CARA Beginning Running Program and Chicago 10K Race Recap

After a nice weekend of good food and good friends (more on that in my next post), I woke up to a nasty sinus infection on Monday and have finally gotten myself together enough to finally post my recap of the CARA Beginning Running program and the Chicago 10K, as promised.  So without further adieu :)…

CARA Beginning Running Program – Group Leader Recap:

What can I say, the last 8 weeks have been a total blast!  As a group leader for the 5K group, I had a unique opportunity to not only make a new friend, but to help this friend reach an important goal and even surpass her own running related expectations.

When I first met “S” on our first Thursday night group meet-up, I was excited to help someone discover their love for running and honestly, it felt good to “give back”.  At the same time, I was incredibly nervous that I would be holding her back since I’m not even close to being considered a “fast” runner.  I was relieved when “S” indicated she currently ran a 13 min/mile pace, but after our first run together, I knew she had the capability to go MUCH faster than that (we ran a 11:52 min/mile pace that night).  From the first group run, “S” seemed to be excited about running her very first 5K, but not very confident in her natural running abilities.  Over our 8 weeks together, “S” was game to try whatever pace or however many miles we threw at her, always accepting with a smile.  She was very dedicated to the program – we even met up on an extremely hot Tuesday night to run together on a week she knew she wouldn’t be able to make it to the Thursday group run.  I am happy to report that by the end of our 8 weeks together, “S” was able to complete a 6 mile run with ease and improved her pace from 13 min/mile to…drum roll please…10:28 min/miles for a 4 mile run!  She’s a natural!  🙂  For someone who has never run before, this kind of improvement in only 8 weeks is amazing to me!  Not only is “S” ready to run her first 5K, she could easily run a 10K too!  Way to go “S”!!!

The program itself was fantastic from start to finish.  We had a bit of a slow start due to lack of enrollment, and we had a few weeks “off” due to crazy Chicago weather (severe thunderstorm one week and extreme heat another) and a holiday (4th of July), but our group runs were typically very well attended and the guest speakers were wonderful.  During the program, we were given presentations on proper pre- and post-run stretching and injury prevention, nutrition and hydration, gear (running shoes, socks, etc.) and even had an opportunity to test “drive” new versions of the most popular Saucony running shoes before they even hit store shelves.  The information conveyed was very valuable for beginning runners and a great reminder for those of us who may have become complacent (ah hem…yeah, that would be me).  We were also treated to a very yummy post-run dinner treat from Noodles and Company along with some coupons for free meals…bonus!!!

I really wish I had known about this program when I began running again 2 years ago.  The information conveyed was very helpful and the training program they provided was fantastic.  The 5K training program was similar to many of the other 5K training programs out there, but much more advanced than the C25K program I used, with only one week of run/walk workouts as opposed to several weeks in C25K.  Overall, I think this training program is great, but I would not suggest it for someone who has not engaged in cardiovascular exercise recently.  Luckily, under the Beginning Running program umbrella, CARA also provides two levels of run/walk training which would be a great starting point (and almost exactly like the C25K program I used) in addition to the 5K and 10K options.

The bottom line is, I would HIGHLY recommend this program to any runner (or potential runner) that is looking to get started, run a faster 5K, train for a 10K or even run a faster 10K).  The price is reasonable at $52 for CARA members or $76 for non-members.  I know I am seriously considering using a CARA program as I strive to reach my next running related goal.  Lastly, if you are considering membership in CARA, stop considering and just do it!  Membership comes with so many perks that the yearly fee practically pays for itself!  Perks include race discounts, a free subscription to Runner’s World magazine, discounts at local retailers and service providers and so much more.

Chicago 10K Race Recap:

As a general rule of thumb, I tend to stay away from summer racing, mainly because I overheat very easily and as a result, my times are usually much slower than my spring/fall/winter races, making for a lovely string of PW’s from late June to mid-September.  However, I am trying to do at least one “real” race every month this year.  I blew that goal out of the water pretty early in the year when I came down with Mono in February, but I am determined to keep going through the remainder of the year and have been successful every month since.  I was already registered to do the Hell Run on August 31st, but needed a real race for August and when I saw a few of my run club friends and one of the CARA Beginning Running 10K participants were registered for the Chicago 10K, I thought I would give it a shot, despite the chance of a sweltering summer day race.

