Running Fiesta

Writing and running in Austin, TX.

Woe to the Finish-Line Video

Can someone tell me when, exactly, finish-line videos became “the thing”? I feel like I’ve missed quite a few American cultural moments being in Europe – Charlie Sheen’s meltdown, Sarah Palin unwittingly making anti-semitic comments, that girl singing about days of the week on YouTube…hmm, maybe I’ll stay over here – but I also seem to have missed some interesting new developments in running.

For example, timing chips. The disposable shoe-mounted RFID tags that replaced the non-disposable hard plastic version (one of which I paid $30 for way back in 2007), have now themselves been replaced by chips glued right onto the back of your start number. Given the amounts of foam involved in this new style, I’m not convinced it actually saves any waste, so I must assume less-green motives.

  1. They got so tired of people either forgetting their numbers or wearing them on their backs and making themselves utterly unidentifiable in race photos, they finally decided to get these people where it hurts: In the splits.
  2. They were disturbed when the rise in popularity of finish line videos showed thousands of runners making bizarre karate-kick hops over the line in an attempt to make sure the chipped foot crossed first. (I once even read about elites who wore chips on both feet just in case of a photo finish.) Forget martial arts skills, the new advantage in running is the beer gut.

For those who don’t keep up with my exciting travel schedule, I spent last weekend on a whirlwind trip to Chicago for my cousin’s wedding. Moreover, I decided to add to that fun by convincing my dad, my stepmother Karen, and my stepmother’s brother Glenn to sign up for the Fleet Feet Soldier Field 10-Miler the morning of the ceremony. (It was before the ceremony. I’m not actually one of those people who only shows up for the open bar. At least not to a family wedding.)

I had seen this race advertised in the official Chicago Marathon program last fall, and really, who could say no to finishing on the 50-yard line and receiving a commemorative stadium blanket?

I knew it might be a tad ambitious to sign up for a 10-miler a mere 3 weeks after Düsseldorf, but I told myself I would just take it easy and run this thing for fun, either with my dad or Karen – whoever seemed more open to company. Dad, of course, was convinced that all three of us would run together, while his more prescient wife was convinced that we would see each other at the start, finish, and nowhere in between. (It was generally accepted that Glenn would be a solid 30 minutes ahead of this entire discussion.)

The pre-race discourse went something like this:

Dad: “I think we’ll just all run together.”
Karen: “There’s no way I’m running with you. You can run with Chris if you want.”
Dad: “Oh, you’re faster than you think! I’ll just take it easy and we’ll have a nice run along the lakefront.”
Karen: “You’re incapable of taking it easy. There’s no way I’m running with you.”
Chris: “I’m thinking about running 10:30s!”

It turns out they were both right. Karen is indeed much faster than she claims to be, but my attempts to keep up with Dad were to lead to distinct feelings of light-headedness.

It was cold and gray when we arrived at the start around 7am. Thanks to my earlier pace proclamation, we lined up in “Open Corral 2” (my usual “you’re too slow to qualify for anything” start position) near the 10:30/mile pace sign. Karen immediately decided to head for the Port-O-Johns – which I was pretty sure was an elaborate ruse to ditch us before the actual start of the race – and Dad began inching us closer and closer to the 10:00/mile sign.

It’s okay, I thought, I’m not going for a PR this time. 10:00 miles is still slower than Antwerp. I can relax.

Freezing at the start

The race organizers had (as usual) made a big deal out of the need to be at the start line a full half hour before the actual start of the race, which meant that we got to spend a full half hour listening to lots of schmalzy Memorial Day tributes and “inspirational” music like Born in the USA. (We must have just missed God Bless the USA (aka I’m Proud to be an American).)

It’s not that I don’t believe we should be thankful to those who serve in the Armed Forces, and that those who have died while serving deserve to remembered. In Germany, you certainly live with every day reminders of how differently things could have turned out in World War II. It’s more that I think our average soldier is some poor 18-year-old kid just trying to make a life for himself, and the sight of a bunch of pampered runners lining up under banners bearing phrases like “Goal Line Glory” would make him want to puke.

Thank you to our soldiers. I’m sorry we give you such cheesy tributes.

To her likely disappointment, Karen did make it back to us just before the start, where we huddled and froze and wondered why the announcer was telling us where to go for age-group awards when corrals A, B, and C – and therefore the only runners with any real chance of age-group awards – were long gone. With much inching and squeezing past strangers, we meandered toward the start.

The crowds were horrendous. The announcer claimed 15,000 runners had registered for the race, and while that’s less than half the number who ran the Chicago Marathon, it’s quite a lot for a race that spends the majority of its time on the 6-foot-wide bicycle path along Lake Michigan.

Karen managed to lose us the very first time we attempted to pass someone, and following that, Dad decided that it sure would be nice to have mile splits in the single digits. I thought of the copious amounts of wine I intended to consume at the reception that evening and decided to hold on in the name of 50 extra calories.

