I am one in a half-million.
At least, according to the Nike public relations team I am. Nike claimed about 500,000 people from more than 30 countries took part in the largest one-day run ever, the Nike+Human Race 10K. The global race raised funds for three charities: the Lance Armstrong Foundation, which fights cancer; NineMillion.org, a United Nations refugee agency; and the World Wildlife Fund. Besides knowing some of my race fee went to a good cause, it was pretty darned cool to be a part of this mass of humanity all running in the “same” race.
Here’s a mile-by-mile report:
While walking to the start line, I saw a young woman smoking a cigarette with a T-shirt that said “Dopey.” Got that one right!
The run started alongside Soldier Field, where the Chicago Bears play. The great thing about this is the stadium was open and we runners could use its facilities — no Port-a-Potties! I arrived about 45 minutes before the unique 6:30 p.m. start time. One thing about Nike — they know marketing. They had a large screen set up by the start line and were showing clips from the other Human Race events that had already occurred in Europe and Asia. (Of the 25 city runs, only 3 had yet to begin: Chicago and Austin, Texas, were starting at the same time, leaving Vancouver as the last race.)
To ensure everyone got the point that this was a Nike event, every runner was given a red technical T-shirt imprinted with their race number — no pin-on bib numbers here! It was a fun sight to look out across the start area and see some 14,000 people in identical tops.
In the 45 minutes I was milling about before the race, I must’ve heard this announcement at least a dozen times: “Seed yourself according to your expected pace. There are signs in the start corral indicating pace times. To make the race enjoyable for everyone, line up in the area that’s closest to your expected pace.”
Mile 0 – Start Line
Dathan Ritzenhein, the top U.S. finisher in the men’s marathon in the Beijing Olympics (9th), was on hand to give us all some words of encouragement before the start. Wayne Messmer, a living Chicago icon, gave his always stirring rendition of the national anthem. Chills. One bad thing about the course was a few “choke points” that were too small for the number of runners trying to get through them. The first of those was at the start line, which forced runners from a two-lane road down to about one lane’s width. Bad planning, Nike. To address that, the organizers started groups according to their pace time (remember those announcements?). The first group was Sub-8:00 (8:00 per mile or faster). I pondered starting in this group, but ultimately chose to go with the 8:00 group because I’d had a tough 12-mile run on a hilly course the day before. I wasn’t sure I could keep a sub-8:00 pace.
Mile 1: pace 7:21
Within 1/2 mile, I passed a slew of people who were running at a 10:00 or slower pace. People, heed the announcements! Are you too good or too proud to admit you’re just not that fast?! This really had my irritated. Fortunately, about 3/4 into the race, I spotted examples of one of the greatest inventions to hit the running scene in the last decade: running skirts. For whatever reason, women seem to be torn right down the middle on whether running skirts are “cute” or ugly. Men, on the other hand, almost universally praise them. They’re sexy!
Mile 2: pace 7:09
While most of the course was along the beautiful lakefront, one nearly half-mile stretch was in the bowels of the McCormick Place convention center. There was a smoky haze down there that made Beijing seem pristine. Fortunately, once we emerged from this man-made tunnel, our lungs were treated to a crisp lake breeze.
Every race has signs indicated mile marks, but I’ve never seen a 10K that also marks every 2.5K. That was a great addition. It simultaneously brought to mind the international aspect of this race, since nearly every other country in the world uses the metric system, but it also made the race seem to fly. Since 2.5K is about 1.5 miles, I was quickly ticking off in my head “One quarter done. One half done. Three quarters done.” It was a great mental boost.
Mile 3: pace 7:09
A group of volunteers from Chicago2016.org, the committee that’s working to bring the summer Olympics to Chicago, lined the street to cheer us on. I slipped to the right edge of the street and high fived about 30 volunteers, urging them to “Bring it home!” while they shouted for me and the other runners. While most of these cheerleaders simply stuck a hand out for us to slap, one guy, seeing my gusto, attempted to execute a “popper” high five, starting with his hand way down by his waist and thrusting it up above his head. Dude, two things: 1) it’s hard to hit a moving target when I’m moving at about 8.5 mph, 2) if our hands do hit at 8.5 mph, it’ll feel like a baseball bat smacking your hand.
Mile 4: pace 6:50
Just beyond the 3-mile mark, we made two 90-degree left-hand turns, which took us off of Lake Shore Drive and onto the lakefront bike & running path. This whole mile was inspiring. To begin, as soon as I made the turns, I could see wave after wave of red shirts both on the path ahead and coming at me from where I just was. Then, once we cleared a small grove of trees, burst forth a fantastic view of the fabulous Chicago skyline! Three-quarters of the way into this mile, I spied a prey up ahead — a runner I simply had to catch. The Joggler. This guy runs while juggling 3 balls! Keep in mind I’m running at 7:00 per mile pace and it has taken me nearly 5 miles to catch this guy, so he’s moving pretty good. When you’re racing, there are some things you never want to happen: getting beat by somebody pushing a jog stroller, or a 70-year-old, or a joggler. I put the hammer down.
Mile 5: pace 7:07
Now that I had humiliated the Joggler, I could back off the pace a bit. This 7:07 mile actually felt almost slow. But halfway through this mile, I started to get tired. I repeated in my head “You’re strong. You’re having a great race,” and focused on catching one runner ahead of me, then the next, and the next. As we passed by on the outside of McCormick Place, I shouted out to two of my fellow ACS Charity Runner committee members who had come out to cheer for friends. (Come on, guys, I think I out-yelled you.)
Mile 6: pace 7:13
Almost home. The spaceship shape of Soldier Field is looming ever larger. We pop back onto the street. Lots of people lining both sides. Some guy upwind is smoky a nasty-ass cigar — just what I need while gasping for air to finish strong. Where’s the finish line? I should see it. How long is this last 1.2 miles?!
Mile 6.2 – the Finish: pace 1:16
We made a hard left turn and there’s the finish! One long block away! Some young guy flies by me. My usual finishing kick is nowhere to be found. I’m running as hard as I can. Done!
Instead of a medal like is given at many big races, I’m handed a red tube that’s about the same size as a relay baton. Funny … 14,000 runners are in this race and I see fewer dropped batons than from the U.S. Olympic relay teams. The tube contains an interesting bracelet thing that doesn’t have the race name, date or even the Nike logo. Unusual. I’ll never wear it. Instead of spending the money on this, they should’ve sent it to the charities.
FINAL OUTCOME: 44:07 — A NEW PR FOR ME!
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