Racers have two distance options: a 3 nautical mile course (3.45 miles) and a 10 NM course (11.5 miles). I had originally registered for the shorter distance, but once I learned I had won an entry to the Magnificent Mile half marathon (now less than a week away), I switched my registration to the longer course. The idea was to have a no-excuses, money-down, have-to-get-back-to-my-car reason to run such a long distance, as I'd never before run more than maybe four miles in a single go.
I was extremely nervous the night before, and my race day did not get off to a good start, so I didn't have the confidence I would have liked when the race began. Fortunately, I met some really amazing people who not only calmed my nerves before the race, but also ran the entire distance with me, and then helped me get the rest of my day back on track despite my morning setbacks!
Me (left, obvi) and my new friends Lois (top) and Lynne (bottom).
We took off, and immediately Lois and I eased into a relaxed pace and launched into a great conversation that lasted from start to finish. I attempted to track our entire race on my phone, but sadly my five year old device is on its last legs, and the battery gave out at about mile eight. I do know that we stayed at a pretty consistent pace through the entire race, right around 12:30 miles, though we slowed for a bit somewhere between miles seven and nine as military vehicles at some of the aid stations blasted some music to get runners pumped for the finish. For me, this triggers an unfavorable heart pattern reaction thanks to a rare condition called hyperacusis, and I was forced to slow down until we were able to get away from the thudding stimulus.
Though the entire course was both beautiful and interesting, winding first through the old Fort Sheridan, then making its way north along a shaded woodsy bike path before turning into the Naval Station Great Lakes military base, my favorite part of the course was the Hero's Hill. Sure, it was tough to run up a big hill at mile ten, but I barely noticed the extra effort thanks to some fantastic volunteers who spent their morning running up the hill with exhausted runners, then hustling back down to meet the next wave. The man who ran with Lois and I (sadly, I do not remember his name) had a great sense of humor, and we went through a variety of pose ideas for the photographer at the top of the hill. I settled on a jumper, and even got the photographer to give me a countdown to ensure we captured the right moment - but somehow, in the hundreds of event photos posted, my Hero's Hill jumper did not make it into the mix. I'm bummed, but I do believe this excellent thumbs-up is right after the hill too:
The "Hill" sign behind me was a big clue.
After that hill, finishing the race was a breeze, and I managed to cross the finish line about a minute under my 2.5 hour goal! I also learned that I set my goal a little easy (having no idea that my body would be capable of running for 11 straight miles) and that I had plenty left in my tank to have run at a faster pace. I'll be taking that valuable information into the half marathon on Sunday for sure!
Down the final stretch and crossing the finish! I made it!
Enough of my personal experience, let's get down to brass tacks here...
Organization: Very well-put-together event! With a course that was not out and back, nor a closed loop, Fort 2 Base did a great job handling shuttles from the parking lot to the start line (big thanks to the bus drivers who had were great, genuine people). Race day packet pick-up was very smooth, as they only distributed race bibs at the start line, and had any race day pick-ups retrieve their shirts after the race. Gear check was quick and efficient, both dropping off at the start line (they bused the bags back) and picking up at the finish line. There were volunteers EVERYwhere, which is always great to see, especially when they're all so excited! Dozens of people manned the aid stations (well stocked and at every mile, excellent) and were always on the ball; military personnel were sprinkled along the course giving runners splits and encouragement; and the festival tents sported some serious manpower to keep everything moving apace and well stocked. I was very impressed, even though the volunteers towards the end of the race couldn't seem to agree on how much farther the course would take me! I was also particularly impressed with the naval band that played in the festival area - these guys were REALLY GOOD!
Great festival, great volunteers, great band... Great race!
The Course: As I mentioned before, the course was gorgeous. The humidity was going to be a problem no matter what, but running the majority of the race in the shade really helped keep participants cool - as did the great aid stations at every mile, providing both water and Gatorade to all runners. The bike path occasionally had some bike traffic, and there were some communication mishaps that nearly resulted in collisions, but the route was straightforward, and any direction changes were staffed and communicated clearly. Every mile was marked - but for a race measured in nautical miles, it was a little confusing to see the signs indicating regular miles without knowing that's what they were! Lois and I assume early on that we were seeing the nautical distance, only to find out around mile ten that the signs were actually regular miles and we still had a ways to go! I loved looping around the base, and really enjoyed that hill (see above); I definitely think the course amenities and route helped make the event so successful and enjoyable.
Swag: Okay, I admit it, part of the draw to this race early on was the bling. What can I say, I'm a sucker for medals! And this one is BIG. Bold and shiny, and really heavy, it's definitely my favorite medal so far (but I only have four, we'll see how long Fort 2 Base stays on top). Participants in the shorter course received medals patterned after dog tags, which were also very cool. The shirt is pretty neat too. It's not quite tech material, but it's not cotton, and I'm a big fan of the "Train Race Conquer" slogan on both the shirt and the medal. The race also provides free event photos afterwards, and though my two posed shots (on Hero's Hill and with Lois at the finish) mysteriously vanished, there were still a LOT of great shots of everyone. A very generous move on the part of race organizers!
I think the absolute highlight of this event's swag, though, was the mind-blowing post-race food tent. As we had started the last leg of the run, down the main road entering the base, we'd seen all of the early finishers carting big cardboard boxes of food out to the shuttles. I saw entire boxes of Cheerios and tons of other food in the piles, and worried there wouldn't be any left for us back-of-the-packers. All these worries were erased upon stepping into the food tent: piles upon piles of snacks, from full bags of rice cakes and pretzel bites, to stacks of granola and energy bars, to pouches of energy beans and breakfast cookies. Every runner was being handed a big box to fill, and though we had finished very late in the pack, it was clear that there was MORE than enough for us to stuff in our boxes without remorse. And, I assure you, stuff we did. Maybe this is normal for longer races, but I'd never experienced a feeding frenzy like this after any of my previous 5k races. I could definitely get used to food tents like this one...
Race packet, food tent, and 3NM race medals.
Bottom line: I'm doing this next year. Hopefully, I can snag a race ambassador position for Fort 2 Base, because I'd LOVE to advocate for this race. A very exciting experience that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for something just a little different from your regular city races, run by people who deserve our respect, admiration, and gratitude. A must-run for Chicago area racers!
A special thanks to all the military personnel who helped make Fort 2 Base happen - both for your race day efforts, and for your service to our country - you are the people who make America great.
Photo credits to Gameface Media for most photos. The images of me at the starting line, and of my shirt and bib, are my own.