That time I won my division of a 10k dressed as a penguin – The 2012 LA Cancer Challenge

Oh, gosh, where to start.

First I would like to give an enormous THANK YOU to everyone who helped me raise money for the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research!! All together we raised $555, which is an enormous amount of money, and the number redundancy makes the engineer in me so happy. Needless to say you guys are awesome, and I’m sorry I had to be so obnoxious over Facebook. Think, though, if I wasn’t would you have remembered to give? Exactly.

So in the mail comes this giant box filled with foamy, cloth-y, penguin-y awesomeness. I pulled it out, scissors in hand, ready to trim here and there, because how on earth could a “one size fits all” cheap penguin costume from Amazon fit 5’4″ 120lb me?

Magically, it fit really well when I tried it on. Apparently my dress size is unisex.

The night before the race I didn’t plan on going to bed early like a normal person probably would. No, that would make way too much sense. Instead I went contra dancing until the late hours of the night. So you can imagine how excited I was when I got home around 11:30 pm to remember that the race was to start at 7:30 am, in Santa Monica, which is about 45-60 minutes from my house because LA is way too big. I fell asleep quickly, missed my first alarm (sneaky me set two), ran out the door and was off to the race.

After finally getting to the race/festival, parking and taking the bus to the starting line, I found myself with some time to wait around and relax before the race got going. It hadn’t become too hot yet, and I was very much hoping the Southern California heat could hold off until after the race. In a weird attempt to make the penguin costume seem more authentic (and assuming penguins don’t have people-colored legs) I had decided to wear the only black pants I could stand to run in… which are also made of smart wool. Looking back, a tall pair of black socks would have done the trick, but common sense and I just aren’t the best of friends sometimes.

As we lined up at the starting line I pulled up the penguin hood and found that the penguin beak, when filled with newspaper to make it more round, also sagged down perfectly in front of my left eye. Great. I pushed it over the front of my nose which allowed me to have peripheral vision out of both eyes and be able to see in front of me a little not at all, and lined up at the start. 3…2…1… And we were off in the 10k!

So the course for this race was pretty interesting, as it was two laps around three circle-ish things that enclosed parts of the Los Angeles VA Medical Center.


The course! We ran in the clockwise direction.

Off we went, and I trotted along at a nice pace feeling pretty good about life and the fact that I couldn’t see directly in front of me. Luckily the race wasn’t too crowded, but after about 5 minutes of running with my head turned at an awkward angle to ensure I was staying on the road, I decided to give up being able to see on the left and run the race with one eye closed. Good life choices. The suit breathed really well though, so I unintentionally went a bit faster than anticipated for the first two miles and ended up getting cramped abs because of it. I took a drink, slowed down and continued on.

We passed the second water station and by that point I was feeling pretty good. Seeing people get excited about a penguin running the race pumped me up, and I cruised along. The first lap went by well, and I had a 24:32 first half which was surprising. I decided to keep up the pace and keep chugging along since I felt good. What was the worst that could happen?

Choo choo!

Me, the entire first lap. You would think that at this point I would have had enough experience to focus during a race, or maybe stick to a plan. Nope!

Fun fact: in LA it gets hot in a hurry once the sun hits you. Since the first quarter of the second lap was mostly shaded I didn’t notice how quickly the temperature was spiking. That all changed the second I started into the sunny part of the lap, when the sun appeared at full throttle and the top of my head somehow achieved the ability to pour every ounce of water in my body alllllll over my face.

Surely, you can’t be serious!

I slowed down a little, but after a few more minutes of torment I gave in and pulled down the penguin hood in an attempt to cool down just a few degrees below boiling again. I really began to loathe my decision to wear a black suit and smart wool pants. I really, really, wanted to take off the suit, and the little engine that could suddenly became the little engine that might be on fire.

The little engine that could had a minor transformation due to heat.

As you guys know, the race was a fundraiser for Pancreatic Cancer Research, which (if you did’t know) my paternal grandmother died from before I was born. My maternal grandmother just beat colon cancer at the age of 78 (and is now a kickin’ 83), and being a Celiac who was undiagnosed for years and years gives me a higher chance of getting cancer.  I also have friends who have battled different types of cancer. It really holds a special spot in me to help win the fight with this disease.

So as cheesy as it probably sounds, my motivation to keep running and keep on the suit was that if my friends and family could fight for their lives and be in such pain with cancer, then I could be hot and have some muscle soreness and finish these last two miles. I felt a bit of adrenaline give me a second wind and after two of the hottest miles I’ve ever run, I finally passed the mile marker for mile 6.

I really hated those last .2 miles though. Usually I love running but at that point I was like “what on earth was I thinking?!” Half of that last .2 was uphill and next to a road so not only was it warm and full of car exhaust, I was trying to drag myself up this hill. At this point I was pretty sure I was going to pass out. At the top of the hill, though, I saw the finish line, and just being that close got me to the end. It was really cool too, because there was a secondary mat just before the finish line so your chip could relay your name to the announcer who called out names as people finished, which felt really cool to hear. I crossed the finish line with a time of 50:17 (8:07 min/mile average), grabbed a bottle of water, tore off the suit, laid down in the grass and started chugging. In my head I also created a more realistic map of the course:


I’m not sure if I don’t remember this picture because I was dehydrated, or simply because my eyes were closed. Or both. Probably both.

Overall it was a great race, but definitely one of my most challenging so far. Not sure if I’ll do another dress up race (unless its winter), but 10k is definitely my favorite distance. Also you’re probably thinking, “Wait, you’re not done. The title says that you won something but you haven’t mentioned that at all. LIES.” Well, I’m getting there, so hold your horses! Even though I had checked for preliminary results immediately finishing the race, the results had not yet been sorted by division. So I read that I had gotten 18th out of the women, thought “wow that’s pretty darn cool” and then went to get my free massage in the fiesta area (NOTE: BEST IDEA EVER). It wasn’t until weeks later that I got this cool little package in the mail, which contained a first place medal, and the information that I had, indeed, defeated all of the other 18-24 year old women in the race while dressed like a penguin. Booyah!

LA Cancer Challenge Winner

Bonus post race lesson of the day: Highway 101 North actually swerves to the West, not the East. I ended up in Malibu instead of at my house. It was a fun and confusing experience.

Double bonus because you guys are cool: A video my artist mother made of the race.

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