I have often thought of participating in an official public race. After moving to the city I was delighted that there were so many options to choose from, I have yet to choose any of these options.
This past weekend I finally found the perfect race for me.
It was, however, most definitely, unofficial.
Say hello to the Journey to the End of the Night: a 750-person, paranoia-filled, foot-race, through Chicago’s north-side.
The race started at a small park at seven p.m. First, each participant had to wait in a long registration line to get supplies and sign their life away, or something close to that. There was an one-sentence liability release asking me to acknowledge that my participation was voluntary and I had only myself to hold responsible. Without blinking I put down my John Hancock. I was then handed two ribbons (one red, one blue) and a map. I was instructed to pocket the red ribbon and tie the blue one around my arm, I did so. The map was of the surrounding area, and contained six “checkpoints” each with an accompanying “safe-zone.” Briefly the rules are as follows:
– Run to each checkpoint (in order) and get your map stamped.
– Avoid getting caught by the chasers while doing the above.
At the outset, our trusty band of UChicagoans (and myself) consisted of five people. We quickly selected a route and started on our way. After running for two blocks, we realized that running the whole time was going to be unsustainable, we slowed our pace. The race is equal parts strategy and speed, i.e., the course you take is extremely important.
Getting from the start to checkpoint one was mostly uneventful, a few moments of fear, but nothing really dangerous. The same can be said about checkpoint 2, except by now the sun had set, and darkness was closing in. Checkpoint two itself was horrifying, horrible, and in absolutely all respects horrific. Enough said.
The drama started heating up as we made our way to 3. As we stood on a corner, waiting for the light to change, we noticed that a chaser (as evidenced by a red-ribbon on his arm, rather than the blue) was directly across from us. We made a huge ruckus and started running north, the chaser gave a half-hearted, across-the-street pursuit but gave up before long. We then jumped on a bus which dropped us off within a few blocks of safety. As we walked those few blocks, another chaser came into view which prompted us to run wild once again. After reaching the checkpoint one girl in our group realized that she dropped her map, which is your life in the race, my brother and her went back to find it. Luckily, they found it and we took a short mid-way break.
That short break turned out to be the end of our little group. When we were a few blocks out of the safe-zone I noticed a chaser on a bike (yes, they let some chasers have bikes), he started pursuing our group and we scattered. I was in the front of our pack, and ducked into an alley that, thankfully, connected again to the main road. I never saw that chaser or my comrades again.
As I ran away I knew only this: I was still alive and I was now alone.
I stumbled into the dimly lit residential streets of a north-side neighborhood that I had never set foot in, lost except for a map that I could barely make out. Early on a chaser on foot started running after me, I shot ahead with my best burst of speed, and looked over my shoulder in time to see him skid in the street and let out a high-pitched yelp. I did not stick around to see if he was okay, I guess that is what this race can do to you. A few moments later I found myself plastered against a dumpster to avoid yet another chaser. While I had no more close-calls between three and four, my mind was now fully on the alert.
As I departed from checkpoint four, I ran into a girl from our original group, we shared a large hug and felt like two soldiers who had been separated in the heat of battle. She and I made it safely to 5. Alas, though, things got hairy again after that.
As we we’re walking together, with another runner that we had just met, our trio got ambushed by two chasers. I was on the street-side and thus was able to escape into the street. Without looking I bolted into the oncoming traffic and narrowly missed getting hit by a car, unfazed I ran straight ahead for the next few blocks. Once again I was alone, this time, however, the surrounding area was less inviting.
After outrunning another pair of chasers, I started walking down Howard St. which, unbeknownst to me at the time, is a bit of a seedy part of the city. As I walked along, passing boarded up buildings and neon-lighted liquor stores, a much more authentic fear started to sink in. I walked as briskly as I could while still trying to avoid drawing attention to myself. Then, a nondescript maroon car started pulling slowly towards me. My spine began to tingle as I tried to quell the intense fear rising up. Then, all of a sudden, the car stopped across the street. The two back doors flung open. Two police officers jumped out, grabbed the two guys standing nearby and pushed them against the hood of the car. I let out a breath, and kept on walking. I overheard one cop say something about drugs, I had no motivation to stick around any longer.
Eventually I began making my way south again. And soon found myself across the street from the final safe zone, my life (both in the game and otherwise) was still intact, I did not even think to check for oncoming traffic as I jubilantly ran. A moment later I walked up to checkpoint 6, waiting there to greet me were my four fallen comrades. I got the final stamp for my map, took my badge-of-merit, and walked away feeling accomplished in so many ways.
It had taken me three hours and 40 minutes to complete the race. The next day I mapped out my exact course and discovered that I had run 12.86 miles.
All in a night’s work.