Tuesday, June 9, 2015

2015 United Run for the Zoo 5k Recap

I've been hearing about the Run for the Zoo for years, but I this was my first time running it. I was either at a place in my life where running seemed impossible, or, once I did start running, the date for the race just didn't work with my work schedule. I decided that this was the year to finally run it. After spending all spring training for the Soldier Field 10 Mile, and getting ready to spend all summer training for a half marathon, I was looking for a "just for fun" race.

I wanted a race with no real goal distance or finish time. A race where I didn't need to plan nutrition or hydration. A race where I could just show up and have a good time.

And see a bunch of awesome animals!
A 5k that gives me an excuse to hang out at the zoo seemed liked the perfect race, especially with the race benefiting the zoo. The Lincoln Park Zoo is completely free, and I've visited it on many occasions, but I've never given back and made a donation. It is one of the free things that you enjoy and don't really think about how they are able to operate...kind of like NPR (though I do donate to my local NPR station - I have the mug to prove it). By running the race, I was helping support the zoo and getting to enjoy a day off from work.

And an excuse to visit a beautiful part of the city that I don't see nearly often enough.
Registration was incredibly easy. There was a 5k run, 5k walk, 10k run, or a kid's race called "The Safari Stampede". I chose the 5k run, put in my info, got my confirmation, and was done in less than 5 minutes.

As the race grew closer, I got a couple of reminder emails with information about the race and packet pick up. Advance packet pick up hours were terrible, but I figured I could get my packet the day before the race, as long as I was there right when they started. Although I showed up shortly after pick up began, there was already quite a line, so I ended up waiting for much longer than expected and had to grab a cab in order to get to work on time. There were times when the line came to a stand still. Things just didn't seem too terribly organized.

I have to say, however, that I do love the race shirt. It fits well and is very comfortable, and I can see myself wearing it on a lot of runs in the future.

When I checked the weather forecast the night before the race, I saw that we were due for some rain, so I made sure to pack a towel and change of clothes in my gear check bag. I also made sure to wear my trusty purple hate. I love running with a hat or visor because it helps keep the sun off my face in good weather and keeps the rain off my face in bad weather.

Pre-race selfie featuring my trusty purple hat. 
On race morning, the skies were dark and overcast, but I hoped for the best and made my way to the race site. I hate half a bagel with some almond butter on the train, and once I was at the zoo, I quickly oriented myself and figured out where everything was - bathrooms, gear check, starting line, beer tent...you know, the important things. I made a quick stop at the bathroom, which had a surprisingly short line, and then made my way to gear check. I had plenty of time before the race started, so my plan was to check my bag, see what there was to see, stop at the bathroom one more time, and then head to the starting area.
Unfortunately, this plan didn't work, as the gear check lines didn't seem to move. I don't know if the gear check tent was understaffed or if the folks working were just overwhelmed, but I stood in line for what seemed an eternity. Right as an announcement was made that the 5k would be starting in a few minutes, I was finally at the front of the line. I shoved my bag at one of the volunteers (sorry, bro, but I had a race to run), and sprinted over to the start. I quickly found the sign with my estimated pace and got in position. I was a little bummed about not being able to use the bathroom or roam the area before the race, but I also didn't want to miss the start. 

I only had to wait a couple of minutes to start after getting lined up.
Despite repeated announcements to line up according to pace, with anyone walking the course at the very back, I noticed plenty of walkers interspersed among the runners (everyone's bib color corresponded to the race they had signed up for - orange for 5k runners, green for 5k walkers, and yellow for 10k runners).

Soon, the race was underway. As expected, I had to do a lot of weaving between slower runners and walkers for the first mile or so. There was one section of the course where the path narrowed and things started moving really slowly, but it eventually opened up again. When I hit the first mile marker, I checked my watch and saw that I had gone out a lot faster than planned. I was feeling good, though, so I decided to just keep moving. I could always move to the side and walk a little if needed later in the race.

