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Running Mon Mar 22 2010

Race Reports: The Shamrock Shuffle

The Vernal Equinox took place on Saturday at exactly 5:32 p.m. and in spite of the slushy and angry mess that Mother Nature dumped on Chicago this weekend, spring is officially here. Less telling than the Sun being directly overhead at the Earth's equator, but a far more relevant indicator of spring's presence to Chicagoans was the "Shamrock Shuffle" on Sunday morning. The Shuffle is a 35 year-old rite-of-spring in the Windy City, and this year, Tailgate editor and resident bon vivant, Brian Lauvray, took it upon himself to run the 8K course and celebrate the start of Chicago's outdoor running season.

Starting Line:

The Shamrock Shuffle had over 36,000 people register for the race and according to the announcers, 25,000 of them decided to show up. 25,000 is a lot of anything, maybe not an "Obama Just Got Elected Party" but, let's just say, Grant Park was jam packed with spandex-clad people vying to get to the front of the line, get their racing bib on and make sure they were staying warm. Oddly, there seemed to be way more women in this race than guys, not odd in some anti-suffragist notion, like, "Gosh, women are running these days?" but odd in the sense of "Guys, you don't want to get off the couch and run? No? Okay, cool."

Anyway, the runners are herded into starting corrals and there's definitely a sensation of "I'm not a person, but a cow" vibe going as you just keep bumping into people. Jams from OkGo, Daft Punk, Bob Seeger, et al [thank you, mystery DJ for no "Jock Jams"] pump thru the speakers as the mass of humans start and stop their collective way to the starting line. Columbus Drive, is closed off to traffic and the lull before the race gives runners/spectators cool looks at the backside of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute and then we're off and running...or jogging...or jostling for position and trying to find a balance between "Get the [redacted] Outta my way, you slow [insert-insult]" and "Okay, we're all just running, stay cool.*"

Mile 1 & Mile 2:

Mile One is largely a straight shot up Columbus Drive before hanging a "louie" on Grand Ave. and is arguably the ugliest part of the race. Grant Park is gone and you're trolling under Michigan and a few other streets and alleys for a portion before bursting onto the Columbus Bridge and crossing the river.

The Second Mile is an incredibly fast jaunt taking you thru "Classic Chicago." On a normal day, tourists would be gaping at the "Corn Cob Building" whilst stopping you to ask "Where's the best deep-dish?" and office workers would be shuffling from Corner Bakery to Starbucks back to their office on Wacker. On Shuffle day, this stretch is beautiful and runners are spoiled with incredible views of the city in an oddly quiet cocoon of Nike'd feet, green torsos, breathing and people.

Mile 3 & Mile 4:

Volunteers start showing up more frequently to cheer on the runners at various corners and to hand out Gatorade and water at two separate aid stations. I really felt for the volunteeers, they looked absolutely frigid and didn't even have the benefit of running around the city to stay warm. The crummy weather may not have been something ...wait for it... they volunteered for. "Thank You, Volunteers." I spilled most of my water on my self* but appreciated you handing it to me.

At around the 5K (uhh, 3.1 miles) mark the lactic acid has begun to ask my body "How's it going?" and my lungs are sorta "Brian, do we have to keep doing this?" I'm trying to explain to my legs and various organs that lactic acid is just a symptom of mild oxygen deficit brought on by aerobic activity and that a little bit of glycogen is being burned up and that it's just because everyone is doing such a great job at moving me (us?) towards the finish line that there's this small amount of discomfort. For the time being, I win the argument and the body falls back into line.

During the Fourth Mile the lactic acid double checks with me "You still doing good?" and I am doing fine, so I begin accelerating towards the Finish Line. Huzzah, .9 miles left in the 8K, methinks. However, the course has this cruel incline or "hill" on Roosevelt right before heading back into Grant Park and I had not accounted for that. I struggle to find any gears left as the lactic acid gleefully courses through my quads and calfs and I gasp towards the finish. I cross the line and for a few minutes I feel something like a fish left flopping on a wooden dock, praying for oxygen and then it passes and I eat a granola bar (Thanks, Planters) and sip some Gatorade and look for my ticket for one free Michelob Ultra (I lost it, natch).

*Competitive Sidenote: I'd been training for the race for about a month and was targeting an average of 8-minute miles for the race. Being stuck behind slow people really stinks and it was annoying to have to just run with the slow-pokes 'til I got away from them. Granted, 8-minute miles would've been very, very slow to the winners of the race, so, y'know, perspective.

*Running and drinking from a paper cup = very hard. Seriously, try it.

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