Thursday, October 15, 2015

2015 Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k Recap

I had mixed feelings about last year's Rosehill Cemetery Crypt 5k, but it has such a good gimmick (a 5k in a cemetery at night) and offered such a good discount after I completed a survey about last year's race that I decided to run it again this year.

My mixed feelings have caused me to do several rewrites of my recap. I had a lot of fun, but there were just so many things done poorly that I don't know if I will run this race again, despite it being one of the only ways to explore the cemetery at night.

The starting line was easy enough to find.
Unfortunately, this year's race had many of the same problems suffered by last year's race.
Communication leading up to the race was...not great. I was starting to worry that I hadn't actually registered, as I hadn't gotten any email about packet pick up or race day information the week of the race. Finally, the day before packet pick up began, I got an email with the pertinent information. I feel the email should have been sent at least a week before the race, not a day or two before. 

There was plenty of information provided on the Facebook event page, though, and whoever was in charge of the event page was doing a great job of answering people's questions and responding to comments in a timely fashion. The only problem was finding the event page. I didn't know it existed until two days before the race.

Things continued to be a little rough at packet pick up, where, much to my chagrin, I discovered that the race shirts were actually unisex and not gender specific sizing, despite being told when I registered that they were gender specific this year (yes, I did ask before registering due to the problem with sizing last year). So I ended up with a shirt several sizes too big due to be given incorrect information. I expressed my disappointment on the Facebook event page and was told that as long as I was early to the race, then I could exchange my shirt for a smaller size.

I had arranged to leave work early on race day, so I had hopped on the train and headed home to change into my running gear and grab my gear check bag, which I packed the night before. One of the perks about this race for me is that it is a pretty easy walk from my Lincoln Square apartment, so I headed out, choosing to take the scenic route through various side streets and Winnemac Park.

I love all of Chicago's random parks.
It was a beautiful afternoon that would turn into a beautiful night for a run. I was a chilly, but I knew that I would be comfortable once I was running. I had gone back and forth over what to wear, debating if it would be cool enough to need long sleeves. In the end, I chose to wear a pair of running capris and a tank top for this race, and I had a jacket with me that fit in my gear check bag to wear before and after the race. I also had some home made arm warmers (an old pair of knee socks with the toe cut off and a hole cut for my thumb) that I could wear and then discard when the race started. 

I was ready for a spooky good time, and it was fun walking by neighbors' Halloween decorations. Some of which were wonderfully appropriate for the race I would be running that evening.

It took only about 30 minutes, and I was at the race site. It was pretty small, so it was easy to find everything. Starting line, port-o-potties, race day registration, pre registration packet pick up, gear check. It wasn't fancy, but it got the job done. They could have done with a few more port-o-potties, though. The small handful available just didn't cut it once more participants started to arrive.

Rosehill and Ravenswood. Pretty great street names for an intersection immediately outside a cemetery. 
I had my too big shirt with me, so my first stop was packet pick up. I had been instructed to arrive early and head to the pre registration packet pick up table to exchange my shirt. Well, with a race starting at 7pm, I figured my 5:45pm arrival was certainly early. Sadly, I had once again been given bad information.

I was told that I could only exchange my shirt AFTER the race, not before. When I tried explaining that I had been told to come early, I was treated to some eye rolling and a blunt "Well, whoever said that was wrong."

Needless to say, I wasn't happy. I had only arrived so early because I had been instructed to.

Not happy. Again.
I sat on the curb, watching as time ticked away, wondering why I kept being given bad information. As the start time slowly approached, I grabbed what I needed from my bag (water bottle, head lamp, inhaler, tissues), pinned on my bib number, and placed my jacket in my bag. After checking my bag, I was approached by one of the folks in charge who had heard the conversation when I tried to exchange my shirt earlier, and she told me that they simply hadn't ordered enough shirts, but that they could mail me the correct size as long as I turned in the shirt I was given.

I went added my name, mailing address, and desired shirt size to a list that I was handed and then headed back to gear check to get my shirt out of my bag. After turning in my shirt, I saw it quickly handed over to another runner looking for that size.

So...yeah...I don't have a shirt. I'm hoping to get a shirt in the mail, but after all the confusion and wrong information, I won't be holding my breath.

