Why do I subject myself to such harsh conditions? Why do I live in Chicago?
Because no where else can you run a 10K along the frozen lakefront in observance of Casimir Pulaski Day and get fresh pierogis from a pierogi food truck at the finish.
I love this town.
Brief history lesson, as those outside of Illinois are probably thinking, "Who in the hell is Casimir Pulaski and why does he have his own day?" Casimir Pulaski immigrated to the United States from Poland to fight in the Revolutionary War. Despite barely speaking English, he rose to the rank of Brigadier General and is most well known for his exceptional training and organization of the cavalry he led. For this, he is known as "the father of the American cavalry." He even saved George Washington's life in battle by successfully detecting and strategizing a counterattack of a British ambush at Brandywine. In cities with large Polish populations, of which Chicago is definitely one, Pulaski is a pretty big deal.
So, Illinois is the only state to observe Casimir Pulaski Day as a state holiday. Some cities elsewhere in the country celebrate a city holiday, but Illinois' commemoration is the only one that is state-wide. When I was a kid, we used to get Pulaski Day off from school. Alas, that holiday was taken away from us when I was in middle school, but Chicago Public Schools (and state/city government bodies) are closed on the first Monday of March.
This year, Casimir Pulaski Day is Monday, March 3. Thus, the inaugural running of the Pulaski 10K took place on the Saturday prior, March 1.
The race was a tad complicated by something I observed driving on Lake Shore Drive headed north to Montrose Harbor, the start/finish of the race. A massive car accident had several lanes blocked on the Fullerton Avenue Bridge. At the moment I passed the multitude of fire engines and ambulances, a person on a gurney was being wheeled up to the doors of the waiting ambulance.
Apparently (based on my estimation from tire treads in the snow), a car had careened off the road and crashed into a portion of the lakefront trail beyond the bridge wall separating the roadway from the pedway. In fact, as we runners crossed the Fullerton Bridge a few miles into the race, a whole, smashed car door leaned against the wall of the pedway bridge.
The race crew actually helped police and other emergency crews with the cleanup effort, as the crash left a large puddle of transmission fluid square in the middle of the lakefront trail on which we were supposed to run. They sanded over it and told us to avoid that particular spot of pavement. Due to the accident, the race start was delayed by 10 minutes. I just hope everyone from the crash is OK.
Despite the bone-chilling wind and uneven packed snow in the first half-mile of the race, I was in high spirits for the first half of the race. Nearing the end of Mile 1, there was a woman running in the opposite direction on the path. I noticed her immediately because of her odd stride. Then I realized that she was a blade runner. Her left leg was amputated probably mid-thigh, and she ran with a blade prosthesis, and with a smile on her face. The image lifted my spirits so much. I thought about how lucky I was to be able to run as I can when there are people out there that do not have two legs to run upon and do anyway, and happily.
Shortly thereafter, I hit the first water station. The cup that was handed to me was full of Gatorade slushie. The cold temperatures had almost completely frozen the water station refreshments. I couldn't help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. I jaunted along for the next two miles, thankful that feeling returned in my fingers once I got running, and happy as a clam that I was out running, and evidently having a grand old time doing it.
I soldiered on, despite hitting a wall at around Mile 5 that caused me to have to walk about three times to slow down my heart rate, which I felt getting just a little too high for comfort. I ran for the last mile, unwilling to let myself stop, because if I stopped, I would only be done that much later, leaving me in the cold longer. I also wanted desperately to do better than my last 10K, which was my worst time at the distance.
Thankfully, after an incident in which I nearly broke my ankle stepping wrong in that aforementioned half-mile of uneven packed snow on the way back, I beat my February 10K time by about a minute, despite the tough conditions and sacrificing a toenail to the running gods. I crossed the finish line in 1:07:20 and collected my medal and a cup of hot chocolate.
Then, being the Chicagoan I am, I got in line for the Pierogi Wagon.
They were amazing, and only the second most Polish thing I'd done in the day, despite not even being Polish (I'm of German and British decent, actually). But the race and the day in general really reminded me of what is is to be Chicagoan, and what it is to be a runner.
I did probably one of the most Chicagoan things ever -- running along the lakefront in frigid temperatures, and doing it for Casimir Pulaski and pierogis. I also remembered what it is to be a runner. Seeing the blade runner woman and drinking a frozen Gatorade, grinning like mad as I ran, throwing my arms in the air with a victorious "WOOO!" at a cameraman, I remembered how important running is. I remembered how running can make me feel like hell, but it can also elate me to the point of smiling like an idiot while running in inhumane temperatures along an icy trail.
That's what running is about. It's about doing what seems insane to other people. About challenging yourself to the extreme. About doing what makes you happy, and no one else. About achieving greatness, even if it's only greatness to your standards. That's really all that matters.
March 1, 2014