The registration process was great – super fast and easy, a little on the pricier side, but that is my fault for waiting until the last minute to register.  When registering, they also gave you the option to choose either a free cotton shirt or pay an extra $5 for a gender specific tech tee.  The shirt design wasn’t too bad so I opted for the tech tee, but now I wish I hadn’t.  The material is more like the silky unbreathable, stick to your skin when you sweat tees than a true breathable wicking tech tee.  Oh well, at least I have a new loud (black with fluorescent green lettering) shirt to wear on the weekend!  🙂  The design is pretty cool though, with the Hancock building making an appearance in the lettering on the front and a bright fluorescent green “FINISHER” scrawled across the back.

Moving on to race day, the weather was forecast to be a typical Chicago summer day – mid-80’s, semi-humid and a little bit of a breeze.  When I arrived at the “L” station at 6am to meet my run club friends, the weather was perfect…not too hot and not too humid.  By the time we got downtown it was starting to heat up a bit and I began to wonder why they chose an 8am start time for a summer race along the Chicago Lakefront path.  As many of you know, I have a love/hate relationship with the Lakefront path.  I love it in the spring, fall and winter, but I HATE it in the summer.  It’s not the amount of non-racing people on the path that bothers me (though the cyclists could stand to take a chill pill and stop screaming at us racers who paid good money to be running on the path…a simple “on your left” or “excuse me” would be sufficient), it is more the total lack of shade that throws me for a loop in the summer.  That being said, the view is beautiful and the lake breeze can help a bit, at least for part of the race, but in the summer, I would really like to see a much earlier start time, more like 6:30am or 7am depending on the length of the race.  In this case, I think a 7am start would have been perfect.

Another thing that really surprised me about this race was the lack of Gatorade or a similar sport drink.  When I got to the first aid station I was surprised to see that there was no Gatorade.  Given that this was not only a “longer” race but a late starting summer race, I thought that, for sure, Gatorade would be offered at the aid stations.  When I didn’t see any at the first aid station I assumed it was to save on costs and expected to see it at the mid-point station at least.  Imagine my surprise when the next two aid stations didn’t have Gatorade either.  I was even more surprised when I finally crossed the finish line, legs cramping up from sweating out so much salt, to find out that there was again, no Gatorade!  Really, not even at the finish of a 6 mile race?!  The finish line area consisted of a bottle of water, the biggest finisher medal I have even seen (more on that in a minute), granola bars, fruit snack packets and bananas.  I was pretty disappointed, but at least the bananas weren’t cut in half!  Though I cannot speak for anyone but myself, I think a lot of other runners had a similar reaction to the heat and sun exposure, as there was a whole lot of run/walking going on around me, and considering I finished in the middle of the pack with close to a PW time, which is pretty unusual for a well attended (2,612 finishers) Chicago race.  All whining aside, I have to commend the volunteers, they did a fantastic job keeping everything moving smoothly (from packet pick-up to the finish line) and provided a lot of encouraging words along the way.  Way to go volunteers!!

Now, lets discuss the finisher’s medal.  There are some who believe finisher’s medals should be reserved for “harder” races, like the half-marathon, marathon, ultra marathon, etc.  It seems like in the last year finisher’s medals have become so popular they are almost expected at every race of any distance…almost like the little league “everyone gets a trophy, even if your team didn’t win” mentality of late.  I have to agree, to some extent.  Sure, getting a finisher’s medal is fun and like a little kid, I want to wear it home so everyone can see it as I wear my “that’s right, I just ran a race…and finished” smile…except sometimes when I hang up a 5K finisher’s medal next to a half marathon finisher’s medal it feels like I cheated…like it’s not worthy enough to be hung up with the rest of the “big” ones.  I worked so hard to get that half marathon finisher’s medal, but barely broke a sweat in the 5K and I am rewarded with a medal?  It just feels like cheating sometimes.  Anyway, I’m fairly confident that the bulk of the registration fee for this race went to the awesome Flavor Flav like finisher’s medal.  This has got to be the BIGGEST medal I have EVER seen!!!  Seriously, it is twice the size of a “normal” medal and weighs about twice as much too!  Even though I was disappointed with the start time, lack of Gatorade, selection of post-race treats and most of all, my time (obviously not their fault); I was pretty impressed with this medal.  It is a bit over the top, but it is really fun and the Chicago references (“L” car etched behind the 10K) are awesome.  I just wish I had a better time to go along with it so I didn’t feel like a cheater again.  Once again I have been rewarded for a mediocre performance, but I guess the medal is right…I did finish…and for that I should be proud and thankful!

In summary, I think this race could easily be one of my favorites, with a few small tweaks:

1)  Earlier Start Time

2)  GATORADE!!!

3)  Salty Snack at the Finish

Chicago 10K

The “Flavor Flav” Finisher’s Medal!

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