Droplets of sweat formed on my arm hairs making them look like a spiderweb drenched in the morning dew. Each bead sucked vital liquid from my body, and I feared I wouldn’t make the 15 minutes of waiting in the corral to start, plus 1.5 miles before rehydrating. Things were not looking up for setting a 10K PR as hoped. My attitude was not helped by the long wait I had for the train to get there, nor the long lines at the disorganized gear check stations. The stagnant city air felt like a sauna. As fellow red-shirted runners stood crammed together listening to speeches by small-time celebs like Bill Rancic and Giuliana DePandi, we cooked like red hots.
John Kelly, Brian H, and a few of their running group stood near the crowded middle while I stayed off to the side juggling to calm my nerves. “You do the marathon, right?” asked another runner. “Yeah, that’s me.” “I think what you do is really cool.” “Thanks. Ya know it’s the sport of the future.”
Just then Wayne Mesmer started singing the Star Spangled Banner. When he was done, I clicked on my iPod (first song Dr. Worm). Bill & Giuliana sounded air horns and we were off. It was 87F and sunny.
The start was slow and crowded. It was worse than the Chicago Marathon which had almost 3 times as many people. By the time I got to the starting mat, 40 seconds were gone.
Mile 1 - Speedy Joggling
As usual, I joggled on the right side. Proper joggling etiquitte calls for staying off to one side. You don’t want to ruin someone else’s race by dropping a joggling ball and causing them to twist an ankle. It also allows you to easily pass people and mug for the crowds & cameras. The small but enthusiastic spectators roared with delight. Someone yelled, “Hey Joggler!” and I smiled. They actually said “joggler” instead of “juggler”. Maybe this sport is catching on.
The race path went took us along the streets around Soldier Field and then through the tunnel at McCormick place. The stomping of runners feet echoed sounding like a drum cadence at a college football game. There were fog machines, laser lights, and a dull orange glow in the cave. When we exited, there was the first mile marker. 7:20 on the clock. I threw a ball up and checked my watch. 6:43. Decent, but it felt much faster.
Mile 2 - Getting Drenched
Mile 2 featured a run onto Lake Shore Drive (made famous in the song by Aliotta Haynes & Jeremiah.) The heat was starting to get to me. My shirt felt heavy and water droplets jumped from the brim of my hat. Nary a cloud in the sky, but it looked like it was raining.
The crowded water stop was particularly tricky for joggling. People unexpectedly cut in front of you and it takes the skills developed through joggling Banzuke just to avoid a drop. I briefly stopped juggling, gulped down a water, and kept moving. For a race this short, I wouldn’t usually take water this early, but the heat was tough. I slowed considerably and clocked a 6:59 mile. Still on pace but fading.
Mile 3 - The Drop
At the start of mile 3, crowds of spectators lined up and held out their hands for runners to slap them. They were cheering extra loud to see a juggler. I attempted the London Marathon hand slap trick but they pulled their hand away before I could hit it. Surprised, I looked up just in time to see the Gballz I’d thrown high fall just under my hand. The first and only drop of the day. That sometimes happens when you try to show off.
Dropping slows you down. It is tough to get back into your joggling rhythm. I felt like that Brazilian guy in the Athen’s Olympics marathon. I missed the clock at mile three so I’m not sure about the time.
Mile 4 - A Shaking Dog
The fourth mile took us along the lakefront path, the scene of the 50-mile joggling ultra marathon. I smiled thinking back on that run. Unfortunately, the weather was much different this time. I was an overheated gas station hot dog. As my arms moved, my shirt twisted side to side flinging water like a shaking sheep dog. People gave dirty looks as they passed. I wasn’t sure if it was the juggling or the sweat.
Around a corner, I saw the clock, 28:50. I’d have to do the last 2.2 miles in under 14 minutes to have a chance.
Mile 5 - The Discussion
In the fifth mile I labored. I wanted to go faster but couldn’t. Then the evil homunculous started talking.
“Well, I should be able to beat a 48. Certainly a 46 should be beaten.”
“Unless of course, you start walking.” “We’re not going to start walking!” “You might as well, you’ve already blown the 42.” “Would you shut up! If I run two sub 7 minute miles I can do it.” “Yeah right. You’re old, fat and slow.” “No. I’m fast. I’m going to win this joggling division. I’m going to pass as many people as I can. If I have to puke, I’m going to do it.” “Dreamer”
I passed the 5 mile marker around the 36 minute mark. Michal would be finishing this race now.
I thought about John Kelly catching up like he did in the London marathon. I couldn’t let that happen again. I pushed a little harder. Each person who went by started to look like John Kelly. He was a speedy phantom pushing at my back.
“You should’ve trained more. You should’ve eaten less. You should’ve tried harder.”
But I joggled on.
Mile 6 - Sprint to the Finish
I started picking people off. One by one. The end of these races is where I shine. It probably means I hold back too much during the race, but I don’t care. I love passing people at the end.
When Soldier Field emerged, I knew the end was near. Crowds lined up on the sides defining the border of the track like in the Tour de France. I heard their noise but was focused and couldn’t understand anything they said.
I turned the corner and saw the finish line. My legs were lead weights but this was my moment. I started sprinting. A guy on my right started sprinting too. He tried to pass, but I pushed harder. So did he. I could imagine him thinking, “I’m not going to get beat by a stupid juggler!” I was thinking, “There’s no way this guy is going to out kick me.”
And so we went, running as hard as we could passing dozens of people but not giving ground to the other. In the end, my foot hit the mat before his. A Phelpsian finish. I felt like puking. Gasping for air, I put my arms and bean bags on my head. My high school track coach always said you shouldn’t lean over when you feel like that. Stand straight up with your arms on your head. It keeps your lungs open.
After a couple of minutes I felt better. I looked for the guy I finished with but never found him. I wanted to shake his hand and thank him for pushing me to finish strong. Perhaps he didn’t feel similarly.
In the end, I came in 412 place (out of 14,000) and had an official time of 44:35. This may be a PR in the 10K but I don’t know.
There was a concert after the race and you were able to stand in the middle of Soldier Field. I thought this was cool so I did it. Did a little juggling out there and my friend Michelle was nice enough to take a couple of photos. (post them later). I didn’t feel much like waiting around for the concert so I walked home. My iPod ran out of power making it a quiet, somber walk.
I hopped the train but missed my transfer and ended up 2 miles from my condo. I planned to take a bus, but there wasn’t one there. Instead of waiting, I walked towards my house to the next bus stop. It was only a block. When there, no bus was in site. So, I walked to the next stop. No bus. I kept walking, looking, and walking. No bus. Stopped to get ice cream (Girl Scout thin mint blizzard). No bus. At the bus station a half block from my house, the bus finally pulled up.
And people wonder why no one wants to take public transportation.
Did you run the Nike 10K Human Race? How did you like it?