The water station for the 5k course was shortly after the one mile mark, but there were only two clearly overwhelmed volunteers manning it, and they just couldn't keep up with the demand for cups of water. Seeing that I would have to come to a complete stop and wait for one of the besieged volunteers to fill a cup, I decided to just keep moving.

The course went straight through the middle of the zoo before winding over towards the harbor and then back to finish in the zoo again. It was really great running on a different course than usual. There were some rough and uneven parts of the course, so I did have to pay attention to where I was stepping.

Right as I hit the two mile mark, the heavens opened and unleashed their rain. At first, the rain was light and felt refreshing. But it soon picked up and rained harder. And then the wind picked up. Every now and then, a rumble of thunder would sound. The rain and coming storm became a reason to keep running towards the finish line, as I was worried that they would cancel the race, and I wanted an official finish time.

Before I knew it, we were turning back into the zoo and I could see the finish line. I crossed the finish and did a double take at my time. I had not planned or expected to PR, but my watch said that I had just run my fastest 5k. A later check of the official results verified that I had a new 5k PR. Woo hoo!

Wet from head to toe, but happy with my PR.
I was handed a bottle of water, a bottle of Gatorade, and a banana. I quickly ate the banana (I was starving thanks to eating my bagel too early in the morning) and grabbed one of the bottles of chocolate milk that were also being handed out.

I was soaking wet, so I rushed over to gear check. It didn't take nearly as long to get my bag as it did to check it, but I was confused when the volunteer asked me to describe my bag, as they weren't actually arranged by bib number. Ummm...that's weird, but okay.

Once I had my bag, I made my way to the women's room to dry off and change. Sadly, everything in my bag was also soaked, so changing was pointless. I'm just confused as to how the inside of my bag got wet, but the outside didn't. Did someone open it and leave it in the rain? Everything was there and accounted for, but it was still strange.

Next stop? Beer and pizza. The pizza...well, it was the smallest piece of pizza I've ever seen, and it was cold, so I chose to console myself with beer. The beer was plentiful and cold and delicious and I may have gotten a little buzzed due to not having eaten enough before drinking it.

Mmm...beer. Free beer always tastes better. And the best beer is post race free beer.
I watched as more folks crossed the finish line, and then I heard an announcement that the remainder of the race was cancelled due to lightning in the area. They urged everyone to take cover. Like everyone around me, I ignored the warning and spent the rest of the morning wandering around the zoo.

Pictured: everyone not taking cover.
I was already soaking wet, so wandering around in the rain didn't seem like that big of a deal. There weren't many animals out, and I didn't see any during the race itself, but I was able to find a few who didn't seem to mind the rain. The ducks and swans in the pond didn't care about a little water, and the flamingos were also hanging out and doing what flamingos do. 

Flamingos are so pretty and yet so awkward.
And the harp seal was all, "Oh. Is it raining? I didn't even notice."

"I don't understand what the big deal is, guys."
My feelings about the race are a little all over the place. I had a good time and got a PR, but packet pick up and gear check were both a mess, and there just didn't seem to be enough on course support from what I saw at the water station (I hope the 10k water stations were better staffed and stocked). Also, communication wasn't great on race day. When I first arrived at the race site, I wasn't sure who was a volunteer and who wasn't. A few volunteers were wearing "volunteer" shirts, some were wearing the race shirt, and others were wearing whatever they wanted. There were plenty of announcements made over a loudspeaker, but the race site was such a big area, that you could only hear and understand the announcements if you were standing in certain places. Finally, it may sound petty, but I was really looking forward to a hot slice of pizza. Don't make a big deal about your post race food if you aren't able to deliver.

I did, however, love the shirt and the course. And, as I said, I really did have fun running the race, even with all the wind and rain.

Overall, I walked away feeling as though this was a nice, little, charity race that had great intentions but grew too big and just wasn't prepared to meet the expectations that many runners have for races today.


  1. Congrats on the PR. Glad you got finished before they called the race!

  2. Congrats on you time! I ran it too but they called it before we crossed the finish :( It was still fun.Totally agree with you on crowds and gear check. Hopefully next year they will work on it.