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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Race Review: BTN Big 10K

The BTN Big 10K holds a very special place in my heart. Not only because as a grad student at Northwestern, I get the opportunity to celebrate the Big 10 conference and my status as a Wildcat, but also because this race symbolizes my runnerversary.

You may have seen me use this word on Twitter in the past few days. What does it mean? It's the anniversary of when I started running. In other words, it is the anniversary of the day that I changed my life forever.

After the 2012 BTN Big 10K (5K)
One year ago, I heard radio ads for the inaugural BTN Big 10K, and having already spent a few months in grad school, I thought it sounded fun. I signed up for the 5K -- the first race for which I had ever voluntarily registered. I was still about 30 lbs overweight, but was determined to do it.

Come race day, I'd never run before, but I vowed to try to jog as much of it as I could. I finished the 5K in 41:09, and was totally exhilarated.

After a few days, once my soreness subsided, I wanted more. I wanted to run. I bought a Couch to 5K program for my phone and the rest, as they say, is history.

This year, I was pleased to find out that the Big Ten Network had indeed decided to make this an annual event, and I signed up for the 10K race only hours after registration opened on the website.

Friday night, now a seasoned runner, I did as any nerdy runner would do. I laid out my clothes for the next morning, down to the socks, and meticulously packed my race bag (selecting a bright yellow bag that I'd gotten from a previous race so as to make gear check easy).

Before the 2013 BTN Big 10K
Saturday morning, I hopped on the first el train downtown (literally, the first train of the day around 5:30am), and joined the pack of people maneuvering to the new start/finish location near the Adler Planetarium. I was seeded in the F corral, but the corraling was a little disorganized, with people jumping flimsy barricades and stone fences when entrances to corrals got packed too tightly with people.

The corrals, in my opinion, were still a little too over-full for the size of the course, and Mile 1 was largely spent bumping into people. The lakefront trail is not a wide avenue, and much of the race I felt boxed in and stuck by the swell of people. I think my pace probably suffered as such.

I ended up being about two and half minutes over my goal finish time, finishing with a 59:19. I wasn't happy about my time, but I did also hit a big wall at Mile 5 with a problem that seems to keep happening.

This particular time, I was breathing fine, my heart rate was fine, but yet, suddenly, it felt like my lungs were in a vise. I could still breathe just fine, but the chest pressure of course made me panic, which made me then feel even more like my chest was being crushed. It was a big vicious cycle. Does anyone else experience anything like this? If so, how do you combat it, distract yourself, or at least calm yourself down so you don't end up making it worse? This has happened my last two 10Ks and it's really caused issues for my times, not to mention my sanity!

My own problems aside, while I was happy that the race had such a great response and I believe the organizers said they tripled their registrations from the previous year, I think that the literal width of the course is just too small for that many people.

Shiny medal!
There was a huge crush of people after crossing the finish line as people filed by to claim their medals (which, however, are really sweet and shiny -- see left) and it was literally like herding cattle.

The organizers do have to consider how a bottleneck venue will perform with as many entrants as there were. It was a bit of a mess as people (very) slowly shuffled to claim snacks, water, Gatorade, and bananas, then proceeding to the medals.

Of course, all in my corral had the same gear check station, sectioned by bib numbers (of which all in the corral were of the same bib range). So as lines were scant at other gear check locations post-race, since of course my entire corral finished at basically the same time, there was a huge line to pick up gear at my section.

I picked up my free school sunglasses (thankfully I didn't go to Illinois -- that sunglasses line was longer than the free beer line, whereas Northwestern's tent crowd was nonexistent). After picking up and guzzling my free beer and my free chicken sausage, I was about done with the crowds and was just so tired. I ended up stopping for breakfast at a nearby breakfast place on Michigan, but then headed home.

Do I regret doing this race with those... disappointments in mind? Absolutely not.

My runnerversary is a reminder of how far I've come and how much my life has changed in the past year. In a way, this race is responsible for my entire transformation. I'm a runner now. I have my good and bad races and my pace isn't perfect, but I am a runner.

BTN Big 10K
July 27, 2013
Chicago, IL


  1. Happy Runniverary!!! Like our running experience, races will grow up to and get better!

  2. Firstly, that medal is BADASS. Now I want to get out to that race.

    Secondly, for the breathing issue... this was a huge hurdle for me when I started going over 10 miles, and for me it was a combination of things. 1. Do you race/train with an electrolyte source, or just water? It could be an issue of cramping/stitching due to electrolyte depletion, especially if you're just doing water without something to replenish what you're loosing in sweat. 2. Have you tracked your breathing patterns as you run? It's harder to do when you're racing b/c of the excitement, which is why my first two half marathons I really struggled with it, but if you can be cognizant of what your breathing pattern is *all the time*, it can help you from wigging out too much then having the issues during longer races.

    Also... you've inspired me to go sign up for the Pittsburgh half marathon next year, because it's *my* runnerversary and I've not missed it in 5 years... even though I promised myself with going back to school I wouldn't travel to races any more. I can't decide if I should thank you or not :P


    1. Thanks, Jessi, that is helpful. As far as races go, I generally go for water at the first station, then once it's past like 3 miles or so I go for Gatorade. When I train, I actually keep a water bottle full of watered down Gatorade (about 1 part Gatorade, 2 parts water) so I'm not oversaturating myself. I'm just concerned since I have a 15K next Sunday! I've never run that far before so I know my nerves are going to be working overtime. Luckily since I have no precedent in that distance, whatever I get will be a PR so I won't be trying to "beat" any one time or anything!

      And um, you're welcome? ;)

    2. No problem... the hydration doesn't sound like it's a problem, then, more finding your breathing pace. I remember reading this years ago... it kind of helps: But more than that is learning what breathing pace is best for you, then learning how to run at it all the time. For me, it's 3 breaths for every footfall, with the obvious exception of hills and sprints. It's become so ingrained into my running that I've really not ever had breathing issues, even when I'm running full marathons, and could probably continue on to races like 50Ks if I could get my legs under me. And good thinking on the mindset for the 15K... just go out and enjoy it, then use it as a springboard to continue improving :) Have a great run!

  3. Congrats on your runnerversary! I also ran the 10K this year and thought it was fun but I agree that it was way too crowded. My boyfriend and I couldn't get into the front corrals and we were passing people the whole time. Hopefully next year's race is better organized. The race this year was also a friend of mine's first race ever (she did the 5k). She enjoyed it and wants to do more races so I'll be excited to celebrate her runnerversary next year!

    Here's my race recap:

  4. Happy runnerversary! One year is a big accomplishment. I hope we can meet up at another race!

  5. Sounds like an awesome race (cool medal too). I've not had anything like the lung thing, but it sounds a bit scary. Do diaphragm breathing exercises help? Do these things happen when you're running at your regular pace as well?

  6. Congratulations on finishing the race. Awesome finish time too!!