On March 24, 2019, I ran the 2019 Shamrock Shuffle...and have never been more proud of such a mediocre performance.
When I showed up to run the 8K that Sunday, I felt like a flabby speck in a giant green throng of Shufflers. Honestly, the masses rendered me unremarkable: my personal fitness challenge was dwarfed by how commonplace a Shamrock Shuffle registration is in this city.
The event was so festive I almost forgot I was there to run five miles! There were tutus on girls, tutus on boys, face-painted cheeks, shamrock-y blazers, and thousands of proper running shoes being rocked by old and very old and young and very young and tall and short and very short Shufflers.
The rain that threatened my weather app the night before had thankfully stepped back to permit us a fun run in dry shoes.
Corral 'G' runners crossed the starting line around 9:10 AM. The streets were stuffed curb to curb with Shufflers: I let myself cry a little at how beautiful it was.
A woman tripped and fell on the red running carpet on the bridge across the Chicago River on North Wacker, and every participant in her orbit made sure that she was ok. (She was) I cried a little bit at how kind Chicagoans can be.
I let myself cry a little more as I ran behind a man who had been in his 70’s for a while. He was running a crooked mile, and he was doing so faster than me.
Oh the panorama! Thousands and thousands of green shirts bobbing in streets normally gridlocked for the downtown commute. I thought about the army it took to put that thing together: so immense and dedicated! I found myself wondering why people would volunteer for a race they weren’t even running in, but realized that was just my new-found cynicism doing its thang.
There was a kilt-wearing dude high-fiving runners and playing bagpipes while standing on the yellow line that divides State Street in two.
There was a runner somewhere in the pack who had halitosis.
There were young children passing me doing that youthful butt-kick run.
At about mile 4.2 there was a drum line giving us a pace cadence in 4/4 time: “go…..go…..go…..go…..”
There were friends and family cheering on the sidewalks, some with handmade signs for loved ones, others with more general bubble-letter messages of encouragement scrawled on the poster board held above their heads.
Of course mile 2 sucked. Always does. Of course it got easier after I saw the sign for mile 3. Of course it got tough between mile markers 4 and 5. (It seemed someone had placed the mile markers farther apart than I would have liked….) And while I could stand to switch out a song or two, my bomb-ass running playlist held up.
There was a real bastard of a hill in the final mile that I think our next mayor should have removed from the course next year, but even that bitch bump couldn’t kill my shuffle. I never stopped running, and after a two-week lightning round of drills and training, I finished a five mile run with 22000 of my midwest neighbors.
On the other side of the finish line there were dozens of high schoolers, sun-blanched runners, and (I’m betting) hung over 20 and 30-somethings handing out participation medallions to any winded person with an open hand, a banana and/or a water bottle. I didn’t see anyone turn down their participation trophies. Quite the opposite: people seemed pretty happy to receive them.
I finished right smack dab in the middle of the pack. I placed 435th out of 1054 runners in my age group. I finished 5,832nd out of 11.272 lady runners. My pace was an unremarkable 11/min, and I’m having all of that Shuffle Shizzle engraved onto an inexpensive plastic rectangle that I will glue to my participation medal with a peel-off adhesive.
I’m not delusional. I don’t think I’m a great runner, or even a very good one. But as my ten year old self would say, “I don’t give a care.” ‘Cause see for maybe the first time in my adult life I’m giddy-proud of my mediocrity.
Perhaps it’s BECAUSE of how middle of the pack I was that I felt the unfettered freedom to experience pride in myself without the need to side eye the accomplishments of those around me. That run was like a first date with myself, and it was pretty clear that we were going to be a thing.
And I will have that participation medallion forever - a trinket sent from the trophy industrial complex to a finish line on Columbus Ave in downtown Chicago - to have and hold as proof of and sentimental self-praise about an unremarkable, mediocre, C-grade participation in the 40th annual Shamrock Shuffle.
I don’t know what "real" trophy the fastest runners got and I honestly don’t give a care about that, either. I wasn’t there to win.
I was there to be a part of. I was there to finish what I started. I was there to not be on my couch on a cold Sunday morning in March. I was there to be a Shuffler among Shufflers. I was there to admire the beauty of the Chicago skyline.
I was there to participate.
And now I look forward to earning my next participation medallion for the Chicago Spring Half Marathon on May 19th, 2019.
After that, I will then look forward to grabbing another participation medallion when I cross the finish line at the Bank of America Marathon on October 13, 2019. (Click here if you'd like to donate to my charity: Special Olympics! Thanks so much!)
And it doesn't matter one bit what you think of my participation medallions, for only I can measure their value.
That's my piece, and that's my peace. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my silly words. It truly means the world to me. Carry on...