I want to be clear that I'm not upset about unisex shirts. I've run plenty of races with unisex shirts, but they are always clear and upfront about that being the case and don't change their mind without notifying participants. I'm upset that I was told they were gender specific when they weren't. And I'm upset that last year, I was told they were unisex when they weren't. For us ladies, unisex sizes and gender specific sizes are very different things, and I would have ordered the appropriate size if given the correct information. And more than anything, I'm upset that I was repeatedly and consistently given wrong information.

Back to the race! I ran into a friend who I didn't know was running, and she and I decided to run together as much as possible, though we agreed that if we got separated, we would just meet up again after the race. She checked the board listing everyone's bib numbers and then headed to packet pick up table to collect her bib and shirt, but they couldn't find her bib. It turns out that the pile of race bibs weren't actually in numeric order, making it understandably difficult to quickly find a specific number. After some searching and checking through the various piles, it was determined that her number was simply not there, so she was sent back to verify her bib number, then told that she would have to be assigned a new number. She was understandably frustrated, and it was just another example of poor organization of the part of the race.

Once everything was sorted out, we decided to skip the long lines for the port-o-potties and get in line at the start. It was getting closer to the start time, and we were eager to get going and put the rough start to the night behind us.

Official pre race selfie. This time with more headlamp.
There were the usual announcements with a few extras added in about being aware of the path in front of you and be careful because it was going to be dark once we were in the cemetery. They also asked that people who planned to walk start at the back of the pack, a suggestion which was sadly not heeded by many people, but I'm glad that they at least made the announcement this year.

The race started at exactly 7pm, and as we all crossed the starting line and went through the gates of the cemetery I switched on my headlamp. I loved that they had a fog machine running as you passed through the gates of the cemetery. It helped add to the eerie mood of the event.

Let's do this!
I immediately found myself behind a tight pack of walkers. I had purposely started closer to the front than usual after having the same problem last year. If you want to walk a 5k, then that is great. I have friends who will be walking a race that I'm running later this month, and I can't wait to share the race day experience with them. However, if you are going to walk the course, then you need to start at the back of the pack. This is both common sense and common courtesy to the people who do want to run the race, especially at this race where those of us running for an official time had to pay extra for chip timing.

Unlike some of the other runners, I wasn't shy about squeezing through any hole, no matter how small, in order to pass the walkers. I made sure to let those in front of me know I was passing and tried to be as polite as possible, but I fear that I may have come off as a little overbearing with all of my announcements of "coming through" and "passing on your left" and "excuse me". Sorry, folks, but you should have started at the back the way the announcer requested.

I was feeling a little claustrophobic, but once I had made it through the first chunk of walkers, the path cleared up pretty well and the herd of people thinned out a bit, making it easier to run. I had lost my friend, however, but I knew we would be able to meet up again after the race.

I was very happy to have my headlamp again this year, as the path was extremely uneven, posing a bit of a hazard in the dark. I was careful to make sure that the lamp was pointing down and on one of its lower settings to avoid blinding other runners. The light started to give me a headache towards the end of the race, but I'll take that over falling on my face any day. I'm clumsy on my best days, so running in the dark with no light would have been a recipe for disaster for me.

Although not well lit, the path was well marked and much easier to follow this year, with small battery operated tea lights being lined up along either side of the path. As long as you stayed between the lines of lights, then you were heading in the right direction. There were also volunteers station at all of the turns to make sure that runners turned when they were supposed to, which was much better than last year's arrow signs that were impossible to see. It was nice to see at least a few improvements from last year's race.

I did very much like the mile markers, which were projected onto the path itself. There were also a few larger monuments that were lit up, which was really lovely, though I wish that a few more had been lit.

Yeah, my phone doesn't like taking pictures at night.
I was trying not to pay attention to my watch and was trying to run by feel, but I could tell that I was keeping a good pace. I carry my own water with me, largely because my water bottle's pocket is the perfect size to hold my inhaler, so I didn't stop at the water station that was right around mile 2.

I enjoyed seeing the different ways that people were wearing the glow sticks that were handed out before the race. Although they didn't offer much light, they made it much easier to see the other people around you and helped more than one person avoid a collision with another runner.

