CHICAGO — My fall focus on running ended in success: I ran a 1:18:51 PR at the Hot Chocolate 15K on Nov. 9, rounding out three PRs in three races in three weeks. It’s a good feeling.
This last race wasn’t all happiness and endorphins, though. The Hot Chocolate has always been really fun for me, but that’s not how it went this year. Don’t get me wrong, I loved stuffing my face full of chocolate at the end of the race, but those 9.3 miles weren’t all that pleasant, and not for the usual reasons, like pain, fatigue or unpreparedness.
It wasn’t the race that wasn’t awesome. It was I who was not awesome.
I love fun runs. I am all about getting people out for an active day, and it makes me so happy to see people of different speeds and shapes out there on a course, pushing themselves and experiencing the satisfaction of crossing a finish line. I’ve encouraged dozens of people to do the Hot Chocolate or a Color Run over the years, because I want everyone to feel like they can enjoy running, being around other positive people and trying something a little outside their comfort zone.
That’s how the Hot Chocolate began — positive, exciting, energizing. There were 40,000 people in this race, and we arrived late (parking issue in downtown Chicago, go figure), so I started in a later corral. I didn’t think it would be a problem, especially because I didn’t want to finish much earlier than the people I was with, some of whom were walking the course. There are some narrow spots in the race, particularly at the beginning, so I wasn’t too surprised to be weaving through the crowds the first 2 miles. Sure, I was going slower than I planned, but I figured I could make up the time.
During the third mile, I heard some girls behind me: “Oh my god, look at this girl. In the gray shirt. ‘Get out of my way, I’m going for a’ — what’s it called? A P… a PR? — ‘I’m trying to get a PR!'” They laughed to themselves. Heck, I laughed to myself, because yes, that was me they were talking about, but I was entertained they would do so when I was right there. I wasn’t wearing headphones. Did they really think I couldn’t hear them?
Yeah, I was moving around other people, trying to find openings so I could get in my rhythm. I was a bit more intense than the people around me, but was that a problem? Their comments stuck with me — am I sucking the fun out of this race by being too intense? I heard other people complaining about runners trying to go fast, that the slower racers were getting elbowed and bumped aside by faster participants. It made me a little sad.
I don’t think anyone was trying to be rude, but I can certainly see how that’s unenjoyable for someone running or walking for fun. It can be hard to feel good about your accomplishments when others blow by you, like it’s no big deal.
I couldn’t get it out of my head. I felt like a jerk, and it’s partially because I was still weaving in and out of the pack to the very end. There wasn’t a single mile where I wasn’t cut off or working my way around someone who was suddenly in front of me, going slower than I was, and I needed to quickly maneuver around him or her. I often said “excuse me,” or “sorry,” and I tried to warn people, “on your left,” but with so many people wearing headphones, I’m sure they didn’t hear me and thought I was being rude.
At one point, when I came upon an aid station, a woman in front of me noticed volunteers handing out Tootsie Rolls. She squealed, “Oooh! Tootsie Rolls!” and sprinted across my path, forcing me to veer right in front of another runner. It was pretty funny, actually, but at the same time, it was just one of several moments when I felt like I was killing the spirit of the race, as if my lack of interest in Tootsie Rolls made me the Grinch of the Hot Chocolate. Hurrumph. Tootsie Rolls? Just let me run, damn it.
I didn’t really think that in the moment, but I think I gave off that vibe.
This is not something anyone else should worry about. I should have started in my assigned corral, around other runners who would race at my pace. I’m not super fast or anything, but I’m also an avid runner, so I should have put myself in the appropriate place to have a fun, challenging race. Instead, I crossed the finish line thinking, “That was great, but I could have done better.” Ugh. That’s not the kind of thing that usually pops into my mind after a race. It felt stupid. Selfish. But for the sake of honesty, I’m admitting that’s how I felt. It was a learning experience. Everyone is entitled to have an enjoyable race, because they signed up, paid for it, chose to be there and spend their morning going from Point A to Point B so they can say, “I ran a race today.” I never want to have a negative impact on that experience.
Yeah, sure, I’m probably overthinking this. The point is, I want everyone to feel welcome at races, because they can be intimidating, but the positive energy I felt at my first races is what keeps me coming back to starting lines. I don’t want to take that high away from someone by being inconsiderate on the course.