Running Around Illinois: Brookfield
Run for 102 Race to the Finish
I’m trying out a new idea, one which has been on the backburner for a while. I might keep it going for a while, I might move it to a page on my website, I might just try it a couple times and everybody says zzzzzzzzzzzzz and that’ll be it.
A few months ago I did a couple of Phthursday Musings on the “Running Around Illinois” theme. So what I’m going to try is writing about every timed race I do, some of it being around the running, some of it being about the place, some of it being about whatever caught my interest in the experience.
April 30, 2022
Run for 102 Race to the Finish 5K
Brookfield (Cook County)
Chip Time: 27:30
I didn’t plan it this way, but as it turned out, the first timed race I did this year wound up being in my own neighborhood, at one point running within a block of my house.
Run for 102 is an annual 5K / Fun Run which rotates between the schools in our district. This year, it was our turn. Congress Park is my son’s school, and it so happens that I’m the PTO President. My son ran the 1 mile at 8:00 and I ran the 5K at 9:00. Naturally, it started raining right at 8:00. But the heavy rain held off until later in the day and the race went really well overall.
The 5K / Fun Run combo is a common one, and I like it generally, because then he has something to do too. In the past what I’ve liked most is when there would be a shorter run for him and a 5K for me and when it was all done we’d go to brunch.
It so happened that our course was a box, vew few turns overall. For a run through a neighborhood it may actually have been the simplest course I’ve been on. It also helped that I knew all the streets, so I could kind of tell myself little things like Hey, just push on to the turn, then slow down a bit.
My goal was modest, 30:00. It’s been 6 months since I’d done a timed race and although I’ve done treadmill running at the gym, I haven’t done a full 5K since the fall and really didn’t know how various joints would hold up.
Without exactly trying to, I wound up starting near the front of the pack. This in turn led to me starting faster than I think I expected. I use the Map My Run app, and it recorded my first mile at 8:30, which for me today is pretty good. If I’m ever going to get back to my ultimate goal of beating 25:00 again, that first mile would have to be at more like 7:40, but I was pretty pleased when I saw that split time.
After about a half mile, I was in a weird spot, where there was a pack significantly ahead of me, and one significantly behind me, but almost nobody very close to me. At first I’d been trying to pace myself against some people but they were probably running the first mile at under 8:00 so I wasn’t keeping up.
It was at maybe .75 miles that a girl I’d passed at one point caught back up to me, and asked if I’d be her running partner. I’ve run a lot of races at this point, and this was the first time anything like that had ever happened. I’ll call her A. I guessed she was about 13. I never talk while running (I can barely hold my breath as is!) but we exchanged notes: what our time goals were, how it was her first 5K ever.
Typically when I run a 5K, my first mile is fastest, my second mile trails off, and my third mile is about the same as my second, but sometimes much worse if I’m really losing steam. This race, though, because I had a running partner, we were pacing each other throughout the second mile. I think I ran it a little slower than I otherwise might have - the app clocked it at 9:40 - but I wasn’t dragging when I got to the 2 mile mark. Somewhere around 2 or 2.25 miles, I had more stamina, and she clearly needed to hold back, so we split around there. The last mile and some change came in at 9:20, I think it’s been four years since I ran a third mile like that.
When I run on my own, I have earbuds, and most typically am listening to some sort of fast-beat, electrified rock. During a race, though, I forego the earbuds, and just accept whatever ambient noise there is. This race was super unusual for me in that every so often one of the handful of people cheering would be cheering for me specifically, so that was cool. But usually the audio is blotted out around me. The sound I focus on is that of my own breathing. If I can keep it up, it’s in through the nose for three beats, and out through the mouth for three beats.
I also tend not to focus very much on my immediate surroundings. I’ve run 5Ks and 10Ks in neighborhoods, parks, parking lots, forests… the forests tend to be the most inspiring, the parking lots the least inspiring, but once I’m running, I don’t think so much about where I am, except relative to the finish. This was mostly true this time even though I was running in my own neighborhood, seeing familiar houses.
Running alongside A for the middle of the race changed the dynamic some. There was an additional presence to extend some mental focus to, and while I don’t think I quite realized it at the time, it made the location even less visceral… I actually think I might have relaxed slightly as a result, not physically but mentally.
When I turned the corner toward the finish, I guessed my time was around 29 minutes, and was baffled to see the clock. This wasn’t the first time I’d been surprised by a race clock, but given the totality of circumstances, this might have been my best time relative to expectations.
I’m 45. I’ve gained at least 15 pounds since the pandemic lockdown began. I got some races in last fall, and even broke 28:00, but there’s been that kind of existential dread in my mind about getting older and heavier and slower and a lot of other ers.
But I ran 27:30 in my first real run of the year, without having done more than treadmill work, and while that was only good enough for 12th out of 24 in my age group, that’s a statistic I actually find aspirational. I believe I can, and will, break 25:00 again, which I haven’t done since I was… not in my 40s.
And that, as much as anything, is why I think I finally sat down to write about it all. It’s an opportunity to combine multiple things: weird places around Illinois, random observations, and chronicling the pursuit of a difficult but attainable tangible personal goal - one which, I dare say, is attainable for all of you as well, if it so happened to be your goal!
And it was nice to kickstart the quest close to home. I feel a confidence I didn’t feel middle of the week when the combined weight of work, crazy schedules, and multiple broken major appliances was really not conducive to positive thinking. It’s a confidence I don’t need to reach out too far to grasp - it is literally all around my own neighborhood.