The course was interesting, running through a good chunk of the cemetery path, with several twists and turns that were a little disorienting at times. At the end of the race, I was running straight towards the finish line, only to suddenly have to turn and go in a circle before heading back towards the finish again. I actually thought that this was a lot of fun and helped keep things interesting.

I glanced at the time as I crossed the finish line and did a double take. It said that I had finished in under 30 minutes. A check of the official times the next morning showed that it was true. I had a new 5k PR with a finish of 29:08! The funny thing is that I was telling friends before the race that this wasn't a race to try to PR at, as the dark course meant that you need to run more slowly for safety reasons.

The finish line was a mini party before the actual post race party.
There was music playing and a party atmosphere at the finish line. I was handed a cold bottles of water and given a high five by a volunteer and then grabbed a banana and a tiny bottles of smoothie from a table piled high with food. I hadn't realized how hungry I was until I took a bite of banana.

Creepy lighting = not the best pictures.
I stuck around at the finish line to cheer on the other runners. It is always great crossing the finish line, but it is so much better when there are people there to cheer for you.

Most people seemed super happy as they crossed, but there were a few runners complaining about how they had just run their slowest 5k or about how the race was so much longer than a 5k according to their GPS. Although I clearly have my own list of complaints about the race, I wasn't thrilled to hear these specific complaints. I would have been much slower if I hadn't been wearing my headlamp to illuminate my path, and the distance can be off due to a weak GPS signal and/or weaving on the course, as the distance is measured from the most efficient path (something I didn't realize last year when I had the same problem).

As there were more and more gaps in the folks crossing the finish line, I decided to explore the cemetery a little bit. It was really interesting being able to explore and wander a bit and see the different gravestones and monuments at night. I was careful not to wander too far off the path, as I didn't want to get lost and end up locked in the cemetery.

It is so much creepier at night than it is during the day.
I made my way back to the finish line to continue cheering on the other runners, but I soon had a text from my friend letting me know that she and some others were already at the post race party, so I headed to get my bag from gear check and join them.

The post race party was at Fireside Tavern, conveniently located across from the cemetery. The party was fairly festive, with lights, a DJ, and food and drink. I enjoyed last year's party a lot more, however, thanks to the live band that performed. The DJ kept the music playing all night, but it just didn't compare to the energy of a live performance.

Party time! Food is on the left and drink is on the right. Runners love their beer!
Each runner got one free beer, while supplies lasted. There was also additional beer available for purchase, as well as food available for purchase. There was the option to pre purchase food for $10 per plate, which I went ahead and took advantage of at the time of registration, as I knew I would be hungry after running and wanted to enjoy some of the post race festivities.

The food and drink lines were not well marked or differentiated, as many people who thought they were in the beer line found out too late that they were actually in the food line.

I was happy that I had remembered to print and bring my meal confirmation with me, as they didn't have me on the meal list. My meal (a BBQ pulled pork sandwich and a choice of side - I went with the shells and broccoli) tasted pretty good, but it was cold. The party was right outside the restaurant, and by the time the race was over, it was pretty chilly out and with the constant opening of the catering trays, it was pretty much impossible to keep the food hot.

Mmm...saucy. And overpriced. 
I eventually found my friends inside the restaurant. They had managed to get a table and were ordering from the full menu, which I hadn't realized would be available. I was a little disappointed to see that the exact meal I had paid $10 for (a discount, according to race organizers) was only $8.50 on the regular menu, so I felt a little cheated.

As I walked home from the race, I felt a little annoyed at the whole experience.

To be honest, I don't think I will be running it next year, which is a little sad.

I really love the whole idea of this race, and it is perfect for the Halloween season. It was great running through Rosehill Cemetery - the course was a lot of fun, and I genuinely enjoyed the time spent in the cemetery, itself - but everything surrounding the race felt so poorly organized and managed that it was just not a good overall experience, and I don't like leaving an event feeling frustrated. They will redeem themselves somewhat if they actually follow through with mailing out the shirt sizes for those of us who ended up leaving without a race shirt, but I don't know if that would be enough to convince me to register next year.

Long story short: running through a graveyard at night is awesome, but repeatedly being given wrong information is not.

The best way they could improve this race is by simply improving communication between the race organizers and the race participants.

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