The event organizers chose bright red long-sleeve shirts as the race shirts for the 2019 Jingle Bell Run 12K/5K. I should have worn mine. Almost everyone else wore theirs, resulting in a festive sea of red (and some green) for the 35th annual event last Sunday (December 8) in downtown Seattle.
I’ve only done this race five times (out of 19 years of doing races), but decided to run it this year instead of this weekend’s 12Ks of Christmas, the Kirkland event I usually run in December. Actually, the four previous times I did the Jingle Bell Run, I also ran the 12Ks of Christmas, but this year I am not. Call me a slacker; I’ve decided to shut down until January 1.
Back to the bright red shirts. I really like mine, but decided to save it for wearing during the week. For the race, I wore my lemon-and-green “O” shirt, in honor of the Pac-12 champion Oregon Ducks — we blew out a favored Utah team in the league championship game two days earlier (how ’bout them Ducks!) for a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Regardless of what I wore, the neon red shirts — plus the Santa hats, Christmas tutus, red tree lights, and even a couple of people in full-length red Christmas suits — provided a good look for the downtown. About 1,000 people did the timed 12K and 5K races, and several hundred more ran or walked the untimed 5K and 1-mile races. The downtown seemed lively and spirited for a mild but overcast Sunday morning.
Congestion, hills, eye-catching costumes
I had low expectations going into this race, because I’ve never done well on this 5K course. The starting line is at Fifth Avenue and Pike Street near Westlake Center, and the first mile is going south up Fifth to the I-5 express lanes tunnel. It’s only the first mile, but I labored going up the hill; it was the most challenging part of the run.
Once you get up the hill, a wide swath of people must really narrow to fit into the entrance to the tunnel, and there is always congestion (from the people; the express lanes are closed to all cars). Inside the tunnel, you can spread out and find running room as you head north up I-5. But that’s when the people watching begins. Runners are dressed in Christmas lights, Santa outfits, ugly sweaters, and tree ornaments, and you have to look around, take it in, and enjoy the moment.
Despite the lingering smell of spilled oil and car exhaust inside, I actually enjoy running on the express lanes. Besides the running room, you have a steady decline for more than a mile to the turnaround point, where it gets busy again. I saw numerous runners cheat by turning around early, just to avoid the crowd (I didn’t).
The jaunt back south on the express lanes to Pike Street at Ninth Avenue includes a bit of a climb as you leave the tunnel. There’s congestion again, plus strollers and dogs, as many people start walking to get up the hill. You then take a right up Ninth to Pine, then a quick left for a three-block sprint to the finish line at Sixth and Pine.
I felt great in that final stretch and passed a few people, including a guy I wanted to beat because he took a shortcut by not going all the way to the turnaround cones.
Better time than I expected
All things considered, including my history on this course, I was pleasantly surprised to finish in 38:56 (12:33 per mile), my fourth-best time out of nine 5Ks this year. Though it meant only 583rd place out of 797 5K runners who chose to be timed, I still beat my not-so-good 40:27 time (13:02 per mile) in 2016, the last year I ran this race (and the year before my second left-ankle surgery). I didn’t expect to beat 40 minutes. Full results are here.
My best time for this event is only 28:48 (9:16 per mile) in 2007, when I was completely healthy. It was one of my poorer 5K times; my 5K PR is 24:32 in 2005. 2007 was my peak year for running — three marathons, four half-marathons, 22 races total, and more than 1,800 miles logged that year. This year, I am expecting to log 310 miles (500K).
This was my 13th race of the year and 237th overall, as I get closer to 250. It was good to see such a healthy turnout for this event, part of a nationwide series that benefits the Arthritis Foundation (I know arthritis; I have it in my ankle). The public address announcer called this Jingle Bell Run in Seattle “the largest Jingle Bell Run in the country.”
While I did not see any fellow runners I knew, I came across some familiar names in the results. These women all beat me: renowned philanthropist and New York Times bestselling author Melinda Gates; fellow philanthropist and former Microsoft executive Charlotte Guyman (who I interviewed and profiled for a 2012 Microsoft Alumni Foundation article); and recently retired King County Superior Court Judge Laura Inveen (who had me in a couple of jury pools). Nice job, ladies!
Resolution Run on New Year’s Day
Good luck to my former Allytics teammates R.J. Taylor and Hayley Halstead in the 12Ks of Christmas run this Sunday. I’d join you but I really need to get my Christmas shopping and a lot of end-of-year Fluke work done.
Also, I didn’t think much of the makeshift 5K course thrown together last year and, since I don’t see any course maps on the event website, believe this year’s course is again largely on the Kirkland hillside north of the downtown. I’d love to see more of it on the Cross Kirkland Corridor, as it is for other Kirkland road runs.
I’ll be back running the Club Northwest Resolution Run 5K at Seattle’s Magnuson Park on New Year’s Day, just before watching the Ducks take on Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. I’ve missed this race only twice since 2007 — in 2018 because of my second ankle surgery and in 2010 to attend the Rose Bowl where the Ducks lost to Ohio State.
Unless someone happens to give us great tickets as Christmas presents, I won’t be at the game this January 1. But I certainly hope we have a huge turnout of Ducks there, even if my wife and I can’t make it.
Go Ducks (and Seahawks)! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone! See you all in 2020.