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Chicago’s other March Madness

Today’s Wisch List column from the Kankakee Daily Journal and The (Ottawa, Ill.) Times

Chicago’s other March Madness

The WISCH LIST

March 27, 2010

Way back in 1970, when my dad was a budding 24-year-old distance-running junkie, he started logging every mile he ran inside spiral notebooks that he then stored in a nightstand beside his bed.

Forty years, 17 marathons and thousands of less-maniacal jogs later, the number of miles my father has run – and, in more recent years, walked – stands at a whopping 45,319.

Unless, of course, he’s added more today.

For some perspective, that tally is equivalent to running around the equator (24,901.55 miles) darn near twice. Or, on a more local level, the same as trotting from the Kankakee County Courthouse to Wrigley Field – and back – 344 times.

(Still without ever once seeing a World Series.)

Thinking about what my father has accomplished in a pair of Nikes is something that makes me proud – and makes my own feet hurt. Although, last weekend, it wasn’t 45,000 miles that were on my mind, but rather 4.97 as I competed in the 31st Annual Shamrock Shuffle 8K in downtown Chicago.

With a record number of registered runners (36,000), the quirky and iconic road race – considered the official kickoff for the city’s outdoor running season – was billed as the largest 8K in the world. In terms of size, it’s second locally to only the Chicago Marathon and its 45,000 annual participants.

As it turned out, only 25,723 participants showed up last Sunday morning to start the Shuffle in the 35-degree temps and fog hovering above the Loop. And, 25,567 of them – 11,523 men and 14,044 women – managed to finish.

The one to finish quicker than anyone was John Kemboi, a 19-year-old Kenyan who was orphaned as a toddler in the early 1990s and spent nine years living in a neighbor’s backyard, minding their cattle for the payment of one meal a day.

On Sunday, Kemboi feasted on the field in Chicago, breaking the finish line in a blistering 23 minutes, 39 seconds. And following his first race on U.S. soil, he reflected by saying, “I feel pretty good after this race. It is very nice here, although very cold this morning.”

Yeah, well, he should have run the Shuffle last year.

On March 29, 2009, I took part in my first Shamrock Shuffle, and it was almost my last. That morning, I stood on the “L” platform near my apartment, awaiting a train down to Grant Park as a snow globe-worthy blizzard swirled around me. I thought, “I’m going to run five miles in this?”

But, I did. And as one of only 13,399 hardy souls – out of 32,500 registered participants – to show up, I finished the winding 8-kilometer course in a respectable 43:35, despite slogging through at least two inches of slush every single inch of the way.

I think my socks finally dried out just last week.

Last year, my time put me in 3,664th place overall, which wasn’t bad. But this year – in better conditions – I was hoping to improve.

And then last Saturday, it started snowing again.

Nike’s “Run Lucky” motto for the 2010 Shuffle seemed like an oxymoron until Sunday morning, when the precipitation stopped – and didn’t start again, prompting the race’s PA announcer to announced at the start line that “the weather is allegedly better than last year.”

And as I began running alongside competitors dressed as leprechauns and even Wilma and Fred Flintstone, the weather was. Although, shortly after we the race’s start, a big clump of snow still fell directly on some poor guy’s balding head as we passed beneath Millennium Park’s serpentine BP Bridge.

As I jogged the first couple of miles, I focused on a runner ahead of me wearing purple and yellow garb emblazoned with “The University of Northern Iowa.” My goal was to beat this guy in the race, but somewhere along Mile 3, he pulled away and I lost sight of him.

Like Bill Self and Kansas, I was upset.

Things were chugging along well when, along Mile 4, I found myself being passed by a bare-legged guy who was either wearing a kilt or a Catholic schoolgirl skirt. I tried to (skirt) chase him down, but couldn’t, as I finished the race in 38:46.

That was good enough for 2,913th place out of the 25,567 finishers overall and 2,382nd out of 11,514 men. And it was almost five minutes faster than my time last year, which is all great.

But I still got beat by a guy in a skirt.

I think I’ll leave that detail out of my spiral notebook.