I felt I might be in trouble around mile 2. Our split for that one was somewhere in the 9:20 range, and I could already feel the nagging worry of I can’t keep this up.

Oh well, nothing to do but push on. I distracted myself the way I always do – marveling at the clothing choices of my fellow runners. There was the girl running in a hooded sweatshirt who I figured must be trying to sweat off a few extra pounds. There were countless Chicago Bears jerseys, followed by a kid in a “Luongo” jersey. “Hey, Vancouver fan!” I gasped. No one even looked. Guess this wasn’t a hockey crowd. Or they were still too depressed about the dismantling of the Blackhawks Stanley Cup-winning squad.

And of course there were the hundreds of people wearing the shirt we received in our race packet just the day before. I always have to wonder about people who put on a never-been-worn-before shirt and head out to race. Don’t you at least want to know where you’ll have blisters?

The real race began at the halfway point. The course was essentially an out-and-back, only the out part was on relatively wide swaths of Lake Shore Drive, and the back was on that aforementioned bike path. The course looked like your arteries after enjoying a Chicago-style hot dog. Sure, you could try to pass by stepping off the paved bike path, but the city had been enjoying unseasonable amounts of rain, and the path was line on each side with deep mud pits that reminded me of one of those Warrior Dash style “races” where you have to soldier-crawl through pits of slop. I stepped in a couple, and tried to limit my passive-aggressive commentary to relatively non-aggressive questions like, “Want to try to get around this pack?”

The worst was when we caught  up to the 10:00/mile pace group leader and her surrounding hordes. They formed a wall of humanity across the path that forced us to slow our pace for a good half a mile until we could find a route around. In retrospect, this reprieve probably kept me from passing out at the end of the race, but it was maddening at the time.

We passed the last of them shortly before mile 8, and shortly after mile 8 Dad found his second wind and made a move that I couldn’t stick with. For the rest of that mile I tried just to keep him in sight, and when I lost him at mile 9, I decided to just give it all I had for the last mile. Soldier Field is a significantly large landmark, so I fixed my eyes on it and told myself, Just get there.

And I have to say that the stadium did make for one of the coolest finish-line experiences ever. The grass on the field felt like running on some sort of spongey cloud, and I briefly envied football players their playing surface. Then again, the sport wouldn’t last long if they were tackling each other on asphalt.

Unfortunately, other than the grass, I didn’t think to enjoy much of my surroundings. It never occurred to me to look up and admire the immensity of the place, or to think what is most be like to play in front of thousands of screaming fans. Instead, I did was I do in the last 200 meters of any race. I gunned it to the finish with laser focus.

Which brings me back to these ridiculous finish-line videos. With the exception of my 5K best, this had been by far the fastest race I ever ran. I took almost a minute off my 10-mile PR from the month before, finishing this time in 1:37:40, or 9:46 average miles. And that sprint to the finish had been an all-out, leave-it-on-the-field effort. Of course in my 29 second finish-line video, in which I first appear at 21 seconds, I look like a slowly-lumbering steam engine. That is until I cross the line. Then I look like I have an unfortunate combination of heat stroke and food poisoning. In my opinion, finish line videos are just like “3D” movies – a so-called technological “improvement” that I have no interest in whatsoever. (I tell you now, the day they make me run a race in those stupid glasses is the day I hang up my running shoes.)

AND…I’m spent.

Despite my Herculean efforts, my overall place was 6385, and 2785th woman. Looking at the age group results confirmed that I was beaten by both a 10-year-old and a 72-year-old (an 8-year-old and a 75-year-old if you include the men).

I don’t mean to complain. I’m absolutely thrilled to be getting faster, and I honestly never thought I’d be running times like this. But I still have to wonder…how do they do it?? I mean really, how is it physically possible to run 4:30 minutes/mile faster than I did (as would be required to win)? And more importantly, how much faster is it possible for me to get? Sometimes I really wish I’d gone into exercise physiology, just to understand the science of it all.

Needless to say, it was a fantastic race and a fantastic weekend. Congrats to Dad on his 1:36 and change, Karen on her 1:42, and Glenn on running something ridiculous like 1:19. And extra-heartfelt congrats to Jason and Carolyn on their beautiful wedding. That wine was delicious.

One comment on “Woe to the Finish-Line Video

  1. Jeanine Swanson
    June 7, 2011

    wowowowowow – I actually managed a 10:17 pace for a 5K recently (huge PR) and my HR was 199 the entire time. Medics at the end were in awe of my ability to not pass out and feel totally "fine" at the finish, even if I couldn't speak. Maybe I do have a few more years of speedwork before keeping up with you. Which makes me ask "how do YOU do it!" You are one of the people I ask that about! love it – keep it up, running machine!

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This entry was posted on June 5, 2011 by in PR, races, travel.
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