When we realized my car needed to head back to Ohio for an E-Check (super fun, right), we immediately started looking for races. Just a few weeks ago I ran at the Brookfield Zoo here in Chicago and had a fantastic experience, so when we discovered A Race for Maggie's Place at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo the same day I'd be in town, it was pretty much a no-brainer. After some debate, we opted for the 5k instead of the 9k (Maggie's Place works with pregnant women, so 9k for 9 months), which in our minds meant we were taking it easy. Yeah. Easy.
Rockin' the legwarmers - much needed!
The day broke chilly - in the mid-40s, and breezy. I learned at the night race last week that layers are crucial, so I packed and dressed accordingly, planning to slowly shed layers until race time. We parked and checked in, then headed into the main race area to find the start and finish lines. As soon as we entered the woodsy area, the temperature dropped sharply! If I was going to shed layers, I was going to either have to wait until RIGHT before the race or I was going to freeze. Dad decided we should just freeze. Thanks, pop! It did at least give me incentive to warm up a little more, but it was so chilly I was having trouble moving - which worried me for the race.
Finally the time came, and we were running! Immediately it warmed up, as we started by running down the biggest hill on the course. Since the course was out-and-back, we'd be finishing the run by coming back UP that big hill. Yup, easy, just as we planned. As usual, my dad was running to win, which made me have to work really hard to keep pace. I hadn't eaten breakfast (well, two EL Fudge cookies don't really count) and was feeling the void in my stomach before we even hit the first mile marker. Dad obligingly slowed a bit, and once we passed the halfway water station to turn back, I was finally getting through the growling stomach pains and easing into a better stride.
We barely noticed any of the exhibits or animals as we cruised through, but we DID get free entry to the zoo afterwards, so we focused more on the run first. That focus really came in handy as we started back up the hill. I got in the zone, pushing pushing pushing, and was almost to the top going strong before - disaster. An older woman had been walk-jogging her way up the hill, but we were about to pass her. She heard us coming, and saw my dad on her right, but didn't see me on her left. She moved to make room for dad (who really had plenty of space, but bless her for trying to be courteous) and moved right in my path with barely enough time to dodge. It broke my concentration, threw me off my course, and took me right out of my game. I almost didn't recover but somehow managed to keep moving. By then dad knew to just go, and he took off for the finish. I gained back some momentum and finished pretty strong - and earned myself a PR!
With a time of 29:08, I actually had cut more than 20 seconds off my previous PR. If I had eaten a smarter breakfast or run a flatter course, or even if I hadn't lost the focus on the last hill, I would easily have broken 29 minutes. Dad didn't come close to any of his best times, but that's because he was waiting for me most of the way. He still managed to take first and set the new course record in his age group, though!
After the race, we spent the next few hours wandering around the zoo. I've been to many zoos, including four of the top ten in the United States (three are in Ohio - none of them are in Cleveland), and one thing that has always seemed pretty consistent regardless of how highly acclaimed the park has been was that the animals have always been lazy. Very little activity, usually just lounging or sleeping... Today, however, was very different. Perhaps it was the lower temperatures as some have suggested, but we believe being there before the park actually opened was the key to seeing the most animal activity. Why? It's *feeding time* in the morning. We actually watched a zoo worker hide chunks of meat all throughout the tiger habitat, then seconds later the cage door rattled and the big cat bounded out and hunted down his meal by stalking through the entire exhibit. COOL.
Pardon the glare on the wolf - she was behind glass.
It wasn't just the tiger, either. Every single operational exhibit had animals out, and all but maybe two had high levels of activity. We saw wolves running all over the habitat, bears pacing and interacting, meerkats playing, and cheetahs - well, the cheetahs were just posing for the cameras, as we got to them towards the end of our experience but after the zoo opened and the crowds had come. I've never in my life had such an incredibly high on-base percentage on a zoo trip! It would have been fun regardless, but watching my dad pace with the bears and stare down the tigers put a huge smile on my face! We carried our enjoyment through a delicious brunch and a very relaxing afternoon. If I hadn't needed to hop in the car early Sunday for the long drive back to Chicago, it would have been the perfect weekend!
Organization: I didn't handle registration for this race, dad took care of that - but neither of us saw any kind of pre-race email. We did register very last-minute but I was still surprised we didn't get any reminder or updates, especially about where to park. The race was starting in the back of the zoo, so parking was in the administration lot which confused us on arrival. We weren't the only ones who parked in the wrong place at first - the little sign by the main lot wasn't quite enough to grab attention and reroute us. Check in was fast and smooth, though, and while the race wasn't chip timed, they had easy-to-read clocks at the finish and plenty of extra hands to grab your bib's tear-tag and record the time accurately. They also had plenty of course marshals and every one of them was VOCAL! Not only with directions, but with much-needed encouragement. THANKS FOLKS!
The course: Cleveland's zoo isn't an award-winner or even much of a news draw these days, but they've done a LOT over the past few years to improve the appearance and style of exhibits. The looping path was very scenic despite a few under-construction areas. Everything was well-marked or well-manned, and the water station was at just the right place for a quick gulp without having to slow or bottleneck with other runners. Only one complaint about the course: HILLS! Chicago has spoiled me. I used to think Cleveland was pretty flat, now it feels like every step is at some kind of incline. Having an actual hill on a course I already would have considered "rolling" compared to what I'm used to was absolutely killer, both mentally and physically. I really need to learn to hill train...
What a great day to "Come Out and Play"!
The swag: I think this race had a $25 registration fee, for which we received a really nice tech shirt (the green one in my photos) and free entry to the zoo! This might be my favorite shirt so far this year (Rosehill's loses due to sizing issues) for the color, the fabric, the fit, and the design. We had ample fruit and snacks available after the race as well, though dad and I only grabbed a banana apiece. The zoo entry was the cherry on top, and we definitely got our money's worth on this trip! Chip timing would have been nice, but with enough attentive helpers, in the end it really didn't even matter.
The bottom line: What a fun morning! A PR is always exciting, but a beautiful course and sharing the experience with family are added bonuses. If this were a local race for me, I would definitely be putting this on next year's calendar, and I would probably do the 9k next time for a little extra challenge. Despite the early cold, conditions and timing were right for a good run, so if next year's Race for Maggie's Place falls on a convenient weekend, I might actually make the trip again just for the run!
Any other PRs out there from this past weekend? Chicago Marathoners?