trust the website regarding shirt sizes and will double check with the organizers about sizing before I order, and, most importantly, I won't pay extra for chip timing (non chipped timed participants paid $5 less at registration than those of us who were being times) now that I know the race distance isn't necessarily as advertised and the timing is taken off of the actual start time instead of when the individual runner actually crosses the starting line. Maybe next year I can get a group together to run the race with me, and I'll take my time and really enjoy my run. I'll step off the course to take pictures and hang out in the cemetery after the race.

Next year, I'll look at this race for what it really is - a cool, gimmicky, fun run that is done just for kicks. After all, I had a lot of fun at this race, despite the various frustrations.

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