My Saturday race, the Four Stars trail run, had gone well, and I had recovered with surprisingly little soreness (perhaps thanks to MeStrength), so I woke up feeling pretty excited for another run. Then I went outside. It was CHILLY! Saturday morning had been so hot, I had already forgotten that fall is here already! Thankfully, I had thrown a few extra layers into my bag the day before, just in case, and I was prepared for the cool breezy morning. The sun was out, for the most part, but with the wind constantly blowing it was unlikely the day would turn much warmer.
All smiles despite the temperature!
I've never been to the Brookfield Zoo, but I've heard many wonderful things. The course for the 5k was completely within zoo grounds, which promised to be a very unique race experience for me. Registration and race day packet pick-up was in the outer parking lot, and was very well managed; I had arrived over an hour before the start time anticipating long lines but was able to pick up my number and shirt in less than five minutes! That gave me plenty of time to find Mary and meet her exciting running buddies, including marathon runner John with whom I became fast friends. You'll actually see more about both John and Mary in the coming weeks: Mary is truly my best running buddy and is rapidly becoming a close friend, and John is a truly inspirational runner with a great story to share.
The start area (which would soon become the finish area as well) had a lot happening. There was a gear check and several sponsors' tents, as well as food and beverages. I managed to snag a drawstring backpack and water bottle from the Walgreens tent: you can never have enough bags or water bottles! Whoever was MCing the start line was excellent about communicating clear expectations, and kept everyone updated on when to anticipate a start. We headed to the start corrals with about ten minutes before the gun, and originally planned to line up in the ten minute mile section, but John would definitely be running faster, and Mary and I decided we could push ourselves a bit, so we slid over to the nine minute corral - and then suddenly we were running!
We lost track of speedy John very quickly, but we were still moving at a good clip to start. Mary uses her phone app to keep track of her pacing, and apparently we were at about 7:30 min/mile early on, which was waaaaaay fast for us! It was a struggle to adjust, especially since we had started with so many faster runners. We got it down to something like ten minute miles, but we had pushed so hard early that the second half of mile two was torture. By the time we hit the water station at the start of mile three, Mary was starting to slow, and I was seriously considering backing it down pretty hard.
Instead, though, we gutted it out through that third mile. Neither of us was about to make a PR, but we were not going to let the run beat us! It was definitely a struggle, but when we saw that three mile flag, and I knew the finish line was just around the corner, that competitive edge grabbed hold of me and I TOOK OFF. I passed at least 20 people in that last tenth of a mile! One runner tried to fight back, and hurtled around me less than ten feet from the finish line - only to have her phone slip out of her hand and skid under my feet! I managed to avoid crushing it, but she stopped and doubled back, and I got to pass her a second time. I'll admit, I definitely got a little pleasure out of that - not that her phone fell, but that she didn't manage to beat me. Mary finished just a little later, we found John, grabbed bananas and Gatorade, and then headed back into the zoo!
Not a PR, but still a pretty solid run.
The course had taken dozens of turns through the entire zoo, but we hadn't really had a chance to LOOK at what we were passing while we were running. There had been a zebra, a few giraffes, and maybe a rhino that we'd seen from the race, but I was so thrilled to have the chance to walk around the zoo after the race, especially with Mary who enjoys zoos as much as I do! We spent the next couple hours there, and saw a LOT of animals out and active. Overall it was a wonderful way to spend the morning. Having the opportunity to spend time with Mary that wasn't at a running pace was great. I'm still building my own community here in Chicago, and while borrowing my husband's friend network is a good start, having my own friends with similar interests is incomparable.
Enough of my sentimental babbling - let's break down the race, eh?
Organization: Lightning speed packet pick-up, clear communication, quick and efficient gear check, and plenty of smiling volunteers made for a warm welcome in the chilly morning. I was very impressed with everything, from the number of port-o-potties to the freshness of the bananas! Couldn't have asked for more - and for the low cost of the race (I think I paid $35 for a last-minute sign-up) I think the organizers did an astonishingly good job! There's a good reason the race attracts thousands of runners and non-competitive walkers.
Such a great place to visit, even if you're not here to run!
The course: Completely within zoo grounds - which meant lots of looping around. This is definitely not an ideal course for someone looking to PR, but it IS a great course for scenic running! Brookfield Zoo is truly gorgeous, and actually seeing animals on the run (for anyone who had the energy and spare breath to look) is such a cool and unique feature for a race. There was a digital clock at each mile marker, which I thought was a great motivator and a nice touch. My only complaint would be the water station at the end of the second mile. Due to the nature of the course pathing, there simply isn't much width to make an efficient water station, so people were bottlenecking a little. We got through it relatively unscathed, but it could have been a little smoother with more space.
The swag: When I first considered doing the race, before I knew Mary was participating, I think I had originally opted out because I didn't think the race had enough goodies for the travel involved (Brookfield is about an hour south of me). All that was offered was a non-technical t-shirt - but I had failed to realize you also received zoo admittance as well, which was more than worth the very low entry fee. I'm not ashamed to admit I consider the non-exercise takeaways associated with the cost of a race, but when there are so many to choose from all year, you have to have SOME way to eliminate options! In the end, I'm very glad Mary talked me into the race, because the chance to wander the zoo with a good friend was definitely well worth the entry fee. Professional photographers were on the course, and you could purchase photos later, but I have yet to find a way to search through all of the event photos. The only way I know to find them is to put in your number on the results page, and see what they've tagged as you, and those tags are not incredibly accurate. Instead, most of my event photos came from myself and Mary - thanks girl!
The bottom line: Mary told me the Brookfield Zoo 5k is considered one of the best races in the entire country. I'm pretty sure I can see why! Plus, I researched the cause a little, and any animal conservation fund is something I will proudly support. You'll be seeing me a the zoo next year, for sure!
Don't forget you can still enter to win some MESTRENGTH! This stuff kept me moving through my insanely busy weekend, check out my review and try some for yourself! Giveaway runs through 9/30.